Hear the Hag’s voice

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Tumshie lantern

This is a time of great transition for me as Samhain approaches, I will be leaving my home of 12 years to live in an much bigger home with my beloved. So begins the nightmare of packing up!

I laid out my decorations, it’s as much of a spiritual time for me as well as a time to get fun and festive. The skull lanterns and black candles are laid out, the pumpkin banner is stretched across the fireplace and I will be baking pumpkin spice loaf and carving tumshie and pumpkin lanterns. I just might write another blog post about my Samhain revelries.

I did a brief interview with BBC Radio Scotland Out of Doors programme, the link is below, and only keeps on iplayer for 30 days. I’m working on getting a more permanent link arranged on my blog. Skip to 1 hour and 11 mins to hear me:

BBC Radio Scotland Out of Doors

In the meantime folks be good to one another, hold your loved ones close and keep cosy this season.

Slàinte mhath!

Celebrating Imbolc

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Bride’s cross

 

Last night I met up with my local pagan moot to celebrate Imbolc. Braving the harsh wind and rain from Storm Henry, we gathered and huddled inside the building clutching steaming cups of tea and coffee.

We gathered around the altar, gazing into the candle representing Bride’s hearth fire, with Bride in her bed overlooking our circle. A motley crew of pagans; among our party was a heathen, two animist folk witches, a green witch and a kemetic witch. Yet despite our different paths and beliefs we met common ground and came together to celebrate the season. We all took turns talking about what this time of year meant for us. For me it is as though I were a bear, slowly coming out of a spiritual hibernation. Winter makes me retreat, hermit-like and I store my energy inwards to help me focus on the mundane tasks at hand.

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Bride in her bed

But as soon as Imbolc approaches I feel the need to go forth like a seedling bursting through the cold, damp soil towards the promise of the sun. The inner fires within me burn and rise, and I feel the aching need to get back into my craft and socialise, as well as plot and plan projects over springtime. Bride has come, and She renews us, giving us the vitality needed to break out of the lackluster winter darkness.

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Moot Imbolc Altar

We cleansed ourselves with incense and blessed water with purifying herbs, using a bird’s foot as an aspergillum. We each lit a candle from the central hearth fire, and later snuffed it out to be relit, taking Bride’s fire into our homes. The moot co-ordinator Ffyona guided us through a seasonal meditation and I felt myself relaxing, sinker deeper and deeper into it, the imagery filling my senses. When it was done I felt like I’d woken up from a nice long nap. Using the energy we’d gathered, and the light from Bride’s hearth flame we sent out healing to loved ones and took some of the healing within us too.

Then after all the energy work, we laughed and chatted and feasted together 🙂

Although we were a small gathering this time round, I can attest to the success of our moot as I was one of the co-founders. The moot is now running in its fifth year and going strong.

A moot is only successful when it’s members contribute. So please folks, support your moots and gatherings. They are run by hard working volunteers with busy lives,  so although showing up to moots is great, perhaps you can also offer to lend a hand? If you have a skill, or a talent, put it to use 🙂 Moot co-ordinators don’t want to be running the show 24/7, the point of a moot is to create a safe community for members to get to know others of a like mind and for celebration, but also as a place of learning. We all have something we can contribute to the community.

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My Imbolc celebration has turned into a two day event. This evening I relit my hearth flame from the candle I used at the moot to welcome Bride into the home, an offering of milk was placed on my altar and then I made some Bride’s crosses out of pipe cleaners.

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I am looking forward most to the days lasting longer and can’t wait to get out foraging again when new things start popping up out of the soil.

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Bride’s hearth flame

Wishing you all a very blessed Imbolc, Là Fhèill Brìghde and Candlemas.

slàinte mhath!

 

Traditional Scottish Divination

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The Three Witches by Henry Fusili

 

Being Scottish a couple of hundred years ago was no easy task especially if you lived somewhere remote like the Highlands and Islands. Many folk struggled to make ends meet and it also resulted in more people gravitating towards cities to earn a living or moving to the lowlands where there was plenty of flat land and warmer temperatures for farming. The Highlands can be a harsh and unforgiving landscape which wasn’t always arable for farming, and long cold winters and disease could kill livestock. If one of your family became sick, you would have to travel miles before you could reach the nearest doctor.

