Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Vocabulary of Energy

So I'm reading Energy Essentials by Maya Om. First thing I must say is that she has a very unique background from the typical Pagan that I've come across. She was born in Jordan and had a grandmother who was a traditional healer in their village. This very fact makes the book worth reading if only to gain insight into how another culture views magical practice.

However, there is something I'm having a problem with and I think it has to do not necessarily with her style or method, but with the influx of Eastern (particularly Indian) energy concepts into what I see as a predominately European tradition: witchcraft (there's a reason I used traditional healer to describe Maya Om's grandmother, she certainly would not have used the word witch to describe herself as many in her shoes would not have and do not, it's just not part of their culture to embrace the word "witch"- it's not part of many cultures outside the modern Pagan movement to embrace the word Witch). From my earliest days on the Path (and even more so during my Yoga/Tantra phase), knowledge and use of the chakra system was (and still is) the predominate way in which energy is described. But it feels a bit alien now that I'm going down a more semi-reconstructionist/folkloric road.

Now, I can say that the people of India come from the same cultural grouping as the Celts and Norse whose folk practices and lore I base most of my Craft upon. The issue here is that there was already a very prominent culture in India by the time their branch of the Proto-Indo-European culture got there, and I just don't know enough to say with absolute certainty just what part of their current culture comes from the older system and what can be seen as cognate beliefs with their European cousins (who eventually became known as the Greeks, Romans, Germanics/Norse, and the Celts). Was the chakra system (or a more rudimentary form) a common thread among the Indo-Europeans? Or was the system already in use in India when their branch got there and they just attached Sanskrit to this concept? I just don't know. What I do know, is that it has become so entrenched within the Pagan community, probably from its infancy in Britain (I know not all modern Paganism got its start there but a fair share of the paths have) since for a very long time Britain controlled India and their spiritual concepts were adopted by a new religion known as Spiritualism in the late 1800s (through Spiritualism, it entered the generic "Occult" world that existed at that time and from there into Paganism), that most books I've seen doing any sort of energy exercises utilize the chakra system and expect their readers to not only be familiar with it, but to embrace it wholeheartedly as part of the Pagan path.

Only I'm not so sure it should be so integral in Witchcraft. As I mentioned, I see the various systems of Witchcraft as a European tradition, drawing from the cultural folklore of Europe. The chakra system is not part of that folklore and I bet Biddy Early (a famous Irish "faerie doctor") and other cunning folk would have stared at you in utter confusion if you asked them how to better align your chakras. It just wasn't part of their magical vocabulary.

I think part of my discomfort with the chakra system is that it is so very much part of the Vedic tradition and I don't know that the followers of any Indian religion (since there are more than just Hinduism) want to be lumped with the modern word Pagan (even ancient pagans didn't call themselves pagans). Another part of this is the symbolism that comes with the chakra system-by which I mean the chakras being visualized as lotuses  with specific numbers of petals and a specific Sanskrit word, for me...these are all very Indian (or very Asian) images and I can no longer relate to them the way I used to. When I was going through my Yoga/Tantra phase, I found these beautiful glass lotus tea-light holders. I bought nine of them. Two I kept plain (these are on my "Asian" display, along with my Kwan Yin, my Buddha and Bodhi tree, and my Sun Wu-Kung statue from that phase...they're still pretty even if not spiritually significant to me anymore) and the other seven I stained with "stained glass paint" the color of the chakra lotuses. They now collect dust on the bottom shelf of the bookcase that houses the "Asian display".

Do I think there may have once been a European system? Perhaps there was.In the legends of Cuchulain, he is often described as having a firey aura that only showed up in battle (which could lead one to believe he drew power from some source). People thought his father, Lugh, was the sun rising when he came onto the battle field in the Second Battle of Moytura. The energy was there, but the vocabulary on how to use it seems to have died. Freya Aswin in Leaves of Yggdrasil suggests the Norse may have had a similar system, but that it had an eighth chakra beneath the feet (as most spiritual work was done standing, instead of seated in the lotus position) but admits that it is just her personal gnosis that makes her believe this. Currently, I've been using a three energy "cauldron" system I developed myself combined with the sacred tree. I'll give you my reasoning. In Norse and Celtic myths, a sacred well or cauldron is located at the base of the World Tree, this is the first energy center, the well of the Underworld (this pretty much is located at the root chakra, but it is a different kind of energy). The second is the cauldron of the middle world, physical reality, aka, the cauldron of Earth (the Tree's trunk starts here, but its roots go to the Underworld cauldron and below; this cauldron can be seen as replacing the belly and solar-plexus chakras, though it is still a different type of energy). Lastly, the cauldron of Fire is in the head, upheld by the branches of the tree (this cauldron takes the place of the last four chakras as it governs passions, inspiration and spiritual matters). These three centers are connected by the Tree and it makes one a microcosm of the folkloric macrocosm of one's European forebears (particularly those of Celtic/Norse influence). From a numeric perspective, multiples of three were more important to the Celts and the Norse than the number seven would have been. However, this system is my own personal gnosis, I don't expect anyone else to adopt it, but it makes more sense and aligns more easily to my current path than does the Indian chakra system.

So, back to my problem with Energy Essentials. Since I don't use the system she incorporated into pretty much every one of her exercises, it kind of leaves me to either just finish the book for its general knowledge value or re-write all of her exercises with my own system replacing the chakra system....maybe I'll do the first and consider doing the other once the book has come to a close. It's not that her methods are wrong in any way, but most of them just don't feel very witchy to me.

May you be blessed by whichever gods you fancy,

BellaDonna Saberhagen


  1. Thank you for the entry. I read your article on Witchvox and found it very insightful. Would you be willing to recommend 1 or 2 books on Celtic mythology and history? Thank you in advance.

    1. Hmm... For history on how the Celts actually lived, I would recommend Surviving the Iron Age (it's the companion book of a BBC reality show of the same title examining how to survive in Iron Age Celtic Britain). For theoretical Reconstructionism based on myth and comparison with other Indo-European cultures, I would recommend The Sacred Cauldron (warning here, this one is very stuffy and is very "pure" in its reconstuctionist views even to the point of building a fire just as the ancients did it without the aid of matches or lighters...which is a useful survival skill, but I'm just not sure how necessary it is for every single ritual, I think it might actually be more strict than Asatru). Both of those books are out of print, but I was able to get them on Amazon used.

      For mythology, Steve Blamires goes through one of the main Irish myths in The Irish Celtic Magical Tradition, and while I don't agree with all of his visualization exercises, it does break apart the myth of the Second Battle of Moytura nicely and tries to explain the Celtic mind-set.

      I have another book in my possession that is still on my "to read" list called Celtic Heritage by Alwyn and Brinley Rees that came highly recommended, I just haven't gotten to it yet.