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HEARTH WITCHERY

This is the ancient wisdom of the grandmothers, the wise women, once passed down from mother to daughter and crone to apprentice, and then improved by a lifetime of study and the daily observation of the patterns of nature.

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In bygone ages most of us lived much closer to nature than we do now. Once every woman had to be something of an herbalist and healer, responsible for her household’s health, since professional medical help was either unavailable or too expensive (and possibly dangerous to boot). Every home kept some drying herbs and flowers to make herbal infusions, powders, oils and poultices, brewed wine and ale, preserved fruit, made jams and jellies, pickles and chutneys, and many also made inks, dyes, soaps and household cleaners. A girl would be initiated into the secrets of these family formulas by her mother, along with her knowledge of folklore, stories, healing potions, minor surgery, gardening, brewing and wine making, spinning, weaving, dyeing, childcare, home management, animal husbandry, bee-keeping, fortune telling and cookery know-how.

And then there were those in the community who knew that little bit more, the village wise woman or cunning man. When joined my first coven Julia, our high priestess, told us stories of the herb wives of the past, who cared for the bodies and spirits of those around them, telling their fortunes, treating their bodily ailments with herbs, dowsing their lost property, and physicking their farm animals. She held them up to us as examples of powerful, magical women in an age when women otherwise had little influence. They were the midwives who brought new life into the world, she said, and who laid out the dead at the end of life. Though such stories have often been wildly romanticised, folklore records and accounts do show that virtually every village seems to have had a wise woman or a cunning man of some sort. These village shamans had different names in different places, including handywomen, blessers, witches, conjurors, herb wives, wild herb men, snake doctors, fairy doctors and currens. These practitioners didn’t use athames and magic swords but everyday objects – stones, keys, shears, sieves, pitchforks, brooms, divining rods, wax, bottles, paper and anything that came readily to hand from the kitchen or farm.

This is the ancient wisdom of the grandmothers, the wise women, once passed down from mother to daughter and crone to apprentice, and then improved by a lifetime of study and the daily observation of the patterns of nature. Such expertise formed the pattern of women’s lives for thousands of years and that women developed highly skilful methods in all these areas, even though no contemporary historian wrote about them or accorded women due status for their invaluable work. Women’s knowledge has been derided and ignored for most of our history, and this is just as true today in western culture, in which knowledge is ‘owned’ by experts (mainly men) and can only be passed on through state-approved academic institutions, and where those seeking to follow traditional or alternative paths – such as herbalism – are dismissed as uneducated, naïve or even dangerous.

But this is our knowledge, our heritage – as women and as witches, both male and female. Discovering it and practicing my Craft has been a marvellous adventure for me, and it never ceases to fill me with wonder and awe at the power of Mother Nature. It makes me aware of the magic that flows throughout the world in every uncurling oak leaf in spring, every blushing rose petal, every humming summer bee, every rutting stag, and every misty shore. This is the reward of the path of the hearth witch.

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February, the Month of Purification

February, though it the shortest month of the year, is said to have the worst weather. Native American tribes called the full moon of February [1] ‘the Snow Moon’, ‘the Hunger Moon’ or ‘the Storm Moon’. [2] Winter seems to be dragging on, and if we didn’t see signs that spring is just around the corner, it might be considered the dreariest month of all. Yet the rain, the cold and the snow are cleansing the face of the earth, destroying harmful bacteria, soaking the soil with life-giving moisture and filling the rivers and reservoirs, all of which will ensure good crops later in the year. An old saying had it that “a Welshman would rather see his dam on a bier than see a fair February” (i.e., he would rather see his mother dead). [3]

Just as the Earth is being washed clean, many ancient festivals of February reflect the theme of purification. The name of the month itself is derived from the Latin februarius which means ‘purification’.  According to the Roman writer Ovid, in ancient times purgation was called Februa: “Of this our month of February came… For our religious fathers did maintain, purgations expiated every stain of guilt and sin”. [4] He explained that the custom had come from Greece where it was held that pure lustrations could cleanse any sin or impious deed. February was once the last month of the Roman year and the idea seems to have been to propitiate the spirits of the Gods and ancestors, atone for any offence given to them, and so prepare for spring and the new year with a clean slate. According to Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (4 CE – 70 CE) even farmland was purged (purguntur) this month:  old reeds were burned, fields were weeded, olive and fruit trees pruned and vineyards tended. [5]

The ancient Greeks celebrated the Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries this month, during which those who were planning to participate in the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries in the autumn went to Athens to be purified of any ritual impurity or sin (miasma). [6] As Clement of Alexandria wrote: “The mysteries of the Greeks begin with purification,” [7] and in most mystery traditions, ritual purification is necessary before the would-be initiate can approach the Gods. At the centre of the Eleusinian mysteries were the agricultural goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone, the goddess of spring who was associated with purity. [8] Candidates were purified by water, air and fire before being allowed to approach the Goddess. Representations show Demeter seated on the kiste (the basket which held the ritual implements of the Greater Mysteries which would not be revealed until the autumn), and the initiate holding out his hand to touch the snake which coils from the kiste to Demeter’s lap.  [9]  The snake symbolised mystery and rebirth, and the fact that the initiate was ready to receive the mysteries later in the year.

