Culture, tradition and bygone times

Recently I’ve been attending the wonderful online event that is Winter’s Last run by The Taibhsear Colleactive and my friend Scott of The Cailleach’s Herbarium.

They have been putting on wonderful events over the past few years; many talks, workshops and storytelling surrounding Scottish folklore and folk ways. It has been wonderful and I’ve had tried to soak up as much as I can.

You may be wondering why a Scots wumman such as myself should need to learn this? Shouldn’t I already know all this? Sadly no. Some of these folk ways discussed are considered historic, archaic even, and belong to bygone eras and people that have been a long time dead. Such is life; traditions change, old ways get forgotten or discarded and replaced. People get displaced or choose to move to a new land and take the vestiges of their culture with them.

Modernising has become a key goal of many local authorities as they try to keep up with the larger cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow to try and attract tourists and jobs. But they’re too busy looking forward that they’re ignoring their own rich history and culture. Old buildings that hold the stories of generations gone get torn down so new build housing can go up. We are destroying our own history.

What some of these people forget is that the appeal of cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow isn’t just because of their pubs and shopping centres; it’s that they’re old cities with a rich culture and history and historic buildings that draw people to them.

I was out walking with my fiance today near a local burn and pond. The ponds were formed by a local linen mill decades ago but the old sluice gates are still there. My fiance was looking forward to showing me the old mill’s water wheel. Sadly we learned it had been torn down, possibly due to it being near a new build housing development.

Old sluice gate

Some may think, so what? Well it was a fascinating piece of our city’s history. You don’t see too many water wheels anymore. I couldn’t help but feel mournful and angry that it was gone, possibly to modernise the region. The thing with modernity is that modern things can quickly look outdated. But old things, the really old, is what draws many people’s interest as they try to relate to a past time and wonder at the lives of the people then. One of the things I love about Edinburgh is it’s ancient buildings and monuments. I love the old ghost stories, and plague stories, the walking tours, the haunted pubs, and even the Scottish tourist shops proudly displaying tartans and The Saltire.

The Winter’s Last event this year presented some short films and documentaries. One of these was called Cailleach showing a brief glimpse into the life of Morag, an elderly woman living alone on her croft on the Isle of Lewis. She tends her sheep and she talks about the connection to her home and being the last of her family living there. We see her looking at photos of people long gone. It is a poignant reminder that when Morag passes, she takes her stories and her culture with her. Another short documentary presented was called When the Song Dies, which brings together the voices of several older Scottish folk discussing their ways, their family history, and the idea that some of this lore is on the brink of extinction. It was emotional to see this and know that we’ve lost so much already of what makes us Scottish.

I try to share stories of my culture through this blog, and every Friday I share a folktale via my shop Hearth and Hame. I call it Folktale Fridays and part of my reason for sharing these tales is to help preserve Scottish culture. I’ve even received some lovely messages from people thanking me for sharing stories relating to places they lived, and reminding them of fond memories with their family from the past. I feel deeply honoured that just sharing these tales has brought joy to people.

So, events like Winter’s Last are a lifeline for Scottish people today. They help preserve our culture and history. They pass on the stories to another generation and it gets to live that wee bit longer. Some of the voices telling these stories today aren’t Scottish voices which in some ways is incredibly sad, perhaps the other problem with the death of part of our culture lies in people not taking enough interest in these tales. The voices may not be Scots but they are doing a wonderful job in sharing our stories, in preserving the lore of bygone times.

We are in their debt.

Cailleach:

Cailleach - Scottish Documentary Institute

https://player.vimeo.com/video/94642820

When the Song Dies:

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 Shadow Year

I keep promising to write more in here but… 2020. Ahem.

It has been one hell of a year but I’ve been meaning to update this blog with what I’ve been up to and writing more posts.

So what has happened to me this year?

Well…my wedding got postponed to next year.

Lockdown restrictions heightening anxiety.

I opened up an online witchy shop (woo!)

I developed and protected my boundaries

Ok it’s been a busy year. So my wedding has been postponed and it’s going to fall on a holiday that is close to my heart and has a lot of meaning for me. So maybe it was kind of meant to be?

Anxiety. I’m aware that everyone’s is through the roof just now, and it’s created a lot of chaos and confusion for folk. Been relying on my craft to help me here, and it’s been helping. But if people could maybe stop purposefully misunderstanding others then that would be cool. Also be bloody kind to people, especially when they open up to you with what’s troubling their soul. Be true to yourself, you don’t need anyone’s validation but your own. If you seek it outside yourself, then you’ve got some inner work to do. But Mercury and Pluto conjunctions and retrogrades really haven’t been helping things.

