<![CDATA[Coven of the Scales - Blog]]>Mon, 12 Jul 2021 06:46:24 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Melusine Draco's Woodland Walks]]>Mon, 12 Jul 2021 10:20:50 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/melusine-dracos-woodland-walksPicture
Traditional Witchcraft for Woods and Forests
​Root & Branch: British Magical Tree Lore

Hunter’s Wood is a dreamscape that a witch can visit at any time, should we feel the need to harness the timeless energy of the Wild Wood, regardless of time or season. For visualisation purposes, the Wood is approximately ten acres in size, flanked by a fast running stream to the east and a long ride, or track, to the west. A ride is a treeless break in forested areas used in ancient times for the hunting of deer - hence the name of this wood. The stream feeds a woodland pool with a slow trickle during the summer months, but when the winter rains come all the accumulated dead leaves and twigs will be swept away by the torrent. The southern edge of the wood opens onto a huge cornfield, in the centre of which is a large mound, crowned by a stand of three Scots pines; while to the north there is a wide expanse of marshy heathland with its alder carr. Narrow paths criss-cross the wood: some are old and man-made, others are animal tracks, but all will lead us deeper into the woodland realm.
 
This Wood is old. It has grown old alongside humanity and bears the evidence of its passing; generations of witches have wandered in secret glades, gathering herbs and plants at the midnight hour. Near the woodland ride, we discover other signs, particularly in the shapes of the trees that tell of the history of the wood and what it has been used for. The word coppice comes
from the French, couper, meaning ‘to cut’ and the most obvious signs of past coppicing is the presence of ‘many-trunked’ trees growing on the site of old coppice stumps. It was also important in past times to keep livestock out since they would destroy the young shoots and so the area was surrounded by a ditch with a large bank inside, which was often fenced. Old woodland may also have the remains of a stone wall used to protect the coppiced area. In Hunter’s Wood, the remnants of the bank and wall can still be seen where the ruins of the charcoal burner’s cottage disappears under a tangle of briar and bramble.
 
A witch should know that the efficiency of the woodland’s eco-system depends on how much of the sun’s energy can be utilised by the green plants and converted into carbohydrate. The tallest trees of the wood, which form the ‘canopy’, are the first to receive the sun’s rays and what grows beneath this layer depends on how much light can filter through to be tapped by other more
lowly plants. In beech woodlands, there is very little, but oak and ash are relatively light shade-casters and a lush growth of plants can exist beneath them. Immediately beneath the canopy will be tall bushes and small trees, which form the second or ‘shrub-layer’ of the wood.
 
Growing beneath the shrub layer is a mass of herbaceous plants that form the ‘herb layer’, so vital to a witch’s traditional wort-lore. Many of these plants come into flower early in the year, or have developed large flat leaves to make the most of what light is available. The lowest layer of all is the ‘ground layer’ of mosses and liverworts, which remain green throughout the year and are actively growing even in winter.
 
Another clue to woods that were once coppiced is the abundance of spring flowers. The regular tree cutting allowed plenty of light to reach the woodland floor and this encouraged the growth of the plants. Woodland flowers are slow to spread and so their presence in large numbers is an excellent indication that the wood is ancient; bluebells spread very slowly on heavy clay soils, so a carpet of them under trees could also be the clue to old woodland. Primroses, violets and wind-flowers are found here - all part of the medieval witch’s medicine chest.

​Wild flowers also provide the woods with some of their most attractive features. Because many have adapted naturally to flower before the leaves develop in the shrub and canopy layers, they are regarded as the harbingers of spring. No doubt to our hunter-gatherer ancestors this reawakening of the woodland contributed to the mystical significance of the many rites and rituals associated with the season. A further indication of an old wood is a rich variety of flowers, particularly if bluebells, snowdrops, wood anemones, primroses, yellow archangel and early purple orchids are present. Dog’s mercury may seem to be a common woodland plant yet it is rarely found in recently planted woods - that is, woodland that has formed in the last 100 years - and so is also a good indicator of old woodland. The presence of such flowers in a hedge also suggests that it originated as part of a wood, since these species do not readily colonise hedgerows.
 
The deeper we penetrate into the Wood’s interior we come to the denser shade of a holly thicket and even on the brightest summer’s day, little light filters through the overhead canopy. This part of the Wood is imbued with a strange atmosphere and, as in so many natural places that people have left alone, a witch enjoys the frisson of nervous wonder. The woodland floor is bare except for dried prickly leaves and a scattering of boulders covered entirely in the rich velvet green of a variety of mosses. Here the stems and branches of the holly trees are almost pure silver-white, not the dingy pewter colour of urban trees – and the holly possesses magical protective powers that can be used in amulets and talismans.
 
Nearby we find an old beech tree that is so hollow it is amazing the blasted trunk can support the massive branches and rich canopy. This once handsome giant of Hunter’s Wood is coming to the end of its life but each year it sprouts the delicate veil of green leaves that tells us spring is well and truly here again. In the folds of its hollow trunk, we can shelter from summer showers; eat beechnuts in the autumn and remain safe and dry as the winter snow drifts down through the branches. Whenever we pass this way, we greet the old tree as though it were a friend and hope it survives the next winter’s gales.
 
The Sacred Places
It is said that the forest knows all and is able to teach all; that the forest listens and holds the secret of every mystery.
 
Since ancient times, woods have been places of sacred groves and nemorous temples, including those of the Druids and Iceni. Sir James Frazer refers widely to sacred groves and tree worship in
The Golden Bough, while Old Craft teacher, Mériém Clay-Egerton wrote extensively on the subject of trees and produced some highly evocative pieces relating to her experiences:
 
To me this was a place that had obviously been held as a sacred area for so very long now that it had in its turn breathed this very atmosphere itself and so projected this onto a mind which was prepared or conditioned to be both sympathetic and empathetic to various woodlands and their forms of existence … it resembled what I might envisage as a naturally constructed ‘cathedral’. Here lived and breathed holiness and beauty …
 
The Wild Wood, however, is the dark, untamed part of natural woodland where unearthly and potentially dangerous beings are still to be found. This is not everyone’s favourite place and many urban witches never get over an ‘atavistic fear of Nature uncontrolled’. Historically, the term ‘wildwood’ is the name given to the forests as they were some 5,000 years ago, before human interference, and the pollen records for that time confirm that elms made up a substantial component of the wildwood, along with the oak, birch and lime.
 
On a magical level, the Wild Wood refers to those strange, eerie places that remain the realm of Nature and untamed by man. Ancient gnarled oaks, festooned with ferns and draped with lichen, carry an air of solitude and remoteness that is deeply unnerving - here birdsong and the trickle of running water are the only sounds to break the stillness. It is the Otherworld of the ‘unearthly and potentially dangerous’. It is the realm of Pan and the Wild Hunt. In modern psychology, it refers to the dark inner recesses of the mind, the wild and tangled undergrowth of the unconscious. Here, among the trees, we are never sure that what we see is reality or illusion.
 
Mériém Clay-Egerton described the strange half-light that anyone who walks in the Wild Wood will immediately recognise.
 
I was always glad to go deeper into the apparent gloom because I would be beyond one of the woodland’s outer barriers
 
Although it is impossible to describe the sensations of the Wild Wood, no one who has walked there can remain unchanged by the experience. Nevertheless, even witches are not always welcome in this tree-filled wilderness. Hostile forces can physically bar our entrance into the inner sanctum of the wood, just as Philip Heselton describes in Secret Places of the Goddess. ‘The undergrowth is a thick tangle of briar and bramble, giving the aura of a place ‘set apart for mysterious concealment’. Entwined with these almost impenetrable barriers, are tufts of tall ferns, the seeds of which can be used to cast a witch’s cloak of invisibility. We must learn to heed the signs, however, for Nature does not always allow humans to pass.
 
Nevertheless, Traditional Witchcraft for the Woods and Forests takes us on journeys of discovery through Nature’s own woodland ‘calendar’ and, hopefully will reawaken the dormant senses that coursed through the veins of those witches who lived long ago in these ancient places. In a series of guided meditations and pathworkings, we will learn how to reconnect with the spirit of the landscape and learn to walk softly through the woodlands of both the physical and the astral realms. We will come to understand the gift of Nature’s bounty, and make use of the materials that will ultimately lead to an intimacy with wild things that can only come about through close contact and familiarity.
 
Throughout our long history, forests have been places of shelter, providing food for man and fodder for the animals; the wood for fuel (i.e. warmth and cooking) and for making weapons and other utensils. At the same time they have also been places of fear, where the temperamental Faere Folk, wood sprites and elementals lurked in the dappled shadows.  Even today, few places can rival an English oak wood in early summer for peace and beauty with its carpet of primroses and bluebells. Or the cathedral-like majesty of the autumn beech wood with the sun’s light filtering through the leaves. Or the brooding quiet of the ancient holly wood. Perhaps it is not surprising that our remote ancestors performed their acts of worship in forest clearings and woodland glades, for this is where they came face to face with ‘Nature’ – however they chose to see it.
So come and walk with us awhile … take my hand, child, and I will take you safely through the Wild Wood

 
Traditional Witchcraft for Woods & Forests (A witch’s guide to the woodland with guided meditations and pathworking) is published by Moon Books : ISBN 978 1 84694 803 9 : and Root & Branch: British Magical Tree Lore ISBN 978 1 78697 447 1 published by Ignotus Books are both by Melusine Draco.
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<![CDATA[New book release ...]]>Mon, 28 Jun 2021 07:54:16 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/new-book-releasePicture
Many years ago, I featured a cover picture on my Facebook page, showing dozens of hag-stones washed in sea water, and received a message from someone asking how I managed to create so many without shattering the pebbles! Apparently the sender had been trying for years to make them by drilling the holes in order to sell them online! Wrong … in fact, according to Beachstuff.com cheating by drilling a hole through any old stone you pick up is liable to bring you curses and pestilence and other undesirable occurrences. 
     A hag-stone is an elusive and extremely magical stone tumbled by tides and winds over time to create a naturally forming hole through them. Hag-stones are special because they are rare to find and are also called adder-stones, faerie-stones, Odin-stones, eye-stones or witch-stones. Most are caused by water eroding weakened spots on the stone until a hole occurs, though many are created by wind, erosion, and weathering alone. They can also be formed as a result of the boring of a bivalve mollusk called a ‘piddock,’ whose shells look like angel wings. Or, as a result of smaller stones repeatedly grinding into the stone’s surface caused by weathering or water pressure. Or, more rarely from the deterioration of an embedded crinoid fossil.
     First, however, we need to start with the geological aspects of the hag-stone. These small witch-stones all have naturally formed holes in them but they originally came from the bed-rock of the Earth, having been chipped off by impact, tectonic activity, glacial movement, seismic eruptions and weathering. So the original rocks that make up the small pebbles from which our hag-stones are formed may, in some places, be over 3 billion years old; the actual pebbles are probably only a few thousand years old since it only takes a relatively short time (geologically speaking) for streams and rivers to transport them. 
     As rocks are weathered and otherwise broken up, they go through many stages. Pebbles start off as part of a much larger formation of bed-rock in the ground. A crack formed and water flowed through; later, this chunk was broken off by some natural process and has been worn down, probably by being tumbled in a river, or by waves, until it became fairly round and smooth. Pebbles are very common along the lower boundaries of the last glaciers. The rocks get eroded by ice and water, getting smaller and smaller as they are borne along. Most of these pebbles will be rounded off over hundreds or thousands of years.
     Beach pebbles form gradually over time as the ocean washes over loose rocks; the result is a smooth, rounded appearance with colours ranging from translucent white to black, and including shades of yellow, brown, red and green. Some of the more plentiful pebble beaches are found along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, beginning in the United States and extending down to the tip of South America in Argentina. Other pebble beaches are found in northern Europe (particularly on the beaches of the Norwegian Sea), along the coast of the U.K. and Ireland, on the shores of Australia, and around the islands of Indonesia and Japan – and here hag-stones of all sizes and colours can be plentiful.
     Inland pebbles (pebbles of river rock) are usually found along the shores of large rivers and lakes. These pebbles form as the flowing water washes over rock particles on the bottom and along the shores of the river. The smoothness and colour of river pebbles depends on several factors, such as the composition of the soil of the river banks, the chemical characteristics of the water, and the speed of the current. Because a river current is gentler than pounding ocean waves, river pebbles are not usually as smooth as beach pebbles. The most common colours of river rock are black, grey, green, brown and white and hag-stones tend to be much rarer.
     A large number of hag-stones are made of flint and in some of the old Victorian compilations about superstitions, customs and folklore, they are often described as a ‘flynt stone with hole’. This has led a lot of folk to believe that other types of stones with a hole are not true hag-stones but there is no written rule that says that a piece of limestone or sandstone with a naturally occurring hole does not have the magical properties of a hag-stone. In truth, it is about the essence of each individual stone and its geological properties – but it has to have a hole that has been weathered over a long stretch of time.
     From a magical perspective, hag-stones are generally used as protective amulets to deflect negative energy and their additional properties are governed by the type of stone they are made from. Flint is the most common type found in Western Europe and, as a result, these stones have traditionally been seen as the ‘real’ hag-stones described in the old books. Flint is not tied to any geological period and has been formed ever since the pre-Cambrian period, but almost all flint found in Europe was deposited in the period that we call Cretaceous when the world was a vastly different place.
     In the early Cretaceous age, the continents were in very different positions than they are today. Sections of the supercontinent Pangaea were drifting apart. The Tethys Ocean still separated the northern Laurasia continent from southern Gondwana; the North and South Atlantic were still closed, although by the middle of the period, ocean levels were much higher and most of the landmass we are now familiar with, was underwater. By the end of the period, the continents were much closer to their current configuration. Africa and South America had assumed their distinctive shapes; but India had not yet collided with Asia, and Australia was still part of Antarctica …
 
