history

Book Review – Sacred Herbs: Your Guide to 40 Medicinal Herbs and How to Use Them for Healing and Well-Being by Opal Streisand

May, 2018

Book Review

Sacred Herbs: Your Guide to 40 Medicinal Herbs and How to Use Them for Healing and Well-Being”

by Opal Streisand

Publisher: Sterling Ethos

Published: Hardcover, February 2018

Pages: 128

This book has beautiful, large, color photos of 40 medicinal plants. That is the best thing about “Sacred Herbs: Your Guide to 40 Medicinal Herbs and How to Use Them for Healing and Well-Being.” It makes for a wonderful identification and reference for those in the earlier stages of learning about herbs.

For each, Opal Streisand gives the Latin name, an interesting note, the parts of the plant used, and information about the herb and its benefits, along with cautions if applicable. Sometimes that long paragraph includes history. Sometimes herbs get a four-page spread with more detailed information and a second photo.

Nowhere did I learn Opal Streisand’s credentials, so it would seem she is an author researching and writing about herbs, and not a herbalist sharing learning and personal experience. Someone going deeper into the subject will want an additional book by an herbalist.

This book can serve as the gateway, introducing the reader to some of the most commonly used herbs and instilling an appreciation of their many uses. Ancient healers knew the curative powers of the plants around them. That information has been passed down through generations in many cultures and traditions. Herbs are nature’s medicine, and that medicine is just as effective today as it was 200 years ago.

This book will acquaint you to herbs that soothe and heal. You’ll learn that a decoction of burdock was a folk remedy for colds and valerian is a sleep aid that should not be taken with other sedatives or antidepressants.

It’s worth repeating: the photographs are beautiful. They will help to identify plants by their flowers and, in some cases, their foliage.

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About the Author:

Lynn Woike was 50 – divorced and living on her own for the first time – before she consciously began practicing as a self taught solitary witch. She draws on an eclectic mix of old ways she has studied – from her Sicilian and Germanic heritage to Zen and astrology, the fae, Buddhism, Celtic, the Kabbalah, Norse and Native American – pulling from each as she is guided. She practices yoga, reads Tarot and uses Reiki. From the time she was little, she has loved stories, making her job as the editor of two monthly newspapers seem less than the work it is because of the stories she gets to tell. She lives with her large white cat, Pyewacket, in central Connecticut. You can follow her boards on Pinterest, and write to her at woikelynn at gmail dot com.

 

 

Book Review – Sigils, Ciphers and Scripts: History and Graphic Function of Magick Symbols by M. B. Jackson

March, 2018

Sigils, Ciphers and Scripts: 

History and Graphic Function of Magick Symbols

by M. B. Jackson

Published by Green Magic, Somerset, 2013

 

Big thanks to Green Magic for sending me a copy of ‘Sigils, Ciphers and Scripts’ by M. B. Jackson to review. First of all, it’s a really beautiful book. Glossy black, A4, coffee table style; it’s certainly a conversation starter. The subtitle is History and Graphic Function of Magick Symbols, and I think it’s important to bear this in mind when reading the book. This volume is not a comprehensive break down and explanation of every single magical alphabet and symbolic system, as this would require a much thicker, denser volume. What this book does is introduce you to each set of symbols, give you a bit of the history, and provide you with some beautiful graphics.

My favourite aspect of this book is that it is not path specific. Symbolism from many different cultures, studies and religions appears here; Judaism, Paganism and alchemy, to name but a few. Each section is spread over two pages. The first page being a two-column history and description of the symbols; the second page being the symbols themselves. The illustrations are really beautiful and highly detailed where necessary.

Now if you are thinking you can pick this book up and learn the inner secrets of Enochian and how to communicate with angels, I’m really sorry but you’re going to be disappointed. But what you will learn is where Enochian was ‘discovered’, who made it famous, and the symbols themselves. What you do with this information is, I guess, up to you! Further reading is definitely required if you want to go more in depth or fully understand how to use the scripts. But again, this is in the title; this book gives the history and describes the symbols; it isn’t a ‘how to’ guide.

This is one of those volumes I’m likely to keep to hand, for those times when you see a symbol but aren’t sure of its origins, or simply for reference information. I particularly enjoyed learning how the ‘flower of life’ leads into the development of platonic solids, a connection I had not previously considered.

One minor criticism: in the further reading section, the first website listed is Wikipedia. I would never, ever cite Wikipedia as either a source or as recommended further reading on a specialist subject, as it is too easy to edit and place misinformation in there. As a first step towards finding other sources, it’s fine, but it was off-putting to see it listed as recommended reading in such a niche volume.

Other than that, I was truly delighted with this volume. The presentation is outstanding, and it really does give a good outline of each set of symbols or ciphers, giving you a good starting point and a great foundation to work from.

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About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.

Follow Mabh on TwitterFacebook and her blog.

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She Who is All – The Goddess of Ten Thousand Names

February, 2018

Sheela-Na-Gig

(Photo Credit: knowth.com)

What better representation of the Goddess for February than Sheel-Na-Gig?

All over Europe, primarily Ireland and England, adorning castles, churches, sacred sites, you will find carvings in stone of the beautiful Sheela-Na-Gig, a big smile on her face, squatting knees apart, exposing her powerful vulva. It is believed that these carvings were done during the Neolithic and Paleolithic eras. There is still and old energy that lies within these carvings.

While many find Her akin to a gargoyle, or a figure of lust. Many women, though, believe her to be an ancient fertility figure and a representation of the Mother Goddess.

The term “gyg”, in Norse, means giantess or a deified female, aka Goddess. It is thought that these carvings were meant for protection and to ward off evil, which goes a long way toward understanding their appearance on ancient churches.

(Photo Credit: www.beyond-the-pale.org/uk)

The vulva is a holy symbol of birth and life; representing regenerative powers of an Earth Mother/Goddess. The vulva of Sheela-Na-Gig is in the shape of a triangle, another hint that She is a representation of the Goddess. The triangle is a symbol of the three aspects of the Goddess – Maiden, Mother and Crone – the full cycle of a woman’s life (yes, I am not including all of the new additions of Queen, etc.)

