Posts Tagged ‘Wicca’

The Witch – Wise Woman of the People.

Original Story written and narrated by Lynda.F.Tallis. 2010

Witch, Wiccan, Cunning Folk &  Healers, this poem is to honour them and their suffering.
2013 will be a year for remembering the men and women who were killed by burning during the witch trials. Witches. Wiccan, old folk, disabled and the feeble-minded.
Today, would you call a doctor evil and cast him into the fire? Would you kill the pharmacist who dispenses your pills? These were dark, terrible days when poor people were left without help for their ills; they were too afraid to go and gather herbs from the woods for fear of their lives, because of which some of the healing medicines and herb are now lost and forgotten. Lynda.F.Tallis. 2010

 

Traditional Folk Healers, also known in England as Cunning Folk, Wise Women and Witches are practitioners of folk medicine, folk magic and divination.  

by Jordi@photos

Up to the Renaissance period, the wisdom of the Wise Women and Cunning Folk was considered invaluable for the wellbeing of the community. Their knowledge of the healing properties of various plants and herbs passed down through the generations. Their role to provide help for people in need, caring for the bodies and spirits of those around them, telling their fortunes, treating their bodily ailments, dowsing their lost property, and physicking their farm animals. They were the midwives who brought new life into the world, and who laid out the dead at the end of life. Their natural magic, in harmony with the rhythms of life, centred and nourished the spirits of the whole community. They were honoured for their wisdom and knowledge: when they spoke, people listened.
The practices of these Wise Women and Cunning men have much in common with Shamans and Witch Doctors around the world- a belief that we are surrounded by spirits and that we can commune with them, that the land is alive and must be honoured and cared for, that our actions affect the world around us and we must seek to live in harmony with it, that we are part of the ebb and flow of the seasons and must perform certain actions at the correct time. ( More here at Mercian Gathering. )

Astral Vision © Greg Spalenka:

Previously – In Wiser Worlds.
Under Pagan Celtic and Saxon law, women had been priestesses, teachers, chieftains, property holders, healers and judges, but the invading Roman culture and then in an ongoing way, Christianity stripped women of these rights and left them as mere chattels of their husbands and fathers, ‘intellectually like children’ a belief that persists in some monotheistic patriarchal cultures to this day. Women were denied the role they had enjoyed in Pagan cultures as mothers and creators of life. Church scholars had decided that the spark of life comes from the male sperm, that women merely served as the soil in which it is planted. Nevertheless Cunning Folk and Wise Women continued to share their nature based remedies as well as provide spiritual and psychological support to their communities as they always had done.

Samhain (October 31st) by megalith6

England Follows Europe.
In England and Wales there had been no attempt to illegalise the Cunning Folk, Wise Women and Witchcraft during the late 15thC until the Witchcraft Act of 1542 enacted under the reign of Henry VIII, which targeted both Witches and Cunning Folk, prescribing the death penalty for such crimes as using invocations and conjurations to locate lost items or to cast a love spell. This law was repealed no later than 1547, under the reign of Henry’s son Edward VI; those with influence believed that either the death penalty was too harsh for such crimes and/or that the practice of the Cunning Craft was a moral issue better for the Church to deal with in ecclesiastic courts, thus empowering the Church to persue its agenda of total control.
For the following few decades, the magical practices of the Cunning Folk and Wise Women remained legal despite opposition from certain religious authorities. It was a time of great religious upheaval in the country as Edward’s successor, his sister Mary I, reimposed Roman Catholicism, before Anglicanism was once again restored under Elizabeth I. In 1563, after the return of power to the Anglican Church of England, a bill was passed by parliament designed to illegalise “Conjurations, Enchantments and Witchcrafts”, again aimed at both alleged Witches and Cunning Folk – the Witch Hunt that had been raging in Scotland and in many parts of continental Europe had finally arrived in England.

A Particularly Patriachal Persecution.
The first European woman executed as a Witch was Angele, Lady of Labarthe, who was burnt at the stake at Toulouse in 1275. The last European Witch burned was Bridget Cleary who, in 1894, was roasted on a kitchen fire at Clonmel in Ireland. For three centuries of early modern European history ( c. 1450-1750  ) societies were consumed by a panic over alleged Witches in their midst. Witch-hunts, especially in Central Europe, resulted in the trial, torture, and execution of tens of thousands of victims, about three-quarters of whom were women.  Among the causes for persecution of Wise Women as Witches were the key issues of patriachal power and state control of the people by endorsing ostensibly Religious cleansing progroms with the aim of capturing peoperty, removing voices of dissent and disabling communal traditions of freedom – to be replaced by a terrified obedience and fear. Suppressing Witchcraft deprived medieval people of alternative medicine and estranged them from ancient Earth wisdom. In their 1973 book, Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers, feminist and environmentalist writers Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English argued that Witches were actually midwives targeted by their rivals, male physicians. “No one is more dangerous and harmful to the Catholic Faith than the midwives”. Fifty years ago, one of the neopagan movement’s founders, Gerald Gardner, coined the term “the Burning Times” to describe this period of persecution.

European Witch-Hunts.
Since 395 AD, with the Codex Theodosius, Pagans have been persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church with forced conversions to Christianity, torture and death of resisters, destruction of Pagan property, sacred sites, symbols, wealth, literature, etc. – as well as Christianization – the claiming of Pagan property, symbols, celebrations and festival times.  Traditional tolerant attitudes towards Witchcraft began to change more vigorously in the 14th century as central Europe was seized by a series of malign conspiracies that Jews, Moslems and Witches were attempting to destroy the Christian kingdoms through magick and poison. After the terrible devastation caused by the Black Death (Bubonic plague-1347-1349), these rumors increased in intensity and focused primarily on Witches as plague-spreaders because the Church reviled women as sinful, clear from their many ‘abominations’; women menstruate, get pregnant and give birth, all evidence of their sexual nature and activity which was reviled as a carnal sin (prostitution had also been considered an honourable profession before the arrival of Christianity). The Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), was a powerful book written by two Spanish monks. This work mixed the popular traditions of witchcraft with an explicit denial of Christian orthodoxy, and twisted it into a sado-erotic fantasy involving pacts with the Devil, the witch’s Sabbat (note the association of maleficium, heresy and Judiasm) and night flight. This book which passed into the popular imagination, unchecked by Humanist learning and rational scepticism of the times was very unambiguous in its references to women’s sexuality as an evil force. A woman was said to be impure “during her monthly periods.” Tertullian called women the “devil’s gateway”. Like Eve, all women were considered temptresses, inciting men to seek the forbidden fruit of lust. If a woman was raped, it was considered to be her own fault…. St Thomas Aquinas taught that women exerted an evil influence over men which caused them to have involuntary erections, and thus distracted them from contemplating God.  Witchcraft cases increased steadily from the 14th century and the first mass trials appeared in the 15th century. Around 1550, the persecution skyrocketed. What we (now) think of as “the Burning Times” the crazes, panics, and mass hysteria, largely occurred in one century, from 1550-1650. (Gibbons, “Recent Developments in the Study of the Great European Witch Hunt”.) ( More on Witches and Gendercide – look here ).  ( Witch Torture, more details here but not for the fainthearted ).

Walpurgis Nacht

Nobody Escaped The Inquisition.
The Inquisition in particular had targeted Witches and those accused of Witchcraft a particularly enthusiastic vehemence such that the term “Witch Hunt” became synonymous with both religious and political persecution. The Inquisition was the most elaborate extortion racket ever devised, primarily developed for profit. After the arrest, the property of the accused was instantly confiscated. Nothing seems to have been returned. The Popes publicly praised the rule of confiscation as a prime weapon against heresy. Confiscation was the organization’s raison d’être – Reason of State; when the rule of confiscation was not applied, “the business of defending the faith languished lamentably.” Affluent Italy made its inquisitors incredibly rich in the 14th century. Within two years, the inquisitor of Florence amassed “more than seven thousand flourins, an enormous sum.” As the inquisitor Heinrich von Schultheis complacently wrote, “When I have you tortured, and by the severe means afforded by the law I bring you to confession, then I perform a work pleasing in God’s sight; and it profiteth me.” Confiscation took place before conviction, because it was taken for granted that no one escaped. “Officials considered themselves safe in acting upon the presumption of guilt.”

 

On Wicked Witches
Wise Women practise an ancient and well respected craft that respects Mother Nature in all her forms. Their use of potions, charms and similar magics is neither good nor evil in and of itself but is rather a use of natural properties and energies as tools of healing and aids to divination etc. In this context the individual who creates a spell determines wether it is for good intentions such as healing an ailment or bad intentions. Both the historical accuations of Church leaders that such craft involved collaboration with their devils and to some extent that cunning men and women later sold charms to lift Witches curses – resorted to no doubt when a person suffered ill fortune and sought comfort through projecting causes, these apsects had fueled the fantasy of malevolent Witches intent on harm. Happily, Wise Women and Wiccans are increasingly disposessing a wider culture of these fears by challenging such missrepresentations and by carrying out high profile public works for the greater good.

