Category Archives: CloudCatcher 2012 Reflections

Masks and Altars at CloudCatcher 2012

We worked with four Egyptian deities at CloudCatcher WitchCamp 2012 – Isis, Nephthys, Set and Osiris. Their stories intermingle, overlap and essentially form one story together – I was convinced they represent four parts of one whole, and inspired by the line I am divided for the chance of union…

We made masks for each of them, in the days leading up to the Camp. Nephthys’ mask (that I now have hanging on my wall) was silver and blue, a little hawk-like and with wide eyes and an Egyptian ankh. Osiris’ was green, covering the whole face and with reeds growing out of the side, waving above his head. Isis’ mask was gold (of course), mysterious and alluring with a hint of copper veil… and Set’s was stark grey and brown, confronting and alert. All the masks were on sticks, so they could be held at different (non-human) heights in ritual, and even be passed between people easily. When we invoked these Gods and Goddesses on the first evening of the Camp, we invoked them into the masks, so that then any of us could pick up the mask and walk with that being, look through its eyes and maybe speak a few words for it… On the final evening we opened a doorway and released them back into their own land.

We also put four altars, in the east, north, west and south of our main hall; instead of creating elemental altars we created deity altars. East for Isis and the rising sun; North for Set, the desert and the heat of midday; West for Nephthys, the setting sun and entry into the Otherworlds; South for Osiris, the forests and the Underworld itself. Everyone who came to Camp brought something for these altars – offerings of candles, leaves, pictures, scarves, statuettes… and often when I passed by the hall I would see someone sitting in front of an altar, tending to it or meditating or just resting. Sometimes they would pick up the mask that rested there, between rituals, and examine it or ask their questions or commune with that spirit.

I loved the way the masks and the altars offered tangible connection to the deities we were working with, and more immediate access to the myth by individuals being able to approach and interact with these solid things; altars, masks. And in the ritual themselves, how extrordinary to be partnered not just by one’s own inner sensations or understandings of this being, but by the visible effect of a being, in the form of the mask… Not actually wearing the masks, but instead holding them on sticks, also added to this feeling of relating to the deity, being in service to it and companioning it, rather than being subsumed – which I have sometimes felt with masks that tie onto the head of the wearer.

Elements at CloudCatcher 2012

In Australia there is often a confusion, or even a competition as to which element belongs in which direction. At the first Australian WitchCamp, in Healesville, we tried it in various ways, moving it round – because, of course, the elements are not neatly confined to one direction, but usually to be found in all directions! One popular way (that I mostly use myself) is to leave Air and Water as they would be in the Northern hemisphere (in the East and West respectively) but to switch Fire and Earth, so that Fire is in the North and Earth in the South – this makes sense because the sun passes through the Northern sky, rather than the Southern sky, in the Southern hemisphere. Others prefer to place Water in the East, and some like Air in the South – anything’s possible.

I think we have both been driven to this experimentation and able to get away with being expansive and questioning precisely because we live in the Southern hemisphere – not only is it so far away from all those Witches and serious Traditions in both the UK and also the US, but also – everything is different for us. We can’t just unquestioningly adopt what’s been written in books, or passed down, when it patently makes no sense; and this leads I think to a general questioning. And Australians are known as an irreverant lot, so we don’t mind taking everything apart and starting again.

For CloudCatcher WitchCamp, I really wanted us to use a system of casting a circle and calling to the elements that worked not just for the Southern hemisphere, but for our particular location, on the side of a mountain in South-East Queensland. It seemed to me that the elements are all around one, on that land – above, below, curving around on all sides, as we shelter in a bowl of the hills. This is what we came up with: Air – which is all around us, filling our circle. Fire – deep in the earth, below our feet, memories of the ancient volcano which errupted 20 million years ago to shape this fertile land. Water – above us in the clouds that cling to the mountain, that fill up the bowl of hills in mist and rains. Earth – the ring of hills that shelter us, lush with beautiful trees, plants and wildlife.

We called all of our elements from the centre of the circle, and it felt so magical to have them all in there, mixed together rather than separated out in the four directions; I loved it. It felt dynamic and potent and alchemical… stirring it all together… and yet, still flexible! Perhaps next year we’ll do something different…

In the Serpent Path at CloudCatcher WitchCamp (2012) one of the many serpentine things we did was find ourselves in the Garden of Eden, circling a lovely tree with apples hanging from its branches… We were singing and toning, walking down to the tree, and when we approached it some of us went straight up to it and picked an apple, biting into it immediately. Others lingered, or gazed, or approached their apple slowly, one person even taking a bite out of it while it was still hanging on the tree, before they had picked it. Some people ate all of their apple – seeds and core as well – while others thoughtfully chewed small mouthfuls of it.

One of the interesting things to me was that no-one turned down an apple. No-one looked at the tree and said, ‘No thanks. Apples are not for me.’ All of us are drawn to this mystery, all of us want to know what happens when you eat an apple from the Tree of Knowledge. Do you become wise? Embody the serpent? Have to leave the garden forever?

These apples hanging on the tree are one of the doorways into myth. They beckon, they lure. The only way to find out what they represent, or what the next part of the story is, is to eat one. And then already, we all know, you’ve gone too far to turn back, undertaken the exact action we were specifically warned against. Yet in myth these rules appear to need to be broken. Persephone didn’t emerge from the Underworld until she ate her pomegranate seeds – the exact thing one should never do if one expects to have any chance of leaving that place. Psyche wasn’t saved by her lover Eros until she opened the mysterious box given to her by Persephone, one of the things she was explicitly warned she must not do. As for us, standing at the base of the Tree of Knowledge – what would happen to us if we did not taste? All the mysteries are contained within that forward action, they follow on from listening to the serpent and for reaching out with our hands, taking that apple and biting into it.