Book Review – ‘Wights and Ancestors, Heathenry in a Living Landscape’ by Jenny Blain

 

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Wights and Ancestors – Heathenry in a Living Landscape‘ was first published in 2000 and has now been reprinted in 2016 with additional essays. Jenny Blain gives a fascinating insight into the varied types of beings inhabiting the landscape and ways in which we can respectfully and safely interact with them. She details how to discover one’s fylgja – which is essential for safely navigating the other world. She advises ways to meet the wights and introducing one’s self to a tree spirit, all to be conducted respectfully before entering the being’s space.

I admire that Jenny Blain has discussed shamanism and that by doing the things a shaman does – i.e. entering the other world, meeting spirits etc – does not make one a shaman. Shamanism is not an individual activity and shamans were usually selected by their community. This is an important statement where any kind of spirit work is involved as many take upon the mantle of shamanism without understanding the full cultural context of the word.

Jenny also discusses sacred sites and what makes them sacred and how landscapes are not static – they have their own processes of erosion, silt deposition etc and that because of human interaction, a landscape becomes cultured and interpreted by people in many ways. The land itself is a being, populated by many other sentient beings and plays a part within the settings of many tales.

Jenny also discusses ancestry and her own personal discoveries of her own family research in Scotland. The reader is taken down a fascinating journey into Scotland’s landscape and the ties the author has to the places of her youth. She discusses that landscapes are “more than history and personal memory. They are living, now, and have their own place-ness which impacts on the tourist, traveller, viewer or seeker“.

I am not overly familiar with the beliefs and terms of Heathenry or Seidr, but this book is written in a way that provides good explanation without being overwhelming. The use of personal anecdotes and the stories shared with the author from other practitioners gives a better understanding of the exchange between a person and wight. Although the concepts of land wights and ancestry are written about within a Heathen context, the guidelines given seem universal – the author even advises to look into fairy tales for wisdom before approaching land wights. A lot of it is common sense, the most important thing to remember is to be respectful.

I would greatly recommend this book, whether one identifies as heathen or not. This is a good read for anyone interested in animism, seidr, spirit work or heathenry. Using the advice within this book provides a good foundation when building relationships with the land spirits.

 

A Solitary Solstice

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”

–Edith Sitwell

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Yule candle with foraged pine

I had intended to have a sociable December and meet with my like minded pagan friends, however the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley. I thought I was weathering the storms of life well, with the stress of moving house and unpacking and the grief of losing my brother, not to mention the stress of a full time job and university studies. But everything took it’s toll and I caught the cold virus from a colleague which brought my plans to a standstill. I hate getting sick, and this cold virus exhausted my energy. I did not have it in me to properly celebrate December’s supermoon the way I had intended.

I was meant to attend a friend’s Mōdraniht (Mothers Night) ritual and although physically I felt up to it, I knew it would be selfish of me to go and pass on this nasty virus to others, especially during the festive period. Who wants to be sick during the holidays? So I gave that a miss.

The Winter Solstice came and I did my ritual alone. Once again I was meant to be celebrating Yule with a friend but after warning her I still felt ill we decided it was best to meet another time.

I have my own witch’s workroom now and it’s taking shape the way I want it. I bought a lovely green tapestry of the world tree to hang up on the back wall. My frame drum hangs above my altar like a large full moon. I still need to properly lay out the ancestor shrine. I love having a large space to work in!

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On the night of the Winter Solstice I burned palo santo in my witch room. The smoke cleansing away anything negative. Cleansing the self, and pleasing the spirits. I sprinkled rose water and bathed my palms in it and anointed my crown, forehead, throat and heart. I grounded myself, my roots journeying deep into the rich black earth deep below.

I created a sacred space, calling forth my blood ancestors and the Mighty Dead, calling forth my spirits. I beat my drum to welcome each of them in, the sandalwood incense swirls around me burning as an offering. I lay down my drum and wait patiently, listening.

