Once upon a time on a hot, late summer night we gathered in a cutover cornfield and called down Mars, the God of War. I remember clearly seeing the Red God as he made his appearance. What disturbs me most, however, is not that we accomplished such a feat, but I can’t recall what we did it for and why. My ego has great pride in my memory of events, especially as I have an almost-photographic memory. I say almost, as I seem unable to remember numbers, mathematical formulas, musical notes, the names of people as I’m more of a face guy, and the titles of songs, poems, and books, especially who wrote what when. What I do know is one night in a Virginia cornfield in the vicinity of old Civil War battlefields the God of War came down in a blaze of sparkling, red haze.
We were Witches back then, American Neo-Pagan Wiccans of blended eclectic traditions to be exact. Neo-Celtic-Germanic, often shortened to “Celtic,” was the predominant cluster of traditions we wove into a tapestry of magick, ritual, and celebrations. As the term “Witch,” unfortunately, carried such a negative charge around the world since the Christian Inquisitions and the Muslim Conquests, many of us publicly used the term “Wiccan” as we also worked to rehabilitated Witchcraft and Witches.
We also used the term “magick” to distinguish “real” magick from the tricks and illusions performed by showmen proclaimed “magicians.” These stage magicians were astounding at what they did, of course, and skeptics rooted in material science used such stage tricks as “proof” there can be no such thing as true magick. Real sorcerers scoffed as such foolishness as card tricks and derided illusionists who pretend to make things disappear. After all, real sorcerers know magick demands disciplined practice and focus. As such they can conjure up gods, goddesses, angels, and demons from the Spirit realms. As we Witches did with the God Mars. Well, we got part of him to show up.
It’s an argument as old as philosophy – did matter come first or did mind? Did mind arise from matter? Or did mind come first and matter arose out of mind?
Let’s consider the following statements reflecting reality as science determines reality to be: 1) as the human brain is part of the physical body, thus the entire body including cells and their subcellular components, tissues, glands, organs including the heart, organ systems, biochemicals including neurochemicals, is all matter; 2) all energy we can measure and define including the electro-magnetic spectrum is also matter as we understand all such energy composed of subatomic quantum particles, waves, and fields to be matter. Some particles, such as photons and anti-photons, do not have mass, and as I write studies are underway to confirm whether or not the elusive Higgs boson has indeed been found and if so does it confer mass upon all other particles or not. Gravity has yet to be fully understood nor have postulated gravity particles and waves been clearly defined. Dark matter, anti-matter, and dark energy are mysteries quickly becoming understood.
Moving forward: 3) Matter exploded out of the Big Bang from what scientists call spontaneous creation from nothingness, a moment of Big Bang nucleosynthesis, and the Universe developed multiple dimensions as it spread through and across time and space. 4) Evolution of matter began instantly in the wake of the Big Bank as quantum particles and waves evolved into protons and electrons and then atoms forming first the lighter elements then heavy elements. Matter continued to evolve on both macrocosmic scales as superclusters of galaxies and microcosmic scales with subatomic particles. Hang on. Bear with me here as we surf these waves.
Clouds of gas, stars, planets, asteroids, moons, comets, meteors, and other objects arose as solar systems arose within galaxies. On planets minerals arose out of elements, and on our Planet Earth life evolved. More accurately, organic, biological life arose on Earth and evolved. Such biological life continues to evolve. Perhaps it may even evolve machine life.
The current pinnacle of biological evolution upon Earth is Homo sapiens. Yes, we animals, we human beings, we mass of animal life called humanity. Jokes have been made about the domination of bacteria, grasses, viruses, dragonflies, and cockroaches, yes, and what-if speculation is fun when we consider what may’ve occurred if the dinosaurs didn’t become extinct, or if Earth or at least its biosphere is really one super-organism called Gaia.
We do know we’re the dominant species on this planet, are responsible for the extinction of many other species, and depend upon many species for our own survival. Other animals clearly demonstrate intelligence, such as cetaceans and the great apes, but they have not constructed civilizations. Elephants paint when supplied the materials, but seem unable to create the materials and supplies necessary to paint. Dogs and cats have their own canny intelligences, but again, human beings with their mix of good and evil dominate Earth.