Flint hag-stones are often created when crinoids fossils deteriorate. The crinoid is an example of a marine animal that left a poorly fossilized image due to its delicate parts ... They are an ancient fossil group that first appeared in the seas of the Middle Cambrian age, about 300 million years before dinosaurs and, since crinoids were not usually buried quickly, their hard stem-parts are far more frequently found as fossils. Crinoids are common fossils in the Silurian rocks of Shropshire; in the Early Carboniferous rocks of Derbyshire and Yorkshire; and in the Jurassic rocks of the Dorset coast and Yorkshire (Robin Hoods Bay).
     Flint is a hard, shiny, almost glassy, stone which is often pointed and flaky rather than smooth and rounded. It is formed from a complex process deriving from animals such as sponges, urchins and other marine animals in the sediments lain down to form the rocks. Because it is hard, and can easily form sharp edges, it was used as first human tools. If you find a flint hag-stone, you have good reason to be absolutely delighted with yourself! If it is flint then it could be the remains of a fossil that has been eroded by wave action; these in their whole state are usually a roughly spherical hollow flint with the inside encrusted with crystals.
     The magical properties are enhanced, depending on the type of rock that the pebble is composed of. Coming originally from mountains where rocks and minerals have been brought up from deep within the Earth’s crust, in many cases deep from within the mantle of the planet’s interior where metals and gemstones are formed. Most gemstones are found in igneous rocks and alluvial gravels, but sedimentary and metamorphic rocks may also contain gem materials. From a geologist’s point of view, however, hag-stones are mainly pebbles of sedimentary rocks that have a naturally occurring hole or holes in them.
     Some of the folklore stories link them to having been created by ‘serpents venom in the centre of the stone’, however, the scientific explanation might be less fascinating! The culprits behind the creation of those holes are, as we have seen, those common piddocks – with specially adapted oval shells that are edged with fine teeth, which they use to excavate burrows in rock. These creatures can bore holes into a rock by locking on with a sucker-like foot and then twisting its shell to drill. Their long oval shells are distinctively wing-shaped, giving piddocks their other common name of ‘angel wings’. Even more magically, during the low tide and in darkness, we may witness a weird bluish-green glow because the animals are bioluminescent.
     Anyone who has ever walked on the beach, especially in southern England, has come across flint. For most people it is not really an especially attractive or beautiful stone, despite the interesting shapes or beautiful colours – but no rock or mineral has had so much influence on human history as flint. This makes it one of the most important, if not the most important rock in human development. Flint is a cryptocrystalline quartz rock, ranging from black to grey and from red to brown – caused by contamination with chalk, iron or organic material. In England (actually across the whole of Europe) we find flint almost always as layers in chalk or limestone: sometimes in narrow bands, sometimes in thicker layers.
     Flint is always a marine deposit – a seawater deposit. Silicon dioxide, the building blocks of quartz, dissolves in water at high temperature (no worries, your quartz crystal really does not dissolve should you decide to wash it in warm water). Seawater normally contains little silica, and silica-containing water is often only seen after volcanic eruptions in the cavities in the solidified lava. That is why quartz geodes form here – but in seawater it has to come from somewhere else. The theory is that the silica from which flint is formed comes from animal remains: microscopically small skeletal particles of micro-organisms in the sea. Of all these animal fossils many have been found in flint. In addition to the organic origin, silica-containing water also enters the sea through groundwater in which silica is dissolved from the soil, and through clay particles that wash into the sea and dissolve in sea water. Flint is very ‘fossiliferous’ anyway and the fossils are often very well preserved: for example sea urchins, shells, ammonites, etc.
     Flint is created on the seabed. Many of these cavities were made by animals that lived in the seabed, such as crustaceans. These critters dug a way through the seabed and in these burrows flint eventually formed. Hence flint concretions can have the most amazing shapes. These petrified burrows are not fossils, after all they are not actual imprints or physical remains from the animal. We call these types of remains ichnofossils, trace fossils. Just like, for example, saurian footsteps or crawling traces of trilobites are ichnofossils. The ‘skin’ of a flint concretion is often white. Sometimes flint can also have beautiful bands. This is the so-called banded flint. In southern England, the colour of the rock sometimes tells where the flint comes from. In the Southeast, the White Cliffs area, the flint ranges from pale gray to black. Further west, towards Dorset, the flint becomes more reddish brown in colour.
     Fossils in flint also plays an historical role. Flint containing a fossil has sometimes been worked in such a way that the fossil had a prominent place in the tool. An example of this is a flint axe with a sea urchin from Homo heidelbergensis, which is 400,000 years old; and a Neanderthal axe from Norfolk with a fossil shell that is 200,000 years old. A recent study also shows that Neanderthals had an eye for the beauty of stone and that they kept exceptionally beautiful pieces of flint.
 
Hagstones by Mélusine Draco is the third title published in the ‘Arcanum series’ for Ignotus Books. Arcanum books will be titles of under 100-pages of practical and/or instructional text on a specific esoteric subject or theme and written by magical practitioners with proven antecedents. Based on the idea of those children’s ‘Ladybird’ books that often introduced us to an interest that lasted a life time and, taking its name from the Coven of the Scales’ foundation course, the aim is to offer further tuition/guidance on specific elements of witch-lore and practice.
 
Coming in at around 25,000 words, each title will be packed with information and instruction rather than puffed out with superfluous wordage and regurgitated text borrowed from other publications. The series will be aimed at those who have attained a certain level of magical competence and who don’t need to be spoon-fed basic instructions for Circle-casting with each volume and are therefore not written with beginners in mind.
 
Hagstones compiled by Melusine Draco for the Arcanum series, published by ignotus press uk : ISBN: 9781803020334 : In paperback and e-book format : Pages: 98 : Published: 23 June 2021: Price £6.68 : Order direct from https://www.feedaread.com/books/HAGSTONES.aspx

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<![CDATA[Keep it Simple ... new book release]]>Sat, 19 Jun 2021 09:18:17 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/keep-it-simple-new-book-releasePicture
Although the Romans introduced many plants into Britain, it was the Emperor Charlemagne who actively encouraged the spread of herbs and spices throughout Europe; decreeing that each city within his empire should have a garden planted with ‘all herbs’. The foreign emperor’s edicts, however, did not reach as far as Britain and during the Dark Ages it was left to the monasteries to preserve and augment the legacy of herbal knowledge abandoned after the fall of Rome.  Fortunately for posterity, at the Dissolution of the Monasteries c.1536, some valuable books and manuscripts on the subject found their way into private libraries.
 
Dr Richard Aspin searched through 17th-century recipe books to find out more about the herbal medicine found in Shakespeare’s plays because locally harvested wild herbs were the foundation of medical practice in England of the time. Some plants were cultivated in kitchen and herb gardens, but they differed little from their wild equivalents. Exotic herbs – that is, plants from overseas – were beginning to play an increasing role in the English pharmacopoeia, but whether native or exotic, ‘Simples’ – ‘those medicinal substances that nature provided without any human intervention’ – still formed the basis of Elizabethan domestic medicine.
 
In Shakespeare’s time there was a London street, named Bucklersbury (near today’s Mansion House), so noted for the number of apothecaries who sold Simples and sweet-smelling herbs that in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Sir John Falstaff describes the dandified fops of his day as ‘Lisping hawthorn buds that smell like Bucklersbury in simple time.’
 
William Fernie also made rare mention of the ‘green men’ [and women] who were first licensed in the Elizabethan Wild Herb Act to gather herbs and roots from wild, uncultivated land – but it was an occupation that had been going strong since the late 14th-century. A new kind of medical herbalist had evolved – the apothecary – who purchased plants collected from the countryside by these wandering herb collectors. In Green Pharmacy, Barbara Griggs records that during the 17th-century herbs could also be bought direct from the herb women in Newgate Market or Covent Garden.  According to Fernie:
 
‘Coming down to the first part of the present [19th] century, we find purveyors of medicinal and savory herbs then wandered over the whole of England in quest of useful Simples as were in constant demand at most houses for the medicine-chest, the store-closet, or the toilet-table.  These rustic practitioners of the healing art were known as ‘green men’, who carried with them their portable apparatus for distilling essences, and for preparing their herbal extracts.  In token of their giving formally officiated in this capacity, there may yet be seen in London and elsewhere about the country, taverns bearing the curious sign of The Green Man & [his] Still
 
The Green Man & Still was a tavern originally situated at 335 Oxford Street, London and was also a coaching inn (a 1792 map shows it at the entrance to a stagecoach yard), the starting point/terminus of several stage coach routes out of London.  Although the original tavern closed and re-located, it retained the Green Man & Still name as late as the early 1920s. Another Green Man & Still is recorded at 161 Whitecross Street, Clerkenwell in 1789 run by one Peter Richardson/ victualler from Sun Fire Office records held at the London Metropolitan Archives. It closed in 2006 and remained empty until it became a coffee shop in 2011. The ‘Green Man’ became a popular name for English pubs in the 17th-century (when the Distiller’s Company Green Man & Still heraldic arms were still in common use), although most inn signs tend to feature the familiar foliated face of church architecture; while the ‘green men’ of Elizabethan times probably merged into the cunning-folk tradition and faded into oblivion.
 
The confusion between the two grew from a simple misunderstanding. Julia Somerset (Lady Raglan) only published one article on folklore in her lifetime, which appeared in the journal Folklore - formerly The Folk-Lore Journal (1883–1889) and The Folk-Lore Record (1878–1882) - and it almost certainly had a more lasting influence than anything written by her folklorist husband. She claimed to have investigated the supposed mythic-ritualistic origins underlying popular cultural motifs, but her focus of study was the foliate head seen everywhere in European medieval church decoration of the eleventh to sixteenth centuries. Before Lady Raglan’s intervention, this figure had been anonymous. She gave him a name: the Green Man.
 
The Green Man largely disappeared during the neo-Classical period and Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, although this time also saw the rise in popularity of the related figure of Jack-in-the-Green at May Day festivities (and rather mysteriously having a particular association with chimney sweeps in the early years). Leaf-covered Green or Wild Men had been appearing in town pageants for centuries, possibly as live representations of the Green Man of church architecture, but the first attested appearance of Jack-in-the-Green was as recent as 1775. Indeed, one might have expected the Green Man to disappear completely in this age of science and rationality, and for a time he seemed to have done just that. But he has never entirely faded away … [The Enigma of the Green Man]
 
 
In Memory, Wisdom & Healing; The History of Domestic Plant Medicine, Gabrielle Hatfield has gathered together material from manuscripts, letters, diaries and personal interviews to produce a detailed picture of the use of domestic remedies in Britain from 1700 to the 21st-century.  And although historians have neglected this captivating subject, her extensive research caused her to make an extremely important observation:
 
‘How far have we misinterpreted the role of the ‘cunning man’ or ‘wise woman’ of the past?  Perhaps many of them were the equivalent of this informant’s aunt: well versed in plant medicines, and therefore able to help family and friends in time of sickness; just this and no more: there may have been no ritual or magic in their home medicines.  This is not to deny the existence of magical and ritualistic practices in medicine. To deny this would be to fly in the face of evidence.  What I am suggesting is that family plant-medicine was relatively free of these elements. Indeed, the use of native plants in self-help medicine in this country may have been the one constant thread in the history of medical practice.  Magical and religious and astrological practices associated with physic waxed and waned in popularity, but the use of ‘simples’ remained constant: a standby for country people in times of illness.’
 
Knowledge was handed down orally and only rarely were written records kept for posterity in rural communities. And, as Gabrielle Hatfield also observes, what few records there are on the subject have usually been written by those with no direct experience of country remedies.
 
‘Such writing tends to treat fragments of information as curios, of a rather quaint nature, to be collected together like a collection of dried butterflies.  This not only removes the information from its context, it also tends to lead to a condescending attitude towards the users of such remedies.  The very word ‘folk’ has come to have a patronizing ring to it, and too often accounts of folk medicine concentrate on the bizarre and fanciful.  Taken out of context, and sometimes even quoted quite wrongly, this has built up a picture of folk medicine as a collection of odd and anachronistic rituals, practiced by the ignorant and superstitious.  In reality, domestic [plant] medicine was a necessary tool for survival … and it is our loss if we dismiss this wisdom too lightly.’
 
Up until the 18th- century, botany and medicine were closely allied but they subsequently drew apart and developed as separate disciplines.  This is not to say that the old herbal remedies disappeared: traditions were kept alive in many rural locations, and in some countries they never fell from use.  In Europe the day-to-day use of herbs remained more widely practiced than it did in Britain. Mrs Maud Grieve, whose famous herbal was published in 1931, did much to promote the renewed interest in herbs in Britain in the 20th century.

 
Witch’s Book of Simples: The simple arte of domestic folk medicine by Melusine Draco will be published by Moon Books 25th March 2022 : Paperback  ISBN 978-1-78904-789-9

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<![CDATA[Talking to Crows: Messengers of the Gods]]>Sat, 29 May 2021 08:34:42 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/talking-to-crows-messengers-of-the-godsPicture
Book News … New release

By Melusine Draco
 
‘Talking to crows’ is said of those who have some presentiment or foresight in Sicilian folk-lore. It is believed that to those who can understand them, these black birds, garrulous creatures they are, communicate the latest news on the doings of human beings, since they have a clear view - a bird’s eye view - of the whole. They have also been around for a lot longer than human beings and, perhaps not surprisingly, long ago developed the reputation of being messengers of the gods in many different cultures across the world.
 
