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Monday, July 30, 2012

Manannán mac Lir

   One of the deities that can be found in the mythology of several different Celtic nations is Manannán; called Manannán mac Lir (son of the sea) in Ireland, and Manawydan to the Welsh. His home was said to be the Isle of Man, called Manaw in Welsh and Manu in Irish; Manannán's name clearly derives from this and since this name for the island is a later development O hOgain posits that Manannán himself and his mythology are later developments as well, likely dating to no earlier that the 3rd century CE (O hOgain, 2006). The Irish initially borrowed the name from the Welsh, but then added the title "mac Lir" which was then borrowed into the Welsh as "map Llyr" (O hOgain, 2006). This demonstrates the composite nature of Manannán that has developed over time as the cultures shared mythology back and forth. To the Manx he was the first king of the Island of Man, and stories locate his grave there, as well as tell of how he would walk among the Manx fishermen as they repaired their nets (Monaghan, 2004).
   Manannán appearance is described as being that of a handsome warrior (Berresford Ellis, 1987). Manannán's wife is Fand, a peerless beauty who at one point had an affair with Cu Chulain, until Manannán used his magic to make Cu Chulain forget about her and return to his own wife, Emer. It is said that Manannán traveled to the mortal world to father Mongán, a prince and hero, and under the name of Oirbsiu he may have fathered the Conmhaicne sept of Leinster (O hOgain, 2006). There are many stories about his various sons and daughters, who are usually treated as minor characters (O hOgain, 2006). One of his more well known children is Aine, although some sources list her as his wife.
   Manannán was originally said to live on the Isle of Man, a place which was seen as near mythical in Irish stories; later his home shifted fully into the Otherworld, to Eamhain (O hOgain, 2006). The Irish described Eamhain in rich detail as a sacred place, an island held up by four silver legs or pillars, on which grew magical apples which gave the island the full name of Eamhain Abhlach, Eamhain of the Apples (O hOgain, 2006). Other names for his domain include Mag Meall (the pleasant plain) and Tír Tairngire (the land of promise) (O hOgain, 2006). Each of these names and associations reflect the connection between Manannán's realm and the Otherworld.
   To the Welsh Manannán - or more properly Manawydan - was a skilled craftsman and trickster deity (O hOgain, 2006). To the Irish, however, he was seen as the lord of the waves, to whom the ocean was like a field of solid land, as well as a master magician and God who could control the weather (O hOgain, 2006). The fish are said to be his livestock, compared to cows and sheep, and the waves themselves are called his horses; his most special horse is Enbharr, 'water foam', who could run over sea as if it were solid land (O hOgain, 2006). In the story of his meeting with king Cormac mac Art he is described as carrying a golden apple branch that rang with sweet music that could sooth people to sleep or heal the ill and wounded (O hOgain, 2006). Some sources consider him a shapeshifter, and his magical powers were numerous; he could travel faster than the wind could blow in his magical boat, he could create realistic illusions, and he had a cloak of forgetfulness that would take the memory from a person (Monaghan, 2004). It was this cloak that he used to cause Cu Chulain to forget Fand in the story of the Only Jealousy of Emer.
  In Irish mythology, although he was not counted among the People of Danu in stories until the 10th century, it is Manannán who advises the Tuatha de Danann to take up residence in the sidhe, and he who assigned each new home (O hOgain, 2006). Additionally, he gives three gifts to the Tuatha de; the féth fiadha, the feast of Goibhniu, and the pigs of  Manannán (O hOgain, 2006). The féth fiadha was either a spell or cloak that allowed the person to become invisible and travel unnoticed. The feast of Goibhniu was a magical feast that kept the gods young and living. And the pigs of Manannán were immortal swine who could be killed and would return to life. Some sources suggest that it was these actions that earned him a place among the Tuatha de Danann, however I believe that it is more likely that he fills a role as an outsider deity, not fully part of the People of Danu nor fully seperate but liminally placed. Even his realm which is a land that is not part of the land reflects this idea.
   Manannán's nature is as mercurial as the sea. When visiting Elcmar at his sidhe he is paid great tribute with rushes laid out before him and a great feast prepared, yet despite the pleasant visit he dislikes Elcmar and acts against him later (O hOgain, 2006). In the stories of the Fianna Manannán is often helpful yet also appears at least once to stir strife and create trouble among the warriors (O hOgain, 2006). This could reflect the knowledge of all sailors that the favor of the sea is fickle and quick to change, or perhaps Manannán's own liminal nature tends toward changeability.
   In several sources rushes are mentioned as offerings for him, so it could be safely assumed that rushes were historically sacred to him (O hOgain, 2006). The sea and waters were also strongly associated with him, and it said in the story of Oirbsiu that when he died a lake burst forth from his grave. He is also strongly associated with horses and apples. Many modern neo-Druids see Manannán as the keeper of the gates between our world and the Otherworld and call on him to open the way between the worlds. Living near the ocean I tend to feel his presence in the fog and mist, as well as sometimes in the ocean waves. I believe it is important when connecting to Manannán to remember the truly awesome power of the ocean and of water, both to nourish and to destroy; power that reflects and is reflected by Manannán's own personality and actions in mythology. The same ocean that feeds and comforts us can as easily kill us if we do not respect it; the river that gives us water to drink and a place to swim can rise up in a flood and destroy our homes. Manannán can bless us or harm us, and we would be wise to remember the true nature of his power as we honor him.