The existence of life on other worlds, including biological, mineral, and machine life, remains to be publicly confirmed in spite of massive evidence Earth has been and continues to be visited by intelligent organisms. If we follow the scientific convention, evolution gave birth to subatomic particles and then elements and then eventually the still-evolving universe we know today.
There may well be many more dimensions and other universes as well, placing us within the so-called Multiverse. As part of this evolution progression, life evolved on Earth. Biological life arose and differentiated into many domains, kingdoms, phyla, classes, orders, families, genuses, species, and subspecies.
Human beings arose from the Homo genus, which arose out of the Hominina, which arose from the Hominidae family within the Primate order, which in turn evolved within the Mammalian class of the Chordata phylum from within the Animal kingdom of Earth Biota. As the bodies of humans evolved so did their brains and hearts. Mind and consciousness, mysteries science continues to try to unravel and pin down, also continue to evolve, along with culture and civilization.
So by today’s dominant worldview, everything evolved from nothing via the spontaneous creation, the Big Bang, and nucleosynthesis. Also by this same worldview the body came first, the brain evolved, and mind arose from brain and other bodily interactions. Mind and consciousness must be particles, waves, and fields of energy yet to be identified and measured.
Astral and spiritual entities are another ballgame all together. The latter, especially when we contemplate Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, or GOD, gods and goddesses, or the One Beyond All Gender and Beyond All Names, existed prior to the Big Bang. The full range of spiritual and quasi-spiritual entities from the One Supreme Deity to God and Goddess, from demons to jinn, from angels to archangels, to fairies, elves, dwarfs, pixies, giants, trolls, ghosts, poltergeists, supernatural animals and animal-human-plant hybrids, spirit guides, guardian angels, departed ancestors, and more…is astounding. Science, however, dismisses all these as foolish even dangerous superstitions and at best anomalies to eventually be reduced into mathematical formulas.
This brings us to the alternative worldview, one that held sway since Prehistoric and Ancient Times and only recently got shoved aside by science. Ideally spiritually and science must reconcile their mutually antagonistic worldviews. The inner and the outer worlds are but opposite sides of one mirror. We aren’t there yet, and many of us, while rooted in science, turn to embrace spirituality. Those of us who do so don’t exclude as much as we include.
According to this alternative worldview, one in which history and religion is really upside down, inside out, backwards and sideways, mind came first. Mind existed before matter, and matter arose out of mind. Hidden in occult fashion the Mind of the Divine, the Mind of God, the Mind of Cosmic Consciousness, the Mind of Allah, the Knowable Mind of the Unknowable Divine, and the Mind of Spirit becoming the Mind of Matter continuously shape and mold the Multiverse. Thoughts give rise to images become manifest in material reality. As humans emerge from life from the primordial soup of Mind their own evolving minds stream forth facets of the One Cosmic Consciousness. From the Void the Logos of the Word of God spoke into existence all creation. Our very language helps to create and shape the reality we experience.
Most human beings remain lost and deep in the slumber of unconscious, animal activity even while feeling awake. A few awake into self-awareness, become avatars, and initiate art, culture, spirituality, and civilization. Others follow, and more and many more still as more humans awake into various degrees of self-awareness, evolving and co-creating together new possibilities. Mind expands streams forth rivers of consciousness merging back into the Great Ocean of Divine Oneness. It continues to unfold even now. Furthermore, growing numbers of scientists from proponents of Electric Universe theory including Wallace Thornhill and Donald Scott to Jacques Vallee declaring we humans need to break free of our standard scientific models and learn to think beyond our present notions of physics.
Since those heady days of dancing naked in the woods, I’ve moved on from the Craft though it remains an integral part of my spiritual and religious foundation. My journey carried me through many facets of a multi-spiritual life it did so before I was initiated as Witch, and still does today. I am the grandson of scientists; my mother’s daddy was a physicist, a maker of violins, and a Southern Presbyterian. My father’s daddy was a botanist, a naturalist, and a Baptist. Both were deacons in their respective churches. My own dad was a Navy sailor turned dairy farmer, also became a Baptist deacon, and my mother, a poet, a dreamer, and one of the church pianists. My parents certainly hated my involvement with anything they viewed as non-Protestant and especially non-Christian.
