Hogmanay

Hogmanay victuals for the ancestors

I said farewell to 2020 with every part of my being and I’m pretty sure everyone else did too.

I know for some that 1st January isn’t their definition of the new year, or that a new day on a new calendar doesn’t really mean anything. But for me, I could feel this desperate need to get to 1/01/2021, that the powers of the bells ringing in the new year, and the fireworks somehow helped to send all that bad energy packing.

I know it’s not gone gone, as such, but I do feel this is a brand new cycle and hopefully we all have learned better coping mechanisms to ride out aggression and oversharing of social media and get through this bloody pandemic once and for all. Last year was a challenge set to us and this year is the overcoming part of the tale. We’re in a labyrinth and we need to follow the thread to find our way out again.

In neo-paganism the concept of the witches new year at Samhain doesn’t gel with me. I don’t see the start of winter as a new beginning. The lengthening days after the winter solstice make more sense if we’re identifying the new year with the sun. Further to this, Imbolc is just around the corner and that to me feels more in line with the concept of a rebirth and new beginning to me than Samhain does.

Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year’s Eve on 31st December. The origins of the word are uncertain, thought to either derive from Gaelic, Norse or French origins. Hogmanay was once more widely celebrated than Christmas in Scotland, and this is due to Christmas being banned during the reformation. Even though this was repealed in 1712, anything seen as a Yule festivity was still frowned upon by the kirk, who could not be seen to approve of anything Catholic.

So Hogmanay was the biggest winter celebration in Scotland for a long time, and I would even say today it’s still seen as a big deal.

Traditionally once the bells ring in the new year, people would open doors and windows to allow the old year out and the new year to enter, and this is something I’ve been doing for years. This year, I practically ran to my door to say goodbye to 2020!

Food and drink are traditionally cheese, shortbread, black bun and of course, whisky. I’ve never had black bun before, so I bought some from the bakery to share with my ancestors this year. Black bun is a heavily spiced fruit cake wrapped in pastry and has gone out of fashion in recent years. After tasting it I can see why, it’s potent and not something you can eat much of. Not many folk where I live are all that fond of any kind of fruit cakes. A lot of people have an aversion to the appearance of raisins and sultanas and as there is a much wider variety of desserts these days than perhaps 50 years ago, it’s understandable why black bun is no longer widely used at Hogmanay.

First footing is another custom; this was the first person to cross your threshold in the new year, and first footers would normally bring gifts such as salt, coal, whisky, shortbread or black bun to bring luck to the householder. People would make note of the hair colour of their first footer; dark hair was said to be lucky while red hair was said to be unlucky for the new year. Well, perhaps the food and drink offerings presented crossed out that bad luck!

Customs vary per area, but along the east coast dressed herring was usually given as a gift due to the strong fishing communities along the coast.

New Years Day was traditionally a good time to sain the home, and I used my own saining blend that I created for my shop to cleanse and protect my space. Saining can either be done by burning the herbs, or mixing them in water to wipe down areas or asperge them. Traditionally a juniper and water rite was conducted. The home was sealed shut, and any crevices were stopped up to prevent the smoke from escaping. Water collected from a living and dead stream (a crossing point that funeral processions usually crossed) was shared amongst the guests and the rest sprinkled in the home. Juniper was burned at the hearth and the smoke was allowed to fill the space for as long as people could manage before doors and windows had to be flung open to bring in fresh air. This is a particularly dangerous practice, as we know the perils of smoke inhalation so I would not recommend this practice today. If you are interested in saining then better to burn a small amount of the herbs on a charcoal incense disc or to asperge with water.

My Hogmanay was a quiet one with my fiance, as many people’s were this year, as Scotland went back into a full lockdown from Boxing Day. This wasn’t unexpected due to the covid rates rising, but this year was definitely more sombre. Still I shared a slice of black bun and some cheese and whisky with the ancestors, I performed my Hogmanay rituals and I opened the door to 2021 and I step out into the new year with hope in my heart.

Lang May Yer Lum Reek wi’ ither folks coal!

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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