<![CDATA[Coven of the Scales - Blog]]>Thu, 30 Jun 2022 15:55:29 -0700Weebly<![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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<![CDATA[NEW RELEASE]]>Mon, 28 Mar 2022 09:48:39 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/new-release9829274Picture

The Witch’s Book of Simples
The simple arte of domestic folk medicine
 
A Simple is a philtre derived from a single herb and was an important element among the natural resources of the parish-pump witch, wise-women and cunning-folk.  Simples are common kitchen ‘stuff’ that has been handed down through generations of country people in the form of family cures for everyday ailments.  Or as William Fernie wrote in his Herbal Simples (1897) “The art of Simpling is as old with us as our British hills.  It aims at curing common ailments with simple remedies culled from the soil, or got from home resources near at hand.”
 
These were no fancy recipes with magical formulae, and, often given as a tisane, the women of the household were able to use the remedies to treat common ailments suffered by her family. And, this elementary form of domestic plant medicine can be as simple as a cup of chamomile tea made from flowers picked fresh from our own garden to aid sleep.  This was the most elementary way to use medicinal plants since no fancy recipes or scientific acumen was needed as Simples were often given as an infusion or used as a poultice or compress.  But this element of traditional witchcraft has long been in the shadows …
 
As most of my readers will know, I have a fascination for odd and obscure historical facts that are hidden away in the millions of sources that outstrip and confound the confines of the Internet – it’s finding them that presents the stimulation and the challenge. Because if we merely rely on the regurgitated information of contemporary paganism not only does our mind become stagnant, but for those who follow the Craft of the witch, so do our magical abilities.
 
Over the years I have also incorporated a great deal of folk- cunning- and country-lore into my books on witchcraft with a view to preserving that knowledge for future generations. Much of what even those of my grandparents’ generation once knew is now lost because it was never recorded for posterity. True there are numerous pagan books written about similar subjects but it is obvious that a large number of writers don’t have the countryside in their blood and fail to reflect the magic and mystery of growing up in an uncomplicated rural environment. Strangely enough, these sentiments are often now viewed as some form of elitism but I prefer to go back to the roots of learning rather than consult something that has been cobbled together from different popular titles without any true grounding in Nature.
 
Finally, special thanks must go to medical herbalist Tish Romanov of The Old Apothecary for giving The Witch’s Book of Simples the once over to make sure I wasn’t about to kill anyone, or that my brain hadn’t failed during the long years since I was first introduced to (and used) these simple domestic plant remedies … and for adding the warnings, cautions and dangers where applicable.

 
The Witch’s Book of Simples by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books (www.moon-books.net) ISBN 978 1 78904 789 9 : 188 pp : UK£11.99/US$18.95

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<![CDATA[VERNAL EQUINOX]]>Sat, 19 Mar 2022 16:57:45 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/vernal-equinoxPicture
The Elders of the Coven of the Scales and myself always view the Spring Equinox with a degree of trepidation since it usually brings with it the onset of personal turmoil and upheaval.  As the year begins to change we prepare to batten down the hatches until the storm of uncertainty has passed.  And, as we all appreciate, uncertainty is often centered on worries about the future and all the bad things we can anticipate happening. It can leave us feeling hopeless and depressed about the days ahead, exaggerate the scope of the problems we face, and even prevent us from taking action to overcome any problems until the Vernal Equinox has gone.

Canadian wellness coach, Kelly Spencer, observes that the Vernal Equinox is a time of rebirth for all life. “As winter places us in a life of more darkness, we rejoice more sunlight. With all of life dependent upon the sun, you can imagine the energy of celebration this time of year for all living species. Birds sing, flowers bloom, bees dance, and babies of all species are born. In ancient times, rituals were performed at the Spring Equinox and people would cleanse old energy. This is where our tradition of ‘spring cleaning’ came from! We feel more energized and want to plant seeds of vision in our lives or for our gardens. We may feel the urge to open the windows, clean and prepare for a new, warmer and brighter season. We might make plans to get outside more, develop a health plan for ourselves, or set some new goals to achieve, both personally and professionally.”

We also understand that there is a real ‘seasonal science’ concerning the varied affects on our body and mind so that we can all be more mindful of when transition from season to season wreaks its affects on us. In fact, it can affect all living creatures. Seasonal changes, including the increase in the amount of light is a signal to animals, plants and people, of the changing seasons. For some, changes of season can trigger a change in mood. During the winter many develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD), with some experts believing the shorter days, with less sunlight, upset the body’s internal clock causing loss of energy and lack of luster for life.

With the increase in light, as it hits the retina and enters the pineal gland and slows the production of melatonin, we may notice a change in the way we feel and the energy we have. As the melatonin recedes and the light begins to affect the brain, we can get a lighter ‘spring’ in our step, we become more alert and experience increase feelings of happiness. The fresh air, scents and visual displays of bloom and birth, feel good as we consume them with our senses.

But what can account for those feelings of apprehension that some monumental upheaval is about to occur – and it will invariably happen around the Equinox!?  There’s never been a satisfactory answer to this situation but a gentle read through Professor E O James’s Seasonal Feasts & Festivals (1961) provided another train of thought …

This related to the tradition custom of seasonal contests that had been an integral element for promoting fertility and conquering the malign forces of evil, especially at the approach of spring.  According to Professor James, this is apparent in the many ball games that had survived throughout the ages which originally had a ritual significance – not to mention local hostility.  Not infrequently these have occurred in the opening of the year, and have persisted in association with the carnival, revelries and merry-making.  The rites, however, belong to the Spring Festival rather than that of the Winter Solstice – Shrovetide customs looking forward to Easter, not backwards towards Yule.

In England it became the custom for parishes to divide themselves into two opposing groups at this season of the year, which usually coincided with Shove Tuesday, to engage in ‘rough and rumbles’ such as those recorded in forty-two towns or districts,  and in which they have survived to within recent memory.  ‘Broken shins, broken heads, torn coats and lost hats’, we are told were ‘among the minor accidents of this fearful contest’.  A Frenchman who witnessed the scene remarked that ‘if Englishmen called this playing, it would be impossible to say what they would call fighting’.

According to one local tradition this violent event celebrated the driving out and slaying of a cohort of Roman soldiers marching through the town by unarmed Britons.  And to suppress the observance in 1846 ‘it required two troops of Dragoons, a large levy of special constables and the reading of the Riot Act to secure the desired result’. These regional ‘needle-matches’ or bitterly fought contests between two teams who bear each other a grudge,  aroused exceptional personal antagonism between the contestants.

