Opening a Treasure Chest: Rediscovering the Myth of the Land
For a blog dedicated to ritual and visionary magic the project we are about to embark on might seem pretty crazy. Or just plain off-topic. Well, I suggest it isn't - but quite the opposite: I claim there is treasure chest, half-buried in the ground, that magicians have walked by not noticing it for centuries. Yet, this treasure chest might prove as rich and rewarding to our magical practice as the Grimoires did over recent years. In order to stop, kneel, unbury and open it, I need you to follow me for a while - and trust if I you can.
My personal journey to finding this treasure chest was fascinating and very unexpected to say the least. Throughout this journey I probably more often considered myself the passenger than the driver - which looking back seems to be a good thing. Only when we hand-over control to beings within or around us, do they have a space they can fill on the material realm. May it be our bodies or the physical work that is accomplished through us. While we can choose to whom we hand-over control (or don't) we cannot control the type of work that they will be doing through us. It's a matter of trust in the end.
So here is the treasure waiting for us: In recent posts I shared several points on why Myth is a critical component for working magically with spirits. The importance of this component increases as the power-level of spirits advances, e.g. from elemental to daemonic to celestial to divine. We also discussed that the Western magical tradition has lost most of its Myth since the arrival of monotheism two millennia ago. What has survived since then are mostly technical traditions of and approaches to magic (e.g. Grimoires, Solomonic or Golden Dawn traditions).
So if we want to rediscover the lost Myth of the Western Magical Tradition we most likely need to search for it in unfamiliar places? And here is our half-buried treasure chest right in front of us. I suggest that the magical Myth of the West actually didn't die out with the rise of Christianity, but just like magic in general it went underground. And while the techniques of ritual magic were written down and conserved by the very people who forced them underground - the scholarly monks as agents of the church - the Myth for centuries had never been written down. Instead it was preserved in the very medium that it is: in oral stories.
The Myth of the Western Magical Tradition lie sleeping in the tradition of European folk and fairy tales. It's in the raw and uncompromising language of the old fairy tales that we can rediscover the nature of the spirits that surround us on the European lands.
We all know the heroic poems of Beowulf, the Nibelungs and the Edda as well as the well-documented tales of the Brother's Grimm. These wonderful stories contain much of the knowledge I am referring to. Yet, due to their high profile they have been picked up by singers and artists over centuries and been twisted and tweaked to fit into the political agenda of the time or to blend with the principles of arts fashionable at the specific period. I.e. people more interested in politics or art than spirits or magic have left a lot of fingerprints on the original myth. The myth sleeping below intricate plot lines which have overgrown the original characters emerging from the land.
If we want to find a more direct access to the Myth of the Land we need to search for the stories that survived the centuries but always managed to maintain a low profile. We need to find the stories too simple and too common to ever get polished by artists or to ever get twisted by politicians. What I am referring to are the fairy tales of the common people, the stories of the land meandering on low tide through the collective memory of our ancestors for centuries. We are looking for the stories that until today are so low-profile and raw that they slept unnoticed through the successive storms of pious Christianity, passionate Secularization and mercantile Industrialization...
In order to find these tales we need to become very quiet. The best way to become so quiet is to go out into the land yourself. Let's return to the place where the stories emerged from originally. Go out and sit on a bench in the woods, sit in the moss, sit on the fields and be very quiet. Listen and allow for long moments of silence. Not every type of magic needs a robe, some just need silence. Sit in the woods and be still. It will take time for your mind to get used to the voice of the land. Don’t push in either direction, just be present. Most likely you will feel changes in your body before any echo can be heard. The stories will emerge naturally when they are ready to appear. Once they are, you will find them without any effort, just by coincidence. At least this is how it happened to me.
So let me share one of these stories with you. It's a raw, unpolished story from the European land. In 1910 one Friedrich Panzer (1794-1854) was the first to rediscover and until today the only one to research on it. He made an enormous effort to trace it back in time and find all of its variations as it had spread from village to village, crossing nation by nation, country by country. All in all he collected and analyzed more than 200 variations of the tale. What I am presenting in the following posts is a re-written form of the tale according to the basic plot line identified by Panzer. Many other ways of telling the tale would have been possible - not being fixed to a single structure or form being one of the key criteria of the living Myth obviously. What I tried to preserve though is the reduced and often naive language, jumping from one element of the plot to the next and leaving large white spaces on the canvas to be filled by the imagination of the reader. I hope you'll enjoy the Tale of the Bear's Son.
Once the tale is told, we will revisit it together and see what relevance it bears to our approach to magic today. Us, that is the offspring of the very people who met Bearson and his companions out in the land, day in and day out. And while Bearson is still out there, walking the woods and valley and hills, we stopped to visit him and tell his story long ago... But without further ado, let's open the treasure chest a few inches.