Just as people purified themselves, their homes and the tombs of their ancestors at this time of year, there are many stories of goddesses cleansing themselves in sacred waters in order to renew themselves and restore their virginity. The Greek goddess of love Aphrodite renewed her virginity every year by bathing in the sea at her birthplace of Paphos in Crete. Artemis, the moon and hunt goddess, refreshed her virginity by bathing every year in a sacred fountain, while Hera, the Queen of Heaven, bathed in the spring at Kanathos near Argos in order to become a maiden once more.[10] Even in Christian lore, Candlemas (February 2) is the feast of the purification of the Virgin Mary. The maiden goddess is associated with purity, new beginnings and regeneration, so these seem to be metaphors for the old year being washed away and turned into spring,

There was similarly a Scottish tradition that at the beginning of spring the Cailleach (‘Hag’ or ‘Veiled One’) drank from the Well of Youth and transformed into the youthful maiden Bride. [11] Others thought that the Cailleach ruled the winter months, while Bride (Brighid/Brigit) ruled the summer months. [12] The Cailleach is the female personification of winter [13]. Her staff freezes the ground [14] and she brings storms and bad weather, though she protects deer and wolves, and is the mother of all the gods. [15] Là Fhèill Brìghde (St Bride’s Day, February 1) was said to be the day that the Cailleach gathered her firewood for the rest of the winter. If she intended the winter to last a good deal longer, she made sure that the weather was bright and sunny so she could go out and gather plenty of fuel. [16] If the weather was terrible, it meant that the Cailleach was asleep and would soon run out of wood, so winter was nearly over.

In Scotland, St. Bride’s Day was considered the beginning of spring, with Bride melting the river ice. [17] According to Scottish folklorist Alexander Carmichael “Bride with her white wand is said to breathe life into the mouth of the dead Winter and to bring him to open his eyes to the tears and the smiles, the sighs and the laughter of Spring. The venom of the cold is said to tremble for its safety on Bride’s Day and to flee for its life on Patrick’s Day.” [18] As Nigel Pennick puts it “…at this time of year, Brighid symbolises the opening out of enclosed, invisible nature concealed in the darkness of wintertide into the visible world of light.” [19]

In Scotland, the serpent, sometimes called the noble queen, is supposed to emerge from its hollow among the hills on St Bride’s Day:

On the day of Bride of the white hills
The noble queen will come from the knoll,
I will not molest the noble queen,
Nor will the noble queen molest me.
[20]

The serpent throws off its skin annually and is thereby renewed, making it an ancient symbol of regeneration. Snakes and maidens also featured in the February celebrations of the Roman goddess Juno Sospita (Juno the Saviour). At the beginning of February, the consuls made a sacrifice to her, while young girls offered barley-cakes to the sacred snake in her grove. If their offerings were accepted, their virginity was confirmed and the year’s fertility assured.

During this month animals begin to shake off their winter sleep and emerge from hibernation. Some are said to come out to check the weather on Bride’s Day or Candlemas, testing whether it is safe to emerge or if they need to go back to sleep. Badgers were reputed to emerge at noon and if they saw their shadows, they went back to their setts. If they didn’t see their shadows, they stayed out, and the worst of winter was over. In Huntingdonshire the day was even called ‘Badger’s Day’. [21] The same folk belief persists in America as Groundhog Day.

The year is awakening, new and pure, waiting for life to mark it. The lengthening days that follow Imbolc hold the promise of spring and the rebirth of plant life, and the yearly cycle of work on the land begins once more as the earth is prepared for the seed. [22] I think of February as a time of purification during which we can banish negativity in all its forms, a time to cleanse, physically and spiritually, and get things ready for the busy season to come as, day by day, the light increases.

© Anna Franklin 2019

[1] Every nineteen years there is no full moon in February at all

[2] The Old Farmer’s Almanac, https://www.farmersalmanac.com/full-moon-names, accessed 19.10.18

[3] Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999

[4] Ovid, Fasti

[5] Junius Moderatus Columella, Of Husbandry,  A. Millar , London, n/d

[6] The Lesser Mysteries of Eleusis, Stephanie Goodart, MA, SRC, online at ?

[7] Quoted in The Lesser Mysteries of Eleusis, Stephanie Goodart, MA, SRC, online at ?

[8] The Lesser Mysteries of Eleusis, Stephanie Goodart, MA, SRC, online at ?

[9] The Lesser Mysteries of Eleusis, Stephanie Goodart, MA, SRC, online at ?

[10] Pausanias, ii.38.2

[11] Alexander Carmicheal, Carmina Gadelica, Volume 1, T. and A. Constable, Edinburgh

1900, online at sacred-texts.com, accessed 17.10.18

[12] F. Marian McNeill, The Silver Bough, Vol.2: A Calendar of Scottish National Festivals, Candlemas to Harvest Home, William MacLellan, 1959

[13] Donald Alexander Mackenzie, Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, 1917

[14] K. M. Briggs, The Fairies in English Tradition and Literature. University of Chicago Press, 1967

[15] Donald Alexander Mackenzie, Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, 1917

[16] Katharine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies. Pantheon Books, New York, 1976

[17] Donald Alexander Mackenzie, Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, 1917

[18] Alexander Carmicheal, Carmina Gadelica, Volume 1, T. and A. Constable, Edinburgh

 1900, online at sacred-texts.com, accessed 17.10.18

[19] Nigel Pennick, The Goddess Year, Capall Bann, Chieveley, 1996

[20] Alexander Carmicheal, Carmina Gadelica, Volume 1, T. and A. Constable, Edinburgh

1900, online at sacred-texts.com, accessed 17.10.18

[21][21] Nigel Pennick, Folk-lore of East Anglia, Spiritual Arts and Crafts Publishing, Cambridge, 2006

[22] Trefor M. Owen, Welsh Folklore Customs, Gomer Press, Llandysul Dyfed, 1994

The Land of Lost Cats

The festive season has been subdued and very sad for us. Last year we had three gorgeous, rescued feral kittens. I bought them toys and a real tree so that they could climb, because they had had a hard start in life, and I wanted their future to be happy. They rewarded us with unconditional love, joy and affection, as all our pets do. There was Jack, a rascal who was always getting himself into trouble, who followed me everywhere and liked to chew, very gently, on the ends of my fingers while he lay upside down on my lap. Then there was Dylan, the shyest who took the longest to trust us, who liked to sleep curled in the crook of my arm, and Milo, who got so excited every time he was stroked that he couldn’t sit still.