Reference:
Berresford Ellis, P., (1987). a Dictionary of Irish Mythology
Monaghan, P., (2004). the Encyclopedia of Celtic Myth and Folklore
O hOgain (2006). the Lore of Ireland


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Feeling crafty - an alternative Lughnasa

The Lughnasa wreath experiment

 So it's getting close to Lughnasa again and this year I am trying something a little bit different. Usually my Lughnasa involves a family picnic and either some hiking and plant collecting or some age appropriate physical games. This year though we are facing health problems on several fronts that make an active outdoor Lughnasa much more complicated so I decided we needed  a back-up plan. I noticed several people talking about Lughnasa as a time for both the traditional activity of bread baking and also of crafting, and I thought maybe this would be a good direction to go in.
   I am researching how to make my own bread from scratch and plan to make some for Lughnasa. My friends have had several great suggestions about how to approach this new project and I truly appreciate all the advice I've gotten, from recipes to how to properly get the dough to rise. Also - great advice indeed - to have several trial runs before cooking for the actual holy day. I'll be sure to post after Lughnasa to let you all see how it goes.
   Another inspiration I had was to try embroidery, after a good friend suggested it was an easy sowing craft to get into. I went to the store today to look for supplies and I admit I lost my nerve; the array of options was a bit too overwhelming for me without having a certain idea of what I was doing. But when I saw a set of grape wreathes I had a bit of an inspiration for a craft I have done before which can be time consuming but is easy and fun - making my own decorated wreath. I decided to pick up some basic supplies and give it a go today to see how it was and get a better plan for what to do with it on Lughnasa next week. The children wanted to make one too so we purchased a large wreath and a small one, ribbon, and assorted fake flowers. The easiest shape I know how to make on such a wreath is a basic star, so that is what we did, although I am now trying to figure out how to do a more complicated shape, perhaps a triquetra. The project was fun and not too difficult and the girls enjoyed it, so I will definitely start planning a more intricate version for the holiday.
The children's wreath

    Since I had the ribbon I also decided to decorate a blank book, as the one I have for keeping notes on my Druidic material is nearly full and needs a second volume. This is something I have done many times before and something I enjoy doing; I had never really thought of it as crafty, per se, but as I was working on it I found myself reflecting on the different ways that Lughnasa crafts can be expressed. Perhaps there is something appropriate in making decorative wreath to bless my home and a book to write about my spirituality in on a holiday associated with harvesting; certainly I found myself reflecting on the year and what I have harvested in my own life. I think next week on the actual holiday I will intentionally work this retrospective aspect into the craftwork, perhaps as a discussion with my children where we can all share our thoughts on the past few months.
The cover of the new book - the image is from a greeting card

