<![CDATA[Coven of the Scales - Blog]]>Wed, 28 Apr 2021 14:33:49 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[A Beltaine Blessing ...]]>Wed, 28 Apr 2021 09:23:56 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/a-beltaine-blessingPicture
.​The main source of reference for Old English month names comes from the Venerable Bede who recorded the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon month names in his Latin work known as De temporum ratione (De mensibus Anglorum), written in 725AD. This is the only testimony of an Old High German lunar-solar system, with a balancing month being inserted around Midsummer; while Charlemagne recorded agricultural Old High German names for the Julian months. These remained in use, with regional variants and innovations, until the end of the medieval period in German-speaking Europe and persisted in popular or dialectal use into the 19th century. 
 
The Celtic names now in popular use for the Wheel of the Year were only adopted in the 1970s by the neo-Wiccan movement who objected to the traditional Craft use of Church festival names: Candlemas, Roodmas, Lammas, Hallowmas, etc.. But since these festivals were originally pagan and absorbed into early Christian doctrine it meant that people could be open about their faith and use the names in common conversation – thus they passed back into traditional witchcraft and remain another direct link with the Ancestors through continued usage within traditional British Old Craft.
 
Likewise, in Ireland today they openly refer to Beltaine and Samhain as the time of the year in Gaelic and not with any Craft connotations because the Celtic year was simply divided into a bright half and a dark half. As the day was seen as beginning at sunrise, so the year was seen as beginning with the arrival of the bright half of the year starting at Calan Haf/Beltaine  (1st May, in the modern calendar) when cattle were taken out to the summer pastures. The observance of festivals beginning the evening before the festival day is still seen in the celebrations and folkloric practices among pagans, such as the traditions of Beltaine Eve, Midsummer Eve, Lammas Eve, etc.
 
Since ancient methods of recording time passing were based on the agrarian calendars, it stands to reason that most of our traditional festivals are geared towards the farming cycle since witchcraft dates to well before the Industrial Revolution when there were mass migrations from the countryside.  This means thinking outside the box for modern witches when we talk about ‘seed-time and harvest’ since many urban pagans are unable to relate to these everyday country matters.  Nevertheless, as this is the time for new beginnings we can think in terms of our ‘seed time’ as being a metaphorical approach to new ideas, renewed ambitions, and fresh approaches in our career or domestic affairs but the old calendar gives us yet another direct link to the Ancestors.
 
May Day celebrations have always been an excuse for enjoyment and pleasure and the Compass working should reflect light-heartedness and thanksgiving.  Although Roodmas in the Church calendar is a rather sombre affair commemorating the discovery of the ‘true cross’, we suspect it had something to do with replacing the may-pole as the symbol central to the day’s celebrations;
no doubt in order to temper the natural pagan exuberance for the festival.  As we are working in conjunction with the Julian calendar we can use a 17th century poem and conduct a magical cleansing and protection rite for our home. Robert Herrick’s The Old Wives Prayer gives an example of the beliefs and language of the time - and can still be used as a protection spell today:
 
Holy-Rood, come forth and shield
Us i’ the’ city and the field;
Safely guard us now and aye,
From a blast that burns by day,
And those sounds that us affright
In the dead of dampish night;
Drive all hurtful fiends us fro,
By the time the cocks first crow.
 
The community pagan symbol for May Day was, of course, the may-pole, which was found primarily in England, and in areas of the Scottish Lowlands and Wales that came under English influence. The earliest recorded evidence comes from a Welsh poem written by Gryffydd ap Adda ap Dafydd in the mid-14th century, in which he described how people used a tall birch pole at Llanidloes in central Wales; while literary evidence for maypole customs increase in later decades, and ‘by the period 1350-1400 the custom was well established across southern Britain, in town and country and in both Welsh-speaking and English-speaking areas’, according to The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain.  Few of us, we suspect, would be able to obtain a thirty-foot birch tree for the occasion!
 
In some regions, however, a different maypole tradition existed: the carrying of highly decorated sticks with hoops or cross-sticks, or swags attached, covered with flowers, greenery or artificial materials such as crêpe paper.  This tradition is known as garlanding, and was a central feature of May Day celebrations in central and southern England until the mid-19th century and is a more practical adaptation that we can use within our Craft celebrations as a lead-up to Old Beltaine.  It can even be hung on the front door where the Yule wreath will later mark the Mid-Winter festival.
 
