<![CDATA[Coven of the Scales - Blog]]>Mon, 19 Feb 2024 13:53:57 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[MORE ABOUT HALLOWE'N ...]]>Tue, 10 Oct 2023 08:49:33 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/more-about-hallowenPicture
.At this time of the year, some of the Old Ways tell that certain ‘portals’ between the worlds may require physically closing once they have been opened to prevent unscheduled souls being sucked through before their time. These portals must be marked with a propitiatory rite of a soul passing through before the way can be closed, or the gates will remain open to trap the unsuspecting. It has been suggested that ‘dabblers’ mucking about with things they do not understand can create this type of ‘gate’ that preys on the unwary because the ‘dead’ are often hungry for life. Here we find disembodied entities, such as those of the Unseelie Court of the luchd-sidhe, who simply hate the living.
 
According to the Celts among others, Samhain was the time when the veil between this and Otherworld was believed to be at its thinnest: when the spirits of the dead could most freely mingle with the living once again. They believed the Lord of the Dead, would come that night to take up into the afterlife the souls of those who had died during that year. Like many other pagan traditions, the holiday was eventually Christianized in order to honour the dead, including those newly ‘absorbed’ saints. In its original Elder Faith form it was much more dangerous and threatening – a weird period of dread and ill-omen; a time of gloom and mourning for the dying year and the Mighty Dead.
    
At this time of the year, some of the Old Ways tell that certain ‘portals’ between the worlds may require physically closing once they have been opened to prevent unscheduled souls being sucked through before their time. These portals must be marked with a propitiatory rite of a soul passing through before the way can be closed, or the gates will remain open to trap the unsuspecting. It has been suggested that ‘dabblers’ mucking about with things they do not understand can create this type of ‘gate’ that preys on the unwary because the ‘dead’ are often hungry for life. Here we find disembodied entities, such as those of the Unseelie Court of the luchd-sidhe, who simply hate the living.
    
The Seelie and Unseelie Courts of Scottish fairies are a particular feature of the folklore of that country; the clear separation of the faes into good and bad groupings that are entailed is almost unique in folklore. The Unseelie Court was used to describe the darkly-inclined faere and no offence was deemed necessary to bring down their assaults. As a group (or ‘host’), they were thought to appear at night and assault travellers, often carrying them through the air, beating them, and forcing them to commit such acts as injuring cattle. In Scotland, they were seen as closely allied with witches.
    
As we can see there is quite a bit of dangerous stuff out there which is not so much evil as ‘hungry’. The gates themselves aren’t evil pathways, neither are those who open them indiscriminately – just shamefully foolish and irresponsible. This day marked the beginning of the dark, cold winter – a time of year that was often associated with human death. Which is why Celts believed that on this night – before the ‘old new year’ – the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred – and dangerous! 
    
So plenty of propitiatory observations need to be performed to keep the malevolence at bay … because on this night they observed the ‘end of summer’ when it was believed ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble or damaging provisions and livestock, the people also thought the presence of these otherworld entities made it opportune for the Druids (the Celtic priesthood), to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on a volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of guidance during the long dark months to follow.
    
In its most common form it was seen as an agrarian festival held to placate the Ancestors, to propitiate any malevolent forces; to please the gods (and those ‘saints’ who replaced them), and as a clear distinction between the joys of harvest and the hardships of approaching winter.
 
To commemorate this ‘new year’ and the first day of winter, there were enormous sacred bonfires; it was the time when the night became longer than the day, the last apples were picked, and the year began again with its dark, winter half. When the Earth rests it is sometimes called Trinoux Samonia, or ‘Three Nights of the End of Summer’. Originally a Druid festival, it was observed on either day (31st October/1st November) as the Celts measured the day from sunset to sunset. In the Celtic seasonal tale, The Wasting Sickness of Cuchulainn, it was observed for a total of seven days – three before and three after the feast of Samhain – marking the dangers of Otherworld at that time of the year.
 
In the Sacred Order of the Elder Faith, it is the time when Otherworld entities can mix freely with humans, when the liminal space between the two, is easily traversed. The displacement of the natural laws of time and place means that there is a ‘crossing over’ when all kinds of boisterous behaviour can be indulged in – which is seen as an offering of life-energy to replenish the dying year.
    
Food was provided for the dead but these were not the grand feasts of harvest-time and Beltaine, since they were not celebratory gatherings but observances of propitiation in order to avert the anger or malevolence of the old gods. Turnips, apples and apple cider, mulled wines, gourds, nuts, beef, pork, poultry, ale – the Samhain recipes concocted from the harvest brought the community together and the Celts ate the fruits of their labours, told stories and tried to predict their fortunes in the future - while honouring the dead.
 
Otherworld entities and malevolent forces were free to walk the land at night, causing mischief. Samhain was seen as a time when the future could most easily be predicted, and was a favoured time among Druids for ritual fortune-telling. As in other major Celtic Festivals, Samhain was a gateway, a transition from one season to the next, and, because in Elder Faith belief at the heart of every gateway is a paradox. The threshold is literally between two worlds but is, in itself, in neither/and or in both at the same time. Thus Samhain belonged to both Summer and Winter ... and to neither. It is the gateway to winter, and a magical time of passage between the seasons.
     As in many pastoral societies, winter was regarded with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Samhain was the last gasp of summer ... a time of uninhibited feasting and dancing. It was a time of release; a time to let go of all unwanted baggage, fears and attitudes, just as the trees let go of their leaves. So the lives of men parallel the sacred cycles of nature.
     To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to their deities. During the festival, the participants wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted divination. When the festival was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier in the day, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
 
In the Coven of the Scales, where we follow the old Julian calendar in traditional British witchcraft, since Old Samhain conveniently aligns with Armistice Day that is commemorated every year on 11th November to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, at 5:45 am for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven in the morning – the ‘eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’ of 1918. But, according to Thomas R. Gowenlock, an intelligence officer with the U.S. First Division, shelling from both sides continued for the rest of the day, ending only at nightfall
    
The first Armistice Day observance was held at Buckingham Palace, commencing with King George V hosting a ‘Banquet in Honour of the President of the French Republic’ during the evening hours of 10th November 1919. The first official Armistice Day events were subsequently held in the grounds of Buckingham Palace on the morning of 11th November 1919, which included a two-minute silence as a mark of respect for those who died in the war and those left behind. After the end of World War II, most member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, followed the earlier example of Canada and adopted the name Remembrance Day. Other countries also changed the name of the holiday just prior to or after World War II, to honour veterans of that and subsequent conflicts.
     
Needless to say, for us this is an extremely sombre observation which has no place for frivolous role-playing and festivities. In Coven of the Scales, we observe Old Samhain/Calan Gaeof on the 11th November so that it can coincide with modern Remembrance Day and, as the time to remember our war dead and the Ancestors – today we wear our poppy with pride. Never more so does kindred call to kindred, blood call to blood … because the most powerful energy on which an Old Craft practitioner can call is that of our ‘Ancestors’, who represent our culture, traditions, heritage, lineage and antecedents; they trace the long march of history that our predecessors have taken under the aegis of the Elder Faith.
    
In other words, our dead are always with us and when we channel that rejuvenating power into the Coven’s mindset, we are imbuing the group and its members with the strength and magical energy of all those centuries of ancestral influence. In fact, these are the ancestral properties we call upon to consolidate the energy required in spell-casting and invocation, rather than what others may see as the beneficence of deities, angels or spirits. And, we re-affirm this allegiance to this sacred past each time – and to each other – whenever we perform a seasonal rite that includes the breaking of bread and taking of salt – either singly or in a group.
 
‘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 infiltrate 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.’ [Round About the Cauldron Go …]
 
So … modern Hallowe’en celebrations and Samhain rituals in America and the UK have very little in common – though both occasions often call for large gatherings. Modern Wiccans and other pagans (Wicca is a subset of paganism; Druids are another example) of all stripes have kept the festivities alive, adapting their Samhain traditions to suit the contemporary pagan community. These days, Samhain is celebrated with more much mischief but (hopefully) it still remains a time imbued with a powerful spirituality. Nevertheless, it is often unwise to attempt to combine participants from both traditions since this can lead to offence on both sides.

 
Hallowe'en, Samhain and all that
by Melusine Draco
This day marked the beginning of the dark, cold winter – a time of year that was often associated with human death. Which is why neo-Celts believed that on this night - before the ‘new year’ - the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On this night they celebrated the ‘end of summer’ when it was believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth and, in addition to causing trouble or damaging provisions and livestock, the people thought the presence of these otherworld entities made it easier for the Druids (or Celtic priesthood), to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on a volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of guidance during the long dark months to follow.
ISBN: 9781803025148
Type: Paperback
Pages: 104
Published: 27 May 2022
Price: €6.85
Order direct from https://www.feedaread.com/books/Halloween-Samhain-and-all-that.aspx

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<![CDATA[HALLOWMAS, SAMHAIN & ALL THAT ...]]>Thu, 14 Sep 2023 12:17:19 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/hallowmas-samhain-all-thatPicture
Skeletons walking the streets, scantily-clad witches in fish-net tights casting spells, trick or treating, shrieking children dressing up as all sorts of things – Hallowe’en can be a fun time for families – but not in our neck of the woods! In other words, although we do not celebrate Hallowe’en because there are certain religious observances necessary that make it the most important time of the year to honour our Ancestors, we still observe the festival.
    
The darker elements of our harvest celebrations are out of the way but the darkness remains as a backdrop for this occasion. The proprietary rites have been observed and our Ancestors appeased, so the remaining time is spent sharing good food and enjoying the company of family and/or fellow coveners on this special night of the year. Not forgetting the fond memories of our own dearly departed who are not far from our thoughts.
    
According to the Celts among others, Samhain was the time when the veil between this and Otherworld was believed to be at its thinnest: when the spirits of the dead could most freely mingle with the living once again. They believed the Lord of the Dead, would come that night to take up into the afterlife the souls of those who had died during that year. Like many other pagan traditions, the holiday was eventually Christianized in order to honour the dead, including those newly ‘absorbed’ saints. In its original Elder Faith form it was much more dangerous and threatening – a weird period of dread and ill-omen; a time of gloom and mourning for the dying year and the Mighty Dead.
    
