Sunday, January 8, 2012

Icky Bits Pt. 1 : "Permissions" of Sacrifice & Toadbone

The Seed of The Topic. 

Eric from "Philosophies of a Witch" asked a few salient questions concerning The Toadbone Rite over on another blog. Not only were/are my comments not showing up, that is just not the place to discuss this.

This is a topic that, right now, I could write you a book on the whole thing.  That is because The Rite encompasses a number of moral puzzles, social quandaries, and occult niches which are not routinely discussed - and there's reasons for that. Chumbley's treatment "One: The Grimoire of The Golden Toad" is meant for Cunningfolk and Sorcerers who do not need to be mushroom stamped (NSFW) by morality and ethics - The Witch is the holder of their conscience.  If I were to expound, 'cause I'm damned well gonna, I'd go into those nooks and crannies - they interest me. I like discussing them, I like the moral puzzles and what great power and wonder they bring to the table. These are part of what make the rite as powerful as it is.

This is a topic a little like the Dandelion - You would not assume it's ad weighty as it appears. You might assume a lot of the hub-bub is just bluster... but bound up in the discussion of one, small, English rite are matters that can apply to all areas of Traditional Witchcraft and it's modern incarnation.

Direct Questions and Answers. 
His first question was: "(snipped text) what about the Toad Bone Rite? I know there is a lot of controversy over whether or not the toad should be found dead or alive. Though, I suppose we don’t really know for certain if the toad witches of the past found the toad alive or dead….Most of the stories I’ve read of modern toad witches found theirs dead and proceeded with the ritual."
My response was to the usual tune:  "The original Toadbone rite involves death. That is a core part of a specific “current” of that rite[1]. For a meat eater in today’s world, any objection to the death of an animal is a point better left to a polite “Is that so?” and moving on. However, the rite itself involves a period where one is subjected to the experience of the death the amphibian endured – through that one might caution the prospective Toadwitch to kill the amphibian with kindness[2]. Traditional is not right or wrong, it is traditional. Personal morals and permissions have to come into play. Absolutist views on these things won’t get far. Some are under a personal and spiritual geas or taboo not to take life, others are under the opposite[3]."

[1] - Lemme be really, really, clear on this. THE rite, the original from which all other permutations come, involves the death of the creature. If you speak to old-crafters, they will tell you (with only a few votes to the contrary) that the killing is an essential and irreplaceable part of The Rite. Those who have fully practiced it might make a few concessions, under certain circumstances, with very clear indications about why it won't always be that way, or what OTHER shit you might get yourself into when you go dicking with the ritual. More on that another time.

[2] - Above all consultation with one's guides, guardians, gods or other spirits-of-assistance is necessary, as well as full communion with the "condemned".  If the issue is what is "humane" and what is "proper" - Drowning in a pond is a hell of a lot less pleasant than having a bead a benzocane slathered on one's back. Being stabbed through the chest with a dagger is, conversely, less pleasant than dying of old age. Between oneself and The Toad - you'll get it figured out.  For anyone who says "You can't just kill something just for it's bone!" - they're either being intentionally hyperbolic, or are grotesquely under-educated on the nature of the rite (and probably ought to stop discussing it). There's far more going on here. Again, more on that another time.

[3] - Part of an Initiation in one particular Old-Trad line involves swearing an Oath to provide a specific Fetish for one's Coven when it is formed. That Fetish is an animal remain. It cannot be bought, sold, or hired. It must be obtained by the Priest him-(or her)-self. Swearing to do it means no backsies, and that aforementioned priest is now bound to kill something as part of his or her craft. Don't like it? Don't take that Oath. Don't like that someone else took said oath? Tough shit, really.
He responded back with: "Yes, I remember your post about the Toad Rite and you described your experience of being frozen and then burned. As I said every single modern account that I have found of the Toad Rite involved a toad already dead. (snip) One may even argue that finding a toad alive and then killing it for the sorcerer’s own purposes is actually quite selfish and would cause the spirits to curse the killer of the toad, wouldn’t you say?"
Well - No. I would not say that. The reason every, single, modern account you find references an already-dead animal is not what you think. Some of the persons I've spoken to will publicly state "I found it dead" - and privately state (amongst people they trust) "I killed it." Some things are not for public consumption, if only because the consumers will gladly toss them out on their asses for their honesty. Some people have not gone that measure because the situation has not presented itself. Some do not go that measure because they're afraid of being ostracized for it.

