Since the end of December 2022, I have been going through a 12H in Pisces profection year. Inspired by the works of Jo O’Neill and Sasha Ravitch, I have attempted to scry my own chart and explore the stories written in the twelfth house. What I saw was the seabed: a place befitting the twelfth house in its darkness and remote isolation. After all, the deep sea is a place unreachable by most means. Human bodies are not meant to dwell in such a locale, unable to withstand the freezing cold or the crushing pressure. Therefore, it makes sense why the seabed is associated with the so-called house of undoing.
“Given enough time, almost any metal will dissolve away in seawater.”1
Although it may take decades or centuries, seawater will eventually break down almost every metal. No vessel or weapon can endure the effects of water for too long. Bodies too are consumed by the sea, flesh decomposing and bones damaged by the environment. Hydrolysis is a process that affects not just soft tissues but also skeletal material as well. Through a process called bone dissolution, water can enter bone and enable its decay. The deep sea, by its very nature, unravels all it touches. In other words, all are made undone by the deep ocean.
Nevertheless, the seabed is also a place of unimaginable wealth.
“There is enough gold on the seafloor to give every person alive nine pounds.”2
The ocean floor is abundant in metals: from manganese to nickel to cobalt to copper, there is a rising demand for resources that cannot be met by the lands above. Corporations have thus begun to look below, and the seabed is rich in gold and various other elements that are just as desirable as gold. The ‘deep sea gold rush’ is a phrase uttered years ago and it is one that continues to be an allure now. Yet, time and time we are reminded of the ocean’s perilousness. Much of the deep sea is uncharted.
This is very much symbolic of the 12H in Pisces.
Pisces in the twelfth house is the realm of Jupiter and Saturn: Jupiter having dignity in the sign of Pisces, and Saturn finding his joy in the twelfth house. Pisces in the twelfth house is the underwater seabed— a palace of hidden wealth, of precious metals and gold buried beneath the sands. This is the trove of treasure that men yearn for. This is the land where men are not meant to walk. Given enough time, seawater corrodes and dissolves all. No sword is safe from this fate, no blade or body may go untouched by the salt and crushing pressure of the deep sea. Here, sunlight struggles to pierce through the depths. What dwells upon the ocean floor is strange and alien, blind and unearthly.
Pisces in the twelfth house is home to Saturn, the Sea-Devil.
Pisces in the twelfth house is home to Jupiter, Lord of Buried Wealth.
There is a reason why deep sea beasts are monstrous in their magnitude. From the giant squid to the kraken of myth, the lesson nature teaches is this: one must be large to survive in the deep and the dark. Here, the waters are icy. The ocean floor is a place of eternal winter. Much like how hibernating beasts gorge themselves full, storing fat in their body before the coming of snow, the monsters that dwell in the deep sea are colossal out of the necessity to survive— their metabolism slowing, their body growing.
At this depth, food is scarce.
And yet, there is marine snow: a shower of organic flakes falling from upper waters to the deep ocean.
Amid the darkness, there is the rare light: glowing bioluminescence, shining like stars in the underwater sky.
Life endures even in the harshest of locales. The Piscean 12H teaches one to appreciate this truth. The deep sea teaches one to grow large — to grow monstrous in size, to become a leviathan — in order to survive. This means to expand, to take up space, to grow fat and become abundant, all of which are Jupiterian virtues. Saturn comes in when he reminds us that this expansion is to be done out of necessity, not gluttony. Jupiter gives us fins to swim and gills to breathe. Saturn gives us the fish-scales of protection, an armor to endure the deep. Likewise, the ocean teaches one to cultivate the light within, even if the darkness may seem all-encompassing.
“In certain animals, the light actually appears to be vomited from the animal. In others, the light is emitted by specialized cells called photocytes. These cells are sometimes grouped into complicated lensed structures called photophores that look very much like eyes, except that light comes out instead of going in. A few species even have colonies of bioluminescent bacteria that live in black pouches. These bacteria glow continuously, but the pouches can open and close, allowing the animal to control the light emission. In other words, they farm their own light, the way we farm corn.”3
In addition to this, one should never forget that the ocean bed is a grave. Sasha Ravitch explores the concept of the ocean as a graveyard very eloquently on her Patreon— if the idea of oceanic necromancy makes your heart skip a beat, I urge you to read that post. What I have come to understand though is that, like all graveyards, there are spirits which guard this place. Gravekeepers and gatekeepers. Deep sea dragon-serpents defending their nest. In mundane terms, the destruction of the environment is an affront to many chthonic and aquatic spirits. Activities such as deep sea mining is akin to desecrating or robbing a grave.
Jupiter is the Lord of Abundance, and there is a difference between abundance and excess. It is my understanding that Jupiter, whether he be in his domicile or anywhere else, is a planet of balance. It is an insult for man to exploit what he wants without offering something in return. The ocean demands its pound of flesh— when something is taken, something must also be given. Perhaps this is why as a part of my personal practice and a personal interest of mine, I have made a vow to donate a portion of my discretionary income to a local charity to do with marine conservation on a monthly basis for at least a year. I believe this could potentially be a form of astrological remediation (similar to planetary charity), but I also simply wish to do so out of a desire to give back. Hence, I wish to give a shoutout to Love Wildlife Foundation whose website and marine projects can be found here as well as links to their PayPal here.
From an occult perspective though, the Piscean 12H (or any other house in that matter) is a location that can be explored and interacted with. Waymaking and scrying, as mentioned at the beginning of the post, is one such method. An additional advice I received from my spirits though is to do something here just as you are doing something there. In other words, whilst you are scrying the twelfth house and witnessing the scenery around you, your physical body — the one rooted here in this material world — must perform certain actions as well. The act of interacting with the scenery in your mind’s eye whilst performing certain ritualistic gestures in the physical world can allow the ‘line’ between here and there to blur.
As an aside, I would like to point out that this method of interacting with the astrological houses is one that was pioneered by Sasha Ravitch. Regardless, my personal method to interact with the Piscean 12H and its Lord is as follows.
First, I perform the usual preliminary cleansing rite. Then, I set up my ritual components: a candle floating in a bowl of seawater, with sand and wood and flowers placed in the bowl as well. Other organic offerings can also be given. Should you have no access to seawater then water mixed with sea salt will suffice. In this case, you may tell the salt to recall its origins in the sea and infuse its property into the rest of the water it is mixed in. Likewise, a hagstone may be added to the bowl as well, or simply held in your hands. Should you decide to use the hagstone, then implore the hagstone to conjure forth the spirits of the deep sea, its hole being akin to a portal or a gate. The ritual is to be performed either at the beach at night, or in any place of utter darkness or in a place as dark as you can make it.
As for the ritual itself, you must first gaze into the twelfth house of your natal chart, seeing or envisioning its aquatic scenery. Feel yourself being there and looking around. Then, you may light the candle and say the words below, calling out to the lord of the place and his retinue:
O Lord of the Uncharted Depths! O creatures of Deep Waters, you submarine beasts of the icy cold! Come— to you I make this offering. Upon the water I offer these flowers and wood, the source of marine snow! Upon the water I offer this light, the fire of luminescent glow!
Iovis Pater, Lord of Buried Wealth: what gold lies beneath your grave? Far have I swum to witness your splendor. Far have I swum to reach your realm. For your sake, my feet have become fins. My breath traded for gills, my feathers peddled for scales. I come to you wearing a crown of corals. I come to you wearing a veil of kelp.
This vow I make, before your altar of stone: bones of kingdoms long dead shall not be pillaged. I am here to defend you, to love you and adore you. O Lord of Treasures, hallowed are these coins! Gilded and gleaming be the crown upon your head!
May the light of my soul shine like stars in the dark. In colors myriad, watch how I glow! In lapis blue and lambent green, in blazing red and brilliant gold— candescent is my light, the beating of my heart a fire in the cold!
Lord of Oceans Deep, grant to me a place in your realm: this kingdom of buried gold, of ineffable wealth, the grave of civilizations old! Allow me to grow large, to grow leviathan, my limbs colossal and maw lined with teeth. May I eat my fill, thriving in the treacherous depths. May light never abandon me, and your favor never desert me.
Lord of the Unfathomable Blue: into copper, cobalt, or phosphorus, I am yours to take and unmake.
As you say the words, imagine an inner light within you glowing and filling you up. You may sit with the candle until the candle burns out, or you may put out the candle by placing the flame into the water. The remains of all that is in the bowl is to be left to the ocean or, if the ocean is inaccessible, the earth or the crossroads.
I believe that those with an aquatic 12H — in other words, those with their twelfth house in water signs — should be able to adapt the ritual above for their own needs as well. In my experimental attempts to scry and understand other aquatic 12H placements, I have gathered the following:
12H Scorpio is the black blood of the earth, the crude-oil-as-veins beneath the ocean bed. It is the fire of oil spills, the petroleum lighting the ocean aflame. It is the underwater volcanoes, the hydrothermal vents wherein magma may erupt. It is the subaquatic smithy of Hephaestus, where metals are forged in magma and blades are tempered with salt.
12H Cancer is the palace of the Crustacean Queen. She is a strange-looking thing, with spidery limbs. Thin and elongated, she sways in the current, her eyes unblinking. The colors here are dizzying: an ever-shifting rainbow. This is the home of mantic crabs of kaleidoscopic shells. This is the home of pale, pearlescent krill, floating like ghosts, translucent in the waters. Here, instead of sand, the seafloor is encrusted with barnacles. Here, a flower field of undulating anemone blooms in prismatic hues.
12H Pisces is the grave of buried gold. It is in this place, thousands of leagues deep beneath the ocean, where the remains of forgotten civilizations rest. Deep beneath the sands lie unimaginable wealth, the treasure trove of precious metals that mankind yearns to get his hands on. The waters here are cold and the beasts who swim here are leviathan in size— terrifying and majestic. The waters here are unforgiving but, even amid the dark and the suffocating pressure, there is light and there is life. Here, bioluminescence glows like stars in the night.
If anyone wishes to use these imagery as inspiration for their own practices, then please feel free. I would also love to hear your experiences, so do drop me a message if you wish to!
This article will discuss the folktale of the Manohra and how it may be a local interpretation of the story of the Pleiades— the seven celestial sisters, hunted by Orion. Likewise, there will be an exploration of the shamanistic element of the Manohra dance tradition, where ritual and dance and magic and spirit possession blurs into one. Finally, the Orion-esque figure of Phran Boon — the hunter of Manohra — will be examined. The article will then end with a retelling of the tale of Betelgeuse and Rigel, two stars within the constellation of Orion, as star-crossed lovers.
The Pleiades: Seven Celestial Sisters
Many may already be familiar with the basic structure of the myth of the Pleiades. But to those unaware, the Greek myth of the Pleiades could be surmised with how the Pleiades are the seven daughters of the Titan Atlas and the Oceanid Pleione: Maia, Electra, Taygete, Celaeno, Alcyone, Sterope, and Merope. When Atlas was forced to carry the heavens on his shoulders, Orion began to pursue all of the Pleiades. The hunt went on for seven years, and in order to prevent the sisters from being caught, Zeus transformed the sisters first into doves, and then into stars. The seven sisters thus became the seven stars of the Pleiades constellation, and the constellation of Orion is said to still pursue them across the night sky. Yet, there also exists an alternative retelling where all seven sisters ended up committing suicide as they were so saddened by either the fate of their father, Atlas, or due the loss of their siblings, the Hyades.
Several months ago, Jessica Hart (@jess.of.the.harts on IG) had given a presentation on the tale of the Pleiades and Alcyone, reviewing familiar European stories before examining wider patterns that emerge when considering Pacific, Siberian and Japanese folklore. Her talk could be viewed within Sasha Ravitch’s Patreon here. In the presentation, Hart outlines six different Pleiadean motifs that often come up in folktales from across the globe, the motifs being that of 1) water, 2) bird-women, 3) gender taboos, 4) grief and 5) music / dancing. I eagerly urge those interested in learning more to go watch Hart’s presentation for it truly is a heartfelt and well-researched talk on the Pleiades. With those motifs established, I would like to explore some local Thai folklore related to the Pleiades.
In Thailand, the Pleiades are also associated with birds— in this case, with chickens. The Pleiades are known here as the Dao Luk Kai which translates to the ‘Chick Stars’. A folk tale tells of a poor elderly couple who lived in a forest. The couple raised a family of chickens: a mother hen and her six or seven chicks. One day, a monk arrived at the couple’s home, and it is customary for offerings to be given to monks when they pass by. Worried that they had no suitable food to offer him, the elderly couple contemplated cooking the mother hen. The hen overheard the conversation and rushed back to the coop to say farewell to her children. She told them to take care of themselves, and that her death would repay the kindness of the elderly couple, who had taken care of all of them for so long. As the mother hen’s feathers were being burned over a fire, the chicks threw themselves into the fire to die along with their mother.
The tale above bears some similarity to the Pleiadean motifs as outlined by Jessica Hart. First, the Pleiades are associated with hens and chicks whom are avian. Secondly, it could be said that the seven sisters are represented by the seven chicks (or the six chicks plus the mother hen, to become seven). The decision for the chicks to commit suicide over the grief of their mother is also reminiscent of how the Pleiades are sometimes said to have committed suicide over their grief for Atlas’ fate.
Through this essay, I wish to argue that aside from the tale of the Chick Stars, there exists another Thai folktale connected to the Pleiades: the tale of Manohra.
Temple artwork depicting the Mother Hen star and her chicks, taken from Pengkaew (2000)
The Story of Manohra
One of my favorite retellings of the Manohra folktale is this abbreviated retelling here which is accompanied by the Manohra dance. It was filmed as part of a Living Traditions Grant to Las Vegas-based Thai master teacher Supatra Chemprachum, with the aim of documenting the choreography of this dance for teaching purposes and cultural preservation. For those who prefer reading, I have also transcribed the retelling below:
A long time ago, high on a tall mountain — halfway between heaven and the earth — lived the king who had seven beautiful daughters. They were kinnaree, beings with special powers, half-human half-bird. They could remove their wings and tails, and take human forms. The king’s youngest daughter was named Manohra, and she was said to be the most beautiful of all. When the moon was full, manohra and her sisters would put on their wings and tails, and fly from their home — high on Krailat Mountain — to an enchanting lake in the Himmapan forest far below. When they reached the shore, they took off their wings and tails to bathe in the moonlight and the fresh, sparkling water.
There was another king who lived on the other side of the Himmapan forest. This king had one son: a handsome and powerful warrior named Phra Suthon. One of the prince’s hunters who had lost his way was traveling through the Himmapan forest on a full moon night when he saw the kinnaree princesses frolicking in the lake. He was struck by their beauty and was determined to bring one home to be his prince’s bride. On the night of the next full moon, Manohra and her sisters flew down from Krailat Mountain. The hunter was there, by the lake shore, hiding in the bushes. As soon as their backs were turned, he crept down the bank and took one set of wings and tail from the lake shore.
When the kinnaree sisters came back, the hunter leaped from bushes, frightening them. They rushed to put on their wings and tails but Manohra’s were not there, so she could not fly and was captured. She was sad and frightened but when she was presented to Phra Suthon, it was love at first sight. They soon became married. The queen put Manohra’s wings and tail in the royal treasury for safekeeping. Manohra and Phra Suthon lived happily for a little while, but not for long.
There was a scheming court advisor who had hoped to marry his daughter to the prince. He told the king that an enemy was planning to attack, so Phra Suthon would have to go to the border to fight. One night whilst the warrior-prince was away, the king had a nightmare. This court advisor convinced him that this dream meant that Manohra must be sacrificed by fire or else the queen was going to die. Manohra asked only that she’d be allowed to die complete with her wings and tail— she would perform the beautiful and exotic kinnaree dance for the court. At the end of this dance, she would fly into the fire to make the sacrifice and save the queen. So, it was agreed.
Manohra began dancing.
She tried her wings to see if she could fly. As soon as her feet came off the floor, the guards lifted their bows to take aim. Manohra kept dancing, but with each step she flew a little higher until she had flown so high that their arrows could no longer reach her and she was free. Before she flew away, Manohra asked the queen to warn Phra Suthon not to follow after her; without wings to fly, the journey for him would be long and perilous. Manohra loved her husband and did not want to leave him, but she feared for her own life. As she flew over the Himmapan forest, she stopped to visit a wise old hermit who lived along the way. She knew Phra Suthon might not heed her warning and so she left gifts for him: a golden ring he had given her, and an enchanted cloth to protect him from the dangers along the way.
When he returned home and found her gone, Phra Suthon chose to follow Manohra in spite of the danger. He met the hermit and received the gift Manohra had left for him. On the bank of a big river he climbed the tallest tree he could find to look for a crossing. At the top was an eagle’s nest, as big as a house. The gigantic birds were talking: they were going to fly to Krailat Mountain for a festival to celebrate Manohra’s return. Phra Suthon cleverly hid in between their feathers, holding on for dear life as they flew. When they arrived at the palace, he dropped down into the garden outside the palace to wait for his chance.
