Corn Dolls

The Bad Witch’s Guide

February, 2018

 

The Bad Witch’s Guide to Imbolc


I am a bad witch. There are a long list of reasons why I am a bad witch. Having been out of the broom closet for some considerable number of years I would on occasion get asked “but you’re a good witch though?” My response to that depending on the person asking but I found I started to say “yes, a very, very good witch” rather darkly as it usually got the point across…


January was called Wolf month in Anglo-Saxon. Where the starving creatures ventured into villages snapping at the young and helpless, just like the bitter winter winds. January stalks through the cold and damp towards the wet helplessness of Imbolc, lambing season.


There is power in that fragility, in the force of hope. Power in the vulnerability to decide to grow and reach towards the light. February can feel more like winter than December weather wise at least in the British Isles. Sometimes we get unexpected sunshine and warmth, but for the most part it’s sleet, snow, high winds and driving rain.

 

(Brigid Imbolc Corn Dollie by Carlie Bodey of GreenWitchGlamour on etsy.)


Imbolc to me makes more sense if it is part Valentine’s Day, part Mother’s day, part birthing ritual. It is a celebration of hope and the power of love. Sexual love, motherly love and love of life. Brides (Brigid dolls and crosses) are usually the decorations but in truth in our house, we usually finally take our live tree from Yule outside. It is still covered in lights but the ornaments are packed away long ago. We have a Spring clean. I might set up a small altar or temporary shrine to spring.


Breed day, Brides day, all have a sense of sexual expectation I can never seem to muster at this time of year. It is still too cold to shave my legs! I grew up on a farm and much like Lughnasadh represents the frantic hot work of getting the hay harvest in rather than some languid holiday revelry; Imbolc is lambing season. You might have to herd sheep in from one place to another. Bring them in (or let them out, weather dependant) and hunt for stray ewes and small grey bundles abandoned on the luridly green grass. It is cold work. Usually having to be done gloveless. It lacks the communal jovial atmosphere a lot of other seasonal farm jobs have. There is loss and death aplenty. Little miracles happen too.


After all these years I can’t get the after-birth off my hands. I can’t get my hands warm, my feet either to this festival. I don’t hate it. Imbolc is necessary. Birthing is hard. It is dangerous. Liminal and primal. It is a labour. A labour of love. It is where all the loving words are blown away by the roaring wind and your actions really matter. It is what you do, here and now that counts.


I guess this is why I struggle with the whole modern idea of fasting and dieting around January. It feels punitive when everything already feels hard. The weather’s awful. A lot of people are sick. It feels counterintuitive to try and throw yourself into some fake “good” mood. I usually like January. For me and my family it is full of birthdays. And yet, and yet this anticipation of the grind, the work ahead feels overwhelming. So this year I am going to give someone who really needs some love some attention: me.
Just do the one thing that needs doing now. Then the next thing. One breath at a time. Keeping your head where your hands are. One step. One moment after the next. I’m going to try and stop myself from berating myself at how much I have not done, and try and celebrate what I do.


My bad witch self is going to clean and bless my space. Then I’m putting on a playlist designed to be impossible to feel sad or sluggish while playing. I might even eat some good stinky cheese (maybe even goat or sheep cheese) to honour the milk, blood and labour. Then I’m going to look at my “to do list” and try not to wince! I might feel up to doing something fancier on the full moon but I’m not going to force myself to “go through the motions” when all I want to do is hibernate!


Self-care and self-love seem to be so far down most folk’s lists of stuff to do. I have many of the women I know running families, jobs and education who refuse to stay home when they are sick because they “don’t have time to be ill”. Women are routinely told to put themselves last and in the spirit of the birthing season I ask you to give yourself the same compassion and support you give others because you cannot fill others from an empty cup. You don’t have to be everything to be enough.

 

Spell- Rite (You are Worthy)


You will need:


Feel good music (the only rule is that it makes you feel happy)
“Naughty” food, be it ice-cream, stinky cheese or a decadent veggie-burger.
Hot bath or shower.
Candle (scented or otherwise)
Incense (something sweet like amber)


Firstly have a long hot shower or soak in a bath. Use your best products, add some salt. Scrub it all off.


Next in your ritual wear. You can either, dress up the nines. Go all out, or put on your most comfortable ‘jammies or nightwear.