It is thought that graves were built in the shape of the Goddess and that Her vagina was the passageway to regeneration and rebirth.

I believe that it is most likely unknown how many of these carvings there are, but this link will give you an idea of those that are in Ireland: http://www.irelands-sheelanagigs.org/

This article researches those in Southern England: http://www.sheelanagig.org/wordpress/category/southern-england/

(Photo Credit: www.atlasobscura.com)

Some of these carvings may be seen as lying on their side or upside-down, which indicates re-use of the stone which originally held the Sheela-Na-Gig carving.

Many of these carvings were taken down and destroyed with the growth of the church, as well as the beginning and rise of patriarchy. It is believed by many that these carvings of Sheela-Na-Gig gave rise to the demonization of women, and of women being portrayed as an ugly hag or crone.

While there are women who find these carvings grotesque and obscene, women who “know”, see Her as an invitation from the Goddess to explore and delve into their own divine feminine. She is the gateway to new adventures, new projects and new paths.

Sheela-Na-Gig is the invitation, the gateway and the re-birth of women who have the courage to really see Her, choose to delve into Her Mysteries and be reborn, knowing of their own Goddess power within and without.

With the fast and rampant rise of patriarchy, women were reduced to nothing but one who serves at home for their spouse, and as sex objects, which is how many see Sheela-Na-Gig. With this reduction of the powerful force of women and the Goddess, women lost their power.

We, as women, need to remove ourselves from the yoke of patriarchy. The time is now for women to rise up and reclaim the power of the Goddess and the power that is held within them; rise up and proclaim “THIS is our power”.

(Photo Credit: www.beyond-the-pale.org/uk

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About the Author:

Susan Morgaine is a Daughter of the Goddess, Witch, Writer, Teacher, Healer, and Yogini. She is a monthly columnist with PaganPages.org Her writings can be found in The Girl God Anthologies, Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak” and Jesus, Mohammed and the Goddess, as well as Mago Publications She Rises, Volume 2, and “Celebrating Seasons of the Goddess”. She has also been published in Jareeda and SageWoman magazines. She is a Certified Womens Empowerment Coach/Facilitator through She is the author of “My Name is Isis, the Egyptian Goddess”, one in the series of the “My Name Is………” children’s books published by The Girl God Publications. A Woman International, founded by Patricia Lynn Reilly. She has long been involved in Goddess Spirituality and Feminism, teaching classes and workshops, including Priestessing Red Tents within MA and RI. She is entering her 20th year teaching Kundalini Yoga and Meditation, being a Certified instructor through the Kundalini Research Institute, as well as being a Reiki Master. She is a member of the Sisterhood of Avalon. She can be found at https://mysticalshores.wordpress.com/ and her email is MysticalShores@gmail.com

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MagickalArts

February, 2018

(en)LIV(en)ING With the Muses-Clio

This is the third posting of the (en)LIV(en)ING with the Muses Series

The Muse, Clio is considered the Muse of History. Her name, sometimes spelled Kleio is a form of the greek verb, “Kleo” which means to make famous, to recall or to celebrate. She makes full use of her birth right as the daughter of Mnemosyne (Goddess of Remembrance) as memory is a key component that every historian must rely upon to accurately give account of events, people and places. Unlike her sisters, who are more directly related to the act of inspiring whatever their specialty is, Clio works at the level of codifying and giving durability to what is the product of those inspirations.  

The versatility of her nature and governance is seen in the epithets for her, which include: Daughter of the Lord of Cloud-capped Heaven, Giver of Sweetness, High-Throned, Queen of Song, Flowering, and Unforgetting. The Greek lyric poet, Pindar says of Clio and her influence on the bringing to renown those who would be so honored:

“Of song grant, of my skill, full measure. Strike, O daughter of the lord of cloud-capped heaven, chords to his honour; mine to wed them with the youthful voices and with the lyre . . . In your honour then, if high-throned Kleio (Clio) wills, for your proud spirit of conquest.” 1.

Clio is often depicted holding many scrolls or a single open scroll, and in more recent times with books sitting at her feet. Hers is not only the gift of recording those events which are to be celebrated and added as markers of history but also that of the retelling of those events, so they may be the source of inspiring those who would through their actions be the future creators of history yet unwritten. The Greek historian, Diodorus speaks of Kleio (Clio) in this way:

To each of the Mousai (Muses) men assign her special aptitude for one of the branches of the liberal arts, such as poetry, song, pantomimic dancing, the round dance with music, the study of the stars, and the other liberal arts . . . For the name of each Mousa, they say, men have found a reason appropriate to her . . . Kleio (Clio) is so named because the praise which poets sing in their encomia bestows great glory (kleos) upon those who are praised.” 2.

Another of her names was that of “the Proclaimer”. This nomenclature was exemplified in the story recounting that Clio openly declared her disapproval of the Goddess Aphrodite’s pursuit of Adonis; whom Clio had been having affairs with secretly. In retaliation, Aphrodite crafted a curse that made Clio fall in love with the King of Macedonia, Pierus and forget her infatuation with Adonis. A son was supposedly born of that union named Hyacinthus who was renown for his grace and beauty. His lover the God Apollo killed Hyacinthus, and, it is said that where his blood lay, flowers arose of great beauty as tribute to his love and purity.  These are the perennials, Hyacinths noted for their sweet and intoxicating fragrance and of notable fame in the quote by Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier’s:

If thou of fortune be bereft, and in thy store there be but left two loaves, sell one, and with the dole, buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.” 3.

Clio had a second son, Hymenaios who was the God of marriage, epic feasts and songs. The officiating nature of his Mother, Clio is seen in the magnitude of the types of events her son presided over. His was the governance of those times that would become part of the history of those for whom these auspicious events occurred. 

Time and again, through art and literature, politics and education, Clio’s hand has been the underlying energy that gives timeless meaning and importance to whatever it is applied to. The 17th Century Dutch Painter, Johannes Vermeer, makes reference to Clio in his painting The of Painting. In this painting she depicted wearing standard garb of the time, a laurel wreath adorning her head, and carrying a trumpet. The wreath and trumpet both symbols of triumph and the jubilant announcement of that status. 

