Friday, January 27, 2017

The Cup That Brimmeth Over: Reflections on the Inclusive Chalice


Observations on the Gender Status of the Chalice

by Race MoChridhe

In the last installment of my series on magickal tools, we looked at the story of the athame and its entrance into modern Wiccan practice, focusing especially on Gerald Gardner’s fascination with the magical knives of Southeast Asia.

The meaning of the chalice ranges just as far. In its symbolism and functionality it is a tool documented back thousands of years, sometimes bearing sacred drink as in the soma rites of India, and sometimes bearing sacred flame as on the altars of Greece and Rome. The conjunction of these two uses is in no way accidental, as the motif of “the fire in the water” can be found ubiquitously across Indoeuropean cultures, where this particular miraculous paradox represents the union of opposites generally, but with a sharper point depicts the descent of essence or form onto unformed substance (or sometimes, its birth within unformed substance).

In classical Greek thought, certainly, this eternal moment in which the illuminating power of fire meets the fecundity of the waters was the fulcrum of creation—the point at which divine intelligence refashioned chaos into the ordered cosmos, a point reflected in their (admittedly unscientific and often sexist) view of the relationship of the male to the female in the act of procreation. Modern witchcraft’s dipping of the athame into the chalice, previously discussed, as well as certain Druidic rituals involving tapping a chalice with a wand, all hearken back to this basic ritual framework of metaphysical meaning.

That the modern use of the chalice is not directly descended from this double-symbolism of Classical culture is indicated by the fact that we do not now, generally, regard the chalice as a fire symbol, or light fires in it. (Except for Unitarian Universalists. Cauldrons, of course, are another story.) All modern Western ritual use of the chalice (aside from a small number of rites inspired by Hindu tradition) has been filtered through Christianity. From the classical world, the Christians inherited the metaphor of chalice as womb, with Mary carrying the “light of the world” reprising the ancient theophany of the fire in the waters.

To that basic premise, however, they added the historical incidents of the Baptism in the Jordan, when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, marking Him as the Son of God (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32), and of the Last Supper, when Jesus transmuted the contents of a chalice into His blood (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20). Layered on top of this came the Christian experience of Pentecost, in which the Holy Spirit was felt by the Apostles to descend upon them as tongues of flame (Acts 2:3). The three layers quickly became conflated in Christian iconography in ways that systematically eliminated the chalice’s masculine aspect.

The first of these conflations occurred across the Christian world at an early stage, when the dove and the ray of light from the Baptism became identified with the Pentecostal flame, and both were figured as descending upon the Eucharistic chalice. Most people with an interest in esoteric matters know this image from A.E. Waite’s design of the Tarot Ace of Cups. While fire has been esoterically masculine in Western cultures going back to the oldest strata of Greek thought (and grammar), the Holy Spirit was, until relatively recent times, consistently feminine in Christian tradition (a fact made explicit in the Gospel of the Hebrews, which was quoted to make this point by several Church Fathers). Furthermore, the dove, which accompanied the descending light of heaven at Jesus’ baptism, was made a Marian symbol through syncretism with the that bird’s ancient associations with Venus. These two developments together ensured that, while fire remained masculine in most Western occult thought, the fire of the Spirit became feminine in Christian contexts.

In medieval Wales, this line of thinking was taken a step further by reflection on Aristotle’s medical treatises, which claimed (inaccurately), that the developing fetus derives its blood from its mother. This led a number of Welsh theologians to conclude that the blood Jesus shed upon the Cross, and which had been contained in the Holy Grail at the Last Supper, was, in fact, Mary’s. To the extent, then, that the blood within the cup had recapitulated the metaphor of the light of the world within Mary’s womb, that symbol became circular, with Mary as both blood and womb—both fire and water, both essence and substance. In short, it made her All in All.