The inside cover of the new book - image is also a greeting card

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Raido


    This month we will be looking at the rune Raido, also called Raidho, Reidh or Rad. Raido is cognizant to the letter R in English and looks very much like our upper case R with the lower angled line shortened. Raido is the fifth rune of the first aett, and because it’s appearance is so similar to the letter it represents in English it is one of the easiest to remember. The word “Raido” means “Wheel”.
    The rune poems are all in agreement that at it’s most basic level Raido means horseback riding, but when studying that we can see the deeper meanings of this rune.
Anglo-Saxon poem says: "Riding seems easy to every warrior while he is indoors
and very courageous to him who traverses the high-roads
          on the back of a stout horse." (http://www.ragweedforge.com/poems.html) which I take to mean that riding a strong, speeding horse is difficult for those who usually stay indoors.
The Norwegian: "Riding is said to be the worst thing for horses;Reginn forged the finest sword." (http://www.ragweedforge.com/poems.html) 
The Icelandic says: "joy of the horsemen
and speedy journey
          and toil of the steed." (http://www.ragweedforge.com/poems.html). The Norwegian and Icelandic are similar to each other, both saying that riding is an effort for the horse being ridden, with the Icelandic adding that it is a joy to the rider and a quick journey. From this we can see the meaning is not only horseback riding but also traveling with a purpose, journeying - both physically and spiritually - action, movement, messages, and the vehicle used in our travels. Some people also see Raido as representing following divine will, and since the word itself means wheel, it can also be understood to mean cycles, order, correct course and situations which are coming back around again indicating a change in circumstance or direction. Life is a journey and Raido is about the experience of that journey itself, about choosing to follow where our karma leads us. It is taking the risk to venture out, and in some cases can represent astral travel.
    In divination Raido is a rune of travel and change as well as seeking advice from others. When Raido appears you can be certain that things are in the process of changing, and it often signals the need for the questioner to take control of the direction of their journey, although it can also indicate the need to stop resisting necessary changes and go with the flow. It is an active rune of motion and action and so can mean that the situation is changing rapidly. In certain cases it will literally represent travel, either a physical journey or possibly a relocation, and may also indicate the need for some spiritual travelling, either through exploring other paths or through astral travel. It can indicate a search for information or advice from a wise person or spiritual guide may be necessary as well. When Raido appears in a reading it is shouting “Now is the time for action!” it is time for the questioner to seize the day and manifest their own goals instead of waiting around for someone else to do it for them.
   In magic Raido can be used for protection in travel by chanting the name of the rune at the beginning of the journey, whether it is a car trip or hiking out in nature. Some people will trace Raido on their cars for protection while driving.  To add speed to any spell simply incoporate Raido three times. You can carve it three times in a row on a spell candle to quicken the spells effects, or draw it three times in a row on a charm bag for the same result.
   To attune to the energy of this rune I recommend a combination of meditating on it and using it in spellwork. Meditate on it first and write down the experience, then carry the rune with you for at least a week. When you start to use it in your spells, be sure to write those experiences down in you journal as well.
    Next month : Kenaz

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Cumhacht na Teanga - or why I keep trying to learn Irish

Cumhacht na teanga means 'the power of language' in Irish Gaelic, a language I have been trying since my teens to learn. I have a limited proficiency reading it at this point and some ability to converse in writing; my accent when speaking is probably horrifying. So why, after almost 20 years, do I keep trying, keep working at it, when its obviously such a challenge?
   I have many reasons, of course, for people who ask. First and foremost is that I want to speak it, fluently, and I am driven by the desire to teach my children to speak it. It's the language of my ancestors and makes me feel connected to them and to the gods I honor (as a side note of ancestral languages I also speak German, in which I was at one point fluent). I am also keenly aware of how few people still speak Irish and how easily it could go the way of Cornish and Manx, declared "dead" languages and now seeing efforts at revival. It pains me to think of Irish as a dead language, with all its beauty and lyricism reduced to history books and old songs.
   Second of all it would make studying the material I study easier. In much of the scholarly writings and folklore Gaelic words are used to convey concepts or descriptions and I want to know what those words mean, not just guess from context. I also have many dual language editions of myths and I want to know how similar they are to the translations. I want to be able to read the material directly and draw my own conclusions, instead of relying on someone else's opinions.
  Another driving reason is that I want to understand the culture of the Irish, and so much of culture is conveyed in language, or perhaps we could say that language is an inherent expression of culture. It shapes how we think and how we relate to the world and other people; language in many ways is a direct reflection of culture. In psychology we call this the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis. Although this hypothesis is not supported by everyone, I do believe that language shapes how we relate to the world and our culture because it is the main tool of expressing that culture and perception. Idioms are a great example of this, a way that a culture expresses unique ideas through language.
   In CR and neopagan Druidism there is a continuous discussion about the need to learn a Celtic language. Many persuasive arguments are put forth over the value of langauge and of the need for those following Celtic paths to honor that path by learning the language of the culture they study. For me all of that is moot; I am driven to learn Irish by an intrinsic force, the same kind that makes me write poetry or calls me to be a polytheist. I feel as if the language is a part of who I am in some way, no matter how poorly I speak it now, and no matter how long it takes I will keep trying.
   Tir gan teanga, tir gan anam.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Magic of Hair and the Head

