Search This Blog

Saturday, December 31, 2011

New year's eve; looking back

 So it's new year's eve and as usual I find myself reflecting on the past year. Every year offers it's own challenges and lessons but this year has seemed unusually hard in many ways with it's over-riding theme of transition. I lost several friendships, one of which was extremely important, and I left my job. It seemed as if at every juncture I was being forced to re-assess my own worth and abilities and re-define my own place. So now, on the cusp of the new year, I ask myself, what have I learned?
  Early in the year I had a falling out with a friend over some choices she was making in her own life. The entire situation made me look at my own life and my own choices and made me seriously re-evaluate several things. I had to ask myself what the real cost was of sacrificing so much for my children, especially in relation to caring for a child with chronic medical issues. And I did realize that I wasn't leaving enough for myself and needed to find more balance before I risked losing my happiness and becoming bitter. Life being what it is the timing of this was actually perfect as it occurred and was worked through before I had to choose to leave my job because of my daughter's health. I realized that I had to make time for myself and for reconnecting to life and living.
  I also lost a very long and deep friendship in a painful way; it began as a difference in opinion over ritual structure and leadership and ended with personal invective. I was left for months questioning my own abilities and actions in a way that began as something closer to self-flagellation and ended with soem clarity and insight. It is true that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, and sometimes what causes the most pain can also show us how strong we have become. The situation helped me see how far I have come personally in the last decade and how much I have changed. I even did find some useful constructive criticism in the midst of it all and I was able to see what really mattered and what was only window dressing.
   And, things coming as they seem to in threes, I then lost another friend over a label. I consider myself CR but I am also a witch and this caused a furor in a CR discussion group and cost me a friendship. It also made me really question my own use of labels and how and why I define myself the way I do. I considered myself part of that community, yet I was being rejected by some people within it for not fitting in. I was told I didn't belong, not because of what I did do or what I knew, or what I said, but because I honestly admitted including aspects of Irish magic that made people uncomfortable or were not socially acceptable. Most people call that witchcraft.
   I am CR, in my own mind, because I seek to reconstruct a viable Irish polytheism while also embracing modern Celtic culture. But I am also not CR because I take a wider view on study and practice. I am heathen because I worship heathen gods as well, have a kindred that worships in a heathen context, and practice seidhr, but I am also not heathen because I do things outside of that framework and with deities from other cultures. I am a reconstructionist and a neopagan. I am a druid and a witch. I am dedicated to psychopomps and liminal gods, Hecate, Odin, and Macha but my main goal in life is staying grounded and fucntional.  I am a teacher and a leader as well as being an outsider and odd-ball. I am an innovative traditionalist. A contradiction in terms. I am a liminal person, and I have come to accept that I will never fit within a neat little box or an easy definition, except perhaps the word "witch" that says a great deal and nothing at the same time.
  So I am ready to put this year behind me, lessons learned. I took a bath with sea salt and hyssop oil and burned some frankincense and myrrh incense - totally modern folk magic things to do. Tonight I will throw open my door at midnight and usher out the old year while welcoming in the new - a totally traditional Irish thing to do - and in the same vein tomorrow I will burn juniper and dress in new clothes and move forward without worrying about labels or acceptance. I am who I am and I am proud of who I am.
   Bring on 2012.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mistletoe and the Druids

One of the most well known plants associated with the Druids is the Mistletoe (Viscum Album), yet what do we really know about this plant and it's connection to the Celts and their priests?
  Well, the main source of our knowledge connecting the two is Pliny the Elder who writes about it in his Natural History. For the sake of completeness I am going to include everything Pliny said about the Mistletoe here:
"Chapter 95: Historical Facts Connected with the Mistletoe.
Upon this occasion we must not omit to mention the admiration that is lavished upon this plant by the Gauls. The Druids--for that is the name they give to their magicians -- held nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree that bears it, supposing always that tree to be the robur. Of itself the robur is selected by them to form whole groves, and they perform none of their religious rites without employing branches of it; so much so, that it is very probable that the priests themselves may have received their name from the Greek name for that tree. In fact, it is the notion with them that everything that grows on it has been sent immediately from heaven, and that the mistletoe upon it is a proof that the tree has been selected by God himself as an object of his especial favour.

The mistletoe, however, is but rarely found upon the robur; and when found, is gathered with rites replete with religious awe. This is done more particularly on the fifth day of the moon, the day which is the beginning of their months and years, as also of their ages, which, with them, are but thirty years. This day they select because the moon, though not yet in the middle of her course, has already considerable power and influence; and they call her by a name which signifies, in their language, the all-healing. Having made all due preparation for the sacrifice and a banquet beneath the trees, they bring thither two white bulls, the horns of which are bound then for the first time. Clad in a white robe the priest ascends the tree, and cuts the mistletoe with a golden sickle, which is received by others in a white cloak. They then immolate the victims, offering up their prayers that God will render this gift of his propitious to those to whom he has so granted it. It is the belief with them that the mistletoe, taken in drink, will impart fecundity to all animals that are barren, and that it is an antidote for all poisons. Such are the religious feelings which we find entertained towards trifling objects among nearly all nations."