At this time of the year, some of the Old Ways tell that certain ‘portals’ between the worlds may require physically closing once they have been opened to prevent unscheduled souls being sucked through before their time. These portals must be marked with a propitiatory rite of a soul passing through before the way can be closed, or the gates will remain open to trap the unsuspecting. It has been suggested that ‘dabblers’ mucking about with things they do not understand can create this type of ‘gate’ that preys on the unwary because the ‘dead’ are often hungry for life. Here we find disembodied entities, such as those of the Unseelie Court of the luchd-sidhe, who simply hate the living.
    
The Seelie and Unseelie Courts of Scottish fairies are a particular feature of the folklore of that country; the clear separation of the faes into good and bad groupings that are entailed is almost unique in folklore. The Unseelie Court was used to describe the darkly-inclined faere and no offence was deemed necessary to bring down their assaults. As a group (or ‘host’), they were thought to appear at night and assault travellers, often carrying them through the air, beating them, and forcing them to commit such acts as injuring cattle. In Scotland, they were seen as closely allied with witches.
    
As we can see there is quite a bit of dangerous stuff out there which is not so much evil as ‘hungry’. The gates themselves aren’t evil pathways, neither are those who open them indiscriminately – just shamefully foolish and irresponsible. This day marked the beginning of the dark, cold winter – a time of year that was often associated with human death. Which is why Celts believed that on this night – before the ‘old new year’ – the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred – and dangerous! 
    
So plenty of propitiatory observations need to be performed to keep the malevolence at bay … because on this night they observed the ‘end of summer’ when it was believed ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble or damaging provisions and livestock, the people also thought the presence of these otherworld entities made it opportune for the Druids (the Celtic priesthood), to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on a volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of guidance during the long dark months to follow.
    
In its most common form it was seen as an agrarian festival held to placate the Ancestors, to propitiate any malevolent forces; to please the gods (and those ‘saints’ who replaced them), and as a clear distinction between the joys of harvest and the hardships of approaching winter:  To commemorate this ‘new year’ and the first day of winter, there were enormous sacred bonfires; it was the time when the night became longer than the day, the last apples were picked, and the year began again with its dark, winter half. When the Earth rests it is sometimes called Trinoux Samonia, or ‘Three Nights of the End of Summer’. Originally a Druid festival, it was observed on either day (31st October/1st November) as the Celts measured the day from sunset to sunset. In the Celtic seasonal tale, The Wasting Sickness of Cuchulainn, it was observed for a total of seven days – three before and three after the feast of Samhain – marking the dangers of Otherworld at that time of the year.
    
“There is a marked danger of venturing too far into Otherworld. There is the risk of trespassing upon someone else’s ‘turf’ and getting lost. There is the risk that the dead will not let you go; that someone was not ready to leave life and will like yours all too greatly. There is the risk of wandering too far from your body, since to go that far into Otherworld to reach the lands of the dead, one may lose all awareness of the body’s physical surroundings. If something were to happen, there would be no way of knowing,” warns Ronnie Ellis, formerly taibhsearan for his clan.
    
In the Sacred Order of the Elder Faith, it is the time when Otherworld entities can mix freely with humans, when the liminal space between the two, is easily traversed. The displacement of the natural laws of time and place means that there is a ‘crossing over’ when all kinds of boisterous behaviour can be indulged in – which is seen as an offering of life-energy to replenish the dying year.
    
Food was provided for the dead but these were not the grand feasts of harvest-time and Beltaine, since they were not celebratory gatherings but observances of propitiation in order to avert the anger or malevolence of the old gods. Turnips, apples and apple cider, mulled wines, gourds, nuts, beef, pork, poultry, ale – the Samhain recipes concocted from the harvest brought the community together and the Celts ate the fruits of their labours, told stories and tried to predict their fortunes in the future - while honouring the dead.
 
Otherworld entities and malevolent forces were free to walk the land at night, causing mischief. Samhain was seen as a time when the future could most easily be predicted, and was a favoured time among Druids for ritual fortune-telling. As in other major Celtic Festivals, Samhain was a gateway, a transition from one season to the next, and, because in Elder Faith belief at the heart of every gateway is a paradox. The threshold is literally between two worlds but is, in itself, in neither/and or in both at the same time. Thus Samhain belonged to both Summer and Winter ... and to neither. It is the gateway to winter, and a magical time of passage between the seasons.
    
As in many pastoral societies, winter was regarded with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Samhain was the last gasp of summer ... a time of uninhibited feasting and dancing. It was a time of release; a time to let go of all unwanted baggage, fears and attitudes, just as the trees let go of their leaves. So the lives of men parallel the sacred cycles of nature.
    
To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to their deities. During the festival, the participants wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted divination. When the festival was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier in the day, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
 
Many of our current Hallowe’en traditions have their roots in the Middle Ages when people would dress in costumes intended to scare away any dark spirits that happened to be wandering about. Bells were rung, and there were processions and bonfires to scare away malevolent witches, ghosts, and evil spirits. Children and the poor went door to door, offering prayers for the household’s deceased relatives in exchange for small ‘soul’ cakes.
 
These celebrations might have their roots in the ancient Celtic festival, Samhain, which marked the beginning of winter but little remains of the need for propitiatory gestures to keep bad luck/evil at bay. Hallowe’en has retained its spiritual and macabre nature through many centuries, thanks to traditions like ‘souling’, where the poor would beg for pastries on All Souls Day in exchange for prayers for deceased relatives.
 
As far as Elder Faith witches are concerned, there is almost a sort of ‘welcoming warmth’ that surrounds us when we commune with our dead. And that is why we put extra effort into the preparations surrounding this time of the year when we are reunited on the spiritual plane. The dead are always there, always among and around us, and the fact that they are not perceived is largely due to a lack of understanding of this reversed spiritual existence.
    
Those who have passed beyond the veil have not ceased to be, it is that our eyes have ceased to ‘see’ them. In the case of an older person, we must direct our thoughts of remembrance to them as an individual, thinking about their life on Earth and what we experienced together. In order to enter into the right frame of mind with this person, it is important to visualise them, to make them come to life in ourselves – not only by remembering things they said which meant a great deal to us but by thinking of what they were as individuals and what their value was for the world.
 
Hallowmas, Samhain and all that ... by Melusine Draco – published by Ignotus Books UK in the ARCANUM series number 11 : ISBN 978 1 80302 514 8 : 100 pages : £6.85 : Order direct from https://www.feedaread.com/books/Halloween-Samhain-and-all-that.aspx

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<![CDATA[We're back in business again ... finally!]]>Wed, 06 Sep 2023 10:19:56 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/were-back-in-business-again-finally
After a deafening silence for the past few months we are back in businesss once again ...  and ready to rejuvenate the Blog for those of you interested in traditional British Old Craft.  In the meantime, I have not been idle and have just completed a commissioned  100,000-word book for publisher Pen & Sword, Archetypes For Infinity: Understanding the Egyptian Gods, following the failed move back to the UK.  So ... I will be remaining in the Glen and keeping my view of the mountains ... I had to say goodbye to my black greyhound, Lucas, and have acquired a little black lurcher called Pearl ... who is being led astray by Poppy!  I have also finished the limited edition Inner Court Witchcraft, which should be published early next year for Initiates of Old Craft.

Lots of important decisions have been made with regard to my day-to-day activities and social media has been severely curtailed to free up my spare time and keep me away from the computer.  A weekly Blog-post for Coven of the Scales will be maintained and those interesting in discovering more about traditional British Old Craft are welcome to contact us.  MD

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<![CDATA[WRITER@WORK]]>Tue, 03 Jan 2023 11:37:56 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/writerwork3490625Picture
WRITER@WORK – January 2023
Deciding on a topic for the first Writer@Work article I was spoiled for choice in taking my lead from the various whinge-worthy subjects penned by some of our favourite columnists.  Needless to say, it had to be something empathic … even though I find myself increasingly at odds with the social intolerance revealed by my fellow readers and adherents of the woke- culture.  Woke nowadays refers to being aware or well informed in a political or cultural sense, especially regarding issues surrounding marginalised communities - it describes someone who has “woken up” to issues of social injustice – even to the point of exploiting them to self-serve a journalistic purpose.
 
That said, I can’t confess to a deprived childhood although growing up in a war-time culture of rationing and ‘left-overs’ recipes has set me up for dealing with modern sky-rising costs of living.  I managed to get through school despite suffering from latently discovered dyscalculia – a condition that affects the ability to acquire maths skills.  Death in various forms has robbed me of a succession of dearly-loved two and four-legged family members; and I’ve ‘survived’ a personal encounter with breast cancer – none of which I’ve ever felt the urge to share with the reading public.
 
Not to mention regular incidents of bullying and sexual harassment both of which were dealt with at different stages following a crash course in martial arts.  Any temptation to be part of the ‘sister-hood’ was cured by discovering that it included eliminating 50% of the opposition (and me brought up in a boy-scout troop!) - and that in standing up as a defender of justice meant I was on a hiding to nothing in coming forward as a police witness to an assault on one of the boys in blue!
 
Journalists are constantly under pressure to find topics that strike an empathic cord with their readers and the best among them are known for throwing in the odd, pithy comments that get their critics spitting feathers.  Top of the heap is Brendan O’Connor who, for me, manages to tell it like it is/was:
 
“Does it count as empathy if you learn it the hard way?” he wrote. “Is there anything noble in gaining an understanding of other people’s lives only because your own life becomes another person’s life? Is that empathy? Or is that cheating? … I made it through school without knowing anyone gay. But it would be college before I met anyone who was gay ... I knew one guy who was Egyptian. One brown guy. There was nobody black. Nobody in school, nobody in the area. We grew up with people like us. And we just assumed everyone was like us ...”
 
