Star Made Witch: Riddle Wisdom

Star Made Witch: Riddle Wisdom February 8, 2016

Riddles are a special way of gaining knowledge and power within animist mystical traditions. A good riddle doesn’t just have one answer, it has a path to discovering answers. Open ended conundrums broaden a witch’s mind to the realms of possibility. The more ways a witch can think of to solve a problem the better they can approach ritual and spellwork. More significantly, a witch who accepts there are multiple right answers and multiple wrong answers looks beyond the obvious either/or in their magic, spirituality and divination.The big riddle is “know thyself,” and a witch who learns to see the grain from the chaff can know who they are from who they are supposed to be.

a candle lit open book
Courtesy of Turning Wheel Farm

On the subject of grain, the Grecian Eleusinian mystery rites often were closed with the silent contemplation of an ear of barley corn. Likewise, in the Mithraic cult the question and challenge was another riddle: “The bull that is the serpent’s father, the serpent who is the bull’s.” [1] A master of the mysteries of the cult was said to be able to move the constellations in the sky per this proverb.

Kennings, koans, riddles and parables like these have been contemplated by mystics and sorcerers over time to make wisdom manifest and challenge the student to greater psychic feats. In medieval Ireland, in homage to the Druids and their tree magics, the Medieval monks collected a series of kenning riddles about the Ogham trees. [2] For muin, the vine, “path of the voice”; for gort, the garden, “counterpart to Heaven”; and for ur, soil, it’s “the shroud of a lifeless one.” [3] Consider the deep importance of inspiration, poetry and the otherworld in Irish polytheism and animism while looking at these kennings.

A favorite way of hiding folk mysticism in plain sight has long been in folk songs and old sayings with cryptic references. The best cover is a riddle that one un-inclined towards the cosmic may find a banal answer for, while a person of cunning will ascertain many spiritual concepts. The Scottish folk song Riddles Wisely Expounded is chock full of riddles along with many stock acceptable answers. [4] If you ignore the official solutions, you can let your mind wander to come up with myriad possibilities. “Oh what is higher than the tree/and what is deeper than the sea?” The stock answers give an answer for each separately, whereas I think they are meant to have answers that include both conditions. Another is, “What is sharper than the thorn/and what is louder than the horn?” [5]

These kind of mystical riddles are valued worldwide in transmitting knowledge, memory, and creativity. Riddles are often openings for lessons or stories of spiritual significance. Many Zen Buddhist stories begin with a riddle or challenge. A proud student arrives to meet a great Zen master, Nan-in. Nan-in begins by pouring tea into an already full cup for him and it spills on the table. [6] After shocking the student into a new way of thinking, the teacher may begin influencing the student’s learning.

Dahomean storytellers often begin their sessions with funny double entendre type riddles with more spiritual answers like, “What goes out naked and comes back clothed?” [7] This line of riddling has brought us back to the where we began because we are once again contemplating corn.

In modern traditional witchcraft, riddles as a teaching tool are presented by Robert Cochrane’s letters to Joe Wilson. His main influence being Robert Graves method of riddle thinking through his White Goddess and free associating until he came to poetical truths rather than historical or logical ones. In his third letter, Cochrane posits to Wilson, “What two words are not spoken from the cauldron?” [8] Which is quite the thought experiment and I encourage you to ponder it before you look up the answer or try to see it through fresh eyes if you’ve already know what Cochrane replied.

Throughout this article, I have rarely provided the answer to a riddle because the pondering and answering yourself is such an effective way of of finding your wisdom. One of my favorite modern traditional witchcraft riddles is from Joe Wilson, “Does it grow corn?” [9] The student must consider if what they are doing gets the desired result or is it a dogmatic and limiting path. In my experience, riddles ‘grow corn’.



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