All three went missing over a weekend in November when they were just a year old. For the first week I could convince myself that they had all gone on an adventure together. For the next few weeks I did everything I could to find them, searching for miles armed with cat biscuits, advertising, putting up posters, getting articles in local newspapers, thousands of shares on social media, signing up on lost pets websites, informing all the local vets, shelters and putting up a reward of first £1000, then £2000. I must have been called to see every black cat in the area, though of course, very few of them turned up when I was there, no matter how many times I went, and some of them proved to have owners in the very street where they were reported.

Eventually, I have had to admit that the fear I buried deep is almost certainly true – they, and four other cats in my locality, were taken and killed back in November.

This is hard to deal with. I have had cats that died of illness or old age, having shared their lives with me. Over the years I have even had other cats go missing, never to be found, and accepted they must have met with accidents. But the cruelty and the loss of all three is something very different. The feelings that I have cannot be simple grief, and they are hard to deal with, because I am not even sure what they are. I had promised my boys a safe and loving life, and I feel I let them down. At first the loss was tinged with worry, then a kind of despair at a world where this could happen. For a brief few minutes I even harboured fantasies of what I would like to do to the person who had killed them, but I am not that weak. People who carry out mindless acts of cruelty to animals are pathetic misfits, driven by anger, fear and an innate lack of self-worth, whose only sense of control comes from hurting the small and weak. They are to be pitied because they are indeed pitiful. I hope they are caught and given the psychiatric help they clearly need before they hurt anything (or anyone) else, and before their innate darkness devours them whole.

However, there was a wonderful light during this time of darkness – the many, many people who came together to help me. Those who searched, distributed posters, shared my posts and offered to contribute to the reward. Local friends who went out with me each day, and others who travelled for many miles to help look, complete strangers who combed the area and distributed posters, the many dog walkers who said they would keep a sharp eye out, the builders working nearby who went out searching at lunch times, and the people who called me with suspected sightings. The majority of people in this world are kind and good, they believe we are here to help each other, and that makes the world beautiful. It far outweighs one damaged crank who would make it ugly.

I will remember that I gave my beautiful boys a very happy year. It should have been a lifetime though, and that pain will be with me forever, though I hope it won’t always hurt so much.

THE MIDSUMMER FERN

Fern is the common name for any spore-producing plant of the phylum Polypodiophyta.  It is associated with sun gods and goddesses, and gods and goddesses of the dawn, such as Daphne. It is also sacred to the Great Goddess and the sky gods of thunder, lightning and Midsummer. At the turning of Midsummer and Midwinter it is reputed to allow access into the Otherworld and contact with its inhabitants, the Sidhe. It was sacred to the Baltic sun goddess Saule who appeared on the horizon at Midsummer, wreathed in apple blossom and red fern blossom [i.e. red clouds].

Use fern in incenses at Midsummer to protect the household and for divination purposes.

At Midsummer the magical fernseed is collected. At midnight it is said to glimmer with a magic light. The plant must not be touched directly but bent with a forked hazel stick over a pewter plate. The seed is so tiny that it is almost invisible, and therefore was thought to convey invisibility to its possessor. In Lancashire [northern England] it was held that fernseed collected on the family Bible conveyed invisibility.

 

Lucky ‘hands’ made of the rootstock of the male fern trimmed to a likeness of thumbs and fingers were smoked in the Midsummer fires and hung up for protection in houses and farms. Such hands are said to reveal hidden treasure buried within the earth, glowing with a blue flame.

Looks like a bumper crop of clary sage this year…

My clary sage is growing like crazy.

You can use it like ordinary sage in cooking, though it is stronger, so use less.  You can also eat the flowers. It is traditionally used for women’s problems, particularly the menopause and its hot flushes. Take as a tea. The astringent tea can also be gargled for sore throats or poured over small wounds. The tea is also good for digestive complaints such as gas and bloating. Also use the tea as an eyewash.

You can make a wine from it, which is said to be slightly narcotic. People also used to consider it to be an aphrodisiac.

MYTHS – STORIES THAT TEACH US HOW TO LIVE

Ancient cultures sought to understand their existence and explain their connection to the world through myths and rituals.

Myths are the body of stories and legends that a people perceive as being an integral part of their culture. Before the invention of writing, these stories and legends were handed down from generation to generation in the form of rituals and oral traditions. The reappearance of certain themes, time and again, in different mythologies, leads to the realization that these themes portray universal and eternal truths about mankind.

Myth basically serves four functions:

  1. The first is the mystical function – realizing what a wonder the universe is, and what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before this mystery
  2. The second is a cosmological dimension, showing you what shape the universe is, but showing it in such a way that the mystery comes through.
  3. The third function is the sociological one – supporting and validating a certain social order.
  4. But there is a fourth function of myth, and that is the teaching function, illustrating how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.” [1]

At their core, all myths exist to teach us. They teach us about ourselves and others, and they show us how to live our lives. Myths serve more than just the folkloric functions in society of “do this”, “don’t eat that”, “be careful when travelling there”, and so on; myths are the guidebooks for life itself, with all its beauty and mystery. Myths are the keys to understanding the whole of human experience.