The best way to introduce ourselves to Corvidae is by feeding them. Some may argue that corvids are wild creatures and by feeding them, we encourage an unnatural dependence. With most wildlife, this is an excellent philosophy. But most corvids and humans have been living side-by-side for centuries now, and researchers like Marzluff and Angell (co-authors of In the Company of Crows and Ravens) point to many instances of cultural co-evolution between us. This relationship has been arguably symbiotic for quite a while now. Certainly, after all this time together, our lives and histories have become closely intertwined. They’ve watched people come and go for years; people who may have watched them right back.
 
Don’t try to get too close. These are wild creatures, after all. Our goal shouldn’t be to tame them or make them into pets. Even after years of friendship, a corvid will be skittish and standoffish, and it’s better this way. They are never going to come running for a fuss, and their standoffish attitude is probably a major reason why they have thrived as a species for so long ... but if we’re interested in them, we have to learn to appreciate their charms from afar.
 
Besides, get real, most humans view crows as ominous, murderous evils (or at best, rats with wings). For centuries, crows have played the bad guys in the stories humans tell themselves, and I’m sure those crows have noticed the eye daggers most people shoot at them, how cars veer to the shoulder to intentionally run them over. Why wouldn’t that distrust be mutual from a creature with this level of intelligence? So crows will take their own sweet time deciding if they trust us or not ... but once they know who we are, they’ll never forget. At first, they may give us the cold shoulder and ignore our offerings, but don’t take it personally. Remember that paranoia is all about survival, but patience and vigilance will eventually pay off. If we pass the test, they will decide to trust us. [Joanne Fonté, How To Make Friends With Crows]
 
We can also see how there are various attributes that are associated with all members of the Corvidae family but that there are also subtle differences between each of the species. All are monogamous and loyal, although some are more aggressive than others; all have a highly developed intelligence while others often display anti-social habits. When we begin ‘talking to crows’ we are entering into a mystical dialogue with Otherworld by being sent spiritual messages showing us a symbolic image of a corvid, either a physical bird or the spiritual image of one in the guise of a totem.
 
These messages are words of wisdom and advice, and they can help us to identify talents we are not using, or the negative beliefs and thought patterns that are holding us back. Once these messages are understood and applied to our lives, they can be a valuable source of direction as we progress on our spiritual journeys. Birds reflect a strong symbolism. They encourage us to aim high and realize our goals despite the challenges we might face as we chase those dreams. They can also be a motivation to deepen our spirituality even more because they help us explore our devoutness and push the boundaries. Although some may represent good omens, some, unfortunately, do not. Which is why it is important to know which of the species we encountered before we get in a state with worry – we need to be able to interpret our sightings accurately. [Birds: Divine Messengers, Angela Wansbury]
 
Fossil records suggest that modern birds originated 60 million years ago, after the end of the Cretaceous period about 65 million years ago when dinosaurs died out. And, since prehistoric times, people have probably looked to the heavens for signs; and since birds fly, it makes sense that people would have perceived birds as messengers of divinity. After all, a bird’s-eye-view is significantly more omniscient than any earthbound perspective. Birds know what the world looks like from 30,000 feet high; they have seen the insides of clouds, so looking to birds for perspective makes an odd kind of primitive sense.
 
And, wouldn’t it be convenient if all we had to do to find answers and guidance in life was to walk outside, look up at the sky, and ‘read’ the birds flying overhead, especially if black meant always bad and light or brightly coloured birds always meant good – but of course, nothing is that simplistic. For example: What does it mean if a crow follows us? It doesn’t necessary mean some highly significant or mystical message. It’s more likely that the crow recognizes us for some friendly reason. If a crow follows us, it feels a connection to and/or curiosity in use for some reason. Maybe we fed that crow once before (or we look like someone who did) … because we’ve learned that corvids have the power of recognition for humans.
 
Or if a corvid shows no fear of us, it may be something to pay attention to for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the bird is trying to tell us something. Either it is just the bird’s interest in us (maybe we looked familiar – maybe it is hoping for food), or perhaps it represents someone else’s interest in us – a deceased loved one, an ancestor, or just the universe, trying to connect with is for some reason. See the incident outside the bookshop at the end of Chapter 4.

  • There are two kinds of bird signs: impetrative (sought after, asked for, or requested) and oblative (unasked for; coming out of the blue like a bolt of lightning!). So ask yourself: Is the bird bringing us an unasked-for message from the universe? Or is it answering a question we’ve asked – explicitly or implicitly?
 
  • Seeing a bird is not going to give us a clear answer. It’s no magic 8-ball (a fortune telling gadget shaped like a classic pool eight-ball; filled with water and containing a multi-face dice, with each side featuring the answer to a question – and who thinks those are really magic!?). A bird’s colour doesn’t necessarily make any meaningful difference whatsoever. 
 
  • And the millions of corvids that exist aren’t on the planet simply for the purpose of providing humans with messages from Otherworld because they have a difficult time as it is merely staying alive! We need to establish an affinity with the birds in our immediate vicinity, because there is little point in claiming a raven or chough as our personal totem when we’ve never encountered one in the flesh. Similarly, I rarely see a carrion crow or jay, but the ‘hoodies’ are regular visitors – as are the magpies and rooks – and I talk to them on a regular basis.
 
  • And what better way to affirm this affinity than with a tattoo. A bird tattoo meaning is deep, and primarily stands for freedom, independence, and fearlessness. Some people who choose to get a bird symbol inked on their body tells us something that is individually unique to that person, and his or her experiences. They often relate to one of the following:
 
  • Spirituality, higher understanding or a connection to the being supreme
 
  • Self-sufficiency, self-actualization or the power of self-direction
 
  • To enhance perspectives or capabilities, like agility, lightness, buoyancy, and the ability to rise above adversity.
 
Birds that represent freedom can mean mental autonomy, spiritual self-direction, and independence from the hindrances of physical capabilities or freedom of any other choice.

Let’s be honest … anything can be symbolic if we want it to be and everything in Old Craft is linked in some way to sigils and symbols, allegory and analogy, metonym and metaphor. This is the language of witches.

Members of this large, adaptable family live in habitats ranging from treeless tundras where land is flat to mountain forests. They live in deciduous forests, where trees shed their leaves, and coniferous forests, with cone-bearing evergreen trees. Corvids range in deserts, grassland steppes where there are few trees, and on the edge of rainforests, where heavy rain produces much growth. In addition, they live in cities and small villages. They are always our close companions and who more able to communicate news from Otherworld, should we choose to listen?

​Talking to Crows: Messengers of the Gods
by Melusine Draco is published by Ignotus Press UK as the second in their Arcanum series : ISBN 978 1 83945 968 9 : 104 pages : Price £6.85  Order direct from https://www.feedaread.com/books/TALKING-TO-CROWS-9781839459689.aspx
 
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<![CDATA[LIFE STYLE by Melusine Draco]]>Sat, 15 May 2021 12:31:43 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/life-style-by-melusine-dracoPicture
The (Inner-City) Path was inspired by Chet Raymo’s book of similar title that chronicled his own daily urban walk to work and observing the seasonal changes with a scientist’s curiosity. As often happens, I began thinking ‘what if’ there was a complementary book written from a pagan perspective for when we take to our local urban paths as part of our daily fitness regime or dog walk. And, as if arising from this external creative impulse The Path began to unravel in the mind’s eye … based on several urban walks that have merged together over the years to make a chapbook of the seasons and to offer a glimpse into the pagan mind-set that can ‘find mystery under every leaf and rock along the way’, or caught in the murmur of running water, and to act as a simple guide to achieving a sense of well-being and awareness so that even in the city’s throng we feel the freshness of the streams’ as per Longfellow’s ‘Prelude’ …
 
Summer - the Path of Flowers
Since prehistory, the Summer Solstice has been seen as a significant time of year in many cultures, and has been marked by diverse festivals and rituals. According to the astronomical definition of the seasons, the summer solstice also marks the beginning of summer, which lasts until the Autumnal Equinox (22nd or 23rd September in the Northern Hemisphere, or 20th or 21st March in the Southern Hemisphere). Traditionally, the Summer Solstice is seen as the middle of summer and referred to as ‘Midsummer’. Within the Arctic Circle (for the northern hemisphere) or Antarctic Circle (for the southern hemisphere), there is continuous daylight around the Summer Solstice.
 
The woods of The Path with its scattering of fading bluebells, horsetails and ferns, have a primeval feel about them as spring descends into summer; and when the trees are full of leaf, it is easy to image that we are tramping through Wildwood even though we are never more than a few hundred yards from our village or town. The urban woods along The Path are somewhat unkempt and before the wooded path opens out into the meadow there is a sturdy oak which is exposed to the full force of the westerly winds. The branches on the windward side break the gusts: the trunk and the dark, sturdier branches don’t give an inch, the smaller branches and twigs sway but a little. Then a branch breaks off … Next to the oak is a silver birch that sways
and bends with the force of the summer storm …
Later, we recall the buffeting of the wind and feel so much empathy for the two trees that we can almost experience or perceive what forces were at play. We can feel the resistance and stiffness of the oak, and how futile this resistance is when a branch gets broken off. With the birch, we can feel how it surrenders itself to the wind and how supple and pliable the tree is. We can attribute resistance to an oak and pliability to a birch and if these concepts are correct, then we will be able to recognise them in all the different parts of these trees. We will see it in the leaves (the tough, unbending leaves of the oak and the light rustling leaves of the birch) and the seeds (the heavy acorn with the hard shell, the light birch seeds which carry on the wind) … [Psychology Today]
 
It is the Ash tree, however, that has a host of folklore surrounding it. The ash along with the oak is one of the last trees to come into leaf and according to country lore, the one that comes into leaf first, gives us an indication as to what the weather will be like for the summer: “Ash before the Oak, you can expect a soak, but Oak before the Ash, expect a little splash” The fascination of the ash tree traces its roots to the ancient times. The Druids believed that it had the ability to direct and blend the masculine and feminine energy, using a branch of the ash to make their staffs. The staff then acted as a connection between the realms of the earth and the sky. A staff of ash is hung over door frames for protection as it will ward off evil influences; while ash leaves can be scattered in the four directions to protect the house against negative and psychic attacks - but despite its traditional role in protecting against witches, the ash is also extensively used by them.
 
The ash is often found growing near sacred wells and it has been suggested that there is a connection between the tree and the healing waters of the well (possibly iron contained in the roots and leeching into the well). The tree itself can sometimes supply ‘holy’ water as the bole of the ash often has a hollow in it like a shallow bowl; the water that gathers in this is well known for its healing properties. This could be a good example of a ‘bile’ - a sacred tree. Sailors also believed that if they carved a piece of ash wood into the shape of a solar cross and carried it with them then they would be protected from drowning. A solar cross, consisting of an equilateral cross inside a circle ⊕ is frequently found in the symbolism of prehistoric cultures, particularly during the Neolithic to Bronze Age periods of European prehistory.
 
The oak, birch and ash are common tree along The Path and we should make an effort to recognize and understand the lifecycle of these three sacred trees that are tightly bound into our folk-, country- and Craft-lore. As we leave the woods and step onto The Path that borders the meadow our attention is caught by the plants that adorn the verge of hard-packed earth and stones: daisies, dandelions and filmy cow parsley. Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), grows in sunny to semi-shaded locations in meadows and at the edges of hedgerows and woodland. It is related to other diverse members of the Apiaceae family, such as parsley, carrot, hemlock and hogweed - and often confused with Daucus carota which is known as Queen Anne’s lace or wild carrot and mistaken for several similar-looking poisonous plants, among them poison hemlock and fool’s parsley.
 
From where The Path exits the woods it is only a few minutes before we come to the plank bridge over a brook fringed with forget-me-nots. The plank bridge is one of our favourite places to dawdle with the pond on one side and the brook making its way back into the woods on the other. On one side the water lies dark and deep in a languid pool where dragonflies and nymphs hover over the still surface (perfect for scrying); and from this bridge the slope of the water meadow basks in late summer sunlight and autumn mists since the surrounding ancient woodland was cut back for agricultural reasons. ‘It is widely acknowledged that a landscape of open fields, trees and brooks is what humans consider most beautiful,’ observes Chet Raymo.
 
In the water meadow we can find an olde English favourite: Meadowsweet from the Anglo- Saxon meodu-swete meaning ‘Mead sweetener’. The plant’s herbal uses had a base in scientific
fact; in common with many other folk and herbal remedies, in the 19th century, chemists isolated salicylic acid from meadowsweet to use as a disinfectant that not only made rooms smell better but helped the fight against bacteria. It was one of the three herbs considered sacred by the Druids: the others being vervain and water mint.  Creamy, perennial of damp waysides, meadows, marshes and woods, this tall plant flowers from June to September, and with a heavy fragrance, the flower heads are frequently visited by bees attracted by the heavy scent which can be so evocative of summer days in the countryside. In spite of this fragrance, however, the flowers produce no nectar. Insects, however, don’t realise this but their visits serve to fertilise the plants which are heavy with pollen. A peculiarity of this flower is that the scent of the leaves is quite different from that of the flowers, the leaves having a heavy almond-like aroma whereas the flowers have a strong sweet smell.
 
Meadowsweet was historically known as Bridewort because it was strewn on the ground at hand-fastings for the bride to walk on (wort is an old word that means herb or root) and it was also used in wedding posies and bridal bouquets. Meadowsweet was also spread on the floor in medieval times to provide a nice smell and deter insects. This plant was given to Cúchulainn in liquid form and it was said to calm his fits of rage and outbreaks of fever and it may be for this reason that another name for meadowsweet in Ireland is Cuchulainn’s Belt or Crios Conchulainn. It is also associated with death as the scent of its flowers was said to induce a sleep that was deep and fatal. However, in County Galway it was believed that if a person was wasting away because of faerie influence then putting some meadowsweet under the bed ensured that they would be cured by the morning.
 