  Well it wouldn't be the pagan community without some sort of drama but I have to admit the current issue-de-jour sort of baffles me - because its over head coverings in paganism. Basically there is a movement going in support of pagans who choose to veil or cover their heads, and this has caused a strong backlash among some people. The situation can be summed up here and here.
    Personally? I think that each individual should decide for themselves what they want to do about covering or not covering their hair. I can't really understand the level of outrage some people feel about this issue, but it has also made me think more about my own views of the head, hair, and veiling.
    I do not veil except when doing spae-work. To me putting on that veil is a mental cue that I am about to get oracular and since I don't want to be tranced out and predicting for strangers in Walmart I reserve veils for very specific circumstances. I found it very interesting to see people discussing using head coverings and veils to block chakras or protect the head, as mine clearly has the opposite purpose. It makes me think that, as with all things, it is the intent and belief that matter most.
  Contemplating the subject also had me thinking about the related issues of the head and hair. Now in Celtic belief the head is the seat of personal power. The heads of enemies or rivals who were defeated in battle could be taken as trophies, symbolizing the taking of that person's power. Related to that a defeated enemy's hair might be cut short to represent their loss of power; short hair was considered shameful (Irish Fireside, 2011). Similarly in the Norse the hair of servants was cropped short, while people of higher rank wore their hair longer (Viking Answer Lady, 2012). In Ireland both men and women wore their hair long and loose, and women with long hair were considered particularly beautiful (Joyce, 1913). Interestingly the Anglo-Normans found this practice of loose hair to be barbaric and condemned it (Irish Fireside, 2011). In the Norse an unmarried girl wore her hair loose, while a married woman braided hers, although a married woman might also wear a head covering (Viking Answer Lady, 2012). Hair styles clearly have a long history of being used to denote social rank and status. I had read -although I cannot now remember where - that when doing magic the hair was left loose so that the magic would not be caught in the braiding, and also that during labor (in the Norse) all knots were untied and the mother's hair left loose to encourage an easier birth.
    My own take on this? I wear my hair long as a symbol of personal power. This is both as a nod to the ancient Irish practice and as a personal reclaiming of power; as a child I was forced to wear my hair very short, an experience that most decidedly made me feel powerless. In my own practice  I habitually let my hair down or unbraid it whenever I am doing serious magic. Whether or not this has any actual merit to it, it acts as a sign to my mind that I'm about to do some Work. And of course I wear a veil when doing seidhr. This is all just my own personal prefrence and practice, what I do to trigger certain states of mind, and how I view the relationship of hair to the power of the head. What other people do is truly up to them, as far as I'm concerned.

Reference:
Irish Fireside (2011) All about that Celtic hair. http://irishfireside.com/2011/08/25/all-about-that-celtic-hair/
Joyce, P., (1913). A smaller social history of Ireland. http://www.alia.ie/tirnanog/sochis/xviiia.html
Viking Answer Lady (2012). courtship, Love and Marriage in Viking Scandinavia and Viking Age Hairstyles, Haircare and personal grooming. Retrieved  http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/wedding.shtml and http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/hairstyl.shtml

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Review: Through the Faerie Glass