When Manohra had returned home, the king had ordered her to stay outside the palace walls for seven years, seven months and seven days to wash off the smell of the human kingdom. Each day she was bathed in water from a pond in the garden. Phra Suthon’s long journey to Krailat Mountain ended in that same garden, on the last day of Manohra’s exile. He watched Manohra’s attendants at the pond, trying to think of a way to get a message to his wife. He offered to lift the heavy pot of water to put on the last attendant’s shoulder, and was able to slip Manohra’s golden ring into it. Manohra found the ring when the water was poured over her and knew at once that her husband had come. Later that day, she was joyfully welcomed back into the palace for the first time since her return. When she told the story of what had happened, her father asked: “if he truly loved you, why didn’t he come for you?” Manohra answered: “he is here.”
When they met Phra Suthon, so handsome and powerful, they were ready to forgive anything— almost. The king told Phra Suthon that he could keep Manohra as his wife if he could prove that he really knew her. The prince agreed, but when Manohra and her sisters were brought in, they had all been made up to look exactly alike. Phra Suthon could not tell one from the other. Then, he remembered the ring, and knew in his heart that Manohra would be wearing it. Sure enough, he correctly chose his wife from all the kinnaree sisters and they were reunited at last. Phra Suthon and Manohra returned to his kingdom where his father — the king — felt so badly about everything that happened that he gave up his throne so that Phra Suthon could be king and Manohra — the kinnaree — his wife and queen.
And they lived happily ever after.
“The Seven Bathing Kinnaris”, 1995, oil on canvas, by Chakrabhand Posayakrit
Analysis of the Tale
It should be noted that the tale transcribed above is merely an abbreviated version. A study by Ginsburg (1971) examines the various versions of the folk tale that was found transcribed throughout history, including a Pali text, a text within the National Library, and a text found at Songkhla. These versions often have details that are glossed over in abbreviated retellings, such as how the hunter won the favor of a naga lord who then taught him how to catch the kinnaree. Likewise, in the Pali text, it is the king who suffers a nightmare— a nightmare that happened to be about ‘intestines’ which ‘flow out and encircle the world three times’. This could perhaps be linked to how far eastern tales related to the Pleiades often have imagery of ‘guts’ in them, such as in the Japanese or east Asian folklore, as explored by Jessica Hart in her presentation.
Regardless, the story of Manohra is one with several glaringly obvious Pleiadean motifs present in it. The most obvious is probably how Manohra is one of the seven sisters who live on a mountain high up in the heavens, making her one of the seven celestial sisters as commonly found in Pleiadean myths. She and the rest of her kinnaree sisters could also be described as swan maidens as well, for in traditional Thai art depictions, a kinnaree is often shown to have the arms of a woman, and the wings, tail and feet of a swan. The depiction of how the kinnaree are able to take off their wings and tails when bathing is also reminiscent of how animal brides are often presented in fairy tales. The fact that Manohra was the sister who was ‘left behind’, unable to flee the hunter with the rest of her sisters, makes her a figure that bears similarity to Merope, the so-called lost or missing Pleiad according to Greek mythology.
Additionally, Manohra’s guile of using her celestial dance to distract the guardsmen and archers also fits with how the Pleiades are said to be associated with music and dancing. In traditional Thai beliefs, it is similarly claimed that the kinnaree are renowned for the beauty of their dance, song and poetry, and thus they are a traditional symbol of feminine beauty and grace. This is what sets the bird-maiden apart from your average human being, and the idea of them being Other or different from humans is further exacerbated by how Manohra has to wash herself for seven years, seven months and seven days in order to free herself from the human scent. The motif of a celestial maiden being tainted by humanity and unable to return to the heavens due to said human taint is also something present in the Japanese Tennyo folktale explored by Jessica Hart in her presentation as well.
Finally, is the motif of Manohra being hunted by a hunter, just like how the Pleiades were hunted by Orion. A clear difference in the tale is how Manohra ended up in a happy marriage with a prince rather than being partnered with the hunter himself. It is interesting to see too how Manohra was ordered to be sacrificed by fire, just like how in the tale of the Seven Chicks the Mother Hen was burned over a fire. Thus, it is safe to say that there is ample evidence supporting how the tale of Manohra is likely a Pleiadean tale, interpreted via local lens.
The Manohra Dance
One of the ways the manohra myth survives into modernity is through its retellings via the Manohra dance-drama. The dance has origins in Southern Thailand, and was recently granted the UNESCO heritage status. These dancers are called ‘nora’, a term shortened from Manohra. The word nora carries a variety of meanings in Thai society. In certain areas of Thailand, especially in the southern provinces, a trained nora shaman — known as nairong nora — is a mediator between the mundane world and the spirit world. Nairong nora (often shortened to nairong) have traditionally all been men, and they are well known for their magic and their ability to exorcise. In contemporary times though, the word ‘nora’ is often seen simply as a type of southern folk dance-drama entertainment and has no relation to shamanism.
Despite the changing times, the nora dance (also known as the ‘lakhn chatri’) still sometimes holds a magico-religious function to it. This is because the dances are often performed in the kae bon ritual, the ritual name literally translating to mean the ‘releasing or correcting of a vow’. Here, a supplicant may pray to a spirit to grant them boons or favors, and the supplicant must vow to make an offering in return. If the favor is granted, the supplicant must then placate the spirit with the promised offering lest they incur the wrath of the spirit and suffer from misfortune due to a broken vow. The nora dance serves the purpose of being an offering to the spirit, wherein dancers are hired to dance in front of spirit shrines in order to fulfill the promise made during the vow. Dances can still be seen performed at the Lak Muang (‘city pillar’) shrine in Bangkok — a shrine that is said to house the guardian spirit of Thailand’s capital city — along with other spirit shrines throughout the country.
The magio-religious root of the dance can also be seen in how invocations are to be faithfully recited prior to the start of every performance. The manohra invocation begins with homage to teachers of the art, to parents, to Buddha and to the spirit. Then, comes the recitation of the story of Thep Singhon — the legendary first Manohra master — before proceeding with the retelling of Manohra’s capture and marriage to Phra Suthon. Naturally, there may be variations between the performances when performed by different troupes (such as the story of Thep Singhon being mixed with the folkloric version of the Suthon tale). Ginsburg (1971) expands upon this in a much greater depth that is beyond the scope of this essay; I do recommend you read up on his paper though if you are interested in the details.
In interviews with manohra dancers in 1969, Ginsburg (1971) found that there is evidence of a ‘compulsive feeling’ to continue the family tradition. The interviewed dancers spoke of the necessity of continuing the performances, else they may be cursed for abandoning the family tradition. Even the props and costumes used in the performance are treated as sacred objects, and any accident to them — such as a crown or mask falling from its place of storage — signifies the end of the owner’s career as manohra dancers. Mantras were also recited as a part of the dancing practice, and much attention was devoted to these mantras in former times especially in competitions between rival troupes where the mantras were essential in protecting one’s performance against the rival’s curse. The magical nature of the performance meant that in the past, young girls were commonly forbidden to watch the manohra performances, lest they be bewitched into throwing themselves at the manohra dance master in order to be one of his wives.
Although troupe performances can be done as a form of simple entertainment, it is important to understand too that in the past (and in certain rural areas in the present) manohra dancers were the equivalent of shamans within the local community, renowned for their knowledge of magic and employed for exorcisms (the rong khru ritual, for example) and other ceremonies. In her paper In Contact with the Dead: Nora Rong Khru Chao Ban Ritual of Thailand, Jungwiwattanaporn (2006) explores the shamanistic nature of the rong khru ritual, an annual ceremony conducted exclusively within a nora troupe, dubbing it the ‘ancestor-trance’ ritual. To quote the paper:
‘[…] there has always been a strong belief among the nora performers in the existence of the spirits of both mythological and historical nora teachers who possess supernatural power. Although each nora school might have its own line of historical teachers, all nora performers as well as their families believe that they all share similar mythological origin. This creates a strong tie for a potential communitas of nora performers that manifests itself during a ritual. It is therefore not only an act of piousness but also an obligation that the living nora members will conduct a regular ceremony known as nora rong khru. This event will allow all the respected spirits to communicate with the family members via trance possession so that the living can return their gratitude to the dead and the dead can grant blessings to the living.’
In other words, it is believed that the rong khru ritual allows the nora dancer to communicate with their ancestors and teachers, both the historical ones and the mythological ones— calling upon the mighty dead to either propitiate them or ask for blessings. The nora rong khru ceremony provides a gateway for their ancestral teacher spirits to descend and possess the designated trancers (or any ritual participants who happen to be ‘chosen’ by the spirits). It is due to nora’s abilities to both entertain and bridge the worlds of the living and the dead that the nora rong khru ritual has been ‘borrowed’ for other occasions when a contact with the spirit world is needed. Hence, the nora rong khru ritual can also serve many goals. Some of the goals include the healing of illnesses and the removal of birthmarks, or the conduction of a graduation ceremony for the dancers-in-training, giving the nora apprentices an opportunity to go through a rite of passage or and move on to the next level of their practice.
The rong khru chao ban ritual is an instance where the chao ban — the villagers, those outside the dancing troupe — are able to make use of the ritual for the purposes of contacting various ghosts and spirits. For example, the ritual can be used to mediate between the villagers and their ancestral spirits who refuse to be reborn because they want to protect their living family members. Despite the importance of such a ceremony, not every household can afford to have the ritual done every year due to its extravagant cost and demanding preparations. Therefore, it can take anywhere from one to nine years for a family to hold the next ceremony.
When it comes to the training for a nora performer, the training ranges from traditional dancing to singing to acting to shamanic study and magic practice. The nairong — the leader responsible for training the dancers, managing the troupe, and leading the shamanic rituals — would require an expertise in trance induction, emphasizing the ritual process in order to induce a ‘full’ trance mediumship, along with knowledge in making charms and medicines. Usually only the selected ‘heir’ of a nora line will be taught the secret arts of nora shamanism and magic, thus becoming the troupe’s nairong, leaving the rest of the troupe as dancers-mediums and musicians. Although it is possible for a female to be the leader, most troupe leaders are males. In Thailand, women are traditionally not allowed to become a nairong.
images of a rong khru ceremony, taken from sanook.com
Phran Boon: Hunter of Manohra
The tale of the Pleaides would not be complete without the mention of Orion. Likewise, Manohra’s story would not exist if not for the Hunter whose cunning was used to steal her kinnaree wings. In the written transcription of the Manohra folktale, the hunter who trapped and captured Manohra is given the name Phran Boon. The word Phran is a title that translates literally to ‘hunter’, whilst Boon refers to the name of the hunter.
As elaborated upon within Ginsburg (1971), the Pali version of the Manohra story includes a subplot of how Phran Boon once gained the favor of the nagas and was welcomed into the naga underworld for seven days. It is assumed that during his time there, he was able to gain various material and spiritual gifts. When the hunter stumbled across the bathing kinnaree, the story goes on to explain how the hunter went to the forest-dwelling hermit to ask for advice in catching the kinnaree, to which the hermit explained that a naga noose was needed. The hunter then obtained the said noose with some protests from the naga, and used the noose to capture Manohra.
The inclusion of nagas into the story is one that I find to be fascinating, for there appears to be a historical relationship between bird-women and serpentfolk. For example, when it comes to the ‘crane dance’ as performed in Delos, in Ancient Greece, the Ancient Greek word for crane, geranos, is related to a homonym from the root *-ger, meaning to wind, ‘as of rivers and serpents’. The following quote is taken from Singer et al (2019), expanding upon this:
‘[l]ike so many other old maze dances, it probably originated as an imitation of the winding path of a serpent. [I]nscriptions [found on Delos] indicate that the dancers carried rhymoi – a word over which there has been great controversy. It actually seems to mean “ropes”; and it is highly possible that in the classical period, at least, the dancers may have carried a long rope-like or garland-like object suggestive of a serpent. The ritual carrying of a large snake (or a replica of one) in a dance is not without parallel. [Compare the Chinese dragon dance.] As we have noted, the Minoan Cretans seem to have had similar dances; and from them the Delian dance may well have stemmed. As performed by Theseus and his companions in the legend, the geranos is clearly a winding maze or “snake dance.”’
Thus, there appears to be some connection between the ‘crane dance’ and what may be considered the ‘snake dance’. It may also be possible the ‘ropes’ were used in the aforementioned crane dance as well. Naturally, this creates a possible connection to how the hunter of Manohra caught her by using a ‘naga lasso’— a snake/serpent rope, of sorts.
Moreover, the same way the Manohra is associated with the nora shaman-dancers, the hunter Phran Boon is revered in southern Thailand as a local spirit-deity. In the Manohra dance-drama, the role of Phran Boon is a comedic one and the performer playing him traditionally wears a red half-mask. The mask is one of Phran Boon’s sacred symbols, and amulets are commonly made in the shape of the mask. For brevity’s sake, I decided to not explore Phran Boon’s local cult too much, but images of his performers and shrine will be shown below, for those interested.
image of Phran Boon (red mask, left) catching Manohra (right) taken from Twitter
the shrine of Phran Boon, at Wat Yang Yai, image taken from sanook.com
Betelgeuse and Rigel: Star-Crossed Lovers
Now that we’re on the topic of Orion, I wish to turn our attention towards two fixed stars in the constellation of Orion: Betelgeuse and Rigel. Betelgeuse is a star located on the right arm of Orion, whilst Rigel is a star situated on the left foot of Orion. There exists a traditional Tai Yai folktale that depicts the stars Betelgeuse and Rigel as ill-fated lovers. In this story, Betelgeuse is said to be a woman named Nang Upem, whilst Betelgeuse is a man named Khun Samlaw. For context, Nang is a title used to address women whilst Khun a title used to address men. The following tale is translated by me from Nipatporn Pengkaew’s book titled Tai Baan Doo Dao. To my knowledge, there exists no English translation of this specific version of the folk tale, especially since Pengkaew only acquired the story by interviewing locals about it as the tale is something that is passed on via words of mouth.
The story is as follows:
Khun Samlaw and Nang Upem were married as husbands and wives. However, the mother of Khun Samlaw was disgusted by her daughter-in-law, for she would rather have her son marry a richer woman. Yet, in front of Khun Samlaw, the mother pretended to act kind and amicable towards Nang Upem. It was only behind Khun Samlaw’s back that the mother would treat her daughter-in-law cruelly. Unwittingly, Khun Samlaw decided to leave his wife in the care of his mother, unaware of his mother’s duplicitous nature.
Khun Samlaw had a job as a traveling merchant, selling cattle in distant lands. His business trips would take four to five months at a time. During the time when Khun Samlaw was away on business, Nang Upem realized that she was pregnant. Without the protection of her husband, Nang Upem was helpless against the cruelty of her mother-in-law. There were times when her mother-in-law would secretly place needles in her bowls of rice, so when Nang Upem would wash the rice, her hands would be pricked by the sharp needles. Worse still, the mother-in-law purposely sabotaged the steps on the stairs so when Nang Upem stepped on those steps, she would slip— an act that proved dangerous for the baby she was carrying in her belly.
Unable to endure the torment any longer, Nang Upem decided to flee from her husband and mother-in-law’s house, hoping to travel back to her own home where her father lived. It was during this journey home that she suffered a miscarriage. Distraught, Upem placed her stillborn child on a tree stump and prayed that the stillborn child would find its way to her father. The child thus became a bird, crying for its father. The bird is locally known as the Por Weoy (ป้อเว้ย) bird, with black feathers and long legs and a cry that sounds like the word father (“พ่อเอ้ย”).
In pain and grief, Upem struggled forward until she finally reached her father’s home where she ultimately collapsed and died, bleeding out from the miscarriage. After her passing, Khun Samlaw returned from his business trip only to find his wife missing. His mother refused to tell him what happened, only that Upem had returned to her father’s house to give birth. Hence, Samlaw made his way to Upem’s father who angrily shut the door in his face, refusing to elaborate on what had occurred.
Upem’s father was the leader of his village. Using his status as the village elder, he ordered the villagers to crowd around his house and block Samlaw’s path. Samlaw used his cunning and began to throw away the money he had earned from his travels as a merchant. Upon casting the money aside, the villagers dispersed, eager to collect the coins he had thrown away. With the crowd now gone, Samlaw made his way inside the house and found himself staring at Upem’s corpse. Driven mad by grief, Samlaw unsheathed his sword from his belt, whispered for his wife to wait for him and impaled himself upon his sword. There, next to his wife, he died.
When Samlaw’s mother heard news of what happened, she became furious. According to Tai Yai traditions, if someone dies and another person dies with them shortly after, the second person who died have to be buried first an hour before the body of the first person who died can be buried. The villagers were also adamant that Samlaw must also be buried here in the place where he died as per tradition. Upem’s father also wished that Upem and Samlaw should be buried together, for if they fail to be together in this life then perhaps they may be able to be with each other in the next.
To this, Samlaw’s mother disagreed. She did not wish for her son and Upem to be near each other, not even in death. Hence, she took a bamboo stick (called ไม้คานสามตา in Thai) and placed it in between their two bodies. The Tai Yai people called the bamboo wood Mai Mhong (ไม้หมอง). The stars Mintaka, Alnilum and Alnitak are said to form the length of the stick separating the two lovers. The blood of her miscarriage is why Betelgeuse is a red-colored star, and this is why Betelgeuse and Rigel are positioned opposite one another.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t particularly have a strong reason to include this story in this essay. I merely wish to show that even the stars within constellation of Orion can have tales attached to it. Orion as a whole may be represented by the hunter who hunts Manohra, but the stars within Orion themselves have their own tales to tell too.