Detail of The art of Painting

The artist observes his model, who is dressed as Clio, the muse of history. As he records her image carefully on his canvas, he is not so much the recipient of the muse’s inspiration as the agent through whom she takes on life and significance. Clio wears a crown of laurel on her head to denote honor, glory, and eternal life. In one hand she holds a trumpet, which stands for fame, and in the other she clasps a thick folio, perhaps a volume of Thucydides, which symbolizes history. These were the attributes ascribed to her by Cesare Ripa in his Iconologia, a sixteenth-century book of emblems and personifications that was widely used by artists.” 2.

The art of Painting

Another depiction of Clio is found in a mosaic of the poet Virgil, who is seen in process of writing his epic poem, The Aenid in the presence of two of the Muses. In this scene “ the Roman poet Virgil, seated with a sheet of scrolls in his hand, is attended by two Mousai, Kleio the Muse of history with a scroll, and Melpomene the Muse of tragedy with a tragic mask.”  

VIRGIL & THE MOUSAI 

And, finally, a more modern testament to the lasting influence of the Muse of History and the need for the recording of its facts is the representation of Clio found in the National Statuary Hall of the capital building in Washington, DC. Gracing the doorway into this illustrious hall that served as meeting place for the decisive and historical actions of the House of Representatives from 1807 to 1857 is the Car of History designed by sculptor Carlo Franzoni in 1819. Clio stands within a winged chariot that serves as the vehicle and personification that represents the passing of history through the ages. In place of the ancient scroll, she holds her book of remembrance and records the events of history as they unfold. The chariot has a singular wheel that is a clock representing the passage of time in the hours and minutes of the days. The Chariot sits atop a marble globe which has the signs of the Zodiac on it completing the reference to the eternal and cyclical nature of time, events and the never ending history that is created by its turning.


The Car of History

Remembering Your Own History:

When I consider the gifts of Clio I am reminded of my own personal history; in particular what I have learned from my Mother. My history is rich in strong women who shouldered responsibility, accepting all that came their way and making at times difficult choices to insure that there was a roof overhead, food on the table and a better life for their children than what they had endured. I am reminded of the history that I have helped to create for my own family and children and the opportunity to call upon Clio’s energy of celebration and lessons earned from past experience to write a new script if needed that is more positively filled. 

In my spiritual work, I call upon Clio to remind me of the history of my spiritual path and those who paved the way, the sacrifices made and the eternal wisdom that has become the foundation of my teachings and learning. I call upon Clio to help me keep my intentions in order so that those who follow in my footsteps may benefit from the history I will someday leave. 

In my mundane life, I call upon Clio to remind me that each action I take and each person with whom I interact has a piece of his or her own history to share. This is often not something that is overtly elicited but if I remain poised with metaphorical pen and book of remembrance in hand, the synthesis of our time together will write a new history that each of us will collectively call our own. 

 

The next post will focus on the Muse, Erato and her gifts of Lyrical poetry

Resources:

1. Pindar, Nemean Ode 3. 10 & 82 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.).

2. From: Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 7. 1 (trans. Oldfather) (Greek historian C1st B.C.).

3. hur K. Wheelock Jr., ed., Johannes Vermeer [Exh. cat., National Gallery of , Washington; The Mauritshuis, The Hague] (Washington, 1995).

4. John Greenleaf Whittier. Quaker Poet  1807-1892.

 

Images:

Statuary of Clio: The Vatican Museum.Rome

Detail and Full Painting: The art of Painting by Johannes Vermeer 

The of Painting, c. 1666, oil on canvas. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Image: VIRGIL & THE MOUSAI, Mosiac

Bardo Museum, Tunis, Tunisia 

Image: The Car of History

Carlo Franzoni. 1819. National Statuary Hall

 

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About the Author:

Robin Fennelly is a Wiccan High Priestess, teacher, poet and author. She is the author of:

 

The Inner Chamber, Vol. One

It’s Written in the Stars

Astrology

 

The Inner Chamber, Vol. Two

poetry of the spheres

Qabalah

 

The Inner Chamber, Vol. Three

Awakening the Paths

Qabalah

 

A Year With Gaia

The Eternal Cord

 

Temple of the Sun and Moon

Luminous Devotions

 

The Magickal Pen, Volume One

A Collection of Esoteric Writings

 

The Elemental Year

Aligning the Parts of SELF

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The Enchanted Gate

Musings on the Magick of the Natural World

 

Sleeping with the Goddess

Nights of Devotion

 

A Weekly Reflection

Musings for the Year

 

Her books are available on Amazon or website and her Blogs can be found atRobin Fennelly 

 

Follow Robin on Facebook and on Instagram

Book Review – The Good Witch’s Guide: A Modern-Day Wiccapedia of Magical Ingredients and Spells by Shawn Robbins and Charity Bedell

September, 2017

The Good Witch’s Guide: A Modern-Day Wiccapedia of Magical Ingredients and Spells”

 

 

by Shawn Robbins and Charity Bedell

Published by Sterling Ethos

Published: 2017

Pages: 305

 

Rituals, History, aromatherapy, crystals, candle magic, spiritual alchemy, potions, tinctures, herbs and recipes are just some of the topics covered in this hardcover book that’s approximately six inches by six and a half inches. It’s an inch thick and just feels good to hold.

 

As a “Wiccapedia,” it covers all the topics you need to know, and then offers lists for additional reading and reference materials.

 

The section on herbal folklore includes information about botanicals for health and healing, and passes along an old but potent charm. The chapter on aromatherapy explains how to use essential oils both for health and in magick, offering dozens of recipes. In presenting crystals, their properties are explained, along with instructions for using them to make waters for balancing chakras, and for relief from everything from asthma to stress.

 

Practical magick covers spells for mind, body and spirit. There’s a housecleaning incense spell, a healing poppet spell, money spells, and spells for protection and for love. Twenty-three pages focus on candle magic while forty-seven pages are dedicated to teas, tinctures and tonics for health and magick. A chapter offers ways to cook up some magick – literally – with recipes for soup, bread, Yule shortbread cookies, Imbolc cake and more.