  Yesterday I read Through the Faerie Glass by Kenny Klein, a book I had high hopes for and very much wanted to like. Unfortunately it didn't live up to my expectations. I decided to review it here to share my thoughts on it with everyone.
   This book is a truly mixed bag, with good material and points side by side with bad. One of the most frustrating things when reading it is that the author often states information without any references of sources, leaving the reader unable to track down how factual something is, or what an idea is based on. His bibliography is extensive but random, with everything from the Rees's Celtic Heritage and Yeats to the Bible and modern fiction novels. It is also difficult at many points to follow what the author is saying as he will make one statement at one point and then a contradictory statement later; he goes around and around about the Fey being human folk memories of people meeting more primitive peoples, or being Gods, or being supernatural, for example, intermixing theories together and stating them each on their own. He is particularly set on the Faeries being the ancient Picts who were driven into the hills, he says, by the Celts and their iron technology, although he also says the Picts themselves may be Otherworldly, magical, shamanic, etc.,. This theory was a pet one of Gerald Gardner and featured in the novel The Mists of Avalon but there is absolutely no evidence, archaeological or folkloric, to support the idea.
  Looking at the good points first the book starts with a warning against the Victorian view of faeries, and advises that the Fey are more complex and potentially dangerous than little garden sprites. The book also includes excerpts of many traditional pieces including the Ballad of True Thomas, Tam Lin, and other traditional folk songs or poems about faeries. The book also includes some good genuine folklore and belief that can often be ignored in other modern books, like the Selkies marrying human husbands or the Fey stealing children and brides.
  Now intermixed within the good we see the bad. I've already mentioned his belief that the Picts were the Faeries and this becomes the crux of several problematic points. He says the words fairies and pixies are directly from the term Picts, which is just not etymologically sound. Pict is from the Latin for painted; pixie is of unknown origin, and fairy is from the Latin for fate.He states that the Irish word Sidhe means mound dweller (it means fairy hill) and is derived from the name for the Picts who lived, he claims, in underground homes. He states that iron is a good protection against faeiries (true) but he says its because the Picts would have feared the strange new metal or else associated it with death and warfare. He also claims that the reported time difference between our world and Fairyland comes from Celts who visited with the Picts and ingested psychogenic plants that distorted their sense of time, creating a false sense of being in another world; because, he says, the Picts were shamans who used psychotropic plants and apparently gave them out to untrained visitors.
   Getting away from the Pictish nonsense, he also is very fond of the idea that Gods are actually fairies, a reverse of what many fairy faith and Celtic pagans believe. So instead of the gods being reduced into fairies, or put into the category of the aos sidhe, he says that the gods are fairies themselves along the lines of traditional pixies, selkies, etc., He says that  Rhiannon is an underworld horse fairy. Cerridwen is a bird fairy because in her myth she turns into a bird twice, and the Sumerian/Hebrew goddess Lilith is an owl fairy. Surprisingly Llew is not a bird fairy, but a Sun God, so maybe its especially goddesses? Although he does say Odin is a fairy (and that Tyr is Odin), so, I don't know. Which sums up a lot of this book.
   His section on Samhain is comic, with a very interesting discussion about how the Celts believed that Death (capital D) was wandering around on Samhain and could freely take anyone It felt like. So, he says, the Celts dressed up as ghosts to trick Death into thinking they'd already kicked it, and they placed lit turnips in front of their homes to signal that Death had already been there. Because apparently he thinks that Death leaves a glowing turnip as a "Death was here" marker; I assume so that It isn't wasting It's time going back to the same houses It's already been to. I found this extremely funny.
   The author also mixes in a lot of Middle Eastern and Hebrew material with the Celtic and talks a lot about Greek Nymphs and Dryads in a Celtic context which I thought was a bit odd, but neither good nor bad. Alright the bit about Druids sleeping by streams to receive inspiration from naiads was bad, and that bit about "Cailleach bheara" being the title of the banshee when she takes the form of a deer...um, yeah, that was kind of painful.
  Anyway, I wouldn't recommend it. There are good points but not nearly enough to outweigh the awful. I'm not going to bother with the second book about Fairy Tale rituals. I'm kind of surprised there is a second book, but I guess people who don't know better can't discern the quality of the material. Or they just don't care.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Random Spritual Update...