Seasonal games and contests of this nature were almost universal in England and elsewhere in Europe at the approach or beginning of spring, until they were prohibited on the ground that they were dangerous to life and limb, and property, as indeed they were.  Is the astral turbulence surrounding the Spring Equinox a throw-back to the ‘good old days’ enshrined in our racial memory?  Because the mere presence of such violence in the astral realm is already acutely burdensome, and to be physically exposed to it is exhausting and debilitating

Uncertain times create waves in the astral realm:When the human mind doesn’t know what the future will hold, its natural tendency is to seek out some narrative to grasp on to, to make sense of, and identify with that narrative. Without meditative training, simply remaining in a blank, unknowable present is not how most of us cope with uncertainty. When understood in the context of a society (and, in general, all rules that apply to individuals apply to groups; as above, so below), this means that an uncertain material world (like say, the Corvid pandemic) creates even more uncertainty in our collective heads, and all members of society feel a sense of change, and often of unease, like we know something is coming but aren’t sure what. This is what is meant by ‘something in the air;’ a collective consciousness comes to reflect this uncertainty, this sense of foreboding. It is like the calm before a storm. [Astral Harmony]

Both Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes universally represent a time when earth energies as well as our own bio-energetic systems are dramatically shifting gears, so our emotional and physical health can be quite sensitive, and we need extra rest and care to protect our life force and to help us stay steady.

During equinoxes, the Sun also exerts a stronger pull on the Earth than at the rest of the year, because of the alignment between the sun and the equator. Consequently, the water surface is strongly attracted by the Sun, which accentuates what we call ‘great tides’. To the meteorologists, spring is from March to May, and it is seen as a period of instability.  This is because the ground is warming up but the air is still quite cold, producing a bitter-sweet mixture of squally showers, fine spells and cold, frosty nights.  Just when the days appear to be improving, a deep depression can whip moisture-laden air down from the polar seas, hurling it across the countryside as sleet and snow.  After warm March days, when the blackthorn comes into bloom, there is often a sting in the tail of the month – the blackthorn winter!

In fact, the countryman’s observation for this time of year is ‘Beware the Blackthorn Winter’ – because although the blackthorn is in full bloom by now, its pale, softly fragrant blossoms are often matched by frost-whitened grass or snow-covered hills. The blackthorn flowers before its leaves grow, so we get a real contrast of white flower against black bark; blackthorn has a reputation as being one of the ‘witch-trees’ of the countryside, not least because we have to be very careful of its long (and very sharp!) spikes which can puncture skin very easily and the wounds have a tendency to turn septic. The blackthorn is depicted in many fairytales throughout Europe as a tree of ill omen but it along with the alder it is the totem tree of traditional British Old Craft.

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<![CDATA[WRITER@WORK - spring]]>Tue, 15 Mar 2022 11:50:14 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/writerwork-springPicture
WRITER@WORK – Spring
The next book in the How to Survive (and Enjoy) titles is about due for publication in Sumer Is Icumen In – scheduled for 29th April which looks at reclaiming our Summer Festivals for our personal/family calendar.   Harvest Home – In Gathering and Breath of Spring have also been added to the Moon Books publishing schedule and so we now have a complete year of reclaimed fire-festivals.  I’ve also completed the final draft of the ignotus version of Hallowe’en & All That – which is a bit more graphic than its Moon Books companions.

Lots of interest on TVWriters’ Vault for Temple House Archive and the Hugo Braithwaite Mysteries from television production companies looking for new series.  This is a long, drawn out process but these two fiction series have both attracted some interest … so fingers crossed.  Have also started on volume four of the Vampyre’s Tale and hopefully this can be added to the list.


​Scaling down on all sorts of projects leading up to the planned move back to the UK in the autumn and, who knows, may be making room for some new ones.  I shall miss the Glen since it has been a wondrous source of inspiration over the years but being close to the sea may provide stimulus of a different kind.  Talking of which, Incubation and Temple Sleep is next in the Arcanum series and should be ready for release in April/May.

All these things are linked in with each other and who knows what writing changes there are in store for me in the coming months …

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<![CDATA[Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore - Tides]]>Thu, 03 Feb 2022 11:32:53 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/traditional-witchcraft-for-the-seashore-tidesPicture

Natural tides are an integral part of tradition British witchcraft because these are what empower our magical workings and personal spell casting.  Imagine drawing in the energies we’ve given out today. Pull back the energy that has gone into chatting, encounters at work, the distractions of shop windows, or the emotional pull of others. Ethereal meditation focuses on spiritual transformation. It is a form of conscious meditation that combines powerful visualizations and affirmations to help harness the flow of personal and environmental energy in our lives.  Here we use the natural tides of the Earth to help restore our body when we’re feeling exhausted, weary, and tired. We will feel more alive and filled with energy ...
 
Natural tides are caused by the effect of gravity in the Earth-Moon-Sun system, and the movement of those three bodies.  Let’s consider just the Moon for a minute, and imagine the Earth completely covered in water. There would be two bulges of water - one towards the Moon and another on the opposite side. The rise and fall in sea-level is caused by the Earth rotating on its axis underneath these bulges of water. There are two tides a day because it passes under two bulges for each 24 hour rotation.  This is called the lunar tide.
 
The Sun also creates two bulges of water called the solar tide - this is about a third the size of the lunar tide. Two Bulges? What causes the one on the side away from the Moon? Most people think the Moon rotates round the Earth. In reality, the Earth and the Moon rotate about a common centre just inside the Earth’s surface. At this common centre, the two forces acting: gravity towards the Moon and a rotational force away from the Moon are perfectly in balance. They have to be otherwise the Earth and Moon would not stay in this orbit. The ‘tide-generating’ force is the difference between these two forces. On the surface of the Earth nearest the Moon, gravity is greater than the rotational force, and so there is a net force towards the Moon causing a bulge towards the Moon. On the opposite side of the Earth, gravity is less as it is further from the Moon, so the rotational force is dominant. Hence there is a net force away from the Moon. It is this that creates the second bulge away from the Moon.
 
The solar-tidal bulges are about half the size of those caused by the Moon. Like the Moon, gravitational attraction to the Sun creates one bulge towards the Sun and one away from it ... These occur during full and new Moons when the gravitational influence of the Sun and the Moon line up with each other. Tides cause daily changes in water levels in many coastal areas. Factors such as local topography and weather contribute to the timing and height of tides, but the primary reason for tides is the gravitational attraction between liquid water on the Earth and the Moon. All objects on Earth experience tidal forces. However, the effect is most pronounced with water because, as a liquid, it is more easily deformed by gravity when compared to solid objects.
 
