Our Master Has Carried Us To The Edge:
The Spirit of the Sabbat in Traditional Witchcraft
By Robin Artisson
Copyright © 2010
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"Fall fires burn 'neath black twisted boughs
Sacrifice to above;
Smoke swirling quickly towards misting clouds
Offering of this blood;
Into the flames and without shame
Consumed with howls and screams...
Pumpkins grin in their despair
On All Hallows Eve."
-Type O Negative, All Hallows Eve
Hallows: The Oldest Poetry Enacted
All Hallows Eve has come. The timeless turning of the Sky has whirled and rushed, creaked and groaned, and finally aligned with a hallowed doorway of Sabbat embedded in the great whiteness and darkness behind it. The day begins to fade; a long Owl-light heralds the hidden season of mists, the ancient winter, the carnival of misrule. Shadows grow lengthy; the sun turns red and then black, and the air is dark. The screaming of insects, the sound of the bullbat, the barks and growls of creatures unseen all begin to permeate the nighted woodlands. The air is chilly, but that cold isn't only the weather; it is the cold of Elfhame seeping out into the human world.
Bull's noon comes; then the hours of utter dark. Slowly, along dirt lanes grown cold and abandoned by mortals uneasily asleep in their simple beds, the sound of light footsteps can be heard. The rustle of leaves and the snap of twigs echoes in the haunted forests of the Hallowed Eve; and then, through the cobweb of branches, a golden light shines: a balefire has been lit, and another, and yet another- on an ancient hill which has overlooked the lonely fields around it for countless centuries, a strange pale light flickers. The Secret Lord's kingdom is a kingdom of ghostly flame and shadow; the night of this world is his dominion's day.
The Witch-people, native to the Great Dark, have filtered out from their villages and townships, casting off the flimsy masks and names they wear and use to mingle with mortal men from day to day, and assuming their true names and shapes. Some have come flying; liberated from the repressive boundaries of walls and damnable bells, of town squares and clocks, of mindless tasks repeated day to day- they are now loosed and free. Some come prancing in secret joy down hidden tracks, some on the roads. They gather together, small groups all, in their traditional places far from the sight of other groups, and they pile high the Hallows fires.
At the Sabbat-moot, they are not the people their neighbors know; here, under the black sky, on the black earth, before the blazing altar of ancient flame, they are the undying race of the Master Spirit, the children of the White Beast, the children of the generous and devouring Land, the undying double-faced Matriarch. They are the gleeful and terrifying offspring of the Great Dark, the infinite and mysterious origin of all beings, a Perpetual Parent who has no body, no head, no name, only a strange hidden motion and a Fateful presence lost in silence and stillness.
Many of these gathered Witches may not consciously grasp these facts; it is the very old times, after all- most only know this: they have gathered like those before them did, for the great Sabbat-fire, the great golden doorway to the Unseen, and for the Master's presence. Tonight, he may come. One nature calls to another alike- a refulgent and subtle being like the Master is closest to Fire; in the Fire of the earth and wood, he may borrow a form and come among his throng, for the brief theophany, the brief moment of sight, vision, union, and awe. He may appear in their minds, every bit as radiant; whatever happens, the glowing fire will unite earth and sky and place each of the Witch-folk on the edge of something vast and powerful, for all fiery maws are contact points between what is seen and unseen.
And now, sacrifice is made to the fire; perhaps a lamb, a sheep, a goat, or fowl; warm blood is smeared on hands and faces, a red baptism in the essence of life itself. The fire consumes the body of the sacrifice, transmuting it to the extremely subtle condition, giving passage and shining gateway from the coarse to the very subtle, from visible to invisible. The hungry fire is now sated a bit, but never enough- the appetite of the flame is never satisfied. The void beyond the world of visible things forever gives and takes, never ceasing. The fire is made sacred by sacrifice.
Now, in rings around their great and ancient fire, the intensity of the rite grows higher; shouts and curses, invocations and petitions all are sent from the hearts and throats of the witches into the flames, all to be drawn away into the immaterium; and from the flames, the essence of their word-framed desires will rise up with the shower of sparks, coiling away from the Sabbat-stead and into the nighted world. These "words of will" have become transformed into magical servitors, shards of intention, snaking to and fro through the many layers of reality, through flame and air, between earth and stars. They move like quicksilver; they penetrate wood, stone, water, and flesh.
