<![CDATA[Coven of the Scales - Blog]]>Tue, 02 Mar 2021 07:08:13 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[A Horse of Another Colour]]>Tue, 02 Mar 2021 13:50:25 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/a-horse-of-another-colourPicture

Lascaux Cave is a Palaeolithic cave situated in south-western France, near the village of Montignac in the Dordogne region, which houses some of the most famous examples of prehistoric cave paintings. Close to 600 paintings - mostly of animals - dot the interior walls of the cave in impressive compositions and horses are the most numerous, dominating the imagery, walking and grazing and congregating in herds. Now, a group of researchers has used distinctly modern techniques to help decipher the mystery, at least in the case of Pech-Merle cave’s famous spotted horses. By comparing the DNA of modern horses and those that lived during the Stone Age, scientists have determined that these drawings are a realistic depiction of an animal that coexisted with the artists.
 
An author of the study, Michael Hofreiter, an evolutionary biologist at the University of York in England, said: “Why they took the effort making these beautiful paintings will always remain a miracle to us.  It’s an enigma, but it’s also nice to see that if we go back 25,000 years, people didn’t have much technology and life was probably hard, but nevertheless they already endeavored in producing art. It tells us a lot about ourselves as a species.”
 
He and his colleagues did not set out to study cave art. They were simply continuing their work on coat colour in prehistoric horses. Only after they found the spotted horse gene in their ancient samples did they realize they could say something about archaeology. “What we found is that there were really only these three colour patterns - spotted or dappled; blackish ones; and brown ones,” he said. “These are the three phenotypes we find in the wild populations. And then we realized these phenotypes are exactly the ones you see in cave paintings.”
 
Terry O’Connor, an archaeologist at the University of York who collaborated on the study, said spotted horses in particular had been used to argue that cave art was more symbolic than realistic, and that as a result the finding could cause a stir. “One of the things that most pleases me about this paper as a piece of ancient DNA science,” Dr. O’Connor said, “is it kind of begins with a question. These spotty horses, were they magical or real? But now it is clear that some horses had a gene for that coat colour. “People drew spotty horses,” he said, “because they saw spotty horses.” 
 
Last summer, exploring a cave in the Dordogne region, Dr. O’Connor said he became transfixed by a series of line drawings. “They were absolutely superb, some using contours of the cave itself, capturing the size and shape and movement,” he said. “You look at that and say, ‘These guys know what the animals looked like, and they can draw.’ ”
 
What also becomes evident is that very few animals convey such majesty, power, pride, and nobility of spirit as the horse for both prehistoric and modern man. Horse symbolism also speaks about an unbridled desire for freedom because of its naturally wild and powerful spirit, and it always wants to break free.  In fact, horse symbolism holds so much meaning that can stir our heart and set our imagination running wild! The horse is known for being one of the most hard-working animals on earth, with the ability to carry on even on the roughest roads and the toughest climbs – signifying the overcoming of obstacles, and how we should carry ourselves in the face of adversity.
 
When we accept the horse as our totem, this most commonly represents power and stamina, allowing us to see the true essence of freedom in our life, and if we have this powerful animal working for us, we will truly experience the energy of a genuinely free spirit.  The horse is going to bring forth a number of different ideas and theories surrounding the symbolism that is associated with this animal. However, we do need to pay close attention to the animal and the way in which it is viewed in real life as this is something that is seen as being quite majestic and almost regal in its approach. The same symbolism is then going to be applied to the spirit animal and what it represents, according to spirit-animal.com  The horse-spirit may encourage us to push our boundaries, even if we are not sure of the outcome.  But because the horse can be head-strong and unpredictable we need ro consider the repercussions of our actions.
 
We also need to familiarize ourselves with the magical associations of the farrier because the folklore of iron and smithing has been common since prehistory, and one of the oldest folk-tales tells of a blacksmith forging a deal with the denizens of Otherworld.  Blacksmiths have long been revered and feared thanks to their skills with metal and flame … they often held a high status because people thought they had magic powers.
 
The magical power of a horseshoe derives from the obvious elemental energies that go into its making: the heart of the forge (Fire); the sacred metal, iron (Earth), the cooling (Water) and the bellows (Air) – not forgetting the (Spirit) smith who makes and fits the shoe. Should a cast shoe be found in the road, this should be taken home and nailed above the entrance door – with the prongs pointing upwards – to attract and hold good fortune.
 
While 17th century antiquarian writer John Aubrey, commenting on contemporary social customs, wrote: ‘A horseshoe nailed on the threshold of the door is yet in fashion: and nowhere more than in London: it ought to be a Horseshoe that one finds by chance on the Road. The end of it is to prevent the power of Witches, that come into your house.’ A popular greeting of the same period expressed the wish, ‘That the Horseshoe may never be pul’d from your Threshold.’
 
Different types of horseshoe required different types and styles of nail for fixing and the social position of the ‘nail-man’ was in no way inferior to that of the farrier. To the uninitiated, it might appear that the nail is an insignificant part of the shoeing operation, but it would be the unwise witch who overlooked its importance as an integral element of ‘horse power’.
 
Another magical element of the blacksmith’s forge is acquisition of a bottle of thunder water taken from the trough or bucket that is used to cool to shoe when it comes from the fire.  This water has all manner of magical/healing properties …
 

 
 
Shaman Pathways: Black Horse, White Horse: Power Animals Within Traditional Witchcraft by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books – www.moon-books.net : ISBN 978 1 78099 747 6 : UK£4.99/US$9.95 : Pages 84 : Avaialable in paperback and e-book format.

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<![CDATA[Full Moon Visualisation]]>Sat, 27 Feb 2021 10:25:10 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/full-moon-visualisationPicture

Guided visualisations use an interactive story to help participants know themselves better, find potential solutions to problems, get ideas for creative and artistic projects, see possible ways forward in life, attune themselves to the cycles of nature, and increase wisdom in general. They can also be used as a wellbeing tool, reducing stress and anxiety through relaxation techniques as well as by improving self-knowledge and confidence. Many guided visualisations have spiritual aspects, but are not exclusive to any one tradition. I am a modern pagan witch, and many of the visualisations within this book were originally devised to help trainee witches develop their own understanding of the elemental powers, the Wheel of the Year and the power of the moon, and by that develop their magical abilities.  This extract had been reprinted with the kind permission of the author to coincide with this weekend's full moon.
 
Find somewhere safe and comfortable. Sit and close your eyes. Take three deep breaths in and out and relax, then visualise the following:
 
Imagine you are in the main room of an old-fashioned cottage, perhaps the cottage of a wise woman or wise man from the past.  Imagine that it is your cottage and you are the wise person. Your cottage is sparsely furnished, but comfortable, with an open fireplace and a besom broom propped against the back door. It is dusk. The room is lit by the glow from the fire and a lantern which hangs on a hook from a ceiling beam, but you can still see a little light through the window at the front. The window looks out onto a small garden leading to a country lane bordered by an ancient hedge. Beyond the hedge there is a hill, silhouetted in the twilight sky. On a hook on the wall by the front door of the cottage hangs a warm cloak and next to that is propped a wooden staff. Take the cloak and put it on, then take the lantern and staff and leave the cottage by the front door.
 
Walk down your garden path and into the country lane. Past your garden, the hedge rises high on either bank of the lane. You cannot see what lies the other side. You walk for a while, aware of your footsteps and the sounds, sights and scents of the country lane in the early evening. After some time, you come to a tall gate in the hedge. It is an old gate, worn by the elements – the gales of spring, the sun of high summer, the storms of autumn and the frosts of winter. Yet it is still sturdy and closed to all except those who know the way to open it, such as yourself. You know how to open the gate and you do so. Pay attention to how easily or difficult it, the stiffness of the mechanism, the weight of the gate. The gate opens and you step through.
 
On the other side, a path slopes gently upwards into a dark wood. Night has encroached, and only the glow of your lantern illuminates a few steps ahead. You must tread carefully. The path continues through the trees, but the way is not easy. Fallen branches and twisted roots are obstacles hard to see in the darkness. You hear sounds around you – wind in the branches, rustling in the undergrowth, a distant bark, a hoot. Twigs at the ends of branches catch at your clothing. Find your way through the dark wood, but beware of dangers, and keep to the path. You follow the path through the dark forest for some time. Eventually you notice the trees start to thin and silvery moonlight shines between the trunks and through gaps in the branches overhead. The path is illuminated by the moonlight now and leads you safely out of the woods.
 
Once out of the trees, you see the hill rise in front of you – a high mound with grassy slopes and a ring of trees at the top. The path continues. It spirals up the hillside, around and around. There are no obstacles here except the incline. You will need perseverance to make it to the top. You have your staff to lean on, and progress up the hill, around the twisting path. As you round the bends in the spiral, ascending the hill, the path takes you up above the canopy of the forest. The moon has risen. It is a full moon. It shines brightly in a clear, starry sky. You stop to catch your breath. As you pause in your journey, you look around. You see the landscape stretched out below, distant. It is the world you left behind when you walked through the gate. The path ahead looks steeper still, but you go on.
 
You continue on the path as the spirals get steeper and climb higher, towards the top of the hill. The hilltop is crowned by a ring of dense, ancient trees, which you approach although the last curve of the path is the steepest. You round the last, steep bend and see before you an opening in the ring of trees, a gateway to the top of the hill. You step through the gap into the circle within. The moon’s silvery light shines down and illuminates the ground within the circle of trees. In the centre is a dew pond, full of collected water, reflecting the bright, full moon in the starry sky above. You walk towards the pond and look into it. You can see in the water the image of the silver disc of the moon and the image of your own reflection. Then you see a third image; that of a being standing next to you.
 
