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.

 

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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!

Nicnevin

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A couple of years ago I contributed to Naming the Goddess by Moon Books with my essay about Nicnevin. Now, for a little Samhain treat, I thought I would publish my article here for people to read. Enjoy!

 

Nicnevin with her nymphes, in number anew
With charms from Caitness and Chanrie of Ross
Whose cunning consists in casting a clew”

– Alexander Montgomerie in his Flyting Betwixt Polwart and Mongomery

Nicnevin (sometimes Nicneven or Nicnevan) is a Queen of the fairies or the Queen of Elphame within Scottish Folklore. She rules the unseelie court of Alba, unusual creatures, spirits and nymphs. She is very much an otherworldly deity associated with witchcraft and necromancy and she has been connected to several other deities with similar attributes.

Her name derives from the Gaelic surname Neachneohain meaning “daughter(s) of the divine” and/or “daughter(s) of Scathach” . NicNaoimhein meaning “daughter of the little saint”.

The use of the name was first recorded c.1585, in Montgomerie’s Flyting, and also given to a woman condemned to death for Witchcraft: Kate McNiven (Scotland: Myth, Legend & Folklore, Stuary McHardy, Luath Press 1999.)

“This name, generally given to the Queen of the Fairies, was probably bestowed upon her [Kate McNiven] on account of her crimes.” Pref. to Law’s Memor. xxviii, N. (Supplement to the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language: Volume Two by John Jamieson).

Nicnevin has been conflated with the Gyre Carling, Black Annis, The Cailleach, Habetrot and has also been called the Scottish Hecate. We can infer from these connections that her domain is primarily magic, witchcraft and her role as Queen of the fairies, she connected to the realm of the dead and necromancy. She is known as a hag and giantess, however both The Cailleach and Habetrot have been known to transform into younger more beautiful versions of themselves, and it can be said Nicnevin also has the power of shape shifting into a young and beautiful form. She is a goddess who moves between the worlds,

She has been called the Bone Mother. She is among those who take part in The Wild Hunt. Nicnevin flies through the air accompanied by flocks of honking geese, and geese are among those classed as psychopomps.” (The Weiser Field Guide to Witches, Judika Illes.)

By examining some of those she is often compared to we will gain a much better understanding of Nicnevin’s domain. To begin with there is the Gyre Carling, gyre possibly originates from the Norse gýgr meaning “ogress” and carlin/carling is used in both Scots and English and translates as “old woman”. So the Gyre Carline is understood to be a crone like figure, an ogress/giantess. The word carlin has also been used to describe a witch, a link to the supernatural. She is much maligned as a giant hag with a taste for the flesh of good Christian men as mentioned in The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy (1508) and the poem The Gyre Carling mentioned in the Bannatyne MS.

It is interesting to consider that the terms Nicnevin and Gyre Carlin were both used to describe a senior witch, so this may not simply be a description of cronehood, but representative of rank and power within a witch cult. As mentioned by Sir Walter Scott in Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830), “After midnight the sorceress Marian

MacIngarach, the chief priestess or Nicneven of the company”

[Mother Nicneven] This was the name given to the grand Mother Witch, the very Hecate of Scottish popular superstition. Her name was bestowed, in one or two instances, upon sorceresses, who were held to resemble her by their superior skill in “Hell’s black grammar.” The Abbot, Sir Walter Scott, 1871.

Nicneven has been called the Scottish Hekate in the works of Sir Walter Scott, and he often uses the terms Nicniven and Hekate interchangeably as though they are one and the same. Scott uses these terms to describe the head of a Scottish covine (coven) of witches practising necromancy in Letter V of his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830).

Hekate is widely known as the Greek goddess of witchcraft, the crossroads, the night and she has connections to the fairy realm and realm of the dead – attributes also associated with Nicnevin so it’s not surprising she is referred to as the Scottish Hekate.

Nicnevin has also been aligned with The Cailleach, and both are Scottish deities described as giantesses and hag-like. It has also been suggested that Nicnevin means daughter of [Ben] Nevis, as Nic means daughter of, and Neven linked to Nevis, thus linking this goddess to The Cailleach as Ben Nevis is her seat of power (Visions of The Cailleach, Sorita d’Este and David Rankine).

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It is said Nicnevin does have a consort but no name is given, and I’ve found no historical content of this nature. It is possible that this is a modern concept to fit in with western witchcraft and of the goddess/consort duality.