Light your candle and say


I light this fire to remind myself to shine. I am of the same radiant light and I am worthy.”


Then light your incense and say:


“I light this fire to remind myself to find faith in myself. I am of the same breath and I am worthy.”


Just sit for a moment and take in the light and sweet smoke. Then put on your playlist and grab your food and feast. Sing-along, dance, and enjoy.


When you are done extinguish your candle and if you like you can keep this as your self-love candle. You can light it if the day is dark and scary and remind yourself you are worthy. Learning to love yourself is important and honours the gift that the Old Ones have given you.

 

Witchcrafting: Crafts for witches

July, 2014

Corn dolls and smudge sticks

 

Corndoll
This month I hope to inspire you to plan a craft for Lughnasadh. It’s still a month away, which gives you plenty of time to decide what you want to do and to collect up supplies.

Lughnasadh (also known as Lammas) is the first of the three harvest festivals. Where I live in central Connecticut, corn is in season, making cornhusk dolls an easy choice. There are many directions available online, some of which I tried to follow before getting confident enough to just wing it. So think about following along for a bit, then just doing your own thing.

I can generally make one doll from one ear of corn. I start with fresh husks that are smaller and closest to the ear of corn, a good piece of the “hair” and some fine cord.

Taking a chunk of the hair, I lay it on the wide end of a husk, the dark brown end facing away from the end. I add overlapping layers of husks around the hair. You might try for at least eight or more. I’ve never counted, so I don’t know.

Then, I tie off the bundle as tight as possible less than an inch from the end. (The further from the end you tie it off, the larger the head will be.)

Next, holding the end, I carefully turn back each of the husks. Some will split, but that’s okay. When they’re all turned back, fold them down around the end and tie them off with another piece of cording. Now you will have a head with hair coming out the top. If there was a enough of it, you can fan it, or you can just leave it a cascading ponytail.

I make arms by taking the longest one or two pieces of the outer husks and split them the long way into two or three pieces. Placing them on top of one another, I alternate which way the wide end faces. Determining the mid point, each end gets folded back just a bit past that mark.

Now, divide the corn husks beneath the head roughly in half. Tuck the folded arms up under the head and bring all the husks back together, making another tie below the arms.

That’s it. You’re done.

There are many variations. For one of my dolls, I used a particularly long stem broken off the ear of corn for the arms. To make a corn man, divide the “skirt” into two legs and tie off at the knees and ankles. Some people make the dolls from other dried grains. As a substitute for corn, I would use whatever grasses or grains I could find growing wild.
Depending on my ritual, my dolls have been placed on the altar as decorations, used to represent the Corn Mother and then burned the next time the wheel turned again to Lughnasadh, or they have been made to represent myself and what I was thankful for at the first harvest and then offered to the fire.

Smudge Sticks

There are things to harvest the beginning of August besides corn. For that reason, you may want to gather up plants and herbs to make your own smudge sticks.
Choose a sunny, dry day. Using scissors or clippers, cut plants to an equal length, such as five inches. You can use plants such as white sage (not garden sage), mugwort, rosemary, pennyroyal, lavender, sweetgrass, cedar, thyme, balsam, hemlock pine, juniper, mint or lemon balm – or a combination of a few.
Know that some herbs, even culinary herbs, give off a toxic odor when burned. Be sure to research and test a small amount of dried substance outdoors before including it in your bundle.

Group several branches with the cut ends together. Take a piece of thin, cotton string (or separate out three strands of cotton embroidery floss) two and a half times as long as the plant material and, leaving a couple of inches hanging free, tightly wrap it around the stems close to the end. Continue wrapping down the bundle, then back up, so that the sting creates a criss-cross pattern. Use as little string as possible – just enough to hold it together. Wrap tightly because the bundle will shrink as it dries, but no so tightly that the string cuts into the leaves. Tie off the ends. You can hang to dry, or place them in a dark place where there is good air circulation. Putting them on a screen or grate above a solid surface, allows air to circulate.

They can be burned when they are dried completely; this can take three weeks or more. The thicker you make it, the longer it takes to dry, but the slower it will burn. To use, hold the end and light, being careful for any flyaway pieces. Allow the stick to burn a few seconds, then blow out the flame and allow it to smolder. To put it out, crush the smoldering end or rub it into sand.

I hope you’ll post a picture of what you were inspired to make.