For a moment, you are surprised. How did they get here?
Where did they come from? Who are they?
 
Then you realise you know who they are, even if you have not met them before. Turn to face them. Greet them. Talk to them. Spend some time conversing with them. Say what you need to say and listen to what they reply in return. Perhaps they have a message for you. After a while, your conversation comes to an end. The being you are talking to tells you to look once more into the pool. You do and once more see the reflection of the moon – now directly overhead. You see the reflection of your own face too. But the being you met is no longer reflected there. They are gone.
 
You know it is time for you to leave too; to return home. You retrace your steps to the gap in the circle of trees, down the spiral path around the hillside and into the dark wood. Now the wood does not seem so frightening. You easily find your way through it to the old gate in the hedge. You open the gate and pass through it to the lane, shutting the gate carefully behind you. Then you walk back along the lane, up your garden path and into your cottage. You close the door, replace your staff and lantern and hang up your cloak. Your journey is complete.
 
When you are ready take a deep breath, shake your fingers and toes and open your eyes to the real world.

 
Pagan Portals - Guided Visualisations Pathways into Wisdom and Witchcraft by Lucya Starza and published by Moon Books www.moon.-books.net  December 11 2020 : Paperback 978-1-78904-567-3 : £6.99 $10.95 

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<![CDATA[You'll Never Walk Alone]]>Fri, 26 Feb 2021 13:01:16 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/youll-never-walk-alonePicture

Dogs have been with humans for a very long time. Around 23,000 years ago, in what’s now Siberia, humans and gray wolves were hemmed in by the encroaching glaciers of the last Ice Age. No one knows for sure exactly how the two species started their relationship, with the leading hypothesis being that the friendlier wolves got used to people who gave them scraps or let them raid garbage piles, but that was the crucible in which the first domesticated dogs were born.

From there, the history of people and dogs was intertwined. Genetic evidence of both humans and dog suggest that they left Eurasia together as people and their pooches crossed the Bering Land Bridge to the ancient Americas together.  The Smithsonian Magazine reports that ancient DNA evidence from an unassuming shard of bone reveals  that it belongs - at 10,150 years old - to the most ancient dog yet found in the Americas.  The close association between people and dogs so far back in time underscores an important point. ‘The movement and locations of ancient dogs are proxies to the movement of people, and vice versa, because our histories are closely linked because not far from where the 10,150-year-old dog bone was found, archaeologists have discovered 10,300-year-old human remains in a cave called Shuká Káa on nearby Prince of Wales Island, underscoring that people and dogs were here together’.  In other words - Where people go, dogs go.

Over the centuries, they have played essential roles in our society. They are our mentors, companions, partners in work and play as well as our teachers.  DNA research has also led to the deciphering of the genetic code of the dog, which makes the choice of the dog ideal as a ‘power animal’, in view of the study carried out by the Institute for Genomic Research and the Centre for the Advancement of Genomics. The study has identified 974,000 common variations in the dog’s genetic code, which will be crucial for understanding the genes that contribute to canine disease, and shedding light on human diseases, too.
 
An article in the Science Journal reveals that many of the 360 inherited dog diseases have human counterparts, and that the genetic code of the dog is spelt out by about 2,500 million ‘letters’, compared with the 3,000 million that describes their owners. “Dogs and humans share 650 million ‘letters’ and scientists have found an equivalent dog gene for three quarters of known human genes,” explained Dr Venture. “The fact that they are so similar, despite millions of years of evolution along separate tracks, suggests that they are important.”  And, this fact should not be overlooked by magical practitioners when searching for a compatible power animal.
 
In general, ‘dog symbolism’ is a reminder that kindness will often get us a lot further than criticism. In other words, dog-meaning prompts us to allow ourselves to be gentle with those around us; moreover, we should accept that their paths are not necessarily similar or conjoined with ours. In some cases, dog-meaning can also be a reminder that we should always be loyal and truthful to ourselves. Therefore, we should make a point of being our own best friend. Furthermore, by having self-respect and self-value, we can love ourselves first, because when we have self-esteem, it will assure that others will respect us.

According to spirit-animals.com dog-symbolism can represent confusion about our loyalties, beliefs, and commitments. In other words, when we try to be everything for everyone, we end up losing sight of ourselves. The only way to resolve this is to put ourselves first and foremost. Thus, by letting go of everyone and everything else, we will be able to piece together what is right for us. When a hound comes baying into our life, it is a reminder that running with the pack is not always the right way for us to make progress. Moreover, we should step back a bit and sniff out something a little bit different for ourselves. If everyone is reaching for the same prize, what’s the point of having it?

For the most part, however, dog-power focuses on life’s purpose. All of these animals have work in the fields of rescue work, protection, and actual physical labour.  People with the dog as their totem also have a great spirit and an enormous capacity to love and it takes a lot to break their spirit.  Folks with the dog-totem are usually helping others or serving humanity in some way. They embody the loving gentleness of best friend and the fierce energy of the protector. People with this spirit animal will have a deep understanding and empathy of human shortcomings and have compassion for unconditional acceptance and love.

Dog-totem people are fiercely loyal to their pack and stick with them through thick and thin. They are unquestioningly, supportive, committed, and trustworthy. These folks will never abandon, undermine, or betray those close to them. People with dog-totem also have a passion for justice and fair play. As a result, they love to champion causes while being open-minded and willing to listen to others’ reasoning.  They also have a great deal of wisdom, and are willing to share that knowledge generously. These folks have a lot of influence among their peers and have excellent insight into human nature. They are independent thinkers and know how to cut to the truth of matters.

Dog-people can learn from their four-footed companions how to tread this ancient path and follow in the footsteps of both their ancestors …


Shaman Pathways : Aubry’s Dog: Power Animals in Traditional Witchcraft  by Melusine Draco is publishing by Moon Books  www.moon-books.net : ISBN 978 1 78099 724 7 : UK£4.99/US$9.95 : 84 pages : Available in paperback and e-book format.

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<![CDATA[‘I must go down to the sea again]]>Thu, 11 Feb 2021 15:55:26 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/i-must-go-down-to-the-sea-againPicture

























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I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying
.
                                               [From ‘Sea Fever’ by John Masefield]




Masefield’s poem is a magical chant all in itself. I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide /Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; It is the perfect introduction to those natural tides that witches call upon to power their magic – the solar and the lunar tides; the ocean and the earth tides; coupled with the atmospheric tides that make the Earth bounce.


Since the beginning of time, when man first stood on the shoreline and wondered at the vastness of the ocean, it has been recognised that the tides (the periodic rise and fall of great stretches of water), had something to do with the moon. Neither did it take him long to calculate that the usual interval between them was about 12½ hours; roughly half the time the moon takes to circle the earth. Nowhere else on earth was Nature’s power and glory so much in evidence.
 
In Sea & Seashore, Sir Isaac Newton’s words are used to explain the tides as being due to the moon’s gravitational pull on the water, lifting it to form a bulge resembling an enormous wave-crest. There are in fact two such bulges, one on the side of the earth facing the moon, and the other on the earth’s far side, for there the moon’s pull draws the earth away from the water. Between the two bulges the water is lowered, as though in the trough between these gigantic wave-crests. The friction between the water and the rotating earth slows the movement of these bulges, so that instead of being exactly beneath the moon, they lag a little behind. For this reason, high tide, as the bulge is called, does not occur exactly when the moon is overhead, but
somewhat later.
 
The sun’s gravitational pull similarly raises tides akin to, but less powerful than those caused by the moon. Their period is about 12 hours instead of the 12½ - but the two interact. At full and new moon, when the sun and moon are in a straight line with the earth – this recurs at intervals of about a fortnight – they co-operate to produce an especially powerful spring tide. This has nothing to do with the annual spring season: spring tides occur throughout the year and rise higher and fall lower than usual, although the lowest spring tides of the year occur around the Spring or Vernal Equinox. At the first and third quarters, when the sun and moon form a right angle with the earth (again, roughly, at fortnightly intervals) – the pull conflicts, making a neap tide whose range is unusually small.
 
In mid ocean, the tides, like ordinary waves, are simply a rhythmic rise and fall of the water.
On the continental shelf, however, they act like the waves on a beach, and become a bodily rush of the water towards, or away from the land. The rising water produces the tide’s flow or flood; its fall is the ebb, and between them, when the tide is almost at a standstill, there are brief periods of slack water. This rise and fall takes place twice every day, but high or low tides occur about
50½ minutes later each day and alter drastically throughout the month. While most shores have two high tides every day, some have only one, and some none at all. Instead of one great progressive tide circling the earth, there are a number of local tides, differing greatly in the areas they cover, and the sea-witch learns to recognise the importance of knowing about them from both a magical and safety point of view.
 
Besides the familiar tides of the ocean, there are those other examples to take into account: earth- and atmospheric-tides. Earth-tides refer to the alternating slight change of shape of the
Earth due to the gravitational action of the sun and moon, and atmospheric tides of the alternating slight motions of the atmosphere, which have the same cause and effect. The moon draws away the envelope of air that surrounds the Earth to produce the regular daily atmospheric tides.
 
Joint research by a team from the Ordnance Survey at Newcastle University and the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory at Birkenhead has revealed more evidence of the effects of these earth-tides. The results show that parts of western Britain and Ireland, for example, ‘bounce’ by about four inches and that this movement is caused as tides ebb and flow twice daily! The nationwide survey also showed that the deformation of the Earth’s crust varies across the country and that the eastern side is much more stable than the west.
 