In summary, this blog post seeks to explore how the folktale of the Manohra may be in actuality a local interpretation of the Pleaides myth. Likewise, should Manohra be equivalent to one of the Pleaides, then it is logical to assume that the hunter Phran Boon is equivalent to the figure of Orion. With both figures, there appears to be a magical aspect to both Manohra and Phran Boon— Manohra’s shamanism being expressed via the Nora dances, whilst Phran Boon is venerated as a local huntsman spirit-deity. In the end, the key takeaway is that Thai folklore have a richness and depth to it that has yet to be tapped into by many scholars or practitioners interested in the study of fixed stars. It is my hopes that my attempt to explore the various nuances of Thai folklore and folk practices would aid others in deepening their understandings of the constellations and the stars.
As always, feel free to contact me via my Instagram @ivy.crowned or via the comments on this post should you have any questions or would like to discuss the topic further.
Alcyone & Pleiades presentation by Jessica Hart, September 14 2022
Ginsburg, H. (1971) The Sudhana-Manohara tale in Thai: a comparative study based on two texts from the National Library, Bangkok and Wat Machimawat, Songkhla [Preprint].
The concept of “political witchcraft” is one that grows ever popular in the western sphere. News were abound of witches joining together to curse Trump back during his terms of presidency, with even mainstream singers such as Lana Del Rey urging her fans to hex or bind the government. Recently, I have had the pleasure of being published in Revelore Press’The Gorgon’s Guide to Magical Resistance, doing my part in informing others of methods to bind those who wish to oppress them. The act of performing magic on governmental figures, however, is not one that is unique to western culture. In Thailand, the home I grew up in, occult activism has been part of the country’s political history for decades now.
In this blog post, I will focus solely on the rituals and curses and mechanisms behind them. I will not be discussing the politics of my homeland. This is not because the political context is irrelevant or unimportant— the reason is instead because there is a huge depth and complexity to Thailand’s political landscape, a complexity I fear I will fail to capture should I attempt to summarize our political history in a single blog post. Put it this way: Thailand has gone through twenty coup d’état since 1912, two of which I have lived through. That’s a lot of history to go through. To my Thai readers though, I wish to make my stance clear: I am not a “salim”. Those who know me should already know my stance on the monarchy. I support the rights to free speech (something which Thailand lacks due to Lèse-majesté law) and the right to freedom of assembly (something which is also missing in Thailand due to the various evidence of police brutality during the protests in recent years). Likewise, I loath PM Prayut.
This post will explore examples of malefica and occultism in Thailand’s political history, focusing on the magic performed during 1992, 2010, 2020 and the recent year of 2022.
[Note: I would like to thank you @rtsiraphop on IG as well for giving me advice to look at the Red Shirt protests as a case study! Also, thank you @roseauroras for giving me the motivation to write this after our conversation today *winks*!]
1992: The Mock Funeral
A very elaborate and well-documented ritual to curse a governmental figure is that of the ritual in May 1992, wherein protestors gathered in Chiang Mai and Bangkok gathered to curse Prime Minister Suchinda. The process of the ritual is as follows, as described in Rajah (2005):
An altar was erected in front of a stage; on it was placed a photograph of Suchinda surrounded by dead and withered banyan tree leaves, along with three monks’ alms bowls and a tray containing 59 1-baht coins (representing his age). Other items included a bouquet of jasmine, joss sticks, fresh fruit, raw meat, sweets (placed in a tray) and votive candles. A placard on which was written ‘phithii saap chaeng’ (cursing ritual) was conspicuously displayed in front. A master and mistress of ceremonies announced that an important ritual, an ancient tradition of the Lanna people, would be performed by a widow and widower, explaining that their words would be ‘saksit(sacred) because of their ‘intimacy with death’.
The widowed twosome took over from there, approaching the altar and planting tiny black flags on either side, then lighting joss sticks and all of the candles surrounding it […] The woman ground dried hot red chilli peppers and salt from the bowl atop the altar and then dropped them in each of the three alms bowls. Then she and her male companion turned the joss sticks upside down and planted them in the alms bowls, sprinkling more salt and more peppers as the smoke clouded Suchinda’s portrait and filled the air with rank, eye-stinging potency. Tall cylindrical rice steamers were then placed upside down over the joss sticks and allowed to ignite, their coals falling into the bowls and their smoke adding to the thickening clouds. The two officiants kneeled before Suchinda’s image, wai-ing [folding their hands in a gesture of greeting or deference] and muttering the words of the crowd’s desire
The young master of ceremonies bounded on stage and asked [the crowd] to speak with him and send the message of their hearts to the spirits. Together they (we) called upon the ‘spirits of the lak muang [the pillar for the guardian spirit of the city of Chiang Mai and the sua muang [a guardian spirit of Bangkok], and all of the spirits from the highest points of the world, from atop the mountains and from the heaven itself to come into this world and to rid Thailand of General Suchinda and his wife, and all of the five generals who have hurt the Thai people’.
The ritual acted as a mock funeral for the prime minister. There are several components to ritual, the first being the taglocks: the photo of the prime minister and the symbol of his age. Likewise, several components of the ritual — the dead banyan tree leaves (banyan being a tree known to be ‘haunted’ in Thai belief), the widow and widower planting the joss sticks upside down in the alms bowls — evoked the feel of a funeral and linked the ritual to the forces of death. Additionally, the use of pepper and smoke is a classic way to curse someone via irritating and burning them with the pepper and hot smoke. Asking the crowd to take part in the ritual is also an effective way of harnessing the power of the crowd to be added to the magic.
The smartest part of the ritual, in my opinion, is the act of calling upon the guardians of the city and the spirits of the land and heaven. The offerings of jasmine, raw meat and fresh fruit may be enough to entice and bribe the spirits of nature to participate in the ritual. With regards to the guardian spirits of the city, it should be noted that these guardian spirits are historically sworn to protect the city (and defend it against invaders). One little caveat though is the detail of to whom the guardian spirits are meant to serve. Does serving the city mean holding allegiance to whoever is in charge of the city — whether it be the lord of the city, the prime minister of the country or the king in charge of the nation — regardless of who fills that position? Or, does serving and protecting the city mean defending its people? It should be understood that many spirits do not have ‘morals’ like we do, and our concept of what is right and what is wrong may be incomprehensible to them. What they will do, however, is adhere to their pacts. Thus, if a ritual manages to invoke a term of the pact between the guardian spirits and the city/country/nation it is protecting, making the spirit view the prime minister as a threat rather than something meant to be protected, then it is very likely that the guardian spirit will turn on the governmental leader in the name of protecting the city/country/nation.
The ritual performed in Chiang Mai was then imitated in Bangkok, albeit in a more simplified manner. Here again, I quote Rajah (2005):
The ritual consisted of the following procedures. The group placed a cheap coffin in the ground:; a charcoal brazier was placed on the coffin and brought to flame. A broken alms bowl was then placed on the brazier, after which a piece of paper with Suchinda’s name written on it was added; a few chillies and some salt were then added to the broken alms bowl. The contents were then stirred and fried by an old lady using a ladle donated by a widow. Morris’ informant, a ‘local specialist in the arts of benevolent sorcery’, characterised the phithii saap chaeng performance in Chiang Mai as an inversion of ritual practices associated with ‘ancestor worship’ or ‘remembering rites normally carried out for loved ones’. In place of an image of a dead relative, there was the image of an intended victim, surrounded by dead and withered leaves which burned and separated him from the living, black flags symbolising evil and continuous death instead of white ones symbolising purity and rebirth, and a ‘bowel-ripping meal’ of chilli and salt in place of normal food offerings. The food offerings in the tray, on the other hand, were intended for the tutelary spirits that were invoked to get rid of Suchinda.
To invert a benevolent ritual and turn it into a curse is a classic cursing technique. What more, in the Thai cultural context, people are often cremated upon death— the act of frying and burning a taglock of the Prime Minister (in this case, a piece of paper with his name) is therefore yet another symbolic way of cremating him. Both the old lady and the widow involved in the ritual are once again individuals with a proximity to death. The old lady is associated with death by her inability to bear children (the lack of fertility to create life) and the widow is associated with loss and grief and proximity. Cooking, likewise, is a transformative process: to have an old lady use a ladle donated by a widow cooking taglock is an act of turning a life-giving process (cooking food to be eaten) into a life-denying one.
Additionally, as a part of the ‘Black Magic Rite to Conquer the Tyrants and the Five-Devil Parties’ performed on June 9th, the souls of the dead from the massacres of 14 October 1973, 6 October 1976, as well as those killed on 17-20 May 1992 were democratically called to witness the rite. Not only this, but ‘deities and all the holy spirits of the country’ were also asked to help ‘convict the felons’— the felons here referring to those in power who are believed to have committed crimes against the country they were meant to serve. The next day, on the 10th of June, House Speaker Arthit Urairat appointed Anand Panyarachun as the Interim Prime Minister, completely bypassing the leader of the so-called ‘devil party coalition’. In other words, it could be interpreted that the curse took just one day to see visible results, and in the following months the pro-military parties and the generals of the NPKC would be swept from power (Callahan, 1994).
2010: The Blood Curse
In March 2010, members of the extra parliamentary opposition movement to the government of PM Abhisit Vejjajiva — known as the ‘red shirts’ — performed a ritual that shocked most who witnessed it: they collected their own blood and spilled it outside Government House, the site of the governing Democrat Party headquarters, and the premier’s residence in Bangkok. According to Cohen (2012), about 300 liters of blood from approximately 70,000 donors were collected, and rumors circulated that ‘the blood collected [was] mixed with water’ and that a ‘large amount of pig’s blood was ordered from a slaughterhouse’, implying that pig’s blood were mixed with the human blood. The ritual began when a statue of Buddha was placed on the gate of the Government House. Then, a man dressed in white garments claiming to be a ‘Hindu Brahmin’ recited spells and incantations before pouring blood in front of the gate. Whilst all of this was occurring, at about the same time , some red shirt supporters led by a senior monk, ‘smeared blood on the statue of King Kawila of Chiang Mai’ (Cohen, 2012). Likewise, the blood was also used artistically in many symbolic activities, such one where a man painted ‘a Buddha image with candle wax soaked in blood’.
Needless to say, this form of protests became a huge controversy. The royal palace’s chief Brahmin priest rebuked the protestors by claiming that blood spilling was not a Brahmin rite, denouncing the rite and the ritual which ‘was not carried out in accordance with proper procedures’. Yet, the white-clad person who performed the blood-spilling rite at Government House has claimed to be a ‘real Brahmin’, because ‘he was the son of a former royal Brahmin priest who conducted prayers and prepared ceremonies and offerings for the royal family for decades’. This claim faced criticisms as the royal palace’s chief Brahmin priest dismissed the man’s Brahminic credentials, revealing that man’s father had been ‘dismissed 20 years ago from royal service’, and argued that his son ‘could not be considered a proper Brahmin priest because his actions during the blood splashing were inappropriate’. A debate then ensued when the man argued back, stating that ‘being a Brahmin requires ancestry, so I’m definitely a Brahmin’. He then made an important distinction, claiming that ‘I am not a royal Brahmin, but I am a real Brahmin priest’ (Cohen, 2012).
I, personally, do not know enough about Brahminic priesthood to support either claims. What I am more interested in, however, is the question as posed in Cohen (2012) of ‘if it was not recognised as a Brahmin rite, what kind of rite was it?
I believe the answer could be understood if one looked back at the functions of the social contract between the land spirits and its people, such as one that used to be literally engrained in Lanna’s national legislation. All of this is explained further in Engel (2021).
Before Siam (the historic name of Thailand) was Siam, it was composed of various city-states and kingdoms. From the 13th to the 18th centuries, the Lanna Kingdom existed in what in the present day is Northern Thailand. Separated by more than 400 miles, travel and communication between the central kingdom and Lanna was difficult. Hence, it was hard for the central kingdom to maintain power over Lanna. At times, Lanna was governed directly or indirectly by neighboring Burma. At other times, Lanna paid tribute to the kingdoms of central Thailand while still maneuvering to protect its autonomy. In terms of culture and beliefs, Lanna had its own distinctive language and culture, its own flavour of Buddhism, along with its own legal tradition. Lanna’s pre-modern law texts, known as Mangraisat, were organically connected to village-level customs and to Lanna-style Buddhism. This grants the pre-modern laws three important characteristics, particularly with respect to the law of wrongs.
Firstly, is the connection of law to spirits and the supernatural. Wrongful acts were expressed in terms of their offensiveness to the spirits and were identified by spirit mediums or by local princes endowed with religious authority. Secondly, is the connection of law to place. The locality where improper conduct occurred could determine both the nature of the offense and the wrongdoer’s obligations, as what was harmless in one place could be dangerous elsewhere as it may offend the spirits of that place but not at other locales. In a sense, the geography of Lanna also acted as a map of the law. Finally, is the law’s connection to collective identity. Wrongs to individuals or groups were commonly framed in terms of the harms done to their ‘khwan’, a term which refers to their ‘spiritual essence’, with the understanding that the khwan of villagers were linked to one another. Furthermore, natural locales such as forests and mountains also had their khwan, which therefore connects the human communities to their natural environments. This means that wrongful acts would harm the khwan of communities and their environments, not just individuals.
When the Chakri Dynasty was founded in 1782, the newly installed King Rama I attempted to consolidate his kingdom by ordering a new compilation of prior laws. This resulted in the creation of the Law of the Three Seals, a legal code closely connected to Rama I’s broader effort to reform Thai religion. Later, when Rama V came into power, he enacted a Western-style ‘rational’ legal system with courts and law codes fashioned after French and German models, all in an attempt to construct a modern nation-state. This framework was imposed upon Lanna and other regions of Thailand. The European-style law codes aimed to sever any connection between law and spirits. Hence, the law was no longer variable according to location but was uniform across all the spaces of the nation-state. The concept of collective identity in terms of legality disappeared. Likewise, the concept of khwan was banished from legal discourse. Yet, despite the efforts to bring greater ‘rationality’ to Thai Buddhism and erase the Lanna religion of its spiritual beliefs, Lanna-style legal consciousness did not simply disappear. Village mediators continued to resolve conflicts. Spirit mediums continued to voice the concerns and commands of locality spirits. Wrongdoers were still required to appease spirits and restore the khwan via folk rituals.
This brings me back to the question posed: if the blood curse was not recognised as a Brahmin rite, what kind of rite was it? According to Engel (2021), it would appear that the blood curse demonstration was an attempt by red-shirt protesters to reconcile the two forms of legal consciousness. As the Thai judicial system had failed them, the traditional principles of law, sacrality, and community cannot therefore be adequately expressed through judicial decisions. These principles, however, could possibly be better communicated through a ritual that exists outside of the modern framework of legality— a ritual that hearkens back to Thailand’s animistic roots. Thus, unlike the Thai judicial system, the blood curse spoke a language that is culturally intelligible to the protestors. Here, the spirits are invoked — just like they would’ve been should the Lanna legal system prevail — and are asked to harm an adversary and correct the imbalance in the modern order. In many ways, the curse represents a darker side of traditional Lanna law, but it rests on the same foundation of traditional legality, sacrality, and collective identity.
2020 to today: The Ongoing Fight
One of the most memorable acts of spirit invocation in relation to political protest in recent years that I remembered witnessing live was during September of 2020, when the anti-government protestors installed a plaque at Sanam Luang. On the plaque were declarations of how Thailand ‘belongs to the people, and not the king’. The ceremony of the plaque installation was made to be a religious one, where Pali chants were incanted during the installation process.
A prayer was also said to invoke the spirits, with the audience encouraged to pray along as follows (translation by me, based upon this video): ‘I offer these flowers, incense and candles to the spirits and theps [a term referring to god-like spirits] who rules over the heaven, who rules over the earth, who rules over the netherworld. May all theps, even if your names are not called out, if the voice of the people reaches you, may you appear at this place and attend this ritual and bear witness that this is the plaque installation ceremony of democracy, of the victory of the people. May feudalism fall and the people prosper.’
Aside from this, the protest leader also invoked the powers of Phra Piree Pinard (พระไพรีพินาศ). It is said that around the year of 1848, an individual gifted a Buddha statue to King Rama IV in order to protect the realm from enemies. Subsequent Buddha amulets were then created with the image of Phra Piree Pinard, claiming that anyone who wishes ill upon the country will face devastation and divine retribution. In a sense, the protestors were invoking powers that were meant to defend the nation in order to fight those whom they believed were endangering the nation via their corrupt and morally ill ways. Additionally — I cannot find a video of this moment unfortunately, but if my memory was correct — the protest leader had used the amulet to ‘speak to the spirit of King Rama IV who commissioned these amulets’ claiming that ‘right now your children [the current monarch institution] have forgotten their subjects’. If anyone has a video of the moment then please let me know and I will link it onto the blog.
[Edit: the video is available here at around the 29 minute mark.]
