The Man in Black and the Lady in Red

Witch Upon A Stang
And I shall go in the Devil’s name,

Ay while I come home again.

~ An excerpt from Isabel Gowdie’s shape-shifting charm

In the wee hours, I stood at the door between worlds; I closed my eyes and stepped through. When I opened them I was standing in the living room of a two-story house of modest size. As I walked toward the stairs I could hear my feet on the floor boards and feel the slide of my dress against my outer thigh. But most acutely I could sense that I wasn’t alone in the house. I cautiously made my way up the stairs.

Near the top of the staircase I called my fylgja to perch on my shoulder and we moved to one of the upstairs rooms where I found a tall man dressed in black standing near a fireplace. He wore the 17th century’s finest and had a glimmer in his eye as fiery bright as an ember. I knew that the man was more than he seemed. Every foot of gut in me screamed Devil. I was afraid, not of what he would do but of what he could do. I was also curious. Fear and curiosity are a well-known and often felt emotional brew for witches and spirit-workers in my experience. And so, standing before the Man in Black – the Devil himself – I respected my fear of him, and also indulged my curiosity. I circled him slowly and with my fylgja perched on my shoulder I posed a number of questions. My time between the worlds has taught me not to be shy about refusing to make assumptions about exactly who and what I am taking to. When asked, he said that he is a keeper of secrets and that he intends to pass a portion of those secrets on to me. His eyes seemed to shimmer and dance. His presence was strong and true. When I asked the man why, he answered that the wisdom he has must be passed on and preserved. We conversed for a while longer.

After my exchange with the Man in Black, I turned my head and saw a woman standing in the doorway. As she approached, again my fylgja was at the ready and I was circling with questions. In an instant her entire appearance changed: her clothing and her eyes waxed red as blood. She referred to herself as the Red Lady. And, growing wild inside the fireplace, I saw a bunch of beautiful purple trumpet-shaped flowers. The flowers had not been there during my interchange with the Devil. Intuition said that these flowers could be used to seek her out and call her nigh. We conversed for a while and then she pulled me back into everyday consciousness.

My instinct tells me that I spoke with the Witch-Father and Witch-Mother. The interaction was steeped in a fare bit of imagery traditionally associated with them and it was also steeped in magical bits that represent the core tools of their operation. I have a ton of research to do in combination with divination in order to learn more about what this encounter means for me overall. I am sure that I will write as much as possible about this journey as it unfolds.

Away I fly!

Sending the Fetch Forth

Barn Owl In FlightAs you may recall, my fylgia (aka fetch) travels between the worlds in Barn Owl form. The fylgja is conceptualized as a guardian spirit but also as a soul-part, reflecting a bit of the person’s personality. Diana Paxson discusses the fylgja and other soul-parts here. Since beginning our work together several years ago, I have come to rely on the services that Barn Owl provides for me in the Otherworlds. He most commonly serves as my protector and as my guide. I shared a few reflections on his work in those roles very early in our work together. You can find that post here.

As protector he has helped me to identify dangers while traveling, before they become a problem. And when I do encounter full-blown problems, Barn Owl often has a save or a solution. As a guide he is knowledgeable of the geography of the Otherworlds. He has led me to the halls of various Powers. Barn Owl has also offered a fair bit of useful information. For example, he helped me to identify a good place to establish my home in Midgard, found out what offerings I needed to give to a few spirits while I was in their realm, and informed me of “local customs” that I needed to be aware of in order to interact/communicate appropriately.

Barn Owl has also helped me tremendously by serving as a clerical aid of sorts. It may sound completely ridiculous but he often makes appointments for me in the Otherworld. I have quite unexpectedly arrived at my astral home to find him waiting on the mantle with the message that I need to set out again to meet So-n-So. A few times I came home to him insisting that I was late for an appointment. When we fare forth he leads the way or he perches on my shoulder (an odd sight, I’m sure). He is a constant comfort in my journeying.

As I’ve moved along in my magical work, I have worked with Barn Owl in another incredibly useful way: intelligence gathering. I have sent him forth to gather information about a few mundane and spiritual things (e.g. health issues, where to find a particular spirit in real time, etc.). I usually give him his favorite offerings (in quantity) when sending him forth in this way. And when I call him back so that he can report, he has clear information to provide. I like to use a pendulum or other aid to help focus my awareness/intuition. I’m new at this aspect of working with him but I hope to work with him more in this capacity. There is quite a bit that I hope to learn about this particular magical technique!

Hamrammr: Lessons in Shapeshifting

In this betwixt and between time (November 1st to about January 1st), I have been thinking a great deal about transitions of all sorts, including changing shape. It is one of my favorite witch’s crafts. There are many reasons one might shape shift: to obtain information using another being’s perception abilities, to enter or leave places in the astral that one may not because to access otherwise, to commune with the creature’s spirit and gain insight into its nature, to go unnoticed/unrecognized, or insert your reason here. Whatever possible purpose you select, as a witch and spirit worker, it is a useful skill to develop.

I thought that I’d share a few reflections for those who are interested in training in this craft. Mind you, I am not an expert or even just a seasoned shapeshifter from way back. I am just a witch who has been half dragged and half seduced into acquiring this particular ability, and it is still a young one for me. I just wanted to reflect on a few things thus far in my process.

With regard to physical preparation, I have found that I benefit from wearing comfortable, loose fitting clothing. I prefer to work at night or at twilight times like dawn/dusk. It is essential that I find a relaxing position in which I do not feel constricted. For me, that means feet on the floor and arms at rest at my side or on my lap. Depending on the animal form I am assuming, I may have my eyes closed or leave them open. I relax my jaw and loosen my other muscles as well if they feel tight. In short I try to be as “free” of my human form as possible and working at a time as aligned with the Otherworld as possible.