Scottish folk were also very highly superstitious and held strong belief in the supernatural, particularly in witches, fairies, spirits and the Devil. Witches were said to steal milk, or blight crops which could in turn cause a family to starve. Fairies were known to cause illness and disease or steal away a healthy child. As seen in the Carmina Gadelica, Scottish folk would use prayers, chants and incantations when performing their day to day chores. It was essential for their survival, to protect themselves and what little they had.

When life seemed uncertain, many would perform their own divinations, or consult their local spaewife or seer. It wasn’t always about life and death situations, some people would consult methods of divination for fun or games. For serious matters they would consult one who had the gift of second sight for a more accurate reading.

Many Scots today still consult psychics, fortune tellers and mediums. My own Granny used to read palms and tea leaves. I myself use different methods of divination, and it is something that is practiced all over the world.

Listed below are some of the more traditional forms of Scottish divination.

The Frith

Quarter days were Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lammas (1st Nov, 1st Feb, 1st May, 1st August). These were considered the most powerful days in the Scottish year, considered to be holy. The first Monday of the Quarter, being dedicated to the Moon, was believed to share the same influences of the Quarter day itself, and was reckoned a day of good omen.

 The first Monday of the Quarter day was considered the most auspicious day for making the frith. This was a form of magical horoscope akin to the frett of the Norseman. The frith was a form of divination which allowed the frithir (augurer), to see into the unseen, in order to ascertain the whereabouts and the condition of the absent or the lost, whether man or beast.

Immediately before sunrise, the augurer, fasting, his head and feet bared and his eyes closed, went to the door of the house and stood on the threshold with a hand on each jamb. He began with an incantation or a ‘prayer to the God of the Unseen to show him his quest and grant him his augury’, and then, opening his eyes, looked steadfastly in front of him.  From the nature and position of objects within sight, he divined the facts of which knowledge was sought.

The possible signs were very numerous. For instance, a man standing meant health or recovery; a man lying down meant sickness; a woman standing, some untoward event; a woman passing or returning, a fairly good sign; a woman with red hair was unlucky; a woman with black, lucky; a woman with brown, still luckier. A bird on the wing was a good omen, particularly the lark or the dove; but the crow and the raven were exceptions. A cat was good for Mackintoshes, Macphersons, Cattenachs, and all other members of Clan Chattan; a pig or a boar, though a good omen for everybody, was particularly good for Campbells; and generally the totem animal was good for all members of the clan with which is was associated.

A variation of the ceremony is recorded in South Uist. ‘The frithir, or seer, says a “Hail Mary”… and then walks deiseil or sunwards round the house, his eyes being closed till he reaches the door-sill, when he opens them and looking through a circle made of his finger and thumb, judges of the general character of the omen by the first object on which his eye has rested.

-The Silver Bough, p.50-52, F. Marian McNeill.

 

Speal Bone Divination – Slinneanachd

An early form of divination used in Scotland was divination by speal bone (Slinneanachd). This was a shoulder blade of  mutton (sometimes other animals) used to foretell future events. The bone must be well scraped clean and no iron must touch it. Best to boil the bone to remove all flesh according to J.G Campbell (The Gaelic Otherworld).

In Lewis divination by means of  the blade-bone of a sheep was practised in the following manner. The shoulder-blade of a black sheep was procured by the inquirer into future events, and with this he went to see some reputed seer, who held the bone lengthwise before him and in the direction of the greatest length of the island. In this position the seer began to read the bone from some marks that he saw in it, and then oracularly declared what events to individuals or families were to happen. It is not very far distant that there were a host of believers in this method of prophecy.

-Isle of Lewis Folk-Lore (1895)

(The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland, Steve Roud).

Thomas Pennant journeyed through Scotland in 1769 and recorded information about the speal bone. He states that,

When Lord Loudon was obliged to retreat before the Rebels to the Isle of Skie, a common soldier, on the very moment the battle of Culloden was decided, proclamed (sic) the victory at that distance, pretending to have discovered the event by looking through the bone

– The Lore of Scotland, A guide to Scottish Legends. Sophie Kingshill.