What is prayed to the fire, what is given to the fire, becomes a part of the world in a new and powerful way. That power is increased in the boiling bone and flesh lurking at the heart of the pyre; that power is increased by the unseen but sensed presence of the Grand Master of the Sabbat. He hears his children, his increase, his servants.
The heat of the fire is the heat of spirit; it makes a ring of warmth- a true magical circle- with a cold, dark infinite world surrounding it. That warmth is mingled with the warmth created by the bodies of the throng. Together in that warmth and light, the Witch-covenant is re-formed; in the shared blood of sacrifice, in the shared warmth, in the physical touch of hands, in their shared allegiance to Powers unseen, the witch-covenant is made anew at each Sabbat. It is regenerated, made stronger. It all flows together- on the "river bank" of fire, at the point of contact between one world and another, the otherworldly bodies of the Craft-kin also draw close.
Immortal things come close to mortal things, and as the Witches move in a great anti-sunwise circle around their fire, darting faster and faster, simultaneously sinking lower and climbing higher, a golden and dark moment dawns in which nothing divides the living from the dead. Surrender into the limitless rushes through; all else becomes irrelevant.
Some time later, the gathering eats and drinks, speaking amongst themselves, bonding with others of like mind, sharing their hopes and joys of release from the ordinary and the profane. How terrible to imagine that for most, All Hallows Eve was just another night spent in fitful sleep! For the Masters and Mistresses of the Art, Sabbat-days are just the edge of the iceberg; in Old Puck's black hide, where they will faithfully entrust their secret hearts, they know that they shall grow in might and cunning and soon, every day and every night and every moment will be like the Sabbat.
Until that time, dawn's approach signals the return of the profane, a dim and pale mask at first, but gradually redder and redder over the following nights until the world's turning has moved on again. The witch-self must take shelter from the sun; it is a being of the Great Dark. Until the Great Dark and the Sun have merged together in the mind and body of the Witch-being, She must do the White dance of Night and the Red dance of Day, flying to the Sabbat, and leaping back across the hedge to the world of church-bells, thatched roofs, paved roads, ticking clocks, and plowed fields.
The Goat is in the Details
The previous narrative, describing a traditional witch's Sabbat, is not based on fantasy, but on details culled from numerous primary historical sources. Most importantly, it is based on a deeper ritual pattern of religious and magical/mystical experience which is nigh universal to Europe and Asia. It is based on the testimony of traditional witches who have preserved something of the Old Art into the modern day- though truly, even without their living testimony, the vision of the Sabbat could have been dimensioned: the golden fire in the dark, the blood sacrifice, the circular motion about a sacred center, the lifting up and sending of prayers and petitions and curses. Nothing about the true Sabbat or Hallowed Gathering is mysterious to human nature or history, or out of keeping with the nature of nature herself.
Even the act of separating oneself from the order of community, to move into a wild or liminal place, outside of the boundaries of "civilization", to commune there with the strange powers "over the hedge"- this spiritual and actual journey into the "other" world is part of the entire universal process of going into the unknown to seek wholeness and ascended wisdom, and to achieve a regeneration of order. In this case, as in the case of all secret spiritual gatherings, it is the regeneration of the Coven-order, of the Witching Covenant's luminous group-soul destroyed symbolically in the sacrifice, and rebirthed through the heat of the Season's fire and the mingled vigor of the throng.
The sacrifice is death; crisis; guilt; shared guilt and a shared opening of the abyss of death. Life stands precariously on the edge of death; to see it enacted only drives the point home: we will all come to the same or a similar doom one day. To see it turn luminous, to see it consumed by fire, changed into power, warming the gathering, becoming something new- that is to see life re-affirmed. To bathe in the blood, lick it, drink it, that is to see death change into life.
Every new order is established by the destruction of an old order. Death begins everything. There is no infant come into the world without a death before it; the oldest magic works on similar principles, as well as the pulse of the heartbeat of a witch-covenant. The life-blood of sacrifice provides power and sacredness to the central Sabbat-pyre itself. Opening the abyss of death opens a door to the Unseen world; this primal fact, born in the first sacred sacrifice-killing (that of the Hunted Victim, slain so that humans could eat and live) has been known deep in the flesh and bone of humanity since the time before time.
