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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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

To Begin

“I live uptown
I live downtown
I live all around

I had money and I had none
I had money and I had none
But I’ve never been so broke
That I couldn’t leave town

I’m a changeling
See me change
I’m a changeling
See me change

I’m the air you breath
Food you eat
Friends your greet
In the sullen street

See me change
See me change, you”

– The Changeling,  by The Doors

I was out with friends last night celebrating my 29th birthday and I’m feeling a wee bit delicate today. We went for a birthday meal first at Dundee’s new dim sum restaurant, Manchurian. We ordered some grilled and steamed shrimp and pork dumplings, some char siu bao, and for my main meal I had honey & chilli chicken with rice. My god I was stuffed! It was delicious though and the service was fantastic and the staff very welcoming and accommodating. Once we felt we could move again we headed off to the pub to begin the birthday drinks.

One of my lovely friends bought me The Sherlock Holmes Tarot, which I’ve had my eye on. She got me a signed copy from The Atlantis Bookshop, London’s oldest independent occult bookshop. The images are bold and delicious, and although based on the standard 78 card tarot deck, the four suits of the minor arcana have been renamed: observation (swords), evidence (wands), analysis (cups) and deduction (pentacles). I’m looking forward to trying out a few spreads with this deck.

Another lovely friend bought me a book I have coveted for a while, Serpent Songs by Scarlet Imprint. It is beautifully made, olive cloth bound with some gold lettering. It’s a deliciously seductive collection of essays on witchcraft, the occult, folklore and traditions. I was tempted to run away home with my gifts there and then and leave everyone else in the bar!

We went to Cerberus afterwards, which is a nice little pub which plays mostly rock music, and it’s cosy and always makes me feel like I’m sitting in someone’s living room, all that’s missing is a cosy fireplace and armchair. The night ended in traditional drunken manner: going home with nice greasy takeaway food 🙂

In other news, I made a decision not long after Beltane to leave the coven I was part of. Although it wasn’t an easy decision to make, I feel it was the right one for me. I’ve spent three years with them and I’ve learned a lot in that time, and through their guidance I was given the tools to strengthen myself and for that I will always be grateful. But the time felt right to leave, and so I did. I’m still on good terms with everyone, and I’ve made some good friendships there, so I don’t intend to become a stranger. Besides I’ll see quite a few of them at the local moot no doubt.

I feel a bit delicate after last night’s rum consumption, so I will be spending today curled up on the sofa, drinking copious amounts of tea, reading Serpent Songs and trying out tarot spreads with my new deck 🙂

If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello” – Paulo Coelho

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Slàinte mhòr agad!

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!