When people decide to start painting valid and legal ritual practices as "cursed" and "wrong" (painting even traditional shamans with that brush) - it becomes a climate in which honest discourse is problematic. Of course, that's not a new thing - it's a snail trail that has followed the Occult community since it came out of the shadows. "We don't (insert something here) like THOSE people" - throwing whomever the other misunderstood subculture is under the fuckin' bus.

I have posted an entry titled "How I Accidentally Became A Toad Witch" - I have not posted it's follow-up. Suffice it to say, I disagree that the killing of a creature for ritual results in badness. I agree that it -could-, that it -can-, and that it occasionally does. But to elaborate on that, there's some back-story required.

1: I grew up on a farm. For me death is a part of life, just by the nature of having animals around, and the nature of disease and predation. So death holds no taboo for me.
2: I have eaten the animals I raised, and participated in their butchering. I know that home butchery of the sort used in sacrifices is incredibly humane compared to the conditions one can find at commercial abattoirs. So killing an animal holds no taboo for me , and is not an act of hate or cruelty.
3: I've been through several near-death (both personal and proximal) experiences in my life. So the limina between death and life holds no taboo for me.
4: Through these internal permissions, and external permissions, there is no danger associated with taking an animal's life for certain reasons. So sacrifice holds no taboo for me.

I fully expect that these areas are taboo for most people, and if they went ahead and acted against their own morality, taboos or inclinations... or god help them, against the wishes of their tutelary spirits, then they would find themselves dealt a pretty harsh blow. This is one rite, absolutely and wholly, that must be performed with the permission of the spirits involved.

Permissions of Sacrifice.
There were dreams, nightmares, omens, and all sorts of shit without bodies suddenly taking an interest in me. I asked friends, I asked spirits, I asked gods, I asked the Frog. And they all essentially said the same thing: Maybe it is The Rite, maybe it ain't... but you damned well need to finish it just in case. - How I Accidentally Became A Toadwitch.

To be a lot more clear about this - there had been dreams about that frog since the moment I found her. I poked at intermittently while she decayed. The Work with The Spirit In The Bones was peppered with references to the rite - made by her - and jabs about my being a wimp about it. But my absolute certainty that I was NOT doing the rite meant I toyed with the terminology, and poked fun at the whole thing. That's what I do, I make light of the things I am unsure of - to tease them apart with humor makes them more accessible to my curiosity.

Until that goddamned bone floated at me and hissed. Shit got serious. I went crying to other occultists I trust - they sorta went "Well, you're fucked." So I asked the spirits I deal with - including Miss Frog. I was told "Maybe it is, maybe it's not - but you need to finish it." - the connotation was less "it's a good idea" (because NO ONE said it was a good idea) and more "we're telling you that you HAVE to do this, because not finishing it just drags the danger out."

Now, Does The Toadbone Rite Require Death?

You'd best bet your ass that the rite requires something dead. I have some indication that some similar results may be achieved through a myriad of works, but those would not be the "toadbone" rite - and depending on the permissions involved and the constitution of the individual, the results would be far more likely to go far more terribly.


  1. Kneejerk reaction to anyone who proclaims 'you can't kill something just for its' bone': Really? You kill something for its' flesh, or its' skin, sometimes just because its' inconvenient (how many throw older companion animals away to leave out their devotion in a strange, fearful place?).

  2. You remind me of how industrialized food processing has sterilized the conscience of many. The "Omnivore's Dilemma," by Michael Pollan, reveals practices hidden from public view in the cattle pens of the American Midwest that are not only unhealthy for "consumers," but seem inhumane to some. Since these practices are out of sight, some people feel they can take the "high road" in judging the practices of others? I admire your courage and honesty in addressing this topic.