 

The book introduces readers to a variety of tools and topics, helping them make their own magick, and it makes a reliable reference source as well.

 

Shane Robbins is a psychic and a paranormal researcher whose grandparents immigrated from Russia and Hungary with bottles of botanicals and the knowledge of herbal healing. Her grandmother’s tea cured the polio she contracted from one of Salk’s first vaccines. That changed her life, and set her on a course to teach holistic medicine and healing. Robbins put her research and extensive knowledge into this book.

 

Charity Bedell has been practicing witchcraft for seventeen years – a journey that began when she was given a copy of Silver Ravenwolf’s “Teen Witch” on her thirteenth birthday. Her witchcraft now is wild and free, incorporating shamanic techniques, prayer, meditation, trance work and offerings to connect to the spirits of the land. Bedell is committed to the Temple of Witchcraft traditions. A lifetime of herbalism and alternative healing practices also stretch back to her youth.

 

Each woman has written other books before this. Coming together, their aim was to inspire and empower readers, giving them a vast collection of information. The new as well as the seasoned witch will find knowledge of value. My copy has the corners of several pages turned down.

 

 

 

 

***

 

About the Author:

 


Lynn Woike was 50 – divorced and living on her own for the first time – before she consciously began practicing as a self taught solitary witch. She draws on an eclectic mix of old ways she has studied – from her Sicilian and Germanic heritage to Zen and astrology, the fae, Buddhism, Celtic, the Kabbalah, Norse and Native American – pulling from each as she is guided. She practices yoga, reads Tarot and uses Reiki. From the time she was little, she has loved stories, making her job as the editor of two monthly newspapers seem less than the work it is because of the stories she gets to tell. She lives with her large white cat, Pyewacket, in central Connecticut. You can follow her boards on Pinterest, and write to her at woikelynn at gmail dot com.

 

 

She Who is All – The Goddess of Ten Thousand Names

January, 2017

ACHLYS

Achlys (pronounced Akh-Loos) is the name, and personification, of Eternal Night.

goddess

(Photo: Pinterest)

She is also known as Mist of Death, which is another meaning of Her name. It describes the mist that fell before one’s eyes before dying. As such, Her likeness was borne upon the Shield of Hercules.

She is a pale, thin Goddess with long sharp fingernails, which she will use as claws, which in turn explains Her bloody cheeks. Her teeth are as fangs. She is covered in dust, as She roams the world. Her incessant crying gives her the name of the Goddess of Misery and Sadness.

One of Her myths is that She is the only being to precede Chaos, and that the entire world came from her. This makes Her a primordial, creative being, akin to Shakti, in the Hindu world.

goddess

(Photo: ninecircles.co)

She is the Mistress of Poisons, who could create poisonous flowers by just summoning them, and not a few of Her potions could turn humans into animals.

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 14. 143 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic 5th century AD):

“[Hera spies the nurses of the infant god Dionysos:] Hera, who turns her all-seeing eye to every place, saw from on high the everchanging shape of Lyaios [Dionysos], and knew all. Then she was angry with the guardians of Bromios. She procured from Thessalian Akhlys (Achlys, Death-Mist) treacherous flowers of the field, and shed a sleep of enchantment over their heads; she distilled poisoned drugs over their hair, she smeared a subtle magical ointment over their faces ,and changed their earlier human shape. Then they took the form of a creature with long ears, and a horse’s tail sticking out straight from the loins and flogging the flanks of its shaggy-crested owner; from the temples cow’s horns sprouted out, their eyes widened under the horned forehead, the hair ran across their heads in tuft, long white teeth grew out of their jaws, a strange kind of mane grew of itself, covering their necks with rough hair, and ran down from the loins to feet underneath.”

(Wikepedia)

Goddess myths don’t always make sense. As we know, Goddess stories and myths from around the worlds can become confused; names are similar, some Goddesses become combined with other Goddesses. It is no different here.

To contradict the origin myth of Achlys, it is also said she that she was one of the Keres/Ceres, the female death spirits, who were the daughters of Nyx, whose name means “night”, similar to Achlys’ Eternal Night.

The Keres’ names were Moros, meaning *Doom*, Ker meaning *Violent Death*, Hypnos meaning *Sleep* and Theoneiroi meaning *Dreams*. The description of the Keres being dark and mysterious beings with sharp teeth and claws, wearing bloody garments is similar enough to that of Achyls to let you think that She was one of their number. The Keres hovered over battlefields searching for wounded and dying men, as they relished the violent and cruel deaths that battle and murder wrought. Perhaps Achylis joined them, dropping the Mist of Death before the eyes of these men, before the Keres would take their bodies and souls.

goddess

(Photo: Pinterest)

As this quote shows, it is believed, too, that the Keres were released into the world by the opening of Pandora’s box; this would have included Achylis:

Hesiod, Works and Days 90 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :

“For ere this [the opening of Pandora’s jar] the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills (kakoi) and hard toil (ponoi) and heavy sickness (nosoi) which bring the Keres (Fates) upon men; for in misery men grow old quickly. But the woman took off the great lid of the jar (pithos) with her hands and scattered all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men. Only Elpis (Hope) remained there in an unbreakable home within under the rim of the great jar, and did not fly out at the door; for ere that, the lid of the jar stopped her, by the will of Aigis-holding Zeus who gathers the clouds. But the rest, countless plagues (lugra), wander amongst men; for earth is full of evils and the sea is full. Of themselves diseases (nosoi) come upon men continually by day and by night, bringing mischief to mortals silently; for wise Zeus took away speech from them. So is there no way to escape the will of Zeus.”

(Theoi.com)

goddess

(Photo: paleothea.com by Hein Lass)

Whatever Her true myth and origins, there is no doubt that Achlys is one of the many Dark Goddesses. While we may wish to turn our head, the wise know that without the Dark, there is no Light; without Death, there is no Life.

Magic: From the Middle Ages to Today

November, 2016

When I was doing an online course about magic in the Middle ages, a question was posed: How does magical thought differ today, from that in the Middle Ages?