Basically, oceanic tides are very long-period waves that move through the oceans in response to the forces exerted by the moon and sun. Tides originate in the oceans and progress toward the coastlines where they appear as the regular rise and fall of the sea surface. When the highest part, or crest of the wave reaches a particular location, high tide occurs; low tide corresponds to the lowest part of the wave, or its trough. The difference in height between the high tide and the low tide is called the tidal range.
A horizontal movement of water often accompanies the rising and falling of the tide. This is called the tidal current. The incoming tide along the coast and into the bays and estuaries is called a flood current; the outgoing tide is called an ebb current. The strongest flood and ebb currents usually occur before or near the time of the high and low tides. The weakest currents occur between the flood and ebb currents and are called ‘slack water’ or ‘slack current’. In the open ocean tidal currents are relatively weak. Near estuary entrances, narrow straits and inlets, the speed of tidal currents can reach up to several kilometers per hour.
 
The solar cycle is the cycle that the Sun’s magnetic field goes through approximately every eleven years. Our Sun is a huge ball of electrically-charged hot gas. This charged gas moves, generating a powerful magnetic field.  Every 11 years or so, the Sun’s magnetic field completely flips. This means that the Sun’s north and south poles switch places. Then it takes about another 11 years for the Sun’s north and south poles to flip back again. The solar cycle affects activity on the surface of the Sun, such as sunspots which are caused by the Sun’s magnetic fields, and as the magnetic fields change, so does the amount of activity on the Suns surface.
 
Atmospheric tides are ubiquitous features of the Earth’s atmosphere. They are the persistent global oscillations that are observed in all types of atmospheric fields, including wind, temperature, pressure, density, and land height.   Tidal oscillations have periods that are some factor of a solar or lunar day. Atmospheric tides have been studied for many years, since they are evident in both surface pressure and magnetic observations that date back to the early part of the twentieth century.  Atmospheric tides are further characterized by their sources.
 
The Moon’s gravity forces the lunar atmospheric tide, while solar atmospheric tides can be excited in several ways, including the absorption of solar radiation, large-scale latent heat release associated with deep convective clouds in the troposphere, the gravitational pull of the Sun, and as secondary waves due to nonlinear wave–wave interactions. The restoring force that acts on atmospheric tides is gravity, so tides are a special class of buoyancy or gravity waves. Solar atmospheric tides are generally larger than lunar tides and dominate the tidal motions in the middle and upper atmosphere, that is, the stratospheremesosphere, and thermosphere. [NASA]
 
Earth tide is the displacement of the solid earth’s surface caused by the gravity of the Moon and Sun. At ground level, atmospheric tides can be detected as regular but small oscillations in surface pressure with periods of 24 and 12 hours. The largest body tide constituents are semi-diurnal, but there are also significant diurnal, semi-annual, and fortnightly contributions. Though the gravitational force causing earth tides and ocean tides is the same, the responses are quite different.  In coastal areas, because the ocean tide is quite out of step with the Earth tide, at high ocean tide there is an excess of water about what would be the gravitational equilibrium level, and therefore the adjacent ground falls in response to the resulting differences in weight. At low tide there is a deficit of water and the ground rises. Displacements caused by ocean tidal loading can exceed the displacements due to the Earth body tide. Sensitive instruments far inland often have to make similar corrections. Atmospheric loading and storm events may also be measurable, though the masses in movement are less weighty. Volcanologists use the regular, predictable Earth tide movements to calibrate and test sensitive volcano deformation monitoring instruments. The tides may also trigger volcanic events. [Wikipedia]
The pole tide is the response of the ocean to incremental centrifugal forces associated with the Chandler wobble - a small deviation in the Earth’s axis of rotation relative to the solid earth.  It amounts to change of about 30 ft in the point at which the axis intersects the Earth’s surface and has a period of 433 days. This wobble, combines with another wobble with a period of one year, so that the total polar motion varies with a period of about seven years. The tide has a potentially important effect on the period and damping of the wobble, but it is at present not well constrained by observations.  In regard to ocean tides in particular: the South Pole is on land so there are no ocean tides; and the North Pole is frozen so it is hard to see the Ocean tides! It is true that tides tend to reduce with increasing latitude, but there are many other factors including the shape of the coastline. [Navipedia]
 
Tides have an effect on the atmosphere surrounding the Earth and can be used magically to our advantage to enhance our rituals when each individual tides is at its highest/strongest. Here’s an energizing yogic meditation we can do for just thirty seconds that will fill our body and mind with a smooth, natural energy. This is also great for increasing our immunity and clearing our mind. Try doing this in the morning or mid-afternoon to fill ourselves with an intoxicating natural buzz as we plug into the natural tide.
 
While this is a simple meditation is also a mental practice that allows us to connect back to our physical bodies, slow down, and calm our thoughts when they are racing or frantic. Like all forms of meditation, doing even a quick exercise can train us to press pause on our swirling thoughts and focus, even for a few seconds, on the moment.  The internet can help us to pinpoint the apogee of the tide on which we wish to focus, so that we can concentrate on that precise moment in time prior to engaging in any magical working.
 
Once we have discovered how to syncronize our routine with the various natural tides by consulting any one of a number of apps or local tide charts available we can literally drop into the exercise anytime, anywhere. If we’re stressed at our desk, or even slipping into negative thoughts while at the gym, we can sink into this mini-yoga exercise any time we feel the need.


  • First things first, get comfortable – whether we choose to cozy up on a couch or step outside into the sunlight. Keeping our feet firmly planted on the ground can be helpful for greater connection and grounding.  On the go or not at home? No problem.
  • Take a few deep breaths . . . like, all the way down to your belly (four seconds in, four-second hold, and four seconds out is a good place to start).
     