Myths are not literal truths. Myths are not lies. Mythology is poetry: it is metaphorical. It is said that mythology is the penultimate truth – penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words; it is beyond words, beyond images, beyond music.  Mythology stretches the mind beyond that point, to what can be known but not told.

All cultures create ‘masks’, which are the names and images for the divine, and they serve as metaphors for an inexpressible transcendence, being beyond all being and the idea beyond all thought.

The idea of the divine as being something over and above the natural is a destructive idea. In the Middle Ages this was the idea that finally turned that world into something like a wasteland, a land where people were living inauthentic lives, never doing what they truly wanted to because supernatural laws required them to live as directed by the church. In a wasteland, people are fulfilling purposes that are not properly theirs but have been imposed upon them as inescapable laws.

This is destructive to the soul. The spirit is really the bouquet of life. It is not something breathed into life, it comes out of life. This is one of the glorious things about the mother-goddess religions, where the world is the body of the Goddess, divine in itself, and divinity isn’t something ruling over and above a fallen nature. The story of the fall in the Garden of Eden sees nature as corrupt, and that myth corrupts the whole world for us. Because nature is thought of as corrupt, every spontaneous act is sinful and must not be yielded to. You get a totally different civilization and a totally different way of living according to whether your myth presents nature as fallen or whether nature is in itself a manifestation of divinity, and the spirit is the revelation of the divinity that is inherent in nature.” [2]

Joseph Campbell, the great writer on mythology, said many times that a new global mythology was arising based on the concept of Gaia, the Earth Mother.

 Which brings us to the big question – who or what are the Gods? Are they just stories, the dreams of men, metaphors? Or do they exist?

There are hundreds of thousands of god and goddess names, some of whom were worshipped in Britain, many more that were not. We find that within a single pantheon that the names of the gods are not always consistent; some gods absorb the names, titles and attributes of another with the passing of the centuries. Mythologies evolve and change, are absorbed and assimilated into other cultures.

The question that every individual Pagan must resolve for themselves is does this mean we are to believe literally in all these differing deities? If we do, where do we choose a particular time in history to fix the names and attributes of the gods we chose to worship? To choose to be a Celt of 300 BC as opposed to a Celt of 100 AD, or a Viking of 50 BC as opposed to a Viking of 300 AD involves serious logical and spiritual dichotomies. Even if it is possible to make these decision, can we really enter into the ‘world view’ of an older culture without imposing our modern preconceptions on it?

In the Craft we are taught that “…beyond the two is the One, which we cannot name or limit, for the One is without limit, therefore we do give our worship unto the Lady and her Lord.”

This is far from being a belief in a supreme monotheistic god who is separate from his creation; it means that everything, even the gods and goddesses, are part of a single great whole, a manifestation of pure consciousness, Divine energy.

The Craft view is that in the process of manifesting, consciousness divides itself into two parts, God and Goddess, yang and yin, define it how you will, which, though seeming to be separate, cannot exist without one another, any more than a coin can have one side.  Only when they combine can action, movement and creation arise.

Through the splitting of the primordial principle at the beginning of creation, the duality within our lives came into being, together with a strong force that is constantly striving to re-unite with the other part.

In the Craft it is believed that the Divine Spirit is not separate from creation, it is creation. It is us, and everything else. There is no real difference between spirit and matter – gods, humans, and everything else are part of each other, part of the One.

The oldest Pagan gods were always embodiments of natural forces – vegetation, storm, sun, moon, sea, wind, sky, storm, thunder, fire, earth, water, rain, fertility, creation and destruction.  For me, these are facets of the Divine we can approach and work with. When you invoke the name of a deity, you are invoking a particular facet of the Cosmos. If you invoke the Norse god Thor, you are invoking an aspect of thunder, but this is not the same as invoking Taranis, the Celtic god of thunder, which has a somewhat different energy, while still embodying thunder. That doesn’t mean that the energies – or gods – are metaphorical, or products of the human mind, it just means their nature is beyond human understanding, and we work with what we can comprehend.

Myths are stories that give us clues to the nature of life, temporal and spiritual, manuals to the whole experience of ourselves and others. Used wisely, myths initiate the individual into the realities of his or her own psyche and become guides to spiritual enlightenment.

No matter the culture or tradition, the hero of every myth takes the same journey. Each hero departs, interacts with other archetypal beings and encounters difficulties and trials, completes his quest or fulfils his purpose (which is sometimes not to complete his quest) and returns, changed in some way. As King Arthur and his knights sat feasting, there appeared the mysterious Holy Grail in their midst. All the knights set out on the quest to find it. They had many adventures and many of them perished in the quest, until at last it was found by Galahad, the perfect knight.

The adventure can be one of inner exploration and spiritual seeking as well as some kind of high adventure. This mythic journey is present—and nearly identical—in many major religions. Buddha, Moses and Jesus, for instance, all embarked on spiritual quests, met with allies or enemies, were tested and each returned transformed. Prince Siddhartha Gautama at the age of twenty nine left his palace to meet his subjects. Despite his father’s efforts to hide from him the sick, aged and suffering, he saw a bent old man. When his charioteer explained to him that all people grew old, the prince went on further trips beyond the palace. On these he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse and an ascetic. These depressed him, and he initially strove to overcome aging, sickness, and death by living the life of an ascetic, then left the palace to live the life of a mendicant.  During this time, he was offered a throne, asked to be the spiritual heir of two yoga teachers but refused them all, still searching for enlightenment. He tried self-mortification and fasting, nearly starving himself to death until a village girl saved his life by feeding him.  After this he began to reconsider his path, and decided that this was not the way.  He realised that extreme asceticism did not work, and began to focus on meditation, discovering what Buddhists call the Middle Way, a path of moderation. Eventually, sitting under the Bodhi tree and after forty nine days of meditation, he achieved enlightenment.