 

Halloween/Samhain

Halloween was seen as one of the best times to perform divination, as the commonly held view was that the veil between worlds was thin, and it was much easier to consult spirits and receive clear messages during divination. Lay folk often performed divination games on Samhain without the need to consult a seer. For some perhaps it was just a fun game to play.

Luggie Bowls

Luggie Bowls is a Halloween divination game. Called luggie bowls because the bowl had a handle on either side resembling ears (lugs).

The player is blind-folded and picks a bowl. The one she picks will determine her romantic fate. One bowl full of clean water- you will marry within the year, one bowl of soapy water- you will marry an old, but rich man, and one bowl empty- you will never marry.

For a man if he picked a bowl of clean water he would be married to virgin, the bowl of dirty water meant married to a widow, an empty bowl meant no marriage would occur.

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Burning the sweetheart nuts

This divination was performed by unmarried people, to divine if they were destined to be with whoever they desired at the time. The person was to take two hazelnuts, one named after themself and the other named after the object of their affection. They are then placed in the embers of a fire, during which this charm is spoken:

“If you hate me spit and fly;
If you love me burn away.”

If the nuts jump from the heat then it foretells and unhappy future for the two people in question. If they burn quietly then the couple are seen as a good match for each other.

Salted Herring

It was a tradition on the Isle of Lewis to eat salted herring on Halloween in the hopes of dreaming of a future spouse that night.

Kail Stalks

The company set off for a field where they were blindfolded and moved across as they pulled kail stalks after dark. If the stalk was crooked or straight, long or short this would be the stature of their future spouse. Sometimes a lad and lass who were courting held hands and pulled a kail stalk together. If it had plenty of good rich earth around its roots their future would be prosperous (Scottish Festivals, Shiela Livingstone).

Sark Washing

In Shetland on Halloween, if a girl washed a man’s sark [shirt] in a burn [stream] where a funeral bier had crossed, and sang a certain song, the first to appear and grip the shirt would be her future husband.

Robert Burns’ poem Halloween (1786) depicted many types of divination most commonly used:

http://www.electricscotland.com/burns/halloween.html

Yuletide

Boys used holly for divination. They deliberately pricked their thumb with the sharp edges of the leaves and counted the drops of blood as they fell. Each drop of blood equalled a year of their lives and they would forecast when they would die.

(Scottish Festivals, Shield Livingstone)

 

Reading Tea Leaves and Palmistry
Although these practices did not originate in Scotland, it has been part of Scottish culture for centuries, most likely they were very popular methods used during the Victorian period.

It is clear that Halloween was the most favourable time of year to perform divinations, and in modern Paganism this is still the more favourable time of year to consult divinatory tools.

These are just some of the methods used, some have perhaps have died out over time as Scottish people become less superstitious/religious and more secular. Some of these traditional methods may be replaced by more modern methods over time. Some methods may have already been lost to time due to lack of documentation. But the world over people still consult mediums and psychics, tarot readers and other fortune tellers. The belief of there being people who are gifted with the second sight has not changed. In fact the practice of divination is open to everyone now, anyone can purchase a tarot deck and start learning.

Did you grow up around those who told fortunes? Do you have any stories about the types of divination common to where you live? I would be interested to hear your stories. Feel free to write them in the comments below 🙂

Slàinte!

 

 

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Scotland’s Favourite Son

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image from Google

Burns Night 25th January

Robert Burns also known as Scotland’s Favourite Son, The Bard, The Ploughman Poet and many other names, was a Scottish poet and lyricist. He is a big deal in Scotland, regarded as our national poet, and his fame has spread worldwide. He wrote his poems in the Scots language and many have been published in English to reach a wider audience.

Burns also collected folk songs throughout Scotland and adapted them. Many of you will have heard of Auld Lang Syne, the song traditionally sang at Hogmanay, we’ve Burns to thank for that.

