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The Eightfold God: Part One – Three Jacks and a John Barleycorn
One of the images I've been working with in the Temple of Witchcraft, though have only recently been teaching as a cohesive element, is the eight faces of the God through the Wheel of the Year. Some of it was underlying my personal shamanic practices during the course of the year, and expanded with a deepening relationship with the Green Man through my plant spirit work. I originally worked in a framework of a two-fold God and a triple Goddess. The Goddess was the familiar maiden, mother, crone who went on to take aspects of the heavens, earth and underworld, and the triple fates. The God was a Neopagan Janus – with one face of life and light heading towards the future, and one of death and darkness facing the past. He is the guardian of the threshold. On the side of the light were the aspects of the Child of Light at Yule, the Green Man of the Spring, and the Corn King of Summer. On the side of the dark were the faces of the Horned God who is both the hunter and the hunted, Lord of the Underworld and subterranean riches and the Trickster. They were my Oak King and Holly King, though they rarely manifested in those symbols, each ruling half of the year in a variety of guises.
The Horned God was incredibly distinct when present in magick, though fluid over the years. Horns of the stag were most common, but the goat, the bull and the ram appeared. One God? Many Gods? Same God? Different Gods? I'm not wise enough to answer with certainty. I work with who shows up.
An evening with the band Emerald Rose in Delaware shifted my understanding of the seasonal grain god. They have a song called Four Jacks on the album Archives of Ages to Come, giving the impression of a gambling song, but it's truly about the God. This is from their website:
This song is about the archetype of the seasonal "Jacks" in British mythology: Jack Frost, Jack Green, Jack Corn, and Jack O'Lantern. Beyond being a "wheel of the year" song, it speaks to our connection (especially as men) to these archetypes, and how we can draw courage and sustenance from them. This song was our first real attempt to bring more of a "rock drums" sound into our stage show, so it represents a real departure from our earlier material.
I started to think about, and work with, the Gods not only as the Green Man upon the Earth, but how the agricultural gods changes like the Horned God. He appears as the spirit of Frost to balance the Holy King in Winter. I always felt the link between Green Man and Grain Lord, but now had the gourd image of Jack O'Lantern. It gave a level of importance to characters such as Neil Gaiman’s Merv Pumpkinhead and Jack Pumpkinhead of the Oz stories by Frank Baum. Soon I had a mandala of eight gods, not with all vegetation on one side and horns on the other, but intermixed, turning the Wheel of the Year together.
Yule Goat Horned God
Imbolc Jack Frost God
Ostara Ram Horned God
Beltane Jack Green God
Litha Bull Horned God
Lammas Jack Corn God
Mabon Stag Horned God
Samhain Jack Lantern God
In this year's Lammas ritual, my work at the Temple of Witchcraft is focusing on the cycle of the vegetative gods, as at this sabbat in our mythos, the Grain King has been defeated and will now be sacrificed as the grain is harvested.
A teaching adopted into the Temple, drawing from Secrets of East Anglian Magic by Nigel Pennick, is the six stage Miracle of Bread. It is a both the stages of producing bread and the deeper mysteries associated with them. The stages are the plough, the seed, green corn, yellow corn, stones and rising. We teach it as a part of our mystery school in the fifth degree of a high priest/ess, adding a seventh stage of consumption of the bread, and along with the seven stages of alchemy, seven Celtic caers, seven planets, and seven gates of the underworld, use it as a training and teaching tool. But it is also shared in a smaller way in the seasonal sabbats.
One of the aspects of rite will be a reworking of the traditional John Barleycorn Must Die folk song, with some more esoteric images important to the ritual. The following poetic lyrics borrows heavily in style to the folk song, with some twists that fit our Temple, particularly the four fold agricultural god, the images of the the Seer, Sorcerer and King for the Three Rays of Love, Wisdom and Will, the Three Fates, the newly incarnated ancestors and the the gathering of the Mighty Dead. The “action” shows the process known as the Miracle of Bread, the various stages of the grain becoming bread, with a side bar to the fermentation of beer.
There were three men who came out of the East
Three men born great and high
A Seer, a Sorcerer and a King
Who swore John Barleycorn must die.
Known to some when leaves would drop
As Lantern Jack of the Night.
A hollowed gourd with a toothy grin
Carved to give all the imps a good fright.
There were three children who came from the South
Three babes born with a caul
They saw the future fate before them
And knew John Barleycorn must fall
Known to some when the winter would come
As Jack Frost of the Ice and Snow.