One thing that magic in the Middle Ages and magic today has in common is that it is always a form of transformation. The sick are healed; the weather is changed; a shapeshifter moves silently through the night; a lover changes his/her mind. The main difference that I can see is that there was so little understood about the world in the Middle Ages, almost everything could be seen as a magical act.

A woman who used Willow bark to ease the pain of a loved one would have been branded a witch, but today we call it Aspirin and sell it in pharmacies worldwide. Western practitioners of Magic in the 21st century accept scientific rationality and work alongside this (for the most part) to continue and even enhance their magical practices. Without realising it, the sorcerers of the Middle Ages were doing this too, but unknowingly, with herbs, chanting and music (which can alter our brain waves), hallucinogens and of course fear; fear of the fairies, demons and even god.

I think it’s a generalisation to say we have ‘prejudices’ against this period, as most folks with an interest in the period will do some research to see how things really were, and those that have no interest will probably not even be aware of the magical practices taking place during this time. Popular culture has always painted the picture of the warty old witch or evil sorcerer, regardless of the time period, because of superstition created by the church; that magic is evil and powered by demons.

It’s easy to understand why people would be enamoured of the idea of the Renaissance bringing the ‘light’ of reason into a filthy, superstitious world. The downside to this, in my opinion, is the loss of ancient traditions and customs that are part of the growth of a culture. It’s great to understand why we do things, and the science behind them, and of course if practices are found to be dangerous, they should stop. But one day, we may not have access to electricity, medicine or even books, and the knowledge and practices of our ‘magical’ forebears could be the most useful ‘hand-me-down’ available.

Magic is performing transformation for people. Science is understanding how you did that and how to do it again, in exactly the same way. Religion, particularly Christianity in this context, often condemns both science and magic for being ‘against God’. Telling, no?

Mabh Savage is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.

Tink About It

December, 2015

Witch Balls

The last few months a certain object demanded my attention. In books, in my dreams, on the internet in places you wouldn’t expect… It took me some time before I figured it out, but in the end the message was clear: ‘the universe’ wanted me to pay attention and learn about… witch balls! Of course I had heard about them but I never really did something with it.

Witch balls are hollow spheres of coloured glass that often contain a few thin fibres strung inside. They seem to originate in cultures that believe in harmful magic , evil spirits and such, to ward those off by hanging a witch ball in the (east) window or entrance of the home. As to how it works, the stories vary slightly. Evil is drawn to the ball which absorbs the negativity and keeps it from entering the home. Witches were believed to be attracted by the shininess and beauty of the ball, they touch it or go into it and are lost inside. It could also work like a magnet: the ball itself is charged with positive energy and thus it attracts and absorbs the negative energies. Or even simpler: the mirroring of the balls reflects evil back to where it comes from.

Witchballs(picture: Wikipedia)

No one knows exactly what or where the origin of the balls is. The ability to make and blow glass is a very old skill. Some sources date back the witch balls to Medieval Europe, more than six centuries ago, or even earlier. At that time the form would have been rough and not very well-defined. On the 18th (England. Europe) and 19th century (America) witch balls were moulded in a more refined shape with use of higher quality glass. They became very popular and were also seen as a sign of wealth and prestige as they weren’t cheap. Some people still believed they helped against evil, witches etc. though; others called it superstition. Trying to get rid of old lore they were also called fairy orbs: the beauty of the balls was told to attract fairies, who would then show their appreciation by bestowing the owner with good luck. The balls showed up in a larger form in gardens, and smaller in Yule trees. Are they connected? It’s certainly possible but debatable. Still, glass workers traditionally make a witch ball as the first object to be created in a new studio.

Nowadays there are lots of beautiful witch balls for sale. For protection, for decoration, or both. Funny enough you often see them at the homes of the very people they were used against to scare them of at first: witches! Perhaps a lot of sources got it wrong, and witches are the origin of witch balls. They could have been the ones that made them for protection of their homes. Or they used them for scrying, or collecting solar and lunar light or other magical uses. Who knows..

Fishermen use floating balls for their nets. In earlier days they were made of glass. Those glass balls resemble witch balls, so they were often used for that purpose too. It’s probably also the reason why witch balls are associated with sea superstitions and legends in some lore.
At the moment I have two ‘witch balls’. One of them is definitely used by fishermen. It was found on the beach and has barnacles attached in several places. The other one could be a fishing-net ball too, but I think it is mainly used for decoration. When we were kids my sister had a fishing-net on her ceiling with the glass balls still in it. The ball with barnacles will get a nice place in our living room. We live in a fishing-village close to the harbour and sea so I guess it’s the right place for it. The other one will hang in my temple room window. Yes, as decoration, but I will certainly charge them to protect our home and reflect or absorb evil.

Witchballs2

my own ‘witch balls’

Sources & further reading:

Spiralled Edges

November, 2015

Spiralled Edges – Soul Ancestors and Pagan Practices

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about ancestors and past-life memories, and how that may be influencing my Pagan practise in this current life.

Humans place a great value on their cultural group. And well we should! This is our family, our home, our traditions, our rituals and celebrations. Of course we are going to get peeved when someone comes along and treats it all as a joke or picks up the pretty bits to wear like a necklace then tosses it aside when the next shiny comes along.

There is a lot of awareness in recent years of the ways in which people of European descent have wrongly appropriated the practices and beliefs of other cultures. Absolutely, this is something that needs to be addressed, and claiming to be a part of another culture when you have been neither reared nor adopted into that culture is always wrong.

What various Gods have told me a number of times, in different ways, is that They don’t just see our current life. They see our ancestral life as well, ancestors of the blood, through birth or adoption, and also of the ancestors of the soul. It may be that we find ourselves called to honour a Deity from a culture we have no blood connection because of this Soul Ancestry.

Through my own work, I have come to understand that Deities see our Soul ancestry (our past-lives) as well as our blood ancestry. In working with Deity I have on several occasions been tapped on the shoulder by a Deity outside of the Celtic pantheon. Each time the encounter has had to be dealt with in a way that both honoured and respected the Deity, and at the same time showed sensitivity and awareness of the human culture associated with that Deity, both in antiquity and today.