All along the water courses most Willow species grow and thrive and this theme is reflected in the legends and magic associated with these trees. The willow muse, called Heliconian (after Helike), was sacred to poets, and the Greek poet Orpheus carried willow branches on his adventures in the Underworld. He was also given a lyre by Apollo, and it is interesting to note that the sound-boxes of harps used to be carved from solid willow wood. The willow is also associated with the fey and the ‘Wind in the Willows’ is said to be the whisperings of a faerie in
the ear of a poet.
 
Willow was often the tree most sought by village wise-women, since it has so many medicinal properties, and eventually its healing and religious qualities became one and the tree became called a ‘witch’s tree’. The willow is associated with enchantment, wishing, romantic love, healing, protection, fertility, death, femininity, divination friendship, joy, love, and peace. Placed in homes, willow branches protect against evil and malign sorcery. Carried, the wood bestows bravery, dexterity, and helps to overcome the fear of death. If we knock on a willow tree (‘knock on wood’) this will avert evil. A willow growing near a home will protect it from danger, while they are also good trees to plant around cemeteries and for lining graves because of its symbolism of death and protection.
 
Willow can also be used in rituals for intuition, knowledge, gentle nurturing, and will elucidate the feminine qualities of both men and women. When a person needs to get something off their chest or to share a secret, if they confess to a Willow, their secret will be trapped. Also, wishes are granted by a willow if they are asked for in the correct manner. Willow leaves, bark and wood add energy to healing magic, and burning a mix of willow bark and sandalwood during the waning moon can help to conjure spirits. Uses of willow in love talismans include using the leaves to attract love. The tree is linked to grief and in the 16th and 17th centuries jilted lover poems were written that included reference to the tree. In Irish folklore it couldn’t be more different as it was called sail ghlann grin or the ‘bright cheerful sallow’. There it was considered
lucky to take a sally-rod with you on a journey and sally withies were placed around a milk churn to ensure good butter. It was believed that the charcoal left behind after burning willow could be crushed and spread on the back of an animal as a way of increasing fertility and even restoring hair.
 
Needless to say, country folk have long been familiar with the healing properties of willow. They made an infusion from the bitter bark as a remedy for colds and fevers, and to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism. Young willow twigs were also chewed to relieve pain. In the early 19th century modern science isolated the active ingredient responsible, salicylic acid, which was also found in the meadowsweet plant.
 
As we follow the brook back through the wood along a different pathway, in the sunlit glades swathes of foxgloves stand tall above the bracken. A well-loved plant, the whole foxglove plant is extremely poisonous, but provides a source of digitalis used by doctors in heart medicine. The foxglove was believed to keep evil at bay if grown in the garden, but it was considered unlucky to bring the blooms inside the house. The name derives from the shape of the flowers resembling
the fingers of a glove – ‘folk’s glove’ meaning belonging to the Faere Folk and folklore tells that a bad faerie gave the flowers to the fox to put on his feet to soften his steps whilst hunting. In Irish folklore it was said that if a child was wasting away then it was under the influence of the faerie (fairy stroke) and foxglove was given to counteract this as it was known to revive people.
One such remedy was the juice of twelve leaves taken daily. It could also work for adults, such a person would be given a drink made from the leaves, if they were not too far gone, they would drink it and get sick but then recover. However, if they were completely under the spell of the faerie then they would refuse to drink. An amulet of foxglove could also cure the urge to keep travelling that resulted when anyone stepped onto the faerie grass, the ‘stray sod’ or fód seachrán. In Ireland it is also believed that the foxglove will nod its head if one of the ‘gentry’ pass by.
 
And it’s not just in the woods and fields that Nature is lush and tropical and green, because as The Path takes us passed the allotments, we can find the lushness reflected in the vegetable plots and gardens. In the overgrown orchard some of the old trees are still capable of producing a good crop after the warm, damp start to the year. With our newly discovered vision we relish the sight of all this bounty that is the result of sore backs and chapped hands during the cold and wet of the seedtime. As harvest approaches, we can appreciate the fruit of their labours by proxy since friendly gardeners often have surplus stocks that they gladly share with their neighbours.
 
Exercise: A Sense of Contemplation
Don’t get carried away by a new-found enthusiasm but commit to contemplate today – and only today. It is not necessary to commit to contemplation tomorrow, or every day for a week, a month, a year because over-commitment is a sure-fire recipe for procrastination. If you have the opportunity for five minutes contemplation today – contemplate today. If you have the opportunity to contemplate tomorrow – contemplate tomorrow. Contemplation is the action of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time. It is not a relaxation exercise or meditation but while it may contribute to us becoming more relaxed, this is simply a side effect. Contemplation is profound thinking about something and here we select something from the natural world where we can sit and stare – for example – at bees on a clover patch, lavender plant or butterfly bush (buddleia).
 
Doctorates in Bioenergetic Medicine and teachers of the ancient Egyptian healing and spiritual tradition, Meredith McCord and Jill Schumacher tell us that in ancient Egypt the humming sound of the bee was said to stimulate the release of super hormones known as the ‘Elixirs of Metamorphosis’, as the sound also resonates the ventricular chambers in the center of the brain, which are filled with cerebrospinal fluid that acts as a cushion for the brain’s cortex, providing basic mechanical and immunological protection to the brain inside the skull. The good doctors claim that the humming sounds of bees also resonate and stimulate various other structures of the brain, including the pineal gland, pituitary gland, the hypothalamus that link the nervous system to the endocrine system, and amygdala, which is responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and
memory.
 
Five minutes contemplation in the company of these small creatures can open up worlds that we would otherwise not bother to think about – and it’s an added incentive to create areas in our garden that are bee-friendly for our own benefit, too. Invest is a couple of bee boxes to encourage queen bees to lay eggs and repopulate your own garden next spring.
 
The Wild Larder
We can also treasure the time spent alone foraging. The repetition of gathering wild food allows the mind to relax – we can’t fret about household chores and work when we’re out there stocking
up our wild larder. The creamy-white flowers of the Elder can be found in woods, hedgerows and waste places and as Richard Mabey writes in Food For Free:
 
…to see the mangy, decaying skeletons of elders in the winter, we would not think the tree was any use to man or beast. Nor would the acrid stench of the young leaves in spring change your opinion. But by the end of June the whole shrub is covered with great sprays of sweet-smelling flowers, for which there are probably more uses than any other single species of blossom…
 
Elderflowers can be eaten fresh from the shrub on a hot summer’s day and have the taste of a frothy ice-cream soda; while the flowers separated from the stalks make a remarkable sparkling wine. Dipped in batter the flower-heads can be deep-fried and served as fritters to end a summer meal. The berries are small and green at first, ripening to deep purple clusters that weigh down the branches. These are made into wine, chutney, jellies and ketchup.
 
Any witch worth her salt, of course, knows that the elder is also known as the ‘poor man’s medicine chest’ due to the wide range of herbal remedies that can be got from the shrub. The flowers are utilised to raise the resistance to respiratory infections, and ointment made from elder flowers is excellent for chilblains and stimulating localised circulation. The flowers are also used in hay fever treatments for their anti-catarrhal properties. Medicinally, both the berries and the flowers encourage fever response and stimulates sweating, which prevents very high temperatures and provides an important channel for detoxification. To cure warts, rub them with a green elder twig which should then be buried. As the wood rots so the wart will disappear.
 
The (Inner city) Path: A Simple Guide to Well-Being and Awareness by Melusine Draco is published in Moon Book’s Pagan Portals series ISBN 978 1 78904 464 5 : 78 pages : UK£6.99/US$10.95 in paperback and e-book format.

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<![CDATA[New book in the ARCANUM series]]>Sun, 09 May 2021 11:25:39 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/new-book-in-the-arcanum-seriesPicture
ARCANUM New release
 
Talking to Crows by Melusine Draco
 
‘Talking to crows’ is said of those who have some presentiment or foresight in Sicilian folk-lore. It is believed that to those who can understand them, these black birds, garrulous creatures they are, communicate the latest news on the doings of human beings, since they have a clear view - a bird’s eye view - of the whole. They have also been around for a lot longer than human beings and, perhaps not surprisingly, long ago developed the reputation of being messengers of the gods in many different cultures across the world.
 
Members of this large, adaptable family live in habitats ranging from treeless tundras where land is flat to mountain forests. They live in deciduous forests, where trees shed their leaves, and coniferous forests, with cone-bearing evergreen trees. Corvids range in deserts, grassland steppes where there are few trees, and on the edge of rainforests, where heavy rain produces much growth. In addition, they live in cities and small villages. They are always our close companions and who more able to communicate news from Otherworld, should we choose to listen?

Talking to Crows by Mélusine Draco is the second title published in the ‘Arcanum series’ for Ignotus Books.  Arcanum books will be titles of under 100-pages of practical and/or instructional text on a specific esoteric subject or theme and written by magical practitioners with proven antecedents. Based on the idea of those children’s ‘Ladybird’ books that often introduced us to an interest that lasted a life time and, taking its name from the Coven of the Scales’ foundation course, the aim is to offer further tuition/guidance on specific elements of witch-lore and practice.

Coming in at under 25,000 words, each title will be packed with information and instruction rather than puffed out with superfluous wordage and regurgitated text borrowed from other publications.  The series will be aimed at those who have attained a certain level of magical competence and who don’t need to be spoon-fed basic instructions for Circle-casting with each volume – and are therefore not written with beginners in mind.
Now in production, Talking to Crows will be available direct from the printer at a special price from the last week in June.  Watch this space …
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<![CDATA[A Beltaine Blessing ...]]>Wed, 28 Apr 2021 09:23:56 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/a-beltaine-blessingPicture
.​The main source of reference for Old English month names comes from the Venerable Bede who recorded the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon month names in his Latin work known as De temporum ratione (De mensibus Anglorum), written in 725AD. This is the only testimony of an Old High German lunar-solar system, with a balancing month being inserted around Midsummer; while Charlemagne recorded agricultural Old High German names for the Julian months. These remained in use, with regional variants and innovations, until the end of the medieval period in German-speaking Europe and persisted in popular or dialectal use into the 19th century. 
 
The Celtic names now in popular use for the Wheel of the Year were only adopted in the 1970s by the neo-Wiccan movement who objected to the traditional Craft use of Church festival names: Candlemas, Roodmas, Lammas, Hallowmas, etc.. But since these festivals were originally pagan and absorbed into early Christian doctrine it meant that people could be open about their faith and use the names in common conversation – thus they passed back into traditional witchcraft and remain another direct link with the Ancestors through continued usage within traditional British Old Craft.
 
Likewise, in Ireland today they openly refer to Beltaine and Samhain as the time of the year in Gaelic and not with any Craft connotations because the Celtic year was simply divided into a bright half and a dark half. As the day was seen as beginning at sunrise, so the year was seen as beginning with the arrival of the bright half of the year starting at Calan Haf/Beltaine  (1st May, in the modern calendar) when cattle were taken out to the summer pastures. The observance of festivals beginning the evening before the festival day is still seen in the celebrations and folkloric practices among pagans, such as the traditions of Beltaine Eve, Midsummer Eve, Lammas Eve, etc.
 
Since ancient methods of recording time passing were based on the agrarian calendars, it stands to reason that most of our traditional festivals are geared towards the farming cycle since witchcraft dates to well before the Industrial Revolution when there were mass migrations from the countryside.  This means thinking outside the box for modern witches when we talk about ‘seed-time and harvest’ since many urban pagans are unable to relate to these everyday country matters.  Nevertheless, as this is the time for new beginnings we can think in terms of our ‘seed time’ as being a metaphorical approach to new ideas, renewed ambitions, and fresh approaches in our career or domestic affairs but the old calendar gives us yet another direct link to the Ancestors.
 
May Day celebrations have always been an excuse for enjoyment and pleasure and the Compass working should reflect light-heartedness and thanksgiving.  Although Roodmas in the Church calendar is a rather sombre affair commemorating the discovery of the ‘true cross’, we suspect it had something to do with replacing the may-pole as the symbol central to the day’s celebrations;
no doubt in order to temper the natural pagan exuberance for the festival.  As we are working in conjunction with the Julian calendar we can use a 17th century poem and conduct a magical cleansing and protection rite for our home. Robert Herrick’s The Old Wives Prayer gives an example of the beliefs and language of the time - and can still be used as a protection spell today:
 
Holy-Rood, come forth and shield
Us i’ the’ city and the field;
Safely guard us now and aye,
From a blast that burns by day,
And those sounds that us affright
In the dead of dampish night;
Drive all hurtful fiends us fro,
By the time the cocks first crow.
 
The community pagan symbol for May Day was, of course, the may-pole, which was found primarily in England, and in areas of the Scottish Lowlands and Wales that came under English influence. The earliest recorded evidence comes from a Welsh poem written by Gryffydd ap Adda ap Dafydd in the mid-14th century, in which he described how people used a tall birch pole at Llanidloes in central Wales; while literary evidence for maypole customs increase in later decades, and ‘by the period 1350-1400 the custom was well established across southern Britain, in town and country and in both Welsh-speaking and English-speaking areas’, according to The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain.  Few of us, we suspect, would be able to obtain a thirty-foot birch tree for the occasion!
 
In some regions, however, a different maypole tradition existed: the carrying of highly decorated sticks with hoops or cross-sticks, or swags attached, covered with flowers, greenery or artificial materials such as crêpe paper.  This tradition is known as garlanding, and was a central feature of May Day celebrations in central and southern England until the mid-19th century and is a more practical adaptation that we can use within our Craft celebrations as a lead-up to Old Beltaine.  It can even be hung on the front door where the Yule wreath will later mark the Mid-Winter festival.
 