At various times I’ve been an Agnostic, a Born-Again Christian and a Southern Baptist one at that, a Witch, a Unitarian Universalist, a Shamanic-Gnostic Warrior Poet, a Muslim, an Atheist and then a Spiritual Atheist. Rediscovered the Divine in unexpected ways, and have come to identify somewhat with the term “Spiritual Evolutionary” as I blend together Gnosis, the Goddess, Science and Magick, Shamanic experiences with diverse groups including the Mythopoetic Men’s Work and the Native American Church, and Buddhism. More recently I’m immersing myself in Buddhism especially the Theravada Buddhist practices of Samatha and Vipassana Meditation even as I rediscover Neo-Paganism and the old Occult Mysteries.
For once upon a time I foolishly dared with others to call down a god into a circle dug amid the stubble of a cornfield.
We Witches of Silverwood Circle drove down Rt. 605, back then called the “Down to the Bridge at the River Road.” Today the road is split in half as much of the valley of the Sandy and Little Sandy Rivers has since been dammed up and flooded. The section on my family’s farm side of the lake has been renamed the Gates-Bass Road after the two prominent landowning families of the neighborhood. These, including my own, are White families of European origin, however, and leave out the Black, African-American families of the Dupuy (or Dupree) clan. If we’re going to officially use clan names, 605 “this side of the lake” should be the Gates-Bass-Dupuy Road. At any rate the cornfield in which Mars came down to Earth and stood now lays underwater.
The edges of the Sandy River Valleys are rimmed with moderately steep bluffs. Between the Big and Little Sandy Rivers the bluffs are steep as cliffs.
The asphalt road snaked down through a cut in the bluffs and crossed the Sandy River upon a one-lane bridge and then on a few more miles to the village of Rice, Virginia. My family farm, and Rice and other nearby farming villages such as Green Bay and Worsham lay within Prince Edward County, the so-called “Heart of Virginia.” We pulled up into the cornfield, parked the car on the dirt, and got out.
By “We” I mean there were three of us in attendance. Silverwood Circle itself began as Silverwood Church and School of Wicca about 1980. It was established by Longwood College students in the town of Farmville, the current seat of Prince Edward County. Paul of Bluefield on the West Virginia-Virginia border was the founder and Flamen, our term priest derived from the Latin word for “bearer of the sacred flame,” and Margaret soon became the Flamenca, or priestess. I joined in 1981, and after Paul moved nearby onto one of the Gates farms, the seat of Silverwood moved out to Rice as well. Margaret and I, already partners for over a year and a half, were married in July 1981, in what proved to be a short but intense and fascinating partnership. There’s history here, of course, with curious stories and esoteric explorations. All that’s for another time.
We three formed the core circle of Silverwood, although there was a larger group of another three or four to seven or eight who would join us from time to time. At that time Silverwood was part of Gavin and Yvonne Frost’s Church and School of Wicca, although we later broke away some time later when we grew into a much larger group of some 20 to 35 people based in Richmond, the capital city of Virginia. By then Paul and I were the Inner Flamens (we chose the term “inner” versus “high” as we focused on the spiritual journey deep within versus rank and hierarchy) and Inner Flamenca Margaret had left the grove. Alas, all this is more history, and still some understanding is necessary to read of anyone calling down Pagan gods with sorcery.
On this night, however, sometime in early to mid September of either 1983 or 1984, the cornfields of the river bottom lowlands, referred to colloquially by the area farmers as “the low ground” or “the new ground,” (as the fields had recently been cleared of forest) were freshly harvested. Rows of chopped cornstalk stubble stretched out below the stars.
Being a history buff and thus a stickler for accurate days and dates, I feel a bit perturbed I can’t remember whether it was a full moon or a new moon night, or 1983 or 1984. The new moon fell upon Tuesday of September 6, 1983, but in 1984 fell upon the Monday the 24th of September (and Sunday, August 26). Full moons, however, fell on Thursday, September 22, 1983 upon the Eve of the Sabbat of the Autumn Equinox, Friday, September 23rd. The following year, the Autumn Equinox Sabbat was Saturday, September 22, 1984, but the full moon fell much earlier upon the 10th of September.