    Without trying to change what we observe, let’s simply notice the sensations in our body. Do we have clenched shoulders? A tightened jaw? Tightness in our neck?
  • Simply observing what we feel may be shocking once we stop and notice just how tense we’ve been without even realizing it
  • Once you’ve become aware of sensations, take notice of a few other things like:
 
The temperature of our hands
The feeling of clothing against our body
The ground under our feet
The smells and feeling of the air around us
 
  • All of these objective observations can help increase mindfulness – like when it feels like as though our anxiety is taking control.
  • Gently allow our body to relax, from head to toe.
  • Start by relaxing the facial muscles and jaw, neck, and shoulders. Even our tongue and throat might be holding anxiety, so let them go limp. Continue to breathe deeply as we relax all the way down to your toes.  Think of nothing.
  • New to meditation or finding this all a little abstract? As with all types of meditation, there’s no right or wrong way. So if sitting in silence with yourself feels good, you’re doing it right!
  • We can always take it up to the next level and go for five to 10 minutes, or longer! This is a good way to begin our day, self-sooth over your lunch break, or wind down before going to sleep.  Or even focus our thoughts prior to beginning a magical working.
Let this pure thought, the recognition of our pure existence, center you and draw you deeper inside. To find our place of peace in our mind. To be at our most calm mindset and think clearly. Think of this practice as an exercise in meeting our invulnerable core. It can give us the strength we need to open up to our own vulnerability without being overwhelmed by it and connect with the Universe as it manifests in natural tides and rhythms.

Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore
by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books ISBN 978 184694 426 0 : 150 pages : Price UK£9.99/US$16.95 www.mon-books.net

 

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<![CDATA[CANDLEMAS]]>Mon, 31 Jan 2022 11:02:29 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/candlemasPicture
Although Candlemas is a Christian holiday celebrated on 2nd February that has aspects in common with Imbolc – although it is referred to as Candlemas in accordance with the  tradition British Old Craft tradition. Its celebration can be traced to 4th century Greece as a purification holiday and a celebration of the return of light. The modern celebration of Imbolc is considered a low-key and sometimes private affair concerned with reconnecting with nature. Since it’s a climate-specific holiday, some followers of the Wiccan religion adjust their celebration of it to correspond with a date more appropriate to the coming of spring where they live. Others embrace the symbolism of the holiday and keep to the 1st February celebration.
 
Since the Victorian era, it is customary to remove Yuletide decorations on Twelfth Night ... but up until the 19th century people would keep their decorations up until Candlemas Eve.  If this custom wasn’t followed, it was believed that greenery would not return and vegetation would not grow, leading to agricultural shortages and subsequently food problems. Even though Christmas decorations are now less about foliage and more about baubles, glitter and tinsel, many people still adhere to the superstition which they ascribe to the modern Twelfth Night on the 5th January. This 17th century poem by Robert Herrick gives us a better idea of what sort of greenery was used prior to the introduction of the Victorian Christmas tree … In his ‘Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve’ he wrote …
 
DOWN with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe ;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall :
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind :
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected, there (maids, trust to me)
So many goblins you shall see.

In his longer ‘Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve’, he added:

       DOWN with the rosemary and bays,
           Down with the misletoe;
       Instead of holly, now up-raise
           The greener box (for show).

       The holly hitherto did sway ;
           Let box now domineer
       Until the dancing Easter day,
           Or Easter's eve appear.

       Then youthful box which now hath grace
           Your houses to renew ;
       Grown old, surrender must his place
           Unto the crisped yew.

       When yew is out, then birch comes in,
           And many flowers beside ;
       Both of a fresh and fragrant kind
           To honour Whitsuntide.

       Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents
(grasses),
           With cooler oaken boughs,
       Come in for comely ornaments
           To re-adorn the house.

Thus times do shift; Each thing his turn does hold ;
New things succeed, As former things grow old.

In fact, Herrick (1591-1674) wrote at least four poems concerning Candlemas.  Likewise, ‘Upon Candlemas Day’ shows the day itself had its own entrenched traditions:
END now the white loaf and the pie,
And let all sports with Christmas die.

Finally, in ‘The Ceremonies for Candlemas Day’, he wrote:
KINDLE the Christmas brand, and then
Till sunset let it burn ;
Which quench’d, then lay it up again
Till Christmas next return.
Part must be kept wherewith to tend
The Christmas log next year,
And where ‘tis safely kept, the fiend
Can do no mischief there.

This latter poem recalls the tradition that Christmas greenery would be burned and the Yule log allowed to burn down completely, but that a portion should be held back to start next year’s Yule log fire (and as a good luck charm against ‘mischief’). The ashes were to be spread over the land/garden to ensure a good harvest and the Yule log for the next year would be chosen at that time.  Candlemas was also believed to be a good day for weather forecasting (it falls halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox): If it was a sunny day, there would be forty more days of cold and snow. This belief has carried into folklore tradition around the world, and one olde English rhyme says:
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
But if it be dark with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.

 
All this Christian overlay merely confirms what an important festival this was for our pagan forebears and, as such, it became the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary in the church calendar. The Christian feast-day commemorates the ceremony performed by the mother of Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem forty days after the birth of Christ in fulfillment of the Mosaic Law requiring the cleansing of a woman from the ritual impurity incurred at childbirth.  The convenience of having yet another important pagan festival falling within the ‘nativity cycle’ meant that Brigid easily became a Catholic saint! In the early calendar, on that morning, many candles were lit in the church, symbolically driving out the darkness. In the afternoon, there was feasting all round, with much music as Candlemas Day marked the formal end of winter. 
 
In the pagan Celtic world it was Imbolc, the festival marking the beginning of spring that has been celebrated since ancient times. It is also a cross quarter day, that midpoint between the Mid-Winter Festival and the Spring Equinox; the name deriving from the OldIrish imbolg meaning ‘in the belly’, a time when sheep began to lactate, their udders filled and the grass began to grow. Imbolc was a time to celebrate Brigid, as the goddess of inspiration, healing, and smith-craft, with associations to fire, the hearth and poetry.  Also called Là Fhèill Brìghde, it corresponds to the Welsh Gŵyl Fair y Canhwyllau as a traditional festival marking the beginning of spring; it was widely observed throughout IrelandScotland and the Isle of Man.  Local festivals marking the arrival of the first signs of spring may be named after either the Cailleach or Brìghde, while some interpretations have them as the dual face of the same goddess.
 
Là Fhèill Brìghde, is also the day the Cailleach gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that, if she intends to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on 1st February is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood to keep herself warm in the coming months. As a result, people are generally relieved if Là Fhèill Brìghde is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is still asleep, will soon run out of firewood, and therefore winter is almost over.
 
The Cailleach is a divine hag, a creatorix, weather and ancestor deity while Brigid is a sort of Celtic Athena, with very similar functions. Although most often presented as a mysteriously veiled, ancient woman, the Cailleach is also said to take on the guise of many different beasts and birds as she travels around the rugged landscapes of her homeland.  The Cailleach Béara is said to be one of the most ancient of mythological beings, appearing as an old crone who brings winter with her blackthorn staff when she appears and who wields incredible power over life and death.  Her ability to control the weather and the seasons meant many communities looked upon her with a mixture of reverence and fear.
 