According to a spokesman for the project, when the tide is in, the extra weight of the water on the continental shelf pushes the adjoining crust down a few inches. At low tide, the Earth springs back. ‘Because tidal ranges are greater on the south-western side of the British Isles, that is where the biggest bounce can be found.’ The western tip of England, west Wales, the Western Isles and southern Ireland, have the biggest range of movements. Again, we have scientific proof of cosmic influences on the very earth on which we stand, so magical working can be timed to coincide with these natural movements for greater effect.
 
• High tide, just before the water pressure is at its greatest, would be the best time for positive or drawing magic.
 
• Low tide, when the tide has turned and the earth is about to ‘bounce’ back, is the time for banishing or reducing magic.
 
Around the world there are thousands of miles of coastline: rugged cliffs, tidal-battered rocky shores, sweeping estuaries, gentle brackish creeks, golden sand and shingle beaches. Although each has an enchantment all of its own, few of us are fortunate to live near enough to the sea to use this dramatic shoreline as a regular magical working area. And yet, for a natural witch, born and bred by the sea, the beach and rocky shore are equally as magical as the inland woods and hills of more traditional approaches to witchcraft.
 
And even if we never went near the sea except for an annual summer holiday, most of us from Scandinavia, and around the British and Irish coasts to Iceland, can instantly recall the sonorous, chant of the daily shipping forecast that took us on a flight of fancy to the wildest coastlines around our shores. Broadcast four times a day, the radio brought us a brief moment of sea-magic, as wonderful and evocative as a Latin Mass …
 
Viking : North Utsire : South Utsire : Forties : Fisher : Cromarty
Forth : Tyne : Dogger : German Bight : Humber : Thames : Dover :
Wight : Portland : Plymouth : Biscay : Trafalgar : FitzRoy : Sole :
Lunday : Irish Sea : Fastnet : Shannon : Rockall : Malin : Hebrides :
Bailey : Fair Isle : Faeroes : South East Iceland …
 
This mysterious, but totally meaningless jumble of words, still has the ability to conjure up pictures of grey, heaving northern seas with lashing rain and gale force winds. By stark contrast, it also has the ability to evoke warm, family memories of childhood tea-tables, cosy firesides, and comfort food – although perhaps not for those who were being warned that a gale force-nine was headed in their direction.
 
This brief maritime detour is included to demonstrate how potent simple words can be; how a rhythmic recital can paint mind pictures in much the same way that an evocative piece of music can. And even if the US marine forecast doesn’t produce quite the same kind of enchantment, Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross, can summon images of this magnificent bird gliding effortlessly over the waves, a tireless companion of sailors in the southern seas.
 
This is the first lesson in sea magic …
 
The purpose of writing Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore was to introduce land-lubbering witches to the natural energies that can be harnessed and used to power our inland magic.  For this we need to add several natural history books concerning the seashore and weather lore to our magical library and, if we are near to the coast, we should make sure we have an up-to-date listing of the local tides. For those living inland, the daily broadsheet newspapers or the internet will supply general information about the daily (and river) tides. Or contact the harbor master on any of the great tidal rivers.
 
We need to familiarise ourselves with this new way of thinking about magical tides, and record the readings of our own witch-power exercises in a personal Magical Diary. Keep experimenting at different times and under different conditions until the process becomes automatic.
 
Instead of synchronising our magical workings according to any popular ‘wheel of the year’, try working with the natural tides that are having their effect on the earth and its atmosphere on a day-to-day basis.
Take some time to watch the sky, even if it’s through a windowpane, and try to become more aware of the changing clouds and colour patterns, and learn to understand what they are telling us.
 
A sea-witch works during the day as well as after dark, so if our trips to the beach are restricted to daylight hours, this will not cause any problems with our magical development. The seashore also offers opportunities for observing ‘portents’ or ‘sights in the heavens’ that are not always visible from inland. These phenomena, of course, demand a clear sky, and are best seen on moonless nights, although on the western shores it is possible to witness some of the most fantastic Turnereque seascapes imaginable, at any time of the day. Although they are natural phenomena, there is nevertheless a magical quality about witnessing such happenings, and a sense of being in the right place at the right time; to being privy to something special. The opportunity should never be missed ‘to stand and stare’ – even at a reflected chain of coloured lights from the esplanade, in the night-time waters of the bay.
 
I do not live near the sea, but it has always been a dream, should I ever decide to take my leave of the mountains.  In Wales I lived on a tidal river and trips to the coast were made on a weekly basis from the wide sweeping bay with its petrified forest, to the historic harbours.  Researching and experimenting with sea-witchcraft for the book was great fun and extremely illuminating when it came to encountering this wonderful world on a magical basis.  And although I do not live by the sea, there are those summer days when the wind is coming from the west and there is a sharp tang of iodine on the breeze coming in off the Atlantic which makes me think
“I must go down to the sea again …”
 
Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore by Melusine Draco takes us on a magical journey and reveals how the inshore witches can learn to work with these primal energies even if they do not live by the sea.  From the creation of a sea-witch’s garden regardless of where we live to advanced path-workings with the ‘Power of the Deep’, no traditional witch should be without this book.  ISBN 978 1 84894 426 0 : Pages 150 : Price UK£9.99/US$16.95 : Available in paperback and e-book format it is the second in the Traditional Witchcraft series and published by Moon Books.

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<![CDATA[Extract from Sacrifice to the Gods – by Offerings, Oblation and Libation]]>Tue, 02 Feb 2021 10:36:10 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/extract-from-sacrifice-to-the-gods-by-offerings-oblation-and-libationPicture
 
What is the meaning of sacrifice?
Sacrifice is the offering of food, objects or the lives of animals or humans to a higher purpose - in particular divine beings - as an act of propitiation or worship. Needless to say, putting others ahead of ourselves requires sacrifice and, in more modern parlance it is the act of offering or the giving up of something we would prefer to keep.
 
What does it mean to make a sacrifice?
This is the act or ceremony of making an offering to a god, especially on an altar, of something that is offered as a religious act; an act of giving up something especially for the sake of someone or something else.
 
What is the purpose of sacrifice?
Sacrifice is a religious rite in which an object is offered to a divinity in order to establish, maintain, or restore the right relationship of a human being within the Sacred Order. It is a complex phenomenon that has been found in the earliest known forms of worship and in all parts of the world.
 
What are the elements of sacrifice?
It is possible to analyze the rite of sacrifice in terms of six different elements: the sacrificer, the material of the offering, the time and place of the rite, the method of sacrificing, the recipient of the sacrifice, and the motive or intention of the rite. These categories are not of equal importance and often overlap.
 
Where is the place of sacrifice?
The common place of sacrifice in most cults is an altar; more often it was only a pillar, a mound of earth, a stone, or a pile of stones.
 
What is the difference between an offering and a sacrifice?
Offering is an act of gifting or donating, while sacrifice is the offering of anything to a god as part of consecratory rite.
 
     To the detractors of pagan beliefs, the term ‘sacrifice’ usually refers to killing animals or harming humans – because they fail to understand that in a pagan sense, what is always offered in sacrifice is, in one form or another, life itself. Sacrifice is a celebration of life, an acceptance of its divine and imperishable nature. In the act of sacrifice the consecrated ‘life’ of an offering is released as a sacred link that establishes a bond between the sacrificer and the divine power. Through sacrifice, energy is returned to its divine source, regenerating the power or strength of that source; life is fed by life. Hence the words of the ancient Roman sacrificer to his god: ‘Be thou increased (macte) by this offering’.  Needless to say, it is an increase in this divine power that is ultimately beneficial to the sacrificer because sacrifice is the merging and guarantee of the reciprocal flow of the divine life-force between its source and its embodiment. Kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood
     Often the act of sacrifice involves the destruction of the offering, but this destruction is not in itself the sacrifice. The destruction (or consumption) of a food-drink offering at an altar’s fire is the means by which the deity receives the offering.  Thereby, a sacrifice is the total act of offering and not merely the method in which the rite is performed.  So, sacrifice as a sacramental communal meal may involve the idea of the god as a participant in the feast, or being identified with the food consumed; it may also involve the idea of a ritual meal, at which either some agrarian event such as the springtime (Beltaine) and the harvest (Lughnasad) is repeated, or the sacred rites of the seasons are symbolically renewed – the Summer and Winter Solstices. Although the fundamental meaning of these sacrificial rites is that of affirming a bounteous and fruitful relationship with the sacred power and of establishing humankind in the Sacred Order, the rites have in more modern times assumed a multitude of different forms and intentions.
     The organization of propitiatory rites in different cultures and religions has undoubtedly been influenced by a number of factors, and the importance of such factors is an aspect of sacrifice that requires examination. Nevertheless, sacrifice is not a phenomenon that can be reduced to rational terms: it is fundamentally an act of faith that has been of profound significance to individuals and social groups throughout history, a symbolic act that establishes a relationship between mankind and the Sacred Order of things. For many peoples of the world, throughout the ages, sacrifice has been at the very heart of their religious life.
     Bread and wine are staples in the human diet, and have been for thousands of years across a broad range of cultures. Over time, they have accrued religious symbolism in a number of different contexts, which have in turn adapted over time. Echoes of the Christian Eucharist can be found in many of the older, more ancient forms of worship wherein bread and wine are consecrated and consumed. Bread and wine have long been used in Jewish religious practices, and over a long history, have been used as religious symbols outside of the Judeo-Christian traditions. The ancient Romans used wine as an occasional offering to their numerous gods, both in the temples and on household altars. Frequently, this took the form of a libation poured directly onto the statue of a god.  
     Bread and wine have also been used as an offering to deity in many traditional faiths, from ancient Egyptian temple offerings to Mithraism and Hinduism. In ancient Greece, libations most commonly consisted of watered-down wine, but sometimes pure wine was offered with bread.  In contemporary paganism, the sacrifice is often made by the ritual sharing of the traditional ‘cakes and ale’ at the end of each group meeting or solitary rite, although more recently, some neo-pagan traditions like Wicca have incorporated bread and wine into their ceremonies as symbols of the bounty of the earth.