Moving onwards to the last year of 2022, there have been occurrences where protestors performed magic to curse the current prime minister, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha. During the rallies of August 2022, protestors cursed PM Prayut and demanded that Thailand’s prime minister step down for exceeding his term limit. Those interested could watch the video of the issue and ritual in English here. Furthermore, there exists this documentary released in November 2022, presented by Assistant Professor Edoardo Siani of the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, exploring how protestors pick astrologically propitious days and times for protests and perform sorcery against the ruling elite. The documentary could be viewed here.
Finally, I wish to end this blog post by saying that pictures and videos of the events I described above could all be found online— everything from the blood curse to pictures of youth protesters performing magic. You can look them up if you are curious although some of the pictures may be disturbing to certain readers unused to seeing such things. Furthermore, there are also other instances of occult rituals being performed in modern day protests that I failed to mention simply because I wish to keep my essay from being too long-winded.
Thai occultists are no strangers to casting malefica in the name of political change. Many rituals like the mock funeral or the blood spilling ritual may seem barbaric to western eyes, but all of them are rooted in the mechanisms of magic and the concept of animism. It is my hope that, should the political witchcraft in the mainstream western sphere continue to grow, westerners may be inspired by these acts and seek to involve ancestral, divine or animistic magic in their occult activism. Likewise, I too hope that this particular form of occult activism in Thailand is one that continues to exist for decades to come.
Engel, D. (2021). Blood Curse and Belonging in Thailand: Law, Buddhism, and Legal Consciousness. In A. Harding & M. Pongsapan (Eds.), Thai Legal History: From Traditional to Modern Law (pp. 89-100). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108914369.008
[The first section is mostly me reflecting upon my life so far. Feel free to skip ahead if you wish.]
Perhaps it is the seasonal depression which I occasionally suffer, or perhaps it is the stress of coming home and facing a hectic holiday season. For whatever reason, I’ve always dreaded the coming of December. When I lived in the UK, winter meant darkness— literally. The sun would set at 4pm and it would be pitch black until the next dawn.
And in the cold and the dark, heavy thoughts would take root.
Despair about an unjust past. Regrets about a less-than-perfect childhood. Anxiety about the ever-changing present. Fear about the uncertain future. Whatever may be the cause, December often marked a dark time in my life.
Things would change, however, come December 2021. I am able to say that December of last year was the happiest winter I have ever had. It was my first time spending the holidays abroad, but I was far from alone. I had made new friends from my postgrad studies (friends who surprised me with an invitation to lunch to celebrate my birthday, a gesture that touched me to this day) and reconnected with old friends from my undergrad years. Likewise, the December of last year was also the time when I first hung out with Katarina (AKA Sfinga) in-person, resulting in an unexpected run-in with Erzebet Barthold (managing director of Hadean Press) and José Leitão (author of The Book of St. Cyprian) at Watkin’s Books. That brief meeting with Erzebet was one of the factors that motivated me to reach out to Hadean Press, later publishing the pamphlet I had been working on.
It was around that time as well that my relationship with the planets and stars inspired me to “better” myself. Hence, I reached out to a private therapist and attended proper therapy for the first time in my life, a decision that I would come to be proud of now that I’m looking back at it. Although I still suffer from occasional bouts of anxiety and suicidal ideation, I have developed healthy coping methods to push me through the moments of disheartenment. Most importantly though, I realized that I do in fact have a network of friends and people — childhood friends, friends from university, online friends from the occult world etc — who care about me and have proven time and time again that they will be there for me if I need them, and so will I if they ever need me.
On the day before this year’s winter solstice, I had dinner with my childhood friends. At that dinner, one of my friends decided to ask a “fun” question: what is the meaning of life? Naturally, one of my other friends remarked that we are too sober to answer that question as of the current. Nevertheless, it is a question that stuck with me because in my mind, life is suffering. Let me make it clear though, I do not believe that the world is inherently cruel. Rather, I believe that the universe is inherently uncaring and indifferent. Nothing is out to “get” you, but rarely do people have your best interests at heart either. Sometimes tragedies happen due to situations out of your control. Sometimes you may do everything right but still be faced with pain and disappointment.
To live is to suffer, for suffering is unavoidable— such is the teaching of Saturn.
To live, however, is also to hope. For without hope, it is impossible to endure.
Hope will be the key theme of today’s discussion.
Castor: Firebringer and Lightbearer
I have spoken of Castor previously twice. Now, I return to the star once more with a newfound understanding that Castor is hope embodied. Castor — the twin who died — is no stranger to tragedy and death. It thereby makes perfect sense when I later discovered that the constellation of Gemini in Thai stellar mythology is represented by the “crow perched upon the coffin” (กาเกาะปากโลง), with Castor and Pollux forming a part of the coffin. The crow and the coffin is also said to have been used as a significator for good and ill omens by the villagers of Phatthalung, a southern province in Thailand. This concept of the stars of Gemini being associated with a coffin is also present in Germanic folklore. In the fairy tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the seven dwarfs are interpreted to be the seven stars of the Pleiades whilst Snow White’s coffin is said to be represented by the stars within the constellation Gemini, consisting of α (Castor), β (Pollux), γ and μ Geminorum.
[Thank you to Silverius from Sasha’s Discord server for this information on the Snow White stellar lore!]
Thus, Castor and Pollux are once again two stars which are inseparable from the concept of death and the inescapable ache that comes with loss. Yet, amid the pain and the longing, Castor is a star that has come to represent hope.
A phenomena associated with Castor and Pollux is that of St. Elmo’s fire, also ominously called the Witch’s fire. St. Elmo’s fire is named after St. Erasmus of Formia, the patron saint of sailors. Those who sail among stormy seas often view the phenomenon to be a good omen as it often warns of an imminent lightning strike, promising the sailors that they will escape unharmed despite the dangers. In the 15th century, Admiral Zheng He had inscribed a reference to the phenomenon, claiming that “in the midst of the rushing waters it happened that, when there was a hurricane, suddenly a divine lantern was seen shining at the masthead, and as soon as that miraculous light appeared the danger was appeased, so that even in the peril of capsizing one felt reassured and that there was no cause for fear”.
Just as St. Elmo’s is described to be akin to a “divine lantern” as aforementioned, the Greeks of ancient times also refer to a single instance of St. Elmo’s fire by the name of Helene which literally means “torch”. Hence, it could be noted that there is a recurring theme that associates Castor and Pollux with fire and light, especially one that has come to represent hope, something to shine a path through perilous waters. The association with Castor and Pollux and fire does not end here either. In Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge And Its Transmission Through Myth by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, it is stated that the Aztecs took Castor and Pollux to be “the first fire sticks, from which mankind learned how to drill fire”. Similarly, in Myths of the Origin of Fire by James George Frazer, it is said that the Tasmanians also “felt indebted to Castor and Pollux for the first fire”.
Castor, therefore, represents this so-called “first fire”. It is a star of deliverance and hope. It is the light in the darkness, the warmth in winter. When the world seems dark and cold, Castor is the torch and the fire. It is a star of hope in the face of despair, hope in the face of utter annihilation. It is the Star shining above the Lightning-Struck Tower. Bernadette Brady similarly draws a parallel between Castor and Lucifer, the light-bearer. In her words: “the morning star was also known as Lucifer (light-bearer) and the evening star, Vespers (evening). Lucifer’s expulsion from heaven and into the whirlpool is possibly the mythological retelling of the slipping of Castor into southern declinations.” Hence, there is a sense of salvation and an image of (fallen) light, associated with Castor.
With light, comes the thought of the Sun.
It is perhaps unsurprising then to know that Castor is associated very closely with the deity Apollo. Not only was Castor called “Apellon” in the Doric (Greek) dialect — a name that can be assumed to have stemmed from Apollo — the figure itself has also been depicted in a way in that it is Apollo, in the past. More details can be found in my older post, wherein I discussed Castor’s connection to Apollo and Pollux’s connection to Hercules.
Night Sun: A Light in the Dark
It is at this mention of the Sun that I began to wonder: where does the Sun go when it sets? How does the fire of the Sun endure when it is winter, when the nights are long and the days are short?
In Vedic mythology, both the setting sun and the night sky are said to be ruled by Varuna. To quote an older post which I wrote a while back: “as the god of the night and the moon, day and night are the white and black garments that he wears. Golden-horned Varuna’s eye is also that of the sun, the golden all-seeing sun that observes all which occurs upon the earth. As the Lord of the West, the direction at which the sun sets, Varuna too rules over the sun that sits at the root of the world’s tree. With the setting sun comes the realm of the dead: it is said that upon passing, the souls shall see two kings, Yama and the deva Varuna.” Here, it could be seen that when the sun sets, it sits at the root of the world’s tree, in the netherworld where dead souls roam.
[Perhaps, this could even be a parallel to Castor — a star representing Apollo, a deity of the Sun — who dies and whose soul is sent to Hades, only for him to be placed in the heavens after the sacrifice of his brother Pollux.]
Additionally, an Egyptian myth as written in the Amduat tells the story of Ra, the Egyptian sun god who travels through the underworld, from the time when the sun sets in the west and rises again in the east. The sun undergoes a form of katabasis, venturing to the realm of the dead only to return to the upper realms once more. Aside from Ra being the god of the sun, another deity in the same pantheon who is sometimes associated with the sun is Osiris— the god of death and resurrection, the sun died and reborn again. According to Frazer in The Golden Bough, “the ground upon which some modern writers seem chiefly to rely for the identification of Osiris with the sun is that the story of his death fits better with the solar phenomena than with any other in nature. It may readily be admitted that the daily appearance and disappearance of the sun might very naturally be expressed by a myth of his death and resurrection; and writers who regard Osiris as the sun are careful to indicate that it is the diurnal, and not the annual, course of the sun to which they understand the myth to apply.”
In other words, the sun’s daily death and resurrection forms a parallel with the myth of Osiris and, as many including Frazed would argue, the stories of Dionysus (who has been known to have been syncretized with Osiris in the form of Dionysus-Osiris). Much like Osiris, Dionysus is called by the epithet of “twice-born” or “thrice-born”, in accordance with his (or sometimes Zagreus’) death at the hands of the Titans — wherein he was torn apart, cooked and consumed — and his subsequent resurrections. Dionysus too has been associated with the sun, both in a symbolic and a mythopoetic sense. In Introduction to Studies in Orphism by Martin Euser, it is stated that whereas Apollo represents the “occult potency of the spiritual Day-Sun”, Dionysus represents the “spiritual Night-Sun”.
Many epithets of Dionysus are similarly of a solar significance. Dionysus is known as Antauges, the Sparkler; Aithiopais, the child of the Sun-Burnt-Land; Chrysopes, the Golden-faced; Chrysokomes, the Golden-haired; Chrysomitres or Gold-mitred; Pyropos or Fiery-faced; Pyrisporos or Fire-engendered; and Pyrigenes or Fire-born. To quote Euser: “Thus, Dionysos is Nyktelios, Lord of the Night, and Nyktipolos or Night-wandering, and Aristophanes represents the Mystics calling upon Iakchos, the Eleusinian Mystery-name of Zagreus-Dionysos as ‘the Morning Star that shinest nightly’. Macrobius quotes an Orphic verse which speaks of ‘The Sun whom men call Dionysos,’ while another Orphic fragment says: ‘He is called Dionysos because he whirls in circular motion through the immeasurably extended heavens.’ And the Eumolpic verses state that ‘Dionysos with face of flame glistens like a Star with his rays.’”
This post on the Bakcheion also goes into a greater depth on the portrayal of Dionysus as the Night Sun and his subsequent connection to Apollo. I personally do not support the author’s political views, but nevertheless his article has been incredibly helpful in expanding upon my own understanding of Dionysus and Apollo.
All of this begs the question: so, what is the Night Sun?
The question is one which I do not yet have a complete answer to, but one feeling that speaks to me clearly of the Night Sun is that of hope— the very reason that I chose to write this essay. The Night Sun typifies a torch-light procession through a city at night, bringing into the city the sounds of cries and the resurrection of a bull-faced god. The Night Sun represents a god reborn, a life renewed, surviving in spite of the brutality of a cruel death. In many ways, I associate this Night Sun with the Sun in the 2H, 6H, 8H and 12H. It is a fiery light that endures even when plunged into the depths of the Underworld. It is the defiant strength of the soul, a fire of the spirit that refuses to be snuffed out.
The Sun Reborn: A Devotional Rite
Thus, I was inspired to perform a ritual during the winter’s solstice, a time in the Northern hemisphere when the day is shortest, the night longest and every bit of sunlight rare and precious. Below is a ritual I have devised whose words are taken from The Azoetia: A Grimoire of the Sabbatic Craft. Although the rite is intended to be performed during the winter’s solstice, it could also be adapted to be used whenever one feels like the fire of their spirit needs a rekindling.
The Winter’s Eve
During the sunset of the eve of the winter’s solstice, recite the Proclamation of the Living Temple whilst facing west. Then, whilst bathing yourself in the light of the setting sun, recite the Adoration of the Setting Sun. Imagine the light of the setting sun becoming one with the light of your soul.
PROCLAMATION OF THE LIVING TEMPLE
I go forth in mine own Chosen Body, the Temple of all Gods. Crown’d am I with the Stellar Fire entwined about the Horns of the Ancient One. There is no part of me that is not I. My Hair is of the Cords that bind, scourge and bless: the Sheaves of the Harvest and the Serpents of Fear; the Crown of the Fields, of Flower and Leaf; the Crown of the Sky, the Threads that join the Stars, fair as the silk of the Moth and fine as the Spider’s strand. My Face is the Sun and the Fullness of the Moon, the Circle of the Horizons and the Black Mirror of the Depths: Masks beyond Number concealing the Face of I. My Skull is the Conclave of the One Spirit; mine is the Blessing, mine is the Curse. For I am the Voice of the Oracle. My Eyes are the Twin Shewstones of Twilight, the Dawn and the Dusk. Bright as the Star of Morning, bright as the Star of Evening. Their Gaze, sharp as that of any Bird, pierceth all things. Unto I is the Offering: the Sight of Virgin Beauty never-fading. My Ears are Witness to Truth, attentive to them that speak it. Unto I is the Offering: the Rhythms of Power and the Words of Calling, the Voice of the Ancestors, the Oracle of the Mighty Ones. May the Musick Celestial be heard and Inspiration given. My Nose is the Guide of the Great Hunt, Keen as that of the Stag and the Dog. Unto I is the Offering: all Scents that please and rouse the Heart. My Mouth is the Temple of the Serpent’s Tongue, a Devourer of Souls and a Receiving Chalice. May I drink of the Muses’ Fount and taste of the Feast Divine; may I partake of the first-fruits sacrificed unto the Gods. My Hands are the Shrines of Creation and Destruction. My Skin is the Vestment of Priest and Priestess. My Blood is the Ink of the Book. My Shadow is the Twin. Goddess and God am I, conjoined in their Shadows: the Double Twin Image of the Quintessential and Primeval I.
ADORATION OF THE SETTING SUN
Hail to Thee, O’ Mighty Sun at Thy Setting! Aged art Thou and grown in wisdom. Joyous is Thy twilight hour in the Palace of the Day. Joyous is Thy Heart at the Gates of Death and Sleep. stick, Joyous is Thy descent into the Palace of the Night. Thus am I grown in age and in wisdom. Joyous is this twilight hour in the Palace of the Day. Joyous is my heart at the Gates of Death and Sleep. Enduring is my strength, Joyous is my descent into the Palace of the Night. Hail to Thee! Ancient Father and Ancient King.Crowned art Thou with the Splendour of the Dusk. Adorned art Thou with the bountiful riches of Autumn. Guardian art Thou to the Gate of the Oracle. Blessed art Thou that Thy Light sustaineth the Life of the Earth. Hail to Thee, O’ Mighty Sun at Thy Setting! By the Power of all Thine Ancient Names.
The Winter’s Solstice
On the night of the winter’s solstice (ideally at midnight), recite the Proclamation of the Living Temple whilst facing north. Then, under the shadows of the night sky, light a candle and recite the Adoration of the Sun of the Deep. Imagine the light of the candle being akin to the light of your soul, enduring and bright in spite of the darkness around you.
ADORATION OF THE SUN OF THE DEEP
Hail to Thee, O’ Mighty Sun of the Deep! Most Holy art Thou in Death: A Mighty God in the Company of the Ancestors; A Concealed God in the Palace of the Night. Enduring is the Light of Thy Spirit. Thus I am strong in Death. Mighty am I in the Company of the Ancestors. Concealed is my Spirit in the Palace of the Night. Enduring is the Light of my Soul. Hail to Thee, Heart of the Earth, Kindred of the Imperishable Stars! Crowned art Thou with the Splendour of the Midnight Hour. Adorned art Thou with the nakedness of Winter. Robed art Thou with the mantle of the Night-sky, Blessed art Thou, that Thy Light hath strength in the midst of Darkness. Hail to Thee in the Congregation of the Holy Stars! By the Power of all Thy Secret and Unknown Names.
The Dawn After
At the first light of dawn — the first break of daylight after the winter’s solstice — stand outside and face east. Recite the Proclamation of the Living Temple whilst greeting the rising sun. Take a jar of honey with you and catch the sunlight in the jar of honey. Recite the Adoration of the Rising Sun and then swallow the honey, imbued with the properties of the sun reborn.