Even more traditionally, the Beltaine festival actually fell about halfway between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice and historically marked the beginning of summer when cattle were moved to summer pastures.  Rituals were performed to protect the livestock, crops and people, and to encourage growth; special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were all deemed to have protective powers. The people and their animals would walk around the bonfire or between two bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. All household fires would be doused and then re-lit from the Beltaine bonfire. These gatherings would be accompanied by a feast with some of the food and drink being offered to the Ancestors and the deity of the harvest.
 
With climate change now affecting the seasons, there can be a problem in celebrating Beltaine if the May blossom isn’t in bloom.  Why? Walk past a hedgerow when its coming into bloom and we breathe the spicy, almond-like scent of the flowers which has been prized for centuries by perfumers because hawthorn blossom exudes a heavy musky fragrance with sexual undertones … so it’s not surprising that rural mothers wouldn’t let it in the house … something rarely acknowledged in folklore, but implicit in much of the popular culture of the hawthorn and its associations with witchcraft. This is why in Craft-lore it is deemed important that the festival coincides with the early flowering when the blossoms give out that strangely disturbing but unmistakable perfume.
 
Or as our Principal says: ‘If the hawthorn’s not in bloom it ain’t Beltaine!’
 
Leave it until the flowers are fully open, however, and they begin to give off another unsettling smell – one of death.  Once the hawthorn has become covered with beautiful spring blossoms these can have a most unpleasant odour. With a smell described as that of decomposing flesh, even the bees are reluctant to pollinate the flowers; when animal flesh begins to decompose it forms trimethylamine, a colourless gas with a strong, fishy, ammonia-like odour. Research has found that the hawthorn flowers produce this same chemical. Travelling on air currents to reach pollinators near and far, this odour assures the pollination of the flowers, the setting of fruit and seed production, creating the next generation of hawthorn.
Phillip Wright


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February then, is traditionally a gloomy time, but magically it’s a time when the natural tides are on the move again. Candlemas, then, is the re-awakening of the Old Lass and also coincides with the Roman Festa Candelarum, which commemorated the search for Persephone by her mother Demeter, Persephone having been kidnapped by the King of the Otherworld, Hades. From these ancient rites we can see how they identify with the Old Lass and her awakening, not to mention their association with the Mysteries of Old Craft.
In Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed, Evan John Jones acknowledges that Candlemas is the first of the great Sabbats and the start of the ritual year, when it is time to let go of the past and to look to the future, clearing out the old, making both outer and inner space for new beginnings. But, as Melusine Draco explains in Seeking the Primal Goddess, generally speaking, Old Craft witches prefer not to associate their deities with any dubious mythology – home-grown or foreign import – instead we refer to them obliquely as the Old Ones, the Owd Lad and Owd Lass, the Lord and Lady, or just Him and Her because in truth they are the Nameless God and the Faceless Goddess. Once again, Fire is the most important aspect of this celebration because it symbolizes bringing the light of the Old Lass back to the world and the start of the Old Lad beginning to relinquish his power.

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

 
.

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

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


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

.

]]>
<![CDATA[The Secret People]]>Sun, 04 Apr 2021 09:22:26 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/april-04th-2021Picture

This extract is taken from ‘The Parish Healer’ chapter under Old Wives’ Tales -
a dismissive expression normally used to indicate that a supposed truth is actually a superstition to be ridiculed. Such ‘tales’ were considered to be unverified claims with exaggerated and inaccurate details, often focussing on ‘women’s concerns’, discouraging unseemly behaviour in children, or folk cures for ailments ranging from a headache to in-growing toenails.

Old Women’s Sayings was a song published on ‘Broadside’ by a number of 19th century printers, the earliest being John Pitts and James Catnach. A broadside was a large sheet of paper printed on one side only. They were usually posters announcing events or proclamations, or simply advertisements. Broadsides are difficult to date accurately since all the printers copied each other’s work as a matter of course, but the earliest versions seem to date from c.1835.
 

Draw near and give attention
And you shall hear in rhyme
The old women’s saying
In the olden time.
High and low, rich and poor
By daylight or dark
Are sure for to make
Some curious remark
With some foolish idea
Your brains they will bother
For some believes one thing
And some believes another.
 
Chorus:
These are odds and ends
And superstitious ways
The signs and tokens
Of my grandmother’s days.
 
The first thing you will see
At the house of rich or poor
To keep the witches out
A horseshoe’s o’er the door;
Bellows on the table
Cause a row by day and night
If there’s two knives across
You are sure to have a fight;
There’s a stranger in the grate
Or if the cat should sneeze
Or lay before the fire
It will rain or freeze.
 