Burns Night has effectively become a national day celebrating The Bard’s birthday, and is celebrated more widely than St Andrews Day which is Scotland’s national holiday. Many people will attend a Burns Supper which consists of a meal of haggis, neeps and tatties and whisky, toasts are made, and Burns’ poetry recited.

Today I will be reading some of my favourite Burns’ poems and songs and sharing a meal of haggis, neeps and tatties and a dram of whisky with my ancestors.

One of my favourite poems is Tam o’ Shanter. The poem is about a farmer making his way home drunk. As he rides home on his beloved horse Meg he comes across Alloway Kirk ablaze with light and full of witches and warlocks dancing and even the Devil himself.  He is chased by the witches and the Devil and races to make it across the bridge (it was known that the Devil and witches could not cross running water):

Tam o’ Shanter:

When chapman billies leave the street, 
And drouthy neibors, neibors, meet; 
As market days are wearing late, 
And folk begin to tak the gate, 
While we sit bousing at the nappy, 
An' getting fou and unco happy, 
We think na on the lang Scots miles, 
The mosses, waters, slaps and stiles, 
That lie between us and our hame, 
Where sits our sulky, sullen dame, 
Gathering her brows like gathering storm, 
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm. 

This truth fand honest Tam o' Shanter, 
As he frae Ayr ae night did canter: 
(Auld Ayr, wham ne'er a town surpasses, 
For honest men and bonie lasses). 

O Tam! had'st thou but been sae wise, 
As taen thy ain wife Kate's advice! 
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum, 
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum; 
That frae November till October, 
Ae market-day thou was na sober; 
That ilka melder wi' the Miller, 
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller; 
That ev'ry naig was ca'd a shoe on 
The Smith and thee gat roarin' fou on; 
That at the Lord's house, ev'n on Sunday, 
Thou drank wi' Kirkton Jean till Monday, 
She prophesied that late or soon, 
Thou wad be found, deep drown'd in Doon, 
Or catch'd wi' warlocks in the mirk, 
By Alloway's auld, haunted kirk. 

Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet, 
To think how mony counsels sweet, 
How mony lengthen'd, sage advices, 
The husband frae the wife despises! 

But to our tale: Ae market night, 
Tam had got planted unco right, 
Fast by an ingle, bleezing finely, 
Wi reaming swats, that drank divinely; 
And at his elbow, Souter Johnie, 
His ancient, trusty, drougthy crony: 
Tam lo'ed him like a very brither; 
They had been fou for weeks thegither. 
The night drave on wi' sangs an' clatter; 
And aye the ale was growing better: 
The Landlady and Tam grew gracious, 
Wi' favours secret, sweet, and precious: 
The Souter tauld his queerest stories; 
The Landlord's laugh was ready chorus: 
The storm without might rair and rustle, 
Tam did na mind the storm a whistle. 

Care, mad to see a man sae happy, 
E'en drown'd himsel amang the nappy. 
As bees flee hame wi' lades o' treasure, 
The minutes wing'd their way wi' pleasure: 
Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious, 
O'er a' the ills o' life victorious! 

But pleasures are like poppies spread, 
You seize the flow'r, its bloom is shed; 
Or like the snow falls in the river, 
A moment white - then melts for ever; 
Or like the Borealis race, 
That flit ere you can point their place; 
Or like the Rainbow's lovely form 
Evanishing amid the storm. - 
Nae man can tether Time nor Tide, 
The hour approaches Tam maun ride; 
That hour, o' night's black arch the key-stane, 
That dreary hour he mounts his beast in; 
And sic a night he taks the road in, 
As ne'er poor sinner was abroad in. 

The wind blew as 'twad blawn its last; 
The rattling showers rose on the blast; 
The speedy gleams the darkness swallow'd; 
Loud, deep, and lang, the thunder bellow'd: 
That night, a child might understand, 
The deil had business on his hand. 

Weel-mounted on his grey mare, Meg, 
A better never lifted leg, 
Tam skelpit on thro' dub and mire, 
Despising wind, and rain, and fire; 
Whiles holding fast his gude blue bonnet, 
Whiles crooning o'er some auld Scots sonnet, 
Whiles glow'rin round wi' prudent cares, 
Lest bogles catch him unawares; 
Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh, 
Where ghaists and houlets nightly cry. 