 
Sacrifice to the Gods by offering, oblation and libation by Melusine Draco is published by Ignotus Books ISBN 9781839457012 : Paperback : Pages: 102 :  £6.85 : Published13 January 2021. Available from the printer at a special discounted price from https://www.feedaread.com/search/books.aspx?keywords=Sacrifice%20to%20the%20Gods  The e-book format is now available on Kindle
 



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<![CDATA[What is Traditional Witchcraft?]]>Thu, 28 Jan 2021 16:05:43 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/what-is-traditional-witchcraftPicture
The Traditional Witchcraft series … revisited by Mélusine Draco
 
As Trevor Greenfield, the protective spirit and guiding light of  Moon Books never tires of reminding me, I am the Moon Books Matriarch, having published my first book with them in January 2012 (the first month the imprint started) and 23 books later I’m is still there with a new title (Sexual Dynamics in the Circle) out in March 2021.  
 
In fact, my first book for John Hunt Publishing was for the O Books imprints, Mean Streets Witchcraft, but this was re-packaged two years later as the first in the ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ series for Moon Books as Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living. For the witch whose career confines them to an urbanized environment, regular Craft practice may often seem like a futile gesture, especially if home is a small, gardenless-flat. Even the suburbs can be magically incapacitating, if there is constant noise from traffic and neighbours. People work long hours; often setting off for work and getting home again in the dark during the winter months, without having the opportunity to notice the subtle changing of the seasons. Weekends are a constant battle with family commitments, domestic chores and socialising. It’s no wonder that the urban witch has little time or strength left for magical and spiritual development.
 
There are, of course, others who find themselves having to remain town and house-bound because of age or disability; because they are caring for an aged/infirm parent, or partner; or because they have small children.  Urbanisation often provides on-the-spot facilities to make things easier on the domestic front but it cannot give the one thing that a witch needs most – privacy and spiritual elbow-room unless we learn to look at our surroundings from a different perspective. 
 
I am a Welsh witch and I come from a place midway between the mountains and the sea, but I have not lived in my homeland now for many years. It would be untrue to say that I never experienced what the Welsh call hiraethus, that indescribable feeling of longing and home-sickness but, as we all know, in magical terms there is always a price to be paid for our Craft. During those long years, my career and domestic life has taken me to London (where I lived for 20 years), to the industrial Midlands and to a totally urbanised area of East Anglia, before moving to Ireland.  Not once, in all that time (until I came to Ireland) did I return to the luxury of wild, open spaces – it was all concrete and asphalt. But not once, in all that time, did I stop being a true witch.
 
In my experience, the greatest problem an urban witch faces is that an urban environment is not user-friendly when it comes to psychic activity, but then we don’t always have a choice of where we are going to live if someone else’s needs have to be catered for, too. Mostly I have been confined to renting small terraced cottages and flats, often with little or no garden to give that extra bit of space. I make this comment merely to demonstrate that my Craft activities have not been conducted in a round of luxurious city apartments and picturesque Grade II listed town houses!
 
Under these circumstances, for me the key words have always been: acclimatise, adapt and improvise. Any animal, plant or person that is uprooted and transported to another environment quickly learns to acclimatise if it is going to survive. I have adapted to my surroundings and drawn on whatever material/energy there is to hand, even if it is not what I’ve been used to working with. I improvise by drawing on existing knowledge and experience. So … Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living was conceived out of necessity with a view to guiding others facing similar problems.
 
The series has maintained a steady readership over the years, and has provided a background for recommended reading for those on the Arcanum foundation course, since potential questers often come to the Coven of the Scales having read one or more of the books.  Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore reflects our teaching that is dependent on the understanding of the natural tides that affect our planet: Earth, lunar, solar, oceanic, atmospheric, electro-magnetic, liminal and astral … All these natural tides are what power our magical abilities and improve our chances of helping to maintain the Sacred Order (balance/harmony) of our faith.
 
If we step back for a moment into those distant childhood memories and visualise a day at the seaside – but strip away the images of crowded tourist beaches and focus on the sound of the movement of the sea. If we need any reminder, we hold a large seashell to our ear and summon up the voice of the waves. In the depths of our subconscious mind this sound will be a low, muted purr as small waves lap at the water margin; or the roaring of breakers against a sea wall; or the sly, insidious murmur as the tide begins to turn along narrow channels and between sand banks. In fact, we can never encounter the sea in any of its moods, without being aware of its movement; the waves on its surface and the tides and currents, which send it swirling around the globe.
 
No series on the Craft would be complete without Traditional Witchcraft for Fields and Hedgerows, because for both countrywomen and witches the hedge was a veritable treasure house: a source of food, drink, medicine, shelter, fuel and dyes, while numerous superstitions
arose around many hedgerow plants. After feasting on the autumn harvest of elder and blackberries, birds turn to rosehips and haws, then sloes, and finally to ivy berries and this is where we become familiar with our totem animal or bird in its natural habitat.
 
Unlike the traditional wort-lore of witchcraft, however, folk or domestic plant medicine was the everyday use of plants by ordinary people to cure minor wounds and ailments. In fact, the use of common native plants in everyday home medicine is now almost obsolete, largely because it was mainly a DIY collection of first aid remedies, often passed on orally, rather than a written record. As a result, even many of today’s witches are unaware of the therapeutic effects of ordinary kitchen herbs. With proper care and caution, the same herb used to flavor cooking can be used in a more concentrated form to relieve pain.
 
Simple home remedies did not require any accompanying magical ritual to make them work; a countrywoman would merely pick the necessary plants from the garden or hedgerow to make a preparation for the family’s fever, or to treat a wound. It doesn’t matter whether we refer to ourselves as witch, wiccan, or pagan. Whether we belong to a coven, or consider ourselves to be a ‘solitary’ but important part of the larger pagan community … when we observe what we can view as ‘field Craft’, more often than not, we tend to work alone. The benefits of being a solitary witch means we can work whenever we feel like it, regardless of the date on the calendar, the phase of the moon, or what anyone else considers to be a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ time of the day. The only ‘rule’ we need to learn and obey, is the relentless call of the natural cyclic tides of Nature … nothing else.
 
No book ever written can teach us how to become a witch. Only Nature can do that. Only Nature can coax out those long suppressed abilities and give us back the freedom to be a witch, releasing the knowledge of the Elder Faith back into the world. So let’s walk through the fields and along the hedgerow together and discover Nature as she moves through the year …
 
My favourite and not because it’s the best-selling title in the series, Traditional Witchcraft for the Wood and Forests reflects the natural type of landscape in which I feel the most comfortable. First and foremost, forests and woodland have played a mystical role in all cultures where trees have dominated the landscape. Trees bring Nature right up close and personal and, as a result, the whole of the natural world becomes a ‘tangled web of enchantment’ to a true witch’s eyes. Most of us are familiar with what we call ‘broad leaved’ woodland … that is to say, forest made up predominantly of trees whose leaves are basically flat, as opposed to being needle-shaped like those of the conifers of the evergreen world. These trees are mostly deciduous (with the exception of the holly, box and strawberry tree), and shed their leaves when winter approaches, lying dormant until the warmth of spring stimulates new growth.
 
Before we begin to practice the Craft of the wood-witch, however, we must learn to look at trees with different eyes, because there is still a sense of mystery and enchantment in the woodland world. Each month of the year imprints its own beauty on the trees, and in time, we will become aware of every subtle nuance as part of this sacred mantra, with each month bringing different plants for a witch to use in her magical workings. The spring shimmer of birch and beech bursting into life … the cool of a summer glade filled with the whispering of the leaf canopy … the rich hues of autumn … branches glistening with hoare frost in the winter sunshine …
 
The aim of Traditional Witchcraft and the Pagan Revival was to provide a sympathetic approach to the evolution of witchcraft as a historical reality, rather than as mere circumspection – or wishful thinking. By combining scholarly writing and recent archaeological findings with a ‘quality of fascination’, I hoped it would prove to be a pleasure to read and a source of new insight for those who would follow the tradition of the Elder Faith. It shows that witchcraft did (and does) exist, and traces the origins and true nature of the many different contemporary pagan beliefs back to their roots. And, what is equally as important, to understand is when outside foreign influences were grafted onto indigenous pagan stock by getting the late Michael Howard (The Cauldron) to check the finished typescript for error!
 
I’ve been asked why Pagan Revival was the fifth in the series rather than an introduction, and the reason for this is because it’s not until a quester has acquired a reasonable amount of background knowledge about Old Craft that these questions demand answers. Unfortunately, in the rush to establish the many different forms of 20th century revivalist paganism, the element of curiosity has often been suppressed in favour of historical ignorance. Anything that is non-Christian in origin is immediately embraced as ‘pagan’, despite the fact that much of it had little to do with the indigenous people of the British Isles. It also leads to the acceptance of ‘fakelore and fantasy’ as a basis for a considerable amount of contemporary thinking. Reviewing one of these pseudo-history books in White Dragon magazine some years ago, the editor wrote: ‘Books like this pose more of a danger to paganism than the Christian Right will ever do, because they are the enemy within, subverting the Mysteries and dumbing down for spirituality’s equivalent of the day-time television audience.’ Ouch!
 
