Saturday, October 20, 2012

Hazelnuts at Halloween

The use of hazelnuts in Halloween divination rites is well-attested. There are several methods, which are somewhat contradictory, but this is likely attributable to regional variations in tradition and transmission.

Today's card shows an imp-like figure with what looks like a nineteenth century bedwarming pan filled with smoking roasted nuts. The smoke is being carried upward to a classic witch in silhouette flying across a crescent moon. The verse at the bottom reads:

"A hazel nut is named for you
And dropped upon the coals.
If it burns and burns to cinder
There's nothing more to hinder
For my love burns true."

This echoes the variant of the spell in which one would name a selection of nuts after one's suitors and line them up before the hearthfire, or, alternately,  cast them directly into the fire. A nut that burned cleanly would indicate that the person's affections were true, while a nut that popped or did not burn suggested that the lover would be dishonest. Yet another variation has a couple each naming a nut for him- or herself, then casting them into the fire, watching the behavior of the nuts to determine their partner's true feelings. (Personally I think watching your partner's behavior a better indicator of their true feelings than watching nut activities, but hey--it's Halloween).

The hazelnut spell with which I am most familiar involves naming the nuts for your potential love interests, then lining them up at the edge of the fire and chanting the following:

"If you love me, pop and fly;
If you hate me, burn and die."

This is a reversal of the imp's method above, but to each his own; again, the difference can most likely be ascribed to regional variations and to changes that occur in transmission. Who hasn't received a bit of "oral lore" that, upon later comparison with another practitioner, has proven to have come through as garbled as a message passed through a child's "telephone game"?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Witches at Midnight

"If you see two witches at midnight
With a peacock feather all of white
You may be assured there's a lover's spat
So steal the feather from off their hat
Pick a four leaf clover and your lover keep
On Halloween and there'll be no cause to weep."

Peacocks are typically associated with luxury and outward display, an obvious link thanks to the male's flamboyant nether plumage. White peacocks are rare in captivity and even more so in the wild, so that additional symbolism may come into play here. Captive peafowl are monogamous, whereas their wild counterparts typically are not.

What does any of this have to do with the verse/spell given? My frantic, and fruitless, attempts at making this thing make sense.

Why would a white peacock feather symbolize a lover's spat? I haven't the slightest idea. My (admittedly half-assed) research into the subject brought me no answers. Perhaps it's the fact that two witches are fighting over the feather; although it's not explicitly stated that the witches are at odds over the feather, experience indicates that if there are two witches present and one thing that both of them want, there will be strife. Note, however, that while the verse initially speaks of "feather" singular, the image shows each witch with a feather of her own. Are you as confused as I am? Good.

One is then instructed to steal the feather from the witch's hat, and then pick a four leaf clover to ensure harmony in one's relationship. Good luck finding said clover after dark on Halloween night. Better to be finding yourself a place to hide, since those witches probably will be annoyed at having their hat plumes stolen. They might even come after you, at which point a lover's spat will be the least of your concerns.

All joking aside, this is a lovely example of an early 20th century Halloween postcard. The colors and imagery are rich and elegant, and many of the classic symbols of witchery and the season are present: pointed hats (these with buckled bands and plumes, no less), black cats with fine collars, a glowing carved jack-o-lantern, a bat in flight, a full moon casting a denuded forest into silhouette, a besom for one of the witches, an owl, and surrounding it all a beautifully intricate scrolled border. Even if the spell verse makes no sense, this is still one of the prettiest cards I've come across. I hope you all enjoyed it too.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Halloween Treats

As has become my custom, I'll be posting vintage Halloween postcards in the month of October. In collecting and curating them, however, I've discovered that quite a number of them contain very classically witchy charms and spells. Those seemed more appropriate for posting here, and so over the course of the rest of the month I'll be selecting my favorites and sharing them with all of you.

Let's begin with this one:

I love this one, as it combines two of my favorite things: witchcraft and science (specifically of the mad-scientist variety). She appears to have a vial of potion in one hand and a flask containing a conjured heart in the other. She's heating the heart over a candle's flame, which is of course witchier than using a Bunsen burner; familiars in the forms of cat and owl observe. One assumes the broom is present to sweep up any lab accidents, since it doesn't seem to figure into the working.

The spell/verse reads as follows:

On Hallowe'en the witches resort
To test lovers' hearts in a glass retort
If they turn Black she knows what to do
Should it stay Red your lover is true
Throw ink down her well, to break the charm
And your lover is safe for it will shield him from harm.