People though, people can only see your current life and blood ancestry line. This is the one we are meant to be focusing on in this life time. (They’re called past lives for a reason, they’re part of our past!)

In this lifetime, I am a Western European mutt born to two white parents, who in turn had two white parents, who each had two white parents, who each had…In other words, I claim not even the tiniest drop of African tribal, Afro-Caribbean, Indian (subcontinent India), ancient Mesopotamian, Anatolian, Persian, Russian, or pre-Inca South American blood. But Deities and spirits from each of these groupings have chosen to speak to me or through me to another person. Some have worked through or with me, not because I was expected to take up the mantle of that culture but because the knowledge had some bearing on my current life experience. Others have chosen to speak or work through me when I’ve been doing healing work for another person that they have claimed. They speak through me, or at least give me the message and I pass it on. Once I pass on the message, I don’t hear from that Deity again. That’s right – They used me as an answering service!

Others have come round when I am doing past-life healing work for myself. Right now I am working my way through some issues around food and diet that appear to be related to a past-life experience in ancient Peru and an even more ancient past-life experience in ancient Anatolia. I have Soul Ancestry connections to both times and places. I am not doing this work as someone who has a spurious claim to an ancient Chavin or Moche heritage, or an ancient Anatolian heritage though. I’m doing it as a Western European white woman who has a lot to learn.

Part of me questions why Western Europeans are so eager to claim a Soul Ancestry connection as part of their heritage today. I think it has to do with the ways Europeans have scattered themselves across the globe over the past 600 years.

In my own family line, I can trace my family back into 8 different countries. They were Puritans, Lutherans, and Huguenots, and at least one German multi-great grandfather trying to avoid being drafted to fight in a war, who travelled across the Atlantic to the New World between the 1500s and the 1800s. Where is my connection to a land? If I were to return to the land of my ancestors where would I go? On the other hand, at least all of my family lines can be traced back to the same continent. Some have branches that split into 2 or 3 or more different continents.

Ironically, my youngest son, born in England, tells people that he is half-American while I tell people I am part this, part that, a drop of the other.

What we don’t have, with our ancestral lines stretching back into half a dozen or more countries around the world, is that sense of connection to a people, to a community, to a land stretching back hundreds of generations that indigenous people can have. I think that some grow jealous of that connection and are trying to claim part of it for themselves.

As part of my training in shamanic healing methods I learned about Soul Loss, and Soul Retrieval, and Soul Stealing. The first two are fairly self-explanatory. The third can happen when someone deliberately or inadvertently steals a part of our soul from us, but also when we deliberately or inadvertently steal a part of someone else’s soul from them. This is what we are doing when we try to claim someone else’s culture as our own without benefit of having been born or adopted into that culture.

Like the soul piece taken from another, we can’t use it. It gives us no extra self-power. It gives us no real connection to the Earth.

I think as well, that many people have this idea that Europe has no ancient noble, indigenous culture. They are trying to validate and justify their own Pagan (or other) beliefs and instead of looking inwards to their own cultural history, try to give validity to their beliefs by assuming the cultural history of a “real” indigenous group. You see this today with people making tourist jaunts into South America in order to take part in plant healer ceremonies, and in people trying to claim they are Native American. 60 years ago, these same people would have been traipsing over to India and Nepal to live in an Ashram.

Always they look outside of themselves, outside of their culture, outside of their ancestry trying to find something that is right in front of their eyes and inside themselves.

Just because you think you were a Cherokee princess in a previous life, that doesn’t mean you get to claim to be a Cherokee in this lifetime. Not even if First Woman speaks in your ear. Not unless you have also been raised in the Cherokee culture in this lifetime or have been formally adopted into a family and are embracing the entire culture as your own. This does not mean that First Woman hasn’t spoken to you, and it does not mean that you cannot or should not do things in your personal practice to honour Her. Just don’t claim to be something you’re not at the same time.

Remember these words from Valiente’s Charge of the Goddess – If that which you seek to find you seek not within, you will never find it without.

What Pagan spiritual practices can you find within your own blood ancestry lines?

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

October, 2015

Samhain 2015 for Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

 

This article is cheating. I admit it.

I was looking over last year’s article to ensure I did not write close to the same thing this year, and I stumbled upon the file for the talk and ritual I gave at our Samhain last year. It was conveniently and entirely different from last year’s article.

Of course, memories came flooding back. Each Sabbat and gathering is packed with good memories with loved ones. Samhain, the time for honoring the dead, is a good time to connect with the living as well. In pre-Christian times, it was a time of communal work and celebration of a good final harvest and bringing the herds in for winter. It was also a time to give thanks, and ask the powers that be for protection from sickness, starvation, and death in the cold months.

I reworked my talk into an article. That is the cheating! The article discusses some history, as well as ancient practices, and then the ritual we used to honor the Sidhe has been reworked and is given at the end.

A LITTLE HISTORY AND WHY THEY HAD SAMHAIN

Samhain originally comes from Ireland and was celebrated as the beginning of winter. It dates from times when the folk were dependent upon herds. May 1, Beltaine, was of course when the herds were brought out to Summer fields, and Samhain was when they were brought in for the winter. It was also the cold part of the year. People got sicker and were more likely to die. So, people would be doing rituals for protection at Samhain.

They also believed that the dead had more access to the world of the living at that time. They not only honored the dead, but also did things to ward off spirits that were not so nice. Bad spirits could bring disease and death of livestock or people.

Back before refrigeration, insulation, electricity, and preservatives, all of this was a very big deal. The people believed very strongly that the spirits, gods, and the ancestors directly influenced what happened to the living. They could bring suffering and sickness, or bestow life, health, wealth and blessings. It was very important that all the proper taboos were observed and honor was paid to the gods, the dead and the spirits. All the proper workings and rituals had to be observed so everybody made it through the cold winter. And of course it was at the end of final harvest, so there was eating, drinking, feasting, and revelry!