Even more traditionally, the Beltaine festival actually fell about halfway between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice and historically marked the beginning of summer when cattle were moved to summer pastures.  Rituals were performed to protect the livestock, crops and people, and to encourage growth; special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were all deemed to have protective powers. The people and their animals would walk around the bonfire or between two bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. All household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltaine bonfire. These gatherings would be accompanied by a feast with some of the food and drink being offered to the Ancestors and the deity of the harvest.
 
With climate change now affecting the seasons, there can be a problem in celebrating Beltaine if the May blossom isn’t in bloom.  Why? Walk past a hedgerow when its coming into bloom and we breathe the spicy, almond-like scent of the flowers which has been prized for centuries by perfumers because hawthorn blossom exudes a heavy musky fragrance with sexual undertones … so it’s not surprising that rural mothers wouldn’t let it in the house … something rarely acknowledged in folklore, but implicit in much of the popular culture of the hawthorn and its associations with witchcraft. This is why in Craft-lore it is deemed important that the festival coincides with the early flowering when the blossoms give out that strangely disturbing but unmistakable perfume.
 
Or as our Principal says: ‘If the hawthorn’s not in bloom it ain’t Beltaine!’
 
Leave it until the flowers are fully open, however, and they begin to give off another unsettling smell – one of death.  Once the hawthorn has become covered with beautiful spring blossoms these can have a most unpleasant odour. With a smell described as that of decomposing flesh, even the bees are reluctant to pollinate the flowers; when animal flesh begins to decompose it forms trimethylamine, a colourless gas with a strong, fishy, ammonia-like odour. Research has found that the hawthorn flowers produce this same chemical. Travelling on air currents to reach pollinators near and far, this odour assures the pollination of the flowers, the setting of fruit and seed production, creating the next generation of hawthorn.
Phillip Wright


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<![CDATA[The Old Lad - a Nameless God]]>Mon, 26 Apr 2021 10:44:03 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/the-old-lad-a-nameless-godPicture

In traditional British Old Craft we echo the thought of the quintessential Japanese swordsman, Mushasi Miyamoto: ‘Respect the gods and buddhas, but never rely on them’.
  • But, who, or what, are the gods of Old Craft witches?
The image we see in our mind’s eye is probably influenced by what we consider to be the epitome of male beauty drawn from the mythology of the different paths and traditions.  And, while the gods had their positive traits, they were no models of perfection because deities of the Old World had a darker side that has become forgotten with antiquity.  In contemporary witchcraft, the god is traditionally seen as the ‘Horned God’ – an archetypal deity with links to the Celtic Cernunnos, English folkloric Herne the Hunter, and the Greek god, Pan.

Arguably the most visually impressive and rather portentous of ancient Celtic gods, Cernunnos is actually the general name given to horned deities and, given the ambiguous scope of the ‘Horned God’ in Celtic mythology, there are no recorded myths and ancient literary sources that directly pertain to the figure of Cernunnos. As such, the term is found only once in the historical context – mentioned on a Roman column dating from circa 1st century AD. There are representations of the Celtic Horned God that predate the Roman Cernunnos, the most well-known depiction of the deity being found on the Gundestrup Cauldron (circa 1st century BC), discovered from Jutland.  Most of these figures and inscriptions represent a human or a half-human with antler crowns, and such historical portrayals, in turn, influenced the modern representations of Cernunnos as the forest deity with his set of elaborate antlers.

The popular imagery of Cernunnos as the Otherworldly horned figure residing within the depths of the forest is arguably inspired by Margaret Murray’s 1931 book, The God of the Witches. Murray, who was a historian, anthropologist and folklorist  – famous for her Witch-Cult theory – surmised that Herne the Hunter, a folk-hero from around the Berkshire region, was a localized aspect of Cernunnos.  He was a phantom hunter who haunts Windsor Great Park, impersonated by Falstaff in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, and though Herne may have been an actual keeper of the forest, he probably became a local manifestation of the Wild Huntsman myth known throughout the world.

If we claim to follow the ancient gods then we must accept them as they were – warts and all – we cannot re-write the script because it offends 21st century sensibilities.  The Old Lad is a roaring, pouncing kind of an individual for whom the notion of sacrifice represented a higher aspect of communion between men and gods; although down through the ages it became more allied to morality until the Roman State-cult introduced the pax deorum – the relation of kindliness between gods and men.  Nevertheless, although an inappropriate sacrifice could give serious religious offence, so strong was the idea of this ancient belief that newly emerging Christianity took the dying god/sacrificial king image to the very heart of their religion! This darker element of the Old Lad was easily identified through ignorance (or deliberate political propaganda) with the biblical satan/devil and indeed the Old Lad might have appeared rather ‘devilish’ to a clergy hell-bent on eradicating pagan beliefs; whilst at the same time incorporating the more powerful imagery of the ancient world’s sacrificial god into their own rites, where we still find that kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood.

In these newly migrating religions and mythologies, anthropomorphism became the perception of a divine being in human form, or the recognition of human qualities in these entities.  In fact, ancient mythologies frequently represented the divine as deities with human forms and qualities. They resembled humans not only in appearance and personality; they exhibited many human behaviors that were used to explain natural phenomena, creation, and historical events. The deities fell in love, married, had children, fought battles, wielded weapons, and rode horses and chariots. They feasted on special foods, and sometimes required sacrifices of food, beverage, and sacred objects to be made as offerings.  Some anthropomorphic deities represented specific human concepts, such as love, war, fertility, beauty, or the seasons; exhibiting human qualities such as beauty, wisdom, and power, and sometimes human weaknesses such as greed, hatred, jealousy, and uncontrollable anger. Greek deities such as Zeus and Apollo often were depicted in human form exhibiting both commendable and despicable human traits.

With all these multi-faceted perceptions of god-head perhaps we should look at the witches’ god as an embodiment of the physical perfection of Apollo Belvedere, superimposed with a DeviantArt image of Pan in all his primordial splendour.  That is, all the grandeur of the Olympian, tempered by the primitive energies of Nature … because Apollo was the Greek god of prophecy and oracles, music, song and healing and with whom Charles Leyland identified his Luciferian-type of character in his 1889 publication of Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. 

‘The individual man makes God after his individual imagination.  We each worship a God of our own.  The warrior-like nature of the Scandinavian gods reflects the characteristics of their worshippers.  In fact it may be said that the development of the religious germ depends, to a great extent, on the nature of the people, on the natural features and geology of the country more than on political surroundings and social habits … Thus, the study of the mythological creed of the inhabitants of any land offers a wide and tempting subject to the inquirer … Yet numerous singular customs exist which must have originated from a religious idea.  The religious aspect of the rites has been gradually obscured, and in some cases finally lost, but the customs have been carried on, almost in stereotyped form, from the days in which they were practiced by the native people.  If these customs be compared with those described in the passages illustrative of rites and observations in ancient Irish MSS, there will probably be discovered for us the entire secret of the religious system of our heathen ancestors.’ [Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland]

The popular image of the Greek god Pan was removed from its classical context in the writings of the Romantics of the 18th century and connected with their ideals of a pastoral England. This, along with the general public’s increasing lack of familiarity of Greek mythology at the time led to the figure of Pan becoming generalised as a ‘Horned God’, and applying connotations to the character, such as benevolence that were not evident in the original Greek myth, which in turn gave rise to the popular acceptance of Murray’s hypothetical Horned God of the Witches.

The duality of the Horned God, however, was firmly entrenched in our folklore and every year at the Winter and Summer Solstices, these two fought for dominance. In actuality, they were two parts of the same thing: the waxing and waning of the yearly cycles of the Earth. The Holly King rules the waning year, from Midsummer to Yule, and the Oak King rules the waxing year from Yule to Midsummer. The Holly King represents darkness, decay and destruction -but also represents inner knowledge and Mysteries. The Oak King, on the other hand, represents light, growth and expansion. These two mighty kings fight a symbolic battle to win the Crown of the year – at Yule when the Oak King wins, and at Midsummer when the Holly King wins.

In some of the legends, the dates of these events are shifted and the battle takes place at the Equinoxes, so that the Oak King is at his strongest during Midsummer, and the Holly King is dominant during Yule. From a folkloric and agricultural standpoint, this interpretation seems to make more sense.  In some traditions, the Oak King and the Holly King are seen as dual aspects of the Horned God with each of these twin aspects ruling for half the year; battling for the favour of the Goddess, and then retiring to nurse his wounds for the next six months, until it is time for him to reign once more.

Both Robert Graves and Sir James George Frazer wrote about this battle. Graves said in his work The White Goddess that the conflict between the Oak and Holly Kings echoes that of a For instance, the fights between Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and between Lugh and Balor in Celtic legend, are similar in type, in which one figure must die for the other to triumph.  Frazer wrote, in The Golden Bough,  of the killing of the King of the Wood, or the tree spirit. He went on to say that as long as the King could maintain his position, it might be inferred that he was in power; the eventual defeat indicated that his strength was beginning to fail, and it was time for someone newer, younger, and more vigorous to take over. Ultimately, while these two beings do battle all year long, they are two essential parts of a whole. Despite being rivals, without one, the other would no longer exist. 

In truth, the dark tide first begins to stir at Lammas, the time of fruition and harvest when the crops are gathered and fruits begin to ripen. Under the new style calendar, Lammas would be celebrated on 1st August; in the Elder Faith where we still follow the old calendar, we would perform the Lammas Rite on 12th August. When we’re heading towards the Autumnal Equinox, when the two tides of summer/winter, bright/dark, god/goddess stand equally opposed so – the bright tide will start to wane, the dark aspect ever increasing – and traditionally Lammas was essentially a male-oriented ritual. Within the Coven the goddess-imagery now fades into the back ground until the fires of Candlemas and the Vernal Equinox call her forth once again; with a shared celebration of fresh bread and wine/beer she takes her leave and future Coven rites reflect the god’s growing power in the form of the Magister.

Incidentally, Brân is one of the few truly old Pretannic gods who can trace his ancestry to pre-Celtic times, and is usually referred to as the ‘Brân Blessed’ or Brân Fendigaidd in Welsh, which literally means ‘blessed crow or raven’. He was a legendary, pre-Arthurian, King of Britain and a fearless warrior; a popular figure in the bardic traditions he was well-known in Welsh mythology during the Iron Age. Legend describes him as a giant of semi-divine heritage who possessed supernatural strength and abilities since his father was Llŷr, the god of the sea; he was also brother to Brânwen, of whom he was fiercely protective – playing his most significant role in the MabinogiBranwen ferch Llŷr. A patron of poetry and music, Brân was hailed as the embodiment of sovereignty, eventually being venerated as a god, a folk-hero and a powerful king among the numerous tribes of Britain where he was associated with ravens as a god of prophecy.

Today we rarely encounter Brân outside traditional Welsh literature, but he deserves his place among those who follow the Old Ways as a symbol of faith and honour and possibly Britain’s greatest warrior. And yet there are elements of his story that have been preserved in traditional witchcraft – including the significance of the cauldron, the holiness of the alder and the recognition of ravens as messengers. Kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood. It can even be said that elements of Brân can be metamorphosed into the Old Lad if that’s how we choose to see him and celebrate his feast day at the Autumn Equinox.

Also in English folklore, John Barleycorn is a character who represents the crop of barley harvested each autumn. Equally as important, he symbolizes the wonderful drinks which can be made from barley – beer and whisky – and their effects. In the traditional folksong, the character of John Barleycorn endures all kinds of indignities, most of which correspond to the cyclic nature of planting, growing, harvesting, and then death. It has all the symbolism of the dying god/sacrificial king that is at the heart of all witchcraft and ancient pagan tradition. Versions of the folk-song date back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, but there is evidence that it was sung for many years before that and, although most of us no longer work on the land, the power of this extraordinary and ancient song remains undiminished.

The first tide of destruction and winter comes with Hallowe’en, the Feast of the Dead and the first day of the witch’s year with the dark tide of the Holly King and Lord of Misrule reaching its high point at the Mid-Winter Festival – the Winter Solstice. The first stirrings of the dark tide are felt at Lammas, the time of fruition and harvest when the crops are gathered in and fruits begin to ripen. At the Autumnal Equinox the tides are once again equally opposed with the bright tide waning and the dark increasing. At Mid-Winter the tide of darkness is at its height and so the cycle continues …

The darkening of the year is the realm of the Old Lad until Candlemas heralds the end of the Holly King’s reign, which once again explains why we Old Crafters synchronise our rituals to coincide with the Old Julian calendar that links us directly to the power of the Ancestors when kindred calls to kindred, and blood calls to blood. Here, darkness is the natural opposite of light, when our world is divided between winter and summer, but wintertime is not considered evil or bad – it is merely the world held in balance until the sun begins its return at the Mid-Winter Festival that marks the Winter Solstice with fire and rejoicing.  It is during this time we call upon the Old Lad for protection and guidance through the long, dark days of winter, and just as he watches over his consort as she sleeps, so we make the propitiatory offerings to appease him through ritual acts, attitude, or gifts. Our pre-Celtic ancestors worshiped the forces of nature and did not envisage deities in anthropomorphic forms – unlike modern paganism with its eclectic pantheons. Our gods are faceless and nameless but s/he is no less powerful for all their anonymity; votive offerings were made throughout the landscape in areas of the natural world that were held to be sacred, namely in groves of trees, rocky outcrops, river crossings, lakes and springs.

The Ancestors act as Coven guardians and also channel the god-power in a two-way conduit, for it would be too hazardous to allow a direct current to pass between supplicant and benefactor. This shield can also act as a safety-barrier for any deific displeasure we may inadvertently attract by behaving inappropriately, i.e. ignoring or disobeying the rules. It guards us from infiltration by outsiders who would join our ranks in order to acquire secret information or cause damage. And, it warns when our own are wavering and likely to fall prey to indiscretion and flattery. It also means that once we are permanently linked to this power, we don’t even have to think about it in order to tap into it. This is what it means to be an Old Craft witch

Needless to say, it may take many years of practice until this conduit becomes automatically open for us but ancient cultures understood that we live in a vast ‘sea’ of cosmic energy. They taught that everything animate and inanimate has consciousness and channels this energy, according to its individual capabilities, to help facilitate this essential universal dialogue. Ancestral communication is the highest form of spiritual channelling that comes from a strong, deep and pure connection with the Ancestors themselves and, through the Ancestors, with the Divine.