And thus the Golden Throne of the Master is made; it is a sacred time, it is a throng of Witches gathered to some secret place outside of the order of the human world; it is anticipation, it is fire, blood, flesh-to-flesh contact, excitement and shouts, the feeling of warmth and heat on the face and hands, the sound of night-birds and insects, the sight of turning stars, staring from the cloak of night. This ritual is ancient; this ritual has been with humankind, in some form, since the beginning of their cultural time. Once, entire communities shared in this rite, in their own way; after the coming of the Great Unwisdom, this rite faded from view, until only those in touch with the Old Way still seek it out in the dark.
Those who partake in the True Sabbat on All Hallows, on Walpurgis, on Lammas and Candlemas, are they whose contact with the subtle world will be established and gradually grow stronger. Real occult power is not simple, logical, or even very conscious; it begins as a dark seed, buried deep in the flesh and mind, and the "Secret Sun" of the Sabbat Fire begins the process of its germination. It is drawn out from human men and women by the magnetic pull of the blood-soaked pyre and the shouts and screams and joys of fellow men and women that join together as one body, on the Hidden Seasons.
That transformation is as inevitable as a regular seed lurking in the ground that the sun and rain will tease forth; but it is a transformation of another octave, of a different (yet similar) nature. And that transformation begins deep within, changes deep within, before bursting forth consciously. Before it emerges in the conscious mind, it renovates the world of dreams; it opens the subtle stream of intuition, and it alters the flow of power in the mind and body. It brings a man or woman into contact with the dimensionless and the unseen.
And chief among the "dimensionless and unseen" powers is the Master himself. He is most easily summoned and met at any place which is not "here nor there"- the bank of a river, a crossroads or field-boundary at twilight, or the odd region between waking and sleep. But the side of a roaring fire is another boundary place, because the fire is a gateway into the Great Whiteness and Darkness beyond. All who have danced about a fire, or sat and gazed into its depths, already know that it is hypnotic, entrancing, and powerful; few have used its serpentine heat to its fullest potential, however.
The Sabbat must, at heart, be about coming into the presence of the Master, or it is all for naught, for his spirit, intention, and power is one that seeks to guide humans into the same state that he perpetually enjoys. He is more than the guide and teacher of Witches and Mystics; he is the full realization of their awakened and infinite state, in the shape of a golden being. In such a state, form is no longer an issue; the Master can be whoever or whatever he likes- even a blazing fire.
One will always know the Master when he is present; his company and manifestations, regardless of how subtle, are very apparent. He is the Master of Infinity, but he is also the generous granter of wishes, the ward of the lives of his followers, the giver of bounty in many ways. He is kindly, but deceitful and unpredictable at times, and he expects the Witch-folk to remember his presence and his great work. He expects the Sabbat fires to be lit. He gives perfect and powerful returns on what is offered to him; he never fails to see all that occurs, and he never forgets a favor or a foul.
The Simplest Power is the Mightiest Power
Here then, at the heart of all simplicity, is the secret of the True Sabbat; most today would have liked to hear that there was more detail, more ritual, more poetry, but there is not, and there never was a need for it. The poetry of the Sabbat is the best poetry of all, the most sacred, the most powerful- it is poetry in motion, in manifest action, in the swirling rush of emotion and heat. It is the poetry of spirit, manifest in fires and screams and warm blood, and the ecstatic vision of the Master himself. From this point, any elaboration is just moving further away from the pure Sabbat.
But the Master is never alone; the Unseen world doesn't come in shards, but in wholeness. Behind the night sky, behind fire, witches, master, and stars, is the Yawning Darkness of the Great Ur, the void of creation, the Fateful womb-mystery that everything comes from. It is the infinity beyond and within all, a thing without "above" or "below". This mystery is the most unknown of things, for it cannot be known with thoughts and ideas, only experienced.
And it is this experience that the Master mediates, to those who can go far enough, and release themselves from the things they place above them, and below them. The Master is a minister of Fate; a mediator of experience that resolves each seeming part of the Whole back to its infinite origin. This is the goal- for humans to find a way to resolve themselves back to the mystery of infinity that is their ultimate origin. This is the resolution and restoration of the wandering child to the Greatest of Mothers; This is salvation in the only true sense. A Witch for whom the aspect of infinity comes in the mind first, and the forms of the body and world come second, the two always yet being One, is truly a Master of the Art.