So here we see that the witch is experimenting--divining, in a way--to determine if further magickal working will be necessary. If the heart turns black, the lover is dishonest, and thus must be spelled; if the heart stays red, no further intervention is required. Note that the counterspell is provided at the end of the verse; this is apparently a failsafe for the witch's client, should she have a (you should pardon the pun) change of heart about bewitching her lover.   

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Autumn People

“Beware the autumn people. … For some, autumn comes early, stays late, through life where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth, there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring or revivifying summer. For these beings, fall is the only normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No, the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks through their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles—breaks. Such are the autumn people. Beware of them.”
- Ray Bradbury, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”

Monday, August 27, 2012

Another Witch's Chant

Some time ago I blogged about Doreen Valiente's classic "Witches' Rune," and the difference between the version that I was taught in my BTW days and that used by my friends of the American Folkloric Witchcraft tradition. There's another version of it given in the book Charge of the Goddess, a compendium of Doreen's poetry; it lacks the references to certain of the BTW "eight tools" and is shorter and simpler. I reproduce it here as it appears in the book:

          Darksome night and shining moon,
          Hell's dark mistress, Heaven's queen,
          Hearken to the witch's rune,
          Diana, Lilith, Melusine!
          Queen of witchdom and of night,
          Work my will by magic rite.

          Earth and water, air and fire,
          Conjured by the witch's blade,
          Move ye unto my desire,
          Aid me as the charm is made!
          Queen of witchdom and of night,
          Work my will by magic rite.

          In the earth and air and sea,
          By the light of moon or sun,
          As I pray, so mote it be.
          Chant the spell and be it done.
          Queen of witchdom and of night,
          Work my will by magic rite.

For my personal usage, I'll alter the fourth line in the first verse to reflect the names and titles of my particular tutelary witch-goddess, but leave it otherwise unchanged. I think Doreen would understand.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Witch Problems

So back in the spring I took advantage of the little postage-stamp sized section of earth just beyond my patio and planted a few things that I thought would be colorful and appealing. Now it's late August and my rose vervain and wormwood are absolutely taking over the world. Had I but known they'd like it here as well as they do, I'd have spaced things out differently. My gorgeous purple and white petunias have been all but drowned in the silvery-green fluff of the wormwood and the insistent green onslaught of the vervain.

Not that I am particularly complaining, mind.  :)

Monday, June 11, 2012

How to Detect Witches

Early in the morning, on the first Monday of each of the four quarters of the year, the smoke from a witch's house goes against the wind. This may be seen by any one who takes the trouble of rising early and going to an eminence, whence the witch's house can be seen.   (Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland, J.G. Campbell)
Just in case you're trying to find some witches. They can be tricky to locate these days.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy Equinox

clarsach agus claidheamh
My preferred working tool for this season. Warm spring breezes and burgeoning blossoms stir the muse within. Blessings of the equinox to you all!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Twelfth Century Herbal Invocation

This piece has been identified as a modernization of a 12th century herbalist's charm. The original translation is from "Early English Magic and Medicine" by Dr. Charles Singer in the Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. IV. It can be found in numerous places on the internet, with minor variations in wording.

Earth, divine Goddess, Mother Nature who generates all things and brings forth anew the sun which you have given to the nations; Guardian of sky and sea and of all gods and powers....through your power all nature falls silent and then sinks in sleep. And again you bring back the light and chase away night and yet again you cover us most securely with your shades. You do contain chaos infinite, yea and winds and showers and storms; you send them out when you will and cause the seas to roar; you chase away the sun and rouse the storm. Again when you will you send forth the joyous day and give the nourishment of life with your eternal surety; and when the soul departs to you we return. You are indeed duly called Great Mother of the Gods; you conquer by your divine name. You are the source of strength of nations and of gods, without you nothing can be brought to perfection or be born; you are Great Queen of the Gods. Goddess! I adore thee as divine; I call upon your name; be pleased the grant that which I ask of you, so shall I give thanks to thee, Goddess, with due faith.
Hear, I beseech you, and be favorable to my prayer. Whatsoever herb your power does produce, give, I pray, with goodwill to all nations to save them and grant me this my medicine. Come to me with your powers, and howsoever I may use them, may they have good success to whosoever I may give them. Whatever you grant, may it prosper. To you all things return. Those who rightly receive these herbs from me, please make them whole. Goddess, I beseech you, I pray as a suppliant that by your majesty you grant this to me.
Now I make intercession to you all your powers and herbs and to your majesty, you whom Earth parent of all has produced and given as a medicine of health to all nations and has put majesty upon you, I pray you, the greatest help to the human race. This I pray and beseech from you, be present here with your virtues, for She who created you has Herself promised that I may gather you into the goodwill of him on whom the art of medicine was bestowed, and grant for health's sake good medicine by grace of your powers. I pray grant me through your virtues that whatsoever is wrought by me through you may in all it's powers have good and speedy effect and good success and that I may always be permitted with the favor of your majesty to gather you into my hands and to glean your fruits. So shall I give thanks to you in the name of the majesty which ordained your birth.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Signs of the Seasons (or, The Witch Goes A'Wandering)