           Susun Weed – Green Witch

Religious Reperations Rebuffed.
In the late 1990’s in preperation for the millenium of 2000 the Pope anounced plans in a report to apologize for treatment in past centuries of victims of inquisitions and persecution, however Neither the Pope’s verbal apology nor the report addressed the past maltreatment and executions of Pagans specifically. Wiccans and other neo-Pagans felt that the witches of yesteryear should have been included, so a consortium of pagan leaders demanded a special apology from Pope John Paul II on the Jubilee Day of Pardon and they mourned a “pagan Holocaust” of nine million secret nature-worshippers exterminated by Christians 500 years ago under the Inquisition. ( http://bit.ly/1dOqUkt ).
We have been unable to locate any direct response by the Pope to this request. However his statement of apology in 2000-MAR, according to Reuters, “outlined a framework for seeking forgiveness for past errors without necessarily admitting responsibility for them.”  This statement contained no specific references to past events. Since Catholic theology teaches that the church itself is spotless and free of error and sin, the church itself was absolved of any blame. He assigned responsibility for past evils on individual members of the Church.

Hieronymous Bosch

Subsequently Starhawk.
In 2009 pagan and womens activist Starhawk called again for a specific address, asking for;
“…an apology for the Papal Bull of Pope Innocent the Eighth, in 1484, that made Witchcraft an heresy and unleashed the Inquisition against traditional healers, midwives, and any woman unpopular with her neighbors for being too uppity? It’s high past time to apologize for the Malleus Maleficarum, a vicious document written by two Dominican priests in 1486 that created a whole mythology of Satan worship, attributed it mostly to women, and unleashed a wave of accusations, torture, and judicial murder that have haunted us ever since. ” Whilst the response remains unchanged, events in todays wider world show all too clearly how the need remains as pressing as ever for an official reconciliation to be proclaimed……

Witch Hunts In A Modern Context.

Today fundamentalist churches of some African communities in the UK sustain the concept of demonic possession and the need to fight it by physical means. In 2005 three Londoners were convicted of cruelty to an eight-year-old Angolan girl they believed to be a witch. Her tormentors, one of them her aunt, had tried to “beat the devil out of her”. Unfortunately this is not an isolated case. Kristy Bamu, a 15-year-old east London boy drowned in a bath during an exorcism Christmas Day in 2010. Such news from London is proof that the erroneous persecution of witchcraft continues in certain communities to this day. In September 2009 the UN identified witch-hunting as “a form of persecution and violence that is spreading around the globe” ( More here ).

Womens Bodies, A Clear and Present Threat To Society.
Control over womens bodies and their reproductive powers, a key theme of earlier witchcraft motivations, has resurfaced with the recent surge in anti-abortion legislation (USA), which seeks to turn back the clock on women’s reproductive rights, lends comparisons to the witch craze of 15th century Europe. In 2013 we find ourselves living in unstable conditions marked by high unemployment, global warming and an ever increasing number of wars. Passing laws which single out women by making abortion illegal or available only under highly restricted conditions is reminiscent of the laws the Reformation passed to curtail women and to make them scapegoats for the larger social problems. The Reformation had enacted laws making it illegal for anyone without a medical degree to deliver babies and administer to the sick. These edicts ushered in medical schools open only to men.  Male doctors came to supplant the village wise women. Those women who continued to practice midwifery and healing were arrested and burned at the stake.  Like any repressive movement, paranoia took over.  Soon almost every village woman was suspect. Anne Barstow author of ‘Witch Craze’ brands the Witch craze  the “women’s holocaust” for the large number of women who were burned and tortured over three hundred years.
A focus on female sexuality as the source of societal problems continues today just as it did during the Reformation. Women healers were tortured until they confessed to having fornicated with the devil.  Modern women who seek abortions are being punished for being sexual, even when they were raped ( More here ).

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli

Powerful women remain suspect, unless they behave like women sanctioned by the power structure (Hillary, Susan Rice or Samatha Powers or those female CEO’s) Among contemporary wise women who reflect the integrity and compassion of earlier wise women are: Medea Benjamin, a founder of Codepink, the women’s international peace organization. (Medea interrupted Obama’s recent foreign policy address, faulting his drone program for killing hundreds of innocent women and children); Jill Stein the Green Party 2012 Presidential candidate who took a stand for bank regulations, universal health care and policies to address global warming;  Marion Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund has been a tireless advocate for poor children since 1973; Amy Goodman, anchor of the progressive news show, “Democracy Now,” one of the few remaining news organizations that challenges the status quo.
( To learn more watch Donna Read’s DVD, The Burning Times here )

Africa, India and South-East Asia.
Few people are aware that Witch-Hunts still claim thousands of lives every year, especially in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, and above all in South Africa.
Witch-hunts in South Africa have become “a national scourge,” according to Phumele Ntombele-Nzimande of the country’s Commission on Gender Equality. The phenomenon is centered in the country’s poverty-stricken Northern Province, where “legislators counted 204 witchcraft-related killings [from 1985-95] … Police counted 312 for the same period. Everybody agreed both numbers were gross underestimates.” (Neely Tucker, “Season of the Witch Haunts Africa,” The Toronto Star, August 1, 1999.) In 1996 The Observer (UK) reported that “the precise statistics are not known, but the deaths from witch-burning episodes number in the hundreds each year and the trend appears to be on the rise.” (David Beresford, “Ancient superstitions, fear of witches cast spell on new nation,” reprinted in The Ottawa Citizen, June 18, 1996.)

As with its European predecessor, Witch-Hunting in South Africa
is closely tied not only to prevailing superstitions, but to socio-economic pressures, natural disasters, and personal jealousies. In the Northern Province, “among the poorly educated rural residents, traditional healers and clairvoyants claiming supernatural powers hold broad sway. Hunger, poverty, and unemployment create jealousies that can quickly turn to anger and vengeance.” (Lewthwaite, “South Africans go on Witch Hunts.”) Likewise, Peter Alexander reports that “In a region of intense poverty and little education, villagers are quick to blame any adverse act of fate on black magic.” These traditional tendencies have been exacerbated by a recent hysteria (extending to Kenya and Zimbabwe) over the very real phenomenon of “ritual killings related to Witchcraft,” which “include the removal of organs and limbs from the victims — the genitals, hands or the head, all of which are believed to bring good luck.” (Alexander, “‘Witches’ get protection from superstitious mobs,” The Daily Telegraph, May 26, 1997.) Such ritual murders often bring “retribution” against innocents accused of witchcraft. The intensity of the persecution and vigilantism in South Africa has reached such levels that no fewer than ten villages have been established in the Northern Province, populated exclusively by accused “witches” whose lives are at risk in their home communities.

In Nigeria An increasing number of children in the Niger Delta are being forced to the streets and trafficked as a result of a deeply held belief in child ‘Witches’ and also due to persistent violent conflicts, poverty, abuse, torture, rape, or being orphaned by HIV/AIDS. ( http://bit.ly/195Gl8q )
In Zimbabwe, as in neighbouring South Africa, the Witch-Hunts also seem closely related to “the black market demand for human body parts, which are used in making evil potions.”
In Kenya in 1993, killings among the Gusii tribe were occurring at the rate of one a week. “In most cases … village mobs several hundred strong locked the victims inside thatch-roof houses and set them on fire. … According to tribal elders, the Gusii have always executed people found to be Witches.
Other reports of Witch-Hunting vigilantism have come from Congo, where “The Congolese Human Rights Observatory … announced that more than 60 people had been burned or buried alive since 1990 — including 40 in 1996. The victims were accused, often by members of their own family, of being Witches.” (See “South Africa Witch Killings”, citing Reuters dispatch, October 2, 1996.) In the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), some 14,000 children in the capital, Kinshasa, alone have been accused of sorcery and expelled from their homes; “the unlucky ones are murdered by their own family members before they escape.” (See Jeremy Vine, “Congo witch-hunt’s child victims”, BBC News, December 22, 1999. For a recent report on accused child witches in Congo, see James Astill, Congo casts out its ‘child witches’, The Guardian (UK), 11 May 2003.).
February 15, 2013.

Dini was accused of using black magic to kill her son. His friends dragged her to a pigsty, where she was tortured.

In Papua New Guinea, where communities are warping under the pressure of the mining boom’s unfulfilled expectations, Women are blamed, accused of sorcery and branded as Witches — with by now all to common consequences of torture and death. ( look here )

In India; Sona’s mother was murdered and dismembered; Kalo was attacked with a saw and scarred for life. Hundreds of other Indian women are killed or disfigured every year after being branded witches by their neighbours. ( Look here )
In Parsa, Nepal: Various human rights organisations took to the streets… protesting the murder of Parbatidevi Chaudhary from Supauli-9 village in Parsa district, who was accused of practicing Witchcraft. The protest threw light on the growing number of assaults, public humiliation and even murder of some women accused by villagers of practicing Witchcraft, which the groups say are violations of human rights and an affront to public law and order. It is believed that there are many more such cases that are yet to be reported, as the attacks are usually by large groups, sometimes entire villages, who would then hush-up the incident.