In modern practice Nicnevin is believed to ride out on The Wild Hunt at Samhuinn Eve as The Queen of Elphame with her spirits and mysterious creatures, whereas others say her sacred days are 9th and 11th November. Yule or Midwinter is also said to be sacred to her. Nicnevin can be called upon for aid in otherworldly travel, communicating with spirits, protection at night, and pretty much everything within the domain of witchcraft.

I’ve found no specific places or sites sacred to her, there is a folkloric belief that one of her sacred sites is Tomnahurich Hill, on the outskirts of Inverness. However I feel as she is so closely associated with the The Cailleach, Gyre Carling and Black Annis then their sacred sites can be attributed to Nicnevin also. It is worth considering all these deities may in fact be one and the same and their names have changed throughout the duration of history. Another place of interest linked loosely to Nicnevin is Kate McNiven’s Stane which is a solitary standing stone believed to once be part of a stone circle, found at Knock of Crieff (Scotland: Myth, Legend & Folklore, Stuary McHardy, Luath Press 1999.)

From what we have examined it is apparent Nicnevin is a multi-faceted deity with a far reaching domain and yet she still exudes so much mystery, for not only is she a goddess but also a fairy queen. She is a goddess of transformation and all things in the realm of witchcraft. She is queen, she is hag, she is beauty and she is power. Her mysteries are waiting to be explored, and perhaps if you look to the skies from the safety of your home on Samhuinn Eve, you will be lucky to see the Queen of Elphame ride out with her party.

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Queen of the Bad Fairies by Brian Froud.

Good health and blessings this Samhain night.

Naming the Goddess – Moon Books

“Then a clear Companie came soon after closs,
Nicneven with her Nymphs, in number anew,
With Charms from Caitness and Chanrie in Ross,
Whose Cunning consists in casting a Clew…”

– Flyting Betwixt Polwart and Montgomery.

-Alexander Montgomerie

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A wee bit of shameless self-promotion

Naming the Goddess is an anthology written by over eighty adherents and scholars of Goddess spirituality, merging what we historically know of Goddesses and the personal gnosis of those who practice a Goddess based path. The first part of the book examines goddess culture and archetypes and the second part is a range of essays singular goddesses ranging from Aine to Yinggara.

This book also contains my essay about “Nicnevin” a Scottish Faerie Queen and deity linked to magic and witchcraft, necromancy, spirits and the otherworld. She is the ruler of the Unseelie Court of Alba, and has similarities to other deities such as The Cailleach and even nicknamed the Scottish Hekate in the works of Sir Walter Scott.

She is a fascinating deity, and her night is soon approaching on Samhuinn Eve and I will be incorporating offerings to her on the evening.

If you get the chance to read the book, feel free to drop me a line, would love to hear from you 🙂

I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers

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Image from Tumblr

Well the referendum results did not go the way I hoped they would. Still on the positive side the whole experience has opened up the eyes of the people in Scotland. No more political apathy, people are giving a damn about their country and around me I see petitions being signed and people campaigning for change. It’s wonderful to see.

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Autumn is finally here and it’s one of my favourite seasons. It took a little longer for the leaves to change this time around, but now there are reds, golds and coppers carpeting the ground like jewels. There are mists in the mornings and the scent of damp earth and wood smoke in the air. It makes me feel more alive and I see the change in people around me as I watch them come alive also.

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Balgay Park

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Mists over the Dundee Law

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Birch tree with fungus like little fairy steps

I met up with a lovely witchy friend over a pumpkin spice latte and he gave me this amazing witchy box of goodies at a time when I was feeling a bit bleh. It cheered me up immensely.

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He really did spoil me with this box of wonders. Inside was a box of chocolates, the wildwood tarot wrapped in a silk scarf, a jar of hedgerow chutney, a book on hedgerow cooking and a book of Scottish witches, some dried sprigs of rosemary, a piece of high john the conqueror root, coconut incense sticks and a handmade incense holder plus an autumnal woodwick candle.

I’ve been spending a lot of evenings wrapped up cosy listening to The Pierces new album Creation, reading books with the sounds of the woodwick candle crackling like a fire in the background and filling the room with the scent of spices. Everyone needs one of these candles. Magical.