There, in the swirl of sparks from the fire, the cackles of glee and crackles from the wood, the entirety of things comes to join with the throng: the dead of the past, the wandering spirit-bodies of the living dreaming, and the fetch-bodies of the gathered witches. There, at the Sabbat, spirits of trees, the Land, ancient hills, and tormented dead flit and fly through; there, strange powers without names or origins that a human mind could fathom may appear and cause a phantasmagoria of strange visions. All seek their recognition and a portion of offering.
And for all this, the simplicity of the entire process stands out- it is a gathering of Witches about a fire, speaking and shouting their prayers and intentions and spells to the flame, circling about it, opening minds and hearts to the Unseen, letting go, becoming free, losing their personal boundaries and merging together into the sacred time of the season and the infinite world. It all coalesces into the form of the Master. His Lady will appear with him, at times; so many things may come or go, take possession of the flow of the gathering, or join it; one never can tell, and one need not tell- the true Sabbat cannot be planned in detail. The simplest of things and plans are the best; the simplest powers are the mightiest.
Don't ever doubt the effectiveness of this sort of "simple" magic; a group of men and women, united in blood and shared food, drink, sacrifice, and allegiance, united in share faith and hopes and dreams- all of them together, touching hands, gazing eye to eye, before a blazing fire that contains all of the reaches of infinity within it, on a powerful and sacred night- their words focused and screamed and spoken and sung and whispered into that focus of flame will affect the world; it will most certainly affect things in a darkly deep way. And the Master, if he takes a liking to them because of their cleverness, Art, and devotion, will see it so. A single man or woman might howl before a similar fire, with reasonable expectation of an effect in this world or the unseen world in line with their own personal power and favor.
The Clan of Witches that flies together, dies together; together they dissolve and are reborn on each Sabbat-gathering. They can forge bonds that last a human lifetime, and easily last far, far beyond the human lifetime. This is the truth, ancient and inexhaustible- the union of souls and spirits easily and greatly outlasts the union of flesh, and indeed, may seek the flesh together, later.
Take the time to look around you, one day, and take note of the people that appear in your life and seem to last there, seem to stay near you for years and years; there may be more than just mundane reasons why. Look at those whom love has delivered close to you, and do not imagine that this is a random thing. Death sends us all to the Great Dark; bonds of love and mysticism can join us together there, too.
For those serious men and women who wish to engage the True Sabbat, as a way of creating bonds with other Witch-folk and the Master, and the Throng of the Invisibles, this revelation of the true Sabbat-Pattern is all that they shall ever need. What details follow from these basics are simply organic particularities that will arise in every different location and among all different groups of people; the beating heart will and must remain the same. Continuity is important; continuity of regular Sabbat-fires and location- the fires should be made, as often as possible, on the same spot, the same gathering place that becomes Covenstead to the throng.
Today, the spilling of blood from a living creature can (and unless the coven members all live on subsistence farms, should) be replaced by many offerings; a shared cup of very dark, thick wine is the classic replacement for the blood of the sacrifice; the vessel is lifted in Old Nick’s name, hallowed to his spirit, and its contents must be smeared on the faces of each person and each must share a drink from the cup, before its remains are cast on the fire.
Other offerings can be added- red bread, dipped in the wine and eaten, before the rest is cast into the flames; even straw animals, created for the occasion, doused in the red wine (symbolically dripping with blood) and cast onto the flames. What is most important is that something representing blood and/or flesh be smeared onto every participant, and then consumed somehow by every participant, and then burned in the fire as a "uniting offering" to the Great Unseen.
A Coven might do well, then, to keep a Covenant Cup or Vessel around, for their shared drinking and anointing and pouring. That vessel itself comes to represent the body of the old living sacrifice, containing blood. It becomes the cup of death and life. The male leader of the Coven should keep a Mask of the Master, and wear it around the fires- like attracts like, after all, and the Master-Spirit and a Mask do have some similarities, to the inspired mind and in the mysterious world.
For those who, for various reasons, cannot attend such a traditional Sabbat as described here, or will not, the opening narrative of this piece can be used as the basis for an oneiric working, an empowered visualization, lying in torpor at midnight on the various powerful nights, and aligning the subtle mind to the current of the Master. Spiritual development from such a meditative visualization is guaranteed, if one's heart is given wholly to the Witch-sire.