What’s the big deal? Well, several things… I do clearly recall the identities of two of the people participating in the ritual, Paul and I. For whatever odd reason, I can’t recall the others as I write this toward the end of December 2011 a little more than 28 or 29 years after the event. There was at least a third person, maybe even a fourth. If Margaret was in attendance, it was September of 1983. Our purpose for calling down Mars remains somewhat forgotten, although there was an element of practicing the practice of sorcery. Calling upon the God of War for help was significant, and we did often feel besieged and harassed by hostile Christian Fundamentalists who erroneously thought we were all Devil-worshipping Satanists.
If it was September 1984, however, then Margaret was not in attendance. The purpose would have been more personal, as my wife had left me for another man, a member of the outer circle and an employee of my father’s dairy farm. She was also viewed at that time as having deserted her position and responsibilities as Inner Flamenca of her coven, and the fellow she took off with had made death threats against Paul, my parents, and me. Gary had also attempted to run my brother off the bridge with his car and buy a rifle from a neighbor. While grief-stricken, we did consider ourselves in danger from what proved to be an abusive and violent although charismatic and initially friendly man.
With knotted twine and salt and sulfur we measured and cast concentric circles in the dirt. We could hear the dying cacophony of insects and tree frogs rising from the swampy bushes and woods ringing the fields. The river itself was maybe 150 to 200 feet or so away on the other side of the field. Once in a long while another car or truck would roar by, but as it was dark and we lit no bonfires, a hedgerow of overgrown fences shielded us somewhat.
We cast one set of three circles to contain Mars should he appear. We cast another set for ourselves. I don’t remember if the one we created for our group was separate from the “landing pad” for Mars, or large enough to contain all.
Candles marked the four quarters, and we called forth the Guardians of the Watchtowers and the Spirits Above and Below to guard and protect us from all harm. Standing together, we raised our wands, magickal tools we made ourselves from wood. As apprentices training for initiation, we’d each hollowed out a branch, drove a straight iron bar through it, carved out or burned our choice of symbols and slogans upon the wooden wand, coated it in a special lacquer, and then wrapped a coil of silver around the wand. We were never to point it at another’s eyes or even at any one’s body except in self-defense. We viewed these ritual tools, especially our wands, as powerful, liberating, and as potentially dangerous as a loaded gun.
Paul as the head Flamen and the one most versed in magickal ritual led us through the incantations. We pointed our wands into the center of the circle. Aleister Crowley, the most influential occultist of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, inspired us. Although not a Wiccan, Crowley was a sorcerer who exerted an enormous influence upon the creation of British Traditional Wicca. Practitioners of sorcery are also known as Ceremonial Magickians, and as such Crowley became one of the primary members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It was Crowley who defined magick as “the Science and Art of causing change to occur in accordance with the will.” Another way to define the practice of magick is to concentrate and focus one’s imagination with one’s willpower and direct it as one directs a cursor. It’s one reason I often refer to Witchcraft as a religion of the creative imagination in which we harnessed and focused our will.
We were calling down Mars, or in other words, evoking a god. These are key terms to understand here. Sorcerers invoke or evoke, among many other things. To invoke is to identify with and become the deity or spiritual entity called upon, to allow one’s self to become possessed by it and blessed with its powers while at the same time maintaining control. To invoke is thus to call in.
To evoke is to summon, command, or request the presence of a god, goddess, or other spiritual entity. As opposed to prayer, an evocation is almost a demand. One must tread lightly here with astute awareness.
As Wiccans we used in addition somewhat different yet similar ritual terms. Simply put, in evoking Mars we used “called down power.” Called down power is calling down from the Heavens or calling out from any of the spiritual realms. One does not call up. One calls down from outside versus “raising up” from inside.
What Wiccans call “raised up power” is focused action “to raise up,” i.e. self-generate our power from our own internal resources. Our inner strength, our inner mettle, so to speak, is drawn upon. This is best used in concentration with more than one, preferably a group. A synchronized circle of Magickians acting in harmony is more powerful than one wizard alone. There are other Neo-Pagan perspectives, too, such as rituals to “draw down” power from the Moon and various planets and to take on within the protective container of sacred space the powers of such entities. So to “raise up” refers to riling up from the ground those dark mysteries buried down there with the dead. Now you can understand why I prefer these days to sit on a cushion and meditate with Buddhists.