A cinder with a hole
In the middle, is a purse
But a long one from the fire
Is a coffin – which is worse;
A spider ticking in the wall
Is the death-watch at night
A spark in the candle
Is a letter, sure as life;
If your right eye itches
You’ll cry till out of breath
A winding sheet in the candle
Is a sure sign of death.
 
If your left eye itches
You will laugh outright
But the left or right
Is very good at night;
If your elbow itch
A strange bedfellow found
If the bottom of your foot itch
You’ll tread on strange ground;
If your knee itch you’ll kneel
In a church, that’s a good ’un
And if your belly itch
You’ll get a lot of pudden.
 
If your back should itch
I do declare
Butter will be cheap
When the grass grows there
If the dog howl at night
Or mournfully cry
Or if the cock should crow
There will be someone die;
If you stumble up stairs
Indeed I’m no railer
You’ll be married to a snob
Or else to a tailor.
 
A speck on your finger nail
Is a gift that’s funny
If your hand itch in the middle
You will get some money;
Spilling of salt
Is anger outright
You will see a ghost if the doors
Should rattle in the night;
If your sweetheart
Dreams of bacon and eggs
She’ll have a little boy
That has got three legs.
 
The cat washing her face
The wind will blow
If the cat licks her foot
It is sure to snow;
Put your gown or your jacket
On, inside out
You will change your luck
And be put to the route [sic]
If your nose itches
You’ll get vexed till you jump
If your great toe itch
You’ll get a kick in the rump.
 
If a girl snaps one finger
She’ll have a child it seems
And if she snaps two
She’s sure to have twins;
And if she snaps eight
Nine, ten, or eleven
It’s a chance if she don’t
Have twenty and seven;
If you lay with your head
Underneath the clothes
You’ll have an ugly old man
What has got no nose.
 
If you see a star shoot
You’ll get what you wish
If a hair gets in your mouth
You’ll get as drunk as a fish;
If your little toe itch
You’ll be lost in a wave
If you shiver there’s somebody
Going over your grave;
If you go under a ladder
You’ll have bad luck and fall
And so say bad luck
Is better than none at all;
 
So to please outright
I have told you in rhyme
The great superstition
Of the olden time.
 
Many of these sayings passed into family use although some differed around the country. For example, an itchy palm was said to show money was on the way, but some believe it’s the right hand, while others say: ‘Left hand receive,’ and rub the palm against wood. The explanation for the latter was that the receiver shook hands with the right hand, as they were receiving the ‘gift’ with their left. ‘It works every time,’ admitted one country woman. ‘It might only be a penny found in the street, but it has to be unexpected.’
 
In recent years, research has show that more and more of these old superstitions have more than a grain of truth in them, or have detected the logic behind the casual warnings. Whether they are fact or fiction, most people have grown up with their use within the family.
 
Melusine Draco

 The Secret People by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books - www.moon-books.net ISBN 978 1 78535 444 1 : UK£13.99/US$22.95 : 226 pages : in paperback and e-book format.

​.

]]>
<![CDATA[Death & the Pagan]]>Fri, 26 Mar 2021 10:21:06 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/death-the-paganPicture
In the ten years since Death & the Pagan was first published the ‘green’ funeral has become much more common and socially acceptable. Nevertheless, there are still no formal guidelines for those who wish to be buried according to their pagan beliefs, or for those given the task of conducting a sympathetic pagan funeral. To quote Pascal Boyer from Religions Explained: “This way of understanding religious ritual helps us understand, not just why gods are associated with rituals at all, but also what precise role they are supposed to play in these occasions.”
 
For most pagans, theirs is a benign, benevolent deity who will shortly welcome the deceased into the Summerlands. Their funerals are conducted by a member of the family, a close friend – or a pagan priest brought in to officiate, even though they are not from the deceased’s own Path or Tradition, and may not have been known to the person whose funeral they are conducting. For the Traditionalists, however, things are much more hazardous and most believe that only an Initiate from their own faith can petition deity to accept and guide the spirit of the deceased.
Death & the Pagan, written by traditional British Old Craft witches, Carrie West and Philip Wright, explores the different funerary practices of the various pagan beliefs in a way that will be useful, not only to the pagan community, but also for members of the caring professions and the funeral industry.
Because it is the only book of its kind, we felt that it should not be allowed to remain out of print when so many people could benefit from the advice contained in its pages – hence the Kindle edition is also available. It is just one of those ignotus press books that was a trail-blazer when it was first published and we hope that it will continue to find a useful place in pagan publishing in its original paperback formet
Melusine Draco
Principal of Coven of the Scales
www.covenofthescales.com
 
Death & the Pagan: Modern Pagan Funeral Practices – Philip Wright & Carrie West ISBN: 9781786970671 : Paperback : Pages 108 : £6.85 To order: https://www.feedaread.com/books/Death-and-the-Pagan-9781786970671.aspx.

