Book Review – ‘Wights and Ancestors, Heathenry in a Living Landscape’ by Jenny Blain

 

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Wights and Ancestors – Heathenry in a Living Landscape‘ was first published in 2000 and has now been reprinted in 2016 with additional essays. Jenny Blain gives a fascinating insight into the varied types of beings inhabiting the landscape and ways in which we can respectfully and safely interact with them. She details how to discover one’s fylgja – which is essential for safely navigating the other world. She advises ways to meet the wights and introducing one’s self to a tree spirit, all to be conducted respectfully before entering the being’s space.

I admire that Jenny Blain has discussed shamanism and that by doing the things a shaman does – i.e. entering the other world, meeting spirits etc – does not make one a shaman. Shamanism is not an individual activity and shamans were usually selected by their community. This is an important statement where any kind of spirit work is involved as many take upon the mantle of shamanism without understanding the full cultural context of the word.

Jenny also discusses sacred sites and what makes them sacred and how landscapes are not static – they have their own processes of erosion, silt deposition etc and that because of human interaction, a landscape becomes cultured and interpreted by people in many ways. The land itself is a being, populated by many other sentient beings and plays a part within the settings of many tales.

Jenny also discusses ancestry and her own personal discoveries of her own family research in Scotland. The reader is taken down a fascinating journey into Scotland’s landscape and the ties the author has to the places of her youth. She discusses that landscapes are “more than history and personal memory. They are living, now, and have their own place-ness which impacts on the tourist, traveller, viewer or seeker“.

I am not overly familiar with the beliefs and terms of Heathenry or Seidr, but this book is written in a way that provides good explanation without being overwhelming. The use of personal anecdotes and the stories shared with the author from other practitioners gives a better understanding of the exchange between a person and wight. Although the concepts of land wights and ancestry are written about within a Heathen context, the guidelines given seem universal – the author even advises to look into fairy tales for wisdom before approaching land wights. A lot of it is common sense, the most important thing to remember is to be respectful.

I would greatly recommend this book, whether one identifies as heathen or not. This is a good read for anyone interested in animism, seidr, spirit work or heathenry. Using the advice within this book provides a good foundation when building relationships with the land spirits.

 

A Solitary Solstice

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”

–Edith Sitwell

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Yule candle with foraged pine

I had intended to have a sociable December and meet with my like minded pagan friends, however the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley. I thought I was weathering the storms of life well, with the stress of moving house and unpacking and the grief of losing my brother, not to mention the stress of a full time job and university studies. But everything took it’s toll and I caught the cold virus from a colleague which brought my plans to a standstill. I hate getting sick, and this cold virus exhausted my energy. I did not have it in me to properly celebrate December’s supermoon the way I had intended.

I was meant to attend a friend’s Mōdraniht (Mothers Night) ritual and although physically I felt up to it, I knew it would be selfish of me to go and pass on this nasty virus to others, especially during the festive period. Who wants to be sick during the holidays? So I gave that a miss.

The Winter Solstice came and I did my ritual alone. Once again I was meant to be celebrating Yule with a friend but after warning her I still felt ill we decided it was best to meet another time.

I have my own witch’s workroom now and it’s taking shape the way I want it. I bought a lovely green tapestry of the world tree to hang up on the back wall. My frame drum hangs above my altar like a large full moon. I still need to properly lay out the ancestor shrine. I love having a large space to work in!

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On the night of the Winter Solstice I burned palo santo in my witch room. The smoke cleansing away anything negative. Cleansing the self, and pleasing the spirits. I sprinkled rose water and bathed my palms in it and anointed my crown, forehead, throat and heart. I grounded myself, my roots journeying deep into the rich black earth deep below.

I created a sacred space, calling forth my blood ancestors and the Mighty Dead, calling forth my spirits. I beat my drum to welcome each of them in, the sandalwood incense swirls around me burning as an offering. I lay down my drum and wait patiently, listening.