Each of us has embarked on a journey, whether we like it or not – the journey of life. Powerful forces have made a gateway for each of us to be incarnated in this place and time. Myths are guides to how we live life, and whether we live life heroically is up to us.

If Frodo and Aragorn had decided just to stay in the pub, instead of returning the ring, it would have been a very short book in which evil prevailed. If Stephen Hawkins had just curled up in a corner when he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease instead of immersing himself in his work and living life as fully as he could, he probably would have died really quickly and we wouldn’t have A Brief History of Time and all his scientific discoveries.

Our names might not go down in history, but each of us is the hero of our own story. The life quest is different for each person. It might be a spiritual quest, as when Siddhartha Gautama left behind the life of a rich man and sought enlightenment.  For you, the quest might be to be a good healer, a wonderful parent, a skilled carpenter or blacksmith, an inspired musician, a poet, artist or spiritual initiate. Maybe the quest involves a few or even all of these.

So, are you the hero in your own life-quest, or are you playing the sidekick in everybody else’s story?  Do you act or just react to the people and situations around?

Usually, we don’t have a handle on is what our story is or we let other people tell us what our story should be. Basically, our story is whatever we believe about ourselves to be true. The way you tell yourself your own story can make you the eternal victim of childhood abuse, or can make you the hero who overcame it.  Myths can teach us how to live.

What myths—all myths—tell us is that the meaning of life is the experience of life. Eternity isn’t some later time, eternity isn’t a long time: eternity has nothing to do with time. It is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time obscures.

 The experience of eternity, the infinite, right here and now is the function of ritual. In ritual, we create sacred space, outside of normal space and time. We empty ourselves of thoughts and desires in order to cultivate ritual consciousness – which is not thinking, not looking to the past or future but being completely present and open. Only then can we connect with the infinite. Only then, does pantomime and ceremony become lifted to the level of sacred ritual. Only then do we realise that all the Gods, all the heavens, all the world, are within us.

Ritual lies at the heart of what we do, and it is the part that most people struggle with. I always say to aspirants that unless you can come to ritual properly prepared, and work with ritual consciousness, you will experience nothing but pantomime and find it empty. After a while, if you work on it, you may attain ritual consciousness for a second or two, when you feel a deep connection, before it disappears. The aim is to be able to sustain it throughout the ritual .In a group, the aim is for the whole group to experience it together for the duration of the ritual.

Don’t be put off – if you create a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.

© Anna Franklin 2017

[1] Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

[2] Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

THE WAY OF THE MIGHTY DEAD

“…you shall be taught to be wise, that in the fullness of time you shall count yourself among those who serve the Gods, among those who belong to the Craft, among those who are called the Mighty Dead. Let thy life, and the life to come, be in the service of our noble Lady and her gentle Lord.”

Witchcraft is often called ‘The Crooked Path’, because it is the path of the outsider. Witches were driven out of society, cloaked in the garb of otherness.  While historical druids were an elite class of men, pillars of the establishment, the historical witch was always an outsider, the despised or excluded person who threatened the established order and – of all the most dreadful things imaginable – usually a woman with power in a world where women were often otherwise powerless.

The Church saw witches as the antithesis of what a woman should be – meek, subservient, industrious and obedient. Any woman who was a free-spirits independent and sexually active must be a witch.  During the times of witchcraft persecution- the days we call The Burning Times- it is estimated that 50,000 to 100,000 people were executed, 80% of them women.

In 1484, in response to reports that many women were engaging in sorcery “to make the conjugal act impossible”, Pope Innocent VIII appointed two German Dominicans, Jakov Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer, to pursue witches. They wrote the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, which means “Hammer of Evil Doers” or “Hammer of the Witches”. So popular was their book that it ran into nineteen editions and was a principle text for the Inquisition.

They wrote that “woman is an imperfect animal, and always deceives….

In Christian lore, women are responsible for the fall of humankind and its expulsion from paradise, since Eve was tempted to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge and persuaded her husband Adam to do the same.[i]

For the Christian thinker, God is male, and thus the only true gender is male.[ii] From the very beginning, they argued that women were inferior to men, as Eve was made from Adam’s spare rib, and being formed by a bent rib she was naturally flawed.

Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote “Every girl child is a defective male, conceived only because her father was ill, weak or in a state of sin at the time,” and “Life comes from the male sperm, and the woman merely serves as the soil in which it is planted.”

According to the Malleus Maleficarum: “Women are intellectually like children” and

“All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.”

The Church felt that women were more carnal than men, as was clear from their many ‘abominations’; women menstruate, get pregnant and give birth, all evidence of the sexual activity which was reviled as sinful by the Church. The Malleus Maleficarum 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 wrote “Women exert an evil influence over men which causes them to have involuntary erections, and thus distracted them from contemplating God.”

According to the Malleus Maleficarum: “Any woman knows more magic than a hundred men,” and “There are more women than men found infected with the heresy of witchcraft, ”.

