Scentual Musings

by Veronica Cummer, author of Masks of the Muse & Sorgitzak

Scent is evocative in more ways than one. We tend to focus a lot on the sense of sight, but scent can bring up memories and feelings far more easily and intensely than any of our other senses. Everyone has a scent and we respond to that, even if it’s not noticeable on a conscious level. It’s also an ancient practice to add to that scent through the usage of perfumes and oils, altering what message we are sending out into the world. We make our homes smell a certain way and our ritual space and it’s not just to cover up less pleasant smells, but to inspire in us a certain reaction and instill a powerful memory.

In ritual, we use scent primarily through the burning of incense. The smoke and smell of the incense not only helps create a useful ritual atmosphere—allowing us to more easily “trance out” and be in the proper state of mind—but can actually draw spirits and Gods to us. It sends out a message that we are here and ready to have contact with the Divine. In the past, some Gods even had particular incenses or scented oils that were attached to Them and used in Their honor. They responded to the scent and were drawn to it, just as we might respond to the scent of another person.

Incense, perfumes, and oils can be used in other ways, as well. On a personal level, we can use a particular scent for outside of ritual and a particular scent for inside of ritual, creating a trigger for us that its time to step into our ritual selves. We can make use of varied incenses in ritual for the times of the year or for different purposes, such as healing or divination. If everyone in a coven or magickal working group decides to use the same oil for ritual anointing, it can create a strong sense of bonding, one that resonates on an unconscious level.

For all of these are messages and ways to create and later evoke familiar memories. We smell the oil or perfume we have known before in ritual and know we are stepping into circle or about to perform a healing. We smell the incense and instinctively know what season it is or what God or Goddess we’re about to call upon. We can even step into that ritual mode in our mundane lives as needed by deciding to put on an oil that is based on a familiar incense such as frankincense, myrrh, or patchouli.

We are always interacting and bonding with others on the level of scent and, through using oils, perfumes, and incense, we can make deliberate choices about what that ritual and that group means to us. We can instill feelings and create memory and awaken it once again, reliving the time and place and raw emotion of the past, of our experiences, whether with each other or with the Divine.

copyright © 2010, Veronica Cummer, all rights reserved

Hekate and the Voice of the Crossroads

Hekate is an ancient Goddess and one who is often seen as a Goddess of sorcery and of Witches.  But what is the source of Her power, as in who and what She really is behind the mask of the being known as Hekate (among other names)?  Can we ever really understand Her in Her entirety anymore than we can understand any God in their entirty?  I ask this question because, so far as my experience and my research into this question and others regarding the nature of the Gods has led me, the Gods as we know Them are masks (albiet living masks) for powers that otherwise we have difficulty relating to and connecting with. We need a personality, even if one not necessarily all that human. The closer you get to Their source, the less human and understandable they become.

The personality is Hekate, the Queen of Ghosts and Shadows, the lady of the crossroads.  She is a Goddess of the promise, of the oath, of secrets, of sorcery and spells. I would say She is a Goddess of the mystery where the earth and the waters meet, an old mystery beyond the understanding of words. She is magick without words, magick in the bone and in the flesh. She is the Lady of the Bones, including the bones you throw to divine the future and to work spells.  She is the conjurer’s Goddess of graveyard dust and bones and, in this way, She is related to her sister-Goddess, Fate.  She is priestess to Fate, or perhaps the foreshadowing of Fate that lies upon us when we are called to make a choice, in that moment of in-drawn breath before we swear ourselves to a new path.

Hekate is the Goddess of clocks and of masks, but not so much of what they represent as what lies between the ticks of the clock and behind the black eyes of the mask.  She is what peers out of Time and behind the skin of the world.  She stands between the stillness of the North and the whirling of the West.  And yet, all these words and images can but hint at who and what She really is because we can no more grasp that stillness and that whirling than we can stop the heavens from turning.  We can sometimes touch them, but we cannot step fully into them…not and remain ourselves.  Can we truly know Her and can we even hope to try?

Like Semele, if we ask and are granted the “Full Monty” of the Gods—in her case, of her lover Zeus—we would burn up and die.  Our flesh simply can’t stand up to that kind of unclothed connection to the Divine.  And yet, like Dionysus, who was “born” of the ashes that we left when Zeus reluctantly appeared in His full might and glory before Semele, we can be reborn of our own meltdown those rare times that we do ever so briefly glimpse the Divine, whether what lies behind Hekate or any other God or Goddess.  The question is what way do we want to go?  Whose mask do we want to peer behind?  They are all roads to the Divine Source and to those powers that emanate off that Source, yet some resonate more to us than others.

Hekate’s way is one that has three choices, the three roads that lie before you when you come to the crossroads.  You stand with your back to the way you have come, and now the decision time is upon you.  Two of the roads represent the dual nature of the world—past and future, up and down, male and female, night and day—and the middle road is that which lies between them, the road of the shaman, the road to fair Elphame, the Otherworld.  We can pick the road of light or the road of darkness or the road that winds between them, partaking of both and neither.  As a Witch, I know what road I’m most drawn to, but then I must admit that, despite its occasional hardship and heartbreak, I enjoy sitting on the hedge.

Copyright © 2009, Veronica Cummer, All Rights Reserved.

Veronica Cummer is the Author of Sorgitzak: Old Forest Craft and Masks of the Muse

Thoughts on Initiation

What is an initiation?  We use that word commonly in the Wiccan and Witchcraft community and it can mean anything from joining a particular group or becoming part of an oath-bound tradition where, if you don’t have the right one, you aren’t always accepted.  Initiations can be written exclusively for the person being initiated or they are ceremonies passed down over the years and that everyone partakes of through the generations.  Some see initiation as a sort of graduation ceremony—congrats, you’ve done the work and now are officially full-fledged members of the group—and others as an indication and pledge that this is but the beginning of your training.

In some indigenous cultures, an initiation ceremony is used as the transition point between childhood and adulthood, making you a responsible member of the tribe.  Some initiations are for boys to become part of the men’s mysteries and others are for girls to join the women’s groups.  Either way, they involve ceremonies and occasionally actual physical changes such as circumcision or ritual scarification to delineate the difference between the two.  Often, they are viewed as dying to your old life and being born to your new life, where there might be different ways of dressing or interacting with others, new rituals to observe.

Certainly, we can see aspects the tribal initiation ceremonies in the Craft ones.  We don’t tend to go in for physical transformation as a part of it, but still expect there to be mental and spiritual changes.  Most would agree that it’s a metaphor for death and rebirth, dying to the old and being born to the new.  However, as the majority of us come to the Craft as adults, it’s not necessarily a good thing sometimes to equate a Craft initiation to that of going from childhood to adulthood.  We should be grown-up men and women already, and so the transition must be something more of an adoption into the mysteries of the community/coven/group rather than a sign that we need to start being responsible now.

Still, once you’ve dedicated yourself to the calling and have taking the plunge of initiation, there’s no real going back.  The Craft has that in common with the rites that transform one from a child to an adult.  The work doesn’t end there, either.  Even in those groups who see initiation as a graduation, there’s always more to discover and learn and more growing to do.  Perhaps, a Craft initiation stands out as a cross between an adoption ceremony and a personal dedication.  We are adopted by our new “clan” or “tribe,” no matter how large or small, and we dedicate ourselves to exploration of the mysteries of our new life, knowing there will be other markers to herald our progress along that path.

Copyright © 2009, Veronica Cummer, All Rights Reserved.

Veronica Cummer is the Author of Sorgitzak: Old Forest Craft and Masks of the Muse