ANCIENT SITES

We know what neo-Pagans do now, but we rely on the writings of people like the monks to let us know what the pre-Christian Pagans did. Some of the writings depict things we’d never do in modern times.

One god who was honored Samhain time was Crom Cruach- who favored human sacrifice. At the historical plain in what is now in Ulster, called Magh Slecht ( maw shlaykht), an image of Crom Stood, and that is where some Samhain rites were said to begin. At Magh Slecht, there are monuments dating back to before 4000 BC and there are 80 known monuments on the site. It became the center for worship of Crom, and devotees were said to prostrate themselves to Crom by kneeling and putting their foreheads on the ground. Thus, the name Mag Slecht means, “The plain of prostrations”. The monuments still there include not only Christian sites, but also artificial islands, burial sites, stone circles, and even a couple of castles. According to the monks, St, Patrick struck down the statue of Crom, ended the worship of him, and founded a church there. It is said when he struck the statue down, a ring of stones encircling the statue sank into the ground. Interestingly, it is said the Killycluggin Stone is the one St. Patrick struck down. Others say the stones around the Killycluggin Stone were actually the image of Crom. There is of course, an amazing looking replica placed where the original was excavated in 1921, as well as remainders of the stone circle. The original Killycluggin Stone is now in the County Cavan Museum in Ballyjamesduff. An online source at

themysticwood.com/shop/2015/08/01/10-tidbits-about-crom-dubh-sunday

has beautiful photos and a little more about Crom and the stone.

Other sites where Samhain was celebrated was The Hill of Ward in Ireland. It was an Iron Age ringfort where a lot of things happened, and its massive Samhain gatherings were to light the winter fires, which took place in Medieval times. Its structures date from 200 AD. It is said the god Lugh was honored on Samhain on the Hill of Ward. The Hill of Tara was also a site where Samhain gatherings occurred. It is 12 miles away from the Hill of Ward, and when fires are lit atop the hills, the fires can be seen all the way 12 miles away at one another. I lucked into an awesome You Tube Video the University of Dublin created called “The First Halloween”. You have to see it!

Another site watched was a cave where the dead were said to emerge. It’s called Oweynagat, The Cave of Cats. It is part of a complex of sites known as Rathcroghan that has burial sites, and was used for huge ritual gatherings. It complex is estimated to be 6,000 years old. The cave itself is just part of that. It was specifically the door to the other world guarded by Queen Maeve who was said to transform into the Morrigan. She held off the beasts from beyond to protect humanity. It was said she was born and also died at the entryway. She is said to emerge in her chariot every Samhain pulled by a one legged chestnut horse. Inscribed in Ogham on the lintel above the door is “Hellmouth Door of Ireland”. They also call it the cave of cats because it is said a three headed long fanged cat guards the door. I watched a video of somebody brave enough to enter. It’s a small cave where many have entered and finally, some workmen started installing electricity, and a portion collapsed to form a dead end. If you’re like me you think maybe the dead do not want people snooping around in there. It was not a place you wanted to be when those creatures emerged.

You can find the footage I am talking about at YouTube. Type in Oweynagat, cave of the cats, Rathcroghan. A journey into mother earth. Mike Croghan is the one who made this video.

Scientifically speaking, very little excavation has been done on the whole complex, but they have used radar surveys, which show a lot of similarities between Rathcroghan and the Hill of Tara complex.

BONFIRES

At these ancient sites, there was not just sacrifice on Samhain. Of course, bonfires were lit on the hills to drive out or burn up unwanted influences, as well as having two bonfires people and livestock walked between to bless them. People took flames from these fires back to their homes and lit new fires from them.

THE SIDHE AND THE DEAD

As for the honoring of the dead, it was originally the Sidhe who were honored. People left food and drink for them, sometimes leaving a portion of crops in the fields for them. If the people had to walk outside , they would turn their clothes inside out or carried salt or iron to keep the Sidhe from harming them.

The dead were welcomed into the home by setting a place for them at the table. They were honored and kept happy, because if they were upset, or wanted to come for revenge, little could be done. The Sidhe, in particular, were those creatures who you did not want to offend. Nowadays, many Neo Pagans like to decorate with fairies and dress in pretty costumes with gossamer wings, many of whom look similar to Tinkerbell. A lot of people think of the Sidhe as sweet, pretty, little earth folk who are charming and enchanting and sprinkle pixie glitter and whatnot, and that is not the way things are at all. To this day, the people of Irelend go out of their way to not piss off the Sidhe.

Some believe they are the descendants of the Tuatha De Danann- or children of the goddess Danu and when the Milesians defeated them, they went to live in the mounds. Historically, the Milesians are actually an ethnic group of people said to have come from Iberia, and settled the Island. And it is historically accepted by some that the Tuatha de Dannan were the pre-Celtic inhabitants of Ireland. They were said to go live in the mounds, which have been proven to be ancient burial sites. According to the lore, as the children of Danu were forgotten about, they shrunk in stature. Some Xtians believe they are fallen angels. Some believe they are spirits that go about their lives just like everybody else. Many believe that we live in parallel worlds with the Sidhe and our world comes in contact with theirs at times and boundaries have to be respected. Money is thrown in wells for them, great care is taken to build roads AROUND sites said to be theirs, food and drink is left for them. If people believed the Sidhe had blessed them or done work for them, gifts of a bowl of cream or new clothes was left for them. Baked goods, apples, and berries were also left for them.

The Sidhe could smile upon you, but they could also harm you. They may not only kill you or your livestock, but they could take you home with them. The belief was that the fairy mounds were completely open at Samhain time. It was a big worry that you might be carried off. If you wound up there, you might find your way back…eventually- but the Sidhe’s time is not our time. What would seem like moments in their time can be decades in our time.

A tale is told of a man who was perhaps the greatest fiddler alive. The Sidhe liked him- a lot- and so they took him with them- and he was seen sometime after his disappearance- looking horribly exhausted, filthy, starved, and a look of horror about him- and his arms seemed to be playing the instrument all on their own, detached from his body.

Encounters with the Sidhe did not always go this way, but there was a chance they could, So it was very important if to stay in or close to home if not at ritual come Samhain time if at all possible, but if you had to leave home, you could do things like- leave gifts, of course, wear your clothes inside out and carry iron, or salt to ward them off.