The messages come, they tell me things I already know but have neglected; that winter is a time for rest and I have been burning my candle at both ends. They tell me my projects can wait, that I must be patient and I must look within and reflect and conserve my energy. I am a part of nature and must take inspiration from the natural world. I give thanks for these words of wisdom and light the pine candle on the altar.

I light the candle for my brother, telling him he will never be forgotten and to let the candle light his way. A couple of friends requested some help so I light candles for them too, adding a few herbs for their needs. They burn bright and clear – a good sign.

I burn a small amount of mugwort and wormwood and breathe it in to aid me in seeing. I shuffled the deck asking for messages to come through and with each shuffle three cards fall out. The meanings come to me clearly and quickly and I write them down.

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I spend a few moments reflecting on what I have learned this night, and what this season means for me. Then it is time to give thanks to the spirits, the ancestors and the Mighty Dead, and I say farewell to the beat of my drum and close my sacred space.

I spend the rest of the evening having a solstice meal with my loving boyfriend, of homemade lentil and vegetable soup and some melted brie bites, sausage rolls, mulled wine and chocolate Yule log. So good! I take a meal and glass of wine up to my altar and place it there for the ancestors and spirits in thanks and let the candles on the altar burn down. The Cailleach received some stollen and a glass of bourbon.

A friend of mine posted a Yule gift which I remembered last thing and opened – “Skin Spirits” by Lupa which I can’t wait to read. I am lucky to have such good friends.

Then my boyfriend and I do some crafts, I finished off a wand I was working on by woodburning some symbols onto it, and sewing up a little red bag with leftover fabric. My stitching skills need some work but it’s coming along better.

After all the work I have done it’s time to relax. I reward myself with a cup of mulled wine and immerse myself in folk tales brought to life by watching Grimm.

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May you be cosy and safe this winter. May your needs be met. May you always have food and drink and a safe place to rest your head ❤

slàinte mhath!

The Wheel Turns

This year has been a challenging one. It seems we’ve all had to face some battle and experienced some loss. It is The Dark Year as Sarah Anne Lawless put it.

My partner and I had been trying to find ways to live together. We both applied for numerous jobs so we could be together, and it was a year long struggle before we achieved it. It had been upsetting and frustrating when we thought we were stuck at square one. It was heartbreaking having to say goodbye at the end of each weekend. But finally he managed to get a job here, although that in itself was an annoyance; it took ages to finalise.

Then just before Samhain I received some bad news. My big brother had died. It was a complete shock to everyone. I hadn’t seen him in a number of years, life drifted us apart. But I always thought I’d see him again someday.  He had his demons, and he made bad choices in his life, but he was a good man with a kind heart. He never judged anyone, though plenty judged him. He had a great sense of humour and was always clowning around and making people laugh. He left behind his daughters and two grandchildren. My siblings and I are devastated beyond words.  I can’t believe we will never hear his laughter again.

His funeral service was lovely and we all gave him a great send off with a traditional Scottish bagpiper at his local church. Sometimes it takes a funeral to bring a family closer together, as terrible as that sounds it has been true in my case. My sisters and I are closer than we used to be, we’re making a better effort to communicate with each other. Now from my brother’s death I have also gained nieces. I hadn’t seen them since they were tiny children, and now they are all mostly grown up.

Then to add to the difficulty of this year, my partner and I moved into a new home and moving house is stressful enough in itself. I honestly don’t think I could have had the strength alone to see everything through. I am fortunate that I have the support of my partner, my family and my friends. They anchored me to reality.

For Samhain I had a small private ceremony. I carved a tumshie and my partner carved a pumpkin. I lit a candle for my ancestors, and for my big brother. I prayed that he would find peace. I prayed that he would be received by my Aunt and Nana in spirit, that they would care for him and comfort him.

 

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Rest well big brother, till we meet again.

