Last night we held a Harvest Home ritual and supper at a beautiful place. We made bear meat and rice and stuffed it into a small, round pumpkin. We made peach cakes and brownies, roasted whole chickens and had ham and bean soup. There was fresh, crusty bread and spicy sour kraut, and of course hard ciders and beers. It was truly a feast to behold.
In planning and writing the ritual with my beloved and oldest witch friend, the pretty Saro, we merrily went over notes from past fall equinoxes and searched for new information, trying to expand our historical understanding and get inspired. As we were reading and laughing and talking about death, I remembered something I had read about a long time ago when taking an Early Middle Ages History class in college. I remembered something about King Killing and the Vernal Equinox.
In the wheel of the year, this is the time when the God begins to loose strength, just as the plants begin to draw their energy into their roots to reawaken in Spring, so too does the great Sun. The leaves flame with reds and golds, imitating the setting Sun as it sinks into the horizons of the dark Earth, the Crone's waiting Cauldron of death and rebirth.
This is the time we witness the harvest all around us and within us, and judge what seeds we have sown that led us to this moment. This is the time we mourn the dying God, for we will celebrate his death and welcome home our loved ones in the spirit world at Samhain.
Looking more deeply into the bowels of our mysterious and often speculated about pagan past, we can see that this death of the great Sun, the bringer or the harvest, may have been a much more literal belief in ancient Ireland, Germany and other parts of Olde Europe.
Kings had such a great responsibility over their people, and that responsibility extended into the realms of ensuring good harvests, weather and freedom from plagues and diseases. Magically and physically, he had to provide. He was, in fact, married to the Goddess of the land, and if he displeased her, all would suffer. It was nothing less than a sacrifice of his own body that would quell her anger if he upset her.
Similar beliefs are held to have been known worldwide, where a shaman-like king was held as sacral, as the preordained sacrifice at the end of a specific term, or in a time of crisis. He was the mediator of the divine, but not always the theocratic leader of this people. His very position was of a sacred, if not ephemeral nature.
Sir James George Frazer introduced the idea of the sacred king in his book, "The Golden Bough", which in my opinion is a must read for any studious Witch. He saw the king as a sort of living representation of the vegetal "dying and reviving god" similar to the stories of many god's lives in our human history (Osiris, Dionysus, Attis to name a few). While people may agree or disagree with Frazer's thoughts on anthropology and magic, his conjectures strike a chord with me as I watch the seasons turn and see the story of life, death and rebirth play out over and over again.
As we set up our altar with pumpkins, deer bones, our animal effigy made of hay and stones I also came across a beautiful little dead bird that had apparently hit the window of our kind host's house. It was a common yellow throat female. I picked her up and placed her on our altar in the scrying bowl on a bed of worm wood. Despite her not being a wren, she made me wonder as I thought about the tradition of wren killing boys in Ireland and the old song Saro and I like to sing around Winter Solstice, "Please to See the King".
"The king was the wren. The wren was the king of the birds. In ancient religions the king was sacrificed every seven years for the fertility and good of the tribe. In some places (Ireland) the queen was royal and married new consorts to be sacrificed. The consort was treated well for seven years (or one year) and then sacrificed by the new consort. A wren was killed and dressed up in ribbons, etc. and carried around the village. This is from Pembrokeshire in South Wales, commemorating the wren-killing on St Stephen's Day, December 26. “Old Christmas”, still celebrated rather than December 25, is Twelfth Night.
The wren traditionally symbolized winter and the robin summer. On [St Stephen's Day] in Pembrokeshire, where the song was collected, a wren was hunted and killed to symbolize the death of winter and then placed in a garlanded box and taken from door to door. At each house this song was sung and the occupants asked to pay to see the dead wren with the words “Please to see the King.” - Mainly Norfolk
Sometimes you find the sweetest meats in the most unlikely of places. As I was doing some business I was driving about the eastern side of my lovely town, and noticed a nut on the ground as I chatted with the friendly man I was renting a trailer from. They were hickory nuts. Hickory nuts are one of my favorite fall treats, and I use them to make a favorite beverage of ours, Hickory nut milk.