COSTUMES

You could also disguise yourself. Costumes started from people disguising themselves to confuse or ward off the supernatural creatures- you might get carried off to the other world if they were not disguised well. It further developed into mumming, or going from door to door costumed as part of the festivities, which is still observed all over Britain to this day. Sometimes, it was done in costume to collect things for the celebration from each household, and sometimes it was done for fun.

FUN AND PRANKS

Alcohol was used to celebrate since the time of the ancient Irish, in more recent times, they did so as well. Fueled by booze, the pranks could get pretty wild. For example- folks would throw rotten fruit or veggies around houses, throw bags of flour all over people, or make noises outside their houses.

The Sidhe could also play pranks on people. They might do something as mild as put thorns in your bed or like those horrid creatures from the Otherworld, they could wreak damage on property of livestock. They might even swap their kid for yours.

Maybe it was the Sidhe and the dead that got us started doing tricks and pranks Samhain time, but folks sometimes, to this day go too far-

Like in 2012, a 17 and 18 year old were arrested for throwing an egg in a 71 year old woman’s face who thought she was answering the door for trick or treaters.

In 2010, two women were arrested for a prank. They wrapped a mannequin in a “bloody sheet” and dropped it off on the highway and waited at the top of a hill with binoculars to see how many people they could scare.

Maybe in the days of yore, you could blame a prank on the Sidhe or spirits- but nowadays, I don’t think the police are going to buy that.

DIVINATION

Samhain was also a good time to do divination. Since the otherworld was much more active in this world, the realities shifted, messages would be clearer. They did not do “readings” the way we do. They sometimes used food. An apple was peeled, and the peel thrown over the shoulder to see if it would reveal the first letter of the person’s future spouses name. Eggs whites were dropped in water to see if it would reveal the number of children a couple would have. They sometimes had each person present put a rock representing themselves in a ring together. Everybody would run around the stones and in the morning if any stone was mislaid it was supposed to show who would not survive the winter.

TODAY AS OPPOSED TO THEN

For us Neo-Pagans, we do Sabbat. Usually an evening ritual and gathering. But in days past, the festivities might last a week from first bringing the cattle in, to blessing them and getting them situated- down to slaughtering the last of the meat- especially the animals they felt would not make it through the winter and then having the feast prepared- which might last for more than one day.

So from its humble beginnings – in Ireland thousands of years ago, we now have people all over the world celebrate this blessed time of year when the living and the dead commune and when we prepare for the ice and snow and dark and cold.

We may celebrate differently today and for perhaps different reasons but this ancient occasion is what brought us all together tonight.

One other thing about the Sidhe- it is really not polite to talk about them, and I have talked about them a whole lot, haven’t I? It is a good thing the ritual honors them!

In Honor of the Sidhe

This ritual comprised the closing for our Samhain in 2014 and I am sharing it here. The ritual is a good one to do with anybody, including kids and people who have no formal training in ritual. They do their reading, and give their offering. Simple.

Preparation

Gather things for four offerings. Food, drink, coins, and incense.

Do not cast circle, as your people will stand in a circle and that will comprise your circle. You do not want a closed circle for this out of respect for the Sidhe and so they may come and go as they see fit. Plus, when you leave your offerings, each person needs to be able to move around to place things wherever they deem fit. That might just be a distance from where you are standing to do ritual. Plus, you do not want to banish.

Do not set up an altar. You just need your papers with the readings written on them, and your offerings. It is really best to do this outside in your garden or in nature. You can have garden torches if you like, or outside lights if available. Then again, if you are in a deep forest, or if the stars and moon are not bright enough, you can always let people have their own flashlight or candle to illuminate. But if you cannot be outdoors for this rite, just turn off the lights and light enough candles to see by.

You can have three people to give offerings of drink, food, and money and you can offer the incense at the beginning. Ideally, you want to leave the offerings out in nature for the Sidhe to accept without being watched. You can split up the readings for your group. You can also do all the parts yourself if you are doing Solitary ritual.

You certainly can have people stand facing the appropriate directions when they give their offerings, but you really don’t have to. Wiccan use of the four directions comes out of traditions that came later on in Pagan practice. While the purpose of this is to honor the Sidhe, not to necessarily stick with any given dogma, if you prefer, you certainly can do things “by the book” as they say, moving only clockwise, and standing facing in the traditional Wiccan directions.

The Ritual

Opening Reading

If history, lore, and science are believed, some of us, perhaps all of us in this very room are the descendants of the Sidhe. Some writings say they were the first inhabitants of Mother Ireland. The ones originally responsible for the very fact we have Samhain. If all this is to be believed, they walk among us morseo this time of year, and more than that their blood flows in our veins. It is because of them that we are alive today. And because of us, they are alive today.

It is them who we will honor and ask for blessings in this rite.

Reading #1

(Light the incense, and put it in the center of your group of people.)

Hail to the Sidhe.

Beautiful and Terrible.

Small, and Great.

Seen and Unseen.

Hail to you Fathers of Fathers.

Mothers of Mothers.

Guardians of the Otherworld.

Reading #2

(Put the drink in the center)

You can heal or you can harm.

You can grant life or death.

Accept our gifts and respect

As we enter the cold, dark months.

Reading #3

(Put the food in the center)

Spare us and our loved ones another winter

That we may make it to the Summer.

Increase our wealth and give us good health.

Help us to pass this winter in good company

And to create good memories

Accept our gifts and our respect.

Reading #4

(Put the money in the center)

Smile upon us, give us safe passage home this night

And this season.

(Now those offering gifts will gather up gifts, and with all attendees, take the things and place them where the Sidhe can find them.

Come back together.)

Closing

(Have all join hands.)

The Sidhe have been gifted and honored, and now, may your gods and guides bless you. May the ancestors be ever present all of your days. May the Sidhe smile upon you, and may we all see one another soon.

Merry Have We Met,

Merry Shall We Part,

and Merry Shall We Meet Again.

Blessed Be.

Blessed Samhain.

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