At the Mid-Winter Festival we pay homage to the Old Lad in his ‘coat of many colours’ – as protector of the Old Lass and his Consort; as Dark Lord of the Forest and God of the Witches; as the Holly King; as Lord of the Revels in the guise of his surrogate, the Lord of Misrule; as the Unconquered Sun; as psychopomp, the guide of souls to the place of the dead; and as Master of the Wild Hunt.  This multi-faceted god is an element that contemporary paganism wishes to suppress and the one that we, of Old Craft, exalt above all others.  The Old Lad is a primal god from the days when the world was young and deity was sacrificed in order that his followers should survive.

February then, is traditionally a gloomy time, but magically it’s a time when the natural tides are on the move again. 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. 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. But, as Melusine Draco explains in Seeking the Primal Goddess, generally speaking, Old Craft witches prefer not to associate their 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. Once again, Fire is the most important aspect of this celebration because it symbolizes bringing the light of the Old Lass back to the world and the start of the Old Lad beginning to relinquish his power.

We also need to look back into the distant past for those animals most likely to have been associated with the Horned God.  For example:

Connamara Stag
It is 10,000 years since the last giant Irish Elk with its 10-foot wide antlers grazed in Ireland’s deep forests. And though the noble beast is long extinct, naturalists have long been puzzled as to how, and why, it grew such magnificent headgear. Now a strange tale from the heart of Connemara has provided experts with an intriguing clue. Red stags introduced to the west of Ireland some years ago by the owner of a large estate with an interest in wildlife have astonished experts by growing to an immense size and producing magnificent antlers.
Ten years ago, Nikolai Burkart, a German industrialist, released 16 young red deer at Screebe, his Connemara estate. His aim was to reintroduce a species that had been present for centuries in this country, until the last few were shot during the famine 150 years ago.  But Mr Burkart was surprised the deer have grown to such splendid proportions – towering over the red deer of the Scottish Highlands. Connemara’s stags are in a different league: a good Highland stag carcass weighs about 16 stone. The red deer of Connemara weigh twice that, at least.
Experts suggest a number of factors for such phenomenal growth. Firstly the animals are descended from top-class stock via Co Wicklow with their ancestors, in turn, derived from the herd in Warnham Park, in Surrey in England.  The second reason which may offer an intriguing insight into ancient times is the environment. What appears to be hostile terrain in Connemara has underlying limestone which is taken up in the vegetation. That helps build bone and antler.
A third factor is the good feeding in the unfenced conifer woodlands owned by Coillte, the state forestry organisation. Analysis of droppings, carried out by biologists from NUI Galway has shown that the deer have become predominantly browsers rather than grazers. Some 80 per cent of their food consists of bramble leaves, heather, willow shoots, and just 20 per cent is grass. Luckily, they do practically no damage to the trees.
The giant Irish Elk maintained its enormous antlers despite the privations of the last Ice Age, when it might have been expected that they would have reduced due to food scarcity. Research carried out some years ago by University College London found that these so-called ‘luxury’ organs – the antlers – remained impressively large.  Their present-day descendants in Connemara spent the first four months in an enclosure, but since then they have never been confined and are truly wild.
  • So when we look at a stag as representing the Horned God, we need to look towards the magnificent creatures of Connemara before we can say: ‘That’s a god!
Aurochs
The aurochs, which ranged throughout much of Euasia and Northern Africa during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, is the wild ancestor of modern cattle. Historical descriptions, like Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico or 17th-century biologist, Anton Schneeberger, tell that aurochs were swift and fast, and could be very aggressive. According to these sources, aurochs were not concerned when a man approached, but when teased or hunted, an aurochs could get very aggressive and dangerous, and throw the teasing person into the air, as he described in a 1602 letter to Gesner.
The aurochs was an important game animal appearing in both Paleolithic European and Mesopotamian cave paintings, such as those found at Lascaux and Livernonat in France. When the aurochs became rarer, hunting it became a privilege of the nobility and a sign of a high social status. With the aurochs immobilized, the curly hair on the forehead was cut from the living animal. Belts were made out of this hair and were believed to increase the fertility of women. When the aurochs was slaughtered, a cross-like bone (os cardis) was extracted from the heart. This bone, which is also present in domesticated cattle, contributed to the mystique of the animal and magical powers have been attributed to it. A 1999 archaeological dig in Peterborough, England, uncovered the skull of an aurochs. The front part of the skull had been removed, but the horns remained attached. The supposition is that the killing of the aurochs in this instance was a sacrificial act.
Also during antiquity, the aurochs was regarded as an animal of cultural value. Aurochs are depicted on the Ishtar Gate, while aurochs figurines were made by the Maykop culture in Western Caucasus. In the Peloponnese there is a 15th-century BC depiction on the so-called ‘violent cup of Vaphio’, of hunters trying to capture with nets three wild bulls being probably aurochs, in a possibly Cretan date-palm stand. One of the bulls throws a hunter to the ground while attacking the second with its horns. Despite an earlier perception that the cup was Minoan, it seems to be Mycenaean Greeks and Paenians hunted aurochs (wild oxen/bulls) and used their huge horns as trophies, cups for wine, and offerings to the gods and heroes.
Starting around 2007, the Dutch-based Tauros Programme tried to DNA-sequence breeds of primitive cattle to find gene-sequences that match those found in ‘ancient DNA’ from aurochs samples. The modern cattle would be selectively bred to try to produce the aurochs-type genes in a single animal.  The breeds which are used for crossbreeding mostly stem from the Iberian Peninsular and Italy. For example, these are Sayaguesa, cattle, Pajuna cattle, Italian Podolica and Maremmana primitivo. Although claimed to be genetically close to the aurochs, the Lidia breed of Spanish fighting bull was not used for the project due to its aggressive behaviour!
  • With its reputation for untamability and uncertain temperament, surely the aurochs with its noble history is another candidate for divine association?
Sheep and goats
Certain species of sheep and goats with spiral horns like a helmet have, in antiquity, been elevated to the level of divinity.  The ‘Goat of Mendes of the Egyptians was, in fact a ram!
The chief deity of Mendes was Banebdjedet (lit. Ba of the Lord of Djedet), and described by Herodotus in his Histories as being represented with the head and fleece of a goat: ‘…whereas anyone with a sanctuary of Mendes, or who comes from the province of Mendes, will have nothing to do with [sacrificing] goats, but uses sheep as his sacrificial animals…’
Demonologists in more modern times often imagined Satan as manifesting himself as a goat or satyr, because goats had a reputation for lustful behavior and were used in the iconography of pre-Christian gods like Pan and the ‘Goat of Mendes’. The occultist Eliphas Levi in his Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (1855) drew an image of the fictitious medieval idol Baphomet that conflated it with the goat of Mendes and the imagery of the Satanic satyr. The image of the satyr-like Baphomet and its supposed connection with Mendes has since been repeated by numerous occult writers.
In reality, regardless of an individual ram’s behavior, it is important to remember that all rams are aggressive, or have the potential to be aggressive, even if they appear ‘friendly’. Hand-reared ram-lambs may seem more docile and friendlier, but in fact they are the most dangerous since they have no fear of the shepherd. Animals that have a great deal of human contact and interaction can lose their fear of humans and can become very aggressive.
While sheep are generally docile, non-aggressive creatures, this is not necessarily the case with rams (intact males), especially during the breeding season (rut). Rams can be very aggressive and have been known to cause serious injuries, even death, to people. A ram should never be trusted, even if it is friendly or was raised as a pet; it is important to always know where the ram is and to never turn your back on him.
Goats, however, are more aggressive and inquisitive than sheep and tend to demonstrate dominance within a social grouping more than sheep. Goats display their dominance by lowering the head and pointing their horns at the subordinate animal. Although attacks against humans are few and far between, mountain goats are among the most aggressive toward their own species. When individuals are grouped together, they display, charge, and engage in mini-duels four or five times per hour. Females are typically more aggressive than males.
These animals also have an element of weirdness due to the shape of their eyes, which are horizontal – not circular like ours, or vertical like a cat’s. A broad line of sight, aided by wide, rectangular-shaped pupils, allows them to see danger approaching from their peripheral vision.  The shape of the animal’s pupil, it turns out, is closely related to the animal’s size and whether it’s a predator or prey.
  • The bounteous Pan, the god of rural scenery, shepherdi, and huntsmen,’ as the poet Milton calls him, is the Greek god of woods and fields. Originally a pastoral god from Arcadia and depicted as a wild deity with the horns and hooves of a goat, Pan was believed to dwell in the mountains and forests of ancient Greece.  Pan’s image has undergone a wide range of representation and, by Roman times, he came to be regarded as the representative of paganism and the personification of all nature.
For all that contemporary paganism declares itself on familiar terms with the divine, we have to consider that our Nameless God, may truly be a deus otiosus – one who, after completing the creation, withdrew into heaven and abandoned the government of the world to the humans.  The Ancestors are subordinate to him and act as mediators between him and the human race who are slowly destroying the planet; all the evidence is there to suggest that he no longer wishes to listen. This type of divinity, who is only willing to intervene directly in times of great need – such as drought, pestilence, or war – can be found primarily where worship has become disenfranchised from the all-inclusive earth deity, or where individual ‘earth spirits’ or minor deities obscure everything else.  

Or … no longer believing in the god’s Omnipotence – which regards him as having supreme power and able to do what he wants. Meaning he is not subject to physical limitations like mankind is. Being omnipotent, god has power over wind, water, gravity, physics, etc. and a power that is infinite, or limitless.
Or … Omniscience means all-knowing. God is all all-knowing in the sense that he is aware of the past, present, and future. Nothing takes him by surprise. His knowledge is total. He knows all that there is to know and all that can be known.

Or … Omnipresence meaning all-present. This term means that God is capable of being everywhere at the same time. It means his divine presence encompasses the whole of the universe. There is no location where he does not inhabit. This should not be confused with pantheism, which suggests that God is synonymous with the universe itself; instead, omnipresence indicates that God is distinct from the universe, but inhabits the entirety of it. He is everywhere at once

Or … Omnibenevolence – the belief that God is all good. Many theologians (for example) regard these attributes as essential to a god’s nature. In other words, if a deity did not have these characteristics, he wouldn’t be god. For example, for god to be god, he would need to have supreme power (omnipotence); if he was not omnipotent, he wouldn’t be qualified to be a god.

In reality, in primitive traditions there is a Supreme God, the Great and Almighty God, who was too distant to be of practical importance in daily life and so not worshipped directly.  But there were numerous other spirits, entities and agents which acted as intermediaries on behalf of humankind. In traditional British Old Craft, the Ancestors are worshipped directly because they do have direct influence over earthly affairs.

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<![CDATA[THE OLD LASS - A FACELESS GODDESS]]>Sat, 24 Apr 2021 11:08:50 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/the-old-lass-a-faceless-goddessPicture
by Melusine Draco
 
‘The important position ascribed to goddesses in the Elder Faith is very noticeable, and was doubtless owing, at least in part, to the associations of maternity and the train of thought following therefrom’, wrote William Wood-Martin.
 
‘Gods and goddesses were regarded as semi-spiritual beings, and as the origin, as well as the guardians or rulers of the tribe.  At this stage the god or goddess and the worshippers formed a natural unity bound up with the district they occupied.  The dissolution of the tribe destroyed the tribal religion, and destroyed the tribal deity; the god or goddess could no more exist without its tribe than the tribe without its deity.  Nevertheless, Elder Faith deities were not inanimate, obscure imports and there is little doubt but that many of them, under ancient Gaulish names, may be recognized in the old legends.  Many of the old Celtic gods-goddesses of Gaul, of Britain, and of Ireland appear to have been the nature-gods of the primitive Aryan family although of differing British and Gaulish prototypes.’  [Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland, vol 2]
 
‘Many singular customs of the peasantry are but faint reflected lights of the old past, for, although the Christian missionaries did their utmost, according to their light, to stamp out paganism, there remained in the hearts of the people a deeply rooted fondness for the form of worship in which they had been brought up.  It was the religion of their forefathers and despite the popular ideas of the rapid conversion of the islands to Christianity, yet in almost every district there must have remained some few who clung with tenacity to the old tenets, and handed them down from generation to generation in a more or less mutilated form.  To the present day very distinct traces of paganism may be found in the practices attributed to wise women and witches.  In these superstitions and observations of the peasantry are enshrined strange fragmentary relics of earlier creeds but their remote antiquity and now but half decipherable implications are, in general, passed unnoticed. [Traces of the Elder Faiths of Ireland, vol 1]
 
At the festival of old Imbolc – transposed into the Church calendar as Candlemas - a Christian holiday celebrating three occasions - the presentation of the child Jesus; Jesus’ first entry into the temple; and the Virgin Mary’s purification (mainly in Catholic churches). At Candlemas, many Christians (especially Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, Orthodox and Roman Catholics) also brought their candles to their local church, where they were blessed and then used for the rest of the year.
 
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 Christian feast-day commemorates the ceremony performed by the mother of Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem forty days after the birth of Christ in fulfillment of the Mosaic Law requiring the cleansing of a woman from the ritual impurity incurred at childbirth.  The convenience of having yet another pagan festival falling within the ‘nativity cycle’ meant that Brigid became a Catholic saint and her feast-day incorporated into the Church calendar! In the early calendar, on that morning, many candles were lit in the churches, symbolically driving out the darkness. In the afternoon, there was feasting all around, with much music as Candlemas Day (2nd February) marked the formal end of winter. 
 