From a 21st century standpoint, however, much of what now passes for pagan belief has jettisoned its former labels of ‘occultism’, ‘witchcraft’ and ‘eccentricity’, and now boasts a
diverse doctrine, suitable for pre-pubescent schoolchildren to venerable pensioners, from all walks of life and cultures. On the traditionalist’s side, this hard-won respectability means that, in
many cases, both the genuine magical and Mystery aspects of the original Sacred Order have been abandoned in favour of a wholesome image more reminiscent of the ad-man’s fictitious ‘Oxo family’ than of the real-life Lancashire Witches.
 
It must be said from the onset that there is nothing wrong in anyone embracing a neo-pagan life-style. What we should try to do, however, is put into some kind of perspective the impact of the magico-religious links with our ancestral roots when we choose to follow a path or tradition that is alien to our own genius loci the collective or natural spirit of old Pretannia. Whatever numerous contemporary authors may tell us, the Celts were not the indigenous people of these islands; modern Wicca is not synonymous with traditional witchcraft; traditional British Old
Craft is not a myth; and subsequent invading cultures did not impose blanket religious conversions on a conquered people.
 
The kernel of the Elder Faith, however, is a belief in a definite association of force (or energy) within specific localities, and the notion of natural universal energy influencing cause and effect. The belief embraces the notion that spirits (or natural energy) inhabit everything in Nature – every hill, tree and stream, every breeze and cloud; every stone and pool has its own ‘spirit’ – although there are no authentic pagan ‘scriptures’ on which we can rely for guidance or comparison. We should not, however, take this to mean that an Old Craft witch is spiritually backward, or lacking in tradition. The most amazing thing for us to consider, is that all this wondrous insight into the metaphysical and mystical world would have been passed down via an intuitive oral tradition, amongst people with no (or little) formal learning.
 
In reality, it is possible to perceive ourselves as spiritual beings without being at all religious, because spirituality is how we ‘feel’ about the meaning of life – it is the quest for the hidden mysteries and need not necessarily manifest in religious terms. Lacking in intellect but not in application, the witch of yesteryear would probably have fully understood the sentiments expressed in a collection of spiritual essays dating from 1897, The Treasure of the Humble, wherein the author writes about Ultima Thule – the extreme limit – which also can be applied to the Mysteries of the Elder Faith today.
 
‘We are here on the borderland of human thought and far across the Arctic circle of the spirit. There is no ordinary cold, no ordinary dark there, and yet you shall find there naught but flames and light. But to those who arrive without having trained their minds to these new perceptions, the light and flames are as dark and cold as though they were painted. This means that the intelligence, the reason, will not suffice of themselves: we must have faith.’
 
Even in more modern times, however, it is not surprising that ‘Trust None!’ remains the creed of our Sacred Order and it has preserved its Mysteries by not divulging its rites and practices. No matter what a publisher’s blurb may claim, there are no genuine traditional British Old Craft rituals, rites of passages, spells, charms or pathworkings in print, for one simple reason – any traditional witch committing any of this knowledge to paper for public scrutiny would be in breach of their own Initiatory Oath. This still carries the ultimate penalty for treachery and betrayal. Admittedly, there are ‘smokescreens’ that may offer a parody of the genuine thing – but the gnarled roots of the Elder Faith remain firmly in the shadows, where they belong. Although there may be a variation in formulae from region to region, the underlying Mysteries remain the same, and the only way to know about the Mysteries is to have experienced them first hand.
 
Because of its occult (i.e. ‘hidden’) nature, traditional British Old Craft methods really do differ from region to region, so the opportunity of being in the company of genuine, traditional witches meant that late-night magical discussions were all part of the invaluable exchange of information that Old Crafters enjoy when meeting with those of their own kind and calibre. It was usually well past midnight when the cauldron would be well and truly kicked over; the dross discarded and the rare elixir of knowledge at the bottom shared and savoured.
 
In fact, the whole Traditional Witchcraft series was deliberately structured along the lines of a foundation course, so that any would-be traditional witch had a step-by-step guide to follow. Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living was the first in the series and, as the title suggests, aimed at the majority of pagans who live in an urban environment rather than insisting that a witch must live in the country before they can learn about traditional Craft. The second step was revealed in Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore that teaches the importance of understanding and working with those natural tides within our own environment, even if we do not live by the sea. Step three, Traditional Witchcraft for Fields and Hedgerows, examined what most of us would think of in terms of traditional Craft, and brings us back into the comfort zone where we feel safe and secure – before step four casts us back out into the more hostile world of Traditional Witchcraft for the Woods and Forests - the magical energies differing quite considerably between these four environments.
 
The historical view of Traditional Witchcraft and the Pagan Revival was left until step five, because it’s not until we’ve been studying traditional Old Craft for a while that we start to notice both the differences and the similarities between the various pagan disciplines. We want to know where our own beliefs come from; to trace these antecedents; and to understand why some of our ways are often diametrically opposed to those of other traditions we read about – and why. That is the reason for the fifth book in the series being written as a magical anthropology; simply to make sense of some of the things we’ve noticed but never fully understood. Traditional Witchcraft and the Path to the Mysteries, the sixth and last in the series, is a voyage of discovery and, as with every journey, it is essential that we understand where we are now and where we want to be. We need proper direction unlike that popular old Irish saying: ‘If I wanted to be going there, I wouldn’t be starting from here!’
 
Not that this method of teaching has always been favourably received. Some feel that Old Craft is portrayed as elitist, but as Daniel A Schulke observed in his introduction to this author’s contribution to Hands of Apostasy (‘Spirits and Deific Forms: Faith and Belief in British Old Craft’); ‘All of these traditions share a common feature of extreme selectivity when it comes to prospective members, and the willingness to reject those proven unfit for the work.’ Others claim there is nothing new contained within the books, or that there are no great revelations in the text, ignoring the fact that Old Craft learning is about 40 percent information and 60 percent intuition; but it’s also about realizing when intuition is telling us that we don’t have all the information. There are books claiming to reveal the ‘secrets’ of the Elder Faith – but intuition should tell us that if the secrets can be revealed in the reading of just a couple of books, then the author cannot have much to tell. The real secret is that there are no secrets, only a system of revelation that eventually leads to a series of enlightening experiences, guides or teachers, to further ourprogress along the Path to the Mysteries.
 
 
It was Andy Lloyd Book Reviews that first put the Traditional Witchcraft series into its proper perspective:
 
“The ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ series provides varied information about what it means to be a practising witch in modern times. In places, it feels like a guide, or self-help book. But there is much more to it than that. What strikes me is the amount of science running through the books. To understand nature is to live as a part of nature, and ultimately to become one with its changing patterns and cycles, to synchronise one’s own psychic or magical energy with natural tidal forces and the elements. So a witch, like no other religious practitioner that I’m aware of, must study her environment carefully, and attune her life to it … The learning is multi-disciplinary, and feels almost as if one was studying a textbook written by a poet … it has that sense of quiet wonder about it, supported by education, knowledge and, above all, wisdom.”

 
The complete ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ series is published Moon Books in both paperback and e-book format.  Go to www.moon-books.net for more information and ordering.

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<![CDATA[LIFESTYLE]]>Thu, 21 Jan 2021 11:02:39 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/lifestyle6376736Picture
 CANDLEMAS 
by Carrie West

Since the Victorian era, it is customary to remove Yuletide decorations on Twelfth Night ... but up until the 19th century people would keep their decorations up until Candlemas Eve on 1st February.  If this custom wasn’t followed, it was believed that greenery would not return and vegetation would not grow, leading to agricultural shortages and subsequently food problems. Even though Christmas decorations are now less about foliage and more about baubles, glitter and tinsel, many people still adhere to the superstition which they ascribe to the modern Twelfth Night on the 5th January. This 17th century poem by Robert Herrick gives us a better idea of what sort of greenery was used prior to the introduction of the Victorian Christmas tree … In his ‘Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve’ he wrote …
 
DOWN with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe ;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall :
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind :
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected, there (maids, trust to me)
So many goblins you shall see.


In fact, Herrick (1591-1674) wrote at least four poems concerning Candlemas.  Likewise, ‘Upon Candlemas Day’ shows the day itself had its own traditions:

END now the white loaf and the pie,
And let all sports with Christmas die.


Finally, in ‘The Ceremonies for Candlemas Day’, he wrote:

KINDLE the Christmas brand, and then
Till sunset let it burn ;
Which quench'd, then lay it up again
Till Christmas next return.
Part must be kept wherewith to tend
The Christmas log next year,
And where 'tis safely kept, the fiend
Can do no mischief there.


This latter poem recalls the tradition that Christmas greenery would be burned and the Yule log allowed to burn down completely, but that a portion should be held back to start next year’s Yule log fire (and as a good luck charm against ‘mischief’). The ashes were to be spread over the garden to ensure a good harvest and the Yule log for the next year would be chosen then.  Candlemas was also believed to be a good day for weather forecasting (it falls halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox): If it was a sunny day, there would be forty more days of cold and snow. This belief has carried into folklore tradition around the world, and one olde English rhyme says:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
But if it be dark with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.

 
All this Christian overlay merely confirms what an important festival this was for our pagan forebears and, as such it became the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary in the church calendar. The convenience of having yet another pagan festival falling within the ‘nativity cycle’ meant that Brigid became a Catholic saint! In the early calendar, on that morning, many candles were lit in the church, symbolically driving out the darkness. In the afternoon, there was feasting all round, with much music as Candlemas Day (2nd February) marked the formal end of winter. 
 
In the pagan Celtic world it is Imbolc, the festival marking the beginning of spring that has been celebrated since ancient times. It is also a cross quarter day, midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, and the name derives from the Old Irish imbolg meaning ‘in the belly’, a time when sheep began to lactate, their udders filled and the grass began to grow. Imbolc was a time to celebrate the Celtic goddess Brigid, goddess of inspiration, healing, and smithcraft, with associations to fire, the hearth and poetry.  Là Fhèill Brìghde, is also the day the Cailleach gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that, if she intends to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on 1st February is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood to keep herself warm in the coming months.
 