Nowadays, if I’m honest I’m bored to death of always having to be careful to express the right sympathies, of always having to say the right things whenever I’m confronted with one of life’s self-appointed victims.  In later years those friends who happened to be black/gay didn’t have the obsession about turning every conversation towards their minority issues. 
 
Ciara Kelly GP, broadcaster and award winning columnist isn’t afraid of controversy either, and has received her fair share of media hate as a result – including death threats.  She is aware that the media and public are fickle beasts but had the courage to say in her column that one story that shouldn’t be allowed to fall off the agenda is the sexual assaults and rapes of hundreds of children by the clergy that is continuing to unfold.
 
I was more involved on the periphery of the ritual abuse scandals of the 1980-90s that focused its attentions on the pagan community.  Anti-occult hyped material still provides more interesting reading than serious esoteric writing, especially if the authors have a religious bias. The ‘satanic child-abuse’ scare, which lasted for five years, was formulated and fueled purely on deliberately inaccurate scaremongering of Christian fundamentalists and over-zealous social-workers. The intensive investigation the Government-commissioned report by Professor J D La Fontaine (The Extent & Nature of Organised and Ritual Abuse – HMSO) confirmed that there was no foundation for any of the allegations but the media still continues to lambast witchcraft whenever the opportunity arises.
 
Some even dismissed Social Services’ dawn roundups of children as none of their concern, because the majority of cases did not affect anyone with genuine pagan involvement because they thought whatever happened wouldn’t affect them. Several pagan publications of the time even stated that as far as they were aware, there had been no cases of pagan children being taken into care ‘because of allegations of ‘satanic child-abuse, nor even of any otherwise unprovoked investigations’. This was incorrect – there had been cases of pagan children being taken into care and several parents lost custody cases because of their pagan beliefs. In fact, the authorities had successfully gagged parents by lawful process, which prevented any of them from contacting professional organizations for help and this was why no details surrounding the cases were made public.  And the media story disappeared overnight!
 
Dr Kelly’s column reveals that this current clerical abuse scandal also involved a legal strategy that protected the perpetrators and paid the legal fees of priests who couldn’t afford to pay themselves. “There is no credible way that so many men all living in close quarters with this sick predilection for preying on children, some of whom were abusing the same boys, didn’t know about each other.  They covered it up.  They moved priests around, enabling them to abuse others.  They fought cases tooth and nail.”
 
Neither event should ever allow the public or the judiciary in either the UK or Ireland to allow us to forget about these cases.   Seventy-seven priests accused so far of raping or assaulting 300 people; whereas there was ‘no foundation for any of the allegations’ of pagan ritual abuse but both have had their fair share of casualties that people quickly forget about.  Nevertheless, both sides of the religious divide have suffered … but these are casually brushed aside if they make uncomfortable reading.
 
Fortunately, Ireland never really had a problem with ‘witch trials’ because in the Gaelic-Irish tradition so many people’s spiritual outlook was tied into the fairies, or the sidhe as they are known – even down to the present day.  A large percentage of the population accepted as a matter of fact that the sidhe (pronounced ‘shee’) were real and influenced the world around them.  So while the idea of the witch who was in league with the devil was flourishing elsewhere, in Ireland it just didn’t take hold.
 
According to Dr Gillian Kenny at Trinity College, people encountered events they interpret as being supernatural they happily attributed them to the faerie, so there was no need to blame witches.  People were obsessed with the wise women who lived in th community and who had knowledge of how to keep them away, she says.  The average person either believed in the sidhe or hedged their bets to be on the safe side. Dr Kenny points out that, even today many people still refuse to build on a fairy fort for example, or to cut down a hawthorn tree.
 
So, all in all, I’ve not had an uneventful life and close friends have helped me through the sticky bits … but I’ve never felt the need to belong to any ‘Me-Too’ - type community club and get a merit badge.  Or as a my good chum Sheila, has always said: “Get a grip and sort it!”

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<![CDATA[Claiming Back Our Heritage]]>Thu, 25 Aug 2022 11:11:16 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/claiming-back-our-heritagePicture

Re-claiming the Seasonal Festivals
A large number of the customs and traditions that were an integral part of traditional British Old Craft have systematically disappeared beneath assiduously applied buckets of pagan white-wash in recent years.  In fact, the whole raison d’être for the ‘how to survive (and enjoy) the seasonal festivals’ came from the annual lament of how much pagans hate Christmas. How all the traditional meaning has been profaned and announcing that they will be holed up in solitary misery until all the commercially decadent festivities are over – all of which sadly demonstrated a complete lack of awareness concerning our pagan ancestry and its customs. Let’s understand one thing before we go further: the Church did not invent the Mid-Winter Festival … it was there with all its rich pageantry of feasting and celebration long before a Pope officially decreed, in the 4th century AD, that the birth of Jesus would henceforth be celebrated on the 25th December!
 
And if we closely examine all the other seasonal events in the Church calendar, we discover most of those had been absorbed into the catalogue of Christian observance.  If we take away the agrarian events, pre-Christian festivals and pagan saints’ days, there’s little remaining on which to build an authentic religious calendar.  The early Church calendar was wholly pagan in its compilation and within Old Craft we still call our main festivals by their Church names: Hallowmas, Candlemas, Lammas, Michaelmas, Martinmas … and by which names they would have been known to our pagan forebears rather than the popular Irish-Gaelic names adopted in the 20th century.
 
Hallowmas, Samhain and all that …
Halloween may be a secular affair today, dominated by candy, costumes and trick-or-treating, but the holiday is rooted in an annual Celtic pagan festival called Samhain (pronounced ‘SAH- wane’) that was then appropriated by the early Church some 1,200 years ago.  Halloween’s origins date back to this ancient festival with the Celts, who lived 2,000 ago in the area that is now Ireland, Britain and northern France – and celebrated their new year on 1st November.  This day marked the end of summer and the harvest; the beginning of the dark days of winter that was associated with human death.
 
Traditionally, Samhain was a time to take stock of the herds and food supplies. Cattle were brought down to the winter pastures after six months in the higher grazing. This centuries-old tradition today still parades thousands of bovines from mountain pastures back home to foothill farms. 
Published by ignotus books uk in the Arcanum series : ISBN 978 1 80302 514 8 : 104 pages : £6.85 : Order direct from printer https://www.feedaread.com/books/Halloween-Samhain-and-all-that.aspx  Available in paperback and Kindle e-book format.
 
 
Harvest Home: In-Gathering
Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and All Angels, is celebrated on the 29th of September every year. As it falls near the Equinox, the day is associated with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days; in England.  It used to be said that harvest had to be completed by Michaelmas, almost like the marking of the end of the productive season and the beginning of the new cycle of farming. It was the time at which new servants were hired or land was exchanged and debts were paid.  As Michaelmas is the time that the darker nights and colder days begin – and we edge into winter – the celebration of Michaelmas is associated with encouraging protection during these dark months. It was believed that negative forces were stronger in darkness and so families would require stronger defences during the later months of the year.  Traditionally, in the British Isles, a well fattened goose, fed on the stubble from the fields after the harvest, is eaten to protect against financial need in the family for the next year.
 
Today in many European countries, the Martinmas festival culminates in a lantern walk at night, followed by a bonfire and songs. Traditionally the lanterns were carved out of harvested gourds, and illuminated with a candle - the origin of our jack-o-lantern - but can also be made of paper or jars.  The sacrifice and shedding of blood on this day was once part of the ancient festival of Samhain, but changed in the medieval period to the new date of 11th November, hence the term Old Halloween and what we currently observe as Remembrance Day for honouring our war dead.
Published by Moon Books as part of their Pagan Portals series.  ISBN978 1 803341 110 1 : 84 pages : £6.99 : Order from www.moon-books.net in paperback and e-book format.
 
 
Have a Cool Yule
The pagan celebration of the winter solstice is known as Yule, and it's one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world. It simultaneously celebrates the shortest day of the year, midwinter, the return of the Sun, and a festival of rebirth.
 
We only have to scratch the thin veneer of ‘Christmas’ to find a highly important pagan holiday with the majority of its ancient traditions preserved intact. Strangely, the ubiquitous pagan Wheel of the Year’ now assigns the Winter Solstice to the place of a minor sabbat, and yet as we’ve discovered, it was probably the most sacred festival of the year for our pagan ancestors.  Nevertheless, these associations reveal that the Mid-Winter Festival was a time of magic and mystery for the ancient Britons, the Germanic tribes and the migratory Celts and Anglo-Saxons, as well as a time for feasting and celebration. It doesn’t matter where we live in the New or Old World, it would be a pity to ignore these facts and not celebrate the season with mirth and merriment as our forebears did – and not let Christian hype and gross commercialism ruin the true magic of the Winter Solstice. Perhaps it’s time to embrace the pagan sacredness of the Mid-Winter Festival and reclaim that which was taken from us by the most insidious of means – absorption!
 
Remember, the majority of supposedly ‘Christian’ superstitions and traditions we observe today are from our pagan past and they probably wouldn’t have been preserved down through the ages if all those different Briton, Roman, Celtic, Norse and Anglo-Saxon strands hadn’t melded successfully together. When we sit down to our Mid-Winter Festival dinner on December 25th, regardless of whether we’re part of a family gathering or spending it alone, we are participating in a ritual that stretches back to the very dawn of humanity.  After all… what is there for anyone who calls themselves ‘pagan’ to hate about ancient pagan traditions?
Published by Moon Books as part of their Pagan Portals series,  ISBN 978 1 78535 711 4 : 84 pages : £6.99 : Order from www.moon-books.net in paperback and e-book format
 
 
Breath of Spring …
Candlemas/Imbolc is the re-awakening of the Old Lass within Old Craft belief and also coincides with the Roman Candelaria and Fornicalia - a spring corn festival celebrated in honour of Fornax, goddess of ovens, and observed by each ward of the city. All this merging of primitive origins and rites, belonging to the European pre-urban agricultural culture, meant that it also commemorated the search for Persephone by her mother and the festival of candles symbolizing the return of the Light. So it continued to be performed until the Christian era, when it was transformed into Candalmas in AD494.
 