By this time he was cross the ford, 
Where in the snaw the chapman smoor'd; 
And past the birks and meikle stane, 
Where drunken Charlie brak's neck-bane; 
And thro' the whins, and by the cairn, 
Where hunters fand the murder'd bairn; 
And near the thorn, aboon the well, 
Where Mungo's mither hang'd hersel'. 
Before him Doon pours all his floods, 
The doubling storm roars thro' the woods, 
The lightnings flash from pole to pole, 
Near and more near the thunders roll, 
When, glimmering thro' the groaning trees, 
Kirk-Alloway seem'd in a bleeze, 
Thro' ilka bore the beams were glancing, 
And loud resounded mirth and dancing. 

Inspiring bold John Barleycorn! 
What dangers thou canst make us scorn! 
Wi' tippenny, we fear nae evil; 
Wi' usquabae, we'll face the devil! 
The swats sae ream'd in Tammie's noddle, 
Fair play, he car'd na deils a boddle, 
But Maggie stood, right sair astonish'd, 
Till, by the heel and hand admonish'd, 
She ventur'd forward on the light; 
And, wow! Tam saw an unco sight! 

Warlocks and witches in a dance: 
Nae cotillon, brent new frae France, 
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels, 
Put life and mettle in their heels. 
A winnock-bunker in the east, 
There sat auld Nick, in shape o' beast; 
A towzie tyke, black, grim, and large, 
To gie them music was his charge: 
He screw'd the pipes and gart them skirl, 
Till roof and rafters a' did dirl. - 
Coffins stood round, like open presses, 
That shaw'd the Dead in their last dresses; 
And (by some devilish cantraip sleight) 
Each in its cauld hand held a light. 
By which heroic Tam was able 
To note upon the haly table, 
A murderer's banes, in gibbet-airns; 
Twa span-lang, wee, unchristened bairns; 
A thief, new-cutted frae a rape, 
Wi' his last gasp his gab did gape; 
Five tomahawks, wi' blude red-rusted: 
Five scimitars, wi' murder crusted; 
A garter which a babe had strangled: 
A knife, a father's throat had mangled. 
Whom his ain son of life bereft, 
The grey-hairs yet stack to the heft; 
Wi' mair of horrible and awfu', 
Which even to name wad be unlawfu'.
Three lawyers tongues, turned inside oot,
Wi' lies, seamed like a beggars clout,
Three priests hearts, rotten, black as muck,
Lay stinkin, vile in every neuk.

As Tammie glowr'd, amaz'd, and curious, 
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious; 
The Piper loud and louder blew, 
The dancers quick and quicker flew, 
They reel'd, they set, they cross'd, they cleekit, 
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit, 
And coost her duddies to the wark, 
And linkit at it in her sark! 

Now Tam, O Tam! had they been queans, 
A' plump and strapping in their teens! 
Their sarks, instead o' creeshie flainen, 
Been snaw-white seventeen hunder linen!- 
Thir breeks o' mine, my only pair, 
That ance were plush o' guid blue hair, 
I wad hae gien them off my hurdies, 
For ae blink o' the bonie burdies! 
But wither'd beldams, auld and droll, 
Rigwoodie hags wad spean a foal, 
Louping an' flinging on a crummock. 
I wonder did na turn thy stomach. 

But Tam kent what was what fu' brawlie: 
There was ae winsome wench and waulie 
That night enlisted in the core, 
Lang after ken'd on Carrick shore; 
(For mony a beast to dead she shot, 
And perish'd mony a bonie boat, 
And shook baith meikle corn and bear, 
And kept the country-side in fear); 
Her cutty sark, o' Paisley harn, 
That while a lassie she had worn, 
In longitude tho' sorely scanty, 
It was her best, and she was vauntie. 
Ah! little ken'd thy reverend grannie, 
That sark she coft for her wee Nannie, 
Wi twa pund Scots ('twas a' her riches), 
Wad ever grac'd a dance of witches! 