ADORATION OF THE RISING SUN
Hail to Thee, O’ Mighty Sun at Thy rising! Newborn art Thou into the Palace of the Day. Replenished is Thy Strength as Thou risest from Death and the Palace of the Night. Thus newborn am I into the Palace of the Day. Replenished is my Strength as I arise from sleep and the Palace of the Night. Hail to Thee! Child Eternal in Thy Beauty! Crowned art Thou with the Splendour of Dawn, Adorned art Thou with the Blossoms of Spring, Holy art Thou in Divine Innocence. Blessed art Thou that Thy Light sustaineth the Life of Earth. Hail to Thee, O’ Mighty Sun at Thy rising! By the Power of all Thine Ancient Names.
This ritual is inspired by PGM I. 1-42 which tells the practitioner to “take the milk with the honey and drink it before the rising of the sun, and there will be something divine in your heart.” The purpose of the Proclamation of the Living Temple is to remind the body that it comes from the same dust as the stars, that everything from its hair to its skin to even its shadow is sacred. In essence, the Proclamation of the Living Temple serves as a way to sanctify the body. The Adorations of the Sun, consequently, act as a way to sanctify the soul by drawing parallels between the sun and our very soul.
“Enduring is Thy Strength […] Enduring is my strength.”
“Enduring is the Light of Thy Spirit […] Enduring is the Light of my Soul.”
“Replenished is Thy Strength as Thou risest from Death and the Palace of the Night […] Replenished is my Strength as I arise from sleep and the Palace of the Night.”
[Is the Sun not Sol, the fire that ignites our Soul?]
This ritual is quite experimental and I confess that I was unable to perform the ritual in full during this year’s winter solstice due to physical exhaustion and work obligations. Nevertheless, I am confident that the ritual will bring rejuvenation to all who perform it. Regardless, please do perform some divination on whether you should perform the ritual or not, just in case there may be some unforeseen side effects.
This year has been a year of bliss and despair for me. Friends of mine may recall a brief time last spring when the fantasy of ending it all crept its way into my heart, only to be banished by the light of friendship and the hope that I have for all that is yet to come. Now, I find myself literally living in the same place where I — several years ago — made plans and some attempts to end my life. Only, this time around, things are different. It was despair that pushed me onto the path of the occult. It is instead hope that motivates me to continue down this path, guided by gods and spirits and ancestors. Although I am aware that hope itself can be a demon and a lure in its own way, hope is something that I have come to realize is necessary to life. Without hope, life has no meaning.
Thus, I wish to say thank you to any of my friends who may be reading this. To those of you who have reached out to me, knowing or not knowing how desperately I needed that ray of light, I thank you with all my heart.
I love you all, and wish you all an early happy 2023.
To speak of the Stinger Stars is to speak of poison and paranoia. It is a battle-dance, a song of two lances clashing— a warzone of words-as-weapons, an act of frenzy that leaves one unable to differentiate between the enemy and the Self. In this post — inspired largely by The Red Dreaded Spindle: An Astrolater’s Guide to the Stinger Stars of Scorpius, a pamphlet published by Sasha Ravitch via Hadean Press — I would like to discuss the fixed stars Acumen and Aculeus, two of the four stars placed in stinger of the the constellation of Scorpius.
Acumen and Aculeus are two stars within my chart: Acumen is my helicacal rising star and a star in conjunction with my natal Mercury, and Aculeus is placed in a rising paran with my Mercury. William Lilly described a planet besieged as being one that lies between the bodies of the two malefics. Obviously, the concept of astrological besiegement refers to planetary bodies rather than fixed stars. But, I do find it fascinating how my Mercury is essentially forced into a corner, with Acumen to its left and Aculeus to its right. In a way, my natal Mercury appears to be caught in a warzone, caught in the webs of two scorpion-spiders, of two venomous stars threatening to spear or to sting anything that dares to come near it.
War and Scorpio walks hand-in-hand. To quote Austin Coppock: ‘there aren’t many other animals in the zodiac or in nature that are quite as equipped for battle as a scorpion […] scorpion’s encased in armor; it’s got little controllers. Literally, its tail is solely a weapon.’ This may perhaps be why the most basic nature of the Stinger Stars, as befit a weapon, is to wound. Bernadette Brady has also stated that ‘in keeping with the nature of the constellation, Aculeus and Acumen tend to be linked to attacks, not necessarily physical, but mental, verbal, or spiritual. Acumen carries the negative or shadowy side, so it has to do with attacks that weaken, that can eventually damage the person […] Aculeus leans toward the less destructive style of attack, the sort the individual can endure and use to harden or strengthen themselves.’
My own experience, I found this to be incredibly true. Since my youth, I have been forced to endure a barrage of insults by close family members regarding my appearance, my intelligence, my worthiness as a woman and other cruel words that would fall under the umbrella of verbal abuse. I wouldn’t say, however, that trauma made me stronger. Trauma, like poison, is simply just is. The scorpion didn’t mean to be malicious when it stung the frog— it simply is just acting out its nature. In an astrological reading with Sasha Ravitch, my Acumen heliacal rising is described to have brought me ‘meaningless pain and difficulty’. It was my own will that allowed me to grow beyond my childhood. I didn’t become who I am today because of the pain and the trauma; I survived in spite of it. I was the one who transmuted anguish into strength and wisdom.
This, ultimately, is the armor that the scorpion provides.
The wound scars over and becomes the armor. The poison in turn becomes the cure.
On that note of poison having the potential to cure, I wish to share this excerpt from The Red Dreaded Spindle:
‘These alchemists, while holding their own fear-based assumptions about Scorpio, valued the Stars within the system, and especially the Sun’s transit through them, as it marked the only time iron could be transmuted into gold. There is no capacity to cultivate anti-venom without the venom it counteracts, and the logic behind our contemporary vaccines follows a similar route of reasoning. Deliberate, intentional, purposeful exposure to poison strengthens us, cultivates immunity, empowers our body to respond in knowledgeable and competent ways. Magically, the overcoming of a curse, the triumphing over an ordeal, the survival of an initiation, transmutes these eviscerating phenomena into gilded bellows which feed the Witch’s fire. The poison is the medicine, the curse is also the cure.’
In other words, the Stinger Stars provide an opportunity for self-inoculation. We will come back to this later.
Moving onto the topic of blindness, the stars Acumen and Aculeus are considered to be associated with eyesight and the loss of vision. To be blind, in essence, is akin to being paranoid. When you are paranoid, you are like a blind person randomly swinging a sword or someone shooting a gun in the dark. You lash out, not seeing what you are hurting or even fighting. In the end, there is a risk that you may end up hurting yourself. In a similar vein, I believe that the armor created by the scarring of the wound or the callusing of the bruise can also cause one to become cold or even cruel if they are not careful. There is a thin line between wearing a healthy amount of armor for safety’s sake, and building walls around yourself in fear of potential attackers. An obsession with pains of the past may also lead to a form of self-victimization, and pain projected outward may lead to a person seeing every stranger as a potential enemy.
Is a life clad in armor, hidden away in a walled tower, a life worth living at all?
Is a life living in fear of intimacy (and the vulnerability that comes with it) a life worth living at all?
And yet, I believe that there is a potential for Stinger Stars natives to swing the opposite direction. In undergoing a kind of overcorrection, natives may end up romanticizing or glamourising their wounds. A self-inflicted martyrdom. An identification of the self with their sufferings. This is where the overdose occurs, where the poison fails to become the antidote. In a sense, the romanticization of trauma may be a way of putting a glamor over the hurt, choosing instead to see the plaster rather than the ugly, infected cut that still oozes blood and pus. It is a denial of the truth, the unwillingness to look into the mirror and see the wound for what it is: something that ideally needs to be healed. To quote Alice Sparkly Kat: ‘vulnerability demands that you know yourself’. What is needed to transmute hurt into healing is the ability to ‘know your pain without becoming [the] pain’.
To quote Sasha Ravitch once more: ‘so, too, does the path of Witchcraft bred and bled from these Stars test us around self-restraint, deliberate release, the necessity for radical self-honesty and accountability for the poltergeists of our own shame and humiliation’.
On the topic of witchcraft and the occult, there is also a rite in the Greek Magical Papyri that speaks of the scorpion being both the poison and the provider of the cure. In PDM XIV. 594-620, the spell — written from Anubis’ perspective — tells of Isis (who in the rite is Anubis’ mother) visiting Anubis in his exile and then asking him to return to his home where the gods will be receiving crowns from Osiris (who is Anubis’ father). Suddenly, after giving Anubis this information, Isis ‘gave [Anubis] a sting’. Then, after Anubis weeps from the sting, Isis comforts him and begins to tell Anubis of how he must lick the wound and swallow the venom. The ritual informs the reader to lick the sting, and gives a consecration to speak to an oil in order for the oil to be ‘put on the sting daily’. Those who have taken Jack Grayle’s PGM PRAXIS: 50 Rites for 50 Nights course may have also heard Grayle’s interpretation of the rite.
Grayle believes that the rite is a metaphor for how Anubis must accept the reality of who he is: ‘an embodiment of the most primal divine power in creation: the self-generated force that eternally begets everything and everyone in the cosmos’. Only after accepting the truth would Anubis be fit to receive the crown — the proof of his right to rule — from Osiris. This rite strikes me to be remarkably to the teachings (or tests) granted by the Stinger Stars: the act of consuming venom whilst knowing that you must survive it, and the implied test of ‘radical self-honesty’, of realizing who you are and the accepting the duty that comes with who you could be. I consecrated an adapted version of the oil but have not tried to work with it yet. In theory though, the oil should be a vehicle for healing, both the healing of the physical self and the spiritual self.
In conclusion, it is my interpretation that Acumen and Aculeus could be both metaphorically described as the weapon, the wound and the armor. With the weapon comes the wound and the armour, and with the poison comes the cure. Likewise, I wholeheartedly recommend Sasha Ravitch’s The Red Dreaded Spindle: An Astrolater’s Guide to the Stinger Stars of Scorpius for those interested in learning more about these stars, in addition to other stars not mentioned in this article such as Antares, Lesath and Shaula.
[Sorry— too tired to do proper academic referencing haha]
The Red Dreaded Spindle: An Astrolater’s Guide to the Stinger Stars of Scorpius by Sasha Ravitch
Brady’s Book of Fixed Stars by Bernadette Brady
Greek Magical Papyri in Translation by Hans Dieter Betz
In the past, I have written about my experiences reaching out to Castor. Now, I wish to perform a ‘deeper dive’ into the twin fixed stars of Castor and Pollux. The essay will begin with a pseudo literature review, exploring the existing mythos surrounding the twin stars, before ending with a discussion of my own UPG regarding the stars of Castor and Pollux. I have used an informal style of APA/Harvard referencing for this essay for the ease of making note of my sources. If anyone wishes for the exact page numbers of my sources, feel free to message me directly.
[As a side note before the article begins proper, I would like to announce that an article of mine — “To Bind the Cruel” — will be published in The Gorgon’s Guide, purchasable through Revelore Press! Likewise, I just recently completed and successfully passed Chris Brennan’s Hellenistic Astrology course and I would sincerely recommend the course to anyone interested in learning hellenistic techniques.]
The Twin Myth
The classic Greek myth often told of Castor and Pollux’s origin is as follows:
Leda was the beautiful daughter of Thestius and Eurythemis, married to King Tyndareus of Sparta. Zeus caught sight of Leda and became immediately attracted to her. Knowing that Leda was fond of animals, he disguised himself as a beautiful white swan and then had the eagle pursue him. As he flew over Leda and caught her attention, Zeus — in the form of a swan — pretended to be injured and landed near her. Leda rescued and comforted the swan, and drove the eagle away. It was then at which Zeus took the opportunity to seduce Leda and it soon became apparent that Leda was pregnant. Instead of a normal child, Leda delivered two giant eggs. These eggs soon hatched and revealed two pairs of nonidentical twins. In one egg, there was Polydeuces (Pollux), and his sister Helen. In the other egg were Castor and his sister Clytemnestra. Castor and Clytemnestra were the children of Tyndareus, while Pollux and Helen were the children of Zeus (Simpson, 2012).
As they grew up, Castor and Pollux were inseparable. They became close friends with their twin cousins Idas and Lynceus. The two cousins then joined Castor and Pollux on the expedition of the Argonauts to recapture the golden fleece. Later, the twins and the cousins joined a raid to steal a herd of cattle. After this raid, Idas was chosen to divide the spoils. He set out four portions of meat and ruled that half the cattle would go to the person who finished eating his portion first, and the remainder to the one who finished second. While the meat was being divided, and before the others were ready to begin, Idas bolted his portion, and then helped Lynceus finish his before either Castor or Pollux could finish. Feeling cheated, Castor and Pollux waited until Idas and Lynceus were away, and stole the cattle for themselves. When they heard that their cousins had returned and were planning to retaliate, they hid and lay in wait to ambush them. The ambush was foiled when the Lynceus spotted them, and a pitched battle ensued (Simpson, 2012).
In the outcome of the battle, Castor and Lynceus were killed, and Pollux was left severely injured. But before Idas could kill Pollux, Zeus stepped in to protect his son and slew Idas with a thunderbolt. As the son of Zeus, Pollux was immortal. Pollux therefore pleaded with Zeus to either return Castor to life, or to allow him to join Castor in the underworld. Yet, even the mighty Zeus lacked the ability to return people from the underworld realm of Hades. In the end, Zeus negotiated a compromise in which the two twins could be together again, with both spending half their time in the heavens and half in the underworld. This supposedly explains why the twins exist above the earth only for half the year, and below the earth and invisible for the other half, holding hands so they can never be separated again (Simpson, 2012).
But there are other versions of the myth:
An old legend has Helen as child of Nemesis; the egg she is hatched from is brought by Hermes to Leda who acts as a surrogate brooding-hen. This is possibly why D’Arcy Thompson, author of A Glossary of Greek Birds, suggests that Leda was originally herself a swan who was attacked by an eagle (Ahl, 1982). It was through myths such as these where authors such as Ahl (1982) points out the Leda myth is one that involves much ‘twinning’. Two different birds are associated with her, presumably one that is originally male (the eagle), and the other originally female (the swan). There are two sets of twins: one male (Castor and Pollux), one female (Clytemnestra and Helen). Castor and Pollux are brothers, one immortal, one mortal, alternating between the light of the world above and darkness of the world below. It is with this line of thinking that Ahl (1982) argues that if the eagle and swan were not but rival symbols of light, but rather that of the light and the banished light. Thus, it could be argued that the twins Castor and Pollux represent a form of duality.
To the Greek and Roman, Castor and Pollux were venerated as the Dioskouroi. As the Dioskouroi, depictions of the Castor and Pollux in Roman art associate them with the Sun and the Moon. The Dioskouri could be seen wearing on their caps images of the Sun and the Moon, thereby painting Castor and Pollux as guardians of the day and the night hemisphere, of Heaven and of Hades, or as guardians of the two celestial hemispheres divided by the equinox and, at the same time, as personifications of the Sun and the Moon. However, to say that Castor and Pollux are mere personifications of the opposing forces that make up the universe would be reductionistic. Castor and Pollux represent not just the dichotomy of the cosmos, but also its integrity and harmonic unity. The dokana, a symbol of the Dioskouroi, is made up of two upright columns which represents the heavenly twins as pillars ensuring the stability of the cosmos, along with cross-beams which symbolizes their unity and, by extension, ‘the concord in the cosmos, as opposed to the anarchy of the chaos’ (Coucouzeli, 2006).
The concept of duality is also present in the constellation of Gemini, wherein the constellation is associated with Apollo and Heracles respectively. Hyginus and Ptolemy associated Gemini with Apollo and Heracles, and there also exist several instances where the heavenly twins are depicted carrying the characteristic attributes of Apollo and Heracles, such as a bow and/or an arrow and a lyre, and a club. This could be seen on the Zagora seal, for example, where the left-hand figure resembled Castor/Apollo, while the right-hand figure depicts Pollux/Heracles. This practice of associating Apollo with Castor and Heracles with Pollux continued into the relatively more modern time period. European celestial atlases dating from sixteenth to eighteenth centuries likewise continued to mark the twins as ‘Apollo or Castor’ and ‘Heracles or Pollux’ (Coucouzeli, 2006). Castor’s connection to Apollo is also present in the very name of the star. According to Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning by Richard Allen, Castor was called Apellon in the Doric (Greek) dialect, and the name later degenerated into Afelar, Aphellon, Aphellan, Apullum, Aphellar, and Avellar [when translated to Arabic]. In the 16th century, the name subsequently appeared as Anelar as well (Allen, 2000).
Many ancient societies from various continents all across the globe appeared to have developed their own version of a celestial twin myth. In particular, a cult of divine twin healers appears in a wide belt stretching from ancient India to the Mediterranean. The most well known of this would be that of the Vedic Ashvins who are the twin healers and physicians of the gods, often depicted in the form of divine horsemens. The Ashvins are said to be able to perform extraordinary medical feats including the resurrection of the dead, the restoration of sight to the blind, helping the lame to walk again, replacing a head which has been cut off, and providing prostheses for amputated limbs. Additionally, the Ashvins also assist in childbirth and hellp restore the aged and impotent to full vigor. It could be surmised that they are the inventors of medicines and the ones who taught mankind the healing arts (Hankoff, 1977).
