The Witch in Wildcat Country

Macpherson_Emblem

Clan Macpherson motto and badge

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beannachd leibh x

 

 

 

 

 

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

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Image from Tumblr

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

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

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Balgay Park

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Mists over the Dundee Law

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Birch tree with fungus like little fairy steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh!

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 😀

 

Hello from the Hag

My name is Pamela. I’m currently 28 years old, a Gemini and I hail from Dundee in Scotland ( Dùn Dé in Scots Gaelic, dun meaning fort and , meaning ‘fire’).

I am a writer and a book collecting fiend. A good friend of mine jokes that I spend most of my money on books before I’ve even stocked up the kitchen with food each month. Ahem. I’ve written a few articles for a couple of pagan magazines such as Pagan Dawn and Witchcraft & Wicca.   I’ve had an essay published, titled “CLIODHNA: FAERIE QUEEN AND POTENT BANSHEE” in The Faerie Queens published by Avalonia.  Here – http://avaloniabooks.co.uk/catalogue/celtic_myth/the-faerie-queens/

I’ve recently submitted an essay about the goddess Nicniven which should be published later this year in an anthology called “Naming The Goddess” by Moon Books.

https://www.facebook.com/NamingTheGoddess

I can speak, read and write Scottish Gaelic. I’m not fluent in it yet, but I plan to learn more. I find it really fascinating and beautiful, and would like to practice my rituals using the gaelic language in future.

I’ve been a practising witch since I was 14, mostly following a solitary Wiccan path with friends. Then I joined a local coven a few years ago and have since been initiated in a Gardnerian lineage. I prefer to call myself a Witch rather than Wiccan.

When I’m not in coven I lean more to an animistic type practice. I work with my ancestors a lot, and familiar spirits. I work with Gods too, mostly Hekate, The Cailleach, Herne, and Nicnevin. Yup, I mix pantheons too and you know what? It works for me, I don’t find cultural barriers to be a problem when speaking to deity and I’m not a purist. I will use whatever works and whatever has meaning for me, and I approach my practice with reverence and respect.

I’ve also been learning more about hoodoo practice. Got an amazing Road Opener oil from London Conjure, it smells amazing and works really well and really fast. Check them out http://londonconjure.com/

I love learning new creative crafts, I’ve recently made beeswax candles and I’m trying to learn how to knit. Next step will be pyrography and maybe crochet.

I love witchy and spiritual fiction as well. Currently hooked on books by Paulo Coelho. His words are sensual and soothing, reading his books is like eating your favourite ice cream on a hot day. His words feed my soul. Read his work and you’ll see what I mean 😀

That’s all for now,

If you stop by my blog, feel free to say hi 🙂

Mar sin leibh an-dràsta!

Pamela (The Hag)

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