Contemporary Witch – Freedom Fighter.
The historical Witch stereotype, for Wiccans, now represents resistance to assimilation of the individual whether to patriarchy, bureaucracy or capitalism. Through Starhawk’s guidance, Wicca has become an activist religion with thousands of Wiccans involved in anti-war, anti-globalization and environmental movements, to name just a few. Starhawk herself tours the world, bringing and teaching her message of spirituality and ritual as methods for enacting change. Although the early modern Witch figure, as a fellow pagan resisting the established hierarchy that is persecuting her because of her religion, is no longer historically valid, nevertheless, she has become a powerful icon for those politically active Wiccans trying to effect change today in the 21st century. ( Dana Wessell, Ph.D look here )

Return of the Green Witch.
According to feminist author Germaine Greer, ”Eco-feminism is probably the modern equivalent of witchcraft in its openness to the idea of a confederacy between humans and other animals. This notion has been adopted in various mystical forms by the group of religions now called Wicca, but it has solid scientific grounds as well. Second-wave feminists are to be found wherever animal rights are being defended. Feminists struggle to keep beached whales and dolphins alive and shepherd them back to deep water, throw themselves under the wheels of lorries taking weanling calves to slaughter in mainland Europe, blockade ships transporting Australian sheep to be butchered in the Middle East. The women who turned up at the US army base at Greenham Common on September 5 1981 called themselves “Women for Life on Earth”. They would be there for 19 years.” Clearly a force in the modern world standing for Nature’s rights and against war and destruction of ourselves and of our companion co-tenants of the Earth.

”At the beginning of this year, the great physicist Stephen Hawking told the world that the Earth has only 1,000 years left – within a millennium, he said, global warming or nuclear holocaust will have made Earth uninhabitable and if humans are to survive, they must colonise space. You don’t have to believe in Gaia or that the Earth is female or that all life forms are holy to be struck by his dreadful insouciance. You don’t have to resort to mysticism – biology is enough to give you a clue that this callousness, this indifference to biodiversity is appalling”…

Global Chain of Light Samhain 07. Photo Ken Williams Shadows and Stone

I leave you now with The Wiccan Rede  (The Counsel Of The Wise Ones) by Doreen Valiente, 1964; A statement that provides the key moral system in the Neopagan religion of Wicca and certain other related Witchcraft-based faiths. A common form of the Rede is ‘An it Harm None, Do What Ye Will. ( More details here ).

Bide the Wiccan laws ye must in perfect love and perfect trust.
Live and let live – fairly take and fairly give.
Cast the Circle thrice about to keep all evil spirits out.
To bind the spell every time, let the spell be spake in rhyme.
Soft of eye and light of touch – speak little, listen much.
Deosil go by the waxing Moon – sing and dance the Wiccan rune.
Widdershins go when the Moon doth wane, and the Werewolf howls by the dread Wolfsbane.
When the Lady’s moon is new, kiss the hand to her times two.
When the Moon rides at her peak, then your heart’s desire seek.
Heed the Northwind’s mighty gale – lock the door and drop the sail.
When the wind comes from the South, love will kiss thee on the mouth.
When the wind blows from the East, expect the new and set the feast.
When the West wind blows o’er thee, departed spirits restless be.
Nine woods in the Cauldron go – burn them quick and burn them slow.
Elder be ye Lady’s tree – burn it not or cursed ye’ll be.
When the Wheel begins to turn – let the Beltane fires burn.
When the Wheel has turned a Yule, light the Log and let Pan rule.
Heed ye flower, bush and tree- by the Lady blessed be.
Where the rippling waters go, cast a stone an truth ye’ll know.
When ye have need, hearken not to other’s greed.
With the fool no season spend or be counted as his friend.
Merry meet an merry part – bright the cheeks an warm the heart.
Mind the Threefold Law ye should – three times bad and three times good.
When misfortune is enow, wear the blue star on thy brow.
True in love ever be unless thy lover’s false to thee.
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill – an it harm none, do what ye will.

Blessed Be By Star and Stone ~

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Mandrake, Tree Of Knowledge ~

“The Mandrake is the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ and the burning love ignited by its pleasure is the origin of the human race.” – Hugo Rahner. 
The Mandrake ( Mandragora officinarum -also known as Herb of Circe, Wild Lemon, Womandrake ) holds the special distinction as being the most famous of all magical plants due to its many ritual and medical uses and the immense amount of mythology it has generated over historical ages.

During the Middle Ages the Mandrake became popular throughout Europe as a magical plant and miracle talisman, capable of curing nearly anything. These roots were thought to be powerful allies who could perform magic for their masters – from attracting love and gaining wealth and good fortune, to warding off misfortunes and evil spells, even to becoming invincible in battle.

The Mandrake was also considered a potent aid to fertility. Historians have determined that the earliest mention of the mandrake refers to its use in Babylon, in the cuneiform tablets of the Assyrians and in the Old Testament as evidenced in chapter 30 of the Book of Genesis where the childless Rachael asks her sister Leah for the loan of the mandrakes which her son had brought in from the fields.It is widely believed that the Old Testament contains multiple references to the ‘love apples’ – the fruits of the mandrake as an aphrodisiac. The first of these instances is again in Genesis, where the scent of the mandrake’s yellow fruits are described as having aphrodisiac properties.

Some evidence exists that the mandrake was used in secret mystical rites in ancient Israel; one of the factors supporting this hypothesis is the significance of the mandrake in Kabbalism as a symbol for ‘becoming One’….
Similarly, in ancient Egypt it appears that mandrake fruits may have been eaten as aphrodisiacs and ancient Greeks also used the mandrake as a sacred love plant.
Ancient Germanic people also often made use of the plant, in particular Germanic Seeresses, who were known for their clairvoyant abilities far outside of Europe, used mandrake regularly as an ally. The modern German name ‘Alraune’ can be traced back to the ancient Germanic term “Alrun”, which translates to ‘all knowing’ or ‘he who knows the runes’…
Mandrake  roots have long been used in magic rituals then and still are used today in contemporary pagan traditions such as Wicca and Odinism.

According to Linnaeus, the great botanist of the 18th century, white and black mandrake are varieties of the same plant that have evolved for northern Europe (white) and southern Europe (black). White mandrake flowers June-July and black mandrake in the fall.  The leaves of white mandrake can be one foot long and grow in a rosette (like leaf lettuce) rather than from a central stalk, like most plants. The flowers are greenish white, bell-shaped blue or violet flowers grow, making this rosette uniquely identifiable to the mandrake.They turn into yellow berries that are similar in flavor to tomatoes, and its leaves smell much like fresh tobacco.The whole plant grows to about 4-10 in tall and the taproot fattens quickly. At all other times throughout the year the plant is hidden underground.

Although mandrake found its way into Britain around the 11th century, the herb did not grow naturally here and due to the high cost of the root, other roots such as ash root and the Briony have been used instead.Those in search of its medicinal effects turned to Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) a closely related herb with a similar pharmacological profile to mandrake but a more northerly distribution. Henbane was a potent ingredient in the various midnight brews and flying ointments beloved of witches. Those seeking to profit from the demand for mandrake charms would have found Henbane a disappointment, for it possessed only a small fibrous root. For this purpose they turned instead to the white Bryony (Bryonia dioica) a hedgerow plant of south-east England with a large multilobed taproot.

The following is taken from The History and Practice of Magic by Paul Christian. (pp. 402–403)1963:

Would you like to make a Mandragora, as powerful as the homunculus (little man in a bottle) so praised by Paracelsus? Then find a root of the plant called bryony. Take it out of the ground on a Monday (the day of the moon), a little time after the vernal equinox. Cut off the ends of the root and bury it at night in some country churchyard in a dead man’s grave. For thirty days water it with cow’s milk in which three bats have been drowned. When the thirty-first day arrives, take out the root in the middle of the night and dry it in an oven heated with branches of verbena; then wrap it up in a piece of a dead man’s winding-sheet and carry it with you everywhere.

Mandragora 0fficinarum

The Mandrake plant is a member of the Nightshade family. Mandrake roots contains hyoscine a powerful alkaloid known to cause intense hallucinations, delirium and in larger doses, coma, when eaten. All parts of the plant are poisonous.
Mandrake’s use as a surgical anaesthetic was first described by the Greek physician Dioscorides around AD 60, and its use as a tincture known as mandragora, or in combination with other herbs such as opium, hemlock and henbane is described in documents from pre-Roman times onwards. It was the presence of this alkaloid, as well as the shape of the root, that led to the mandrake’s association with magic, witchcraft and the supernatural.

The Mandrake is an important ‘Witches Herb’ and constitutes one of the key ingredients of the fabled Flying Ointment or ‘witches’ brew’ of ancient European witchcraft, and was probably the most potent entheogenic ingredient of the blend. The demonization of mandrake begun once Germany became dominated by Christianity. In today’s nature conscious Pagan and Wiccan resurgence, witches herbs and even Mandrake Ointment are more readily available once again.