]]>
<![CDATA[Brace Yourselves ...]]>Mon, 15 Mar 2021 09:59:33 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/brace-yourselvesPicture

In March, spring is official no matter what the weather report or calendar says, and it arrives in the form of the Vernal Equinox; the time that the sun crosses the Earth’s equator from south to north. Needless to say, it doesn’t fall on precisely the same day every year because the length of the calendar year doesn’t quite correspond with that of the solar year, so the first day of spring varies between 19th and 21st March.
 
Nearer to home, the English word Easter, which parallels the German word Ostern, is of uncertain origin but one view, expounded by the Venerable Bede in the 8th-century, was that it derived from Eostre, or Eostrae, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility. According to Britannica, this view presumes - as does the view associating the origin of Christmas on 25th December with pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice - that Christians appropriated pagan names and holidays for their highest festivals.  Because Easter, like Christmas, has accumulated a great many traditions that have little to do with any Christian celebration of the Resurrection but derive from European folk customs.  There endeth the lesson … and perhaps it’s time to make a point of reclaiming our own calendar, holidays and celebrations as per our Principal’s Old Calendar, Old Year, Old Ways.
 
The Vernal Equinox is all about changes and transformations, rebirth and renewal, growth and initiative … and that means getting rid of any unwanted bits, bobs and baggage.  And that can often mean people!  We’ve all got them – family, friends or acquaintances whom it is impossible to get rid of, short of murder.  They are toxic, malevolent creatures who impose themselves on us and never know when they’ve outstayed their welcome.  When they do finally leave we can often feel so physically sick by the depleting effect they’ve had on us that we can barely rouse ourselves enough to carry out a cleansing of our home and psyche.  This is another manifestation of our old friend – the psychic vampire – a malevolent presence that feeds on the misery and disharmonious atmosphere it causes whenever it comes near. 
 
The first step to take when this person leaves is to complete a simple ritual of following its steps from the door, along the path to the gate, with a stiff yard broom saying over and over again ‘Name … get thee gone and never come back,’ while sprinkling sea-salt in your wake.   It’s a trifle awkward to do both jobs at once but it usually works … especially if completed in tandem with a banishing/cleansing ritual inside the house where it’s been.  For the cleansing we need an infusion spray of leaves (and flowers if in season) of sorcerer’s violet (periwinkle). It was believed that the plant could protect against evil spirits, and in some places, it was alleged that unwelcome guests could not enter a building where periwinkle hung above the entrance. The dried flowers may be added to any magical mixture to enhance the working and banish negative energy.
 
Or we could use woody nightshade, (bittersweet) - a pretty climbing plant from the hedgerows, which has purple flowers in the summer and deep ruby red berries in the autumn. Its magical uses are similar to those of deadly nightshade although any plant in the nightshade family can be used interchangeably for most workings. Woody nightshade adds power to any magic carried out at the Dark of the Moon and is great for spells involving protection. Hang a bunch upside down by the entrances of your home to protect it and yourself from harmful energies, negative magic, spirits and people. For its magic to work, however, no one must know where it has been placed. A useful plant to have growing about the place.
 
Water for an infusion spray is prepared in the same way as an infusion for drinking, but it is essential that the liquid be kept covered for 10-15 minutes before straining through a muslin sieve into a small spray bottle to ensure all the magical properties have been extracted. The ideal container is a small glass or pottery plant spray bottle that holds about a cup of water in order to cleanse or protect the home from negative energies left behind by our unwanted guest.
 
  • Infuse the woody nightshade (leaves, berries and flowers) and/or sorcerer’s violet in boiling water for 10-15 minutes. If only using the woody part of the plant for extra strength, pouring boiling water over it is not sufficient to extract the active ingredient. Allow it to simmer for at least 20 minutes in a small saucepan and strain through a sieve while hot – let it cool before pouring into the spray bottle and adding a fresh flower or two, or a leaf to the liquid. This cleansing or purifying mist permits treatment of everything in the room. 
 