Our seasonal festivals begin with this Breath of Spring … to mark Imbolc/Candlemas on the 2nd February – which in turn marks the official end of the Yule celebrations and a traditional date by when all Yuletide decorations should be removed. Traditional witch, Evan John Jones, acknowledged 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. Followed by the Spring or Vernal Equinox, Ostara and Beltaine to cover the months of spring before we prepare for the summer season ...
 
Living a pagan life-style is more than celebrating the eight important fire festivals each year and calling ourselves a witch.  It’s about observing the continuous calendar of events that may, or not, coincide with the civil calendar.
Published by Moon Books as part of their Pagan Portals series.  ISBN 978-1-80341-188-0 :  84 pages £6.99 : Order from www.moon-books.net in paperback and e-book format
 
 
Sumer Is Icumen In …
In Sumer is Icumen In we discover new and exciting ways of surviving (and enjoying) the truly pagan excesses of the Midsummer Festival. Here we can establish and instigate a new smorgasbord of traditions of our own for the purpose of celebration and observance and, in time, even though we must never lose sight of our authentic history, they may even be integrated into future pagan revels.  “So, you want to know about Midsummer? You can’t do better than begin here with this treasure-trove of how the summer solstice has been – and still is – revered all around the world. Melusine Draco is a fountain of knowledge, and wisdom, her books open doors and turn on lights to so many dark places that have forgotten and/or misremembered for far too many years, centuries even...”  wrote Elen Sentier, author of Merlin, Elen of the Ways and Trees of the Goddess.
 
The Summer Solstice is the longest day in the northern hemisphere and either falls on the 20th or 21st of June, whilst Midsummer’s Day in Europe is traditionally on 24 June; a discrepancy caused by the variants of the Julian Calendar, misappropriation by the Church and further confused by the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar.   Traditionally, Midsummer’s Eve is a time associated with witches, magic, fairies and dancing with bonfires lit all over the country. This was in praise of the sun, for as from today, the days would begin getting shorter and the sun gradually appeared to be getting weaker, so people would light fires to try and strengthen the sun. Practice of this ancient ritual, which also includes a Summer Solstice Circle Dance, is now mainly confined to Cornwall and the West Country.
 
In common with their usual assimilations of pagan festivals, no doubt the Church adapted yet another pre-Christian festival celebrating the Summer Solstice as a Christian holiday by moving back a couple of days. The Midsummer Festival, now with Saint John’s Day-related traditions, church services, and celebrations became particularly important in northern Europe.  In the pagan community various forms of neo-paganism can be quite different, having very different origins and, despite the shared name, these representations can vary quite considerably.
Some celebrate in a manner as close as possible to how they believe ancient pagans observed the Summer Solstice, while others observe the holiday with rituals culled from numerous other unrelated sources.
Published by Moon Books as part of their Pagan Portals series. ISBN 978 1 78535 981 1 : 82 pages : £ 5.99 : Order from www.moon-books.net in paperback and e-book format
 
 
 
Once again, in her own inimitable style, Melusine Draco shows us how to put the tradition back into traditional British Old Craft and restore the practice of our old beliefs by learning how to survive (and enjoy) our own seasonal festivals.  These are books we can return to again and again to remind ourselves of our true pagan heritage.  Why not treat ourselves to each of these seasonal treats and discover that they make perfect gifts for any of our pagan friends – married or single!

“Melusine Draco opens up the festivals in an engaging, informative and easily accessible way. An enjoyable read, with a mixture of poetry, history and mythology, customs (and even recipes), it builds a fascinating and comprehensive picture of the traditions and festivals, as well as tracing them back to their roots. MD really knows her craft and touches on things like the seasonal effects on the various star signs, while rich descriptions of solar alignments and folkloric practices keep you turning the pages. This will add inspiration to building your own traditions. Definitely for my bookshelf.”  Krystina Sypniewski, author of Pagan Portals - Dream Analysis Made Easy 


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<![CDATA[New release]]>Wed, 17 Aug 2022 16:12:12 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/new-release9170755Picture
BUSH SOUL: Setting it free …
 
According to Chet Raymo in When God is Gone Everything is Holy, among the ancients, Mother Nature was more than a metaphor. The veiled goddess was invented at a time when animism and anthropomorphism were the prevailing ways of understanding the world. Every brook, every stone, every heavenly body was thought to have a human-like spirit … But we no longer understand nature animistically or anthropomorphically. New metaphors now instruct our imaginations … The universe, however, sings beyond any metaphor we employ to understand it. We are enchanted by the veiled goddess, teased, seduced [but] we expect no consummation. We would in fact be rather shattered if somehow we were allowed to know the ultimate secrets if the universe.
 
These are the threads that draw the concepts of animism and the ‘bush soul’ together with one of the oldest beliefs on the planet. Totemism is some mystic relationship between a group of humans and a particular species of animal or plant. But, as T C Lethbridge observed, the exact relationship has defied scholarly definition, and well it might do so. ‘It seems to be a kind of hangover from much earlier times when men are thought to have believed that they were really physically related to animals. Totemism was an indefinable magico-religious idea and the totem animal was in a sense worshipped because it could give help to men belonging to its own particular tribe and which they must not kill without permission.’
    
Many scholars have noted evidence for totemic beliefs in the Upper Palaeolithic period of at least 12,000 years ago, proving this totem concept was very strong and widespread. It probably went at one time to every corner of the inhabited world. And, as Lethbridge points out, when we find ancient European tribes called Chatti, or Epidii, we can be reasonably certain that their totem animals were once cats or horses respectively. It is highly probable that many of the animals which later appeared as heraldic blazons on the shields of medieval knights were once the totems of the families which bore these images on their arms. This is not a fanciful suggestion: neither is it disregarded by some of the experts of the College of Heralds.
    
As civilization slowly developed and spread over wider areas, totemism began to be replaced by beliefs of a different kind. Gods and goddesses came to be imagined in human form and in this anthropomorphism, mankind conceived gods to be made in his image and not vice versa. Forces of nature and celestial bodies were gods and they were like men. All that was necessary was to explain to simple people why their totem animal was being replaced by something less easily seen, but more human. This changing of totem animal into deity was found throughout the old world: in India, Egypt; Assyria; Greece; Italy; the Celtic lands and in the mythology and art of the North American first nation.
    
Since myths appear to be the oral counterparts of religious rites, we can surely assume that wherever we find a myth of this shape-changing nature, there was once a religious performance in which men, or women, dressed up in the skins of the former totem animal and went through the performance which the myth describes. This surely brings us a little nearer to the reason why such curious rites survived for such a long time. The witch-cult seems to have originated at a time when the belief in totemism was on the wane and was being superseded by the belief in gods of human form. When it was begun it was still necessary to explain to the people in general the relationship between the two beliefs in a ritual performance.
 
‘Since it is generally, the male priest who is dressed up, it is surely the ‘Great Mother’ who represents the new idea. She is taking the place of the old totem animal and is the more important figure. Since it is the kings who are killed and not their consorts, the same conditions hold good. We can then, I feel, be reasonably certain that the [witch]cult came into being when the female principle was recognized as being the most important thing in tribal belief. That is, males had not yet asserted their right to order the doings of the tribe, or their right to succeed to the rulership of it. The organization was matriarchal and matrilineal – which had vanished from Homeric Greece about a thousand years before the birth of Christ – but there is ample evidence from the Greek myths that it had once existed there.’
[Witches: Investigating an Ancient Religion]
 
A belief in and acceptance of totem animals runs like a vein of iridescent silver through witchcraft lore and is a system of belief in which humans are said to have kinship or a mystical relationship with a spirit-being, contained within a particular animal or plant. The entity, or totem, is believed to interact with a given kin-group or individual, and to serve as their emblem or symbol. The term totemism has been used to characterize a cluster of traits in the religion and social organization of many different peoples. Totemism is manifested in various forms and types in different contexts, and is most often found among populations whose traditional economies once relied on mixed farming with hunting and gathering, or emphasized the raising of cattle.
    
The term totem is actually derived from the Ojibwa word ototeman, meaning ‘one’s brother-sister kin’ with the grammatical root, ote, signifying a blood relationship between brothers and sisters who have the same mother and who may not marry each other. In English, the word totem was introduced in 1791 by a British merchant and translator who gave it a false meaning in the belief that it designated the guardian spirit of an individual, who appeared in the form of an animal – an idea that the Ojibwa clans did indeed portray by their wearing of animal skins. It was reported at the end of the 18th century that the Ojibwa named their clans after those animals that lived in the area and appeared to be either friendly or fearful.
    
Similarly, the idea of the ‘sacred’ in African society is as old as the African people. Faced with the puzzles, wonders and mysteries in nature, they had no choice than to consider certain objects and plants as sacred and seen from the perspective of the divine. And as such, they are not to be toyed with; they are given special reverence especially as objects of worship. The African people believe that spirits inhabit these sacred objects and places – and this understanding also gave rise to the reality of totems in African ontology. For sure, belief in totems is an existential fact among African people.
 
Certain trees, animals, places and individuals are regarded as totems. They are seen as sacred objects that symbolize something real for the people who entertain such belief. Totems are also believed to possess some spiritual and supernatural powers. The thrust of this study is to expose the belief and practice of totemism in Africa and also to ascertain the significance of such belief and practice in a world of change. The focus of this study is on Igbo – African society where the notion of totem is associated with the idea of kinship between certain animals, animate or inanimate beings, and a particular individual or group of individuals in a given society showing that there is a spiritual link between a totemic object and the person or persons concern. [The Background of Totemism]
 
Totemism has to do with the veneration of some natural objects, namely, animals, plants and other physical objects that are believed to have some spiritual or supernatural powers. In this regard, the mishandling or killing of totemic animals is considered taboo in most African cultures. Belief in totems is a common practice in traditional African society with people having a deep sense of reverence for either their personal or group totems. The reality of totems is not something that is new to the African, who is well known for its belief and practice.  Available in paperback and e-book format

    
BUSH SOUL: Setting it free by Melusine Draco – published by ignotus books uk : ISBN 978 1 80302 584 1 : Price £6.85 : 104 pages : Order direct from https://www.feedaread.com/books/BUSH-SOUL.aspx

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<![CDATA[Aubry's Dog in magical practice]]>Thu, 30 Jun 2022 10:40:07 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/aubrys-dog-in-magical-practicePicture
Dogs Are a Witch’s Best Friend … and Worth More Than Diamonds!
Dogs are never out of the news, especially when we’re extolling their virtues as companion/support dogs … but here they jump to the top of the tree when it comes to magical uses and associations.
 