"Hickory trees typically produce a good crop of nuts every third year after they reach 30 or 40 years old (depending on the sub-species). Hickory wood is extremely tough, and was used by natives and settlers alike in the USA as a wood for axe handles and other tools (a practice that continues to this day). The Ojibway used the wood for bows due to its elasticity and strength. Hickory wood remains one of the most efficient woods in North America for burning (only Black Locust, a non-native tree, has a higher BTU). Hickory also makes an excellent charcoal (and savory smoke)." - The Druid's Garden
Hickory wood is known as a classic bow and tool handle material. You can also use the bark of the Shagbark Hickory to make a delicious Hickory syrup, one of the few syrups made not from the sap, but the bark of a tree. The outer husk was also used as a green dye, and in the Journal of American Folklore in the Fifth volume of 1892, they remind us to dye dark colors at the dark of the moon, and light at the full moon.
Some other lovely lore of the hickory nut is that carrying one in your pocket will help prevent rheumatism. I've seen other Walnut family nuts used in this same way throughout early American folklore.
You can also do a bit of weather witching with Hickory nut shells; the thicker the shell, the harder the winter to come. It is said here in North Carolina that if the leaves of a hickory are a pretty yellow in autumn, the next harvest will be a rich, golden one. In Missouri, to find out if your love has been true, burn a hickory fire. If it burns clear and steady, they have been true.
By the thickness of these shells, Old Woman Winter is going to blanket us with cold for a long time this season.
The other night, many of us got to witness something amazing. The third of three Supermoons this year. A Supermoon is the coincidence of a full moon or a new moon with the closest approach the Moon makes to the Earth on its elliptical orbit, resulting in the largest apparent size of the lunar disk as seen from Earth. The actual term is the perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system.
It has been said that the Supermoon affects the occurrence of natural disasters to a greater degree, such as in the cases of Hurricane Katrina and in certain earthquakes and tsunamis. While that is a debated topic, I'm sure many people agree that if nothing else, the Supermoon is a Super intense full moon experience.
This last supermoon that we got to experience happened to be in Pisces. This can mean an intensity of sensitivities, both positive and challenging, asking one to face growth unexpectedly, and with force. I can certainly understand this, as today I was pondering why I was so touchy yesterday, and low and behold, aha! Pisces.
I want to use this time, as I like to try and use the gift we receive from the sky once a month, the full, shining moon, to reflect inwards and tease out those things that lie in darkness, waiting for light. I'm certainly not one to shy from the darker side of things, but I am thankful for this moment, and I hope to extend the thought of looking inward at our feelings of victimization, self righteousness and addiction now. I know this has helped me out a lot recently.
Many call the full moon nights the Esbat, and observe certain rites and rituals beneath her light. We tried something new, something we had never done before. Scrying.
I recently visited a lovely local shop called The Raven and the Crone in Asheville and found a beautiful black, stone scrying bowl. I've always been drawn to them, but never had the wherewithal to give it a go and buy one. This one, however, came home with me quite happily.
Myself, my partner the Griffin, and some of our sweetest friends and fellow witchy folks gathered outside under the brilliant moon and with the water filled bowl, we each took a turn capturing the moon in the black bowl and gazing within. We looked up at the moon, then back into the bowl 3 times, then waited. Afterwards we ate sweet things and talked about what we had seen, and what that all might mean. A lovely, casually magic night.
I'd love to learn more methods of divination, as they are very interesting to me, and the scrying bowl has certainly won my heart. I'll leave you with a beautiful song my sister sang for us while we sat in wonder. A song people used to sing, to encourage our Lady to show her face on dark nights, to light the way.
My true love and I recently returned from an amazing trip to England. It was really a splendid place to go on a honeymoon for two people who love strange, old things. The countryside was beautiful, and the food was actually ok, but what really struck us was the incredible museums.
We have great museums in the US, sure, but I saw more magical charms, cursed objects, and curiosities in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, than I have seen anywhere else, book or real life. I think my favorite things (other than the witch's spirit trapped in a bottle) were the cabinets of charms. One really struck me though, and that was the Cimaruta:
There were two whole cabinets of these silver charms. Sprigs of rue with various keys, moons, hearts, serpents or other objects incorporated into their branches. Upon further investigation, I found out these were called Cimaruta (sprig of rue in Old Italian) and are a remnant of Old Italian folk magic and protection from the evil eye, or Mal'occhio.