A white whisp beyond the window pane
Keeping us from the go.
There were three ladies who came from the West
Three ladies neither foe nor friend
The future, the present and the past
Who swore John Barleycorn must end
Known to some when the flowers bloomed
As Jack of the Good and Green
No matter where you would walk
His face could always been seen.
There were three shades who came from the North
Dead men one and three
They walked back to the land of life
To say John Barleycorn must go free
They plowed the land.
They sowed the seed.
They threw clods upon his head.
A Seer, a Sorcerer and a King
Vowed John Barleycorn was dead.
They let him lie for a very long time,
Until the heavenly rains would drown.
But there he spring up his head once again
Covered in an emerald crown.
They let him stand til Midsummer's Day
Till his crown turned yellow and gold
And the king gathered everyone around
For it was a sight to behold
They've gathered men with the sacred sickle to cut him down in the field
They've rolled him out and bound him hard, so nothing was concealed.
They've gathered men with the pitch forked staves to pierce him in the heart
And the loader he has served him worse than that
For he's heaped him upon the cart.
They've brought him to the threshing room floor to finally face his fate
And they've made a promise to him, to serve him on a silver plate.
They've gathered men with the flailing sticks to separate skin from bone
And the miller he has served him worst than that
For he's ground him between two mill stones.
And the three Ladies gathered him up
With honey and milk, butter and eggs, water, salt and yeast.
Mixed him up and baked him upon hot stones for the Sabbat Feast
The three wise Men drowned him down
With only water and hops and yeast
Entombed him in his own casket cold to later give rise to a Beast
And the three Children born with eyes that could see
Gazed at him a good long time
They tore into him piece by piece and ate him up well and fine
And the three Shades who rose from the grave
Knew they were once a Seer, a Sorcerer and a King
Just as they rose, they knew he would do too,
John Barleycorn would rise again in the Spring
Our sacred space, our magick circle, is said to exist between and beyond the worlds. As a tradition that emphasizes three, we look at what is occurring in each ritual in the shamanic model of the Upper World, Middle World and Lower World. The Middle World is the Plot – the land where the grain is planted, grows and is cut down, just as all things in the Middle World must be born, live and die to return again. Without the Middle World connecting them, the mysteries of the Upper and Lower realms would not matter. For that reason, the middle world, the world between, is the most sacred of the three, and we are very privileged to live here and “grow” our lives.
The underworld coincides with the threshing room floor, where the flail is uses to separate the grain from the chaff. The Lower World is a realm of testing and trials as well as being the fertile matrix in which the seeds of life grow. The Egyptian underworld god Osiris, with crook in one hand and flail in the other, shows the unification of the eight fold god. The crook is the instrument of shepherds, a variation on our horned gods from the creatures of flesh and blood. The flail, literally on the other hand of the god, is an instrument of agriculture. One can't help but look and see the basic animal-plant agricultural division, as well as such stories of Abel and Cain from Biblical and Gnostic Sabbatic Craft.
The Upper World is the realm of the stars, and strangely the stars, particularly the area of the North Star is associated with the Mill. I once was privileged to hear a story from teacher Orion Foxwood, as he taught about the two bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, who are said to turn the stellar mill, grinding things down so they can be built back up again. The idea of the Pole Star being associated with center of a heavenly mill is not uncommon in stellar myth and folklore. Those criticized academically, like many through provoking books, Hamlet's Mill by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, published 1969, is an excellent resource, in the spirit of Joseph Campbell's The Masks of God or the Hero with a Thousand Faces.
So we turn from the plot of sacred earth to the threshing room floor, to the cosmic mill and return back down to the Earth. In ritual, we will use dance and chant to activate these stages with us, and like John Barleycorn, rise again, renewed and reinvigorated.
If you'd like some guidance working with this poem and this imagery via guided meditative ritual, the Temple often provides seasonal meditations for our distant members as a “thank you” for a seasonal donation. The Temple of Witchcraft is a 501c3 nonprofit religious organization based in New Hampshire with students all over the world. Such donations are tax deductible in the US. To receive a link to an MP3 with a guided meditation for Lammas, please click here or use the “Donate” button the Temple's website - templeofwitchcraft.org
If you are in the New Hampshire area and would like to join the Temple in the flesh to celebrate Lammas on August 3, we will have an afternoon class on the Magick Circle at 2 PM, followed by a break and and our ritual that evening at 7 PM. Please visit templeofwitchcraft.org for more information.
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