Available from the Poisoners Apothecary here
Magickal Uses: 

Mandrake is placed on the mantle to bring prosperity, fertility and happiness to the home, a protector warding off of evil spirits or spells.
Among the old Anglo-Saxon herbals both Mandrake and Periwinkle are endowed with mysterious powers against demoniacal possession. Its human-like forked root was thought to be in the power of dark earth spirits. At the end of a description of the Mandrake in the Herbarium of Apuleius there is this prescription:
    ‘For witlessness, that is devil sickness or demoniacal possession, take from the body of this said wort mandrake by the weight of three pennies, administer to drink in warm water as he may find most convenient – soon he will be healed.’
Flavius Josephus says that the Mandragora, which he calls Baaras, has but one virtue, that of expelling demons from sick persons, as the demons cannot bear either its smell or its presence 
(Wars of the Jews, book vii, cap. vi.).
It is worn as a talisman or amulet to attract love and repel diseases. As a flying ointment and for its ability to engender shamanic trances.
Mandrake is also said to protect against demonic possession, possibly because it was used by ancient herbalists to sedate manics. To activate a dried root, one must display it prominently in the home for three days, after which it is soaked in water overnight. The water can then be sprinkled on entryways, windows, and people to purify them. The root is now ready for magickal use.
Medicinal Uses:

It has been said that the mandrake had perhaps the greatest number of uses of any medicinal plant of ancient times. It was the most heavily utilized narcotic / anesthetic and sleeping agent of ancient times and the Middle Ages.
Similar in composition to Belladonna and Datura, the roots were pressed for their juice, which was combined with wine and then reduced by boiling. This was taken as an anesthetic prior to surgery. The dosage was rather crucial, as too much would put the patient to sleep permanently.
Specifically, mandrake root was used for the following conditions: abscesses, arthritis, bone pains, callosities, cramps, discharge, erysipelas, eye disease and inflammation, gout, headaches, hemorrhoids, hip pains, hysteria, infertility, inflammation, labor complications, liver pains, loss of speech, melancholy, menstrual problems, pain, painful joints, possession, scrofula, skin inflammation, sleeplessness, snakebite, spleen pains, stomach ailments, swollen glands, tubercles, tumors, ulcers, uterine inflammation, worms, and wounds. It was also used as a treatment for anxiety and depression.
Parts Used: 
Roots, leaves, fruits.
Actions: 
Sedative, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, parasympathetic depressant, hallucinogen, and hypnotic. Most hypnotics produce low alphoid and spindle alpha brain-wave activity, similar to that found in REM sleep, or the dreaming or trance state. This rhythm does not allow deep sleep to occur although it does lower brain patterns. Mandrake root causes delirium and hallucinations.. 

Traditional Preperation: 

Caution! Poisonous. Pregnant women should not use this herb. 

Do not use this herb without the proper guidance from a professional!

Burning and inhaling the smoke of the mandrake is the least effective method of experiencing its psychoactive properties. The leaves are picked before the end of the fruiting season, dried in the shade, and used in a smoking blend (either with tobacco or other herbs) or as incense. The root works as incense as well; the smoke is rather easy to inhale, although its smell is not entirely pleasant.
Fresh leaves may be chewed, and fresh mandrake fruits may be consumed. Consuming fresh mandrake fruits is incredibly safe; there have been no known overdoses even after consuming multiple fruits. The root is hardly ever eaten. It is mostly extracted either into water or alcohol; both methods seem to be equally effective (Ratsch 1998, 346-347).
Mandrake root has long been implemented in the making of beer and wine, either as an additive or the basis of the fermentation. When mandrake root is the main ingredient in the brewing process, cinnamon and saffron are sometimes added to improve its taste. Mandrake beer is quite potent, with dosages rarely exceeding one liter — drink with caution.
The ancient Greeks used fresh or dried mandrake in wine as an aphrodisiac. To make mandrake wine, add a handful of chopped mandrake root to a .75 liter bottle of wine and steep for one week. For maximum potency, it is best not to filter the root pieces out until the wine is gone, and the more sour the wine, the more effective the extraction. Two or three cinnamon sticks and a tablespoon of saffron can be added to improve the flavor.
Another popular recipe involves chopping up a large handful each of cinnamon sticks, rhubarb root, vanilla pods, and mandrake root, and steeping in a bottle of white wine for two weeks. The plant matter is then drained, and the beverage is colored with St. John’s wort or saffron and sweetened if desired, most effectively with a combination of royal jelly and honey. Spirits are also an effective choice for mixing with mandrake, though the only place in the world where this practice is still prevalent is Romania (Ratsch 1998, 348).

Such a powerful magical ally is of course not easy to come by.
Mandrake roots became highly sought after and attempts to protect them from theft are thought to have been the source of the second mandrake myth, which stated that a demon inhabited the root and would kill anyone who attempted to uproot it.
The Mandrake does not take very kindly to being dug up and has been reported to vanish before an irksome intruder could get to it, and famously gives an ear-piercing scream as it is pulled from the earth that would instantly kill anybody within earshot. In order to acquire the plant one must approach it on a Friday before sunrise. After plugging your ears very tightly with cotton, wax or pitch, set out with a black dog – who must not have spots of any other color on his body. Draw three magic circles around the mandrake plant and carefully dig a circle all around it so that only a few fibers of root remain in the earth. Then tie the plant around its base with string to the dog’s tail, show the dog a piece of meat and run away with it. The dog will chase you and thus quickly pull out the root. But the dog will ;likely  also drop dead when he hears the groaning screams emanating from the mandrake under extraction.
An old document declares,
“Therefore, they did tye some dogge or other living beast unto the roots thereof with a corde … and in the mean tyme stopped there own ears for fear of the terrible shriek and cry of the mandrake. In which cry it doth not only dye itselfe but the feare thereof killeth the dogge….”
After the plant had been freed from the earth, it could be used for “beneficent” purposes, such as healing, inducing love, facilitating pregnancy, and providing soothing sleep or “malevolent” such as the “main-de-gloire”.
 Alternately, death (your own) or the need to use and kill a dog, could be avoided by a loud blast on a horn at the critical moment.

Once in possession of this precious root, your troubles are not over, as it is no easy task to satisfy a Mandrakes’ extensive whims. First pick up and wash the plant until clean with red wine, wrap it in a white or red silk cloth and place it in a small chest. Henceforward and by way of maintenance, wash it every Friday again in red wine, give it a new white or red silk shirt every new moon and feed it specific kinds of food (its exact dietary requirements were and are still an endless source of debate). Even if all its demands are met it is possible that the mandrake might not perform its duties, in which case it would be best to get rid of it as swiftly as possible. However one cannot just give a failing plant away and if no buyer can be found for such an uncooperative Mandrake, the root would have to stay with its owner,  a distinct disadvantage because its power can in some cases turn against them, causing bad luck instead of good.

Mandrake by Sandra Arteaga.

However if you have unearthed a friendly and cooperative Mandrake, when you ask your Mandrake a question, it will respond and reveal concealed mysteries regarding your future welfare and prosperity. From that time forth you will have no enemies, you can never become poor and if you have no children your marriage will soon be blessed, if you are not married and wish to be – you soon shall. If you place a coin next to the mandrake at night, the next morning you will find twice as much. If you want to enjoy the services of your Mandrake plant for a very long time and make sure that it does not die, never overtax it.

Knitting plan used to create this friend here
Many thanks to my marvelous Mother In Law for crafting this magical Mandrake friend for me. 
The works of William Shakespeare contain many references to the mandrake and its myths and are remarkable both for the depth of knowledge they reveal and for their accuracy.
“…Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday.”

Shakespeare: Othello III.iii
“Would curses kill, as doth the mandrake’s groan”
King Henry VI part II III.ii

Around the Middle Ages an apparently new myth began to circulate that a mandrake would spring up from ground contaminated by human blood or semen such as at the foot of a gallows. Once again, Dr Turner, who had spent some years in Europe, was quick to condemn those responsible:
‘But it groweth not under gallosses as a certain dotyng doctor of Colon in hys physick lecture dyd tych hys auditores; nether doth it ryse of the sede of man that falleth from hym that is hanged; Neither is it called Mandragora because it came of man’s sede, as ye forsayd doctor dremed’.
Playwrights, nonetheless, wasted little time in taking this new myth to their hearts and, in his corspe-strewn tragedy The White Devil John Webster (1578—c. 1630) (erroneously) unites the mistletoe and mandrake, good and evil, with the tree which, with its horizontal lower branches, had long made a convenient impromptu gallows:
‘But as we seldom find the mistletoe
Sacred to physic on the builder oak,
Without a mandrake by it, so in our quest of gain’    ‘
”Above all else never internally ingest any of these plants as they have an ability to be deadly.  If you do happen to have some fall into your hands always be sure to wash your hands and keep away from your eyes and mouth at all costs. Never proceed to create ointments or unguents without a firm knowledge of the plants you are working with as all have the potential to be deadly”.  Thank you Wild Witche for this sensible caution.

Bright Blessings By Stone & Star ~

Rituals for Yule


SUPPLIES: Yule log (oak or pine) with white, red and black candles on it (set it in the fireplace), chalice of wine, small piece of paper and pencil for each person.
The altar is adorned with evergreens such as pine, rosemary, bay, juniper and cedar, and the same can be laid to mark the Circle.

 
~* Ritual for Yule *~
After casting the circle the Priestess should say:”Since the beginning of time, we have gathered in this season to
celebrate the rebirth of the Sun.
On the Winter Solstice, the darkest of nights,
The Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again
gives birth to the Sun and the new yearly cycle,
Bringing new light and hope to all on Earth.
On the longest night of winter,
and the dark night of our souls,
there springs the new spark of hope,
the Sacred Fire,
the Light of the World.
We gather tonight to await the new light.
On this night, the Maiden, who is also Mother
and Crone, prepares to welcome the Sun.
Let’s now prepare to welcome the new light within.”