Or as ‘Agwren’ observed in her Amazon review: “Ms Draco takes us on a dog’s journey from its earliest forays into the humans world through the four early forerunners groups and onto the many hundreds of variations we know and love today. Through all the mythological connections with the ancient Gods and the recorded ancient historical facts we travel, learning spells and incantations at every turn , discovering craft and planetary connections along the way until finally we reach the lesson at the end of the beginning of our true journey. Each time you look into those beautiful deep dark eyes of your wolf...whether it be the author’s favourite greyhounds or the golden retriever, the lab, the collie or a hundred others from the mighty mongrel to the smallest terrier on your lap ... don’t you often wonder what goes on in that mind...what would it be like to walk a mile on the four paws ... would the sense of smell blow the human mind ... would a thousand new sounds we’d never heard before scream in our ears until we went insane ... how would the sudden adrenaline rush feel at the tiniest flicker of movement in a far off hedge ....

“So here is the goal of this particular journey ... .let the Teacher lead on a wild shamanistic hedge- ride chase as we follow one of her greyhounds as it takes off across a field in pursuit of a hare. Let us find ourselves shape shifting into a long legged lean hunting dog and run with the hound sharing its excitement as it runs down its quarry ... until just at the very last split second the hare cleverly evades us through a hole in the hedge ... what a sensational shamanistic shape shifting ride and one so delightfully easy that even a complete novice like me can breeze into it ...”


Dogs come in all sorts of power-packs to fuel our magical workings - from simple good luck charms to mighty, full-blown curses. From:
 
O Guardian of Power
Be thou my guide and defence
against all hostile forces,
visible and invisible,
in every walk of Life.
 
to summoning the Hounds of Hell …
 
Gather up a magic spell, summon forth the hounds of hell,
Over sea and over land, answer to a witch command,
Changing moon from bright to dim,
the hounds of hell must follow him
 
The concept of dogs joining their masters in the sky is an ancient one and in our current sky-scape there are four dogs in view as darkness falls. Orion, one of the most striking of all the constellations, is closely followed by Canis Major (‘The Great Dog’), marked by the brilliant star Sirius, commonly known as the Dog Star – the brightest star in the entire sky. Sirius is said to be responsible for the northern hemisphere’s hot, muggy ‘Dog Days’ that occur in September (taking into account the alterations to the calendar since Roman times), just before Sirius follows Orion into the northern night skies.  And can be another euphemism for the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ that companion dogs cross when they die.
 
Blazing prominently in the sky, Sirius is the brightest star of Canis Major; its colour appears to be a brilliant white tinged with a distinctive bluish hue. The star has been compared to a sparkling diamond and it is thought that its Greek name was derived for ‘sparkling’ or ‘scorching’. When it appears near the horizon it seems to flicker with all the colours of the rainbow and has more magical lore surrounding it than any other star in the heavens. According to the Greeks, Canis Major could run incredibly fast. Laelaps, as they called him, is said to have won a race against a fox that was the fastest creature in the world, and Zeus placed the dog in the sky to celebrate the victory.
 
Nearby Canis Minor (‘The Little Dog’), the brightest of its two stars being called Procyon, is said to be the faithful dog Maera (the glistener), which rises in July, a little before the Dog Star. (Greek: pro-kuon). Another myth has both Canis Major and Minor assisting Orion while he is out hunting. Canes Venatici (‘The Hunting Dogs’) are tucked away just south of Ursa Major (‘The Plough’) and represent a pair of hounds, Asterion and Chara, held on a leash by Bootes the
herdsman, as they chase the Great Bear around the North Pole. Unlike Sirius, this is a rather obscure constellation and, with one exception, the stars are quite faint. Whereas Sirius symbolises Alpha Dog, Asterion and Chara are seen more in the role of companions.
 
The poem, ‘The Gage’ by Walter de la Mare demonstrates the typical reaction to a curse that is thrown because of the sheer bloody-minded arrogance of the people involved. Because two head-strong people fail to appreciate the repercussions of their actions, the ‘curse’ rebounds and no one is happy. It is a perfect example of why we should think twice before bandying curses about – unless of course, it is necessary and all other avenues have been exhausted. By studying this romantic ballad we can see that it contains several magical truths, which are well worth considering.
 
The arrogance of both parties that led to the death of the hound, and the powerful curse flung in a fit of passion, which cannot be lifted, is set to destroy the lives of both parties. It is only the intervention of the resurrected hound that means the couple can live happily ever after in true romantic fashion. Nevertheless this adaptation of a verse from ‘The Gage’ does offer an example of an extremely powerful curse that could be used in the event of someone injuring a pet dog and should you be willing to pay the price! For example:
 
O mark me well!
For what my hound befell
You shall pay twenty-fold,
For every tooth
Of his, i’sooth,
Your life in pawn I’ll hold.
Here we are bringing down a curse that is ‘twenty times’ the number of teeth in the dog’s mouth, which in an average healthy adult is around 42. This means that the magical practitioner must weigh in the balance whether the punishment fits the crime. After all, it would be rather extreme if someone had merely given your dog a clout for attempting to ravish their prize-winning bitch. That said, any act of cruelty against a dog – intentional or unintentional – might be seen to be justifiable. Cursing, like most areas of magic, is a question of personal responsibility and/or morality, but once thrown cannot be retracted.
 
Remember that even the mildest accident magnified 20 x 42 is going to have some serious repercussions. The reader may think the author is gilding the lily with this particular curse but there is a very good reason behind it. The following rite, in its original form, requires the skull of a canine and if anyone reading this book is even tempted to go out and harm a dog in order to procure the skull, then they may consider the above curse well and truly thrown … O mark me well!
 
 
REVIEW by Krystina Kellingley : Author and publisher
“I really enjoyed this, a really good read. It starts off with an interesting story and maintains the reader’s interest throughout. I enjoyed the historical and scientific information as well as the charm, amulet and herb lore. The second chapter was a fascinating look at breeds and their characteristics and the bearing this has from a magical perspective and I also really enjoyed the stories of superstition. In fact this book has lots of appealing information on everything and anything you could ever want to know about the dog as a power animal and spiritual companion. It’s written in a very reader friendly manner and I can see dog lovers of all descriptions being hooked by it.”

 
Shaman Pathways: Aubry’s Dog – Power Animals in Traditional Witchcraft by Melusine Draco ISBN 978 1 78099 724 7 : 84-pages : UK£4.99/US$9.95 Published by Moon-Books www.moon-books.net

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<![CDATA[New release ...]]>Tue, 14 Jun 2022 11:31:21 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/new-release6433153Picture
Hallowmas, Samhain & All That
Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or ‘darker-half’ of the year. In the northern hemisphere, it is customarily held on 1st November, but with celebrations beginning on the evening of 31st October, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset.
 
Halloween or Hallowe’en, also known as Hallowmass, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a three-day celebration observed in many countries on 31st October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallow’s Day. It begins the observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.
 
Well, okay … yeah.
 
But before we begin … can we imagine the furore if Easter was hijacked by a bunch of loin-clothed rejects from Jesus Christ Super Star dangling from trees in the local park, because they’ve discovered some spurious regeneration connection between the New Testament story and Eostre – the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and dawn? Actually, she is only mentioned once in scholarly writings of the period – Bede, that venerable monk, stated that during Eostremonath (the old Anglo-Saxon name for April), pagan Anglo-Saxons held festivals in her honour. Two hundred years later, in his Life of Charlemagne, another monk – this time named Einhard – gives the old name for April as Ostaramonath. She is also mentioned in a number of German inscriptions, and the modern holiday of Easter – originally the name for the Spring Equinox, but later absorbed into the Paschal cycle for the Eastern Orthodox Christian resurrection holiday built around Pascha (Easter)!?
 
Nevertheless, this is exactly what has happened to the modern ‘celebration’ of Hallowe’en/ Samhain. Another of the old festivals – like Yule and Harvest – that the Church decided was easier to absorb into its calendar than making any further attempts at abolition. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, we can judge the original importance of these old festivals from the degree of sanctity accorded these former pagan customs within the Church’s liturgical year. This consisted of a cycle of seasons that determined when Church feast days – including celebrations of the newly created saints – were to be observed, and which portions of Scripture were to be read. Distinct colours were used in connection with different seasons, and although the dates of the festivals may vary among the different denominations, the sequence and logic largely remains the same.
 
According to the Celts, Samhain was the time when the veil between this and Otherworld was believed to be at its thinnest: when the spirits of the dead could most freely mingle with the living once again. They believed the Lord of the Dead, would come that night to take up into the afterlife the souls of those who had died during that year. Like many other pagan traditions, the holiday was eventually Christianized in order to honour the dead, including those newly ‘absorbed’ saints. In its original Elder Faith form it was much more dangerous and threatening – a weird period of dread and ill-omen; a time of gloom and mourning for the dying year and the Mighty Dead.
 
At this time of the year, some of the Old Ways tell that certain ‘portals’ between the worlds require physically closing once they have been opened to prevent unscheduled souls being sucked through before their time. These portals must be marked with a propitiatory rite of a soul passing through before the way can be closed or the gates will remain open to trap the unsuspecting. It has been suggested that ‘dabblers’ mucking about with things they do not understand can create this type of ‘gate’ that preys on the unwary because the ‘dead’ are often hungry for life. Here we find disembodied entities, such as those of the Unseelie Court of the luchd-sidhe, who simply hate the living.
 