The messages come, they tell me things I already know but have neglected; that winter is a time for rest and I have been burning my candle at both ends. They tell me my projects can wait, that I must be patient and I must look within and reflect and conserve my energy. I am a part of nature and must take inspiration from the natural world. I give thanks for these words of wisdom and light the pine candle on the altar.

I light the candle for my brother, telling him he will never be forgotten and to let the candle light his way. A couple of friends requested some help so I light candles for them too, adding a few herbs for their needs. They burn bright and clear – a good sign.

I burn a small amount of mugwort and wormwood and breathe it in to aid me in seeing. I shuffled the deck asking for messages to come through and with each shuffle three cards fall out. The meanings come to me clearly and quickly and I write them down.

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I spend a few moments reflecting on what I have learned this night, and what this season means for me. Then it is time to give thanks to the spirits, the ancestors and the Mighty Dead, and I say farewell to the beat of my drum and close my sacred space.

I spend the rest of the evening having a solstice meal with my loving boyfriend, of homemade lentil and vegetable soup and some melted brie bites, sausage rolls, mulled wine and chocolate Yule log. So good! I take a meal and glass of wine up to my altar and place it there for the ancestors and spirits in thanks and let the candles on the altar burn down. The Cailleach received some stollen and a glass of bourbon.

A friend of mine posted a Yule gift which I remembered last thing and opened – “Skin Spirits” by Lupa which I can’t wait to read. I am lucky to have such good friends.

Then my boyfriend and I do some crafts, I finished off a wand I was working on by woodburning some symbols onto it, and sewing up a little red bag with leftover fabric. My stitching skills need some work but it’s coming along better.

After all the work I have done it’s time to relax. I reward myself with a cup of mulled wine and immerse myself in folk tales brought to life by watching Grimm.

***

May you be cosy and safe this winter. May your needs be met. May you always have food and drink and a safe place to rest your head ❤

slàinte mhath!

The Wheel Turns

This year has been a challenging one. It seems we’ve all had to face some battle and experienced some loss. It is The Dark Year as Sarah Anne Lawless put it.

My partner and I had been trying to find ways to live together. We both applied for numerous jobs so we could be together, and it was a year long struggle before we achieved it. It had been upsetting and frustrating when we thought we were stuck at square one. It was heartbreaking having to say goodbye at the end of each weekend. But finally he managed to get a job here, although that in itself was an annoyance; it took ages to finalise.

Then just before Samhain I received some bad news. My big brother had died. It was a complete shock to everyone. I hadn’t seen him in a number of years, life drifted us apart. But I always thought I’d see him again someday.  He had his demons, and he made bad choices in his life, but he was a good man with a kind heart. He never judged anyone, though plenty judged him. He had a great sense of humour and was always clowning around and making people laugh. He left behind his daughters and two grandchildren. My siblings and I are devastated beyond words.  I can’t believe we will never hear his laughter again.

His funeral service was lovely and we all gave him a great send off with a traditional Scottish bagpiper at his local church. Sometimes it takes a funeral to bring a family closer together, as terrible as that sounds it has been true in my case. My sisters and I are closer than we used to be, we’re making a better effort to communicate with each other. Now from my brother’s death I have also gained nieces. I hadn’t seen them since they were tiny children, and now they are all mostly grown up.

Then to add to the difficulty of this year, my partner and I moved into a new home and moving house is stressful enough in itself. I honestly don’t think I could have had the strength alone to see everything through. I am fortunate that I have the support of my partner, my family and my friends. They anchored me to reality.

For Samhain I had a small private ceremony. I carved a tumshie and my partner carved a pumpkin. I lit a candle for my ancestors, and for my big brother. I prayed that he would find peace. I prayed that he would be received by my Aunt and Nana in spirit, that they would care for him and comfort him.

 

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Rest well big brother, till we meet again.

Cha bhith a leithid ann tuilleadh 

 

 

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 😀

 

Witchcraft, wine and the spirit of Mandragora

The day had arrived, and I took a ritual bath to prepare myself. My home was cleansed with florida water and a burning stick of palo santo.

