Payments to your spirits and gods 



Your spirits and gods demand your payment as soon as they have delivered on their side of any deal made.
They do not care if you have other things going on in your life, if you are late in offering their payment they will send not-so-gentle reminders that you owe them.

To give an example, I petitioned Bride for help in finding a new place to live. It was an urgent request as my boyfriend  moved in with me and my tiny flat wasn’t big enough for us and our stuff. I promised Bride that she would get a special space set up for her in the kitchen of our new home. 
We get a house straight away and move in a couple of days after signing the lease. Everyone knows moving home is stressful and keeps you busy. Unboxing years of stuff and books (oh so many books) takes time. So I did not set up her shrine space straight away. I said to myself I’d do that once I’ve settled in properly.

Bride saw things differently. Our gas boiler broke down about a week after moving in. It was November and it was freezing. The whole boiler system needed replaced and we went two weeks without central heating using shitty convector electric heaters which ran up our electricity bill.
I realised it looked like I hadn’t paid my due to Bride even though I had every intention of doing it. Action speaks louder however so I set up her shrine space once it clicked in my head. If I’d done this in the first place I’d have saved money on my electricity and wouldn’t have spent two weeks freezing my arse off during a Scottish winter. 
Pay your dues asap folks. Spirits and gods don’t like to wait..

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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.

unseelie-court

Queen of the Bad Fairies by Brian Froud.

Good health and blessings this Samhain night.

The Magic of Rowan

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When the days were still as deith,

An’ I couldna see the kye,

Though I’d mebbe hear their breith

I’ the mist oot-bye;

When I’d mind the lang grey een

O’ the warlock by the hill,

And sit flegged, like a wean,

Gin a whaup cried shrill;

Though the hert wad dee in me

At a fitstep on the floor,

There was aye the rowan tree

Wi’ its airm across the door.”

– The Silver Bough, Volume 1, F. Marian McNeill

 

The magic of the rowan tree has enchanted me since childhood. It seems to be a tree which marks the end of summer and beginning of autumn, with its red jewels drooping towards the earth. I’d felt a pull towards this tree long before I knew anything about witchcraft. Perhaps a wee bit of ancestral memory was passed down, as this tree is very important in Scottish folklore.

The rowan, rodden, or mountain ash – ‘the mystic tree whose scarlet berries were the ambrosial food of the Tuatha de Danann’ – may still be seen growing hard by many of our cairns, stone circles and other sites of pagan worship. As a potent charm against witchcraft and evil spells, it was used in many forms about the homestead – in fact, an old Scots word for the cross-beam in the chimney is rantree, a form of rowan tree, o which, as a lucky wood, it was commonly made. Rowan wood was also used for the distaff, the churn-staff, the peg of the cow shackle, the pin of the plough or water-mill… a rowan tree was commonly planted at the door of the homestead to ‘keep the witches away’.

-The Silver Bough, Volume 1. F. Marian McNeill.

In Highland life, a family’s livestock was often their only source of food and money and rowan charms were used to protect animals from bewitchment and mishap.The rowan tree was also shaped in the form of an arch over the byre door to protect cows, and on Quarter days a wand of rowan was placed above the lintels of the house and out-houses and a twig carried in the pocket for protection. A tree was often planted near a gate or front door of the property.

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One of the most popular pieces of Scottish folk magic is the rowan tree and red thread. An auld rhyme states:

“Rowan tree and red threid, Gar the witches tyne their speed.”

Two twigs of rowan were shaped like a cross and tied together with red thread and this was carried on one’s person for protection from witches and evil spells, or the evil eye.

This practice has a long history, having been recorded by James VI who wrote about the use of rowan charms in his book Daemonologie 1597. He noted that people protected their cattle against the evil eye by “knitting roun trees or sundriest kind of herbes to the haire and tailes of the goods (animals)”.  It is likely this practice dates back much further than 16th century.

In 1709, Thomas Pennant recorded that,

“The farmers carefully preserve their cattle against witchcraft by placing boughs of the mountain ash and honeysuckle in their cows’ houses on the 2nd of May.”