~Invocation to the Goddess and God:
(Priest) “I light this fire in your honor Mother Goddess
You have created life from death, warmth from cold
The Sun lives once again, the time of light is waxing.
We invite you, Great Mother, to our circle
Bring us new light, the light of your glorious Son.”

(Priestess light the white candle on the Yule log and say):
“I come to you as Maiden
Young and free, fresh as springtime
Yet within me a yearning stirs to create and share
and so I become…

(Light the red candle) The Mother
I bring forth the fruit of my creativity
Yet an ancient prophet once told me, as I stood with my son,
A sword shall pierce through thy own heart also
And I knew that I must become…

(Light the black candle) The Crone
The ancient wise one, Lady of Darkness
We three – in – one who brought forth that special child
as long ago, also anointed him for burial-
A bright light that grew and was sacrificed to be reborn
as a new light.”

(Priest) “Ancient God of the forest, we welcome you
Return from the shadows, O Lord of Light.
The wheel has turned. We call you back to warm us.
Great God of the Sun
I welcome your return
May you shine brightly upon the Earth.”

~Consecration of the Yule Log
(Priestess) “Yule is the end of the old solar year and the beginning
of the new one. Traditionally, the end of the year is a time
to look back and reflect. It is a time to look ahead
to the future, to make plans and set goals.”

On your piece of paper, write something you hope to accomplish during the coming year.
When you are finished, attach the slip of paper to the Yule Log.

Priest picks up the chalice and says:
“We toast the new year (sprinkles wine on the log) and in token
of its promise, we consecrate this sacred wood as a focus for the
energies through which we accomplish our tasks and manifest our
desires during the coming cycle.”

~All drink from the chalice.

(Priestess) “You who have died are now reborn. Lend us your light throughthe winter months as we await the spring. 
Let us now light the Yule Log.
Once having burned with the Yule fire, 

these candles will contain the luck of the log 
throughout the coming year.”
(remember to save a small piece of the log for next Yule 

or save the ashes or the candles.)

~Priest and Priestess light the Yule log together.

~Closing:
(Priestess – extinguishing the God taper)
“Thank you Bright Lord
for the light you have brought to us this night
May we carry it within us throughout the coming year.”

(Priest – extinguishing the Goddess taper)
“Thank you most gracious Lady
for your freshness of spirit, your nurturing care
your infinite wisdom
Live within us throughout the coming year.
So mote it be.”

~Close the circle the way you usually do.~

My thanks to The White Goddess for this ritual.

~* A Solitary Yule Invocation *~

Morning light will flood the chamber
– winter solstice sun.

 
Energy unfolding,

Saturn’s rule has just begun.

 
Crystals formed of ice and frost
freeze field and forest green.

 
While Mighty Oak and Holly
Fight for favours from our Queen.

 
The Great Wheel brings conception,
birth, and death as days of yore.

 
Each bonfire on a leyline
honours what has gone before.

 
Seven planets, seven spheres,
seven gates swing open.

 
I lift my arms and call the charge
the incantation spoken!

 
I conjure water spirits,
Pour forth the sacred winds
come hither, O great fire!
The magick now begins!

 
Solar vapors, starry heavens
clouds and earth and waves
unite in your perfection
on this shortest solstice day!

 
I hold the key of secrets
and the phantoms will avail
the crossroads shimmer open
as the rod connects to grail.

 
Seven planets, seven spheres,
seven gates swing open.

 
I list my arms and call the charge
the incantation spoken!

 
Beribboned Yule logs burning
each spark a blessing brings.

 
Red and green, the sacred blood
of past and future kings.

 
Mistletoe and bayberry,
winter’s leaves and resin.

 
Spice and myrrh and evergreen
connect the Earth to heaven.

 
Through scented smoke and sacred prayer
I manifest good will.

 
Bring peace and joy to hearth and home
and every wish fulfill.

 
Seven planets, seven spheres
seven gates swing open

I lift my arms and call the charge
the incantation spoken!

 
Author Unknown ~
May The Sun Shine Upon Your Life
~ * Blessed Yule To You * ~

On Familiar Spirits;

Familiar Spirits have existed throughout man’s history. From the ecstatic rituals of Siberian Shaman, to John Dee adviser to the Queen Elizabeth I. of England and Cunning Folk across time, from Odin’s two ravens and his supernatural consultations in the North, to Sorcerers, Shaman and Medicine Men of various cultures  around the world, all have consulted and employed the spirits of their ancestors, local spirits and animals for their wisdom and assistance in magickal undertakings.

Yet despite the positive traditions, the most commonly shared and widely recognized archetype of familiar spirits, stemming from European fairy-tales, still have their roots in the Christian fear and prejudice of the Dark Ages, and have little in common with the real  familiars of both ancient times or modern.

During the horrific Witchcraft Trials and hysteria of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, evidence for consorting with the devil often included accounts of the accused keeping company with an animal,  many a lonely old woman was executed as a witch because of her fondness for her pet. If so much as a fly buzzed in the window while someone suspected of being a witch was being tried, it was said to be their familiar and evidence that they had made a pact with the devil.. Familiar spirits were considered by the Christian authorities as hellish imps given by Satan to his faithful followers to assist in their evil deeds.

Familiars were given names like any household pet, which many probably were. Perhaps the best known familiars name is ‘Pyewackett’, famous as the Witch’s cat in the movie Bell, Book and Candle, and a familiars name that dates back to Renaissance England. Pyewackett, said Matthew Hopkins (the infamous Witch hunter) was a name ‘no mortal could invent’ and thus his case against her owner was irrefutably proven…….

It’s interesting to note that, while Witches’ familiars were considered evil during the early modern period, the harnessing of spirits was acceptable in certain circumstances.
Outside of Witch trials, more benevolent familiars were believed to exist serving Wizards, Wise men and Women (Wiccan’s and Cunning Folk) who were magicians or village healers, indeed to deny their existence would also call into question the Christian faith in divine spirits, so belief in the one naturally included belief in the other. Needless to say, the common people held these spiritual guides in a different view than that of Christian orthodoxy and often considered them as or equivalent to angelic assistants sent from god. The familiar’s helped diagnose illnesses and the sources of bewitchment and were used for divining and finding lost objects and treasures. Magicians conjured them in rituals, then locked then in bottles, rings and stones. They sometimes sold them as charms, claiming the spirits would ensure success in gambling, love, business or whatever the customer wanted.
This sort of familiar was technically not illegal; England’s Witchcraft Act of 1604 prohibited only evil and wicked spirits. Some familiars were said to be Faeries. Oberon was a popular name for fairy familiars in 15th and 16th century England.
Similarly the Christian Church itself during this period also sold indulgences or permissions which granted the buyer a limited forgiveness for sins yet to be committed, ie a sinners diplomatic passport of sorts. It seems  a case of double standards then, as consorting with the spirits was permissible as long as the spirits were considered benevolent by the Christian authorities irrespective of their effect upon the people ie healing or helping, which reputedly many wicked spirits did do, whilst Christian authorized spirits might infact follow a different path.

There is a little evidence of familiars in early American Witch trials. However one case is representative of the prejudicial perspective shared with Europe, in the Salem Trials, 1692, John Bradsheet was indicted for “inciting a dog to afflict.” The dog was tried and hanged as a Witch…..

Familiars reputedly are sensitive to psychic vibrations and power and are welcomed partners inside the magic circle and other magical work. They also serve as psychic radar, reacting visibly to the presence of any negative or evil energy, whether it be an unseen force or a person who dabbles in the wrong kind of magic. Familiars are also given psychic protection by their Witches.
Many modern Witches have animal familiars, often cats – sometimes dogs, birds, snakes or toads, as their magical helpers. Witches do not believe the familiars are “demons” or spirits in animal form but simply animals whose psychic attunement makes them ideal partners in magical workings.
Some folk it seems also use the term familiar to describe thought-forms created magically and empowered to carry out a certain task on the astral plane.

In Shamanism, a novice shaman acquires his familiar spirits, usually manifesting in animal, reptile or bird shapes, when he completes his initiation. He or she may send them out to do battle in his or her place, but if they die, so can the shaman. Familiars usually stay with their shaman until death, then disappear.