I opened up an online witchy shop!! I’ve been wanting to do this for years and 2020 gave me the kick up the arse I needed. It’s small at the moment and I’m building up my stock just now, but I’m loving being able to sink my teeth into this creative project. I’ve been writing about folklore also: every Friday I do a Folktale Friday on instagram. I’ll share the pages below 🙂

Losing toxic fakeships gives you space for yourself even if it hurts. Any kind of loss is painful even if you know it’s for the best for all involved. But it gives you room to think, to grow and manifest. Room to call back your power and energy. You may not have realised that you’d given it away.

For a long while I felt I was just floating on by with my practice, I didn’t have the energy to continue learning and was stuck in the same place stagnating for a while. But now I feel regenerated, more myself again. I’m reading more, practicing more and I’ve signed up for a palmistry course which I’m really looking forward to.

I have a good feeling that 2021 is going to be a lot better. At least I hope so for everyone.

I’m currently reading Year of the Witch by Temperance Alden, Psychic Witch by Mat Auryn, Potions, Elixirs and Brews by Anais Alexandre, and Wild Magic by Danu Forest. Yeah I like reading a lot of different books at once 🙂

I *swear* I will try to write more… I will!

I call back my power

I call back my energy

Happy holidays

Beannachd leibh

My new shop: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/HearthandHame

Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/hearthandhame/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HearthandHame

An update

It has been a while since I last blogged. I’ve needed the time to just be, to heal and to reflect. I became a bit of a hermit because that’s what I needed at the time.

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Grief is a strange phenomena. Sometimes when you think you are piecing yourself back together, something comes along: a memory, a scent, a sound which reminds you of your loved one’s absence and you’re back in that heartache. That’s how it’s been for me anyway, everyone grieves differently.

Besides being a hermit, I’ve had to focus more on my uni studies and I’m pleased to say I’ve completed my degree and will graduate next month. Studying towards a degree has been a challenge for me with working full time, losing loved ones the stress of day to day life, and I’m so pleased and relieved to have passed my course. Once I’ve graduated I will need to then do some research about what I would like to do with my degree. One path leads to another.

In other news, my partner and I got engaged and we’re getting married next year, so I’ve been doing a lot of wedding planning. We also bought our first house together and moved in during the winter months. So a lot has been going on for me this past year!

I plan to get back into blogging because I’ve really missed writing and researching folklore and witchcraft. So keep tuned because more content will be coming soon!

My fiance and I are just back from a trip to Berlin, and it was amazing exploring all of the sights such as the Berlin Wall, the TV Tower and Brandenburg Tor and trying currywurst for the first time. I’m now having currywurst withdrawal so I’m hoping when the next German food stalls appear in town they will be selling this as well as regular bratwurst.

 

We also went to see the Icelandic techno-punk BDSM perfomance art group Hatari play in Berlin, and it was honestly the best gig of my life. I loved it so much that I’m going to see them in London again next year for their Europe Will Crumble tour. Hatari have inspired me to get back into being my creative self, as well as looking deeply into the state of the world. Their music speaks of the paradox of man’s existence in a capitalist society, of the destruction we’re causing the planet and thus ultimately destroying ourselves. Everyone has a price, everyone is for sale. From their instagram:

Hatari is a political multimedia project which aims to unveil the relentless scam that is everyday life. We cannot change things, but we can unveil the anomie of neoliberal society, the pointlessness of every minute spent in the race, and the low price for which man sells himself ever more blatantly.

 

 

 

I had intentions to set up a witchy shop online, but I never got round to doing it due to studies. It’s something I consider doing every now and then but ultimately I’m unsure if I will at this stage. I’ve been rather busy as mentioned above!

I mentioned in a post a little while back about fundraising for the Tales of the Taibhsear album, and it’s been released and the project is such a success, that Scott of The Cailleach’s Herbarium also set up a organisation called The Woven Land Network designed to raise funds to restore and preserve important sacred sites around Scotland such as holy wells and standing stones as well as education people about their history (if known), their function and how to visit these sites respectfully. You can find out more on their facebook page or website: The Woven Land Network  It’s a very exciting project and I’m proud of Scott for working so hard to educate others and conserve these sites.

I plan to get blogging again more frequently, there are still plenty of folkloric tales to tell and spells to do.

Beannachd Leibh x

 

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

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 🙂

Beltane Revelry: Mirth and Magick at the Beltane Fires

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

- From A Tree Song by Rudyard Kipling

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

I hope you all had a lovely Beltane,

 

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh!

