The Dark of the Night

Wiccan Rede * Summer 1990 by Merlin Sythove

In this issue we devote a few short articles to doing pathworkings with children. Chances are that many pagan parents already do something like this, or that they make up their own bed time stories for the little ones. Pathworking is a very valuable technique, which can be used to explore various layers of consciousness. However, it may be wise to keep in mind that it also is a very powerful technique, which should be used with caution even for adults, not to mention children! In this article I would like to explore this power.

Throughout the ages, man has thought of ‘The Witch’ as an evil being, someone who is in league with dark forces and bent on the destruction of light and life. In one’s efforts to try and portray Wicca as a positive spiritual path one is always confronted with this popular image. And our own experience with magic should have taught us that this image has some truth in it. Magic, as many other natural phenomena, is just a force, neither good nor evil. It is the magician or the witch who is responsible for the use of it. People who do not understand the force at all, may justifiably be afraid of the person who seems to be in control of magic, in much the same way that people today are afraid of radiation. ‘The Witch’ seems to portray our own unconscious fears: the fear of death, of desolation, the fear of the unknown, of disease, pain and destruction. ‘The Witch’ personifies ugliness, hate, darkness and despair. She is the image of ‘Chaos’.

In one way or another we all sense that chaos is just below the horizon of our neatly ordered lives. We spend most of our time making sure that chaos will stay away. We build houses out of stone, protect relationships with laws and regulations, put our valuables in a safe and take out life insurance. We would do anything to make our life and our surroundings a secure and inviolate corner of the universe, where the Big Bad Wolf has no entry, let alone be able to blow it all away.

And does it work? Or are we hoodwinking ourselves into believing that we are putting up a fence against chaos? Disaster strikes where it may, it seems, and natural forces don’t recognise human feelings. And the final one million dollar question: aren’t we creating our own fear of chaos by shutting it out of our lives so completely?

Many people have a dream. About something that they know is fairly unlikely, but one can always dream and strive, right? What if I had one million dollars? What if I was 100% healthy? What if I was married to this film star? What if I had a Rolls Royce? A private swimming pool? What if I was successful, and well-known? What if I was 22 again???

Well, what do you think? Would it be as nice as it looks? Or would we conclude that the grass is always greener on the other side of the hill? Would we (then) long again for our present simple, uncomplicated life?

The above examples are all generally thought of as ‘positive’. Would it work the same way for ‘negative’ examples? Would chaos be less fearful once we know it, as fame and fortune are less positive once you have it? If we knew what chaos was all about, if we knew what ‘The Witch’ really was, would we still have cause to be so afraid? Or would knowledge make us more sure-footed in dealing with the unknown?

Well, there is only one way to find out. We have to look beyond the horizon, and meet our fears face to face. The time will come for each of us to take this step, although let me stress right now that that time, for you, may not be now! Ultimately we have to face our own dark side, and strike a balance in our development. We can’t grow forever whilst shutting out our fears. Especially if we want to use magic and help or heal other people, we have to familiarise ourselves with the chaotic forces which often lie at the root of their problems. (Not to mention our own…)

I have written a small pathworking to give you the means to make contact with ‘Chaos’, or ‘The Witch’, or whatever you want to call Her. At the beginning of this article I mentioned that pathworking was a very potent technique, and therefore I must give some warnings. If you’re good at altered states and pathworking, you may find yourself in deep water indeed. So I suggest that you read through the pathworking without changing consciousness, for example whilst making tea, or with the TV or radio on. Get a reasonable idea of where it is going to go, and take your time in deciding if you want to do it properly. Don’t think of yourself as a sissy if you decide to leave it for now: there is no substitute for wisdom and self-knowledge! And if you have neither – you shouldn’t be working with magic anyway.

Prepare yourself in the usual way: make sure you will be undisturbed for some time. Make sure too that you have something to eat and drink for when you’re finished. Don’t do this pathworking and go to bed straight afterwards, but leave some time to unwind, take a walk or do something mundane. If possible, make sure there is someone to talk to afterwards (any subject will do, but if you can talk about your experiences it may help).

Don’t use music with this pathworking until you’ve done it once. Your choice of music will be geared to another level entirely, and distract you. And a final piece of advice: remember that a person’s worst fear is… fear!

Make yourself comfortable, breathe deeply, close your eyes, and prepare yourself for this pathworking. This is a quest for knowledge and insight, not a Saturday night entertainment.