Traditional Animal Familiars;

*Badger – Tenacity and courage. The badger will teach you perseverance and endurance in the face of adversity. The badger is a powerful protector of both material possessions and ideals held close to your heart.
*Bear – Strength, stamina, healing, medical diagnosis, strength
*Bee – The bee is industriousness, hardworking, community, work, industry, organization
*Blackbird – Enchantment, work between the worlds
*Boar – Sacred, cunning, ferocious, warrior spirit, leadership, strength
*Bull – Strength, potency, symbol of mobile power, ability to expand opportunities, creativity
*Butterfly – If a butterfly is seen while vision questing, no negative energy will be in the immediate area. Transformation, artistic endeavors.
*Crane – The crane is the bird of the Moon, magick, shamanic travel, secrets and reaching deep mysteries. The crane also represents the logical mind as well as patience while healing occurs.
*Crow – The Crow is a symbol of conflict, war and death. Its skill is wisdom with trickery. It is also a protector of scared records.
*Deer or Stag – The white Stag is a messenger from the otherworld, following the animal often leads to a quest through the Otherworld. The deer represents grace, swiftness and gentleness.
*Dog – Underworld hounds are white with red ears, they hunt and punish the guilty, they represent tracking skills and companionship as well as Loving protection.
*Dragon (lizards) – Wealth, raw powers of nature, the treasures of the unconscious mind.
*Eagle – Wisdom and long life, Keen sight, Knowledge of magick and swiftness, the eagle is a strong ally when traveling into new territory.
*Eel – Adaptability, Wisdom, Inspiration and defense.
*Fox – Cunning, slyness, Perceptive, makes fools of those who chase it.
*Frog – Shamanism, Magick, Nasty illusion with something wonderful hidden inside.
* Hare – considered fleet and swift, symbols of diligence, can also aid people in recognizing the signs around them by attuning to lunar cycles and understanding the tides of movement in their own lives.
*Hawk – Clear sightedness, teaches how to receive and interpret inner and outer signals.
*Heron – Of the Moon and magick, shamanic travel, secrets, the logical mind, through the heron one can find magick in nature.
*Horse – Stamina, endurance, and faithfulness, the horse was a faithful guide to the otherworlds.
*Magpie – Omens and prophecies.
*Mouse – Secrets, cunning, shyness, the ability to hide. If you see a mouse in a vision quest—pay attention to details.
*Otter – Enjoying life, recovering from a crisis, faithfulness, friendliness, and being helpful to others. The otter provides valuable assistance in the otherworlds.
*Owl – Teaches us to silently observe life, and gather information to gain understanding.
* Rabbit – clever, fast, coming and going as if by magic, classic tricksters, representing the triumph and joy in life, and success.
*Raven – The battle cry of an upcoming life crisis, it is a powerful protector if one can gain its favor.
*Snakes – Wisdom, reincarnation and cunning. If you see a snake while vision questing, be prepared for the power of transformation to enter your life. The snake represents the life-death-rebirth cycle.
*Swan – Helps to interpret dream symbols, smooths transitions and spiritual evolution.
*Wren – Also a symbol of Druidry for its wisdom, the wren’s song was used in divination, the power of strengthening and cleansing.

A simple invocation to call a familiar spirit;

To call a magickal animal or familiar spirit you need to focus your spiritual and mental energy upon the kind of creature that you wish to engage and you need to become receptive, aware of subtelties that might evade your daily perspective.
You will create a magic circle about yourself to aid your focus as well as to assist the spirit to find you in.
You will need a Totem of some sort for the familiar to enter into, and could spend a little time researching these before you begin, then ideally make one from suitable materials ie of feathers if winged spirit be called, of fur if mammal etc.
Once about your evocation, burn an incense which reminds you of the creature or spirit you are calling.
You should also have a drum of any sort, drumming a rythmn appropriate to the animal you seek: a timid sound brings a timid animal such as a mouse, a broken rhythm may bring a cunning stealthy fox, a loud rhythm could summon loud creatures like a bear or boar.
Finally, you will need a candle which will reveal to you by its flame and flicker (other than in breezy times) the presence or absence of any spirit guests.
– Prepare the time and location, full moon is best, still and untroubled, a peaceful night free from storms.
– Cast your circle about you and light your incense and your candle.
– Beat on the drum to the rhythm of your heart, thus the rhythm is known to the spirits who may approach.
– Continue for at least five minutes to draw the attention of the spirit, and to approach a state of trance or of ‘monotonous focus’ in which the spirits all around may be better perceived.
– After you have raised both your perceptive levels and the spirit energy about you and once you feel aware of the presence of potential familiars around you, whilst still drumming, chant in time with your heartbeat and your drum something like this or similar;
I call to the creatures hereby gathered,
Who dwell within the earth and air, the wind and waters turning.
I call to the spirits of fur, fin and feather,
Come to my side, join in my learning.
I call to the creatures listening closely,
To the creature you are to the one here who knows.
I call to the divine within the spirits now near me,
Follow my heart as our energy grows.

I call to the creature who has chosen to know me,
Let your bright self manifest,
And reveal to me now,
A true bond of friendship across eternity blessed. Less important the exact words,
of key importance the heart & spirit in which they are spoken or chanted.
– Stop drumming with the last words of the invocation
– Perceive the spirit by either sight of eyes or inner light if they have not manifest physically before you.
If no spirit has presented themselves, they may choose to reveal themselves to you in a vision/dream, or they may be waiting for the best time to cross the realms between…
If no spirit comes, then try again on the next full moon.
Spirit Be from Eternity
Blessed & True
Help Me See
* ~

Faery Folk Envisioned, Britain’s Numinous Mystics Restored.

My Review of Cunning Folk And Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions In Early Modern British Witchcraft And Magic by Emma Wilby.

This book is a remarkable and in-depth academic study of early modern English cunning-folk and witches involvement with Familiar Spirits such as Tewhit, Greedigut, Vinegar Tom, Jack Robin and Wag At The Wa, with boggles and puckles, hob gobblins, hell waines and firedrakes. Wilby proposes that early-modern witches and cunning-folk had relationships with spiritual beings similar to those of shaman in other traditional societies, such as finding stolen items, curing illnesses or causing it and providing all sorts of advice as needed.
Whilst ”Most people today would consider themselves to have little or no knowledge about early modern familiars.  In reality, however, the basic dynamics of the relationship between a cunning woman or witch, and her spirit ally, is easily recognizable to all of us, being encapsulated in narrative themes running through traditional folk tales and myths from throughout the world. Classics such as Rumpelstiltskin, Puss in Boots, the Frog Prince and so on, are representative…These fairy stories and myths originate from the same reservoir of folk belief as the descriptions of familiar-encounters given by the cunning folk and witches in early modern Britain.”

 Written in three main sections, the first summarizes the animistic popular world view of early modern Britain. Presenting the illiterate or semi-literate common people as uneducated in the Christian orthodoxy and regarding the earlier ‘unintelligible’ Latin Catholic rituals and later Christian religious practices as ancillary to their folk beliefs, living cheek to jowl beside and within a world populated with very real spirits of various origin, influence and intent. Drawing on Christian heresy trial accounts as well as popular folk accounts Wilby then describes these spirit-allies and their differences between those identified with ‘witches – the demon familiars, and those who assisted ‘cunning folk’- the fairy familiars.

The quality of faery nature is well expressed in this popular rhyme which recorded in 19thC is likely to be much older;
”Gin ye ca’ me imp or elf, I rede ye look weel to yourself;
Gin ye ca’ me fairy, I’ll work ye muckle tarrie;
Gin guid neibour ye ca’ me; Then guid neibor I will be;
But gin ye ca’ me seelie wicht, I’ll be you freend baith day and nicht.”
The rhyme implies that the definition of the faery was dependent upon the actions of their human allies. In other words, the human could choose to employ the same fairy to good or evil ends, and it was the moral position of the spirit’s user rather than that of the spirit itself which determined the latter’s moral status at any given time.” Many comments recorded in Emma’s study of the confessions of cunning folk convicted of witchcraft suggest that this ambiguous amorality of the familiar spirit may have been standard. The familiars remained cooperative provided their ‘contract’ was honored – that their human partner would provide respect, or food and shelter, or in some cases promise of the soul…

In the second part of the book the argument is presented that most previous studies of cunning folk and witchcraft in Britain have tended to prioritize the social role, of healing, divination etc, over any thorough examination of the relationship between the practitioner and their fairy familiar or spirit guide.
Here the author draws compelling parallels between traditional shamanism as practiced in North America, Central Asia and Siberia, with the British practitioners experience as revealed through the evidence of both witch-trials and folk accounts. ”The relationship between shamans and their spirits is like the relationship between cunning folk or witches and their familiars…”  although they could indeed represent themselves as a man or woman, or an animal such as a dog, stereotypical cat, raven or toad, they also could be entirely immaterial and perceived only in the ‘flight’ to the other and inner realms of trance states.
The ambiguity remains consistent however wherever the spirits may be based as the author quotes Ronald Hutton historian’s notes that ”among traditional Siberian cultures some spirits were regarded with ‘respect, affection, solicitude’ while others were seen as ‘groups of efficient but untrustworthy thugs….and would punish with death any human master or mistress who shirked the duties of the shamanic vocation”. That witches generally first encountered a familiar or demon spirit during a pivotal moment of extreme stress, they may have for example family members may have fallen seriously sick – which happened often in earlier times, or they may have lost a farm animal to illness – which could lead to ruin or even death in a poor agricultural farming society. Wilby compares these pressures and threats to the sort of preparation to encounter a guiding spirit that shaman in traditional societies undertake – fasting, depriving themselves of sleep, and creating other physical extremes.
Wilby also argues that the concept of traveling to a sabbat is often seen to be the Christian interrogating authorities interpretation of the witch accompanying a fairy into fairyland, where they may learn magical such as how to use medicinal plants to heal, however this interpretation of the evidence as biased by elite intervention may not necessarily be correct due to the peoples own obfuscation of any clear boundaries between the folk faith and Christian church orthodoxy as it was(n’t) understood.