The Seelie and Unseelie Courts of Scottish fairies are a particular feature of the folklore of that country; the clear separation of the faes into good and bad groupings that are entailed is almost unique in folklore. The Unseelie Court was used to describe the darkly-inclined faere and no offence was deemed necessary to bring down their assaults. As a group (or ‘host’), they were thought to appear at night and assault travellers, often carrying them through the air, beating them, and forcing them to commit such acts as injuring cattle. In Scotland, they were seen as closely allied with witches.
 
As we can see there is quite a bit of dangerous stuff out there which is not so much ‘evil’ as hungry. The gates themselves aren’t evil, neither are those who open them indiscriminately – just shamefully foolish and irresponsible. This day marked the beginning of the dark, cold winter – a time of year that was often associated with human death. Which is why Celts believed that on this night – before the ‘new year’ – the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred – and dangerous!  So plenty of propitiatory observations need to be performed to keep the malevolence at bay … because on this night they observed the ‘end of summer’ when it was believed ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble or damaging provisions and livestock, the people also thought the presence of these otherworld entities made it opportune for the Druids (the Celtic priesthood), to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on a volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of guidance during the long dark months to follow.
 
In its most common form it was seen as an agrarian festival held to placate the Ancestors, to propitiate any malevolent forces; to please the gods (and those ‘saints’ who replaced them), and as a clear distinction between the joys of harvest and the hardships of approaching winter:
 
As current Chief Druid, Eimear Burke (OBOD) commented: “There’s that notion now that Samhain marks the beginning of the Celtic New Year. Think of all the people that have invaded us. We, Irish people are not Celtic, there are no generic markers. But the Celts when they came, did leave their culture – including music, stories and languages – and their festivals. On this night [Samhain] the Calleach (the Crone) comes to strip the leaves from the trees to quicken the decay of the flesh of the year, so that it may feed the new life to come. We can also ask her to take the unwanted aspects of our personal year away, so that these too, might be transformed.” [Irish Country Living]
 
To commemorate the ‘new year’ and the first day of winter, there were enormous sacred bonfires; it was the time when the night became longer than the day, the last apples were picked, and the year began again with its dark, winter half. When the Earth rests it is sometimes called Trinoux Samonia, or ‘Three Nights of the End of Summer’. Originally a Druid festival, it was observed on either day (31st October/1st November) as the Celts measured the day from sunset to sunset. In the Celtic seasonal tale, The Wasting Sickness of Cuchulainn, it was observed for a total of seven days – three before and three after the feast of Samhain – marking the dangers of Otherworld at that time of the year.
 
“There is a marked danger of venturing too far into Otherworld. There is the risk of trespassing upon someone else’s ‘turf’ and getting lost. There is the risk that the dead will not let you go; that someone was not ready to leave life and will like yours all too greatly. There is the risk of wandering too far from your body, since to go that far into Otherworld to reach the lands of the dead, one may lose all awareness of the body’s physical surroundings. If something were to happen, there would be no way of knowing,” warns Ronnie Ellis, formerly taibhsearan for his clan.
 
In the Sacred Order of the Elder Faith, it is the time when Otherworld entities can mix freely with humans, when the liminal space between the two, is easily traversed. The displacement of the natural laws of time and place means that there is a ‘crossing over’ when all kinds of boisterous behaviour can be indulged in – which is seen as an offering of life-energy to replenish the dying year. Food was provided for the dead but these were not the grand feasts of harvest-time and Beltaine, since these were not celebratory gatherings but observances of propitiation in order to avert the anger or malevolence of the old gods. Turnips, apples and apple cider, mulled wines, gourds, nuts, beef, pork, poultry, ale – the Samhain recipes concocted from the harvest brought the community together and the Celts ate the fruits of their labours, told stories and tried to predict their fortunes in the future.
 
Needless to say, in early Celtic tradition, Samhain was closely associated with burial mounds, or cairns, which were also believed to be entrances to the Otherworld. In a Gaelic example in Fortingall, a samhnag was built on a mound known as Carn nam Marbh, ‘The Mound of the Dead’ – local lore has it that the mound contained the bodies of plague victims but is, in fact, a Bronze Age tumulus. A stone, known as the Clach a' Phaigh, ‘the Plague Stone’, crowned the mound and once the bonfire was lit, the participants would join hands and dance around it, both deosil and widdershins. As the blaze waned, the younger participants would take part in leaping over the flame. No guisers or mummers appeared in this particular tradition as the bonfire was the sole centre of attention. In the Highlands, after sunset, many of the youth carried a blazing torch and walked the boundaries of their farms in order to protect the family from the faeries and other malevolent forces. New fire, kindled from the sacred communal blaze, was then brought into each house where it was kept burning for the rest of the year.
 
Otherworld entities and malevolent forces were free to walk the land at night, causing mischief. Samhain was seen as a time when the future could most easily be predicted, and was a favoured time among Druids for ritual fortune-telling. As in other major Celtic Festivals, Samhain was a gateway, a transition from one season to the next, and, because in Elder Faith belief at the heart of every gateway is a paradox. The threshold is literally between two worlds but is, in itself, in neither/and or in both at the same time. Thus Samhain belonged to both Summer and Winter ... and to neither. It is the gateway to winter, and a magical time of passage between the seasons.
As in many pastoral societies, winter was regarded with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Samhain was the last gasp of summer ... a time of uninhibited feasting and dancing. It was a time of release; a time to let go of all unwanted baggage, fears and attitudes, just as the trees let go of their leaves. So the lives of men parallel the sacred cycles of nature.
 
To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to their deities. During the festival, the participants wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted divination. When the festival was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier in the day, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
 
Púca is one of Ireland’s newest festivals and celebrates Ireland as the original home of Hallowe’en, which began as an ancient tradition over 2,000 years ago; as a time for in-gathering and storytelling, as darkness turns to light and the shape-shifting spirits roam the land. Through the spectacular nights at Púca Festival, they salute the Hallowe’en spirits through folklore, food, myth and music reopening the pathways of reflection and celebration carved out over a millennia ago, and lighting up the night sky with awe-inspiring and unearthly illuminations. Púca has been developed by Fáilte Ireland as a three-day vibrant and contemporary festival, strongly rooted in tradition with a programme of events centred around spectacle, music and food (inspired by the harvest at the time of Samhain and the Púca (Irish for spirit/ghost) a creature of Celtic folklore.
 
Certain agricultural traditions surround the Púca – a creature associated with the Goidelic harvest festival, when the last of the crops are brought in. Anything remaining in the fields is considered ‘puka’, or fairy-blasted, and hence inedible. In some locales, reapers leave a small share of the crop, the ‘púca’s share’, to placate the hungry creature. Nonetheless, 1st November is the púca’s day, and one day of the year when it can be expected to behave civilly. In some regions, the Púca is spoken of with considerably more respect than fear; if treated with deference, it may actually be beneficial to those who encounter it.
 
The Púca is a creature of the mountains and hills, and in those regions, there are stories of it appearing on November Day and providing prophecies and warnings to those who consult it.
Considered to be bringers both of good and bad fortune, they could help or hinder rural and marine communities. Púcaí can have dark or white fur or hair. The creatures were said to be shape-changers, which could take the appearance of horses, goats, cats, dogs, and hares. They may also take human form, which includes various animal features, such as ears or a tail. The Púca has counterparts throughout the Celtic cultures of Northwest Europe. For instance, in Welsh mythology, it is named the pwca and in Cornish the bucca.
 
By 43AD, the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic lands. And in the course of the 400 years of suppression, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic observances of Samhain. The first was Feralia – a day in October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead; the second was the day to honour Pomona, a Roman goddess and a festival held in her honour in early November probably influenced the development of the modern Hallowe’en. Pomona was associated with abundance, the harvest and fruit, especially apples and nuts.
 
On 13th May 609AD, Pope Boniface re-dedicated the Pantheon – the most preserved and influential building of ancient Rome as a temple dedicated to all the gods of pagan Rome – in honour of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church calendar. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs, and moved the observance from 13th May to 1st November.
 
Many of our current Hallowe’en traditions have their roots in the Middle Ages when people would dress in costumes intended to scare away any dark spirits that happened to be wandering about. Bells were rung, and there were processions and bonfires to scare away malevolent witches, ghosts, and evil spirits. Children and the poor went door to door, offering prayers for the household’s deceased relatives in exchange for small ‘soul’ cakes.
 
By the 9th century, the influence of Christianity had spread into the Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted older pagan rites. In 1000AD the church decreed 2nd November to be All Souls’ Day – a day to honour the dead. It is widely believed today that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic festivals with related, church-sanctioned holy days.
 
All Souls’ Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades and dressing up in costumes depicting saints, angels and devils. The celebration was called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English meaning Alholowmesse, meaning All Saints’ Day), and the night before it – the traditional night of Samhain – began to be called All-Hallows-Eve and eventually – Hallowe’en.
 
The rigid Protestant belief systems in colonial New England severely restricted Hallowe’en celebrations, with the exception of Maryland and the southern colonies. As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups and the Native Americans converged, a distinctly American version of Hallowe’en began to develop. The first celebrations included ‘play parties’, which were public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbours would share ghost stories, and tell each other’s fortunes among the dancing and singing.
 
Colonial festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. And by the middle of the 19th century, annual autumnal festivities were common – but Hallowe’en had not yet spread everywhere in the country. In the second half of the 19th century, America was flooded with new immigrants and these new people, especially the millions of Irish fleeing the ‘potato famine’, helped to spread the celebration of Hallowe’en as a national festivity. Over time, it gradually evolved into a day of fun activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, in-gatherings, wearing costumes and eating special treats. [americaslibrary.gov]
In the United States today, Halloween is big business: The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans spent over six billion dollars on candy, costumes and ghoulish decor during a recent holiday and it is now a commercial feast for candy producers and pumpkin farmers. In the 19th century, Irish and Scottish immigrants in America began to revive the old traditions – with more of an emphasis on trick-or-treating than religious introspection – and more than 150 million consumers participated in the modern American iteration of Halloween. An estimated 65% of Americans will celebrate Halloween or participate in Halloween activities this year, with 66% of those consumers planning to give out candy, 52% planning to decorate their homes and 44% planning to carve a pumpkin. Total spending in 2021 was expected to reach $10.1 billion, with the average consumer planning to spend $102.74 on decorations, candy, costumes and more.