They were a form of apotropaic magic, a common, if not the dominant, type of protection magic used world wide in folk charms. This charm is based around the magic of the plant Rue, and is so interesting to me because it is a charm made of charms.
Interestingly, the Evil Eye belief is not universal. It has been documented though, for over 5000 years, originating in ancient Sumer. Geographically, the belief is tied culturally to the Semites and Indo-Europeans. It is tied to envy, hence why in some of these areas to lavish attention or praise on a child is looked down upon.
The Evil Eye is not always cast intentionally as well. It can happen by accident without any intention from the caster. The act of being in envy of another is enough to "overlook" them, and bring upon them illness, misfortune or even death. Understanding the ease at which someone could curse another may also be why there are so many, and such a variety of, charms to protect oneself from such malevolence.
Rue (Ruta graveolens) in itself is an interesting plant as well. In the Middle Ages it was hung in doorways and seens as a protection against plague. The plant was also an ingredient in ‘four thieves vinegar’, used by the perhaps legendary four French thieves who liked to steal from the bodies of plague victims.
The plant’s uses for protection and healing were so strong in the collective mind that when a rumour broke out in 1760 that plague had appeared at a London hospital, the price of Rue on the markets shot up. It was used as a strewing herb to protect against infection and keep fleas at bay."Rue the day" is also an expression based in the practice of throwing Rue at an enemy while cursing them.
An interesting thing about the Cimaruta is that it incorporates both Christian and Pagan symbolism, making a very good example of a folk talisman, as it is made with what's at hand. Some depict a heart, which is taken to represent the bleeding heart of Christ. Many have said that the usual three branches depicted in most Cimaruta are also evident of the three faces of the Goddess, Diana, which mirror the moon cycles. Maiden, Mother, Crone. Waxing, Full, Waning.
Raven Grimassi has written an amazing piece going into some more depth on the Cimaruta, so please check it out if you want to dig a little deeper:(Stregheria)He has an excellent website, and has written many books for those interested in the Stregheria, or Witchcraft, of Italy.
The Evil Eye by Frederick Thomas Elworthy, 
Pendell, Dale. Pharmako Gnosis: Plant Teachers and the Poison Path.San Fransisco 2005.
I guess I'll jump right into it with my first blog post. Yesterday I went out to a special place and harvested Sugar Maple, Privet, Ironwood, Spicebush, and other wonderful woods to make some of my favorite tools. The rods; Stangs, Wands and Staves .
As a woodcarver, there is no greater feeling then the clean slice of wet bark with a sharp knife, revealing the smooth, naked wood beneath. Watching the wood dry and decide on what color it shall keep is equally satisfying.
If you've never met Spicebush, or Lindera benzoin, then you are missing out on a special treat. Settlers called it "poor man's allspice" because of it's incredible fragrance and taste, similar to cloves. I think it is one of the most lovely plants in Western North Carolina that I stumble upon quite frequently. Not often used, I think more people would fall in love if they made an effort to court this sweet plant.
This shrub grows all over our land, so much so we even named it Lindera. You can find spicebush in damp, shaded, woodlands, on mountains' lower slopes, in thickets, and along stream banks, throughout the Eastern United States, except the northernmost regions. Pioneers knew that where spice bush grows, rich soils lay.
I like to use the twigs and leaves for tea mid-spring to fall. It is spicy sweet and reminiscent of lemony-cinnamon. I harvest the berries at summer's end and preserve them in honey for tea and baking.The Creek, Cherokee, Rappahannock, Moheghan and Chippewa tribes all used it as a medicine, tea and spice as well. This plant is known for its use in the treatment of colds, fevers, dysentery, and internal parasites.
It was also used to bring on delayed menses, and as a spring tonic. Today we can use a hot decoction as an effective diaphoretic in respiratory infections, flu and fever to bring on sweating. It can also help with menstrual cramps and nausea. Try one cup of hot a decoction of the twigs and leaves 2-4 times a day for medicinal effect.
The wood is lovely and fragrant as well, and is quite nice to carve, a medium hardness. I've been harvesting wood for Stangs to sell to those who may be less inclined to venture out with saw and knife, but I harvested one that I can't let go. It is my perfect height with a gentle crook that fits my hand. So on my journey to stock up on wood, I really found what I didn't even realize I was looking for.
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