Monday, 19 June 2017
TRADITIONAL CRAFT: DIMENSIONS OF THE WITCH’S COMPASS. A PRESENTATION BY STUART INMAN
On Tuesday the 3rd of May 2016 I made one of my infrequent trips to London, once again to visit the famous Treadwell’s Books on Store Street and only a short walk from the British Museum. This particular trip was to attend an evening lecture by Stuart Inman, one of the three virtue holders of the 1734.
Arriving early I made my way down to the basement to find the room already near full, quite a crowd was gathering and many who obviously knew each other, were socialising. I had not met the speaker prior to the evening and I was unsure what to expect. On line I have experienced many conversations with Mr Inman, some enjoyable and some not. I have even on occasion referred to Mr Inman as the ‘Master,’ in a similar manner to that when Sir John Mills deferred to Noel Coward. On line he has rather an intimidating presence, being highly knowledgeable and sometimes quite formal. Amusingly, I have heard the same said about me.
I soon spotted Stuart Inman without prompting and made my way over to introduce myself. There was no mistaking him, a big booming voice and a larger than life personality that filled the room. In conversation, I found him quite different from his on-line persona, still deeply knowledgeable but charming, self-effacing, an open, friendly and a rather jovial man. Amusingly, I have heard the same said about me.
I had travelled to London with a gift, a hood lamp made by a friend using a horseshoe and horseshoe nail, all mounted on a slice of Derbyshire yew. It was my pleasure to present this gift to Stuart Inman prior to the lecture and it is with pleasure that I can add, he was delighted with this token from Derbyshire. The hood lamp is one of a set of triplets, I have one and the Maid of the Clan of Tubal Cain has the other.
The evening began as expected, with brief introduction by Christina Oakley Harrington of Treadwell’s, ably assisted by a Jack-Russel terrier called Rambo, which was not expected. Stuart Inman then took the floor, to begin his presentation proper.
Naturally enough this first segment of the presentation gave us some background information on our esteemed speaker. Making a brief acknowledgement of his Alexandrian and Gardnerian past, together with the influence of Buddhism upon his development. Mr Inman explained his brief sojourn as a solo worker, his interest in the arts and surrealism, before his discovery of the 1734.
Naturally this enabled us to be given a brief exploration of the development of the 1734, recognising besides that of the founder Joseph ‘Bearwalker’ Wilson, the influence of Robert Cochrane (the famous letters) and that mysterious and enigmatic man known only as Sean. Other elements and influences that birthed the 1734 being the Fairy Traditions, Celtic Mythology and that of the First Nations.
Mr Inman made references to the work of Wilson, his articles, the famous correspondence between himself and Cochrane and naturally, Norman Gills. Going on to explain that teaching is by allusion, hints and perhaps poetic insight.
In reference to the Compass itself, Mr Inman made that most important observation; that despite what some may think, the Compass is not a circle. Adding the rather poetic statement; that the Compass is a map of the Otherworld, a vehicle to the Otherworld and itself becomes the Otherworld. Puzzling, confusing and deliberately thought provoking.
Moving on to make the observation that defining what Traditional Witchcraft is, remains open to interpretation, Mr Inman explained that although 1734 is itself not an initiatory tradition, it contains within itself initiatory traditions and that this both encourages and permits insight. I made a note that when I got home, I would have to read again certain articles in my possession. This was heady stuff.
Outlining his own practice our speaker explained that the Clan of the Entangled Thicket, his own group of which he is the Magister, although not Cochranite, is obviously influenced by the work of Robert Cochrane. The work of this highly influential figure has become better known over the past ten or fifteen years, in comparison to the previous thirty. We observe that the interpretation of the Compass was changed by this remarkable man and that the methodology today, continues to evolve.
Returning to the question of compass symbolism in greater detail, covering elements of Sufi mysticism and the paradigm of mapping. We note that the Pole and Pole Star are points of orientation and that the compass is perhaps specific to the environment. The four cardinal points express our sense of the world, whilst by adding that point of orientation, a vertical dimension or axis, the zenith and nadir, completes the process and thus creates what I call the ‘Sixways’ rune.
Returning once again to a comparison with the circle, something that would happen more than once during this presentation. Mr Inman made brief mention of the Tetragrammaton, noting that a compass has no real parameter, whilst a circle is both a place of protection and a spherical containment of power. A concept illustrated by a still from the film ‘the Devil Rides Out.’