Candlemas, then, is the re-awakening of the Old Lass within Old Craft belief and also coincides with the Roman Festa Candelarum, which commemorated the search for Persephone by her mother Demeter, Persephone having been kidnapped by the King of the Otherworld, Hades. As Persephone was no longer in our world, darkness was everywhere, so her mother used a torch in her search, and in the end obtained a decree that her daughter would be on Earth and Olympus for two thirds of the year (the light period), and in the Other World (Hades) for the other third of the time (winter season). The festival of candles symbolizes the return of the Light. 
 
During medieval times, peasants still carried torches and crossed the fields in procession, praying for purification of the ground before planting. In the early churches, the torches were replaced by blessed candles whose glow was supposed to take away evil; villagers and townsfolk would later take the candles to their houses to bring protection to their homes and family.  During the evening, an especially large candle would have been lit while the family gathered around waiting for a celebratory feast, during which plans and promises to be kept through the new season would be discussed and debated until it burned out. It was also customary at sunset to ritually light a candle in each room of the home in honour of the Sun’s return. Not surprisingly, in 1543, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, banned candles on Candlemas Day because the rites were seen as superstitious, i.e. pagan!
 
In traditional British Old Craft, however, Old Candlemas/Old Imbolc now falls on the 15th February due to the changes in the calendar. Imbolc is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and there is evidence it has been an important date since pre-Christian times: at the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara the rising sun at Imbolc illuminates the inner chamber; the sun also illuminates the chamber at Samhain.  Our Neolithic ancestors were obviously acutely aware of this time of the year, as were the Celts and the later settlers in the Ireland, each seeming to adopt some of the traditions and beliefs of the previous/existing culture. 
 
In county Meath there are two important Neolithic solar alignments to Imbolc.  Firstly, on the Hill of Tara, at the Mound of the Hostages a Neolithic passage grave has an entrance directed towards the sunrise on the 8th November and the 4th February, the start and end of winter respectively. As the sun rises it squarely illuminates the back-stone of the chamber for about a week. The stone engravings are illuminated, not by the sun beam directly, but its diffuse reflection from the back stone.  Simultaneously in Cairn L on Cairnbane West, Loughcrew, the sun is shining into the monument to perform what can only be described as a carefully choreographed ballet. At the instant of sunrise the first rays of light are focused on a free standing white pillar stone and nothing else. The light is seen to visibly move from top to bottom in a matter of seconds and then swing from left to right where it is then focused onto a ‘mirror’ stone which throws the diffuse sunlight into a dark recess illuminating one of the most accomplished pieces of Neolithic art in the world.
 
This is the only time when the carvings can be seen without the aid of a torch. All the fine detail being revealed in a very dramatic and stunning way. The sunlight then falls on an angled stone and again within a matter of seconds is seen to shrink and disappear as the sun moves higher in the sky outside the chamber. Curiously the central motif on the Mound of the Hostages stone and the Cairn L stone are remarkably similar, sharing images of nested concentric circles.  From these ancient rites we can see how they identify with the Old Lass and her awakening, not to mention their association with the Mysteries of the Elder Faith.
 
In Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed, Evan John Jones acknowledges that Candlemas is the first of the great Sabbats and the start of the ritual year, when it is time to let go of the past and to look to the future, clearing out the old, making both outer and inner space for new beginnings.  In ancient Rome, on the eve of Candlemas all the home fires would have been put out, cleaned out, and re-lit being symbolic of the returning light of the Sun. In Old Craft, and in keeping with this symbolism, a broom made from the three sacred woods symbolic of the three-fold aspects of the goddess (the handle from ash, the brush from birch twigs and the binding cord from willow) would be placed by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming in the new.
 
We are now preparing to move into the bright half of the year and those four great fire festivals that are marked by the Equinoxes and Solstices of the solar year, together with the four traditional celebrations of Old Beltaine, Old Lammas, Old Hallowe’en and Old Candlemas making up the eight Sabbats of the witch’s year that will be coming round again. The fire festivals occur at the beginning of each quarter of the solar-tide cycle, with Candlemas marking the end of the reign of the Holly King and heralding the first stirrings of the bright tide of summer of the Primal Goddess.  

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<![CDATA[Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living]]>Sat, 15 Jan 2022 15:29:34 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/traditional-witchcraft-for-urban-livingPicture

By Melusine Draco
An extract from the book and a bit more …
In the roaring traffic’s boom / In the silence of my lonely room from the Cole Porter’s song, Night and Day, probably sums up the lot of many urban witches who find the inner city streets incompatible with what they see as a pagan life-style. And yet for hundreds of years, witches and cunning folk have plied their trade for the benefit of their town-dwelling neighbours.

​Only recently, a rather mature witch of my acquaintance reminded me of the time when I’d advised her on how to cope with a recent move from rural Berkshire to a large sprawling city;  of how she needed to get out and find the old heart of her new community and reconnect with the heart-beat of her kind.  It was amazing, she said, just how many old life-lines were still evident in the abandoned water-courses, derelict churchyards and ancient architecture. 
 
Late 18th-century antiquarians portrayed the urbanizing towns of the period as ‘centres of a new-style civilization, confident, reformed, free of the old superstitions of the past.  The urban laboring-classes were still views as ignorant and vice-ridden, but they were not thought to be as ignorant, and consequently not as superstitious as their country bumpkin cousins.  By the mid-19th century, confidence in the civilizing effects of urbanization had worn off somewhat … but many intellectuals of the period believed that urbanization rescued people ‘from the idiocy of rural life’.   Thus an editorial in the periodical All The Year Round (November 1869), remarked that although the belief in witchcraft still existed ‘to a very considerable extent in England’ it was not heard of in the busy towns
 
Washington Irving, writing in 1820, described how the inhabitants of Little Britain (near Smithfield Market) still believed in dreams and fortune-telling but failed to mention witchcraft among the beliefs still held in the area.  It is evident from the scant folkloric source material, and from the newspaper archives, that accusations of witchcraft were far less common in London than in rural areas during the modern period.  In early modern England the flow of rural migrants to an expanding London, for example, did not necessarily lead to irrevocable breaks in social relations between village and city.  Rural teenagers were apprenticed to urban relations or friends, and many townspeople returned to their village homes to help at harvest time, this reinforcing those kinship links which geographical distance might have otherwise broken.
 