Candlemas, then, is the re-awakening of the Old Lass and also coincides with the Roman Festa Candelarum, which commemorated the search for Persephone by her mother Demeter, Persephone having been kidnapped by the King of the Otherworld, Hades The festival of candles symbolizes the return of the Light. 
 
During medieval times, peasants still carried torches and crossed the fields in procession, praying for purification of the ground before planting. In the early churches, the torches were replaced by blessed candles whose glow was supposed to take away evil; villagers and townsfolk would take the candles to their houses to bring protection to their homes and family.  During the evening, an especially large candle would have been lit while the family gathered around ready for a feast, during which plans and promises to be kept through the new season would be discussed and debated until it burned out. It was also customary at sunset to ritually light a candle in each room of the home in honour of the Sun’s return. Not surprisingly, in 1543, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, banned candles on Candlemas Day because the rites were seen as superstitious, i.e. pagan!
 
In Old Craft, however, Old Candlemas/Old Imbolc now falls on the 15th February due to the change in the calendar. Imbolc is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and there is evidence it has been an important date since pre-Christian times: at the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara the rising sun at Imbolc illuminates the inner chamber; the sun also illuminates the chamber at 
Samhain.
 
From these ancient rites we can see how they identify with the Old Lass and her awakening, not to mention their association with the Mysteries of Old Craft. In Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed, Evan John Jones acknowledges that Candlemas is the first of the great Sabbats and the start of the ritual year, when it is time to let go of the past and to look to the future, clearing out the old, making both outer and inner space for new beginnings.  In ancient Rome, on the eve of Candlemas all the home fires would have been put out, cleaned out, and re-lit being symbolic of the returning light of the Sun. In Old Craft, and in keeping with this symbolism, a broom made from the three sacred woods symbolic of the three-fold aspects of the goddess (the handle from ash, the brush from birch twigs and the binding cord from willow) would be placed by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming in the new.
 
But, as Melusine Draco explained in Seeking the Primal Goddess, generally speaking, Old Craft witches prefer not to associate our deities with any dubious mythology – home-grown or foreign import – instead we refer to them obliquely as the Old Ones, the Owd Lad and Owd Lass, the Lord and Lady, or just Him and Her because in truth they are the Nameless God and the Faceless Goddess.
 
For many people worldwide, Candlemas has a particular smell: not just the scent of lighted candles but also the fragrance of pancakes being cooked for family and friends.  Candlemas pancakes should traditionally be made with wheat flour from the previous harvest. Stacks of them could be prepared without fear of famine, since the fields would soon be regaining their golden colour.  There was even an old saying that held if you ate pancakes on Candlemas Day, you would be ensured a good harvest in the coming year. What better idea for tonight’s feast than store-bought sweet pancakes and crêpes for convenience?
 
Though la Chandeleur, Fête de la Lumière or Jour des crêpes is often associated with the French Catholic holiday of Candlemas, this also stems from earlier pagan traditions. While some say Chandeleur celebrates the return of sunny days (crêpes symbolize the sun), others say that making crêpes using flour left over from the harvest ensures prosperity in the coming year.
 
Store-bought crêpes can be warmed in the oven while the Sabbat ritual is in progress. Set the oven to its lowest temperature and layer the cold crêpes with wax paper between them, then wrap the entire stack in wax paper. Wrap the whole bundle with foil, and leave it in the oven at the lowest setting for one to one and a half hours until thoroughly warmed through. Not as enjoyable as good old-fashioned home-made ones, admittedly, but not as time-consuming, especially if it’s a full Coven-meeting – which it should be on this very special night when the Old Lass re-awakens because it welcomes her back.
 
The floral tributes for Candlemas are those early favourite spring flowers – snowdrops – despite them not being native to the British Isles. They’re actually from southern Europe and only came to Britain in the late 16th century, and it took them almost 200 years to become a naturalized wild plant. Seeing snowdrops pop up is one of the first signs that spring is on the way and, since they’re supposed to bloom at Candlemas, they’re also known as ‘Candlemas bells’.  But native to our islands or not, who doesn’t seek for signs of them in gardens, parks and churchyards on a fine spring day as the first grey-green spears of foliage push through the frosty earth?  A small bunch or pot of snowdrops by the door to welcome the guests, perhaps …

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<![CDATA[e-Witch … Seriously!?]]>Mon, 11 Jan 2021 11:10:14 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/e-witch-seriouslyPicture

The greatest threat to traditional British Old Craft is the internet.  Simply because on-line witchcraft is trivialised out of all proportion in order to make it accessible to all and sundry without the need for serious study and application.  Increasingly, we find that the ‘witchiness’ of an individual is often gauged by the number of memberships and friends they can accrue on Facebook with no account taken of the antecedents or background of the posters.  There is also a growing number of those who profess to be interested in discovering more about Old Craft, only to keep their studies in a state of limbo after the first few lessons, so that they can claim an association without the need to seriously apply themselves.

​Our foundation course is merely a guide to all the different aspects of Craft that a would-be witch should be familiar with but without the expectation that they should excel at every subject.  The real teaching comes from the questions and answers raised in each lesson and the discussions that develop from there.  For example, one of our founders held a doctorate in geology, which influenced a considerable amount of our knowledge of the Earth and the components that had a direct bearing on the magical and archaeological influences of our beliefs.

The other had received an extensive military training and looked upon the knife as a weapon rather than just a piece of ceremonial equipment. This level of instruction was aimed at giving a clear understanding of the different types of knives and the magical symbolism represented by them.  This would, in the long run, influence his student’s choice in the construction and design of their own personal knife and the symbolism behind that choice.  There were those, of course, who dismissed all this information simply because they didn’t see why they needed to learn about the differences,, or because they shied away from accepting the knife as anything other than a ritual tool. 
 
His response was merely to point out that if they weren’t willing to learn about the knife they wished to carry, then they weren’t fit to carry one at all. He was a stickler for detail and expected his students to know precisely what they were doing and why they were doing it.  Unlike many tutors - the result was more information than you could possibly assimilate, including an in-depth discourse on which grade of piano wire made the best garrote!  Instruction in the use of purpose-built and improvised garrotes is included in the training of many elite military units and special-forces.
 
A serious intent to study the Elder Faith means that it becomes an integral part of our lives and that means 24/7, often to the detriment of all else.  And, when any alleged discussion about Old Craft finds its way onto the internet, we find that it is derided as being out-dated, elitist, patriarchal and smug by those with no practical, first-hand knowledge of our ways.  Neither do these vitriolic outbursts reflect that we have no interest in what these folk do, nor how they do it – all we ask is that they show us the same respect and refrain from commenting on things they don’t understand.  Nevertheless, we have experienced plenty of bogus applications from those who, while claiming to be adepts and initiates from other paths and traditions, still wish to learn our ways.
 
A lack of seriousness can also be reflected in the approach of those who complete our foundation course and then hang around on the periphery of the Circle, sometimes for years, making no input whatsoever.  They take the attitude that the course is finished – as far as we are concerned, their learning has only just begun.  Now is the time to cement our relationship within the Sacred Order that maintains the harmony of life, the Universe and the Ancestors.  And, if we do not take these unseen (Ancestral) powers seriously, we can find ourselves up against the workings of certain forces; often being interpreted as the effects of offenses against the Sacred Order, committed either deliberately or unintentionally – no matter what they say on the internet!

James Rigel - Magister CoS


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<![CDATA[OLD YEAR, OLD CALENDAR< OLD WAYS]]>Thu, 07 Jan 2021 14:18:00 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/old-year-old-calendarlt-old-waysPicture

Creating A Magical Link to the Old Beliefs
Compiled by Melusine Draco
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
George Orwell
 
Like Topsy, the idea for Old Year, Old Calendar, Old Ways, just ‘growed’ – and kept on growing. Originally it was just a basic calendar with entries relating to the Old Ways in keeping with the Old (Julian) Calendar in order to create an important magical link with the past. Once the bulk of the entries were in place, however, it quickly became evident that many of these old festivals, celebrations and observances required some sort of explanation, since a large number of people have lost touch with their ancient heritage.
 
     As most of my readers will know, I have a fascination for odd and obscure historical facts that are hidden away in the millions of sources that outstrip and confound the confines of the Internet – it’s finding them that presents the stimulation and the challenge. If we merely rely on the regurgitated information of contemporary paganism not only does our mind become stagnant, but for those who follow the Craft of the witch, so do our magical abilities. For example did you know that in the 1770's red-headed women, especially those with very white skin, were still considered likely to be witches?
 
     “This belief was utilised in Christopher Fry’s play, The Lady’s Not For Burning. It is also worth noting that … in the Middle Ages it was associated with witchcraft and women were arrested for its use. In fact, this notion continued as late as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and any woman who altered her appearance was considered to be practising witchcraft and was, therefore, subject to arrest. An Act of Parliament of 1770, as cited in The Magic of Herbs by Mrs C F Lyell, states: ‘That all women of whatever age, rank, profession or degree, whether virgin maid or widow, that shall from and after such Act impose upon, seduce and betray into matrimony any of His Majesty’s subjects by means of scent, paints, cosmetics, washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool (red wool for painting the face), iron stays, hoops, high-heeled shoes or bolstered hips, shall incur the penalty of the law now in force against witchcraft and like misdemeanours, and that the marriage upon conviction shall stand null and void.’” [Earth, Air, Fire Water]
 
     Admittedly, even Craft can become mind-numbingly boring if we merely follow exactly what it says in the text and not bother to expand our knowledge by getting to grips with the history behind it all. For there are still experienced witches who will have a hissy-fit if Christianity is brought into the equation, never stopping to think that paganism and the early Church existed in peaceful harmony for hundreds of years. The ‘conversion’ was a slow, absorbing process where churches were built on sacred sites, local deities and heroes became saints, and the old agrarian festivals provided the basis for the original Church calendar. In other words, nothing had changed and it explains why witches of the old school often use references to the Church calendar rather than the Celtic names for the seasons and festivals of the year. If we learn how to look behind the Church litany we will find that it preserved far more than it ever destroyed. In reality, the early Church in the British Isles was far more pagan than anyone likes to admit.
 
