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!

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A funeral for Summer, or how I celebrated Lughnasadh

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“The Little Witch” from Elves & Fairies by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1916)

I’m not a big fan of summer time, mostly because I get really tired and irritable in hot weather and I’m pasty white and burn easily. I need a constant cool breeze with my sunshine and a glass of Malibu and lemonade to go along with that thank you.

Scotland is known by most to be a dreich country, but we do get some lovely summer weather too. This season we’ve had an abundance of sunshine and a lack of rainfall but I know that’s all about to change when Autumn rolls in. The air will become crisp, there will be a scent of spice and wood smoke on the breeze, green will turn to russet, gold and copper. Then will come the early morning and evening mists and I will feel the sense of anticipation and excitement I usually do in the autumn, when you feel on the cusp of a new adventure, a new story about to unfold.

It will soon be time to go foraging, and there is a lovely crop of brambles beginning to ripen, the rowan trees becoming swollen with berries,the crab apples hanging off the boughs along with the deep purple jewels of elderberries waiting to be picked. I will be up to my elbows in jams and chutneys *happy sigh*

Myself and a few friends met up early to celebrate Lughnasadh, Some folk wait till the 1st Aug, some wait until the right astrological sign and others feel their way along with the seasons and by observing the signs of nature they decide when Lughnasadh is right for celebrating. We met up early because it was convenient for us to do so. Witches are nothing if not practical at times.

We walked up a nearby hill and heard a buzzard’s cry as it flew above, and saw a red squirrel scurry up a tree. I love those little guys, they’re so adorable and I’m happy to see them thriving there.  We walked through the trees till we found a nice little spot to celebrate, with enough shelter so passers by wouldn’t see us.

For me the ritual was as much about the death of summer as well as the welcoming of autumn and we celebrated in an old cemetery none the less. We first lay down offerings to the spirits of the land we stood upon, we made it known that we meant no harm or offence. Then we called upon our ancestors to be with us and bear witness. We honoured the spirit of the grain and named him John Barleycorn, we acknowledged his sacrifice when the grain was cut down, and in turn acknowledged the sacrifices we too have made and will make in our own lives in the days to come.

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I cast aside any self doubt, I sacrificed that part of me in the burning cauldron we encircled. I sacrificed my creative apathy, to encourage me to write more of the wonderful ideas I’d been having but for some reason could not muster up the drive to put down in writing. That will all change. The fire purifies and the fire destroys as it hungrily ate what fuel we gave it, the flames licking heavenward.

Then we acknowledged our new goals for the future, we wrote these on paper, and some committed these to the cauldron fire to help manifest their goals. I kept mine intact, so I could look at it each day and remind myself of my goals and dreams. Some goals are long term and they need to be carefully tended and lovingly nourished, a bit like growing a crop for next year’s harvest. Next Lughnasadh I will review my list and check what I have reaped, which goals survived the year and which ones fell to rot and that will tell me a lot about myself and what I’m willing to truly work hard for.

For guidance for the coming month we each pulled a rune stone from the bag, asking our ancestors to guide us, and I pulled out hagalaz. Not my favourite rune, I tend to associate it with crisis, destruction and difficult times ahead. Destruction isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some things need to be destroyed to make way for the new, and it’s fitting as it will help me break out of my creative apathy and get the drive to get things done.

The ritual came to an end, and the fire was extinguished and we laughed and chatted on the way back to my place where we feasted and laughed and chatted some more. There may have been some cackling involved too.

May your harvests be full of abundance and prosperity.

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Death to Summer! Let Autumn unfold, in hues of russet, copper and gold.

Slàinte mhor!

Addendum:

One of the lovely witches who took part also wrote a blog post about her experience :

http://ravayne04.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/lammas-sabbat-of-sacrifice/

Midsummer & Wildcrafting

It’s been a busy June month for me, I don’t know about you guys but I feel this summer season is just whizzing past and it won’t be long until it’s the knitwear and soup season of Autumn (which I’m looking forward to).

I’ve recently had one of my essays published in an anthology by Moon Books, called Witchcraft Today – 60 years on. The anthology is out to commemorate the 60 year anniversary of Gerald Gardner’s book Witchcraft Today. It was printed at a perfect time, as recently a blue plaque was placed at Gardner’s old home in Highcliffe to commemorate him as the father of modern witchcraft.  My wee essay is about how I took a step onto the path of witchcraft and where it has led me, so far. My journey from solitary to coven practice, which was the case at the time of writing though now I’m back to being solitary. I haven’t gotten through the whole book yet, as I’ve got a huge pile of things I still need to read, but there are some fascinating essays which have caught my eye 🙂

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A friend and I spent the full moon on Friday 13th June taking a pilgrimage up to a local hilltop cemetery, where we were sheltered by three tree spirits as we worked our rite. The heavens with impeccable timing opened up and thunder rumbled in the background –  the perfect background music to witchcraft, no? 😉 Well we got completely soaked, but it didn’t bother us. It worked well with the purpose of our rite and it reminded me of how much I loved being out in the rain as a kid.

 

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Then at midsummer I worked a solitary ritual then had a long walk outside to go foraging. There was tons of elderflower so I felt inspired to make some cordial this year. I’m a responsible forager, I make sure I never harvest more than around 10% so I leave plenty of the plant left for growth and to provide food for wildlife. I also make sure I ask permission and leave some sort of offering to the spirit of the plant. This time however I’d forgotten to bring the usual offerings, so I used what I had to give. A little bit of saliva on the bark, “some of me, for some of thee”.