I promise to get back to my regular style of blogging soon - I have ideas to blog about the Colloquy of Two Sages, Manannan mac Lir, Brighid, maybe Badhbh, wands, and some other assorted fun things - but I wanted to keep everyone who has been following my rambling spiritual quest up to date. So, here is a random update.
   This past week has been turbulent on several fronts. I found out a very dear friend who has just started chemo again is in the hospital with complications, and I am very worried about her. My youngest daughter, who has chronic medical issues, cut her foot at the beach and now we are infection watch. Personally, I have been fighting repeated migraines as I try to switch from one medication to another and also found out that I am anemic. It has been one of those weeks were everyday seemed to bring more and more challenges.
    I always try to find some good in everything, and if nothing else this past week has helped me to better understand my own need for spiritual fulfillment and, more importantly, what I need in a religion. I have missed the daily routine of my CR Druidic practices and when I have been at my lowest I have sought comfort in the natural world and in the spirits I feel closest too: Macha, my father, my great-grandmother, the spirits of the land and the spirits of certain plants. It's an interesting mix, to be sure. I also had time to really reflect on the ways that Wicca does and doesn't work for me, and I think I've accepted now that, while it will always hold happy memories for me, its just not right for me. From a purely intellectual perspective modern Druidism, specifically ADF, makes the most sense and would allow to me to incorporate my diverse interests and pantheons. Of course I've been a card carrying member of ADF since 2001 and have never done anything with it, having been drawn immediately into more specifically Celtic approaches, but I have decided that the next logical step in this self exploration is to give a fair shot to neopagan Druidism.
  I may find out that, in the end, I will be walking alone on my own path that is a blend of what I like best from all the religions I have experienced. But over time I have forgotten or lost the little bits of joy in each of them, and I am determined now to reclaim them - already I have valuable lessons from Wicca to bring forward, things that I enjoy or make me happy but that I stopped doing because they didn't fit into a new approach. It's time to see what Druidism holds for me.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Dark Night of the Soul, part 2

   So its been about a month since I decided to re-assess my spiritual framework and chose to, basically, discard everything and start over at the beginning in order to find what really works for me. It was harder than I expected to let go of decades of built up practice, but there was also something oddly cathartic about it. It's been an interesting experience so far, filled with insight and frustration.
    Part of why I made this decision was that I didn't feel happy with my religious practice anymore, feeling rather that it had become a series of empty actions. I felt that in some areas of religious practice, especially heathen, I had developed a neurotic fear of doing it wrong that was interfering with my ability to genuinely connect to the Powers I was worshipping. I also was feeling a lot of frustration with my communities, for a variety of reasons, that made me feel like an outsider. Whether this was reality or my own perception it created a feeling of alienation. The combination made me feel very inadequate and made ritual something I dreaded instead of looked forward to. So I stopped all the religious practices (although not the devotional or magical practices) and went back to where I began.
    There have been many frustrating aspects of this experience so far, one of which was realizing that some things can't be regained once they are outgrown. Can I really be an eclectic Wiccan? Honestly, I don't know. Wicca is a specific religion with its own cosmology, theology, and rituals. They are beautiful, fulfilling beliefs and in some ways they do overlap with my own but I had to revisit that to see the ways they don't fit. I have been a polytheist for too long to embrace a view of deity as aspects of a single power. Although my own view is in itself a bit vague (is Odin also Wotan? Is Lugh, Llew? etc.,) trying to view deity as a single being that emanates as two gendered beings, that in turn manifest as a multitude of deities has been very difficult. I am just too used to the individual personalities to revert to this other view. I have struggled with the ceremony and detail of Wiccan ritual, which is so much more involved and time-consuming than heathen or CR approaches.
   Now it's true that, in most ways, you can't go back. I'm not an 11 year old anymore and I can't recapture the innocent  belief and uncritical wonder I felt back then. However going back helped me to remember some of the simple things that meant a lot to me but where lost along the way. I love singing during ritual for example and I like a religion that not only allows but normally includes magical practice, something that is lacking in heathenry and CR. I also like the sense of freedom and inclusiveness of eclectic Wicca. On the other hand the past month has also made me realize that I like heathenry's emphasis on community and personal responsibility, as well as CR's emphasis on research and facts. It is also clear to me that my gods are *my* gods, and even with the freedom to wander I chose to stick with the Powers I've built up connections to over the years.
  Probably the biggest thing I've realized so far is that certain things are key aspects of my own practice. The faeries/vaettir and ancestors are pivotal to my system of belief and ritual in a way that transcends any individual religious practice. The gods I worship are who they are, specific individual deities that I am devoted to or otherwise have built relationships with. In the same way whether I call it seidhr, cunning craft, hedgecraft or witchcraft - the actual practice of folk magic - is a cornerstone of what I do. I am a religious witch, and my pagan faith is inseparable, for me, from my magical practice. Perhaps that is why I struggled so much to feel comfortable in faiths that acknowledge a lesser role for magic or see it as separate (and not always equal). I am not a good heathen because most heathens see magic as superfluous, while to me it is essential. I am not a good CR because most CR's see magic as incidental or cerebral, while to me it is a visceral thing like breathing. And perhaps I am not a good Wiccan because I delve into things that most Wiccans seem to avoid (coughhexingcough) and I struggle with the cosmology. Ironic that I can reconcile Norse and Irish cosmology, but struggle with Wiccan views...
   I miss heathenry. I miss the feeling of camaraderie, the simple approach to worship, the stability of the belief system. The cohesiveness. I may, eventually, after giving this current attempt more time, go back to Gaelic Heathenry or otherwise look at ways to comfortably incorporate what works for me and what I miss into one path....or I may find with more time that this current effort begins to gel better and feel less...artificial. I am still working through so many echos of past practice that adjusting is harder than I expected, and I want to give this a totally fair shot so that if I choose to walk away again I will know that I did so because it really wasn't working and not because I didn't try.
   So after a month where does this leave me? Still questioning and still working out what is important to me and what is artificial window dressing added in to please the public....and still making magic.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Witch Bottles