This practice was also seen well into the 19th century in the north-east of Scotland.

Red thread was also used alone by Highland women as a charm tied around the finger or wrist. The colour red was associated with blood and life force and having protective qualities.  Women would also wear a string of rowan berries as necklace for protection.

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The rowan trees outside my home are heavy with lots of bright red berries and I had a dream that the first fall of snow will come early this winter. Folklore suggests that an abundance of berries on a tree can indicate an early and cold winter is on its way. The elder berries this year were very quickly gobbled up by the birds. The signs are telling me to buy a lot of thick woolly jumpers and cardigans! As much as I dislike the thought of a cold Scottish winter, I do feel it’s needed. Last year’s winter was too mild with little snowfall.

So, besides their mystical and folkloric properties, rowan berries were also used as a traditional medicine in Scotland. Mary Beith states in Healing Threads that,

A good gargle can be made from the berries by boiling them to a pulp, then they should be squeezed through muslin and strained for use. Whooping cough was relieved  with a decoction of apples and rowanberries sweetened with brown sugar. Lightfoot mentions that in Jura, ‘They use the juice of [the rowan] as an acid for punch”. (Rowan contains sorbic acid).

Rowan berries must never be eaten raw, because the acids in them can cause indigestion and lead to kidney damage. But heat treatment such as cooking, heat-drying and to a lesser extent freezing, neutralizes the acids making them benign.

Rowan Jelly

Ingredients: Rowan berries, apples, water, sugar.

“Gather your rowan berries when almost ripe. Remove the stalks and wash and drain the berries. Put them in a preserving-pan with enough cold water to float them well. Let them simmer for about forty minutes or until the water is red and the berries are quite soft. Strain off the juice, being careful not to press the fruit in the least. Measure the juice and return it to the pan. Add sugar in the proportion of a pound to each pint of juice. Boil rapidly for half and hour or until some of it sets quickly on a plate when cold. Skim it well, pour it into small pots and tie down quickly.

If you allow pound for pound of apple juice to rowan juice you will get a delightful jelly. Allow a pound of sugar to each pint of apple juice. Rowan jelly is an excellent accompaniment to grouse, venison and saddle of mutton.” 

– The Scots Kitchen, F. Marian McNeill.

 

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Slàinte mhath!

Sources:

The Silver Bough, Volume one – F. Marian McNeill

The Scots Kitchen – F. Marian McNeill

Healing Threads, Traditional medicines of the Highlands and Islands – Mary Beith.

Myth and Magic, Scotland’s Ancient Beliefs & Sacred Places – Joyce Miller

Mystical Scotland – Ann Lindsay Mitchell

Traditional Scottish Divination

Witches-3

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!

 

=============

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)

Speaking Scots

In Eastern central Scotland where I was born and still live, I grew up speaking two languages: English and Scots. Now some folk don’t see Scots as a language but more of a dialect. But it’s a language in my book, and has it’s own words, phrases and history. It’s still commonly spoken in the lowlands, and in the north east they speak a version called Doric. It’s also spoken in parts of Ulster.

My Dad didn’t like me speaking Scots and often corrected my speech by making me say things in English and pronounced in English than with an oary Scottish tongue. He thought Scots was common and ugly. I think it’s part of our rich cultural heritage and we should take pride in it.

So just thought I would share some Scots words and phrases with you 🙂

A’bodie/aw’body: everyone

Baith: Both

Baffies: Slippers

Blether: talk nonsense

Bra/Braw: Great, brilliant.

Cauld/Cald: cold

Clout: to hit, slap or strike

Canny: Gentle

Dreich: dull, grey, gloomy (usually in reference to the weather)

Faither: Father

Fleg: Frighten

Flit: to move (house)

Glaikit: Stupid

Greet/Greit:  to cry

Haivers: nonsense

Hen: Term of endearment for a woman

Ken: know

Lum: Chimney

Mither: Mother

Mind/Mynd: remember

Nicht: Night

Peelie-Wallie: pale

Radge: mad, angry, rage

Scunner: disklike, disgust

Snaw: Snow

Teckle: good, great

Thon: Those

Hud Yer Wheesht: be quiet!

Whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye!: What’s meant to happen will happen.

Ma heid’s mince: My head’s a bit mixed up.

***

Thanks for reading! 🙂

A visit to Dunkeld and The Hermitage

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Image from Tumblr

We are in the depths of Autumn now, where the weather is taking a turn towards winter. I can feel the chill in the air and I’m taking bad with waking up in the dark mornings, and finishing work in the dark too. I’m definitely more of a Spring and Autumn person. Those are my seasons. But winter is not without it’s charms. Is there anything more inviting than fresh snow waiting to be walked upon?

I always want to get outdoors this time of year, before the weather turns really bad. So my witchy friend J and I hopped into his car and took a day trip to Dunkeld and then visited The Hermitage.

Dunkeld is a lovely town, it feels very villagey and very old. Dunkeld is thought to date back to sixth century when a monastery was founded by the banks of the River Tay. Kenneth MacAlpin, the first King of Scotland, moved the bones of St Columba to Dunkeld around mid 9th century, which established Dunkeld as the first ecclesiastical capital of medieval Scotland . Building of the current Dunkeld Cathedral began in the 12th century and additions were added up to the 16th.

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I spotted this beautiful yew tree close to the market cross and had to take a photo. There were tons of yew trees growing around Dunkeld Cathedral, I’ve never seen so many in once place before, though they are frequently grown in churchyards.  The Yew has a lot of folklore behind it, as it is an evergreen tree and known to grow for thousands of years. The oldest yew tree in Scotland is at Fortingall and estimated to be between 1,500 and 3,000 years old. The yew is a tree of death and rebirth, it contains a poison in it’s wood, leaves and seeds, and known for it’s longevity not only by the number of years it can live for, but also because it can continue to grow new shoots from cut surfaces and low on its trunk, even at an old age.

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on the Telford Bridge overlooking the River Tay

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Dunkeld Cathedral

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We stopped by Palmerston’s cafe and had tea and scones. I opted for the Earl Gray blue flower and an apple and cinnamon scone with jam and clotted cream. Ahh it was amazing. Palmerston’s is a lovely cafe and the food is home made. Would definitely stop by there again when I next visit Dunkeld.

It was getting a bit late in the afternoon so we quickly made our way to The Hermitage through the Craigvinean Forest. We’d said prayers to the forest spirits to let them know we meant no harm or disrespect. I’d brought offerings along too, and placed them out throughout the forest as we walked along. I was gifted with a chunk of quartz which appeared on the path I walked. So I said my thanks and took it with me.

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Can you see it’s face?

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Misty Craigvinean Forest

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Boulder with a troll like face

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Totem pole, carved from a Douglas Fir tree by a native Canadian from the Squamish Nation

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The forest was huge and easy to get lost in. But beautiful to see the firey oranges of the ferns and the evergreens. Very autumnal, with the scent of the damp earth and rain soaked trees. Rivulets of a stream ran through the forest to join up with the River Braan. A ferocious hungry river, travelling fast and crashing against rocks. I cast out offerings into it’s hungry jaws.

Many people have walked these forest paths, some famous people include Wordsworth, Queen Victoria, Mendelssohn and Turner.

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mini stream

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River Braan

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River Braan leading to the Black Linn Waterfall and up to Ossian’s Hall and bridge.

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Ossian’s Cave

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From inside Ossian’s Cave

We found Ossian’s Cave in the middle of The Hermitage.  Named after James MacPherson’s Ossian . The cave and the Hall of Mirrors are Georgian follies created by the Duke of Atholl. The cave is a small man made cave, along with Ossian’s Hall of Mirrors which overlooks the Black Linn falls.

