As seems to be traditional, this post is entirely the fault of the proprietor of Runesoup. Except, not wishing to scapegoat him completely, it\’s also RO\’s, because yesterday he and I sat down to talk Weird Shit, magick and generally drink pretty good Scotch. It was fun, and we rambled on for two or so hours, and I frankly pity RO in having to edit those two hours into something usable. I\’ll let you indulge in listening to that if you wish and you can all enjoy my dulcet tones and our general devolution into I love you man-dom.

Without that ramble, itself inspired by a mighty long thread on the old Mug-Tome where Jake Stratton-Kent and I basically poked holes in Neoplatonism and decided the Fuck You Plato! badges might be a good idea, I don\’t think Gordon\’s latest would have sparked this off.

Actually, that\’s a lie. A big old porky.

Because, you see we\’re swimming in very similar waters. A good chunk of us are, and often, the colour of our swimming goggles is very different. Which is a good thing, because frankly, seeing the world in one way is not only boring, it\’s also a bit bloody dangerous.   It\’s like being colour-blind when you\’re poking the wiring in your house – It might be all right, or you might end up half way across the room with some burns and smelling gently of pork, if you\’re not dead from the heart attack, of course.

Now, maybe you\’re wishing I would get to the point, but please, aside from the seemingly recurrent theme of pork – I like it better than turkey and so we\’re having it here on Christmas Day – note that this is inspired by a bunch of magicians writing things down and then talking about them. Of course, the important part of that, which isn\’t exactly explicit but is there nonetheless, remains that in order to write things down and talk about them, first you have to have the experience.

So no matter the colour of our respective swimming goggles, we can nonetheless recognise that we\’ve all been swimming. We\’ve all wet the baby\’s head, all had our baptism in the Sea of the High Weird. Gordon writes:

[T]he Four Kings -seen specifically through the eyes of Jake Stratton-Kent’s Testament of St Cyprian the Mage– has been one of my great praxis improvements of the whole year. You all know I find the Four Elements preposterous but directionality is in the literal sense ‘fundamental’…. having origins that go all the way back to Palaeolithic shamanism. I think you would struggle to do spirit work without directionality.

There is an additional layer to the Four Kings that only becomes apparent when you start to work with them. During the questions after my Glastonbury dragon presentation earlier this year I discussed the notion that quite a number of the spirits we think of as spirits began their afterlife as prominent dead people.

It was at this point, dear readers, that I called our friend Gordon some rather uncomplimentary names. He\’s Australian, so I\’m sure he knows that all such obscenties thrown his way are a form of deep regard and affection. It\’s something Straya! and Blighty have in common I\’m told.

I was swearing because I also share something of a debt to Tolkien, and also to CS Lewis. They too are part of my magical origin story, my exposure to Deep Myth via Narnia and Middle Earth, those fantastical lands where the Deep Magic held sway, where the heart could open you up to the Deepest Magic. My dear mum gave me a copy of The Hobbit her own, when I was eight on a Sunday afternoon. Imagine that for a second; a rapacious reader of eight years old, bemoaning, as only eight year olds can, the lack of any more Narnia books. Those of you with kids can probably hear the exact Muuuuummmm wail I would have used.


I have only seen the first Hobbit film and I suppose I shall eventually get around to seeing the other two. Frankly, the book is far more precious to me. That very same copy is sat on my shelf now, thumbed by multiple generations. I suspect it is one of the things that I would strive to rescue from a fire, along with my girlfriend, my cat and the deer-skull which is the focus of my altar. So when Gordon writes about Middle Earth and magic, I prick up my ears, because there\’s an old familiar refrain in the air.

For example, The Fellowship of the Ring came out in 2001, on December the 19th in the UK. I\’d been home from my second year of university probably less than a week. I remember going to see it with my parents and being absolutely awed. My mother and I were witnessing something which had always been ours, had lived inside our skulls since childhood, there out in the world with hundreds of others. I\’d been away from home, studying philosophy and getting up to all sorts of magical business for a year – whatever else I was, I was a magician-proper then.

So when December rolls around, Christmas and Middle-Earth rise up. The dark part of the year has been host to many cycles of repetition, many winter-tide exposures of the ordinary brain to the fantastical. Always has been. Father Christmas, Santa Claus, the Krampus…on and on. The stuff of fantasy of course. Nobopdy believes in the guy who visits all the children to give them gifts, except kids. But we still perform the rituals, employing men with varying degrees of hirsuitism to be the avatar of something old that was twisted and shaped through the lens of corporate marketing.