All in all, the Ashvins could be described as saviors of mankind. More literally, they are known to have snatched from danger those who call on them for help, such as by freeing men who have been captured by bandits, saving men from drowning, and rescuing another from a burning chasm (Hankoff, 1977). This role of the Ashvins as being saviors of mankind is similar to the Dioskouroi’s epithet of soteres. According to Homer, Pollux and Castor are ‘savior-children of men upon the land and ships upon the sea, when the wintry winds rage over the savage deep’ (Rothrauff, 1966). The Dioskouroi are said to appear to sailors in times of danger in the form of two stars, or in the form of a phenomenon known as St Elmo’s fire (Hankoff, 1977). Aside from the supernatural powers that both the Ashvins and Dioskouroi possess that allows them to perform miracles, another quality prominently associated with celestial twins is the ability to perform divination. The Iroquois twins, for example, are associated with the prediction of the future. The Golah of Liberia are associated with the interpretation of dreams. Similarly, the twins of the Peruvian Indians and African Zulus are known to be able to foretell the weather. This is not unlike the Dioskouroi and the Vedic Ashvins who, as previously alluded to, are patrons of travelers, wayfarers, and sailors (Hankoff, 1977).
On the other hand, when it comes to Babylonian star lore related to the constellation of Gemini, the Gemini twins are more heavily associated with the underworld and the dead. The Neo-Babylonians associated Gemini with the deity Nergal, a war god whose cult center was the city of Kutha in central Mesopotamia. From the Akkadian to Neo-Assyrian periods, his cultic presence and influence expanded throughout Mesopotamia, Syria and the Levant, and Cilicia, Cappadocia, and Anatolia. As his popularity and cult grew, he maintained his connection to war, but also came to be associated with disease, death, and eventually became ‘Lord of the Underworld’ by the mid-second millennium BC. Nergal is typically depicted as a bearded man wearing a long garment and either a flat, horned cap or a high tiara. In many Mesopotamian communities, there was a close relationship between Nergal and Nanna/Sîn, with a number of traditions identifying them as siblings/twins. Likewise, the two twin figures of Lugal-Irra and Meslamta-ea are said to be two personae of Nergal (Dandrow, 2021).
Interestingly enough, this association of the celestial twins with death can also be seen in modern times, albeit only mainly via folk practices related to the Dioskouroi. Wenzel (1967) argues that a group of rituals which are still carried on at the Serbian village of Duboko, at whose core is a fire-making ritual, is related to the rituals of the Danube tablets whose purpose is to avert danger from a living person or to secure him the help of powerful beings— namely, the Dioscuri. Similarly, it is implied that the Dioskouroi are associated with several folk dances and ritualistic practices originating in the Balkans, such as the practice of the padalice, also known as the ‘falling ones’. Wenzel (1967) believes that the purpose of the rituals of the falling ones is to remove death from a dead person through entering the otherworld as a substitute for the dead, so that deceased person may be released.
The twins’ association with death can also be potentially seen in relation to the Eleusinian Mysteries as well. In Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights, a work of the late second century AD, it is shown how the Dioskouroi were frequently invoked in oaths, although differently by men and women (Gartrell, 2021). An explanation for this gendered exclamation may be that women’s use of oaths derives from the Eleusinian initiations to the mysteries of Demeter and Proserpina (Gartrell, 2021). Although the Dioskouroi do not appear to have been worshiped at the mysteries themselves, they were thought to have been initiates of the Eleusinian mysteries. According to Wright (1919), the Mysteries were divided into two parts: the Lesser Mysteries and the Greater Mysteries. The Lesser Mysteries were said to have been instituted when Hercules, Castor and Pollux expressed a desire to be initiated. Hence, it may not be improbable that the Dioskouroi were ‘linked in their role as companions at death or psychopomps to these mysteries concerned with the afterlife’ (Gartrell, 2021).
The concept of Castor as a spiritual psychopomp comes up again when delineating the sign of Gemini. In his article Gemini: The Search for the Missing Twin, Brian Clark comments on the myth of Castor and Pollux, stating that: ‘it is the severed connection to the twin/sibling that allows the other to cross the threshold to the underworld, the psychological territory where we encounter ‘shadow’. Castor, the mortal, becomes a psychopomp leading his brother across the liminal of death’ (Clark, 2000). If Gemini were to be viewed as a metaphor for the stage of development in the human psyche that occurs at an early age — the age before we develop our ability to reflect or analyze, before the experience of emotional attachment has been internalized — then as a symbol of the development process, it can be said that Gemini represents the mind that is too young to consciously hold the impact of a profound loss such as the loss Pollux experienced (Clark, 2000).
This grief that Pollux experienced, a grief so profound he would rather die than spend a life apart from his twin, is so immense and yet due to the inability for the grief to be integrated, the emotions are forgotten. Again, to quote Clark (2000): ‘the feelings that are constellated with this loss are consciously forgotten, flowing into the Lethe, the Underworld river of forgetting. The potent feelings of grief, awoken by the separation from the other, are interred and denied conscious access, becoming shades of feelings: a sense of emptiness, something feels missing or lost, a feeling of incompleteness’. In this light, it could perhaps be concluded that the twins’ association with the Underworld is less related to the concept of death itself, and more so the concept of loss and grief, especially with regards to loss as a form of forgetting.
Interpreting the Myth
From this point onwards, what I write is based upon my own subjective interpretation of the lore associated with Castor, along with my own personal experiences with the star. I do not claim any of this to be the unrefutable truth. Likewise, I don’t necessary think the nature of a god associated with a star equates to the nature of the star itself, or that myth equates to truth, but there is something to be gleaned from studying the stellar gods and their myths.
My first takeaway from studying the Dioskouroi’s myth is that love is the point. There is a reason why the Lovers card in tarot is associated with Gemini, the constellation that Castor and Pollux is in. It is love that elevated Castor to the heavens— the love Pollux has for his brother, the love Zeus has for his son. With love, however, comes grief. Yet, although Castor was the one who died, he was not the one who was left to experience the grief. It is instead Pollux who mourns him. It is Pollux who is forced into the role of the witnesser of death. It is those who are left behind who are the ones suffering from the pain of loss. This may perhaps explain Castor’s sunnier disposition compared to Pollux’ darker personality. Moreover, it is Castor who knows the taste of both mortality and divinity, for he was a mortal who was given immortality unlike Pollux who was immortal from the beginning.
With regards to my personal relationship with Castor, the fixed star Castor is a star that exists upon my meridian. Likewise, Castor and Pollux are conjunct my IC in the fourth house. Erin Sullivan has described the IC and the fourth house to be a ‘temple of darkness’, associating the fourth house with the ‘womb and the tomb’, for the womb and the tomb are closely aligned by their very nature, both holding the unborn. The fourth house is a place we return to eventually, no matter how much we try to escape it. Similarly, the astrologer Alice Sparkly Kat has written a post on the nature of the fourth house, stating that the ‘fourth house is a basement […] A basement is a crypt […] The fourth house is where the bodies are buried. […] The fourth house is a keeper of memory, hidden and rediscovered.’ Hence, it is safe to say that Castor, in my case, dwells within the burial crypt, a place where the dead and the forgotten rest.
To me, I perceive Pollux to be the one who forgets and longs to remember what is forgotten, and Castor as the keeper of forgotten memories. Castor and Pollux, much like the constellation Gemini, represents a sense of longing, an inexplicable ache in the heart for something nostalgic that one can’t quite recall or put a finger on. Yet, to quote a line from a TV show I hold a fondness for: ‘You said memories become stories when we forget them. Maybe some of them become songs.’ Castor — perhaps due to the star’s connection with Apollo — feels very much like a bard and seer, a being of song and prophecy. Castor, in my experience, is a weaver of tales and spinner of fate and an embodied spirit of divination.
Storytelling and magic is something that I have been interested in long before I was aware of Castor’s placement within my chart. As a kid, I told my parents that I wanted to be an author, a dream my father entertained for a while. I published my first piece of writing around the time I was nearing the end of my high school years. One thing I noticed that no matter what fictional story I tell, a recurring theme in the things I write tend to be that of a longing or yearning for someone or something that is missing but meant to or used to be there. Additionally, when I later became interested in the occult, I became drawn towards deities such as Dionysus— a deity who rules over theatre and magic, and historically acted as a god presiding over the Temple of Delphi during the winter months when Apollo was away. For a time, I even venerated and worked with Odin. Likewise, I became fascinated by verbal charms and storytelling-as-magic, whether it be via Celtic draiocht ceoil, the Slavic zagovory, the Nordic seiðr or the Vedic vrata katha.
Also, interestingly enough, my ascendant is placed in the nakshatra of Ashvini— the lunar mansion ruled by the Ashvins, divine twin horsemen aforementioned within this article. The motif of horse riders or charioteers is a recurring one in my chart, apparently. When I think of horsemen, one other figure that popped into my mind is that of the Sabbatic Cain. For a quick summary of Him, I would like to share an excerpt from Borax: The Jewel of Midnight by Douglas Kincaid:
“Here’s to the horse with the four white feet, the chestnut tail and mane; a star on his face and a spot on his breast, and his master’s name was Cain.”
This toast reveals a figure who historically is linked to Horses, Men-Witches, and the Spirit which accompanies these rituals, Cain. Cain, and Tubal-Cain, is the Artificer of the old Crafts and who is a guise for the Elder Spirits. He is the Forge and Farrier God in this narrative within the Craft which is introduced through Christian and Jewish influences. Being of the Cain lineage he is related to ‘serpent blood’ and so wields power to charm all horses
Tubal Qayn is a prevalent tutelary figure in Horsemanship, Toadmanship, and Bonemanship as he is a prevelnet spirit which teaches the Crafts of Smithry and Magic. We can see within Mackay’s poem the woe of Tubal who had created the sword that killed so many in war and battle, but later turned the sword into a ploughshare and tended to horses and farm life instead of warring. The double nature of the artificer is a common theme and mystery here, two-as-one as the saying goes. For what is Peace without War? What is the Sword without the Ploughshare?
As I recently have been drawn towards the Sabbatic current, initially via a text that references the toad-bone rite and the yoking of the sky-horse, I feel like Castor’s recent activeness in my life is significant somehow. Nevertheless, as Castor is a companion who will walk with me my whole life, I am certain that there will be much more for me to learn from him in the future. For now though, I would like to end this article with a snippet of a work-in-progress devotional prayer to Castor, one which I began writing at a time when Castor was conjunct the ascendant:
Castor— come, O rider of the horse! Come, in your shining chariot. Come, your arrival heralded by Gallops and songs! Bright light, ever beaming, Illuminating the dark. May your light illuminate the way. Illuminate my sight— O ever-twinkling prophet, O savior of mankind!
Son of Cygnus, Twin-child of the Swan. O Light to Pollux’s Darkness, O Guardian of Dusk and Dawn. Dweller of the Deep Earth and Traverser of the Stars— You are the Lord of Liminality, Of Potentiality. You are the Weaver of Tales, Existing in the In-Between.
Castor— mortal slain! Castor— God reborn! Dying-and-rising Just as day becomes night And night becomes day. Your brother’s love and father’s mercy Placed you among the heavens. You are he-who-knows-death, Walking among the dead And spinning the fates of the living.
The constellation Ursa Major is known commonly as the Great Bear, a constellation spanning the zodiac signs of Cancer, Leo and Virgo, encompassing the asterism known as the Plough or the Big Dipper. In this essay — which in actuality is less like a proper essay and more like my own jumble of notes — I would like to explore the folklore associated with Ursa Major, along with delving into how Ursa Major is depicted within the sabbatic current in texts such as ONE: The Grimoire of the Golden Toad and Azoetia: A Grimoire of the Sabbatic Craft. I would also like to briefly touch upon the ways in which Ursa Major are called upon in rites of sorcery and witchcraft in Babylonian times.
Folklore of Ursa Major
There is a variety of folklore associated with the constellation of Ursa Major throughout many cultures worldwide. I assume most people are familiar with the Greek myths associated with the Great Bear, so I would instead like to point out the less commonly known ones. All the following quotes are taken from Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge and Its Transmission Through Myth:
There are, indeed, too many traditions connecting Ursa and the Pleiades with this or that kind of catastrophe to be overlooked. Among the many we mention only one example from later Jewish legends, some lines taken out of a most fanciful description of Noah’s flood, quoted by Frazer: Now the deluge was caused by the male waters from the sky meeting the female waters which issued forth from the ground. The holes in the sky by which the upper waters escaped were made by God when he removed stars out of the constellation of the Pleiades; and in order to stop this torrent of rain, God had afterwards to bung up the two holes with a couple of stars borrowed from the constellation of the Bear. That is why the Bear runs after the Pleiades to this day; she wants her children back, but she will never get them till after the Last Day.
Tradition will show that the measures of a new world had to be procured from the depths of the celestial ocean and tuned with the measures from above, dictated by the “Seven Sages,” as they are often cryptically mentioned in India and elsewhere. They turn out to be the Seven Stars of Ursa, which are normative in all cosmological alignments on the starry sphere. These dominant stars of the Far North are peculiarly but systematically linked with those which are considered the operative powers of the cosmos, that is, the planets as they move in different placements and configurations along the zodiac.
The ancient Pythagoreans, in their conventional language, called the two Bears the Hands of Rhea (the Lady of Turning Heaven), and called the planets the Hounds of Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. Far away to the south, the mysterious ship Argo with its Pilot star held the depths of the past; and the Galaxy was the Bridge out of Time. These notions appear to have been common doctrine in the age before history-all over the belt of high civilizations around our globe. They also seem to have been born of the great intellectual and technological revolution of the late Neolithic period.
[…] of the Indians of Guiana: “All the legends relating to the constellations Taurus and Orion have something in common in the detail of an amputated arm or leg.” And that goes for parts of Indonesia too. But then, Ursa Major is the thigh of a Bull, and the zodiacal Taurus is so badly amputated, there is barely a half of him left. More peculiar still, in later Egyptian times it occurs, if rarely, that Ursa is made a ram’s thigh (see G. A. Wainwright, “A Pair of Constellations,” in Studies Presented to F. L. Griffith , p. 373); and on the round zodiac of Dendera (Roman period) we find a ram sitting on that celestial leg representing Ursa, and it even looks back, as befits the traditional zodiacal Aries. We must leave it at that.]
Others say that Ursa Major consists of a team of horses with harness; every night a black dog is gnawing at the harness, in order to destroy the world, but he does not reach his aim; at dawn, when he runs to a spring to drink, the harness renews itself.
In other tales the stars of the Great Bear are “seven wolves” who pursue those horses. Just before the end of the world they will succeed in catching them. Some even fancy that the Great Bear is also tied to the Pole Star. When once all the bonds are broken there will be a great disturbance in the sky
A very strange and apparently stone-old story is told by the Skidi-Pawnee about the end and the beginning of the world. Various portents will precede: the moon will turn red and the sun will die in the skies. The North Star is the power which is to preside at the end of all things, as the Bright Star of Evening was the ruler when life began. The Morning Star, the messenger of heaven, which revealed the mysteries of fate to the people, said that in the beginning, at the first great council which apportioned to star folk their stations, two of the people fell ill. One of these was old, and one was young. They were placed upon stretchers, carried by stars (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor) [n5 The Sioux take Ursa Major for a coffin, accompanied by mourners. This picture is not too “obvious,” so it is significant that Ursa is banat na'sh with the Arabs, i.e., the bier and its daughters; the bier is formed by the chest of the wagon, El-na'sh, the handle of the Dipper being the daughters.
I would also like to briefly mention some local Thai folklore surrounding Ursa Major. In much of Thailand, the constellation (and its larger asterism of the Big Dipper) is viewed to be a crocodile constellation. The following is a folk tale about the crocodile constellation, taken from this blog:
According to the people of Thailand, we are looking at a crocodile. This comes from a story about a very wealthy old man who hid all his money buried in the ground in front of his house. After he died, he came to his wife in her dreamworld and told her where the money was and to give a sizable amount to the temple. While his wife was digging up the money, a lot of people said they saw a giant crocodile circling the house, as if to protect the property. As the boat, with the wife and money proceeded to the temple to present the gift, the crocodile was said to lead the procession. People said that the rich husband had been reborn as that crocodile. And to reward him for his generosity, he was reborn as a constellation of a crocodile in the sky! He is called Dao Ja Ra Kae. When people see him they are reminded to do good in this life and they will be rewarded.
The Sabbatic Current
When it comes to the sabbatic current — specifically the works of the Cultus Sabbati — the grimoires tend to focus on Ursa Major’s role as the mythic coffin (funeral bier) and wagon, along with the asterism’s depiction of being the plough.
In ONE: The Grimoire of the Golden Toad, one of the things a person can do with the toad bone gained from their toad rite is to use the ‘bone-charm’ as a way to essentially yoke the ‘sky-horse’. This rite I believe is rooted in the folklore of the Toadmen who are able to perform equine magic, calming and controlling horses with their witchcraft. In The Charm of Harnessing the Toad to the Seven Stars of the Plough, seven stars are explicitly mentioned: Al Benetnasch, Al Merak, Al Phecda, Al Magrez, Alioth, Al Mizar, and Al Dubhe. This is an explicit reference to the seven fixed stars of Ursa Major (Benetnasch being another name for the Behenian star Alkaid) who – by the nature of being stars in the Plough asterism — are able to act as a metaphorical plough-and-yoke.