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Image from Google

My phone battery died at this point so I didn’t get great photos of the cave and hall, so here are some from google:

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Inside Ossian’s Hall

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Ossian’s Hall

We stood by the railings of Ossian’s Hall, tuning into the energy of the river and getting soaked by the spray of the waterfalls. I asked for energy from the river, to help me on my spiritual path, to give me the energy to fight through apathy. Witchcraft involves hard work if one is to move forward. So many of us reach a plateau and do not have the energy or the will to move past it. For me I’ve been in a somewhat dark night of the soul. I think it’s because so much has changed for me. The wool has been pulled from my eyes, I’ve banished illusion and I’ve stepped away from another’s dogma. I’m seeking my own truth, as we all must.

I love our witchy car conversations. On the way back home we were discussing the new projects we were looking into; gods vs spirit work, occultism, and where we see our practices in 5 years. I’ve come to the conclusion that I really don’t like man made limitations being imposed on my practice. My practice is fluid and has changed dramatically. I started off being a solitary wiccan at age 14, then joined a Gardnerian coven at age 25 and was initiated at 26, I left the coven for various reasons earlier this year and now I’m back to being solitary.My craft is very fluid and eclectic. But I can’t honestly answer where I would like to be in five years time, spiritually. My practice is very much a day to day existence at the moment and I can’t currently see where it is I’m heading. The one thing I hope for, is that wherever I end up I hope I get there through my own will and following my own truth and not the will or truth of another.

I call myself a witch not Wiccan as that’s no longer what I practice. I use a more natural, instinctive approach to my craft, utilizing whatever I have to hand. I include a lot of Scottish folk practices as that’s my culture, but I don’t call myself a Gaelic polytheist or a Celtic re-constructionist. I incorporate some hoodoo practice but not enough to call myself a rootworker. I’m looking into traditional witchcraft, folklore, animism and modern occultism. As for gods… well I used to be a god worker in the sense of working with a god and goddess in a Wiccan format.  But now I would say I’m more of a spirit worker. I work with my ancestors and the spirits of the land. I tend to view gods as spirits too, although more powerful spirits than say the spirit of a plant or tree. I’m still trying to figure out the rest of what I believe. I’ve rejected some of what I’ve been taught by books and the coven, because I don’t want to adopt another person’s worldview. I’m currently trying to figure out exactly what it is I believe in. At the moment I need to stop thinking, and get doing.

But the journey is part of the fun 😉

Tìoraidh an-dràsta (Goodbye, for now)

Into the Trees!

“Come closer and see
See into the trees
Find the girl
While you can

Come closer and see
See into the dark
Just follow your eyes
Just follow your eyes”

– The Cure, A Forest.

I took a trip into the trees late last night with some friends and my big brother. These trees in particular were based at Faskally Wood for The Enchanted Forest event just outside Pitlochry. We ventured out during the passing of hurricane Gonzalo with strong winds in Dundee (no fecking hurricane was going to stop me going, I can assure you.), but as we reached Pitlochry there was barely a stir in the air. I had been focusing a lot of my own will power and visualizing clear dry weather, and I reckon all of the other ticket holders had done the very same, and thankfully we got our wish 🙂

When we walked into the woods all beautifully lit up and colourful, I was instantly transported back to my youth and  recalled all those girlish dreams of magic. I felt and sounded, and most likely looked like a kid at Christmas, grinning ear to ear. The magic of the forest worked on everyone around me as all I saw before me was happiness, a lightening of the heart and a spring in the step of some of the older visitors. We had crossed an invisible threshold into the realm of youth again. Truly magical!

I only managed to capture a few photos before my phone battery died, but it’s a good thing as it ensured I enjoyed my journey through the woods by being present in the moment,  using my own eyes and not simply glancing through a camera lens. Here are some of the ones I managed to capture:

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These photos are courtesy of The Sea Witch and my big brother:

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One of the acrobats

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One of the water “Kelpies”.

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Now my first thoughts of these woods were: poor nature spirits having to put up with us humans and our mad schemes. If I were one of the genius loci I would run away and hide till the smelly humans had gone.