Owen Davies, who is well-known to most pagan readers for his classic Popular Magic: Cunning Folk in English History charted the transition of cunning folk from village to city in his The Decline in the Popular Belief in Witchcraft and Magic; his unpublished PhD thesis for the University of Lancaster, 1995 – which was later published in the Journal of Social History (1997).   By the time of WWI there were far fewer cunning folk operating in England than there had been fifty years before, and by the 1940s they seen to have disappeared altogether.
 
Interestingly, Gabrielle Hatfield made a similar observation in Memory, Wisdom & Healing (1999) following her researches into the history of domestic plant medicine , that had been passed down orally from one generation to the next.  She acknowledges that many women described as witches were probably innocent practitioners of herbal medicine; while others undoubtedly cultivated the image of witchcraft so that they had more to offer their customers than the common knowledge of plant medicine.
 
She also found that when she was collecting data on 20th-century plant remedies, many people initially disclaimed any knowledge of the subject. “In our present century, elderly people with such knowledge usually have not passed it on to the next generation for fear of being laughed at, or simply because they felt that such information was of no interest … especially in view of the condescending attitudes shown towards the users of such remedies.”
 
As far as today’s witches are concerned, the pursuit of this hidden urban knowledge is concerned, will be long and often misleading.  After all, why should an eager young witchlet expect these elderly kinfolk to be forthcoming?   The modern witch seeks to drop into a stranger’s life and expect to share their recollections and knowledge, and very often they will not be immune to having the wool pulled over his or her eyes!
 
For the witch whose career confines them to an urbanised environment, regular Craft practice may often seem like a futile gesture, especially if home is a small, gardenless-flat. Even the suburbs can be magically incapacitating, if there is constant noise from traffic and neighbours. People work long hours; often setting off for work and getting home again in the dark during the winter months, without having the opportunity to notice the subtle changing of the seasons. Weekends are a constant battle with family commitments, domestic chores and socialising. It’s no wonder that the urban witch has little time or strength left for magical and spiritual development.
 
There are, of course, others who find themselves having to remain town and house-bound because of age or disability; because they are caring for an aged/infirm parent, or partner; or because they have small children. Urbanisation often provides on-the-spot facilities to make things easier on the domestic front but it cannot give the one thing that a witch needs most – privacy and spiritual elbow-room. So how do we manage?
 
We get up close and personal. And we reject the textbook clichés of what is, and what is not, recommended witchcraft practice. We do not follow stereotyping when it comes to when, where and how we perform our rituals simply because it may not be practically possible to always follow the instructions to the letter. For example: I am a Welsh witch and I come from a place midway between the mountains and the sea, but I have not lived in my homeland now for many years. It would be untrue to say that I never experience what the Welsh call hiraethus, that indescribable feeling of longing and home-sickness, but as we all know, in magical terms there is always a price to be paid for our Craft. During those long years, my career and domestic life has taken me to London (where I lived for 20 years), to the industrial Midlands and, more recently, to a totally urbanised area of East Anglia. Not once, before moving to rural Ireland, did I have the luxury of wild, open spaces – it was all concrete and asphalt. But not once, in all that time, did I stop being a real witch.
 
In my experience, the greatest problem a solitary urban witch faces is that an urban environment is not user-friendly when it comes to psychic activity, but then we don’t always have a choice of where we are going to live if someone else’s needs have to be catered for, too. Mostly I have been confined to renting small terraced cottages and flats, often with little or no garden to give that extra bit of space. I make this comment merely to demonstrate that my Craft activities have not been conducted in a round of luxurious city apartments and picturesque Grade II listed town houses! Under these circumstances, for me the key words have always been: acclimatise, adapt and improvise. Any animal, plant or person that is uprooted and transported to another environment quickly learns to acclimatise if it is going to survive. I have adapted to my surroundings and drawn on whatever material/energy there is to hand, even if it is not what I’ve been used to working with. I improvise by drawing on existing knowledge and experience. So …
 
Acclimatise: Accustom yourself to tuning-in to your environment, even if you’ve lived there for some time. Try to imagine visiting the place for the first time. Buy a detailed street map or guidebook, and familiarise yourself with all the hidden nooks and crannies in the immediate vicinity. Is there a park nearby? Public gardens? Churchyard? Cemetery? What trees are growing locally? Which are the most important/attractive buildings?  Where is the nearest river or canal? Where is the oldest church? Take your time … explore … rediscover … acclimatise.
 
Adapt: Modify or adjust the way you look at things. There is no point in wishing you were elsewhere when circumstances dictate that you remain where you are. But on the other hand there’s nothing quite so mind-numbing as doing the same thing, day in day out, for weeks on end. For a change, try walking to the shops, school, or travelling to work, via a different route. Examine what’s growing in all the front gardens along the way to the shop, school, station or bus stop. Make sure you take time out for lunch - and get out of the home or working environment for an hour - even if it’s a wet Wednesday afternoon: after all, a witch shouldn’t be afraid of a little drop of Elemental Water! Start seriously inter[1]acting with your environment … adapt.
 
Improvise: Be prepared to perform a magical working at any time, without preparation, and without what is considered to be the ‘proper regalia’. Be aware of the magical signs Nature has to offer and be ready to act spontaneously, even in the middle of a crowded railway station or shopping mall during rush hour! It may also come as a bit of a shock to realise that a large number of books mentioned in this text are not about witchcraft, or written by witches. This is because we are learning to improvise and look at things from a different or unexpected perspective. Before we go out and meet Nature face to face, however, there may be one or two changes needed to enable us to re-connect with the natural, elemental energies that are an essential ingre[1]dient within any magical environment. Sorry … we’re not talking about symbolic bowls of water, salt, night-lights and a joss stick to mark the quarters on the sitting room rug, we’re talking about encountering real Elemental Air, real Elemental Water, real Elemental Earth and real Elemental Fire - up close and personal!
 
 
Elemental Air: This is … wait for it … fresh air! It’s the stuff every living thing on the planet needs to breathe to stay alive but, apart from the occasional jaunt to a pagan camp, a large number of urban pagans appear to be terrified of it. I’ve been into some homes where the stuffy, cluttered atmosphere is so over-powering that you could cut the reek of stale incense with a knife. Whilst we appreciate that modern society no longer allows us to live with our doors and windows wide open, we must get used to letting cleansing air back into our lives.
 