In the final section of the book Wilby considers whether the evidence suggests that peoples encounter experiences were primarily visionary and trance derived via a number of diverse methods, or alternately more paraphsyical than psycho-spiritual in nature and presents Paracelsus claim for the latter that ”Everyone may educate and regulate his imagination so as to come thereby into contact with spirits, and be taught by them”….This view in no way negates the reality of Familiar and Faery spirits, but rather places their existence in the shamanic realm of trance and ecstasy, the trance is not necessarily of the ”all fall down…”variety.
That similar beliefs may have also existed on a popular level are suggested by Robert Kirk’s claim ( author of The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies) that perception of a spirit will continue so long as the seer can keep their eye steady without twinkling. Thus relatively ordinary activities could mask powerful contemplative techniques which developed a sustained ‘monotonous focus’ in which state the hidden realms all around us may be perceived. Employing ‘monotonous focus’ and ‘psychic destabilization’ like the shaman, the common and unlettered folk – women, children and poor men, were capable then of skills as intimated by the sixteenth century German magician Cornellius Agrippa. In support of such views and highlighting the similarities between early modern cunning folk and witches and the encounter experiences of Siberian and Native American shamans, she references Mircea Eliade’s claim (author Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy and much more) that shamanism is at root a psychological tendency rather than a religious belief…”we see no reason for regarding is as the result of a specific historical movement…as produced by a certain form of civilization. Rather, we would consider it fundamental in the human condition”. Despite the Victorian, early twentieth century and even relatively recent historiographical tendency to ‘pathologize’ and thereby dismiss as unimportant the visionary dimension of the familiar encounter, as boastings and ravings of the half crazy, and strange, mad outpourings, nightmares and collective fantasies, of mental illness and schizophrenia, Wilby points out that since the 1950’s advances in psychology, ethnography and comparative religion have rendered such simplistic diagnosis untenable. That ”magical cures of cunning folk were effective on many levels…that charms prayers and ritual were effective in curing psychosomatic aspects…divinitary techniques may have led the client to subconsciously reveal their wishes or suspicions…” Earlier and reductionist views such as those of Sir James Frazer who held that tribal magico-religious belief systems were (merely) an amalgamation of cause and effect magical technologies designed to meet basic survival needs, have been eloquently dismissed by subsequent academics such as the prominent scholar of religion Ninia Smart ”Frazer’s theory neglects the perception of the numinous…” It has become clear that the range of potentially healthy states of consciousness is considerably broader than previously imagined, that there is more to the experience of spirits and faeries than self delusion and misrepresentation, here we discover genuine spiritual experiences of envisioned guides and sacred beings.
To conclude her study ”because there has been little attempt to analyze the ‘fantasies’ of cunning folk and witches in relation to visionary experience as it is found in magical belief systems and religions throughout the world including Christianity…” Wilby examines a variety of comparative religious perspectives and their similarities with the narrative encounters of early modern cunning folk and witches. Despite their acknowledged moral ambiguity – they are not characterized by any Christian anti worldly ‘moral purity’ of action or intent but display the full range of human motivations, their widespread theatricality such as dressing in dark gowns or carrying ominous stave’s ”carved with heads like those of satyrs” and their use of deception, the cunning folk and witch visionaries are portrayed as Britain’s ‘unrecognized mystics’ who experienced spiritual revelations of a higher dimension. In this context Wilby’s assessment of Christianity and other religions suppression of unorthodox spiritual perception and practice (outside of their own orthodox canon of wise men, miracles, healing powers and prophecies ) is seen to be about the Church and State avoiding loss of authority and of maintaining a monopoly over all things psychic and spiritual – at any cost. This position was contrary to the common folk belief that magical practitioners skills sprung from a divine origin ”It is a gift which God hath given her…(by virtue of this gift, she) doth more good in one yeere then all these Scripture men will doe so long as they live.” Indeed, after the Reformation, cunning folk even took on the role previously played by the Catholic Saints and had been compared to Christ himself. The author also portrays the similarities between Christian (and Old Testament) mystics and their visionary relationships with Angels and Christ, and the cunning folk and shaman envisioned encounters, that essentially derive from the same numinous origins and are clothed in the imaginal furnishings of the ‘seer’ and their psycho-spiritual and cultural environment. In our modern world with the decline of Christianity and contrasting rise of interest in many ancient traditions and folk beliefs, it is indeed fascinating to see how ”a mysticism unsupported by societal organizations and which was upheld by no sacred buildings, no visible iconography, no sacred books, no formalized doctrine or cosmology and no institutionalized ritual…how such formless and invisible constructs could have challenged the Christian Church for the hearts and minds of ordinary people”, yet they have done so and the invisible faery spirits of folk legends, faery tales and the cunning folk-witch encounter narratives, are revealed to be within reach once again.

Wilby’s hypothesis then is that the fairy encounter narratives of cunning folk and witches recorded in the early modern witch trials evidence a surviving trend of folk beliefs extending unbroken from a pre christian shamanic world view. Shortlisted for the Katharine Briggs Folklore Award, 2006, the author makes an overwhelming case for the long term existence of an ancient British-Shamanic tradition. She also re-configures our understanding of witches and cunning folk as animist shamans embedded in local communities. This is an iconoclastic reversal of modern academic opinion that witches experience of spirits and their attested narratives were either the product of mental illness or more likely perhaps an enforced or contrived collusion between the often illiterate prisoner and their elite and educated religious inquisitor. That magical practitioners across the length and breadth of Britain had stood up in courtrooms and ” ‘persisted in telling long and involved stories about faries’ despite the fact that in doing so they often knowingly condemned themselves to death” demonstrates in a definite way as could be possible the conviction, integrity and respect with which the cunning folk regarded their familiar spirits.

Emma Wilby’s book is a remarkable, timely and novel way of looking at them (Cunning Folk And Familiar Spirits ), and one of the most courageous yet attempted. (Ronald Hutton, University of Bristol)
Fascinating and well researched … a genuine contribution to what is known about cunning folk and lays very solid foundations for future work on the subject. (Brian Hoggard, White Dragon)
Emma Wilby s conclusions and her explanation of how she drew them, laid down here in the commendable modern academic tendency towards plain English that has moved away from the previous generations overly complex sentence structure, is worth its weight in gold. (Ian Read, Runa).

Anyone with a genuine interest in Faeries and Spirits, Cunning Folk and Witches, Shamanism and Native British Spirituality both early-modern and contemporary, should turn off their electricity for a while, take a long tiring walk in the forests, hills and glades – or a series of them,
and then by candle bright some magic night
should read this book with deep delight,
the end.
(Celestial Elf).
If Faerie spirit thou wouldst see, look inside the air and be, 
beyond the realm of earthly need, 
the magic of divinity ~

Wicca Refreshed; Likely Lineage Revealed

My Review of
Wicca Magical Beginnings – The history and origins of the rituals and other practices found in the Book of Shadows of Gerald Gardner and other traditions of modern initiatory Pagan Witchcraft
Sorita d’Este (Author), David Rankine (Author)

Wicca Refreshed; Likely Lineage Revealed.

This book entails a refreshing and objective overview of the plausible origins and developments of many magickal aspects and their development into modern Wiccan traditions. Chapter by chapter the authors examine individual practices and their developments over time such as the Magick circle, Wiccan Rede and Witches Athame for example.

Having recently read Ronald Hutton’s research in The Triumph of the Moon, which seems to demonstrate that despite the history of Cunning Folk, Wise Women and many others, that Wicca as it exists today has little or no direct connection with any magick traditions of earlier times, this book – if we are able to join the dots between movements and grimoires, convincingly portrays an opposite view. Here we see that the Wiccan traditions do indeed follow a historical lineage, even if individual practices have understandably changed over time – by which mean we may see that they are living traditions rather than archived curiosities, that the spirit of magick has maintained a constant and responsive cultural presence, possibly since very ancient times. This book also explores how Gerald Gardener, the apparent father of modern Wicca, may owe more than is usually stated to Aleister Crowley, Charles Leland, the Key of Solomon and Frazier’s Golden Bough among others.

The co author’s Sorita D’este and David Rankine provide numerous references in an extensive bibliography for the academically determined to double check their assertions and contexts, some good humored asides of interest and some objective conjecture that invites an opened mind to assess for themselves- based on the evidences gathered – the likely origins of each aspect under consideration.

As a believer in informed understanding I would therefore recommend this book, to be considered in conjunction with other authors research, to any who seek a practical view of the possible lineage of Wicca and Magickal traditions in Britain and the World today.

Bright Blessings to those who follow Truth.


The Triumph Of The Moon; A Review ~

Intrigued by Ronald Hutton’s assertion that “Wicca” (meaning the wiseones) is the first all British religion given to the world, I approached his book The Triumph of the Moon as my first serious study of Wicca and Witchcraft with an objective attitude and without any preconceived perspectives on the matter. As anyone who has read any Hutton will already know, his books are academic, copiously referenced and invariably not a light read.