     Over the years I have also incorporated a great deal of folk and country lore into my books on witchcraft with a view to preserving the knowledge for future generations. Much of what even my grandparents’ generation once knew is now lost because it was never recorded for posterity. True there are numerous pagan books written about similar subjects but it is obvious that a large number of them don’t have the countryside in their blood and fail to reflect the magic and mystery of growing up in an uncomplicated rural environment. Strangely enough, these sentiments are often now viewed as some form of elitism but I prefer to go back to the roots of learning rather than consult something that has been cobbled together from different popular titles without any true grounding in country lore. As J Harvey Bloom comments in Folk Lore in Shakespeare Land:
 
     “The year was marked in our forefathers’ time by somewhat rare days when the whole village made holiday. It is true the rejoicings were more hearty than refined, but they were honest and real, looked eagerly forward to, and talked of when long past. The great feasts of the church’s year combined revelry with religion, and dated back to the Sun festivals if remote antiquity.”
 
     Similarly, the further we move away from these Old Craft traditions we also cast aside the magical ties and techniques that have fuelled us down through the years. And yet there are time-honoured things about us all as individuals that are bred deep in the bone. We are what our roots (DNA) claim us to be and we cannot escape those racial memories of where we came from even if the descendants of yesterday’s witches are now scattered all over the globe. In truth, there is no such thing as Scottish, Essex, Yorkshire, Cornish or Lancashire witches because all individuals are identified by the location in which they lived their early lives and a witch will still reflect the region dialect, customs and superstitions of his or her original neighbours, no matter how far we travel. For example: I am Anglo-Welsh, living my life between rugged mountains and the central English Shires. I therefore reflect the characteristics of the Welsh and the natives of the Bucks/Northants borders but this does not make me a ‘Welsh’ or ‘Catuvellauni’ witch! Nevertheless, many years down the line I still retain many of the influences, colloquialisms, customs and traditions from the past – many of which have been incorporated into my personal Craft working and those teachings of Coven of the Scales which actually originated in Cheshire!
 
     We need to understand that the Old Ways or the Old Religion were echoes of the pre-Christian faith, and that these old beliefs provided the energy that the clan or tribal shaman or witch drew upon to work their magic. It generated a certain dynamism that powered the magic of the day, and while all of the rural populace would have been followers of the Old Ways, not everyone was a magical practitioner. Nevertheless, every village would have had its own wise woman who was well versed in the arts of folk-medicine and fortune-telling. It is not surprising, therefore, that Shakespeare should have made frequent illusions to this popular belief, considering how extensively it prevailed in the 16th and 17th centuries; the religious and dramatic literature of the time being full of it. It was only to be expected that Shakespeare should introduce into his writings descriptions of a creed which held such a prominent place in the history of his day. [Folk-Lore in Shakespeare]
 
     In T A Spaldings’s essay Elizabethan Demonology (1880), however, it was suggested that the ‘weird sisters’ who play such an important part in Macbeth, are not witches at all, but are ‘allied to the Norns or Fates of Scandinavian paganism’. Another writer in the Academy (1879) believed that Shakespeare drew upon Scandinavian mythology for a portion of the material he used in constructing these characters, and that he derived the rest from the traditions of contemporary witchcraft; that the ‘sisters’ were hybrids between Norns and witches.
 
     It is also interesting to note that almost all the charms and symbols supposed to guard against witchcraft in those tedious Victorian folklore compilations, or cunningly concealed in the texts as ‘love spells’, are those that the witches themselves used and revered in earlier times. And that is why the popular literature of the time and the archive of the Folklore Society should be on every witch’s essential reading list, since here we find all those old observances of our ancestors, hidden under a thin veneer of later ‘respectability’ and where anything that smacked of paganism was immediately labelled ‘devilish’. If we learn to strip away the various layers we are still left with the priceless patina of Old Craft belief and the original calendar against which it was practiced by our ancestors. 
 
      Currently, Twelfth Night is celebrated on the 5th January, as the last day of the Christmas season and the night for Wassailing, together with the removal of the Yuletide decorations.  There can be no doubt that the title of Shakespeare’s play Twelfth-Night took its origin from these festivities, although according to Folk-Lore of Shakespeare, the play was probably originally acted at the barrister’s feast at the Middle Temple on 2nd February [Candlemas] 1602: ‘It is worthy of note that the festivities at Christmas-tide, were conducted on a most extravagant scale. In addition to the merry disports of the Lord of Misrule, there were various other revels and the Christmas masque at Gray’s Inn in 1594 was on a magnificent scale.’
 
     Traditionally, the Wassail is still celebrated on Twelfth Night while others Wassail on ‘Old Twelvey Night’ – 17th January – as it would have been before the introduction of the new calendar.  Robert Herrick’s poem, Twelfth Night or King and Queen reflects the gaiety of the occasion:

      NOW, now the mirth comes
      With the cake full of plums,
Where bean's the king of the sport here ;
      Beside we must know,
      The pea also
Must revel, as queen, in the court here.

      Begin then to choose,
      This night as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here,
      Be a king by the lot,
      And who shall not
Be Twelfth-day queen for the night here.

      Which known, let us make
      Joy-sops with the cake ;
And let not a man then be seen here,
      Who unurg'd will not drink
      To the base from the brink
A health to the king and queen here.

      Next crown a bowl full
      With gentle lamb's wool :
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
      With store of ale too ;
      And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

      Give then to the king
      And queen wassailing :
And though with ale ye be whet here,
      Yet part from hence
      As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.

 
     In the cider-producing West of England (primarily the counties of Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire) ‘wassailing’ also refers to drinking (and singing) the health of trees in the hopes that they might better thrive. The purpose of wassailing is to awaken the cider apple trees and to scare away evil spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit in the following autumn. Then, the assembled crowd would sing and shout and bang drums, or pots and pans, and generally make a terrible racket until the gun-men gave a great final volley through the branches to make sure the work was done and, then off they went to the next orchard. Chinese crackers, or even party poppers, will suffice if you haven’t got a gun licence. Here is an extract from Robert Herrick’s The Wassail:
 
Give way, give way, ye gates and win
An easy blessing to your bin
And basket, by our entering in.
 
May both with machete stand complete,
Your larders, too, so hung with meat,
That thou a thousand thousand eat,
 
Yet ere twelve moons shall whirl about
Their silvery spheres, there’s none my doubt
But more’s sent in than was served out …
 
     The ‘Ashen Faggot’ is another archaic West Country custom that still survives in country pubs where the burning takes place on Christmas Eve – or the 5th and 17th January which are Old Christmas Eve and Old Twelfth Night respectively. This is a large log with withies bound around it to make a bundle which is burned indoors in a large hearth. Drinks are consumed as each withy breaks in the flames, which just sounds like an excuse for conviviality! For Craft observances it could also be used as part of the Twelfth Night celebrations, especially if we have an outside fire pit or patio burner.
 
     For this reason, it’s a good idea for any coven to hold Old Twelfth Night observances in order to acknowledge the end of the Mid-Winter Festival with true medieval gusto. Ideally, a fancy dress party would seem to be the order of the day, but how long our Mid-Winter revels last will, of course, depend on how much time we have off work during the party season and our personal stamina!  If not partying, light the fire and drink a toast to the Old Ways and the Ancestors on this old Twelfth Night, or observe it by watching one of the many DVD versions of the Shakespeare play. 
 
     The January Esbat would normally be held at a Crafter’s home in the form of an ordinary party where Craft symbology can be subtly introduced without ‘outsiders’ being any the wiser.  After all, everyone will be suffering from a surfeit of celebration and these days, not many know much about Old Twelfth Night, but in the medieval and Tudor periods, it was more important than Christmas Day.  In English and French custom, the Twelfth-night cake was baked to contain a dried bean and a dried pea, so that those who received the slices containing them should be respectively designated king (bean) and queen (pea) of the night’s festivities - which is obviously a throw-back to the ancient concept of the Lord of Misrule. 
 
     A tradition held in Georgian times, the Twelfth Night cake celebrated the last day of the festive season on 5th January when there were great feasts, of which cake was an essential part.  A rich crumbly fruit cake, sumptuous icing and a classic design makes a marvelous Twelfth Night Cake [Mrs Beeton’s Everyday Cookery] with this trusted family recipe.
 
6 oz butter
3 oz brown sugar
3 eggs
½ gill milk (2.5 fluid oz)
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 oz treacle
4 oz currants
4 oz sultanas
4 oz mixed peel
½ level teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ level teaspon mixed spice
3/4lb plain flour
¼ teaspoon salt
 
Line a 7-inch cake tin with greaseproof paper.  Cream the fat and sugar in a bowl and gradually beat in the eggs.  Add the milk in which the soda is dissolved; stir in the treacle and beat well.  Add the prepared fruit and spices.  Sift in the flour and salt and mix lightly.  Put into the tin and bake in a warm oven (335F, 175C, Gas 3) for 2-2 ½ hours.  The dried pea and bean should be baked in the cake.  And any silver charms should be wrapped in greaseproof paper.
 