Some folks say that before taking any sort of entheogen you need to sort out any issues with ego and the subconscious first as you may be shown things you’ve been trying to avoid dealing with. My psyche was preparing itself throughout the week, bringing me dreams of previous issues I had not properly dealt with, and after such dreams I felt more at peace with myself.

We witches gathered at my home in preparation for the mandrake ritual using the ointment I purchased from Sarah Anne Lawless  http://sarahannelawless.com/.

The atmosphere was jovial and exciting, as friends laughed with each other.

The space was sained with blessed water and palo santo incense, and Wardruna played softly in the background (excellent music for ritual). We discussed expectations from the ointment. Three of us were going to try it, the other two to witness (and luckily, one of them is a nurse, so we knew we’d be in safe hands). Those two witches decided to imbibe some red wine instead.

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We three applied a pea sized amount of the mandrake ointment to begin with. We spent some time meditating and grounding, then each witch was sained with blessed water and palo santo. Incense and a candle were lit in offering to the spirit of the mandrake ointment. Then a thorny hedge circle was cast…

“Above and below. Around and about, good keep in, evil keep out”

 

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Palo santo, blessed water and my scrying mirror

 

The ancestors and guardian spirits were called in to the beat of the drum. I felt a mild effect from the mandrake, like a slight shift in perception, it felt a bit surreal. J commented it was like he was watching everything as though he weren’t fully present.

We drummed and chanted for a little while We are the flow and we are the ebb, we are the weavers, we are the web.” and I felt my energy levels rise. I noticed the difference in the other two, they were starting to loosen up more, whilst the two wine witches were jovial. We three decided to be brave and try another pea sized amount of mandrake ointment.

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We sent some healing to a friend, and got out the cards and scrying mirrors for divination. The visions seemed to come with very little effort and more than once a few of us picked up on the same answers as each other. We were all very much in tune, and we wanted to do more with the ritual than we had planned. We certainly had the energy for more! We decided to work on some of the fears holding us back. We used the drum to break up the fear energy within us, and we used laughter to help expel it’s hold on us. We gave our fears a voice. A very silly voice. A voice that’s funny and can’t be taken seriously. Each of us used that voice to air our fears and fell into fits of laughter.

It was time to wind the ritual down, and farewell and thanks were given to our ancestors and guardian spirits, then the thorny circle was dismantled and we were free to eat and drink! I prepared some non fatty snacks of oatcakes, ham and red onion chutney, some blueberries and strawberries and angel slice cakes (kinda non fatty…) and we fell on them, devouring like wolves. Rituals usually get folk hungry, but I had ate very little that day in preparation for using the ointment.

The wine flowed and so did some of the best conversation I’ve ever been part of. It seems that witches, wine and mandrake ointment create the perfect atmosphere for discussing philosophy, physics, religion and theosophy. In between jokes and bouts of laughter of course 😉 I wish I had recorded that conversation! No doubt there will be many more in future.

Sadly I had to say goodbye to my friends as it was getting late. I could have happily stayed up all night with them. We were all rather tipsy and merry and I’m glad the ritual was a success.

I washed the ointment off and drank a lot of water before bed. But I couldn’t sleep. The mandrake was giving me the energy to do stuff whilst my drunk wine-fuelled self wanted sleep. Sarah Anne Lawless mentions that one of the side effects of mandrake is blurred vision. My left eye blurred for a while, and my other eye was seeing everything more vividly. My sense of smell and hearing was heightened too. It took a few hours for body and mind to settle down and I managed some sleep.

It was a restless sleep filled with dreams, throwing up more things I need to deal with and purge from my psyche. Mandrake has taught me a lot in a short space of time.

I would also like to add that I am not using an entheogen as a shortcut. I agree it’s better to do the work yourself to get to an altered state of consciousness. I wanted to try the ointment to see how it would affect me and my practice. It is something I will try again in future, but the majority of the time I will be doing the hard work myself without an aid and I recommend the same to anyone reading this.

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh!

 

 

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