 

Art by Alexis Mackenzie

Of The Origins of Modern Perspectives 
On Witchcraft, Wicca and Paganism In Britain;
Restricting his research to Great Britain, the book opens with an exploration of prevailing attitudes towards Paganism in the late 19th – early 20thC, asserting that Wiccan belief and practice owe much to the scholars, novelists and poets who resurrected Pan and the Goddess in the Victorian and Edwardian culture, and identifying the four key perspectives of the period;
First, a belief that all Pagans, both of European prehistory and of contemporary tribal peoples represented a religious expression of humanity’s ignorance and savagery.
Second, that derived from the religion and culture of Ancient Greece and Rome, the Pagans were noble and admirable people but essentially remained inferior to Christianity in their ethics and spiritual values.
Third, that some writers considered Paganism superior to Christianity, being a life affirming and joyous alternative approach to religion which respects all of nature and seeks to integrate our lives with it.
Fourth, that a number of thinkers, writers and poets with connections to the Romantic movement such as Shelley, Leigh Hunt and Thomas Love Peacock, considered Paganism a remnant of a great universal religion of the distant past, elements of which were to be found in all the major religions practice by civilized humanity, from which contemporary NeoPaganism is descended.

Hutton then explored in greater depth the various strands of Romantic literary Paganism, the Frazerian Anthropology, Folklorism, Freemasonry, Theosophy, the revival of Ritual Magic and of Ceremonial magic, Thelema, and Woodcraft Chivalry, among others.
I found his research into the varieties of ‘Cunning Folk’ and other groups including ‘The Toadmen’ (still around in 1938) and a Masonic styled secret society called ‘The Horseman’s Word’ in the 19th century to be particularly enjoyable and informative reading.
To introduce them briefly, the ‘Cunning Folk’ were professional or semi-professional practitioners of magic active from at least the fifteenth up until the early twentieth century who practiced folk magic – also known as “low magic” – although often combined this with elements of “high” or ceremonial magic. In earlier times, the witch’s power to harm people, livestock, and crops was greatly feared: for this reason country people consulted with the ‘Cunning Men’ and ‘Wise Women’ who had the power to negate their spells with counter-magic.  Cunning-folk practitioners were also consulted for love spells, to find lost property or missing persons, exorcise ghosts and banish evil spirits.
Ronald Hutton suggests that the ‘Cunning Craft’, rather than dying out, had changed character by being subsequently absorbed into other magical currents.
The decline of the cunning craft in Britain was not however indicative of other European nations: in Italy for example, cunning practitioners continued operating right into the early twenty-first century.

Nevertheless, the author portrays that through the increasing interest in ancient Paganism and survival of traditional magical practices like charms during the 19thC, there came about in the 20thC what amounts to a new religion.

Laurie Lipton. The Black Sun

Of The Rise of Modern Wicca, 
Witchcraft and Paganism in Britain;
The second half of this book traces in greater depth the modern history of that new religion, of Paganism and Wicca, with particular focus on Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions of Wicca and examines the personalities involved in launching modern pagan witchcraft, including Gerald Gardner, Sanders, Valiente, the Crowthers, Pickingill and others.
Hutton says that Wicca was introduced by Gerald Gardener in the mid to late 1950’s shortly after Britain repealed their anti-witchcraft laws. Gardener had claimed that he became acquainted with a group of Rosicrucian actors who introduced him to an ancient surviving craft and that Dorothy Clutterbuck, their priestess, initiated him into their coven.
However, Hutton also argues that Wicca’s origins go well beyond Gardener claiming that Gardener was influenced not only by Ancient Hinduism following his period of civil service in India, but also a diverse collection of sources including 17th and 18th century fraternal organizations, 19th century esoteric societies including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Ordo Templi Orientis  and Freemasonry from whom he borrowed Wicca’s ritual structure, initiations, handshakes and passwords. The author makes clear that Gardener also derived inspiration and some practices from the Occultist Aleister Crowley and Romantic literary authors including Yeats, Frazer and Graves as well as the Back-To-Nature movement.

Despite Gardener’s claimed introduction to an older craft group – which Hutton points out is contested, and because of Gardener’s own subsequent gathering of sources and resources such as The Book Of Shadows, his forming of Covens and publicizing of his new organization, Gardener is nevertheless portrayed as the founding father of modern Wicca.
Whilst this early NeoPaganism may appear a socially or politically subversive movement, particularly because of its secrecy and the reversal of cultural norms such as that some aspects of ritual were to be carried out naked, the point is made that at this stage the movement was not of a socially minded reactionary nature at all. Several of its founding figures were deeply conservative (and politically Conservative), and their quarrel was not with social and economic status quo, but rather against the unnaturalness and destruction of traditional patterns of life and societies deep involvement with nature that characterized the rising industrial modernity.

On the one hand then Hutton appears to make the argument that early modern Pagan Witchcraft did not stem from any unbroken lines of succession and does not represent a survival of ancient forms of indigenous religious practice, but equivocally he also states that various forms of earlier practice such as the Cunning Craft, Wise Women and others had been subsumed and evolved into the new forms of neo Paganism and Wicca…



Of the Modern World View 
& American Feminist  Remodeling of Paganism and Wicca;
Moving on to consider the more recent developments in Wicca and Paganism, Hutton presents the modern world phenomenon of Witchcraft and of Paganism as having developed in Great Britain and been exported to USA where they were taken up by feminist pagans who massively popularized the concepts as well as imbued them with a more socialistic communal minded orientation. After this socialization the author says  a “new and improved” Wicca made the jump back across the pond to England in the early 1980’s, that Paganism and Wicca have returned with greater prominence and popularity to Great Britain in large part via the books of such authors as Starhawk, Z. Budapest and others who have provided a number of self initiation and guide books for the growing number of solitary practitioners or hedge witches. Hutton portrays then the development of an essentially a politically conservative religious movement evolving into a liberal/progressive movement prioritization feminist issues, promoting a progressive social policy, and advocating self-help/group therapies. The author rounds out his voluminous research with an interesting personal account of what in his view the principle precepts of modern Paganism and Wicca entail.

 

Of the Authors Conjectural Conclusions 
And Their Ultimate Uncertainty;
Despite the apparent academic objectivity of Ronald Hutton’s research which I have thoroughly enjoyed in a number of his studies, I found in this work an ambivalence and lack of clear resolution on a number of occasions. Mr Hutton seems to present an evidence based case as far as it would go and then implies the ensuing conjecture without the definitive evidence for the the implied conclusions, a practice which he points out in others as imaginative if academically erroneous. I find myself further intrigued by such deft footwork from an academic author and because of these misgivings I have looked about for other reviewers opinions. Of the many such reviews that I found among those who were not too overwhelmed, like myself, by all the cross references and closely written and basically bewildering panoramic scope of fine details, some appear to see the wood through the trees, claiming that the authors main pitch in this work, that Wicca and NeoPaganism do not carry any unbroken lineage to antiquity, are partisan perspectives that the author has impelled his evidence to support. These views of Ronald Hutton as expressed in The Triumph Of The Moon have then provoked a certain amount of debate from both sides of the camp so to speak. In response to such perspectives, Hutton frequently hints that there is more to this story, but states that without definitive evidence we cannot be sure and then proceeds present to his own conjectured conclusion almost as a definitive orthodoxy.

 

 

Of The Debate over Authorial Objectivity in 
The Triumph Of The Moon;
For a balanced review of The Triumph Of The Moon,  I have include a few quotes here from a well argued case against Ronald Hutton’s conjecture that there is no ancient lineage of Witchcraft or Paganism in Britain, from the author of the website ‘e g r e g o r e s‘ under the title of
The Recantations of Ronald Hutton;
”In Triumph of the Moon, Ronald Hutton triumphantly claimed that the whole notion of the Old Religion had been “swept away” by a “tidal wave” of research…Hutton had spent a decade studying the question of the relationship between modern Paganism and ancient forms of religion…Hutton had reached the conclusion that no such relationship existed whatsoever, and that no one could be taken seriously who believed otherwise, explicitly including anyone who so much as “suggest[ed] that there might be some truth” in the notion of the Old Religion.
The only problem was that the whole time Hutton had, now by his own admission, been systematically ignoring “certain types of ancient religion” which just so happened to be precisely the ones which most “closely resembled [modern] Paganism, had certainly influenced it, and had certain linear connections with it”! And why did he ignore the one place he should have been looking all along? Because it was “in every sense marginal to my own preoccupations.”
Hutton was by his own admission preoccupied then with his own proposition that “the paganism of today has virtually nothing in common with that of the past except the name.”

 

 

In Conclusion;
As I have previously held no particular view over the ancient lineage claims for Witchcraft, Wicca and Paganism in Great Britain, and their authenticity or lack thereof, and because I have followed a largely intuitive path similar perhaps to that of a Hedge-Druid in my relative independence of groups and traditions as regards my own awareness of Pagan and nature reverencing issues and of what I shall term Supernature and its apprehension in daily life, I have found this volume to be informative, enjoyable and unexpectedly provocative. That there ensues some degree of partisan prejudice was almost to be expected, as the wider public may still hold various oppositional perspectives based on an until recently dominant Christian cultural ideology and its ensuing misinformation against Paganism and Witchcraft in particular. That such views should apparently inform an objective academic in his choice of how to handle his subject matter is not a question that I am well enough equipped to consider. I would surmise however by saying that I have learned a lot by reading this work, both within the tome itself and further by becoming aware of sensible and informed dissent without.

For all of these reasons I recommend this study to any who would consider the origins and developments of Witchcraft, Wicca and Paganism in modern Britain today, with the caveat that there may indeed be more to this story than meets the eye or is presented here.

So Mote It Be ~
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