  One of my favorite traditional methods of protection in witchcraft is a witch's bottle. Its fairly simple to make, yet easily added to or adapted, and once made is set in place and then requires no maintenance. It's effective, yet subtle. And its something that anyone can do, no matter what the skill or experience level.
   A witch's bottle is a type of folk charm that is designed to attract and trap any negative energy or malicious magic sent your way*, so that it is prevented from causing you any harm. Witch bottles were a common folk charm used throughout the 16th and 17th centuries to protect people from negative magic; more than 200 witch bottles have been found buried throughout Europe, but most are broken by the time they are uncovered (Viegas, 2009). An example of an American witch bottle was found in Pennsylvania that dates to the 18th century, and the practice was common enough in America that preachers spoke out against its use, although  it was also recommended by other contemporaries, including Cotton Mathers, as a good protection against witches (Becker, 2009). During a period when many people feared witchcraft the witch bottle offered a sense of security and protection and allowed people to proactively defend themselves when they felt they may be the victim of a curse. In modern practice a witch's bottle is still an excellent tool to use to protect yourself from any possible negative magic, rather like a magical electric fence.
  Examining a witch bottle found in Greenwich that dates to the 17th century shows the contents to be similar to those that are still used today: urine, sulfur, nail clippings, nails, and pins (Viegas, 2009). Many examples of witch bottles also include a felt, cloth, or leather heart pierced by a pin as well, although the exact purpose of this is unknown (Becker, 2009; Viegas, 2009). It was believed that the pins and nails would turn the magic back on the caster, while the urine and nail clippings would draw the magic intended for the person to the bottle instead; often the ingredients would be boiled together first (Becker, 2009). Historical examples are found buried, often top down, in front of a house with the intent of protecting the home or a specific inhabitant from malicious magic (Becker, 2009). The bottles used were the type commonly seen in those areas for drinking and could be stoneware, ceramic, or glass, with a specific type called a "Bellermine" often used. The Bellermine was named after a Catholic cardinal whose face appeared stamped on the bottles.

     In modern practice the bottles would be made and used in much the same way as they were historically. To make one you need a glass or ceramic bottle that can be corked or sealed at the top. For a basic bottle add your own urine and nail clippings, some hair, sulfur, nails and pins; if you want you can include the felt heart as well. The bottle can be modified with other materials such as herbs - Agrimony or Blessed Thistle work well for anti-curse magic, or for something stronger Mandrake or Belladonna could be used, for example-, broken glass, mirrors, or peppers. Add the urine first - on a practical note I recommend using a cup to collect it and then pouring it into the bottle - then add the other items. Traditionally the mixture would be boiled before being added to the bottle. Once the bottle is full seal the top, and if you'd like to, say something to charge the bottle with its purpose. When complete bury the bottle near the front of your home where it won't be found or disturbed; although some people who live in an apartment or otherwise have no land to bury it in might choose to keep it hidden under a sink or bury it in a potted plant inside the home. If you move do not disturb the old bottle (although if its under your sink don't leave it there!), rather make a new bottle for your new home.

* Many modern sites talk about using witch bottles for different purposes, along the lines of a charm. This may work well for others, but I stick to the traditional use - if I want a charm for money or love I'll just make one for that instead of using a witch bottle.

References:
Becker, M., (2009) An American witch bottle. Retrieved from http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/halloween/witch_bottle.html
Viegas, S., (2009). 17-th Century urine-filled witch bottle found. Retrieved from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31107319/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/th-century-urine-filled-witch-bottle-found/