“A woman is by her nature more quicker to waver in her faith and consequently quicker to abjure the faith, which is the root of witchcraft” and most damning of all “…women are weak in themselves, and can only perform magic in league with demons”.[iii] The clergy exclaimed

“Blessed be the Highest who has so far preserved the male sex from so great an evil”

While any woman practicing fortune telling, midwifery or herbalism could be executed as a witch, male doctors, astrologers and alchemists were left unscathed. The fifteenth century Council of Trent specifically forbade women from having anything to do with medicine, a profession they were not to be re-admitted to until the late nineteenth century. If any women stood before a tribunal accused of practising medicine or healing it was automatically assumed that she must have achieved any cure by witchcraft and she was put to death [iv] According to the Malleus Maleficarum “If a woman dare to cure … then she is a witch and must die”. Male doctors were trusted implicitly by the authors: “Although some of their remedies seem to be vain and superstitious cantrips and charms… everybody must be trusted in his profession.”

“no one does more harm to the Catholic Church than midwives…the midwives exceed all other witches in deeds of shame”

“A midwife is guilty of sinning if she eased a woman’s pain during childbirth, since that suffering was imposed by Jehovah as a punishment on all women for Eve’s transgression.” (Clerics reminded Queen Victoria of this when she asked for chloroform in the royal labour ward.)

There are still parts of the world that prosecute and burn witches. Women in Papua New Guinea still face violence if they are accused of sorcery or black magic. In Ghana, women (usually elderly widows) have formed “witch camps” and “witch villages,” as safe refuges for those accused of witchcraft in their communities. As many of the supposed Ghanaian witches are widows, the accusation can be seen as a ploy by the family to take their property. “’The camps are a dramatic manifestation of the status of women in Ghana,’ says Professor Dzodzi Tsikata of the University of Ghana. ‘Older women become a target because they are no longer useful to society.’ Women who do not conform to society’s expectations also fall victim to the accusations of witchcraft.

Since we inherit a worldview that sees man as reason and woman as nature, we are still in the grip of the beliefs that fostered witch burning. While the vast majority of society see the druid as a benign eccentric and the shaman as a hippy with a drum, witches are still feared. We are still outsiders. The initiation oath of the Craft reminds us: “Remember the Burning Times, when all we could promise our brothers and sisters was a painless death before the flames took hold. Do you still desire to take that oath, knowing what has been may yet be again?”

We stand of the shoulders of giants, the witches who have gone before, those we call the Mighty Dead. Those who learned, those who suffered, those who forged the crooked path.

When joined my first coven Julia, our high priestess, told us stories of the herb wives of the past, who cared for the bodies and spirits of those around them, telling their fortunes, treating their bodily ailments with herbs, dowsing their lost property, and physicking their farm animals. She held them up to us as examples of powerful, magical women in an age when women otherwise had little influence. They were the midwives who brought new life into the world, she said, and who laid out the dead at the end of life.

These village healers and magicians had different names in different places, including handywomen, blessers, witches, conjurors, herb wives, wild herb men, snake doctors, fairy doctors and currens. [1] In some parts of England they had the title of Old Mother Redcap, since the red cap was a badge of office amongst wise women. There was often some oddity of dress among wise women and cunning men, such as odd socks or a garment worn inside out. [2] These practitioners didn’t use athames and magic swords but everyday objects – stones, keys, shears, sieves, pitchforks, brooms, divining rods, wax, bottles, paper and anything that came readily to hand from the kitchen or farm.

I gradually realised that such expertise formed the pattern of women’s lives for thousands of years and that women developed highly skilful methods in all these areas, even though no contemporary historian wrote about them or accorded women due status for their invaluable work.

Women’s knowledge has been derided and ignored for most of our history, and this is just as true today in western culture, in which knowledge is ‘owned’ by experts and can only be passed on through state-approved academic institutions, and where those seeking to follow traditional or alternative paths – such as herbalism – are dismissed as uneducated, naïve or even dangerous. But this is our knowledge, our heritage – as women and as witches, both male and female.

In the Craft, women have power. Traditional covens are always led by a woman (which is something that some men and even some women struggle with). Moreover, the image of the older woman is positive and powerful. She is the wise one, the teacher, the witch. We look to the Crone goddesses, the witch goddesses, the mistresses of magic, the keepers of the secrets of life and death, Black Annis, Hecate, Ceridwen, Baba Yaga, the Cailleach, Kali, Lilith.

Witches in stories are described vas ugly old crones. Dictionaries describe the crone as an old, ugly, withered woman or ancient witchy female, or say that crone is a derogatory word for an old woman. It is a word derived from ‘carrion’ i.e. dead meat. In fairy tales the crone is always evil. However, this was not always the case. In previous ages, she was the respected elder, a woman with a lifetime’s garnered wisdom, incorporating that of maiden, mother, middle age and old age. She was the keeper of history, the fount of lore, the healer and midwife, the one consulted in time of trouble because her experience told her what to do. She was the Cailleach or veiled one, the coron or crowned one. She is the hag, another derogatory term now, but derived from hagia, which means ‘the sacred one’ (as in hagiography, the study of saints), or from heilig meaning ‘holy’. In Japan, older people are honoured as ‘living treasures’. In our own society, with its heritage of patriarchal monotheism, older women are seen as useless, and that seems to refer to any woman over 45. Today’s witches are trying to reclaim the title of Crone as an honourable and respected estate, in which an older woman is empowered to be herself: as wise, holy, rebellious, incorrigible, astute, funny, sexy, or irascible as she wishes.