Nobody believes.

We watch the Muppet Christmas Carol, or any other one of myriad adaptations. We hear the tales of ghosts that change men as part of the miracle of the Christmas.  Or we watch other ghost stories told by lugubrious figures who have been undead monsters, wizards, Sith Lords,members of the British Intelligence Services and Bond villians and even voiced Death Himself while at the same time having a coat of arms awarded to their family by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Oh, who also release metal albums based around Charlemagne.

Christopher Lee\’s Ghost Stories for Christmas (Taster)

But nobody believes. It\’s all fantasy.

fantasy (n.) \"Lookearly 14c., \”illusory appearance,\” from Old French fantaisie, phantasie \”vision, imagination\” (14c.), from Latin phantasia, from Greek phantasia \”power of imagination; appearance, image, perception,\” from phantazesthai \”picture to oneself,\” from phantos \”visible,\” from phainesthai \”appear,\” in late Greek \”to imagine, have visions,\” related to phaos, phos \”light,\” phainein \”to show, to bring to light\” (see phantasm). Sense of \”whimsical notion, illusion\” is pre-1400, followed by that of \”fantastic imagination,\” which is first attested 1530s. Sense of \”day-dream based on desires\” is from 1926. In early use in English also fantasie, phantasy, etc.

phantasm (n.) \"Lookearly 13c., fantesme, from Old French fantosme \”a dream, illusion, fantasy; apparition, ghost, phantom\” (12c.), and directly from Latin phantasma \”an apparition, specter,\” from Greek phantasma \”image, phantom, apparition; mere image, unreality,\” from phantazein \”to make visible, display,\” from stem of phainein \”to bring to light, make appear; come to light, be seen, appear; explain, expound, inform against; appear to be so,\” from PIE root *bha- (1) \”to shine\” (cognates: Sanskrit bhati \”shines, glitters,\” Old Irish ban \”white, light, ray of light\”). Spelling conformed to Latin from 16c. (see ph). A spelling variant of phantom, \”differentiated, but so that the differences are elusive\” [Fowler]

apparition (n.) \"Lookc.1500, \”unclosing\” (of Heaven), from Anglo-French aparicion, Old French apparition, aparoison (15c.), used in reference to the Epiphany (revealing of Christ child to the Wise Men), from Late Latin apparitionem (nominative apparitio) \”an appearance,\” also \”attendants,\” in classical Latin \”service, servants,\” noun of action from past participle stem of apparere \”appear\” (see appear). Meaning \”ghost\” first recorded c.1600; the shade of sense differentiation between appearance and apparition is that the latter tends to be unexpected or startling.

appear (v.) \"Looklate 13c., \”to come into view,\” from stem of Old French aparoir (12c., Modern French apparoir) \”appear, come to light, come forth,\” from Latin apparere \”to appear, come in sight, make an appearance,\” from ad- \”to\” (see ad-) + parere \”to come forth, be visible.\” Of persons, \”present oneself,\” late 14c. Meaning \”seem, have a certain appearance\” is late 14c.

ghost (n.) \"LookOld English gast \”soul, spirit, life, breath; good or bad spirit, angel, demon,\” from Proto-Germanic *ghoizdoz (cognates: Old Saxon gest, Old Frisian jest, Middle Dutch gheest, Dutch geest, German Geist \”spirit, ghost\”), from PIE root *gheis- \”to be excited, amazed, frightened\” (cognates: Sanskrit hedah \”wrath;\” Avestan zaesha- \”horrible, frightful;\” Gothic usgaisjan, Old English gæstan \”to frighten\”). This was the usual West Germanic word for \”supernatural being,\” and the primary sense seems to have been connected to the idea of \”to wound, tear, pull to pieces.\” The surviving Old English senses, however, are in Christian writing, where it is used to render Latin spiritus (see spirit (n.)), a sense preserved in Holy Ghost. Modern sense of \”disembodied spirit of a dead person\” is attested from late 14c. and returns the word toward its ancient sense.

Most Indo-European words for \”soul, spirit\” also double with reference to supernatural spirits. Many have a base sense of \”appearance\” (such as Greek phantasma; French spectre; Polish widmo, from Old Church Slavonic videti \”to see;\” Old English scin, Old High German giskin, originally \”appearance, apparition,\” related to Old English scinan, Old High German skinan \”to shine\”). Other concepts are in French revenant, literally \”returning\” (from the other world), Old Norse aptr-ganga, literally \”back-comer.\” Breton bugelnoz is literally \”night-child.\” Latin manes probably is a euphemism.