​These celebrations might have their roots in the ancient Celtic festival, Samhain, which marked the beginning of winter but little remains of the need for propitiatory gestures to keep bad luck/evil at bay. Hallowe’en has retained its spiritual and macabre nature through many centuries, thanks to traditions like ‘souling’, where the poor would beg for pastries on All Souls Day in exchange for prayers for deceased relatives. Our forebears believed that the night before Samhain, spirits from the other world came and destroyed vegetation with their breath, leaving the land barren for winter. People would leave food and wine on their doorsteps to appease the spirits, and wear masks when they left the house to blend in with them. Eventually, the fundamental pagan traditions were co-opted by the Christian church and this Ancestor-based observance fell by the wayside.
 
Around the world, however, many cultures have festivals intended to honour the dead. Like Samhain, some of them are linked to the change of seasons and the harvest, while others mirror the influence of Christianity, spread by missionaries throughout the world. But although many feature jubilant celebrations replete with dancing and music, they’re meant first and foremost as a way to honour dead relatives and ancestors, and should be approached with respect. [National Geographic]
 
In the Coven of the Scales, where we follow the old Julian calendar in traditional British witchcraft, since Old Samhain conveniently aligns with Armistice Day that is commemorated every year on 11th November to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, at 5:45 am for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven in the morning – the ‘eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’ of 1918. But, according to Thomas R. Gowenlock, an intelligence officer with the U.S. First Division, shelling from both sides continued for the rest of the day, ending only at nightfall
 
The first Armistice Day observance was held at Buckingham Palace, commencing with King George V hosting a ‘Banquet in Honour of the President of the French Republic’ during the evening hours of 10th November 1919. The first official Armistice Day events were subsequently held in the grounds of Buckingham Palace on the morning of 11th November 1919, which included a two-minute silence as a mark of respect for those who died in the war and those left behind. After the end of World War II, most member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, followed the earlier example of Canada and adopted the name Remembrance Day. Other countries also changed the name of the holiday just prior to or after World War II, to honour veterans of that and subsequent conflicts.
 
Needless to say, for us this is an extremely sombre observation which has no place for frivolous role-playing and festivities. In Coven of the Scales, we observe Old Samhain/Calan Gaeof on the 11th November so that it can coincide with modern Remembrance Day and, as the time to remember our war dead and the Ancestors – today we wear our poppy with pride. Never more so does kindred call to kindred, blood call to blood … because the most powerful energy on which an Old Craft practitioner can call is that of our ‘Ancestors’, who represent our culture, traditions, heritage, lineage and antecedents; they trace the long march of history that our predecessors have taken under the aegis of the Elder Faith.
 
In other words, our dead are always with us and when we channel that rejuvenating power into the Coven’s mindset, we are imbuing the group and its members with the strength and magical energy of all those centuries of ancestral influence. In fact, these are the ancestral properties we call upon to consolidate the energy required in spell-casting and invocation, rather than what others may see as the beneficence of deities, angels or spirits. And, we re-affirm this allegiance to this sacred past each time – and to each other – whenever we perform a seasonal rite that includes the breaking of bread and taking of salt – either singly or in a group.
 
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 infiltrate 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 [Round About the Cauldron Go …]
 
So … modern Hallowe’en celebrations and Samhain rituals in America and the UK have very little in common – though both occasions often call for large gatherings. Modern Wiccans and other pagans (Wicca is a subset of paganism; Druids are another example) of all stripes have kept the festivities alive, adapting their Samhain traditions to suit the contemporary pagan community. These days, Samhain is celebrated with more much mischief but (hopefully) it still remains a time imbued, powerful spirituality. Nevertheless, it is often unwise to attempt to combine participants from both traditions since this can lead to offence on both sides.

 
Hallowmas, Samhain & All That by Melusine Draco and published by ignotus books uk : ISBN 978 1 80302 514 8 : Pages 104 : UK£6.85 : Arcanum series No 11:  Order direct from https://www.feedaread.com/books/Halloween-Samhain-and-all-that.aspx
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<![CDATA[WRITER@WORK - Summer]]>Fri, 13 May 2022 08:58:59 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/writerwork-summerPicture
WRITER@WORK – Summer
Pagan Portals - Harvest Home: In-Gathering - How to Survive (and Enjoy) the Autumnal Festivals is due for publication on 26th August 2022 and is currently in production.  The last in the series, Breath of Spring – How to Survive (and Enjoy) the Spring Festivals is also in production with Moon Books and should be ready for publication by the spring of 2023.
There are a further five books in various stages of preparation for the Arcanum series
 
Hallowmas, Samhain & All That
Bush Soul: Setting It Free
The Power of Prayer
Talismans, Amulets & Charms
Water: I Hear Water Dreasming
 
The limited ignotus edition of Inner Court Witchcraft should be ready for publication in early 2023 with the fourth Vampyre’s Tale in preparation.
 
I’ve decided that the move back to the UK is going to mark my official retirement.  During the past fifteen years I’ve written more books than I can remember and I’ve decided I will stick to a schedule of one fact and one fiction per year … but as a friend says ‘Oh yeah?’  I suppose I’m lucky in that my work is my hobby and vice versa, so let’s never say never, eh because those ideas keep bubbling to the surface unbidden …
 
Sorting through all the boxes of paperwork prior to a move, it was interesting to come across the proposed programme for the 2006 CoS workshop.  These were usually held from Friday evening to Sunday lunch and the full Saturday timetable involved the following  sessions:

  • Counting the Cost of a Magical Life
  • Commitment: The Meaning of the Oath
  • Working With the Tree of Life
  • Personal Space and the Personal Universe
 
We always tried to get away from the bog-standard conference syllabus that appeared year after year – hence our popular ‘Exorcisms We Have Known & Loved’ at one annual London event!  Not surprising we were standing room only … It was our firm belief that participants had the right to expect something new and different – and not just a rehash of the content of a current published book.  Just as a new book needs to offer the readership a different approach to a certain type of witchcraft and magic, so surely it’s not unreasonable for talks to cover new ground that it both informative and entertaining?
 
Once back in the UK, it’s been suggested that I think about offering writer’s workshops and the odd magical workshop, which I find more appealing than on-line events as I work better with a live audience.   But that’s on the back burner until I’m settled …

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<![CDATA[Breath of Spring - Beltaine]]>Tue, 19 Apr 2022 11:53:14 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/breath-of-spring-beltainePicture
.Breath of Spring … Beltaine
 
From time immemorial the seasonal sequence has arrested the attention of mankind and aroused an intense emotional reaction in all states and stages of culture and types of society extending from the Upper Palaeolithic in prehistoric times to the highest civilizations of the ancient Near East and the Graeco-Roman world, with repercussions on the subsequent development of custom. Belief and behavior in the intervening ages, not least in the folk-cultures in Europe.
     The reason is not far to seek.  Everywhere and at all times the means of subsistence have been the primary concern and from this fundamental requirement recurrent seasonal periodic festivals have sprung, and by constant repetition they have assumed a variety of forms and acquired divers meanings and interpretations.  But since food has always been an essential need it is in this context that the observances have exercised their primary functions. [Seasonal Feasts & Festivals]
 
In Scotland and Ireland, the ancient Celtic practice of lighting bonfires at the beginning of May as part of a sacrificial rite lingered on until the 18th-century in the observance known as Beltaine.  The name derived from the Gaelic tein-eigin – ‘need-fire’ and the practice of lighting sacred fires, often on hill-tops, at the beginning of the second division of the Celtic year was for the purpose of stimulating the sun as the life-giving agent at the commencement of summer.  Thus on the Eve of May Day, branches of rowan of buckthorn were fastened to the houses and cattle-stalls to keep away malevolent spirits, and the gorse was set on fire at the break of day to burn them out.  ‘Home fires were extinguished and rekindled with appropriate ceremonies – the antiquity of which custom is indicated by the use of earlier methods of fire-making by friction, tinder and flint and steel being employed for the purpose, according to Professor E O James.
 
When the Beltaine bonfires had been lighted from the need-fire, branches were lit and carried into the houses to ignite the new fires in the grates.  In the Highlands of Scotland this was the only occasion when the peat-fires were put out and relighted (by the friction method) like the annual renewal of the sacred fire in the temple of Vesta on 1st March by the Vestal Virgins.  That the Beltaine fires were regarded as cathartic and regenerative is suggested by the custom of driving cattle through them to protect them from disease.
 