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Books books and books. I’ve got a stack of books on folklore, herbalism and the occult to get through this autumn (so I can buy more!). I’ve been addicted to the new Outlander show and started reading the books, currently on book four. James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser, mm mmm. That’s all I’m saying 😉

I was meant to be doing a beginners Scottish Gaelic class but sadly it was cancelled due to not enough numbers. Hopefully they will reschedule in February. I did some of the class last year so I know the basics, but in the mean time I will be working my way through Beag air Bheag on the BBC website, Learn Gaelic and old videos on Youtube of Speaking our Language. I’ve still got the lessons and audio clips from last year’s class so I will work my way through those too. I would love to be fluent and to do my spells and rituals in Gaelic.

I also plan to acquire more skill with knitting. So far I can cast on and do the knit stitch, but I’m not great at fixing my own mistakes or following patterns. So for now I think I will make a plain scarf with just the knit stitch. I’ve always wanted to make my own clothes. Tis the season for cosy knitwear after all.

Speaking of keeping cosy it’s been cold at the office at work so I’ve ordered these little beauties from HandsTime on Etsy so I can type and have cosy hands.

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I’ve not done nearly as much foraging as I intended this year but I did manage to get some rowan berries for charm making and elderberries for chutney. Both are in the freezer at the moment until I have all the necessary ingredients available. I’ve heard frozen elderberries are easier to remove from the stalk.

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As for witchery, I’ve mostly been doing spontaneous magic using whatever I have to hand at the time and the results have been very quick, as it’s fuelled by the moment. But I’ve been meaning to get studying and practising more in a structured basis, so for October I’ll be doing one month of magic. Each week I will be going over topics and expanding my knowledge and experience of them. Week one is going over sigil work and energy work. Week two will be psychometry and palmistry, week three is glamours and hedgecrossing, week four is weather work and dream incubation. I’m looking forward to recording my experiences.

Samhain is approaching and I plan to celebrate it over a three day period from 30th -1st. On the day itself I will be in Edinburgh with friends at the Samhuinn Fire Festival, I can’t wait 😀

In the mean time I intend to read more books and  drink more of these

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Pumpkin Spice Latte – I am so addicted to these right now. A mug of unbridled joy.

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh!

Midsummer & Wildcrafting

It’s been a busy June month for me, I don’t know about you guys but I feel this summer season is just whizzing past and it won’t be long until it’s the knitwear and soup season of Autumn (which I’m looking forward to).

I’ve recently had one of my essays published in an anthology by Moon Books, called Witchcraft Today – 60 years on. The anthology is out to commemorate the 60 year anniversary of Gerald Gardner’s book Witchcraft Today. It was printed at a perfect time, as recently a blue plaque was placed at Gardner’s old home in Highcliffe to commemorate him as the father of modern witchcraft.  My wee essay is about how I took a step onto the path of witchcraft and where it has led me, so far. My journey from solitary to coven practice, which was the case at the time of writing though now I’m back to being solitary. I haven’t gotten through the whole book yet, as I’ve got a huge pile of things I still need to read, but there are some fascinating essays which have caught my eye 🙂

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A friend and I spent the full moon on Friday 13th June taking a pilgrimage up to a local hilltop cemetery, where we were sheltered by three tree spirits as we worked our rite. The heavens with impeccable timing opened up and thunder rumbled in the background –  the perfect background music to witchcraft, no? 😉 Well we got completely soaked, but it didn’t bother us. It worked well with the purpose of our rite and it reminded me of how much I loved being out in the rain as a kid.

 

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Then at midsummer I worked a solitary ritual then had a long walk outside to go foraging. There was tons of elderflower so I felt inspired to make some cordial this year. I’m a responsible forager, I make sure I never harvest more than around 10% so I leave plenty of the plant left for growth and to provide food for wildlife. I also make sure I ask permission and leave some sort of offering to the spirit of the plant. This time however I’d forgotten to bring the usual offerings, so I used what I had to give. A little bit of saliva on the bark, “some of me, for some of thee”.

 

Going foraging seems to be a great conversation starter with passers by wondering what you’re doing, and it delights me to see that they find it fascinating and never knew it could be so simple. I hope I have inspired them in some way.

 

I adapted the recipe from the River Cottage website: http://www.rivercottage.net/recipes/elderflower-cordial/ I used less sugar and only one lemon and one orange.  The next day I strained the brew then heated it in a pan and added the sugar and orange and lemon juices and then (carefully) poured into sterilised bottles. I couldn’t wait for it to cool so of course I had to sample some mixed with soda water, and it was truly beautiful, a perfect summery drink. I took some into work for my colleagues to try and it seemed to be a big hit with them too 🙂 I will be making more next summer.

 

 

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I hope you all had a wonderful midsummer 🙂

 

Slàinte mhath!