Manes (pl.) \"Look\”Gods of the Lower World,\” in Roman religion, from Latin manes \”departed spirit, ghost, shade of the dead, deified spirits of the underworld,\” usually said to be from Latin manus \”good,\” thus properly \”the good gods,\” a euphemistic word, but Tucker suggests a possible connection instead to macer, thus \”the thin or unsubstantial ones.\”

Just fantasy. Never mind that. Tolkien was a scholar of Norse and Anglo Saxon.

Never mind that Middle Earth emerges from Old Norse Miðgarðr; Old English Middangeard, Swedish Midgård, Old Saxon Middilgard, Old High German Mittilagart, Gothic Midjun-gards

Never mind.

mind (n.) \"Looklate 12c., from Old English gemynd \”memory, remembrance, state of being remembered; thought, purpose; conscious mind, intellect, intention,\” Proto-Germanic *ga-mundiz (cognates: Gothic muns \”thought,\” munan \”to think;\” Old Norse minni \”mind;\” German Minne (archaic) \”love,\” originally \”memory, loving memory\”), from PIE root *men- (1) \”think, remember, have one\’s mind aroused,\” with derivatives referring to qualities of mind or states of thought (cognates: Sanskrit matih \”thought,\” munih \”sage, seer;\” Greek memona \”I yearn,\” mania \”madness,\” mantis \”one who divines, prophet, seer;\” Latin mens \”mind, understanding, reason,\” memini \”I remember,\” mentio \”remembrance;\” Lithuanian mintis \”thought, idea,\” Old Church Slavonic mineti \”to believe, think,\” Russian pamjat \”memory\”).

Meaning \”mental faculty\” is mid-14c. \”Memory,\” one of the oldest senses, now is almost obsolete except in old expressions such as bear in mind, call to mind. Mind\’s eye \”remembrance\” is early 15c.

We couldn\’t pay any mind to kings under mountains any more, could we? No, our minds could never be drawn to the besting of dragons and scions of ancient lines reclaiming their thrones in hollow halls, could we?

We couldn\’t pay any attention to Gandalf the Grey, he who is called \’Stormcrow\’ leading three kings back to their rightful sovereign thrones could we? Pay it no mind that Gandalf the White back-comes after falling into the deepest parts of the earth. Gordon again:

Take the often-levelled criticism that when Gandalf returned as Gandalf the White he was technically invulnerable. Not even Sauron could destroy him. This means that had the War of the Ring failed, he would ultimately have been the last servant of the Valar left alive in Middle Earth after Mordor had killed everyone else… fighting alone in the centre of a limitless sea of orcs, trolls and Nazgul. Forever. This is not some novelist’s whoopsie. It’s horrifying. It is also a singularly northern European vision of resolve, of resistance. There is something Ragnarokian about it.

Pay it no mind that the grinding industrial complex built by Saruman the White falls when the old grey wanderer comes back from the dead to take his title. It\’s just fantasy after all, and we know I\’m a bearded frothing madman don\’t we; a member of a non-existent cult which honours a severed head; just a frenzied journeyman who feels a curious affinity with a certain Master of Fury.

In no way at all might we envisage a weary old man gripping his staff which is also somehow curiously a spear in some last frenzied final battle. No wizard with aching bones and heavy with the weight of time upon his hoary head, sagging there for a moment until the sound of bird\’s wings is heard – as ravens circle and settle on his shoulders. Nor might we see the weariness evaporate as memory and thought combine to ignite in the honeyed-blood mead of insipration, nor the sound of rushing wind as ten thousand warriors rise from their corpse-places to fight anew, drawn by his songs and spells.

Because that would be silly, wouldn\’t it? An army of restless, heroic dead riding out to do battle with the forces that would destroy connection and atomise us all?

\"the-muppet-christmas-carol-original\" \"the-muppet-christmas-carol-original\"

Certainly the idea of the Holy Roman Emperor hanging out in a mountain is ris ridiculous, right? Except, no it\’s not – see where Charlemagne hangs out, in at least one legend? Yes, you read this right – Odin\’s Mountain. Look further on that page, and you\’ll find the tale of the Wizard of Alderly Edge – the myth of which you will find woven into the work of author Alan Garner, which I read as a child. I was down there with a bunch of Heathens in May and it is very strange indeed to be wandering along roads and paths you first knew intimately as a kid, and yet had never been there.