  3. I've been dispatching chickens raised for the table for two years now, and while it initially required a couple hurdles into unfamiliar territory, it also requires a huge amount of respect for the birds involved. Raise them well. Dispatch them with respect and love, and thankfulness. Give thanks to whomever you see as that guide thru the world of the dead for taking charge of them as you've sent them off to the next step. Waste nothing.

    There is no such thing as being able to put such things out of mind if one consumes the flesh of other creatures, be those fishes, amphibians, mammals, birds... You are either involved in this and grow up about the fact that you are responsible for the death of another creature, or you move on and just depend on the botanical realm for calories. Does nature care either way? I'd say no, but I really prefer to do what I can to demonstrate that I care where my family's food comes from.

    It has not gotten easier for me to bleed out chickens. Nor should it, IMHO. To pick up on Hadaig's comment on industrialized food processing sterilizing the conscience of many, I'd add that industrialized food has fooled far too many that meat is an abundant food.

  4. I don't understand the attitude of, you can't kill something. Really? I eat meat. Something dies so I can eat. I don't understand pretending this isn't true.

    Granted, I"d be uncomfortable with this sort of rite for other reasons, but that's because I have frog-phobia and you wouldn't get me near a toad dead or living. But that's a different, separate and irrational can of worms.

    Death happens. We cause a lot of it; working closely with it isn't everyone's cup of tea, and that's fine but pretending that death doesn't exist, or isolating it, I think only causes us more problems in the long run.

  5. I agree with this viewpoint completely. If someone is willing to eat flesh and wear leather, their actions are condoning the killing of animals, no matter what their mouth says. I am also glad that someone is willing to write so explicitly about the toad bone rite, as I find it fascinating. I myself could not kill an animal with my own hands, but I consider that a personal failing. There was a situation in which I had before me an animal severely wounded by a dog and I could not work up the courage to dispatch it humanely. This has been a mark of shame for me. Sometimes the ability to kill is a blessing.

  6. @ Scylla - A great post! V. interesting as well. It is a good example of how traditional Craft is not always nice. Like nature. Like life. It's the being out of step with nature, food sourcing, etc. that is a big trouble for people looking in from the outside. Not nice, but very useful, and very much a part of the fabric of things as they are.

    @ Audra really for real taking the life of something humanely is more difficult than you think. Especially if it is seriously wounded. There is a trick to it, a knack. I don't have it, but most of my family either hunts or grew up on farms or bred animals, they do. It falls into the category of harder than it looks, especially the bigger the animal gets.

  7. Jow, you make a good point. I may have made things worse for the animal in trying to help it. I hadn't thought of it that way, thank you.

  8. I think you misunderstood me when I said that "it is bad to kill something just for the bone". I meant that if one is not guided to kill the toad (or whatever) for parts then one shouldn't. If the toad needs to die by the witch's hands, then so be it. If the signs are not there, best not to do it sort of thing.

    If I killed a deer, say, just for the antlers and left the rest to waste, would that be wise and moral? I personally think not, others will probably not agree with me. But if I killed the deer for the meat, then the hide and skull and whatever else are additives.

  9. Hidden Door - It was not actually you that had said that particular line in such a bad way. I responded strictly to you, rather than to the commentary of the blog-host, to limit the amount of drama that might follow back to my blog.

    I think you and I are at pretty much on the same page, actually.

    Would the wasting be wise and moral? No. But a lot of what I hammer through on this blog, and in my personal Work, is stripping away human hubris.

    Is it a good choice to use all that we have at our disposal, so that we do not over-tax our resources? Absolutely. Should there be back-patting and congratulations for doing the right thing? Er... one of the things I routinely re-hash in my writing, and in my Work, is that doing the right thing is a requirement. If we self-congratulate for remembering to breathe, we don't exactly set a high standard.

    I've always had hackles raise up, whether or not I particularly liked it, when someone (FOR EXAMPLE) congratulates a man on providing the bare minimum of care and consideration for a child he chose to father. NO. No ass-pats for bare minimums.

    It's when we go above and beyond that we should congratulate and be congratulated. Not "Congratulations on not being a dick" but, rather "Congratulations on being one of the best people I know."