But here my Muse her wing maun cour, 
Sic flights are far beyond her power; 
To sing how Nannie lap and flang, 
(A souple jade she was and strang), 
And how Tam stood, like ane bewithc'd, 
And thought his very een enrich'd: 
Even Satan glowr'd, and fidg'd fu' fain, 
And hotch'd and blew wi' might and main: 
Till first ae caper, syne anither, 
Tam tint his reason a thegither, 
And roars out, "Weel done, Cutty-sark!" 
And in an instant all was dark: 
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied. 
When out the hellish legion sallied. 

As bees bizz out wi' angry fyke, 
When plundering herds assail their byke; 
As open pussie's mortal foes, 
When, pop! she starts before their nose; 
As eager runs the market-crowd, 
When "Catch the thief!" resounds aloud; 
So Maggie runs, the witches follow, 
Wi' mony an eldritch skreich and hollow. 

Ah, Tam! Ah, Tam! thou'll get thy fairin! 
In hell, they'll roast thee like a herrin! 
In vain thy Kate awaits thy comin! 
Kate soon will be a woefu' woman! 
Now, do thy speedy-utmost, Meg, 
And win the key-stone o' the brig;
There, at them thou thy tail may toss, 
A running stream they dare na cross. 
But ere the keystane she could make, 
The fient a tail she had to shake! 
For Nannie, far before the rest, 
Hard upon noble Maggie prest, 
And flew at Tam wi' furious ettle; 
But little wist she Maggie's mettle! 
Ae spring brought off her master hale, 
But left behind her ain grey tail: 
The carlin claught her by the rump, 
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump. 

Now, wha this tale o' truth shall read, 
Ilk man and mother's son, take heed: 
Whene'er to Drink you are inclin'd, 
Or Cutty-sarks rin in your mind, 
Think ye may buy the joys o'er dear; 
Remember Tam o' Shanter's mare.

 

slàinte mhath!

 

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Further reading and links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Burns

http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/burns_night_running_order.shtml

http://www.scotland.org/whats-on/burns-night/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/works/tam_o_shanter/ (excellent link where you can hear the poem recited by the actor Brian Cox)

Winter Solstice Wishes

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Whatever your beliefs and whatever you choose to celebrate:

may you have joy and peace,

may you have plenty of food to eat and drink to quench your thirst,

may you have warm hugs from people you love.

may there be a roof above your head and a warm place to sleep,

may you truly know and celebrate how wonderful and unique you are,

and may all your needs be met.

Solstice Blessings  ♥

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

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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!

A funeral for Summer, or how I celebrated Lughnasadh

ida-rentoul-outhwaite-illustrator

“The Little Witch” from Elves & Fairies by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1916)

I’m not a big fan of summer time, mostly because I get really tired and irritable in hot weather and I’m pasty white and burn easily. I need a constant cool breeze with my sunshine and a glass of Malibu and lemonade to go along with that thank you.

Scotland is known by most to be a dreich country, but we do get some lovely summer weather too. This season we’ve had an abundance of sunshine and a lack of rainfall but I know that’s all about to change when Autumn rolls in. The air will become crisp, there will be a scent of spice and wood smoke on the breeze, green will turn to russet, gold and copper. Then will come the early morning and evening mists and I will feel the sense of anticipation and excitement I usually do in the autumn, when you feel on the cusp of a new adventure, a new story about to unfold.

It will soon be time to go foraging, and there is a lovely crop of brambles beginning to ripen, the rowan trees becoming swollen with berries,the crab apples hanging off the boughs along with the deep purple jewels of elderberries waiting to be picked. I will be up to my elbows in jams and chutneys *happy sigh*

Myself and a few friends met up early to celebrate Lughnasadh, Some folk wait till the 1st Aug, some wait until the right astrological sign and others feel their way along with the seasons and by observing the signs of nature they decide when Lughnasadh is right for celebrating. We met up early because it was convenient for us to do so. Witches are nothing if not practical at times.

We walked up a nearby hill and heard a buzzard’s cry as it flew above, and saw a red squirrel scurry up a tree. I love those little guys, they’re so adorable and I’m happy to see them thriving there.  We walked through the trees till we found a nice little spot to celebrate, with enough shelter so passers by wouldn’t see us.