 

Going foraging seems to be a great conversation starter with passers by wondering what you’re doing, and it delights me to see that they find it fascinating and never knew it could be so simple. I hope I have inspired them in some way.

 

I adapted the recipe from the River Cottage website: http://www.rivercottage.net/recipes/elderflower-cordial/ I used less sugar and only one lemon and one orange.  The next day I strained the brew then heated it in a pan and added the sugar and orange and lemon juices and then (carefully) poured into sterilised bottles. I couldn’t wait for it to cool so of course I had to sample some mixed with soda water, and it was truly beautiful, a perfect summery drink. I took some into work for my colleagues to try and it seemed to be a big hit with them too 🙂 I will be making more next summer.

 

 

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I hope you all had a wonderful midsummer 🙂

 

Slàinte mhath!

 

 

 

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!

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!

 

 

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

 

Mandrake Flying Ointment

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I knew it was going to arrive today, purely because a friend of mine emailed me telling me their order had arrived this morning. So when I heard the thud of the parcel hit the ground through my letterbox, I dashed off the sofa and almost skidded to the front door like an excited puppy.

I’ve never used flying ointment or any other entheogen before, but I’ve been curious about it. I enjoy reading Ms Lawless’ blog, she’s very passionate about her products and it’s clear she’s done her research and backed it up with practice when it comes to entheogens. I chose mandrake because it is the least harmful in the solanaceae family, and also it is sacred to my goddess Hekate. It has a long history within witchcraft, being referenced in the Argonautica, Shakespeare, and even the Bible.

I plan to write up my experiences once I’ve tried it out with some like minded friends 🙂

Tomorrow I will be off to the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh with friends to celebrate, and I hope you all have wonderful Beltane/May Eve celebrations.

Mar sin leat an-dràsta! 

 

Links:

http://sarahannelawless.com/resources/introduction-to-flying-ointments/

http://sarahannelawless.com/2013/10/09/medeas-ritual-of-the-mandrake/

http://sarahannelawless.com/2013/09/15/poison-path-reading-llist/

 

 

 

Beachcombing on a bonny day

On Saturday I took a short train trip to Carnoustie to visit one of the loveliest souls I know. For the sake of privacy I shall call her the Sea Witch.

The Sea Witch treated me to a delicious salmon and rocket salad for lunch (it was divine) and I bought us some cakes from the local bakery. Afterwards the Sea Witch, myself and her son took a wander down to the beach to collect some treasures. I’ve been determined to find my own hagstones as they seem to be given to me as gifts by other people (which I’m grateful for) but I personally feel for them to work for me it must be found by me. About 2 minutes into my search I came across one and some lovely pieces of sea glass.

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The tide was coming back in so we took a walk along the beach gathering whatever we were drawn to. I found a stone with moss inside it – into my bag it went. I found a piece of bone too but not sure what animal it came from. It was such a lovely day, perfect weather for beachcombing and it finally feels like it’s spring time.

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The Sea Witch treated me to tea and cake in her local cafe and I picked the pecan pie (perfection). Then we took a slow walk back to her home and stopped inside an old fashioned sweetie shop on the way, and of course like the big kids we are we just had to get some sweets and slushies to drink on the way back, giggling the rest of the way there.

We examined our found treasures and spent the rest of the afternoon talking about witchcraft and different modes of practice, and witchy plans for the future. I will be going to the Beltane Fire Festival  (eeeek can’t wait!) and then will be celebrating with the coven the day after as one of our members will be getting initiated 😀 This Beltane also marks the 3rd year I have been with the coven and my 2nd year after initiation and I can’t believe so much time has passed since then!

I’m looking forward to more beachcombing in future, I need more hagstones to make some charms with and looking forward to catching up with the Sea Witch again in her natural habitat 🙂

 

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My treasures

 

 

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! 

 

Adventures in the Undergrowth

 

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I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2.1.255-60)

Herbalism can seem like a daunting project to take on board, what with their being over 10,000 species in the world. However, you don’t need to know what thousands of herbs do. You don’t even need to know what a hundred herbs do. You’re most likely only going to use a small number of herbs regularly in your life anyway.

I don’t have a garden but I’ve found the best way to learn about herbs is to go outside and LOOK. See what’s growing on the land YOU live on. Don’t know what kind of plant it is? No problem.Take a photograph of it and research it online or with a reference book. Or even better, talk to the plant and ask it what it does. I would recommend not touching the plant, as some can irritate the skin and some are poisonous.

I get excited when I spot a herb I don’t know, and it’s not uncommon for me to dash up a muddy hillside to get a closer look at it. One minute you could be talking to me, the next I’m running up that hill before you’ve even noticed I’ve disappeared!

There’s nothing wrong in learning from herbal books alone, but it’s no comparison for doing your own field work. Also some books tend to focus on plants that aren’t native to your home soil. Walk throughout the land nearby you, through all seasons and you’ll soon be able to spot what certain herbs look like in their different stages of growth, and when the best time of year is to harvest them.

So get outside folks, get back in touch with the spirits of the land, remember your manners too –  herbs are living organisms after all – ask permission before taking any cuttings and never harvest more than 10% of a plant. It’s always nice to leave an offering too.

Over time you will have compiled a sizeable knowledge base of herbalism all by yourself 🙂

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