My most recent rambles through the neighborhood have been graced with little hints of things to come, and lately with more blatant examples of things that have already arrived ahead of schedule. At first it was green shoots peeking shyly up from the last remnants of autumn's mulch; but as the temperatures have continued above average, and the length and strength of sunlight has increased, those shoots are now developing into the wide green leaves that will shortly shelter the nodding yellow heads of daffodils. Not content to await a later season, impudent little crocuses in white and yellow and purple are already bursting out exuberantly, splashing color across the awakening landscape. There are already dandelions cropping up where they shouldn't be. The clover is greening. The earth is awakening early.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dreaming of Imbolc

I awoke this morning in the midst of a dream. In it, we were accosted while out walking by a woman who proceeded to question us as if we were expert witnesses or law enforcement consultants on the occult. She said that a monument at a nearby Catholic college (she called it Trinity something-or-other) had been "defaced," with the remnants of candles and offerings (I have the impression of red candles, though I can't recall if that was specified or not), and wanted to know the possible meaning behind it. I immediately launched into a quite complex lecture on the neo-pagan celebration of Imbolc, explaining the meanings and customs of the holiday and assuring her that there was nothing at all "Satanic" or dangerous about it. I remember being surprised when the woman asked me if the holiday was sometimes also called La Fheile Bride, and my response that it was indeed sometimes called that, in Gaelic, by Druid practitioners. I also assured her that the mysterious offerings might have been left in honor of St. Brigit, who celebrates a feast day at this time. I was awakened before I could finish my lecture.

Appropriately, I had this dream on the day in question, as Imbolc was celebrated on February 2nd in the tradition in which I was trained--despite it's being called "February Eve" in the early writings, which would of course technically require a celebration on January 31st. I celebrated the 31st and the 1st on the road, caravaning my mother-in-law home from Florida, and if I had any deity interactions at all it was with Bast, who sent her small minions to play in the landscaping around the hotel we stayed at in north Georgia. (One of them was the loveliest little thing, snowy white with a large patch of silver and black tabby markings on her back like a draped blanket. Her eyes were a pale luminous green, ringed with black liner that extended slightly out from the corners in a very Egyptian fashion; she gazed at me very seriously, and I gazed right back at her in the same way, having a moment. She would not approach closely, and finally broke the spell to run off chasing under a bush with her solid red tabby sibling. Their mother was prowling the courtyard, which featured what was very nearly a ring of large stones; adjacent to this was a tiny church building, complete with narrow stained glass windows, labeled the "Interfaith Meditation Chapel." Apparently my faith was not included, because I found the building locked.)

In any case, it's Imbolc now--or Oimelc or Candlemas or La Fheile Bride or whatever you'd like to call it. I call it the midpoint of winter, halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox. It's an odd one, to be sure; the high today should again be in the 60s, which carries on the trend of this being an unusually mild winter. I usually like to celebrate it as a turning point, a time when the days are visibly lengthening, when the first faint hints of growing things can be seen, when we know the worst of winter is generally past us and spring looms on the horizon. This year, there's not much of winter to be seen beyond the still-barren trees, but maybe that's cause for celebration in its own right.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Poetry: John Greenleaf Whittier

An excerpt from Snowbound, which struck me, and which may be in some way relevant to our interests:

 We tread the paths their feet have worn,
   We sit beneath their orchard trees,
   We hear, like them, the hum of bees
And rustle of the bladed corn;
We turn the pages that they read,
   Their written words we linger o'er,
But in the sun they cast no shade,
No voice is heard, no sign is made,
   No step is on the conscious floor!
Yet Love will dream, and Faith will trust,
(Since He who knows our need is just,)
That somehow, somewhere, meet we must.
Alas for him who never sees
The stars shine through his cypress-trees!
Who, hopeless, lays his dead away,
Nor looks to see the breaking day
Across the mournful marbles play!
Who hath not learned, in hours of faith,
   The truth to flesh and sense unknown,
That Life is ever lord of Death,
   And Love can never lose its own!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Witching Up

Mugwort and mead hangover, and that certain je ne sais quoi sensation that comes of having gotten one's witch on, so to speak. Good times.