April’s showers will hopefully have given way to rich and fertile earth, and as the land becomes greener, there are few celebrations as representative of fertility and/or regeneration as Beltaine.  Festivities typically begin the evening before, on the last night of April. It’s a time to welcome the abundance of the fertile earth, and a day that has a long (and sometimes colourful) history.  This spring celebration is all about new life, fire, passion and rebirth, so there are all kinds of creative ways we can set up for welcoming the season.
There are many different ways we can celebrate Beltaine, but the focus is nearly always on the fact that it is a major Fire Festival and we need to find ways of incorporating this into our celebrations. A fire pit is primarily ambient/atmospheric, although it can have some warming properties, depending on how powerful it is and how large. It’s one of those lovely features for people to gather around in the evening, since it’s pleasant in cool, balmy, or even slightly warm weather. Only in downright hot temperatures does the mere look of fire cause discomfort. However, since fire pits are mainly ornamental, if weather is truly frigid or there’s a lot of precipitation, a fire pit doesn’t really do much to combat the weather and may actually get damaged.
Having a fire pit in our garden will ensure we can enjoy the outdoors for longer when the sun goes in and, really, who doesn’t enjoy sitting and looking at an open fire? Covid restrictions have hopefully been amended, so now we can begin to think of having the family over for a big celebratory ‘Beltaine Bash’. If we haven’t already invested, a fire pit is a great item to have in our garden for those Fire Festivals, so we can continue with a much-needed me-time behind the garden-gate once the sun’s gone in. But what to choose? There are lots of designs but before using your garden fire pit, ensure it’s in a safe location and away from any combustible surfaces.
  • Make sure that the location is safe and there’s nothing hanging nearby that could catch fire.
  • Position your outdoor fire pit in the middle of your patio, so you have plenty of room to move around it safely and it’s not too close to combustible surfaces, grass, trees, plants or shrubs.
  • Make sure that it isn’t too close to your property or sheds/summer houses.
  • Don’t light the fire pit under a gazebo or other covered area.
  • Check the wind direction before lighting.
  • Take fire safety precautions. For example, have a fire extinguisher, fire blanket or at least a bucket of water/sand nearby.
  • Keep children and animals away if they are unsupervised.
  • When you have finished with the fire pit, ensure that the fire is completely extinguished. Cover the fire pit with a suitable lid to contain any hot embers and prevent ash from blowing around.
  • If you have chosen a fire pit that doesn’t have legs or which gets very hot, you may need to protect the surface underneath.
On the evening of 13th May, those of traditional British Old Craft observe the Beltaine ritual in compliance with the old Julian calendar, or we may choose a weekend nearest to the 31st April in harmony with the general pagan community.  The rite can be as simple or complicated as we like to make it but the basic component is fire, which can be a roaring summer bonfire, a smouldering fire-pit or an open patio fire-basket.  We’ve even taken part in a rite where the fire was contained within a metal bucket with holes knocked in it! 
 
Whether as part of a group, or a solitary working, fire should be an integral part of any Beltaine ceremony.  Again, the purists would say that the fire should be lit as part of the ritual but there’s nothing more embarrassing that being stared at by a group of people eagerly awaiting a cheery blaze while the fire-maker fumbles about with damp matches and even damper kindling that refuses to ignite.  Beltaine should be a joyous occasion but this kind of enforced gaiety is on a par with those who insist on still holding a family barbeque in the garden when it’s pouring with rain because it’s been planned for that day!
 
In modern parlance, in our rites we are basically asking for health, wealth and happiness in the coming days of plenty, i.e. a summer - with plenty of food = health and wealth plus ‘mirth and song’. The holiday celebrates spring at its peak, and the coming of summer. This holiday is associated very strongly with fertility/regeneration, but for pagans how does this translate into a generic meaning that all our guests can relate to?
 
To put the matter in a nut-shell - regeneration is an ambiguous term with diverse meanings. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to be regenerated is to be ‘re-born; brought again into existence; formed anew’, no doubt an accurate usage but one that is arguably too narrow. More appropriate is another meaning the OED suggests: ‘restored to a better state’ - spiritual renewal or revival.  Most definitions of regeneration, however, have been driven, over many times and places, by concern about ageing and the desire, at best, to reverse or, at least, to modify its perceived ill-effects.  And as  Robert Cochrane once observed, there had been no cause for a fertility religion in Europe since the advent of the coultershare plough in the 13th
 century!
 
 
The May Pole dances are survivals of ancient rituals around a living tree as part of the spring rites to ensure fertility. Over time it usually became a tree trunk of the correct height, age, and type (usually pine or birch). Some writers claim that the tree represented masculine energy, and the ribbons and floral garlands that adorned it represented feminine energy.  While those ribbon-weaving dancers are either pairs of boys and girls (with girls taking one colour of ribbons and boys the other), or a group of multiple ages where younger dancers take the inside of the circle and older dancers the outside; either way, the maypole itself is a splendid reminder that spring has sprung and regeneration has begun.
Given that May Day celebrations are all about expressive dancing and celebrating, the Puritans in 16th and 17th century New England labeled the rituals ‘bacchanalian’, which naturally led to the banning of the celebrations during that time.  Luckily May Day festivities made their way back into the modern era and remain a symbol of the wondrous shift from the dreary cold season to the lively warmer one. We can find today’s most dedicated revelers in Scotland and Ireland, where they recognize Beltaine or Gaelic May Day, or in the United Kingdom and Bavaria - where the maypole is painted in their region’s white and blue and adorned with representations of the local craftspeople and trades.
The tradition of the Maypole Dance has been around for a long time – it’s a celebration of the fertility of the season. Because Beltaine festivities usually kicked off the night before with a big bonfire, the Maypole celebration usually took place shortly after sunrise the next morning.   Young people came and danced around the pole, each holding the end of a ribbon. As they wove in and out, men going one way and women the other, it created a sleeve of sorts - the enveloping womb of the earth - around the pole. By the time they were done, the Maypole was nearly invisible beneath a sheath of ribbons. If you have a large group of friends and lots of ribbon, you can easily hold your own Maypole Dance as part of your Beltaine festivities. 
 
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.
 
 
The Beltaine/Oestra Bash
The Beltaine bonfire festival is really incomplete without a meal to go with it.  For this occasion celebrate with foods that honour the earth but probably the most wide-spread tradition is that of ‘Scottish Bannocks’.  It is a form of flat bread, the same thickness as a scone cooked on a griddle or fried in a pan.  Today it may also be baked in the oven for about twenty minutes.  In parts of Scotland, the Beltaine bannock is a popular custom. It’s said that if you eat one on Beltaine morning, you’ll be guaranteed abundance for your crops and livestock.
 
BANNOCKS OR OATCAKES (TRADITIONAL)
 
4 oz (⅔ cup) medium oatmeal
2 teaspoons melted fat (bacon dripping is good)
Pinch of bicarbonate of soda
Additional oatmeal for the kneading
Pinch of salt
¼ cup hot water
 
Mix the oatmeal with the salt and bicarbonate of soda in a basin, then
make a well in the middle and pour in the melted fat. Stir around, then
add enough water to make a stiff paste.  Scatter a board or table thickly
with oatmeal, turn out the mixture and roll into a ball.  Knead well with
the hands covered in oatmeal to prevent sticking.  Press down a little
and keep the edges as regular as possible.  Then roll out to a ¼ inch
thickness, and shape by putting a dinner plate on top and cutting round
the edges.  Sprinkle finally with a little meal, then cut into quarters or
less.  Place on the warmed girdle, or pan, and cook until the edges curl
slightly.  In Scotland they were finished on a toasting stone, but a
medium hot grill to crisp the other side is adequate. [A Taste of Scotland]
 
Oatcakes are very good with fish, especially herrings, either smoked or fresh, with raw onions; also served with soups, butter-milk, or with jam, honey or marmalade for breakfast. Bannock is also a main staple of many indigenous communities in Canada because it’s a simple bread that can be cooked in a pan, in the oven or over a fire. Top with butter, nut butter, jam or even melt a cube of cheese inside the dough.  During Beltaine a bonfire is kept going all night long. Pieces of bannock are thrown into the fire as an offering.
 
Froissart, the 14th-century chronicler, writes that the Scottish soldier always carried a flat plate of metal and a wallet of oatmeal, as part of his equipment.  With a little water he could always make himself an oatcake over a wood fire, which contributed to his remarkable stamina.
 
Loaded with beef, potatoes, and lots of vegetables, this dish celebrates winter and welcomes spring. It’s warm and hearty, yet fresh and bright.  And, at this time of year, when the days can fluctuate between spring-like with clear skies and warm air to cold and chilly rainy days that feel more like February, there’s still justification to slow cook something cozy and savory for Beltaine. With the shifting weather, we never know if there’s a last chilly day around the corner and this slow cooker beef stew has the best of both seasons. With tender beef cooked low and slow in a rich gravy along with spring veggies and plenty of fresh herbs, it’s a set-it-and-forget-it recipe that simmers all day in your slow cooker.
 
SPRING BEEF AND VEGETABLE STEW
 
1 tbsp vegetable oil
500g beef diced stewing steak
1 tbsp flour
700ml beef stock
1 carrot, thickly sliced
400g Jersey Royal potatoes, cut into wedges
1 leek, thickly sliced
100g Spring Greens (or Baby Leaf Greens), shredded
25g pack fresh parsley, chopped
Pepper and salt


Preheat the oven to 180ºC, gas mark 4. Heat the oil in a large frying pan
and fry the beef until browned. Stir in the flour and seasoning and cook
for 1 minute, add the stock and bring to the boil. Stir in the carrot and
potatoes. Transfer to an ovenproof casserole dish (or slow cooker), cover
and bake for 1 hour. Add the leek and bake for a further 1 hour until the
beef is tender Add the greens and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley
and serve with plenty of crusty bread [Waitrose]
 
Beltaine festivals, both in ancient times and today, are commonly accompanied by a large feast. Traditional Beltaine celebrations would set aside some food and drink for the aos sí as a nod of respect.   Since Beltaine used to focus on livestock, perhaps it’s not a bad alternative in providing an enormous ‘cheese/ charcuterie board’ with a wide variety of cheeses and cured meats for the occasion, together with a large wicker basket full of fresh bread and crackers. And best of all, this has something for everyone! From different types of cheese to sweet and savory snacks to crackers and cured meats, the best cheese boards leave no one behind.
 
Select the cheeses. Try to include a variety of flavors and textures by selecting cheeses from different families (for example):
  • Aged: Aged Cheddar, Gruyere, Gouda.
  • Soft: Brie, Camembert, Goat.
  • Firm: Manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Edam.
  • Blue: Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton.
 
Use cheese markers to label cheese so everyone knows what they're getting and bring cheeses to room temperature before serving in order to bring out their true flavor.
 
Add some charcuterie...aka cured meats. Prosciutto, salami, sopressata, chorizo, mortadella or paté are all good options.
Add some savory. Think olives, pickles, roasted peppers, artichokes or spicy mustards.
Add some sweet. Think seasonal and dried fruits, candied nuts, preserves, honey or chutney.
Offer a variety of breads. Sliced baguette, bread sticks, and a variety of crackers in different shapes, sizes, and flavors.
Finish it off with some garnishes. This is a great way to give your cheese board a seasonal touch. Use edible flowers, cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs, celery or grapes to give your board the look and feel you want.  [Lemon Tree Dwelling]


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