There is a purifying element to fresh air! In both religious and magical terms, however, Elemental Air is usually represented by smoke from the incense carrying our prayers and entreaties up to the gods. As Joules Taylor observes in Perfume Power, the burning of fragrance to represent questions or appeals is an ancient and well-nigh indestructible facet of worship. In other words, from very early times fragrance has been associated with the gods, the soul and spiritual qualities. Learn to recognise natural fragrance (not always pleasant) from the world around you, and not to rely totally on the contrived atmospherics of the incense burner!
 
As Jules Taylor goes on to observe, our once highly developed sense of smell is now generally under deployed and now perhaps the least-regarded of all human senses. We can improve our ‘scent perception’ by simply concentrating on becoming more aware of the smells around us. Unfortunately, the urban witch also has to contend with exhaust fumes, fast-food outlets and all manner of other municipal pollution, but with practice it is possible to detect the faint fragrance of Nature. If we want to reconnect with Nature the first thing we must do is sharpen our senses and learn to read the signs that come to us on the breeze
 
Elemental Air brings lightness and freedom of spirit, as well as being a universal symbol of irresistible force and uncontrollable power. Exercise: In town it’s often difficult to find a moment, or even a place to relax. In the larger towns and cities the noise is a constant, 24- hour drone of traffic, where people never seem to sleep. With the use of a local map, find a ‘green spot’ … even if it’s only a small churchyard or square … where you can sit, watch and listen.
 
Okay, but what are we watching and listening for?
 
Nature … because she is there all around us, all the time. For example, I’ve encountered a green woodpecker while sitting in the small courtyard garden of a coffee shop in the middle of town. I’ve seen (and heard) hundreds of these birds over the years, but this was the closest I’d ever been … just five feet away. How many different birds (most certainly creatures of Elemental Air) can you identify? If the answer is very few, then how can you hope to begin to read those ‘signs’ that make up a large part of the witch’s world? Invest a few coppers in a book on British birds from a local charity shop, or buy off e-bay, or ABE-Books on the Internet. Start learning, even if it’s only by watching the pigeons in Trafalgar Square! You’ll be surprised how many different birds can be spotted in our towns and inner cities on a regular basis, and birds have been always been considered bearers of omens since ancient times.
 
Elemental Water: Water is the essential ingredient of life but how many of us consciously pay homage to this fact in our day-to-day existence? We use water for the daily ritual cleansing of our home and body, to water the garden or wash the car, but often neglecting its spiritual properties. From prehistoric times, our ancestors considered springs and ‘watery places’ to be sacred, and the contemporary custom of throwing coins into wells and municipal fountains goes back to the times when votive offerings were cast into the waters to propitiate the gods. We should be mindful that water, particularly spring water, is truly a ‘gift of the gods’ and not to be treated casually.
 
For magical purposes we need to re-connect with water, for even the most rubbish-clogged urban watercourse carries life[1]giving properties along its muddy artery. If we live close to a river, canal, park or golf course, then it makes it easier to observe water at close quarters during the changing seasons, and come to recognise the local wildlife that depends on it. Even the modern fountain in the city centre can be a focus for meditative moments when the sun catches the colours of the rainbow in the falling spray. Our local brook regularly acts as a depository for shopping trolleys, traffic cones and other domestic debris, as it runs right through the centre of town. Growing through the restraining brickwork, however, is a magnificent elder tree and an amazing collection of harts-tongue ferns, which I haven’t seen in such profusion since leaving Wales.
 
Most days the flow is the barest trickle but when it rains, the watercourse becomes a raging torrent. The only other ‘watery’ place is the dried bed of an old pond that only floods during the winter months, but this is the real magical place. The water has gone because the surrounding urban development has drained it, but the site is old, with a large stand of reed mace and a host of other interesting creatures living in this well-established habitat.
 
There are numerous ideas for a ‘water feature’ in the home, and much depends on personal taste rather than pagan cliché. Even the smallest courtyard can host an ornamental wall fountain, birdbath or wooden barrel containing miniature water lilies (although these do require direct sunlight for success). Inside, a large bowl with flower heads floating on the surface can be extremely attractive … but not a good idea if you have small children or a large dog. Be creative, use your imagination.  
 
Elemental Water ‘saturates our lives and language and is the most compelling of human metaphors’ wrote Rebecca Rupp in Four Elements; it is the universal symbol of primal mystery.
 
Exercise: Trace your local source of natural water and try to follow it for as far as possible. You may be lucky enough to live near a pond, stream, lake, river or canal and can watch the changing face of the seasons at the water margin. How many different species of flora and fauna dependent on an Elemental Water habitat can you identify? If the answer is very few, then how can you hope to begin to read those ‘signs’ that make up a large part of the witch’s world? Remember that pure (or purified) water is sterile and that for magical purposes we need to work with natural water. Unless you have access to a spring or holy-well, place a wide bowl or jar outside on a window-sill, to catch rain or moisture; transfer to a sealable bottle and keep for use in your rites. But don’t drink rainwater!
 
Elemental Earth: Of all the elements, Earth is the symbol of solidity and substance, and the ‘most intrusive in our daily lives’, was an observation made by Rebecca Rupp. The subject of global warming and saving the planet is at the forefront of everyone’s mind these days, but for the witch, the sanctity of the Earth and Nature has always been paramount. The witch does not ‘worship’ Nature but exists in a sort of ‘spiritual care-taking’ capacity – after all, it is from Nature direct that we divine the signs and symbols that give us the power over natural things. Communing with Nature isn’t always easy in an urban environment and it is very often necessary to ‘manufacture’ a moment of peace for ourselves amongst the busy populace.
 
Dig out a copy of that famous junior school poem by William Henry Davies, ‘Leisure’ that begins: “What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare … ” and take a verse for your very own Thought for the Day. Without compromising your personal safety, try to visit the local park or old cemetery during school hours, or early on a weekend morning, when you can guarantee having a quiet corner to yourself for a while. Many years ago, long before the ‘great clean up’ got underway, we lived near Highgate Cemetery and this was a perfect place for a meditative or magical moment. The magnificent monuments were overgrown and apart from the occasional tourist visit at weekends, we pretty much had the place to ourselves via a discreet hole in the boundary fence. Not only had Nature taken over completely and the place full of wildlife, but there was also the comfortable familiarity that all witches should have with both the spirits of the dead, and the spirits of Nature.
 