  • Discard any remaining liquid immediately and wash the bottle thoroughly by running clear water through the spray so that future magical workings aren’t compromised by any psychic residue. If we intend repeating the working over a period of, say, three days for a protective ritual, any remaining liquid can be kept in the fridge for the duration of the treatment but must be discarded on the third day or it could turn sour. Once the cleansing ritual has been completed, we suggest the added precaution of using lavender oil in an evaporator or burning lavender joss sticks for purification purposes.
 
And if the spectre of murder is still beckoning why not consider a nice bottling or binding. Many people confuse the two and, although similar in preparation, the long-term outcome is often employed for different purposes. Neither carry the finality or strength of a full-blown curse and, unlike the curse, both can be ‘undone’ should it become necessary to negate the spell for whatever reason.  In truth, curses, in the long term, are often counter-productive and self-defeating, since few people who throw them bother to concern themselves with the far-reaching implications. Binding and bottling give a far greater ‘control’ over the outcome and if at the end of the day, you decide it’s really not worth the effort, then the bottling or binding can be undone … a curse cannot.  [See By Spellbook & Candle for more information].
 
We always find that the Vernal Equinox is a turbulent time – and we are not alone in this belief.  This means that both our Coven and solitary workings are going to reflect the disharmonious aspects of the season.  Perhaps it’s got something to do with the old adage of March coming in like a lion … because it is definitely one of those turbulent months which are a vital part of each year, and it usually brings an enormous energy turning  point. There are a lot of things which will happen during it, so the chances are that we will feel pulled and pushed in a lot of different directions.  So, brace yourself …
 
The highest spring tides of the year occur after the equinoxes in March and September; during equinoxes the Sun exerts a stronger pull on the Earth than 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 tides, which are called ‘great tides’.  If on top of that there is also an alignment of the Moon with the Earth and Sun, then tides will get even stronger as the water will be twice ‘pulled’ by these heavenly bodies. Therefore, the Coven working for the Vernal Equinox requires the joint powers of the Dame and Magister to harness this turbulent tide and draw down its energies to re-energise the group.
 
The Vernal Equinox is, as we’ve already said, a turbulent time and it is essential we get our timing right for this synchronized ritual – traditionally three hours after sunset – early evening. The brain is triggered by many things including the seasons but even the most dedicated of witches can sometimes feel a reluctance to get back into the Compass. Winter can bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder,  also known as seasonal depression or winter blues and, it is considered a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter months.
 
Then along comes the Spring - which triggers another set of symptoms in people and has been called ‘The Call of the Wild Syndrome’ or nature deficit disorder.  This manifests in different ways, most of which involve detachment from things or situations that do not work or make the soul feel confined. It is an intense need for freedom, especially after the resting months of the autumn and winter. The soul needs to be outdoors - just like many an animal of the wild. There is an impulsive behaviour pattern, which seems to impact on the same people year after year as if instinctual. 
Spring, in general, signals to the soul that new adventures and relationships will happen if changes are made - out with the old in with the new. This is when people leave relationships, families, jobs and responsibilities - needing to be free in the ‘jungle of life’ at least until the next resting season (autumn) when they will repeat the pattern once again!  We call upon the Old Lass to enable us to make the right decisions and to knuckle down to our responsibilities before we make complete prats of ourselves.  Even witches have commitments from which they cannot walk away as the fancy takes them, and we need the strength to stand firm until we are in the right frame of mind to act rationally and sensibly once again.

​Consider carrying out an act of contemplation on the Great Bear constellation … or a Pathworking focussing on the bear … would be perfect for this time of year. Bears are powerful, smart, and yes, they can be downright dangerous - but we love them for many reasons. They are a part of our ecosystem as wilderness ambassadors, while on a mystical level they symbolize leadership, family, and lunar magic. At one time, bears were found everywhere and so it’s not surprising that they have a special place in the cultural histories of the planet.  In the kingdom of spirit animals, the bear is emblematic of grounding forces and strength and has been worshiped throughout time as a powerful totem, inspiring those who need its courage to stand up against adversity. As a spirit animal in touch with the earth and the cycles of nature, the bear is a powerful guide to support physical and emotional healing. In heraldry, a bear is also a symbol of healing and personal health, strength and bravery.  And how many of us still have the teddy bear from our childhood?  So use your Pathworking skills and go out and meet one of these awesome creatures in the wild and see what it has to tell you …

Julie Dexter and James Rigel
​Dame & Magister of Coven of the Scales

 
.

]]>
<![CDATA[A Horse of Another Colour]]>Tue, 02 Mar 2021 13:50:25 GMThttp://covenofthescales.com/blog/a-horse-of-another-colourPicture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

]]>