Britain most particularly thus developed an exclusively feminine association to the chalice as symbol of the womb, symbol of the unformed, symbol of the spirit, and symbol of divine inspiration (this last being helped by Celtic traditions that had treated whiskey as “fire in the water”). To what extent Gardner was knowledgeable about indigenous British theology is unknown, but it is wholly conceivable that he had some knowledge of Welsh traditions on this point. Whether or not he did, however, we are left with a tantalizing thread to follow.

We observed last time that “in his [Gardner’s] tools we find suggestions that it [the union of opposites between athame and chalice] is an operation internal to the masculine nature as well” as being enacted between the masculine and the feminine. Armed with a deeper knowledge of the chalice’s background, we find that it can contain the whole principle of union within itself also, and thus locate it internal to the feminine nature.

There is much talk these days about developing an “inclusive” Wicca, and much criticism of the Gardnerian tradition for its staunch heteronormativity. Much of that criticism has been deserved by the conduct of many of that tradition’s advocates. Nonetheless, a close examination of Gardner’s unique symbolic construction of the toolkit offers possibilities for reading even very strict, traditional Gardnerian rites in a new and more inclusive light, with both athame and chalice being complementary, and yet also whole and dialectically dynamic within themselves. This is, perhaps, a paradox, but the fire in the water always was.

Other articles in this series:
The Druid's Sacred Tools
The Athame's Ancestors
Bells in Ritual Usage

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

An Overview of Psychometry

Skull in hand, psychometry
Psychometry can be performed with virtually any object

The Secret Language of Inanimate Objects: Psychometry in a Nutshell 

by Joodhe and an anonymous author

Working Definition: Psychometry is a word derived from "psyche" or "psukhe", meaning "soul" and "metron" meaning to measure. A literal definition is soul measuring or a measurement of the soul. In practice, however, it's a little more complicated than that. For this blog post its definition is of import, so psychometry could be encapsulated thusly: To take an object and touch it in order to read its energy, in order to discover facts about its history or its owner's history, or to divine the future.

And many adhere to that basic definition; but Joseph Rodes Buchanan and others back in the day discovered while researching psychometry, that in investigating the energy trail there basically was no end. Thus it could also be said that psychometry is not in fact limited to working with inanimate objects, but covers the entirety of the universe instead. Of course this includes humans and everything else.

When you think of it in such a way, psychometry becomes harder to briefly summarize. But with a now larger picture in mind, we could add onto our initial description with that: what is touched is not always physically visible, such as in aura reading for example. As well, what is read is not necessarily touched, such as when a person does a psychic reading for someone. Thus we can see that there’s a wide range and a lot of nuances involved in fully describing the art of psychometry, and that any definition ever provided would be just scratching the surface. With these things said, this article alternates between presenting from a micro and a macro perspective.

How Psychometry Fits in With Other Supernatural Skills and Abilities:

 Psychometry is relatively similar to other "psychic" abilities like clairvoyance and psychokinesis (also known as telekinesis) insofar as they all use an internal, non physical force to act on objects and people in the material world. However as already broached upon, psychometry as its own specific art is standardly limited to the narrow description of learning information from inanimate objects.

The methods of gleaning the information and the kinds of information that can be gathered vary depending on numerous belief systems and myths. Activities like throwing dice (astragalomancy) and reading tea leaves (a form of scrying called tasseomancy, tasseography or tassology), and even some tarot readings are forms of psychometry. Though these processes are somewhat far removed from the standard definition of this metaphysical art, with an energetic connection being necessary to reveal the insights that diviners seek, it is easy to see in one’s mind’s eye how these arts tie in strongly with the entirety of what psychometry can be.  

History of the Term

Terms for psychic phenomena can be confusing because some of the practices are ancient and yet some titles now used for them were coined in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Example being that while the term psychometry was created by Joseph Rodes Buchanan in 1842, the practice was potentially and likely employed in ancient times but not referred to as psychometry. Due to the modern title for the practice being the primary one recognized, a precise historical outline is painfully elusive.