In another grimoire, Lux Haeresis: The Light Heretical, Daniel Schulke has a vision of the seven stars wherein the stars appeared before him as godly figures. According to him:
The seven Genii of the constellation of the Plough, being Dubhe, Merak, Phecda, Megrez, Alioth, Mizar, and Alkaid. On the eve of my departure from the abbey, these appeared to me in dream as robed sages bearing lamps, four men and three maidens, and had proclaimed themselves the ‘Seven True Gods’
In Azoetia: A Grimoire of the Sabbatic Craft, the stars of Ursa Major are explicitly addressed within the Conjurations and Formulae of the Nineteenth Holy Letter. Here, the seven stars are given the moniker of the ‘Stars of Khepesh’. A khepesh / khopesh in real life is a type of Egyptian, sickle-shaped sword. In this regard, a sickle would not seem out of place thematically, for sickles are tools used in harvesting, much like ploughs are. Yet, the form of the sickle-shaped sword evokes Saturnine imagery of a scythe. The foreboding sense of death and violence as associated with the so-called Stars of Khepesh could perhaps be explained by the figure whom the seven stars serve: Ononshu.
In the Adoration of the Triple Creatrix, Ononshu is given the titles of the ‘Most Ancient Queen of all the Night’ and ‘Most Aged and All-Wise Priestess of the High Sabbat’s Covine’, for she is said to represent the moon in its black and waning phases. It is here too in which she — along with the figures of Ieghea who represents the white and waxing moon and Albata who represents the red and full-shining moon — is invoked along with the names of ‘Arctos, Iuno, Kallisto, Nama’ and ‘Ash-ta-ur-te’.
These seem to be the archetypes — for a lack of a better word — associated with the Triple Creatrix, of which Ononshu is one of the three faces. Arctos could be a reference to the bear-star Arcturus, whilst Iuno may be a variation of the name Juno in allusion to the Queen of the Heavens. Kallisto obviously alludes to the myth of the woman who was cursed by Hera (Juno/Iuno?) to become a bear which then became the stars of Ursa Major. I am unsure of what ‘Nama’ refers to, but ‘Ash-ta-ur-te’ may very well be Astarte, the Ancient Near Eastern goddess often associated with Venus, Ishtar and Inanna (more on this later).
Additionally, in the First Call and Summoning of the Last Conjuration, Ononshu is also described to be ‘the Hag, the All-Wise Queen of the Sabbat, Our Lady of the Black Moon’, a figure inferred to be the consort to the the ‘Man in Black, the Devil of the High Sabbat’. This echoes the words of the Conjurations and Formulae of the Nineteenth Holy Letter, wherein Ononshu is described to be she who sleeps in the ‘Coffin of the Abyss’ (a reference to Ursa Major’s folklore of being the funeral bier perhaps), a figure who is hidden in ‘Death Itself’, lying in the ‘Darkest Nights of Winter’ with ‘He that Opposeth – with He whose Name may not be spoken’.
I could go on and on about Her (the Call Unto Our Blessed Lady Ononshu gives more of an insight into her nature and who she may actually be), but to not digress too far from the main point, it is safe to say that the Seven Stars of Ursa Major is inextricably linked with Ononshu— a lunar deity-like figure, much like how the bear in Greek mythology is linked to the lunar deity Artemis. The Seven Stars of Ursa Major are described in the First Conjuration of the Nineteenth Holy Letter to be the veiled and masked guardians who oversee the path leading to the throne of Ononshu: a figure stated in the conjuration to be ‘She who is crowned with the baleful diadem of the Bear’. Thus, under the authority of Ononshu whose name is used to conjure the stars, the seven stars of Ursa Major are thereby the ‘Greater Servitors’ of Ononshu’s temple, performing a role akin to that of protectors and priests to Ononshu.
Furthermore, another noteworthy piece of information is the definition provided for the term Khepesh itself. The term ‘Khepesh’ is defined in the glossary at the very end of the grimoire to be ‘The Left-hand Palace of the Great Double House. The Seven Stars of Ursa Major’. In this case, the Great Double House refers to the concept of ‘Duality in Unity’: the fact that there is ‘One Intersection, yet by its symbols we observe the Duality inherent in the One Continuum’— the aforementioned duality being represented by the Great Double House itself. In my opinion, I believe this is something that links to the duality of Khepesh and Sah, of Zoa and Azoa, and — by extension — of Ononshu and Apethiui.
Just as Ononshu is (one of the aspects of) the ‘Queen of the Sabbat’, Apethiui is the ‘Black Man of the Sabbat’: the’ All-Father’, the ‘Honoured Lord’ and ‘Horned God’, ‘He who is crown’d with the Fourfold Glories of the Sun’ and ‘cloaked with the Star-laden Mantle of the Hunter’. Just as Ononshu is associated with the Seven Stars of Ursa Major, Apethiui is associated with the Seven Stars of Orion. Just as Khepesh is the ‘Left-hand Palace of the Great Double House’, Sah is defined to be the ‘ Right-hand Palace of the Great Double House’, synonymous with the ‘Stars of Orion’ much like how the Left-handed Palace is synonymous with the ‘Stars of Ursa Major’. Likewise, the duality of the Great Double House is said to be formed by the ‘Twain Powers of Zoa and Azoa’, the two forces which represent ‘the omnipresent polarities of the whole spectrum of occult creative energies’.
All of this would point towards some kind of duality or parallel between the constellations of Ursa Major and Orion. Perhaps it is merely that the Bear and the Hunter are linked through their mirroring (and revolving) roles of Beast and Man, of Prey and Predator? I have not been able to find much folklore explicitly explaining why Ursa Major and Orion are deemed to be opposites or two sides of the same coin. If anyone who is reading this has any additional insight, I would be grateful to hear them.
Finally, I would like to end this section of this piece of writing with an excerpt from the Dragon Book of Essex, pointed out to me by Briar during a discussion in Sasha Ravitch’s Discord server:
Ursa Major — the Great Bear, the constellation to which this star belongs, has numerous meanings in the context of Draconian and Sabbatic Mysteries. As a group of seven stars it is directly analogous to the Heptanomis of the Khu Rite (see Table of Correspondences) and may be utilised as a stellar region of votive significance in all manner of rites deriving from the complex there-of. As the Plough, this constellation may be interpreted as the Coulter-blade, the divine weapon of Cain. Here it may be seen as the celestial barrier, the whirling sword, which guards the region of the Heptanomis. As the Wain, Carls Wain — the Wagon of the King, it may be interpreted as the chariot which bears the Witch-master Mahazhael around the Circle of the Never-setting Stars in the North.
Ursa Major is also known as 'The Funeral Bier’, and in this context may be seen as the Bearer of the Sacrificed Body of the Seeker — as the Great Coffin of Habil, the Profaner, who is cast down ’neath the blade of his brother Cain or Kabil. This latter interpretation bears upon the specific star in question: Alcaid.
Alcaid, as the chief star of Ursa Major, possesses the full name Al Ka’id Banat al Na’ash, meaning ‘The Governor of the Daughters, the Chief of the Mourners’. In this context, Alcaid may be understood to represent Azh run, as the Sister of the Slain One, the Chief of the Sisters or Witch-mothers who mourn his death. Yet it must be remembered that Azh run is also the Bride and Sister of Kabil, who is the First Magician, the Victor over Profanity. As the Bride of Cain —the Self-Transmuted One, She is the Secret Up-raiser of Habil in the season of Hua, the hour of final resurrection. For the shedding of Her and Her Sisters’ tears upon the place of burial — the seasonal falling of stellar dews upon the earth — cause the downcast substance of the Profaner to alchymically transform — to be redeemed from exile and thus be worthy of ascent — to be born anew as the Revenant Qinaya Habil-Zhiva: the Begetter of Qayin at the End of all Days. Thus the Fallen One comes forth anew at the Threshold of Ka, once more to meet his appointed bride: the Serpent-woman Calmena-Azh’run. These arcana, here summarised, are revealed through the course of the Great Rites.
The text is self-explanatory.
What struck me though, was the implications that Ursa Major may also have a role in tending to the Seeker — us — on our spiritual journey should we decide to work with the sabbatic forces. Sethos, the daimon of the grimoire Azoetia, is stated to be ‘ a mediator between Abel, Cain and Seth, that is, between, the Sacrificed Man of Clay (the Uninitiate Self), the Transformative Man of Fire (the Initiating and Becoming Self), and the Self-Transformed Man of Light (the Initiatic Self-existant One)’. Could it be possible that whilst the Self goes from the Uninitiate Self to the Becoming and the Initiatic, it is Ursa Major — the Funeral Bier — who tends to the ashes of our past selves, the cadaver of who we once were, keeping safe the corpses of who we used to be?
Ursa Major in Ancient Practices
Outside of the Sabbatic current, ancient sorcerers and witches and magicians since ancient times have been invoking the star of Ursa Major in their spells and rituals. Most people may be familiar with the Bear Charm from the Greek Magical Papyri, but before the Greco-Egyptian times, the Babylonians were calling upon Ursa Major for aid in many workings, from medicinal magic to witchcraft.
In Astral Magic in Babylonia by Erica Reiner, two divinatory rites involving Ursa Major are mentioned:
Two prayers to Ursa Major are prescribed in the instructions for "fortune-telling" to help obtain a reliable portent through a dream. The first runs:
O Wagon star, Wagon of the pure heavens! Your yoke is Ninurta, your pole is Marduk, Your side-pieces are the two heavenly daughters of Anu. You rise in Assur, you turn toward Babylon. Without you the dying man does not die and the healthy man cannot go on his journey If I am to succeed on this journey I am undertaking, let them give me something (in my dream), If I am not to succeed on this journey I am undertaking, let them accept something from me (in my dream).
And the second:
O Wagon star, heavenly Wagon! Whose yoke is Ninurta, whose pole is Marduk, Whose side-pieces are the two heavenly daughters of Anu. She rises toward Assur, she turns toward Babylon. Let a dream bring me a sign whether so-and-so, son of so-and-so, will become healthy and well!
In Babylonian Star-Lore: an Illustrated Guide to the Star-lore and Constellations of Ancient Babylonia by Gavin White, the beneficent and nefarious uses of Ursa Major are mentioned:
More than any other star, the healing powers of the Wagon are invoked into medicinal herbs and potions. The medicine is typically left exposed to the stars overnight, so that the concoction may absorb their qualities. The text speaks of celestial influence as some form of radiation emanating from the stars.
Sorcerers could also harness the powers of the Wagon to cause illness or even death. There was a form of sorcery called the ‘cutting of life’ (zikurudu-magic), in one surviving source it was used against aman using a mongoose. The details are absent, but the cure involved placing the mongoose before the Wagon and presumably invoking the powers of the constellation and its presiding goddess to affect a cure— whatever malady a star has created that same star may cure.
Hence, it can be surmised that the magic one could do by harnessing the powers granted by Ursa Major may be much more diverse and powerful that what many would initially expect, capable of both healing and harming and divining and potentially much more.
This essay is an attempt to understand more deeply the nature of the Ursa Major constellation. If all goes to plan, I hope to eventually form a personal devotional relationship with the seven stars with the aid of Sethos, the daimon of the grimoire Azoetia. Then, perhaps my path will lead me to working with the stars of Orion as well (as someone with a paran with the fixed star Rigel, I would be intrigued to do so). At that point, it is likely that I will be unable to talk as freely about my faith and practice as I do so now.
Allow me, for but a moment, the indulgence of pouring my heart and pain onto the page.
Content warning for potentially triggering remarks in the next paragraph.
I have been called many things by people, some of them good and some not so good. I have had my appearance insulted, described by a family member as being ‘not pretty enough for men to want’, and having been told on a different occasion by a different person that I should go ‘smash my face in’. I have had people mistaken my social anxiety for stuck-up snobbishness. In my youth, someone once called me a ‘zombie’ due to how quiet I was, having found me ‘creepy’ due to the ‘still and expressionless’ way I tend to carry myself. Likewise, I have had someone I once deemed a friend call my life ‘pathetic’, claiming that if she were to be me she ‘would’ve committed suicide by now’.
But none of the cutting words hurt as much as when someone called me ‘selfish’.
In my eyes, to be selfish is to be monstrous. I had believed (and a part of me still does) that it is selfish and thereby monstrous to put one’s desire above all else. To do all that is to be cruel, to be cold-hearted or even worse, to be heartless and uncaring and inhuman. To be selfless, on the other hand, is to be good. Ergo, to be selfish is to be evil. Such were the simplistic thoughts of a child who grew up thinking that she was a burden upon this earth. Such were the thoughts of the girl that I was, the girl who believed she had to justify her existence by being useful, to be kind and charitable and ever-giving and of course, never selfish.
Slowly, over the years — ever so painstakingly slowly — I learnt otherwise.
It is okay to be selfish, sometimes.
It is human to want, to have desires.
The fixed star Alphard — known by many names such as Alpha Hydrae, Al Fard Al Shujah, or the heart of the snake — is more than capable of love and loving. But, in my view, Alphard isn’t necessarily about love. Alphard is about desire, and desire is about wants, and to want something is to yearn and hunger for it.
In the paper ‘Man the hunter’: a critical reading of hunt-based conceptual metaphors of love and sexual desire by María D. López, the author discusses the work of Andrew Goatly, a linguist and English language professor at the Lingnan University of Hong Kong. Goatly found several metaphors used throughout various sources of literature that tends to relate hunger and food (in addition to the act of eating) to the concept of love or sexual desire. To quote the aforementioned paper:
“In poems such as ‘The Broken Heart’ love is portrayed as being not only violent but also as eating or devouring those experiencing it. This reflects two themes in Metalude: DESIRE IS APPETITE, HUMAN IS FOOD and EMOTION IS FOOD/EATING (HUNTING). By means of these metaphors, love or sexual desire, like other emotions, can be represented as hunger or as something for which you have an appetite or are hungry for. The object of desire may be as attractive as food, i.e. mouth-watering etc. and the loved one, especially if she is a woman, may be represented as the food itself (HUMAN IS FOOD). Conversely the experience of love can be equated to being eaten, as in ‘she was eaten up / consumed with love for Ringo’ or as in ‘he has a devouring passion for Julia’”.
The point I am attempting to make here is that the concept of desire as being equated with hunger is something that is prevalent in our literature and our use of language throughout much of human history. As humans, we swing back and forth from one end of the pendulum to the other: the state of hunger, and the state of satiation. To be hungry — to be unfulfilled and lacking — and to desire — to want to satisfy our hunger — is very much integral to being human. The fixed star Alphard teaches us to listen to the ache in our belly and, in her serpentine ways, teaches us how to hunt. After all, Cupid himself is a hunter, wielding the bow and arrow whose shot no man nor god is immune to. Only through hunting and devouring, through pursuing and possessing the object of our affection, can we be sated and our hunger slaked.
Through my experience conversing with and learning from Alphard, I have come to understand two things:
The first step to hunting is to acknowledge that you are hungry.
The second is to let go of shame.
Have you ever felt ashamed of your desires? I would not be surprised if many would answer: yes, I have.
Of Shame and Shedding
In a world where women are subjected to the Madonna–whore complex, a society where queerness is perceived by many to be predatory, where so-called deviants are ostracized and digressions from the norm are punished, it makes perfect sense why children may be raised to view their desires as shameful and to repress whatever feelings may arose. Many are shamed into abandoning the desires that polite society deem to be wrong. Selflessness is instead glorified and starvation romanticized. The problem resides in the fact that one cannot kill desire, only repress it. If I have learnt anything from reading Jekyll and Hyde, however, it would be that repression only backfires in the long run and anything pushed under the surface will bubble up sooner or later— like a corpse floating up to the shore.
In that sense, Alphard reminds me so much of Kali, dancing naked and dancing triumphantly over Shiva’s corpse. To quote Ramprasad Sen, from Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair:
“Kali, why are you naked again? Good grief, haven’t you any shame? Mother, don’t you have clothes? Where is the pride of a king’s daughter? And, Mother, is this some family duty— this standing on the chest of Your man? You’re naked, He’s naked, You hang around the burning grounds. O, Mother, we are dying of shame. Now put on Your woman’s clothes. Mother, Your necklace gleams, Those human heads shine at Your throat. Prasad says: Even Shiva fears You When You’re like this.”
The last line of the excerpt particularly struck me as being poignant: ‘Even Shiva fears You When You’re like this’. It is common for people to fear what they do not understand. Yet, should someone were to — in an excess and without restraint — allow themselves to be possessed wholly by desire, then they would be no different to the maenads of the mad god Dionysus, mad with ecstasy and rapture, mad with pleasure and all the heretical bliss that intoxication brings. Desire, when expressed unabashedly and unapologetically, may be too overwhelming for society-at-large to handle.
Because of this fear of the chaos that indulgence may bring, desire is deemed monstrous— in certain cases, perhaps rightfully so. In some cases, monsters should be feared.