Real magick is potentially dangerous, which is why one does not encounter many people engaging it. To be really good at it demands persistent practice, and not many of us were adept with such arcane matters. Paul was far ahead of the rest of us, but even he dove in by studying dusty old tomes he found in rare old bookstores.
There we stood in a Virginia cornfield at night, dressed in our ceremonial robes, our wands pointed into the center of our concentric circles of salt and sulfur, chanting what to me sounded like arcane gobblewocky. Did I feel a little silly? Hell, yeah, I felt silly! A Modern, liberally educated man of the Cold War believing in such superstitious nonsense! Oh, the crazy things some of us do in the madness of our youth!
An orange-red glow formed out of nothingness and grew redder still. Suspended above the dirt yet also touching the ground arose a cloud-like mass of red, pulsating light. From time to time sparkles swirled, glinted, twinkled, and vanished. The glowing, quasi-plasma blob was strangely transparent, and stood almost two yards tall.
Paul’s voice, a musical Appalachian twang, for he once sang in Pentecostal choirs back in his younger days and is a trained vocalist as well as a pianist, continued to shout out incantations in a fierce, lilting cadence. The others and I continue to aim our sacred wands as we evoked Mars down into our Encircled Pentagram.
Within the red, nebulous light the apparition of a man took form. Faint at first, then quickly becoming clear the outlines of a man took form. As this image took shape this man seem to develop his own clothes, armor, and weaponry. He appeared dressed as a helmeted Greek or Roman warrior but with his sword sheathed. Mars!
As the God Mars appeared, this Red God of War coming down from the celestial realms of the Afterlife or some other spiritual realm or dimension, we began to falter. Our hands began to shake our wands and our voices began to drop off. But Paul only shouted and sung louder. Only he could yell and sing at the same time. I mumbled, of course.
Mars. Red as sin. Red as a blood orange. Red as Christmas.
The image of Mars was perhaps a yard tall at best. The God spun slowly around inside the plasma crystalline cloud, then spun faster and began to fade. There seemed to be a struggle, yes, there WAS a struggle of some kind going on before our eyes. We couldn’t tell, however, if it was the god’s struggle to fully appear upright before us as a giant god of a man agreeing to honor our call, or his struggle to resist our evocations and get the hell outa there.
The brightness faded fast and in a moment there was nothing. Mars, the God of War, was gone. Even the candles blew out. We stood there in silence, gradually lowering our wands, and began to wonder if we actually saw what we saw. The entire visitation, and we’ll call it such, lasted only minutes. From what I recall the whole event from the initial appearance of the red cloud to the attempted solidification of a divine being to the dissolution of the image was less than five minutes. And yes, it had happened.
I can’t remember whether it was 1983 or 1984 or exactly who was there with Paul and me and who wasn’t, or why the hell we were even doing such a damn fool dangerous thing, but we did it. We called down Mars, the God of War, and we saw him appear and disappear. I even felt disappointment. And some relief.
I never had much luck with sorcery. There were a few more zany spell castings, all which led to strange incidents and lurid gossip among the wide-eyed. My last attempt, a love spell down in Richmond’s Fan District in 1985, ended with me almost being shot dead by a spooked Fundamentalist who was drunk and brandishing a shotgun.
This madman quoted Bible scripture out of context and declared himself certain I had either raised the Devil up from Hell right on my own front porch, or I was the Devil. He swore he saw Satan, and his red, drunken eyes blurred me up so he saw me as that particular demon. I wasn’t, of course, and had even less desire than he to encounter such a nasty entity. So I quit. No more such things, no way, Jose! Although the truth is I was more afraid of the fear from my fellow human beings than of Gods that couldn’t quite appear.
William Dudley Bass
Wednesday 28 December 2011
NOTE: This article is from a book in progress detailing my spiritual awakenings and the misadventures that accompanied them.
Copyright © 2011, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.