Buchanan was a physician who started psychometry as his own branch of science. To prove the validity of his science, he conducted experiments with medical students asking them to identify hidden objects and unknown drugs. The students seemed to have an uncommonly high success rate, so much that when Buchanan published his article, it made a stir in the scientific community. Buchanan predicted that psychometry would revolutionize the world by expanding our common understanding of how most fields of science were governed. He even began to criticize conventional medicine, and in some instances, conventional science as a whole. His belief was that most conventional methods would be rendered obsolete as psychometrics developed.

Unfortunately, this never quite came to pass. While Buchanan influenced several other scientists, and while further experiments were conducted where individuals seemed to exhibit psychometric abilities, no conclusive results were ever found. By the early to mid nineteenth century, mainstream psychometry was relegated to stage tricks and scripted séances, while its scientific pursuit was neglected.

The Theory Behind Psychometry

Buchanan's original hypothesis was that the soul in every creature and many objects, projects an aura that can be felt and interpreted. Other researchers and investigators expanded on this idea by suggesting that souls produced vibrations and ripples that could be felt and decoded by a psychometrist. And while some understood the aura or vibrations given off to be electromagnetic in nature, others thought the soul sent out signals in the manner of radio waves (a subdivision of electromagnetic waves with shorter wavelengths).

In most every theory though, the basic principles are the same—that each object emanates an invisible energy and that the psychometrically inclined are able to receive those emanations.


Since the early 1900’s several individuals have come forth as psychics and mediums capable of making consistently accurate predictions. Early mediums of the twentieth century included Edgar Cayce and Stefan Ossowiecki. Ossowiecki worked with police forces at the time to assist in investigations. He also participated in several publicized tests of his abilities and was so successful that he convinced Nobel Prize laureate Charles Richet of the existence of psychometrics.

Edgar Cayce was an American who lived from 1877 to 1945, and thus was roughly a contemporary of Ossowiecki. Cayce had a history of making predictions while in a sleeping or trance state. His abilities surfaced during his childhood. A poor student, Cayce fell asleep on a pile of school books one night and found that upon waking up, he knew all of the information inside of them.  Cayce went on to provide over 10,000 psychic readings, many of them to individuals with health problems. Though he was a fairly low-key man, Cayce’s abilities and beliefs sparked more than their fair share of controversy.

There were high-profile advocates and skeptics of Cayce’s skill. U.S president Woodrow Wilson sought #AmazonADlink: Cayce out for advice. On the other hand, there are several stories of Cayce making wildly incorrect predictions. As is the case with many mediums who worked before the advent of modern technology, it’s impossible to know how accurate or legitimate his skills were. However, it could also be said that there have been studies done, that suggest that the very best of psychics can be correct for no more than 70% of what they predict; this probably due to details such as them having to translate their source information (images, symbols, sounds, and so on), and then apply it to the situation they’re consulted on.

In the contemporary United States there are several television personalities who purport to wield psychometric abilities; however, none of these individuals have been scientifically studied and their level of accuracy hasn’t been recorded. Which is a shame, as performing such investigative studies on any level would lead to the eventuality of us finding out more about how psychometry works, and would also allow us to know when we're being duped.

A Field of Mystery

Psychometry is by its very nature, a mysterious subject, as it is difficult to prove or deny the existence of psychic abilities in a person because there are so many factors determining the outcome of a prediction. Our present understanding of telekinesis and psychometry as portrayed in the media, is presented from a twentieth century spiritualism movement type of perspective. However, the general concept of divining information from the psychic auras of others, is a practice that dates back to the Greek Oracle at Delphi and even before, thus is certainly nothing New Age.

Psychometry exists on one level or another throughout many of the metaphysical arts. Think of palm reading and phrenology for example; both require energy perception to obtain more than just easily surmisable insight from a reading. Furthermore, there are many stories you can read on the topic, some telling how revealing it is, others dismissing it as junk pseudoscience.

So then, perhaps this ancient skill is destined to remain shrouded in secrecy and speculation, at least for some… while others may through their own faith, find a way to make a living through practicing it or any of the many metaphysical arts relative to it.

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