Here\’s the thing about Charlemagne though – he\’s a good candidate for a Most Recent Common Ancestor for any of us with European heritage. This sort of thing is not new – Anglo Saxon kings traced their descent from Woden, the wandering god who liked to learn things and cause trouble. Which is where, ancestrally speaking, things get…wibbly, don\’t they?

Because, as I said, it\’s all fantasy. No one believes, right? No one believes that we\’re surrounded by a swirling cloud of ambient dead folk and spirits. No one believes they can reach across time and space to tug on the ties that bind us, that if you scratch the soil you\’ll find the old things welling up? That Sovereign Kings long dead and never-quite human can still stir in their barrows and ride out when you say the right words. That the ghosts of Christmas, Past Present and Future can touch a man, that:

\”The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can.\”

Kings, you see, have their armies. Their loyal knights. Their faithful retainers, their band of brothers. Remember this?

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;  – Henry V

That\’s some straight up warband ritual, some honest to goodness espirit de corps consciousness raising. And before you accuse me of being a monarchist let\’s do the etymology dance of remembering, shall we?

king (n.) \"LookOld English cyning \”king, ruler,\” from Proto-Germanic *kuninggaz (cognates: Dutch koning, Old Norse konungr, Danish konge, Old Saxon and Old High German kuning, Middle High German künic, German König). Possibly related to Old English cynn \”family, race\” (see kin), making a king originally a \”leader of the people;\” or from a related root suggesting \”noble birth,\” making a king originally \”one who descended from noble birth.\” The sociological and ideological implications render this a topic of much debate.

Finnish kuningas \”king,\” Old Church Slavonic kunegu \”prince\” (Russian knyaz, Bohemian knez), Lithuanian kunigas \”clergyman\” are loans from Germanic.

As leon is the king of bestes. [John Gower, \”Confessio Amantis,\” 1390]In Old English, used for names of chiefs of Anglian and Saxon tribes or clans, then of the states they founded. Also extended to British and Danish chiefs they fought.

can (v.1) \"LookOld English 1st & 3rd person singular present indicative of cunnan \”know, have power to, be able,\” (also \”to have carnal knowledge\”), from Proto-Germanic *kunnan \”to be mentally able, to have learned\” (cognates: Old Norse kenna \”to know, make known,\” Old Frisian kanna \”to recognize, admit,\” German kennen \”to know,\” Gothic kannjan \”to make known\”), from PIE root *gno- (see know).

Absorbing the third sense of \”to know,\” that of \”to know how to do something\” (in addition to \”to know as a fact\” and \”to be acquainted with\” something or someone). An Old English preterite-present verb, its original past participle, couth, survived only in its negation (see uncouth), but see also could. The present participle has spun off as cunning.

know (v.) \"LookOld English cnawan (class VII strong verb; past tense cneow, past participle cnawen), \”to know, perceive; acknowledge, declare,\” from Proto-Germanic *knew- (cognates: Old High German bi-chnaan, ir-chnaan \”to know\”), from PIE root *gno- \”to know\” (cognates: Old Persian xšnasatiy \”he shall know;\” Old Church Slavonic znati, Russian znat \”to know;\” Latin gnoscere; Greek *gno-, as in gignoskein; Sanskrit jna- \”know\”). Once widespread in Germanic, this form is now retained only in English, where however it has widespread application, covering meanings that require two or more verbs in other languages (such as German wissen, kennen, erkennen and in part können; French connaître, savoir; Latin novisse, cognoscere; Old Church Slavonic znaja, vemi). The Anglo-Saxons used two distinct words for this, witan (see wit) and cnawan.

Meaning \”to have sexual intercourse with\” is attested from c.1200, from the Old Testament.

Two separate etymological roots here, you might think. And I would agree, save for the fact that one would only found a kingdom if one were able, if one were mighty enough to lead. Which brings us back to the old themes of might and main and may, doesn\’t it?

magic (n.) \"Looklate 14c., \”art of influencing events and producing marvels using hidden natural forces,\” from Old French magique \”magic, magical,\” from Late Latin magice \”sorcery, magic,\” from Greek magike (presumably with tekhne \”art\”), fem. of magikos \”magical,\” from magos \”one of the members of the learned and priestly class,\” from Old Persian magush, possibly from PIE *magh- (1) \”to be able, to have power\” (see machine). Transferred sense of \”legerdemain, optical illusion, etc.\” is from 1811. Displaced Old English wiccecræft (see witch); also drycræft, from dry \”magician,\” from Irish drui \”priest, magician\” (see druid).