Second thoughts were: hmmm the genius loci are here though, I can feel it.

Third thoughts: holy fuck! They’re fucking loving this, they’re feeding from the energy!

So overall not bad, they get a tasty treat and we get to pretend we’re part of a faery court twirling around a enchanted realm for an evening. Or at least that’s what I did anyway 😉

One of the guides, calling himself a “druid” mentioned to be careful crossing the bridge as the kelpies were well known to spray water at you for fun. I had to laugh when thinking of the folklore of the kelpie, for it will do much more than spray water at you.

We got home later than my bedtime for I had work the next day, and I crashed into bed and awoke a zombie, red eyes and crazy hair. But it was well and truly worth it.

I would definitely like to go back to the event next year and would love to visit Faskally Wood in the daytime too.

My one month of magic is… well not going to plan. I tend to have a habit of biting off more than I can chew, and silly me thought I could work in depth with sigils in a week… err no. It’s a fascinating system that’s occupying my focus just now, as I try out different methods of design and activation. I love that it can be done pretty much anywhere, friends and I have activated a few in a cafe and a pub. So that’s my focus for just now till I feel ready to move onto learning something new.

Mercury retrograde… well I’m not usually one that likes to blame poor old Merc for whatever catastrophe befalls me… but this month has been hellish for breakdowns in communication and travel disruptions, for delays and forgetfulness. I believe there is a reason for everything, and people tend to see a Mercury retrograde as a negative thing. But I can see how it’s useful. Mercury retrogrades teach me patience. They remind me to slow down. They remind me to stop and take a breath. They remind me to never assume. They remind me to focus on one thing at a time. They remind me to think first before speaking. They remind me to be flexible as plans can change at the drop of a hat.

Lastly, they are a reminder that everything changes all of the time, including ourselves and that’s no bad thing 🙂

Mar sin leat an-dràsta! x

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 🙂

Scotland the Brave

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I wasn’t going to blog about this it’s been spoken about  by so many others. But then this is my blog and I will write about what I want to 😀

One day to go until Scotland decides to either a yes or a no for independence. This is a huge decision and one that I hope people will decide based on fact and research and not out of fear. I’ve done my own research and I will be voting YES as I believe that all of Scotland’s wealth should be used for Scotland.

I know for a fact that with the government welfare cuts there has been a huge rise in the use of foodbanks in Scotland and the rest of the UK. I have friends who have had to use them. In my place of work we currently have a foodbank collection, and there are foodbank collection points in supermarkets all over Scotland. We don’t need to live on handouts. Scotland is one of the top 20 wealthiest nations in the world, why the hell do we need foodbanks then? Because we do not have the full powers to control where our money goes. We pay Westminster billions each year. Billions that could be used in Scotland to provide better services for the people who live here.

The UK government is increasing the pension age, meaning the people in the UK have to work for longer before they can retire.  In an independent Scotland we can lower the retirement age and protect pensions, we can protect our NHS from privatisation and get rid of the Trident missiles stored in the Clyde. Most importantly the majority of Scots did not vote for a Tory government, so in an independent Scotland we get to have a government chosen by the people here.

It makes so much sense to go independent and to govern ourselves and use all of our wealth to provide for the people in Scotland. As for a currency union, I think it’s more than possible. The Bank of England is owned by both Scotland and England so we’ll definitely get to use Sterling. It is in the interests of the rest of the UK to have a trade partnership with us and that is why we will have a currency union. Many other independent countries still use the same currency prior to going independent. We can too.

Yes it may be uncertain for a little while if we get independence as we reorganise and build up our nation. But we are a brave and strong and proud people. 142 countries have chosen independence since 1945 and none of them have asked to give it up to go back to a union.

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One day to go until Scotland decides. Be brave, beautiful people of Scotland, make an informed choice, and do not vote out of fear. Vote for a brighter, stronger, fairer Scotland. Make your ancestors proud, and provide a better country for your children and your descendants.