At the mental level, I hone in on sensory information. What do I see? What do I hear? Taste? Smell? I spend a good bit of time attuning to my environment. I find that this level of awareness, if I stay in it long enough and really attend to what I perceive, my animal brain kicks in and my senses are heightened. At this point, I reaffirm my intention and I reach out to Coyote, Crow, Serpent, or Barn Owl. (I haven’t really entertained the idea of doing this work with an animal or animal-shaped spirit with whom I have no relationship.) I ask for their protection and blessings, in addition having my own personal shields and wards in place. Then I deepen the connection. I get up close and personal with the energy of the animal. I let it consume me…enough to shift my astral form/energy pattern but not so completely that I cannot access my humanity when it’s time to come back.

Barn Owl was the first. He showed me how to take his form. Coyote came next, in the space between asleep and awake sometime ago. I was stuffed into Serpent’s skin by Dionysos in The Wood Between The Worlds not too long ago. And Odin gifted me with Corvid’s hamr very recently in The Place Where The Worlds Meet. The work that I’ve done with Barn Owl and Coyote was shapeshifting to my mind, but according to the lore, its possible that only my work with Serpent and Crow qualifies. You can learn more about shapeshifting as it manifests in Norse/Icelandic lore here.

At the level of spirit, preparation has involved a great deal of travel between the worlds in my own form over the last six years – the between worlds meet and greet with key beings and powers wearing no animal skin or similar “cover”. Just me. At the level between the mental and the spiritual, shadow work has also played into my preparation quite heavily. I value psychotransformative/shadow work highly. I find that it both empowers and wards me in the magic and spirit work that I am learning. In shapeshifting, a portion of one’s consciousness is open and connected to a particular animal’s might. Without rootedness in my own psyche and awareness of shadow, becoming lost in the animal hamr is not an unreasonable concern. The animals (and animal-shaped spirits) that I work with can dredge up stuff if you don’t have a firm handle on your shadows and related baggage. At least that’s what I’ve observed in my own work. Really it makes a lot of sense. Our Psyche is the stage on which a percentage of our Otherworldly experiences play out. If the Psyche is in disarray then all manner of Otherworldly thing can sweep through and raze the theater, and not necessarily intentionally. Shit happens.

Shapeshifting work hit a peak for me when I stepped through my most recent psychotransformative door, and I have no doubt there will be more. These things are spiral after all; the work is never done as sure as we grow and change. Now that I see a few more things clearly and even more things differently, the skins slip on faster and fit more comfortably. I look forward to more adventures in the Otherworlds in animal form.

As you do your own shapeshifting work, I am interested to hear about your experiences. Feel free to comment here and/or provide a link to your own blog posts about this topic.  look forward to connecting!

The Road to Helheim

“Hermod Before Hela” (1909) by John Charles Dollman

As a part of my work with The Catskin Sisters, a small group of seidhr women based in Central Illinois, we journey to some of the Nine Worlds within the Norse cosmos. Generally, we choose to visit worlds that are known to be (at least somewhat) hospitable to human travelers. One of our most recent journeys was to Helheim or Hel-Home, the realm of Hela, the half-living half-corpse ettin-maid with jurisdiction over the teaming hoards of the dead. Before journeying to Hela’s realm I held a blot to her. I offered good beer and incense. I also made prayers for safe travel. The runes delivered a favorable message from the Queen of Hel and so I set off on my journey.

I slathered myself in a goodly amount of The Witch of Forest Grove’s Aves Salve, sat down on my loveseat, drew my white silk veil over my head and shifted left out of my body. I departed on the back of my Barn Owl fylgja through the kitchen window after brief conversations with the housewight and the spirit of my staff. My fylgja and I headed north here in Midgard until we reached the Tree, then north again and down its trunk and down one of its roots we went. The journey was fast and sinking. We “exited” at the edge of Niflheim where Mist-Home meets a set of dark gates that lead into Hela’s realm.

I was shrouded in mist and cold, and more than a little flustered. I waited at the gate until I felt comfortable continuing. I spoke the runes given to me for entrance to the realm and the gate opened. I was greeted by a spirit clad in white. Birch imagery immediately came to mind. The spirit was stern in manner and speech, and clearly empowered to halt any antics I might perpetrate in her mistress’ realm. While she gave me directions to Hela’s hall, I noticed the dead as they moved. They appeared to be grey-washed or sepia, not the color of life. I tore my eyes from the dead and instead focused on the road to Hel’s hall. Barn Owl reiterated the White Lady’s advice on the walk to the hall, warning me not to veer from the path if I ever wanted to leave Hel-Home. Of course I complied though the “water” flowing under the bridge there was sorcerously entrancing.

After a short walk, I arrived at the entrance to Hela’s Hall. Once invited, I entered. I was more than a little nervous to meet her. Hela was not much for pleasantries. She could smell my fear just as surely as I could smell her rot. The Queen of Hel was not pleased to see me there if I was not ready to be there. She reached for me with her fleshless arm and drew me close. I wanted to freak out, then I thought better of it. She offered counsel on my work with the dead, showed me a landmark on her property that might aid in my work, passed along a message from another Mighty Northern Power, and then sent me on my way. I followed the White Lady’s instructions from earlier, but in reverse, and ended on the other side of the gate not much worse for the wear.

Barn Owl and I gathered ourselves and got back on the expressway to this world. After emerging from trance, I did another rune reading which helped to verify many of my experiences in Helheim. I also reviewed my notes from other trance encounters with Death deities. I was pleased to see that they have a united front on many points where it concerns me and my Work with the dead.

So much Work to do, so little time! Well, that just means I gotta keep movin’.