Witchcraft is watching the sunrise or sunset, the forest in the light of a glowing moon, a meadow enchanted by the first light of day.   It is the morning dew on the petals of a flower, the gentle caress of a warm summer breeze upon your skin, or the warmth of the summer sun on your face.   Witchcraft is the fall of colourful autumn leaves, and the softness of winter snow.   It is light and shadow and all that lies in between.  It is the song of the birds and other creatures of the wild.   It is being in the temple of Mother Nature and being humbled in reverence.

According to Dave the Flute, witchcraft is like making good tea. If you follow the way of the Abrahamic Regions of the Book – referential, scripture based – you are told what to believe and the actions you must take to be successful. Take mug, put in tea bag, pour on boiling water, take teabag out, add milk and serve. In may be quite a foul cup of tea and you might have preferred some sugar, but you have done as you were told. But a witch would also prod the bag to see what it was doing, note the colour of the tea as it got stronger and compare with past experience of tea making, giving it a taste to try see how it was doing. And ends up with an ace cup of tea. The witchcraft method is experiential, personal and non-scripted. It is the path untrod… revelation through your own effort.

The Witch sees the sacred within the physical, the magical in the mundane, and uses this knowledge to incorporate spiritual practice into her everyday life, treading lightly on the Earth and seeking to harm no-one. She draws her strength from the sacred flame that burns in her hearth, from the earth that sustains her, the water that nourishes her, and the inspiration of her breath.   She finds her gods in the land around her: the spirits of water, stone and tree, Earth, Moon, Sun, Stars and Sky. She needs no watch, calendar or magical almanac to tell her when to work her magic, but works with the observable ebb and flow of the changing seasons, the rising and setting of the sun, and the waxing and waning of the moon. A Witch is drawn to the traditional ways, the rhythms of nature and the call of the wildwoods.  It is a path as old as time and as new as the newest witch.

Witches are the canny, the riddlers, the healers and the givers of gifts. Witches weaver in and out of the fabric of fairytales with wiles and guiles and the truth that every woman (and every man) must learn their own magic.

If you do not feel the pull of Mother Nature than this is not a path you will be able to, or want, to follow, you won’t understand it or see its value. If you measure success in terms of money and fame it is not for you. But if the starlit night draws you from the comfort of home and fire, if your heart swells at the sight of a swathe of woodland anemones in the spring, you will already know what I mean.

Like all secret arts, witchcraft is learned by apprenticeship. Its deepest secrets are printed nowhere.

© Anna Franklin

[1] Nigel Pennick, Secrets of East Anglian Magic, Capall Bann, Milverton, 2004

[2] ibid

[i] This is a misreading of a far more ancient Mesopotamian Goddess myth. The name Eve, in Hebrew Hawwah, is from the Akkadian word Hayah meaning “to live”. She is thus called Hawwah because she was Mother of All Living” according to Genesis. This was a title of the Sumerian goddess Ninhursag. In the Sumerian myth the god Enki (possibly cognate with Yahweh or Jehovah) was cursed by Ninhursag because he stole forbidden plants from paradise. His health began to fail and the other gods prevailed on the Mother Goddess to help him. To do this she created a goddess called Ninti (literally nin= lady, ti= rib ie lady of the rib, a play on words since the phrase also means “to make live”). He claimed his rib hurt him and she healed him.

[ii] This is still argued by people who deny that women can be Christian ministers.

[iii] Jani Farrell Roberts, The Seven Days of My Creation, iUniverse Inc, Lincoln, 2002

[iv] ibid

Arthritis Remedies from your Kitchen

There are several herbs with anti-inflammatory properties, some of which have been shown to be as effective as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and basil is one of these. Use a hot Basil Compress on affected areas.

 

Basil Tea

250 ml (1 cup) boiling water

4-5 fresh basil leaves

Pour the boiling water over the leaves. Let it steep for 4-5 minutes. Strain and drink.

 

Basil Hot Compress

Make double strength basil tea. While it is hot, dip in a clean cotton cloth and apply it as warm as you can bear to the affected part. When it cools, dip it in the infusion again and reapply. You can do this several times.

 

Black pepper is an excellent anti-inflammatory agent; piperine, one of the active compounds of black pepper, reduces the inflammatory compounds that make inflammatory pain worse, so try adding a little black pepper to your food, or use a Black Pepper Compress on affected parts.

 

Black Pepper Tea

250 ml (1 cup) water

½ tsp freshly milled black pepper.

Put the water and pepper in a ban and bring to the boil. Simmer for 4-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave for 10 minutes. Drink as required with a little honey, if liked. To improve the flavour, you can add a black teabag as you remove the pan from the heat, but don’t forget to remove it when the desired strength is reached. For colds etc. you can add some fresh or powdered ginger to the pan as you simmer the pepper.

 

Black Pepper Compress

Prepare a double strength black pepper tea as above. While it is hot, dip in a clean cotton cloth and apply it as warm as you can bear to the affected part. When it cools, dip it in the infusion again and reapply. You can do this several times.

 

The hot and spicy taste of chilli is due to a compound called capsaicin, which is a natural pain killer. Capsaicin depletes a neurotransmitter called substance P, which is responsible for sending pain signals to our brain. When applied topically to affected areas, this is very helpful in relieving pain in cases of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia as well as shingles, diabetic peripheral neuropathy, bursitis, muscle and back pain.

 

Chilli Salve

4 fresh chillies chopped

200 ml vegetable oil

1 tbsp. beeswax

Put the chillies and oil in a double boiler and simmer for 40 – 50 minutes. Strain out the chillies and return the oil to the pan. Add the beeswax and stir until it has melted. Pour into warmed, sterilised glass jars. Apply directly to your painful joints. Do not use on broken skin. Wash your hands afterwards and avoid touching the eye area.