For me the ritual was as much about the death of summer as well as the welcoming of autumn and we celebrated in an old cemetery none the less. We first lay down offerings to the spirits of the land we stood upon, we made it known that we meant no harm or offence. Then we called upon our ancestors to be with us and bear witness. We honoured the spirit of the grain and named him John Barleycorn, we acknowledged his sacrifice when the grain was cut down, and in turn acknowledged the sacrifices we too have made and will make in our own lives in the days to come.

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I cast aside any self doubt, I sacrificed that part of me in the burning cauldron we encircled. I sacrificed my creative apathy, to encourage me to write more of the wonderful ideas I’d been having but for some reason could not muster up the drive to put down in writing. That will all change. The fire purifies and the fire destroys as it hungrily ate what fuel we gave it, the flames licking heavenward.

Then we acknowledged our new goals for the future, we wrote these on paper, and some committed these to the cauldron fire to help manifest their goals. I kept mine intact, so I could look at it each day and remind myself of my goals and dreams. Some goals are long term and they need to be carefully tended and lovingly nourished, a bit like growing a crop for next year’s harvest. Next Lughnasadh I will review my list and check what I have reaped, which goals survived the year and which ones fell to rot and that will tell me a lot about myself and what I’m willing to truly work hard for.

For guidance for the coming month we each pulled a rune stone from the bag, asking our ancestors to guide us, and I pulled out hagalaz. Not my favourite rune, I tend to associate it with crisis, destruction and difficult times ahead. Destruction isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some things need to be destroyed to make way for the new, and it’s fitting as it will help me break out of my creative apathy and get the drive to get things done.

The ritual came to an end, and the fire was extinguished and we laughed and chatted on the way back to my place where we feasted and laughed and chatted some more. There may have been some cackling involved too.

May your harvests be full of abundance and prosperity.

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Death to Summer! Let Autumn unfold, in hues of russet, copper and gold.

Slàinte mhor!

Addendum:

One of the lovely witches who took part also wrote a blog post about her experience :

http://ravayne04.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/lammas-sabbat-of-sacrifice/

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!

 

 

 

Shetland Style Bannocks

For me, I can be weel content,

To eat my bannock on the bent,

And kitchen’t wi’ fresh air;

O’ lang kail I can mak’ a feast,

And cantily baud up my crest

And laugh at dishes rare.

 

– Allan Ramsay, 1686 – 1758,  Scottish Makar (poet).

 

In Scotland a bannock is a type of bread or cake, which can sometimes resemble a scone, a tea cake or an oatcake. The recipes differ in each region. It is essentially a type of round flat bread cut into wedges.

Historically, specially made bannocks were used in rituals to mark the changing gaelic seasons.  As F. Marian McNeill states in The Scots Kitchen:

Oatcakes, prepared in a special way were used from time immemorial, in the rites of Beltane (May 1st, O.S.). Pennant (1769) writes: “Everyone takes a cake of oatmeal, upon which are raised nine square knobs, each dedicated to some particular being, the supposed preserver of their flocks and herds, or to some particular animal, the real destroyer of them. Each person turns his face to the fire, breaks off a knob, and flinging it over his shoulder, says: “This I give to thee, preserve thou my horses; this to thee, preserve thou my sheep,” and so on. After that, they use the same ceremony to the noxious animals: “This I give to thee, O Fox, spare thou my lambs; this to thee, O Hooded Crow, this to thee O Eagle!”

 

The Beltane bannock appears to be the last survivor of the old Highland Quarter Cakes; the bonnach Bride, St. Bride’s bannock, baked for the first day of spring; the bonnach Bealltain, Beltane bannock, baked for the first day of summer; the bonnach Lunastain, Lammas bannock, baked for the first day of Autumn; and the bonnach Samhthain, Hallowmas bannock, baked for the first day of winter.

– F. Marian McNeill, The Scot’s Kitchen.