may (v.1) \"LookOld English mæg \”am able\” (infinitive magan, past tense meahte, mihte), from Proto-Germanic root *mag-, infinitive *maganan (Old Frisian mei/muga/machte \”have power, may;\” Old Saxon mag/mugan/mahte; Middle Dutch mach/moghen/mohte; Dutch mag/mogen/mocht; Old High German mag/magan/mahta; German mag/mögen/mochte; Old Norse ma/mega/matte; Gothic mag/magan/mahte \”to be able\”), from PIE *magh- (1) \”to be able, have power\” (cognates: Greek mekhos, makhos \”means, instrument,\” Old Church Slavonic mogo \”to be able,\” mosti \”power, force,\” Sanskrit mahan \”great\”). Also used in Old English as a \”auxiliary of prediction.\”

Let these themes sit at the back of your head for a while, let them sink into your guts, then well up again into your heart. Let them swirl around a little, learning how they taste upon your tongue. Then consider what working with those Four Kings might do, from an ancestral, necromantic perspective. Think about the pacts made, the poets\’ song. Then consider that the idea of sitting on the burial mounds of your ancestors all night for wisdom was a thing in, at very least Iceland and Scandinavia. Consider also that the conversion of Iceland was presaged by the lawspeaker spending a day and a night in silent meditation under a fur cloak.

I\’ve pointed out before that at least in the Icelandic sagas, there are tales of the dead still living inside their mounds, and pissed off dead would often have to be wrestled back into thier graves by barehanded heroes, many of whom would have mounds built for them because they were badass – see Beowulf as an example. I also may have mentioned that Odin has a byname which translates as mound-lord as well as one which boils down to Lord of the Restless Dead.

Why am I repeating this? Especially since nobody believes it, and yet the Lord of the Rings Trilogy made $2,917,506,956 worldwide?

That is quite a chunk of change, really. Wonder with me, for a moment, how many people engaged with it. How many of us got swept in to a thing that came from words on a page, itself rising from a flickering light and words and minds in a smoky mead hall over a thousand years ago? How many people spend money to  create the illusion of the jolly man who brings presents?

(Just think about that. And while you\’re at it, consider that Ragnarok is a prophecy spoken by a volva, a sybiline oracle summoned up by Odin and forced to speak against her will. )

Gordon again:

Dead Kings and their relics feature prominently on both sides of the battle for Middle Earth, itself set in a landscape of tombs, ruined kingdoms and half-remembered heroism. Working with the Four Kings, you become aware that there is or was a famous ruler in a cold land to your north. You may not know the content of his legend but you at least feel that it was obviously significant enough for you to be calling out to it. There is a necromantic physicality to the action that can only be experienced performatively. At least some part of this spirit is built of a Dead King. The upshot of the rite is to call the might, the renown, the mana of glorious vanished kingdoms.

I\’m on the same line of lattitude as Canada, here in Albion. So when I tell you that I\’ve heard a voice whisper The Master comes from the North for years now, you might want to understand a little quirk. Look up in the night and you\’ll see The Plough, The Big Dipper. But it\’s got lots of other names, perhaps chief amongst them Ursa Major, or The Great Bear. The fun thing is? Multiple  etymological suggestions for Arthur suggest relations to bears. The same stars are sometimes called Charles\’ Wain – and Charlemagne was sometimes known as Charles the Great.

The thing is though, despite what you might be thinking, all these names and asterisms are named for terrestrial things, migrated into the sky. Stories drawn up from the Deep Below and cast into the heavens where they might be visible in the night.

Which isn\’t to say that the might, the mana of the Once and Future King, is Out There. It\’s In Here, Right Now.  In a reversal of the standard Hermetic dictum, we might say As Below, So Above. The world we inhabit, this Middle World, well, let\’s just say that the starry vaulted ceiling of that is a projection of that cavern where the Light is born anew. Which means friends, nothing is ever lost. And as Britain suffers a Dickensian Christmas with 60,000 people relying on food banks this holiday period, well, maybe it\’s up to us to help.

I might very well be a cripple, but that doesn\’t stop me from trying to gain my own sovereignty, because right here and now, the King is in his Mountain, the Sibyl is in her cave. Did you ever wonder why the Spirits visit Scrooge? Why a certain cripple is dead until Scrooge changes?

Think about it.

And to borrow some words from Tiny Tim the Necromancer as an evocation: God(s) bless us, EVERY ONE.

Enjoy your festival of light, folks.