 

Applied to the skin, the volatile oils in clove function as a rubefacient, meaning that it slightly irritates the skin and expands the blood vessels, increasing the flow of blood to the surface. This is helpful for arthritis and sore muscles, used either as a Clove Compress or Clove Tea in a hot bath or applying Clove Balm to the affected area. Clove is also a topical anaesthetic, dulling pain, while the eugenol it contains is a powerful anti-inflammatory.

 

Clove Infused Oil

50g freshly ground cloves

300 ml vegetable oil (such as olive)

Put the cloves and oil in a double boiler and simmer very gently for 2 hours.  Strain into a clean bottle, label, and store in a cool, dark place.

 

Clove Tea

3 cloves,

250 ml (1 cup) water.

Put in a pan and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to stand for another 10 minutes. Strain and drink with a little honey, if desired.

 

Clove and Coconut Balm

200 gm solid coconut oil

30 gm cloves, freshly ground

In a double boiler, simmer together for 2 hours. Strain through muslin into a shallow jar.

 

Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, so is very useful in conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, where inflammation leads to pain. Applied externally, in the form of a compress, salve or oil, it stimulates peripheral circulation, helping toxins to be removed from painful joints.  Furthermore, the topical application of fresh ginger actually has pain-killing properties with the compound gingerol acting on the receptors located on sensory nerve endings. Applying a Ginger Compress to an affected joint will cause a momentary slight ‘burn’, followed by pain relief. If you are having a flare up, take a cup of Ginger Tea three times a day or use a Ginger Compress on affected parts.

 

Fresh Ginger Tea

2 cm fresh ginger

500 ml (2 cups) water

Peel the ginger and slice thinly. Boil the ginger in water for 10-20 minutes. Remove from heat, strain, add honey and lemon if desired.

 

Ginger Compress
Grate 150 grams of fresh ginger and add to a pan of 2 litres water and simmer gently without boiling for 20 minutes. Strain the ginger water into a heatproof bowl (discard the ginger). Soak a clean cloth in the hot ginger liquid. Wring it out and apply to the affected area. This should be done as hot as is comfortable. When it cools, dip again in the liquid, wring it out and reapply. You can do this several times. The skin may redden. If you experience itching or discomfort, discontinue use.

 

Rosemary has anti-inflammatory and mild analgesic actions and contains the two powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds called carnosol and carnosic acid which have been shown to reduce the levels of nitric acid in the body that can be a trigger for inflammation. The pain-relieving qualities of rosemary are largely the result of salicylate, a compound similar to aspirin. Apply Rosemary Salve to the affected parts or put some freshly cut rosemary sprigs (along with marjoram and lavender if you like) into a cloth bag and add this to your bath water to soothe aches.  You can also use a hot compress soaked in Rosemary Tea applied to the painful area.

 

Rosemary Tea

1 tsp. of rosemary

250 ml (1 cup) of water

Bring the water to a boil Add the rosemary herb to the water, remove from the heat and allow it to steep for 5-6 minutes. Strain the mixture into a teacup. Sweeten with honey, if desired.

 

Rosemary & Coconut Balm

Coconut oil

Fresh rosemary leaves

Simmer together in a double boiler for two hours. Strain into a clean jar. This can be massaged into arthritic joints. It will keep for up to two years in a cool, dark place.

 

There have been many studies conducted over the last fifty years on the efficacy and safety of turmeric, and especially on curcumin, thought to be its most medicinally active compound. Pharmaceutical companies have introduced a new class of anti-inflammatory drugs, COX-2 inhibitors, which deliver the benefits of NSAIDs but with fewer side effects – curcumin is a natural COX-2 inhibitor. Promising effects have been observed in patients with various inflammatory diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel disease, tropical pancreatitis, vitiligo, psoriasis, atherosclerosis and diabetes. Turmeric is one of nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatories, some studies showing it to be as effective as ibuprofen or cortisone in helping ease the stiffness and pain of arthritic joints or bursitis for which it can be externally applied as a Turmeric Paste, Turmeric and Coconut Balm, or taken internally as a Turmeric Tea and Golden Milk.

 

Turmeric and Coconut Balm

2 tbsp. turmeric powder

250 ml (1 cup) solid coconut oil

Put the oil in a double boiler and add the turmeric powder. Simmer gently 30 minutes and pour into a sterilised shallow jar. Both coconut and turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties. Massage into the affected area and cover with a warm towel. Leave 30 minutes and rinse. If you wish, you can add 1 tbsp. of ground ginger when making the balm, which is another anti-inflammatory agent.

 

Golden Milk

250 ml (1 cup) coconut milk

1 tsp turmeric powder

½ tsp cinnamon

Pinch ginger powder

Pinch of black pepper (increases absorption)

1 tsp honey

Heat milk and spices in pan, simmering but not boiling. Remove from the heat. Leave to steep 5-10 minutes. Strain into a mug and stir in the honey.

 

Turmeric Tea

2 tsp. turmeric powder

250 ml (1 cup) water

Bring the water to the boil in a pan, add the turmeric and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Drink within 4 hours.

 

Turmeric and Ginger Tea

½ tsp. turmeric powder

1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and grated

250 ml (1 cup) water

Bring the water to the boil in a pan. Add the turmeric and ginger and simmer for about 10 minutes. Strain and rink sweetened with a little honey, if liked. Like turmeric, ginger contains anti-inflammatory properties.