But how do we bring Elemental Earth into our urban home? By growing something, of course! Not everyone has green fingers but it doesn’t take much effort to introduce a small selection of supermarket-grown potted herbs to the kitchen window-sill, does it? This small gesture gives a dual sense of purpose, in that we are caring for something that we can utilise in our day-to-day cooking and magic. Go one better and buy a small kitchen bay. As well as having culinary uses, bay is one of the oldest sacred herbs with strong protective powers when used in spell-casting. My bay started out (many years ago) some six inches high and now stands three-foot tall in a large pot that can be transported anywhere. This is your first step in learning (or re-learning) about wort-lore within the confines of urbanity.
 
Elemental Earth gives a feeling of security. Universal myths claim that first man was created out of clay, earth or sand; traditionally Earth is represented by the ‘mother’ and the harvest.
 
Exercise: It must be obvious that Elemental Earth is much more complex than we would first imagine. We live on it, our food comes from it, we bury our dead in it, Elemental Earth (North) is the direction of magical Power … and yet most of us are afraid of getting our hands dirty by interacting with it. So now is the time to rediscover the Earth energies around where you live, by going out and making time to stand and stare!
 
This also time for an exercise in personal honesty; be truthful, just how comfortable are you with quiet corners of a park or cemetery? If the answer is ‘not very’, then how can you hope to begin to read those spiritual and temporal ‘signs’ that make up a large part of the witch’s world? Again, I would repeat, never compromise your personal safely while on your quest, but try to determine whether you are nervous because you feel vulnerable (i.e. alone), or whether you are uncomfortable with the close proximity to the natural (and supernatural) worlds.
 
Elemental Fire: In its natural state, Elemental Fire is the most elusive of the four within an urban environment, unless the local vandals have ignored the ASBO and gone on a car-torching spree! Fire has always played an important part in esoteric gatherings but the historic concept of a coven gathering around the bonfire in a woodland clearing is highly suspect. A single candle flame can be seen for miles on a dark night, and in the days when witches were falling foul of the law, a blazing fire would have been an open invitation to the Witch Finders. Fire, however, is part of the Mysteries of Craft and an integral part of any magical working.
 
First man probably encountered fire as the result of a lightning strike, and so he would have been left in no doubt that the resulting blaze was indeed heaven-sent. From that time to the present, that god-gift of heat and light has provided the dual[1]purpose of hearth fire (domestic) and sacred flame (religious) … both equally as important as a spiritual focus. For our purposes the hearth-fire is, of course, the most obvious, for witches require no formal temples or sanctuaries in order to follow their Craft. Our urban problem of fire lighting was solved by purchasing a circular patio heater – this is a domed-mesh cover affair, with a tray underneath to catch hot ash so it can safely be used on decking – and also doubles as a barbeque. It can be used in confined spaces and moved to another home when necessary. We also have a collection of old-fashioned lanterns (probably nearer the true), which double up for both indoor and outdoor working … and infinitely safer than naked candles.
 
Elemental Fire is the symbol of warmth, passion … and danger. It can offer the welcome of a glowing hearth or an uncontrollable conflagration that destroys everything in its path. Those who pass through the flames and survive, emerge transformed and improved.
 
Exercise: Learn to love fire and make a point of always having a candle burning (safely) while you are at home. Treat yourself to a ‘special’ holder that will always act as the focus for your devotions – whether indoors or out – so think in terms of something generous, expensive and wind-proof, like a storm[1]lantern. If you are fortunate enough to have a patio heater or an open fire, buy some of those wonderful copper sulphate- coated pinecones that produce the most amazing coloured flames - perfect for divination - but don’t cook over them! Now … how comfortable are you with fire? If the answer is ‘not very’, then how can you hope to begin to read those divinatory ‘signs’ that make up a large part of the witch’s world?
 
Important: When out and about, never put yourself at risk by wandering in remote places. More attacks on lone people occur in urban areas rather than out in the countryside, so do not be foolhardy – the gods do not always protect.
 
We also need to accept that witchcraft (unlike Wicca) is not a religion – it never has been, simply because it’s an individual’s natural ability that distinguishes him or her as a witch. In other words, a witch is born, not made. It just isn’t possible to learn how to become a witch if we haven’t got these abilities, although it is possible to learn how to hone and develop latent, or suppressed psychic talents, under the right tuition. And there is no age limit for these discoveries – in either the young, middle-aged or old. Wicca, on the other hand, is fast becoming accepted as the ‘new pagan religion’ with its doctrines drawing heavily on an eco-feminine shadow-image of Christianity. This again is nothing new, since Christianity itself absorbed many of the existing pagan festivals and celebrations into the Church calendar (including an identification of the Virgin Mary with Isis), and contemporary paganism is merely reclaiming its own. But in reality, even in the days before the Christian invasion, not all of the pagan populace were skilled in the Craft of witches.
 
To use a natural analogy, the differences between witchcraft and paganism per se is to liken them to the relationship between the domestic and the wild cat. To the casual observer there is little difference. Just as the similarities between the modern wild cat (felis sylvestris) and the house cat (felis catus) are so great and the differences so few, that it is difficult to establish any authentic genealogy. There is evidence that wild cats have mated with domestic cats and domestic cats can survive in the wild having gone feral, but they don’t usually move far from human habitation and will quickly revert if given the opportunity. The wild cat, however, cannot be handled or tamed; even a small kitten it is extremely ferocious. In appearance it is difficult at a distance to distinguish a wild cat from a large domestic tabby that has gone feral, but (as with witchcraft and paganism), the subtle differences are there, if you know where and how to look.
 
Witchcraft is not bound by social rules and conventions, only by the personal morality of the individual, and is governed solely by the natural tides. Any form of magical working or spiritual observance tends to be of a solitary nature, or in the company of tried and trusted people. Witches believe that esoteric knowledge should be kept hidden because it is impossible to convey the meaning of the ‘true mysteries’ without the appro[1]priate teaching. Traditional witches are now rarely seen at pagan events, and hold that any ritual equipment will be acquired as and when it is necessary.
 
The witch learns his or her Craft along the way, and pays homage to Nature but in a more abstract form that the textbooks will allow, something along the lines of Blake’s ‘Auguries of Innocence’:
 
“To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour”
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sources:
Memory, Wisdom & Healing, Gabrielle Hatfield (Sutton
The Secret People, Melusine Draco (Moon Books)
Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living, Melusine Draco (Moon Books)
Urbanization and the Decline of Witchcraft: An Examination of London,Owen Davies. Journal of Social History Vol. 30, No. 3 (Spring, 1997), (OUP
 



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