Both the circle and the compass are far more than what is envisioned or contained within a two dimensional model. Mr Inman used the terms mandala and meta-map, describing a memory theatre or mnemonic to refer to the three dimensions of the Grand Compass, that itself contains other compasses like rings within rings. Again noting in comparison with the circle, that the compass enables a form of ‘Shamanic’ travel in which ‘we go to the powers rather than call them to us.’ To paraphrase Mr Inman further, the compass enables us to build a relationship with the spirits of the land by participation. Regular interaction with the natural world, even during an indoor rite, is the basic level of the compass manifest.
We then moved on to a discussion of the traditional winds, the four primary and others, with a brief overview of both Hellenic and alchemical symbolism. We then returned once again to the concept of the compass as a vehicle or mode of travel, this time using the Biblical story of Ezekiel’s Chariot as a metaphor.
Jumping cultures and centuries, the next section of this very full presentation was to explore the symbolism of the canal-folk. Examples of narrow boat decorations were discussed and how they may overlay craft symbolism, including the Rose, Castle as allegories for the Castle of the Rose Queen. Other symbols and concepts discussed included the moat and symbolism of the swan.
The range of illustrations supporting the presentation were both well-chosen and informative. I noted that several had been provided by mutual contacts. One provided by the Clan of Tubal Cain represented the Three Rites, incorporating Pan, Hermes and Hekate, each with their associated tools or implements. The first ring of Pan showing the stang, the skull (in the west) and the cauldron (in the east). The second ring, that of Hermes showing the tripartite group of stang, broom and keppen. The third ring that of Hekate, shows the cauldron in the centre.
The illustrations based upon the work of Norman Gill and the Four Dragons Clann, showed the winds or points of the compass as heteronormative pairs. I noted with interest the associated colours, north = black, east = red, south = white and west = grey. Associations I was not unfamiliar with.
The next slides continued this theme with the very complex compass of Bethany Lorekeeper Davis (Munnin’s Kiss) juxtaposed with a simplified compass provided by Trystn Branwen. This latter one had particular symbols associated with the compass points, north = wind, east = sun, south = stone and west = sea. Associations I was again, not unfamiliar with.
Presented as a comprehensive model, this series of slides served to emphasise compass symbolism and those same associations, carried over into other corresponding esoteric metaphors.
The next slide was one of my own photographs showing my own stang, with a Three Nails pendent displayed as the ‘Sixways’ suspended upon it. The Fourth Nail that never cooled is missing, perhaps hidden and I am not prepared to suggest where.
Mr Inman now began something of a pulling together of the concepts presented so far but with more theories thrown into the alchemical cauldron. These ranged from a mention of his own compass, Robert Cochrane’s own works again and the symbolism of the lucet, a forked implement used in the weaving of cord and braid. We were also introduced to selected masculine archetypes, the child as the warrior, the Green man, the ferryman as the psychopomp and Cain as the Man in the Moon.
The tying together of these many threads continued with insights into Mr Inman’s own practice, references to gates, bridges and the concept of liminality. Our presenter spoke of a woodland site, approached with an offering via a zig-zag (crooked path). Noting that the crossroads can be a permanent feature of the landscape, entered via a stile or bridge, finally reminding us once again; that we journey within the created compass not necessarily to it. We as an audience were entranced as he spoke of rings, castles, spirals and the otherworld.
Mr Inman read us poetry, anonymous, Graves and Cochrane, emphasising not for the first time that the natural world changes the individual and that archetypes are found within the land. We were given anecdotes describing the workings of the mill, the mist and the lights occasionally seen but more importantly, the feeling of such a working.
We were presented with a brief examination of how the mill is trod, noting that there is no standard technique. Rather we were told that some make a slow circular tread, some a lame step and others walk like a crab. Some groups may work in two circles that eventual merge widdershins. Festivals are generally trod deosil, magical workings widdowshins.
Once established, the concept of the compass can be visualised in a person’s complete existence. Finally pulling all of these remarkable threads together, we are asked whether such concepts are purely magical or should they permeate every aspect of our lives?
The Ash Tree by Robert Cochrane
The Clan of the Entangled Thicket