In the pagan Celtic world it was 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.  Also called Là Fhèill Brìghde, it corresponds to the Welsh Gŵyl Fair y Canhwyllau as a traditional festival marking the beginning of spring; it was widely observed throughout IrelandScotland and the Isle of Man and, for Christians, especially in Ireland, it became the feast day of Saint Brigid. Local festivals marking the arrival of the first signs of spring may be named after either the Cailleach or Brìghde, while some interpretations have them as two faces of the same goddess.
 
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. As a result, people are generally relieved if Là Fhèill Brìghde is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is still asleep, will soon run out of firewood, and therefore winter is almost over. The Cailleach is a divine hag, a creatorix, weather and ancestor deity while Brigid is a sort of Celtic Athena, with very similar functions. Although most often presented as a mysteriously veiled, ancient woman, the Cailleach is also said to take on the guise of many different beasts and birds as she travels around the rugged landscapes of her homeland.  The Cailleach Béara is said to be one of the most ancient of mythological beings, appearing as an old crone who brings winter with her when she appears and who wields incredible power over life and death.  Her ability to control the weather and the seasons meant many communities looked on the Cailleach with a mixture of reverence and fear.
 
From Candlemas, the Earth and Coven practice is given over to the Old Lass – when all things in Nature are seeding and growing.  It is the time when the Old Lad is resting and when we might hear those Pan-pipings, or the sound of the lyre-strings rippling through the reeds and grasses.  It was said that if you fell asleep beneath a willow tree, the sound of the wind in its leaves could inspire, and that ‘wind in the willows’ referred to the elves whispering among themselves in willows as humans walked underneath.  The Old Lass oversees her world until Lammas when the dark tide begins to turn and the Old Lad prepares to take centre stage again - and the Coven rituals begin to reflect his presence.
 
Because humankind has always had a tendency to see images of its gods in his own likeness, we have come to see pagan deities very much cast in 20th century form.  Ironically in giving ‘goddess-energy’ the cartoon image of a warrior-princess or a member of the pre-Raphaelite sisterhood, the true mystery of ancient witchcraft has been lost in favor of fantasy creations.  Just as Christianity pinched the Egyptian Isis-Horus concept and promoted the Madonna and Child as a popular image, so modern paganism often adopts a similar approach to the Mother-Goddess in order to give this new religion ‘people appeal’.
 
For the purposes of Old Craft techniques, however, it is important to accept the energies associated with these archaic male-female aspects of magic and not transpose the concept of the loving, caring Great-Mother-Goddess of Wicca-Christianity into Old Craft working.  The female-goddess energy within Nature is just as ‘red in tooth and claw’ as male-god energy; both are equally as merciless as the other.  It is also important to understand that this energy (whether male or female) is neither malevolent nor benevolent, it is merely ‘there’ waiting to be harnessed for use in magic rites.  It also means that any goddess-invocation can be fraught with danger and uncertainty.
 
Although not a religion, this is a belief – a belief in one’s own abilities and in the ‘Power’ that fuels the universe; and a faith – faith in one’s self and in that ‘Power’. This is not generally seen as gender specific but in truth, the Elder Faith does lean towards the male aspect since the female remains veiled and a mystery.  In other words, the ‘God’ is the public face of traditional British Old Craft while the ‘Goddess’ remains in the shadows, revered and shielded by her protector.  Not because she is some shy and defenseless creature, but because face to face she would be too terrible to look upon!  Or as the scientist who discovered the deadly Marburg filovirus observed when he saw the virus particles: ‘They were white cobras tangled among themselves, like the hair of Medusa.  They were the face of Nature herself, the obscene goddess revealed naked … breathtakingly beautiful.’  The secrets of the Elder Faith come from the understanding of these things …
 
We also accept that the physical worldly embodiment of the goddess - Mother Nature - is neither caring nor motherly and when she wants to cut up rough – she will, without a thought for anything, or anyone.   In the guise of ‘The Goddess’ she is usually seen as spending her days caring for her many children who inhabit and shape the landscape – often portrayed in trailing garments composed of lush plants, colourful flowers, and sinuous woody shapes. In most depictions she is meditative, embodying the spirit of the mythological ‘mother’ in Nature. Firmly entering the zeitgeist as a figure akin to that aforementioned synergetic composite of Burne-Jones in the later stages of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Guinevere of Arthurian romance, and Daenerys Stormborn from Game of Thrones – reflecting the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of the era.
 
Over previous decades, however, the archaeo-mythological work of Professor Marija Gimbutas was revealing a far more primal approach to discovering the persona of this ‘hidden’ goddess of Old Europe.  Not unexpectedly, her theories have been dismissed by many of her fellow archaeologists but like Carl Jung and Margaret Murray, whose work has also suffered similar professional scorn, there are elements that ‘speak’ to authentic witches on a more subliminal level. As writer Allen Bennett once observed it’s that moment in reading when you come across something … ‘a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.’ It was as if, on discovering the writings of Marija Gimbutas, the tectonic plates of archaeo-mythologica (Old Europe) and esoteria (Old Craft) collided – and made complete sense of the way we viewed this ‘hidden’ Primal Goddess within our own Tradition.
 
We also found ourselves asking, but where exactly was this ‘Old European’ culture located?  Between c7000 and c3500BC the inhabitants of this region developed a much more complex social organisation than their western and northern neighbours. In the Goddesses & Gods of Old Europe, this area is designated as extending from the Aegean and Adriatic, including the islands of Sicily and Crete, as far north as Czechoslovakia, southern Poland, the western Ukraine and parts of Anatolia.  Suggesting that the earliest possible representations were those prehistoric ‘Venus’ figurines found from across Western Europe to Siberia – all sharing the same characteristics of pendulous breasts, sagging stomachs and huge buttocks; but more importantly the heads are small and featureless, i.e., without identity.
 
Some of the earliest mythical stories pay tribute to an ancient Mother-Goddess whose fertility and abundance give nourishment to a culture. Whether a life-giving goddess like Mesopotamian Ishtar, or a physically ample prehistoric female Venus of Willendorf, these sacred women were recognized for their powers of creation and survival. Portrayals of these goddesses typically show them as well-endowed, rotund, healthy, with an emphasis on their gender traits.
 
  • Venus of Willendorf – She symbolizes the nurturing and support that mother-hood creates. She is fat, showing her abundant life-energy. This sculpture of a so-called Venus – because of her exaggerated breasts and hips – was probably used as a fertility fetish. Fertility and hunting were essential components of survival during the nomadic, Paleolithic era … and she’s become quite an icon in modern age – even being recreated in colossal scale out of metal for a shopping Mall in Latvia!
 
  • Venus of Lespugue is a famous prehistoric female nude found near Lespugue which also shows an exaggerated female body. Made from reindeer horn, the form is different from the Willendorf example as it is more abstracted as a series of rounded balloon or grape type forms. Both though emphasis her female shape and de-emphasize her arms as they rest as thin shapes across her breasts.
 
In reality, almost all Neolithic goddesses are composite images with an accumulation of traits from the pre-agricultural and agrarian eras. Those ‘buxom wenches’ with their massive thighs, breasts and buttocks that suggest a prehistoric society weaned on junk food, or suffering from a thyroid dysfunction were only one aspect of the goddess. In other sculptures of the time we see lithe, elegant figures of the Cycladic and Stargazer imagery, and the mysterious female hands of the Paleothithic cave paintings.
 
Here we have multiple engraved and painted images of female sexual organs, animals and geometric figures discovered in southern France that are believed to be the first known wall art, created some 37,000 years ago.  Since this site, Abri Castanet in southern France, is very close to Chauvet, it is likely that the artists in both cases came from what is known as the Aurignacian culture, which existed until about 28,000 years ago. Additional Aurignacian artwork, however, clearly represents female sexual organs. The Venus of Hohle Fels, for example, is an ivory figurine dating to at least 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, according to Nicholas Conard, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Tubingen who reported the find. The figurine, found in a southwestern cave in Germany, depicts a woman with what Conard described as ‘large projecting breasts’ and a pronounced vulva and labia majora visible between the woman’s open legs.
 
Another surprising revelation is that much of the cave art dating back to the Paleolithic indicates much of it was done by women, not men as is commonly believed. Anthropologist, Dean Snow has been studying ancient handprints in caves at the behest of National Geographic for nearly a decade. It began, he says, after reading about work done by geologist John Manning – he’d found that average finger lengths in people vary by gender. Men tend to have longer ring fingers than index fingers for example, while the opposite is true for women. Some time later, he reports, he was looking at pictures of cave art and noticed that the fingers on the hands appeared to conform to Manning’s description of female hands. That set him off on a voyage of discovery.
 
He began looking at cave art in a new way, and noted that differences between gender finger length in Paleolithic people was more pronounced than it is in modern humans who have more overlap.  The cave art under review is early examples of hand stencils, where the person making them placed their hand against a wall then blew paint at it (through a straw or directly from their mouth) to create an outline.  Up until recently most scientists have assumed cave art was most likely done by men - the depictions of women and animals being hunted seemed to sum up the life of hunters, the male half of a hunter-gatherer society. That idea has slowly been changing as archeologists have begun to take a closer look. Biologist Dale Guthrie, for example, conducted a study of the hand art and concluded that they were most likely made by adolescent boys. Snow theorized that if women were doing most of the cave art, it was possible they played a larger, more important role in how hunter-gatherer societies functioned than has been thought.
 
It is obvious from earliest times that lots of things were changing when it came to shaping the forms of history.  Images of the Nile Goddess are from the earliest period in Egyptian history before the time of the Pharaohs, called the Predynasitc Period (c.3500-3400 BC). This Egyptian fertility goddess raises her arms upward gesturing to the sky as perhaps part of a ritual. She has a bird-shaped face, narrow waist, small breasts, and elongated arms with rounded hand ends. Originating in a different country than the other European fertility goddesses, this Egyptian statue displays a dramatically different female body. She has a spherical shape from her hips down without definitive legs or feet. Her breasts are more size appropriate for her figure. Yet, her face is not human, nor are her arms, more closely aligning her with the spirit and powers of a bird.
 
During the period between 3200 and 2000 BC, the small Cycladic islands in the Aegean became home to a flourishing pre-Greek culture, with the most prominent craft being stone-cutting, especially marble sculpture. The abundance of high quality, white marble on the islands, encouraged its wide use for the creation of a wide range of artifacts. Among these, Cycladic statues were the most distinctive because of the great numbers in which they are found, and the significance they held for their owners.  The majority of Cycladic figurines show women, nude with the arms folded over the belly and the long feet, soles slopping downwards. We do not know whether they were meant to show mortals or deities, but in the absence of any other suggestion, probably symbolized the worship of the ‘Mother Goddess’. In this case, the statues may have been conceived as representations of the Goddess, or companions to her.
 
And, more than 5,000 years ago, in what is now modern Turkey, Stone Age sculptors were carving small, sleek, surprisingly modern-looking human figures. With their heads tilted back, eyes staring upward to the sky, these statues are known as ‘stargazers’. Only about 30 are known to exist, including Statuette of a Woman: ‘The Stargazer’ at the Cleveland Museum of Art. One of the earliest sculptures of the human figure in the museum’s collection, this example is even rarer as it is one of the few that is whole and unbroken.
 
‘Although diminutive in size, Stargazer has a monumentality that belies her 6 ¾-inch height. In form she is pure and simple and highly stylized. She is recognizably human but only in the barest sense. Her oversized and oval-shaped head is tilted dramatically backward and sits on a slender bird-like neck. Her nose is an elongated ridge, and small, circular eyes are done in the slightest of relief. She has no mouth. Her gender is made evident by the incised lines in the pelvic area. These same lines define her legs until you reach the feet, which are held tightly together at the figure’s narrowest point. She is carved out of translucent marble that emulates soft flesh when polished, adding to the mystical quality of the figure.’ [Cleveland Museum of Art]
 
And that feeling of ‘faceless’ wonder trickles down to the present day, causing the Curator at the CMA to comment about that fascinating Stargazer image: “All we can do is speculate on the creative and spiritual forces that created this beautiful and mystical figure that symbolises our search for the divine.” But, because of the way we’ve been schooled in the art of witchcraft, Old Craft witches are more likely to ‘see’ their goddess figure in terms of the Stargazer; while contemporary paganism appears to favour the predominantly medievalist forms of Burne-Jones and Rossetti.
 
 Nevertheless, what all these primitive images share a distinctive feature of a strong but featureless face: the image remains hidden because we are deliberately prevented from seeing the true face of this Primal Goddess.  A concept that was later rejuvenated with the replacing of the sculpted face of Cybele with … ‘a certain [black meteorite] stone of no great size, which could be carried in a man’s hand without exerting any pressure on him, dusky black in colour, uneven with some edges projecting, and which we all see today placed in that very image in lieu of a face, rough and uncut, giving to the image a countenance by no means life-like …’ [Arnobius, c255-330AD]
 
The sacred stone of Pessinus (the agalma diipetes as it is tellingly called) is exemplary.  In 204BC this small and light-black meteorite, which was regarded as the Great Mother, was brought to Rome and, encased in silver, was substituted for the mouth (or face) of the statue of Cybele. It is in the unworked stone itself that the divinity of the image is believed to reside.  When the stone is placed in an anthropomorphic setting or when, in the case of the Pessinus meteorite, it takes the place of that which normally provides us with the most visible testimony to the life of the statue – the face – then we may clearly say that the goddess resides in that setting, too.
 