 

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Links:

https://www.facebook.com/beltanefiresociety

http://beltanefiresociety.wordpress.com/

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

 

The Spaewife

 

“O, I wad like to ken — to the beggar-wife says I—

Why chops are guid to brander and nane sae guid to fry.

An’ siller, that’s sae braw to keep, is brawer still to

gi’e.

— It’s gey an’ easy spierin’, says the beggar-wife to me.

 

O, I wad like to ken — to the beggar-wife says I—

Hoo a’ things come to be whaur we find them when we try,

The lasses in their claes an’ the fishes in the sea.

— It’s gey an’ easy spierin’, says the beggar-wife to me.

 

O, I wad like to ken — to the beggar-wife says I—

Why lads are a’ to sell an’ lasses a’ to buy;

An’ naebody for dacency but barely twa or three

— It’s gey an’ easy spierin’, says the beggar-wife to me.

 

O, I wad like to ken — to the beggar-wife says I—

Gin death’s as shure to men as killin’ is to kye,

Why God has filled the yearth sae fu’ o’ tasty things to

pree.

— It’s gey an’ easy spierin’, says the beggar-wife to me.

 

O, I wad like to ken — to the beggar wife says I—

The reason o’ the cause an’ the wherefore o’ the why,

Wi’ mony anither riddle brings the tear into my e’e.

— It’s gey an’ easy spierin’, says the beggar-wife to me.

 

– The Spaewife, Robert Louis Stevenson

 

*It’s gey an’ easy spierin’ – meaning it’s an easy question to ask.

 

The Spae-wife of the Clachen

The Spae-wife of the Clachen.
A group of distressed people gathering before the hut of an old woman, sitting at the door at right with black cat at her feet and a horseshoe hanging over the entrance, through which a male figure is seen in the shadows; cutting from the ‘Illustrated London News’, 7 June 1851, p.542, with part of an illustration of the inauguration of monument to Frederick the Great on the verso. 1851 Wood-engraving
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Spae (from Merriam-Webster online) – chiefly Scottish, meaning foretell. Origin Middle English span, from Old Norse spā; akin to Old High German spehōn to watch, spy.

From Dictionary.com: verb (used with object), spaed, spae·ing. Chiefly Scot.

to prophesy; foretell; predict.

 Middle English span, from Old Norse spā; akin to Old High German spehōn to watch, spy.

A spaewife is a female prophetess, a seer, a diviner, one who sees. In Norse shamanism she was called a  spákona or spækona – a seeress, and stories of such women are found throughout Norse mythology. The völva’s (Norse shamanic seeress) practice involved spá and in an account called Völuspá (Prophecy of the Völva) the first poem of the Poetic Edda, Odin, the father of the gods consulted a völva to find out what was in store for all the gods. 

It must be made clear that in Scottish belief, a spaewife was vastly different to a witch. In the early modern period in Britain, witches were seen as practitioners of maleficium.

” In early modern Britain the term ‘witch’ generally denoted an individual who was seen by others, or perceived by themselves, as being able to employ magical powers to do harm. The type of harmful magic most feared by contemporary villagers was ‘maleficium’. Maleficium was witchcraft at it’s most basic – the manipulation of occult forces at a distance with malevolent intent.”

Emma Wilby, “Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic”, p42, Sussex Academic Press.

 

Villagers would visit a cunning man or woman, or a spaewife for healing, to foretell the future or to counteract the harmful effects of a witch’s spell.  Walter Traill Dennison, a 19th century folklorist and Orkney native wrote of the folk tales of Orkney and the role of the spaewife there. The spaewife was said to possess:

 

“..all the supernatural wisdom, some of the supernatural power, without any of the malevolent spirit of witches.”

He goes on:

“The women of this class were skilled in medicinal and surgery, in dreams, in foresight and second-sight, and in forestalling the evil influence of witchcraft. Such women were looked upon with a kind of holy respect.”

I wrote a blog a little while back about Grissel Jaffray, a woman burned in Dundee as a witch. I’ve updated the photos as the one I used to show her plaque wasn’t clear to read. One thing I had never noticed about the plaque before is that Grissel is noted as being a spaewife, not a witch. Perhaps she could see things others could not and was sadly burned for it.

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I’ve noticed the term spaewife hasn’t been completely disregarded in modern usage, there are those among the pagan and magickal communities claiming the title for themselves. It will be interesting to see if the definition changes over time, and if it will become another branch of the tree in terms of a separate practice. I would be interested in hearing from people who practice spae, so drop me a line if you do 🙂

Mar sin leat an-dràsta!