Cha bhith a leithid ann tuilleadh 

 

 

The Witch in Wildcat Country

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Clan Macpherson motto and badge

 

A few days ago myself and my boyfriend took a trip to wildcat country (Badenoch and Strathspey), in particular Newtonmore.

Newtonmore is the land of Clan Macpherson, a clan I have ties to through my father. As a small child I grew up listening to the tales of the Macphersons; of the outlaw James Macpherson – a Scottish Robin Hood to some, an outlaw freebooter to others,  and the tales of Cluny Macpherson living in Cluny’s cave as he hid from the redcoats after the ’45 Jacobite defeat. I used to sit crossed legged on the floor in front of the fireplace,  my hands cradling my chin as I waited to hear more of my father’s stories. He was very passionate about his clan roots, and Macpherson is but one clan we can identify with. Since tracing my family tree, I’ve discovered I have ties to Frasers and Macleods also. I have some Irish roots through my maternal grandmother also

I love travelling in the highlands, I love seeing the mountains and heather-covered hillsides, I love seeing the little rivulets of water streaming down them and the tiny streams flowing through the landscape. I love seeing the mists and clouds kissing the top of the munros. It feels like such a raw and wild landscape and it makes my heart soar every time I see it. This land sings through my veins, it whispers to me of songs and stories and battles; of families huddled together by fireside, of the indomitable spirit of the Scottish people living and thriving on such a wild and harsh landscape. There is magic there in every rock and river, every bush and tree and wild flower, there is a charge in the air and it feels as though you have entered a different world.

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I was so excited to be in Newtonmore, the land of my ancestors. My father once visited here to go to the Clan Macpherson museum many years before I was born. He passed away when I was a teenager, so coming to Newtonmore felt like a way I could also connect with him. I am a witch who venerates my ancestors so coming to Newtonmore allowed me to connect more with them and discover more about myself.

We stopped off at a cafe on Main street first for a bit of lunch then walked down to the Clan Macpherson museum. We were greeted by a jolly and pleasant curator named Ruiseart, who spotted my pentacle necklace and questioned me about it. I felt a bit put on the spot at first, wondering if I should declare my pagan practice, but I needn’t have hesitated as it turns out he is also pagan! We had a good chat about our paths and it was a nice surprise meeting another like minded person.

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The first display I saw showed Jamie Macpherson’s broken fiddle and a replica of the two-handed sword he was said to wield. My father had been here decades before viewing this very fiddle. I felt both happiness and slight melancholy seeing it. I wished I could have visited this place with him. I wished I could have experienced this trip with him. But instead I got to experience it with another very important man in my life – my boyfriend, who wasn’t as enrapt  with the museum since he has no personal ties to this clan. Still he brought me to Newtonmore and he knew how important it was for me and I absolutely love him for it.

After the Clan Macpherson museum we walked down to the Highland Folk Museum –  an open air museum giving a taste of how highland people lived from 1700s to 1960s. They have over 30 historical buildings on display including an 1930’s sweet shop, an old post office, a working croft, a blackhouse and smokehouse, as well as an outdoor farm.

It was a roasting hot day with temperatures reaching up to 30 °C! Don’t listen to what everyone says about it always raining in Scotland, because we do have some gorgeous summer weather at times. Me and my man walked about in that temperature for well over an hour, seeking shade in the pine forest where we could. I wanted a piece of this land to take home with me, so I picked up a small rock and a plucked a piece of heather growing abundantly around me.

After a quick stop at the cafe and then the gift shop it was time to get back on the road for the long drive home. As much as the heat was unbearable I still loved the journey, I spoke silent prayers of thanks to the spirits of the land, to the hills and mountains, to the spirits of water and heather.

One of the first things I did as I got home was to to put the rock and sprig of heather on my ancestor altar and whisper a thank you to my ancestors, giving thanks for the love of generations before which gave me life and for gifting me a strong will and indomitable spirit.

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Creag Dhubh (The Black Rock) as seen from the Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore.

Beannachd leibh x

 

 

 

 

 

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