You find yourself in a meadow, with the sun just setting. In front of you is an old tower. Its natural stone looks blackened with time. You walk towards it, through where once the door must have been. Inside the tower, you see the winding steps. The spiral staircase leads both upwards and downwards. You choose to go downwards. Your feet shuffle over the stone slabs. They’re not worn at all – strange for an old castle. You keep going down, turn after turn. It must be dark outside, but in some way you can still see the rough walls, the steps, the central column. In odd corners you can see that leaves have gathered too.

The steps end abruptly before a massive black iron door. On a ledge to the right lies a key. It looks like a big C. Does that stand for courage or cowardice? It is not too late to turn back. You remember that it takes courage not to jump of a ledge when you’ve got fear of heights!

You stick the key in the door. The lock needs force to open. The door too is rusty, and you give it a shove with your shoulder. It doesn’t open far, but far enough to slide through. You find yourself in a burnt landscape at night time. The ground is covered in a fine grey dust. Here and there blackened stumps point their accusing fingers at the sky. The wind creates dust devils out of the feathery ashes. As you look back, you notice that the door stands alone in this landscape. All around you is greyness. There doesn’t seem to be a path at all.

You shiver in the chill. This place feels deathly silent, but you can hear wolves howling in the distance. When you turn your head, you can see some rocks further on, where the sound came from. You decide to walk that far.

As you walk, the ashes float upwards. The feeling of oppressive silence persists. There is little to look at. Just the occasional charred remains of life that once was.

As you get closer to the rocks, you notice that they look more like standing stones than rocks. One set looks like a trilithon, the top stone still in place. When you touch them, you can feel markings, but they’re too faded to read. Beyond them, at the foothills of a mountain range, you can see a small light. You decide to walk a bit further and investigate the light.

You pass through the standing stones, and immediately the feeling of silence makes place for one of haste. In the distance you can hear the sound of battle. Armor is clanging. Fierce cries are carried on the wind. The piercing shriek of a person dying. The sounds of the animals too: horses neighing, the low barking of dogs. And way in the distance the wolves still howl to an absent moon.

It is too dark now to see more than a yard or two. There is no way to tell if you’re in the battle itself, or skirting its edges. So you walk determinedly in the direction of the small light, and the jagged line of mountains against the blue-black sky.

After a while, the battle seems to have moved on, although the wolves seem to get closer. You can almost tell their voices apart, both in colour and in distance. The light is closer too – you can dimly make out some sort of dwelling. You walk towards it, cautiously. As you approach it, a bent figure opens the door, and calls out to you. You can’t decide if the lady is homely or just ugly, but her voice sounds friendly enough. She leads you into a small kitchen, dominated by a huge fireplace. The open fire is the only light in here. Over the fire, on black iron hooks, three pots are suspended. The lady invites you to sit down on a stool. She sits down on the other side of the fire, and strokes what looks like a big white wolf. As she bends over and throws a few more sticks on the fire, she asks you why you have come this far.

You answer truthfully.

She looks satisfied in her own way with your answer, and stands up to take an old cloth from the mantelpiece. She lifts one of the big pots from its hook, and puts it in front of you. The steam makes your nose tingle, and you can’t make out what may be in this black brew.

“Look”, she says. “Watch and observe. Scry into the pot. See what you came to learn. View the essence. Regard it carefully!”

You lean over the pot, and peer into the shimmering blackness. Occasional bubbles still rise to the surface. And then it looks as if a misty veil is torn away, and your vision is unclouded. You look, and you see. (Pause as long as needed at this point).

After a while, you look up again. Your eyes are filled with tears. Not tears of grief, but tears of understanding, of necessity. The lady sits quietly, stroking the white wolf. She looks lovely in her own way, in the playful firelight. You whisper “Thank you”, but she does not look up. You leave quietly. The wolves are silent, and the battle seems to have ended. The occasional star between the clouds gives you just enough light to see by. You walk back towards the standing stones, and then onwards to the iron door. Once inside the tower, you pull the door behind you and turn the lock. You put the key back on its ledge. You ascend the winding stairs. They don’t nearly seem as long as when you came down. And then you reach the meadow. The moon is out now, the grass has a silvery, faery quality about it. With a last look around you, you will yourself back to your body.

Open your eyes, stretch your muscles, and have something to eat and drink. Make notes in your diary. If you can, go for a walk now, or do something else, to let the experience sink in.