 

I decided to try my hand at making Shetland style bannocks which is made using flour, buttermilk, cream of tartar and baking powder. This little video is a good guide to making them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=It2CNB61Vng

 

I made quite a few as some were to be used as a food offering to my ancestors, a couple to the wee folk and then some for me 🙂 I don’t have a girdle (griddle) to cook them on so I just used a dry frying pan on a low heat. They turned out quite well 🙂

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Most bannocks are to be eaten as a savoury food, but I’m a heretic and slathered mine in strawberry jam 😀

 

Beltane Revelry: Mirth and Magick at the Beltane Fires

            Oh, do not tell the priest our plight, 
               Or he would call it a sin; 
            But--we have been out in the woods all night, 
                A-conjuring Summer in! 
            And we bring you good news by word of mouth -- 
                Good news for cattle and corn -- 
            Now is the Sun come up from the south, 
                With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn! 

- From A Tree Song by Rudyard Kipling

 

I travelled to Edinburgh on May’s Eve with two fellow witches to celebrate Beltane at the Beltane Fire Festival on Calton Hill. I was last there in 2009, and I couldn’t wait to be there again.

The Beltane Fire Festival of today is inspired by the ancient Gaelic festival marking the start of summer. The festival has been running since 1988 and now thousands of people attend it each year. The Beltane Fire Society also run a Samhuinn Fire Festival and I plan to attend that one later in the year.

Before the festival we stopped off at a nice little gothic pub called Jekyll & Hyde for dinner and drinks.

 

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It was raining heavily outside, not the ideal weather for an outdoor festival lasting over 3 hours. So we put our witchy minds together and using a simple pub table candle and our intent we spent a few moments focusing on dry weather. The bar maid was standing nearby and must have noticed what we were doing, but she didn’t bat an eyelid. Well, she was wearing a t-shirt that said “Book of Spells” on it, so who knows? We got the giggles afterwards and joked about being the power of three, and both me and J joked how the bar maid could be our fourth. Yeah, I think we can quote The Craft word for word 😉

We walked a little tipsily to the Beltane Fires, and lo and behold the rain had stopped. As we queued to get in I could feel the excitement building up in me. All sorts of people were here, old and young, of all races and genders and walks of life. We followed a line of petrol fueled flames and animal masks onto the hill.

We walked to the acropolis which was already surrounded by hundreds of people, so there was no way of getting close to the front. However we managed to position ourselves so we could at least see some of what was going on. The hunting horn sounded, and the neid fire was lit, then came the beat of the drums and I felt the hairs on my arms stand up and the feeling of joy and excitement wash over me.

 

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The May Queen’s procession had begun followed by dozens of blazing torches and we all scrambled to see her, and follow her procession line. The three of us linked arms so as to not lose each other in the crowd. We followed the torches and the drumbeats to a fiery archway guarded by a huge fearsome red dragon, who gave way to the May Queen. The lusty red spirits represent the embodiment of desire and they performed as the rest of the procession moved on ahead.

 

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We watched some of the dancers perform, some using fire poi and lots of drumming. Some of the dancers represented elementals and others resembled animalistic earth spirits. The May Queen had her white painted shieldmaidens to protect her on her procession. The red spirits seemed to be everywhere, performing, dancing, playing with the fire, building up the desires of the crowd. The story line goes that the Green Man is kidnapped by the reds before he can be wed to the May Queen.

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We caught up with the procession as the white shieldmaidens free the Green Man. But he must die first as he sheds the last of his winter self. The May Queen revives him, with the heart’s beat of the drums and the warmth of the flames, one, twice, third time is the charm. He springs up as his youthful self. He dances and rejoices with his new found vitality, and then he see’s her once more. His saviour. Then they dance together and she crowns him. They are reunited with a kiss.

 

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They both lead the procession to the lighting of the Beltane Bonfire to herald in the summer.

 

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We decided to leave after that as we were frozen and the rain had come back on again. It was such a perfect night, and I can still feel the beat of the drums. My photos aren’t so great but here is a link to the photos taken by the Beltane Fire Society.

I hope you all had a lovely Beltane,

 

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh!

 

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Links:

https://www.facebook.com/beltanefiresociety

http://beltanefiresociety.wordpress.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calton_Hill

 

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