In Power of Images, Professor David Freedberg offers up the explanation that this sacred stone, like many others, was deliberately left unworked because it was in this state that its sacredness resided. ‘Shaping it would presumably have deprived it of its sacred content, or, at least diminished it; the only course left was to have it set in such a way as to emphasise or make plain its divine status.’   Even as late as Imperial Roman, when copies of Classic Greek beauty were demanded by the interior designers of the day, these enigmatic faceless matrons were still thought of as sacred.  ‘For 5th-century beholders that ‘face’ [of Demeter in the Museum at Cyrene] can hardly but have generated as association with the kinds of mysterious powers so often associated with unworked stones,’ Freedberg concluded.
 
This primitive imagery has, to a large degree, over-shadowed how we view archetypal goddesses and the women’s social role in pre-history.  The oldest named goddess, for example is not a mother figure.  Inanna was the ancient Sumerian goddess of love, sensuality, fertility, procreation, and also of war. She later became identified by the Akkadians and Assyrians as the goddess Ishtar, and further with the Hittite Sauska, and the Phoenician Astarte. Her power and provocation is almost always a defining characteristic in any of the tales told of her as she rose in prominence from a local vegetative deity of the Sumerian people to the Queen of Heaven and the most popular goddess in all of Mesopotamia.
The goddess appears in many ancient Mesopotamian myths, most notably where she brings knowledge and culture to the city of Uruk after receiving the gifts from the god of wisdom, Enki, while he is drunk.  InninsagurraNinmesarra, and Inninmehusa, are three powerful hymns which influenced generations of Mesopotamians in their understanding of the goddess and elevated her status. Inanna’s personal ambition is atteste in a number of works which feature her. Dr. Jeremy Black writes: ‘Violent and lusting after power, she stands beside her favourite kings as they fight. Her journey to Eridu in order to carry away the sacred meh (gifts of civilization) and her descent to the underworld are both described as an intension to extend her power.’
Inanna is always depicted as a young woman, never as a mother or faithful wife, who is fully aware of her feminine power and confronts life boldly without fear of how she will be perceived by others, especially by men.  In The Epic of Gilgamesh, as Ishtar, she is seen as promiscuous, jealous, and spiteful. When she tries to seduce Gilgamesh, he lists her many other lovers who have all met with bad ends at her hands; enraged at his rejection, Inanna, then becomes central to the story of one of the greatest of ancient epics. 
Although some writers have claimed otherwise, Inanna was never seen as a Mother Goddess and one aspect of her personality is that of a goddess of love and sexual behaviour, but especially connected with extra-marital sex and - in a way which has not been fully researched - with prostitution. Inanna is not a goddess of marriage, nor is she a mother goddess. The so-called ‘sacred marriage’ in which she participates carries no overtones of moral implication for human marriages.  Rather, Inanna is an independent woman who does as she pleases, quite often without regard for consequences, and either manipulates, threatens, or tries to seduce others to fix the difficulties her behaviour creates. There are no poems, tales, or legends which in any way portray her differently - and none which depict her in the role of the Mother Goddess.
 
Strangely enough, the goddesses of the Old World were frequently associated with the big cats – and lions in particular.   Cultural depictions of lions were known in European, African and Asian  countries and have been an important symbol for humans for tens of thousands of years. The earliest graphic representations feature lions as organized hunters with great strength, strategies, and skills. In later depictions of human cultural ceremonies, lions were often used symbolically and may have played significant roles in magic, as deities, or close association with deities, and served as intermediaries and clan identities.  For example:
 
  • Inanna is often shown in the company of a lion, denoting courage, and sometimes even riding a lion as a sign of her supremacy over the ‘king of beasts’.
 
  • Artemis in her role as putnia theron - ‘queen of the wild beasts’ - was associated with lions.  The Potnia Theron or Mistress of Animals is a widespread motif in ancient art from the Mediterranean world and the ancient Near East, showing a central human, or human-like, female figure who grasps two animals, one to each side.
 
  • Atargatis – her throne flanked by lions was the Syrian mother goddess also venerated in Asia Minor and Greece during the Hellenistic-Roman period.
 
  • The Egyptians had several goddesses who were associated with lions, with the most well-known being Bastet and Sekhmet.  Mehit, Triphis and Pachet were a localized deities. Urthekau  - ‘she who is rich in magic’ – was a personification of the mysterious supernatural powers, which the Egyptians imagined as being inherent in the crown.  The lion-headed-crown-goddess dwelt in the State sanctuary and could figure as an epithet for other goddesses.
 
  • The Hurrians were a people of the Bronze Age Near East and two of their principal goddesses – Hebat and Sauska – were depicted with lions.
 
  • Kades was a Canaanite goddess shown standing naked on a lion.
 
  • Cybele – was shown in art in a chariot drawn by lions and/or panthers.
 
Nearer to home, one Highland legend tells of the Cat Sidhe, a fairy cat, believed to be a witch in disguise. Reputed to be untameable, the ‘British tiger’, as it is sometimes known, has an honoured place in Highland culture. Early on in Scottish history, Caithness and Sutherland formed the Pictish province, Cataibh, meaning land of the Cat Tribe or Catti. Caithness still retains an obvious echo of that name. The Duke of Sutherland’s Gaelic title is Morair Chat, meaning ‘The Great Man of the Cats’. There is a cat in the clan crest, and their motto is Sans Peur (‘Without fear’). Other clans have similar themes, reflecting a respect for this animal’s fierce spirit. The Clan Mackintosh crest also features a feisty-looking cat, with the motto ‘Touch not the cat bot (bot meaning ‘without’) a glove’, and for the Clan MacGillivray the motto is ‘Touch not this cat’.
 
The wildcat was a totem of a number of other early Celtic tribes, including the Irish ‘cat-heads’ – possibly warriors who wore cat skin over their battle helmets. More often than not, the feisty little creatures drive off their foes, sometimes inflicting nasty lacerations in the process. According to the Scottish Wildcat Association, large dogs, park rangers, and ill-prepared veterinarians are among the most common recipients of ‘non-hunting’ wildcat attacks but there is no reason why this fascinating creature can’t be adopted as a power/totem animal in traditional witchcraft.
 
 
Many newcomers to the Coven have a problem with viewing the Old Lass in these abstract forms and often do not understand that she is no less potent because we cannot see her face, or she’s not wearing a posh frock!  For us, both magically and mystically, the Old Lass doesn’t have any tangible form and like the ‘light-black meteorite, which was regarded as the Great Mother’ in ancient times, we consider that the world of Nature in its unworked form is the state in which her sacredness resides. Re-shaping it into a recognisable or more pleasing aspect would deprive our goddess of her sacredness (or, at least diminish it) and the only course left is to have it set in our minds in such a way as to emphasize or make plain her divine status against the raw framework of the forests and mountains.
    
The reason for the great number and variety of Old European ‘goddess’ images lies in the fact that this symbolism is lunar and chthonic, celestial and terrestrial, built around the understanding that life on earth is in eternal transformation, in constant and rhythmic change between creation and destruction, birth and death. Therefore, the Primal Goddess is seen in everything and from the earliest of times has been associated with a variety of creatures in a host of manifestations. It is an inescapable fact that this ‘hidden’ Primal Goddess of Old Europe remains a tangible power that can be tapped into and channelled for magical, mystical and spiritual reasons. It is the elusive power that is released into us at the moment of Initiation when we come face to face with deity and we may look upon the face of the Primal Goddess for the first and last time, when kindred calls to kindred and blood calls to blood.
 
Nevertheless, for most followers of the Elder Faith the Primal Goddess remains a sigil and symbol, allegory and metaphor, and we learn how to follow her by respecting the world she has created. She is Creatrix, Death-Wielder and Regeneratrix – the eternal triple deity. And the reason we say she is too terrible to look upon is due to the realisation that in her eyes, our lives are worth no more than that of an ant or hover-fly. And, as and when we meet her face to face, it is with the understanding that she is not the benevolent Mother-figure of popular paganism; she is a disinterested but not dysfunctional being whom we approach with awe and reverence

 
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<![CDATA[Nature Creates Her Own Wheel of the Year … all we have to do is follow it]]>Tue, 13 Apr 2021 14:42:51 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/nature-creates-her-own-wheel-of-the-year-all-we-have-to-do-is-follow-itPicture

In Traditional Witchcraft for Fields & Hedgerows , Melusine Draco looks at the importance for young witches to go rummaging about in the hedgerow and coming face to face with its inhabitants. This was the third in the Moon Books, Traditional Witchcraft series, which is slowly but surely making its way towards best-selling status. 
 
Many years ago, my friend and I passed those long, hot summer days of childhood roaming the surrounding fields and hedgerows. Then, we could disappear for hours, discovering the treasures of the season and enjoying the closeness of a silent companionship. Some sixty years and hundreds of miles apart, we still share those memories of knowing where to find the first flowerings, and close encounters with birds and animals of the hedge bank.  “Do you remember …” frequently crops up in letters and telephone conversations to recall to mind some indelible memory of a bank of spring celandines; the glimpse of a hunting stoat snaking through the undergrowth near the ruined barn; Easter violets; the chatter of nesting hedge sparrows, or more correctly ‘dunnock’, who often play foster parents to the cunning cuckoo.
 
Hedgerows were a prominent and distinctive feature of the landscape when I was a child, and the oldest were probably remnants of the continuous woodland that once covered most of the land. As villagers and landowners cleared the forest for agriculture, they would leave the last few feet of forest standing to mark the outer boundaries of their land.  A traditional witchlet instinctively knows that these boundaries have a special magical significance, especially at dawn or dusk when we encountered a tawny owl hunting along the hedge in the twilight – or ‘owl light’ as we called it.
 
On a much deeper level the ‘hedge’ refers to the hedgewitch’s boundary separating the mundane world from Otherworld.  The hedge also represents a physical and psychic protective boundary, separating spirit from human – thus hedgewitches are said to ‘hedge-ride’ by crossing the liminal space of the time between times.  While hedge-riding is seeing a resurgence in popularity, the practice itself is actually quite old with most modern practices based on historical texts with modern mistransliterations, interpretations and adaptions.
 
Some of our most ancient hedges are the remnants of such boundaries, perhaps even now still marking parish borders.  Hedges were also formed to enclose patches of land to contain livestock.  This would have been done close to a farm or village, and in many places, these small irregular enclosures can still be recognised by witches of today, as indications of old field patterns and ancient hedgerow.  The majority, however, were planted in the 18th and 19th centuries to enclose patches of land in order to establish ownership.  Nevertheless, the older the hedge, the more we feel we are walking in our ancestors’ footsteps as we search for magical and medicinal ingredients.  Probably the leaves of the hawthorn are the first wild vegetable country children learned to eat: widely known as ‘bread and cheese’ the young leaves have a pleasant nutty taste and we used to add them to our picnic sandwiches.
 
For both countrywomen and witches the hedge was extremely important. A veritable treasure house: a source of food, drink, medicine, shelter, fuel and dyes, while numerous superstitions arose around many hedgerow plants. The special plant community that makes up a mature hedgerow also offers a wider range of food for animals and birds than most deciduous woodland, making the hedge a very attractive habitat in winter. 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. Here we often encountered a basking grass snake, or better still a shed skin that could be made into a witch’s garter.
 
The Romans introduced a large number of herbs to Britain, valuing them for their supposed supernatural powers, as well as culinary and medicinal uses … and many of these plants now grow profusely in the wild. By the Middle Ages, the use of herbs for magical purposes was commonplace, and every village had its own witch or cunning-woman. A medieval witch was an expert in the identification of wild herbs, and from the countryside surrounding her home she would gather the appropriate plants for scenting linen, flavouring sauces … or procuring an abortion. Herbs were so important in daily life that when people moved around the country, they took with them the plants and the superstitions surrounding them.
 
Dr Harold Selcon reminds us in The Physicians of Myddfai, that by the end of the 14th century a different class of medical herbalist was developing — the apothecaries — who purchased herbs collected from the countryside by wandering professional herb collectors, known as the ‘green men and women’. This occupation was a traditional one with a long history, and during the reign of Elizabeth I the ‘Wild Herb Act’ was passed, giving the ‘green-men’ the right to gather herbs and roots in wild uncultivated land. Nevertheless, prior to, and during the First and Second World Wars, Britain grew large quantities of its own medicinal herbs; while a significant quantity of wild herbs were gathered for commercial use. The ‘wild herb men’ finally went out of business in the early 1960s, although in December 1972, the East Anglian Magazine featured an article on one of the last men to gather wild plants for a living.
 
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. Although the growing pagan community has resulted in a resurgence of interest in these natural remedies, those who were fortunate in learning the language of the fields and hedgerows at an early age retain these early lessons in order to give a greater understanding of witchcraft in later life.   Those fields and hedgerows still provide a vast encyclopaedia for those with an active interest in Craft practice and the folklore handed down to us hides much more than it reveals.
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Mélusine Draco’s Traditional Witchcraft series (including Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living, Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore, Traditional Witchcraft for Fields & Hedgerows, Traditional Witchcraft for Woods & Forests, Traditional Witchcraft & the Pagan Revival and Traditional Witchcraft and the Path to the Mysteries) is published by Moon-Books, an imprint of www.johnhuntpublishing in paperback and e-book format.  Also available from Amazon. 
 
Michael Howard | The Cauldron 
“The third book in this series approaches the subject from the premise that whether we live in the city or the countryside nature is all around us. According to the author, it is the natural world that can teach us how to be a witch and release the knowledge of the Old Ways ... Overall this series is recommended as a safe introduction for absolute beginners looking for their first connect with a traditional type of witchcraft through the medium of folklore and naturalism.”


Deosil Dance Magazine 
“It is a fascinating and insightful book on the folklore of plants, weather lore, treelore, and nice recipes that are easy to follow. With nice gentle introductions into each of the seasons, it is a good book to give to newcomers & children alike who will be fascinated by the contents.”

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