But is it so bad to be a monster, sometimes?
To quote Sasha Ravitch in her Patreon post Hissing Season (currently open to the public):
“That same annihilating hunger is dressed in the preferred finery of obsession. The curdling, crucifying experience of lack which disfigures the spine in favor of an inviolable but futile reaching and grasping. Fingernails split, broken and bleeding as you drag your tattered belly across the ground toward that which consumes your thoughts. There is such a repulsive pleasure in obsession, such an erotic magic in this negotiation with lack. So much fecundity, so much creative potential in the empty, aching vacuum of need. […] Hydra is the Witch as greedy, covetous, and starving for what is not hers–but that which she will take, which she will curl around and asphyxiate until every precious drop of vitae has been siphoned […] Frankly, we need Hydra. We cannot have our heroes without our villains, and we cannot learn to love our monsters if we will not call them as such.”
The shame of being monstrous is something that should be shed and discarded away. Even serpents have to shed their skin sometimes. Carrying around all that shame and dead weight can only hurt. In the sultry, hissing voice of Alphard, I was given a short but profound message: To shed your shame, you must realize that shame is but a blade directed towards yourself. So, drop the blade. Or, better yet, point it elsewhere. Point it towards your quarry, your kill— your love-object to be consumed until your belly is filled and your hunger slaked.
Shame, as I have discovered, prevents us from asking ourselves: what is it that I really want and how far will I go to get it?
When I asked myself that question, the answer shook me to the core. Forced to face the immensity and intensity of what I want, the thought of living a life deprived of it becomes unbearable. Hence, Alphard presented to me a choice: do I accept my desires and make a decision to actively go after what I want, or do I ignore that gnawing pang of hunger and continue to live a lacking, dissatisfied life?
I know my answer.
I’ve made my choice.
Have you made yours?
Venerating the Hydra-Serpent
My first (formal and ritualized) contact with Alphard occurred at the beginning of this month. Photos of the rite are depicted below.
As could be seen, I had chosen to represent Alphard with the card of Lust from the Thoth tarot deck for reasons that should be obvious. Following the advice given by Sasha within her Discord server, I chose to offer to Alphard a raw, whole (albeit headless) chicken, with additional offerings of eggs, honey and candle flame.
I began to call upon Alphard using a pre-written invocation during Venus’ hour when Venus (conjunct Alphard) was in the 7th house. Divination to confirm Alphard’s presence was successful too, for I drew three cards: Prince of Cups, Ace of Cups and Lust. Upon seeing the final card, I was certain that Alphard had heard my prayers. The rest of the ritual was simple: I made my prayers, confessed whatever was burdening my heart to her, and then played some music (songs such as A Smaller God by Darling Violetta, for example). Intuitively, I then felt an urge to read poetry, so I switched my music to some fitting instrumental songs and began reading Faustine by Algernon Charles Swinburne, the first poem that came to mind that reminded me of Alphard.
After my poetry recitation was done, I entered a light trance and conversed with the hydra-serpent star. It was no surprise to me that the conversation brought tears to my eyes— a phenomenon I had experienced in my previous, informal interactions with Alphard. Somehow, in a strange but maternal manner, Alphard has a way of stirring up memories and emotions.
I know this post is already filled with quotes (that is, after all, the beauty and consequences of consuming and assimilating within me the arts and stories I very much love), but I would like to end with a final quote by one of my favorite filmmakers, Guillermo del Toro.
“In fairy tales, monsters exist to be a manifestation of something that we need to understand, not only a problem we need to overcome, but also they need to represent, much like angels represent the beautiful, pure, eternal side of the human spirit, monsters need to represent a more tangible, more mortal side of being human: aging, decay, darkness and so forth. […] And we invented creatures that made sense of the world: a serpent that ate the sun, a creature that ate the moon, a man in the moon living there, things like that. […] But the real enigmas became social. All those impulses that we were repressing: cannibalism, murder, these things needed an explanation. The sex drive, the need to hunt, the need to kill, these things then became personified in monsters. Werewolves, vampires, ogres, this and that. I feel that monsters are here in our world to help us understand it. They are an essential part of a fable.”
Alphard, the Hydra-Serpent, is a monster.
And yet, she is necessary to our world, as much as desire is necessary to life.
The constellations of Canis Minor and Canis Major are often associated with canine-related mythology. Procyon — the Behenian fixed star in the Canis Minor constellation — and Sirius — the Behenian fixed star in the Canis Major constellation — have been explored at great lengths by scholars of history and occult practitioners alike. With regards to Gomeisa, there is comparatively less literature already written about the star. But, due to the star’s placement in my natal chart, the fixed star Gomeisa of the Canis Minor constellation has become a recent interest of mine. In this post, I would like to summarize the discourse that surrounds the three dog stars, along with highlighting the stars’ relation to the god Dionysus, a deity whom I once had a very close devotional relationship with. Additionally, I would like to touch upon the stars’ connection to Hekate: the hound-headed witch-goddess, she who howls like a dog.
This post, part one of my Dog Stars series, will be purely theoretical. The second post which I plan to make on the topic of dog stars will (hopefully) be a more practical observation of my own attempts to reach out to the dog stars and form a devotional relationship with them.
Canis Major and Canis Minor
Various hounds in Greek mythology have been attributed to the Canis Major and Canis Minor constellations. In one case, the constellations are associated with the mythology of a hound named Laelaps who has origins as Zeus’ gift to his lover Europa. Laelaps was then passed down to King Minos, who later gave it as a reward to the Athenian princess Procris. Procis’ husband, Cephalus, commanded the hound to hunt the Teumessian fox— this resulted in a paradox, for Laelaps was a dog who always caught its prey whilst the Teumessian fox was a beast who could never be caught. Zeus, perplexed by their impossible fates, turned both the hound and the fox into stone and cast them both into the stars to become constellations: Laelaps becoming Canis Major, and the Teumessian fox becoming Canis Minor.
In a different tale, the Canis Minor constellation is said to represent Maera, the dog belonging to Ikarios, the first winemaker. In this story, Dionysus taught Ikarios the art of winemaking, but when Ikarios offered his wine to a group of shepherds, Ikarios was killed by the shepherds who thought Ikarios had poisoned them for they had never experienced drunkenness before. Maera, the ever-loyal dog, found Ikarios body and ran to his daughter Erigone. Both the daughter and the dog ended up taking their own lives, overwhelmed with grief at the death of their father and master. Here, Ikarios is associated with Boötes (the constellation of the Herdsman), Erigone with the constellation Virgo, and Maera with Canis Minor.
In other myths, Canis Major is said to represent one of Orion’s hunting dogs who pursued Lepus the Hare or helped Orion fight Taurus the Bull, whilst in Roman times, Canis Minor is said to represent Orion’s second hunting dog. Regardless of which myth is referenced, one commonality is clear: both constellations are associated with canines (foxes being an animal that is also a part of the dog family).
Holy Stars, Stars of Devotion
The dog stars’ connection to the god Dionysus also extends beyond the aforementioned myth of Ikarios, the first winemaker and his loyal hound, Maera. It has been found that at the Temple of Apollo at Delos — a temple which Apollo leaves to Dionysus’ care every winter — the temple was positioned in an alignment that allowed for the observation of certain stars associated with both Dionysus and Apollo. The orientation of the temple was chosen by the directions of which the stars emerge or set. In this case, the temple was constructed in view of the constellation Corvus (the constellation of the crow related to the mythology of Apollo), along with having the star Procyon (the brightest star of Canis Minor) be visible from its eastern view. In the words of Dimitrijevic (2020), the placement of the temple thus made it clear that ‘Dionysus with “his” stars was present at Delos’, the stars belonging to him being that of Procyon.
Procyon, however, was far from the only Behenian fixed star to have been used to map temples. Sirius of the Canis Major constellation has also been used to map temples in Ancient Egypt as well, such as that of the Temple of Isis-Hathor. The usage of the two dog stars in relation to temple placements supports the stars’ devotional and priest-like nature. Due to the dog stars’ association with the divine, there is a holiness attached to these stars. This view is similar to Bernadette Brady’s interpretation of Sirius, where it is believed that when Sirius is present in a chart by paran, the star is ‘a marker of great deeds’, a sign indicating that ‘the mundane may become sacred’. In the words of Bernadette Brady: ‘the small action of the individual may have a large effect on the collective. The individual, however, may be sacrificed to this collective expression, or may gain fame and glory […] Sirius can bring immortality to its bearer, but the price may be the burn’.
Thus, it is my understanding that although both Procyon and Sirius are markers of glory and greatness (however one wishes to define such terms in this modern day and age), having Procyon be present in a chart by paran seems to point towards a quick and sudden rise in status and renown, followed by a potentially dramatic fall. In contrast, the existence of Sirius in a chart by paran seems to represent a moment of shining, blinding glory, followed by a form of immortalization or pseudo-deification of some sort. The imagery of a candle that burns itself out comes to mind. Or, a better analogy may be an exploding firework, one whose light is so bright and beautiful that the memory of the detonation is forever seared into the minds of all who witnessed its brilliance. Yet, in the end, the fire consumes itself and the fuel undergoes self-cannibalization.
Glory and fame, with the risk of self-destruction and the hope of immortalization, seems to be the nature of Sirius and — to a lesser extent — its brother-star of Procyon.
Love, Devotion and Grief
Gomeisa of Canis Minor, on the other hand, has a much quieter but still poignant influence. It is my conjecture that the star holds a devotional (and loving) nature similar to that of Sirius and Procyon, but unlike the two other dog stars, Gomeisa is much more melancholic, representing a love that turns into sorrow and endures in spite of the grief. The star has many aliases, including that of the ‘Bleary-Eyed (Woman)’, the ‘Wateried Eyed’.
In the book Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning by Richard Hinckley Allen, it is stated that the name Gomeisa may have originated from the Arabic ‘Al Ghumaisa’, related to the story of Suhail (the star Canopus) and his marriage to Al Jauzah (Orion, who in this story was a woman) and their subsequent escape in which Al Shira (the constellation Canis Major) followed them away, leaving behind Al Ghumaisa— a figure which represented the star Gomeisa and the constellation Canis Minor. Gomeisa was left in tears upon the departure of Canopus, Orion and Canis Major, earning perhaps her moniker of the ‘Weeping One’.
This tale brings to mind the aforementioned myth of Ikarios and his dog Maera, where Maera ended up dying from grief after the death of Ikarios. I assume many individuals would have heard similar stories of dogs in real life, where the dogs ended up waiting for those who raised them to return, even when it is likely that their masters had died long ago (one such example is that of Hachiko who waited for over nine years at the train station for its deceased owner). Dogs are thought to be ‘man’s best friend’, the most loyal and loving companion a man could have. It is this sense of loyalty-turned-devotion, and the displays of love that goes beyond death, that — in my opinion — exemplifies the nature of the fixed star Gomeisa.
As cheesy as it sounds, I am reminded of a beautifully written line from the TV series WandaVision: ‘what is grief, if not love persevering?’. Gomeisa to me represents love in what could arguably be its purest form: an enduring, everlasting love that perseveres through the devastation of having loved so profoundly. Due to the holy quality that tends to accompany the dog stars, I associated Gomeisa with the concept of love as agape: a kind of ‘deep and profound sacrificial love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance’, one that comes ‘out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned’.
Additionally, I believe Gomeisa has the capacity to act as a balm for the soul, something to soothe the heart and encourage one to weep. A lesson Gomeisa teaches is that grief is not something to be repressed or denied, and healing begins with the decision to embrace the tears. It is in that regard that I believe Gomeisa to be a severely overlooked star but one that could prove to be beneficial to many who are recovering from pain or trauma. Or, if one wishes to contact the comparatively more intense Behenian fixed stars of Procyon and Sirius, then I believe that Gomeisa holds the potential to act as a gentle liaison to the two other dog stars as well.
Occult Stars, Stars of Magic
In terms of the occult, both Procyon and Sirius appear to have links to mysticism and witchcraft. The Bodleian MS claims that a talisman constructed of Sirius’ image and within the correct election will ‘grant the favor of the spirits of the air and the peoples of the earth’, whilst Agrippa claims that a talisman of Sirius will bestow ‘honor and good will, and the favor of men, and Aerial spirits’ among other abilities. Procyon has a similar description. The Bodleian MS states that a talisman of Procyon will give its user ‘favor of the spirits of the air’ and ‘great power over magic’. Likewise, Agrippa states that a Procyon talisman grants ‘the favor of the gods, of spirits, and men’ and gives ‘power against witchcraft’. Additionally, according to Vivian E. Robson, those with their Moon or Mercury in conjunction with Procyon are said to have ‘occult interests’ whilst those with
The dog stars’ association with witchcraft and protective magic is not entirely unsurprising if one considers Cerberus— the three-headed hound who guards the underworld, possibly one of the most well known hounds in mythology. Hounds, such as that of Cerberus, have long been associated with protection, performing the role of a sentinel in defending various places and people. Hekate, the titan of witchcraft herself, also has various epithets pertaining to her dog-like nature. Some examples include Kynegetis (Leader of Dogs), Kyno (Female Dog), Kynokephalos (Dog-Headed), Kynolygmate (Who Howls Dog-like), Philoskylax (Lover of Dogs) and many other epithets.
A part of me wonders too if there is a transmutative quality to the dog stars. In the book Hekataeon by Jack Grayle, Hekate’s epithet of Borborophorba (Eater of Filth) refers to how in the ancient world, ‘feral dogs and jackals would enter tombs and devour corpses in the cemeteries outside the city walls’. This alludes to the role of dogs as psychopomps, responsible for ‘processing the dead and transitioning them to the afterlife’. Perhaps, the role of dogs as psychopomps is also a reason why Anubis — the Ancient Egyptian deity of death and the afterlife — is depicted with a dog’s head. With this perspective, it may be possible too that stars such as Gomeisa may be capable of taking what is ‘dead’ within someone and transmuting it into something greater.
Dog Days of Summer
Despite the overall benefic nature of the dog stars, it should be noted however that stars such as Sirius have historically been feared for their destructive powers as much as they have been revered for their brilliance. With brilliant light comes searing fire, bringing forth the kind of heat that scorches and scours the land and all who live within it.
Seirios, the Greek name for the fixed star Sirius, has been described to be the ‘brightest among the stars, and yet is wrought as a sign of evil and brings on the great fever for unfortunate mortals’. Sirius is a herald for periods of drought and extreme heat, as seen in the following fragment by Alcaeus: ‘the dogstar, Seirios (Sirius), is coming round, the season is harsh, everything is thirsty under the heat, the cicada sings sweetly from the leaves […] now are women most pesilential, but men are feeble, since Seirios parches their heads and knees.’
The same warnings regarding Sirius’ nature as a bringer of misfortune also rings true in both Ancient Egyptian and Babylonian beliefs. According to Bernadette Brady, Sirius was known in Ancient Egypt as ‘The Scorcher’, and the heat from Sirius was thought to cause rabies or madness in dogs. Further exploration on Sirius’ violent side can be read in this Twitter thread by Amaya Rourke:
Regardless, in my view, this does not necessarily mean that Sirius is always a malefic star, nor that other dog stars such as Procyon or Gomeisa are malefic either. Just because a star holds the capacity for destruction does not mean that it is actively malevolent. The star’s fiery nature merely means that there is an intensity and a danger to the star, the same way fire is dangerous and can burn you if you are careless in approaching it. In practice, it can therefore be suggested that a degree of care should be heeded when one wishes to approach a star that burns as brightly as Sirius.
It is with this line of thinking that I plan to approach Gomeisa first, hoping that the Weeping Star would later be willing to act as a bridge for Sirius and its brother-star, Procyon.
I would like to end this post by stating that the concept of devotion appears to be the key to understanding the dog stars of Sirius, Procyon and Gomeisa. Whether it be the act of devoting oneself to a cause or a faith, or declaring our love for a partner, the selfless love that a hound has for its owner represents the core essence of the dog stars.
On the 20th of September 2022 11:50AM GMT+7, the moon will be at 22°09’ Cancer, which should be a good timing for venerating the star Gomeisa who is positioned at 22°12′ Cancer. If all goes well and if what may occur isn’t something that is too private or sensitive for me to publicly share, I will hopefully be making a follow-up post to this one, discussing my experience venerating the fixed star Gomeisa.
“In Venus as Mother: to Soothe a Grieving Heart, Ivy Senna draws on Venus as the Great Mother, a ‘vital principle of the visible universe’, to offer a rite to soothe our grieving hearts, calling upon Socodiah through the usage of the First Pentacle of Venus as a vessel of communication, along with additional rites to form a pact with a weeping tree and a river of your choice. With their assistance, and with the aid of Venus-As-Mother, works of great healing can be accomplished.”
As those of you who have been following me may know, much of my practice revolves around the stars. Venus is a planet that is very dear to my heart, and for the past year or so I have been working with Venus in a process of emotional and spiritual healing. The rites written within the pamphlet are simple but nonetheless have been incredibly helpful for me. I hope that they too can be of use to others who are going through heavy times.
The pamphlet can be purchased on Hadean Press’ website in both paper and ebook forms.
I’ve also updated my poetry section, which could be found here.