     Liven up the rooms by adding some sparkle to the existing decorations that will be looking very tired by now, throw some gold streamers on the tree and around the house before everyone helps take the decorations down.  Be aware that guests will be tired of eating rich, heavy foods by early January, so light appetizers should be welcomed at our party.  Most large supermarkets have ‘party boxes’ with a wide assortment of finger food, so stock up the freezer well in advance.  Coven members can contribute to the event by bringing plates of finger food, such as cocktail sausages and mini sausage rolls, canapés, vol-au-vents together with crispy salad assortments.  Think in terms of picky bits that can be kept in plastic containers to keep in hand for livening up the buffet table throughout the evening.
 
     Like all Craft elements we have to be careful of how we dispose of anything used in ritual observances. Whichever day is chosen for the removal, there is still the vital question of how to dispose of the Yule evergreens. In The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain & Ireland, the author and folklorist Steve Roud, records that although there appears to be no discernible regional pattern to explain the different superstitions, in some places it was considered unlucky to burn Yuletide evergreens. It is interesting, however, that the anti-burning appears to date from c1866, while there are references that mention burning Yuletide greenery right back to the 11th century. This suggests that burning was indeed a pagan custom. As witches, however, we can cut the tree into small pieces and burn it on an open fire – indoors or out – and enjoy the smell of pine being released into the air over the coming weeks.
 
     From the Winter Solstice to Old Twelfth Night, the tide begins to turn and the Earth’s natural cycle begins to move again; the days grow noticeably longer and the Earth-tides grow stronger. Whether we observe the Julian or the Gregorian calendar there is an upbeat feeling to the start of the New Year, but make sure that a thorough banishing and cleansing of your home is carried out on the day following Twelfth Night to remove any negative psychic energies that might be lurking about.  Prepare an appropriate infusion spray a day in advance and keep it in the fridge until the house has been cleared of all of the previous year’s negativity (and people) and spray from top to bottom.

 
Old Year, Old Calendar, Old Ways – Melusine Draco ISBN: 9781788762052 : Paperback : Pages 210 : £8.9 To order: https://www.feedaread.com/books/Old-Year-Old-Calendar-Old-Ways-9781788762052.aspx


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<![CDATA[LIFESTYLE]]>Fri, 04 Dec 2020 11:23:09 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/lifestyle9651023Picture
YULETIDE STORYTELLING
It was during these long dark nights, when it was bitterly cold and the wind howled in the chimney, that the story-teller came into his (or her) own. Few subjects have - from time immemorial, possessed a wider appeal than ghosts and the superstitions associated with them; traditions in this country and others form an extensive collection of folklore literature telling of hauntings and other happenings. In Shakespeare’s day it would seem that the belief in ghosts was especially prevalent, and ghostly tales were told by the firelight in nearly every household. A description of one of these traditional tale-tellings is given in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.
 
Each community probably had its own story-teller, and in ancient Celtic society bards held a position of esteem, second only to kings.  Nevertheless, traditions of storytelling are found in every culture across the globe – being used to explain natural phenomena, and bards told stories of creation and developed a pantheon of gods and myths. Stories passed from one generation to the next and storytellers were often healers, leaders, spiritual guides, teachers, cultural secret-keepers and entertainers. Oral storytelling came in various forms, enhanced with songs, poetry, chants and dance - and focused on a variety of values. These values included an emphasis on individual responsibility, concern for the environment and communal welfare; the tales passed down by older generations helped to shape the foundation of the community. Storytelling was used as a conduit for knowledge and understanding via the activities of gods and heroes, and the denizens of the animal kingdom.
 
Story-telling was, and still is, an ancient Art. Bards memorized vast amounts of poetry which they performed live, and their poems, ballads and songs were often the only historical record available. Some may consider them to be clan or tribal historians. Irish bards evolved into storytellers called seanchaí, who wandered from town to town and, in this informal way, an ancient oral literary tradition continued into modern times.  Seanchaí were traditional Irish storytellers and the custodians of history for centuries in Ireland, since they could recite ancient lore and tales of wisdom whenever it was needed.  Members of the Irish Cultural Revival took a great interest in the art of the seanchaí, and through them the stories were written down, published, and distributed to a global audience.  At events such as the mummers’ festival in New Inn, County Galway, and the All-Ireland Fleadh Ceoil, storytellers who preserve the stories and oratory style of the seanchaithe continue to display their art and compete for awards. 
 
In medieval Welsh society, similar tales were recited in prose by professional storytellers – cyfarwyddiaid – who also imparted traditional lore or learning that was necessary for society to function - the term itself being associated with ‘knowledge, guidance and perception’. Although originally these narratives were intended to be informative, they came to be viewed more and more as entertainment.  Although these tales were the product of a literary culture, only a few have survived in the form of the Mabinogion.  There’s a well-known story about Cadair Idris, a mountain in Snowdonia: if you sleep one night on its summit, it’s said you’ll wake either a bard or a madman.
 
However, bards – or beirdd as they’re usually called in Welsh – are not just figments of folklore. They are instead representatives of an ancient poetic tradition, and one that survives in Wales to this day. In one sense, all modern Welsh poets are bards: bardd remains the most common word for ‘poet’ in the language. However, there is also a more formal way to become a bard: that is, to be inducted into Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain [the Gorsedd of the Bards of the Island of Britain], which meets every year at the National Eisteddfod - an institution (and the ceremonies and robes associated with it), that were invented by the fiery, inspired, and occasionally laudanum-addled Iolo Morganwg!
 
Originally, bards were a specific lower class of poet, contrasting with the higher rank known as fili in Ireland and Highland Scotland.  The best-known in Scotland were the members of the MacMhuirich family, who flourished from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The family was centred in the Hebrides, and claimed descent from a 13th-century Irish bard whom, according to legend, was exiled to Scotland. The family was at first chiefly employed by the Lords of the Isles as poets, lawyers, and physicians. With the fall of the Lordship of the Isles in the 15th century, the family was chiefly employed by the chiefs of the MacDonalds of Clanranald; members of the family were also recorded as musicians in the early 16th century, and as clergymen possibly as early as the early 15th century. The last of the family to practise classical Gaelic poetry was Domhnall MacMhuirich, who lived on South Uist in the 18th century. In Gaelic-speaking areas, a village bard or village poet (Scottish Gaelicbàrd-baile) is a local poet who composes works in a traditional style relating to that community.
 
The English term is a loan-word from the Celtic languages and all stem from Proto-Celtic bardo - and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European  for poet; lit. ‘praise-maker’. In 16th-century Scotland, it was a derogatory term for an itinerant musician - nonetheless it was later romanticised by Sir Walter Scott.  In other Indo-European societies, the same function was fulfilled by skaldsrhapsodesminstrels and scops, among others. Bards (who are not the same as the Irish filidh or fili) were those who sang the songs recalling the tribal warriors’ deeds of bravery as well as the genealogies and family histories of the ruling strata among Celtic societies.
 
The pre-Christian peoples recorded no written histories; however, Celtic peoples did maintain an intricate oral history committed to memory and transmitted by bards and filid. Bards facilitated the memorisation of such materials by the use of metrerhyme and other formulaic poetic devices. In medieval British culture, a bard was a professional story-teller, verse-maker, music composer, oral historian and genealogist, employed by a patron (such as a monarch or nobleman) to commemorate one or more of the patron’s ancestors and to praise the patron’s own activities.  The ‘Bard of Avon’, the ‘Immortal Bard’ or (in England) simply ‘The Bard’, is William Shakespeare.
 
Storytelling is the process of using fact and narrative to communicate something to your audience, describing social and/or cultural activity with improvisationtheatrics, or embellishment. Every culture has its own stories or narratives, which are shared as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation or instilling moral values - in addition to being part of religious rituals. Some stories are factual, and some are embellished or improvised in order to better explain the core message.
 
Another Lady of our acquaintance considered storytelling as an important part of her coven’s activities and organized several events during the year to keep up the tradition.  At the majority of pagan camps entertainments throughout the day were usually a mixture of traditional artistic performances, such as storytelling, poetry readings, harp playing, and traditional folk-music.  And again, we feel it essential to preserve these elements of time-honoured entertainment if only to re-energize them for the next generation of witches.  Having said that, there is nothing worse than sitting through an interminably bad performance as illustrated so succinctly in the Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy:
 
‘… The folk band had everyone’s feet tapping but unfortunately the quality of entertainment wasn’t to last. ‘The trouble is,’ said one of the organizers glumly, ‘people volunteer their services and you don’t like to refuse. They like their moment in the spot-light.’ She was referring to the rather appalling story-teller who’d been monopolizing the fireside for the past three quarters of an hour and he wasn’t the only one who’d lost the plot. A verbal punch-up had started when someone had told him to belt up; a middle-aged woman had remonstrated over the lack of manners and the story-teller was drowned out by the shouting.
     ‘Well, he’s had nearly an hour,’ replied Adam, ‘and no one’s got a clue what he’s on about.’
     ‘He said he was a professional story-teller,’ said the girl miserably …’
 
Unless you know your ‘performer’ is good at what they do, don’t feel the need to subject your guests to anything that goes on for too long … and becomes boring or annoying, thereby ruining everyone’s evening and putting off new members for life. If you’re the Dame or Magister – pull rank, is what we say!  Most of us know a member of the local AmDram fraternity and better solicit their services for a near-professional rendering rather than a recital by the coven’s awful, resident schmaltzy poet with her ‘Little Gems of Spiritual Uplift’!  

​Julie Dexter and James Rigel


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