 So from this we can learn that the Gaulish Druids that Pliny was writing about considered the oak sacred and the mistletoe which grew upon it to be divinely given, possibly because of its rarity. Whenever mistletoe in oaks was found it would then be gathered with due ceremony on the next appropriate day, which appears to be just before the first quarter of the moon, when, as Pliny says, the moon has power and influence. To me this is another interesting celestial connection with the mistletoe. The misteltoe would then be gathered with great ceremony, including a feast and the sacrifice of two bulls. Pliny also mentions the use of a golden sickle, however gold is far too soft to be used in a cutting tool - many people assume then that the sickle must have been of iron but since there were also prohibitions in later Celtic folklore about cutting herbs with cold iron I rather think it is more likely that the sickle was bronze, perhaps inlaid or coated with gold. (Incidently Pliny notes, as does Caesar in his Gallic Wars, that the Celts measured time by nights instead of days and began months and years also in such a way.)
  The Mistletoe itself is a parasitic plant that grows in trees, rooting from seeds usually spread by birds. It grows to form a mass of twigs and leaves about 2 to 3 feet wide, flowers in May and produces berries between late Novemeber and December which are a waxy white in color.  There is some debate about when the Druids may have collected Mistletoe, as some folkloric accounts mention it being gathered around new years (although whether this means Samhain or January 1st is unclear) although it would seem logical that the easiest time to gather it would have been in the fall or winter. As the book The Trees of Old Engalnd says "In summer we seldom notice that mistletoe is concelaed within the foilage of the tree it inhabits, not until autumn has stripped all away, and winter has rendered the woods we discover its presence." Our only firm account of Druids harvesting mistletoe is Pliny and he makes no mention at all of the time of year or season, but does say that it was gathered whenever it was found, leading me to believe that there was no specific seasonal rite relating to it. I think it is possible that the later idea of the Druids collecting mistletoe at new years may have been a confusion of Pliny including a reference to the Celtic days, months and years beginning with the new moon with his discussion of the mistletoe being collected.   Folklore associates Mistletoe with protection from all evil influences and it is also a symbol of fertility, something that is mentioned in Pliny's account, and may lend itself to the folk belief of kissing under the mistletoe. Additionally the stem and leaves had a wide variety of medicinal uses that can be documented back at least 500 years, and in folklore and practice longer. Culpepper's herbal from the 1600's mentions "Tragus saith, that the fresh wood of many mistletoe bruised, and the juice drawn forth and dropped in the ears that hath imposthumes in them doth help to ease them within a few days". According to Grieve's Modern Herbal mistletoe has been written about as a folk remedy in France and Britain since at least 1682. The stem and leaves - collected before the berries form - are used and it was believed to treat epilepsy and calm nervous disorders and treat heart conditions. It is noted that the berries have the opposite effect and are not recommended for use, although external use of the berries as a paste is mentioned. The berries are toxic and produce extreme intestinal discomfort, seizures, delirium, and heart problems in high doses.
  The true connection between the Druids and mistletoe may always be something of a mystery, but it does seem that it played a role in Gaulish and possibly British belief and practice (not existing in Ireland). Examining the evidence we do have, thin as it may be, is none the less interesting and enlightening and shows us the possible reverence of a plant that was born of the sky and blessed by the gods, connected to a sacred tree, and with known healing applications.
Culpepper's Herbal (1649) reprinted 1983

Friday, December 23, 2011

New Year's incense

I was at a public Yule ritual last night which was a lot of fun. One of my contributions was an incense blend desinged for cleansing, based on traditional ideas related to this time of year. It worked out pretty well so I decided to share the recipe here.
 In a mortar and pestle mix equal parts: vervain, rosemary, lavendar, juniper, and white sage.
 Add a double portion of rose petals.
 Add cedar essential oil and hyssop oil until dry material is thoroughly mixed and moist.
 It's sort a modern take on some old ideas related to cleansing, and it ended up smelling very nice so I think I will use it every Yule.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Lebor Feasa Runda Should Go Through a Woodchipper: a book review

   Too often we simply avoid bad books without ever knowing why they are bad and to be avoided, but relying on friend's opinions or word of mouth reviews. I have read other reviews of this book, Akins' Lebor Feasa Runda, which took a highly scholastic approach and were very valuable, but I think that by arguing semantics of language and nuances of source material many readers may get lost in the details. So here I offer my simplified book review, an Idiot's Guide to Why This Book is Awful, if you will.
    To begin with Akin's appeals to people's curiosity and desire for genuine material to lure an audience in and draw interest for his book by claiming it is a translation of a previously unknown ancient book of Druidic teaching, which he has exclusively gained access to but cannot produce for others to view. In reality his book is nothing but a badly written version of commonly known Irish mythology followed by his own personal ideas and a generous amount of uncredited plagiarized material from known traditional sources.
    The psuedo-archaic writing style is painful to read, rather reminiscent of the King James Bible, and I can see no point to it beyond making the work look somehow either older or more prestigious. There is no reason for a text he claims to have translated himself to be written in this way except for effect.  Beyond that there is a lot of non-Celtic material mixed in which clashes with extant Celtic sources, and the clear threads of Celtic material are not credited. He invents a system of aligning the days of the week with different planets and gods which is exactly like any Ceremonial Magic compendium with Sunday ruled by the sun and Monday by the moon, etc.,. He also uses the Greco-Roman ideas about four elements, instead of a more authentic Celtic view, to give a few samples of the foreign ideas in the book that are passed off as Irish.
   Particularly troublesome to me is the use of charms and prayers from the first two volumes of the Carmina Gadelica slightly re-written to be pagan without any acknowledgement of the true source of the material which could not possibly be a "secret" manuscript that would predate the Gadelica by almost three thousand years. It is beyond belief that nearly three millenia later the charms and prayers would have translated the same from Scottish to English as they allegedly did from Irish to German to English in this book. Akin's alleged personal translation from German is word for word identical to Carmichael's from 1900. To give a sample of this on page 148 of the Lebor Feasa Runda "The wicked who would do me harm / May his throat be diseased / Globularly, spirally, circularly / Fluxy, pellety, horny-grim" now compare that to the opening lines of charm 193 from volume 2 of the Carmina Gadelica printed in 1900, page 155, "The wicked who would do me harm / May he take the throat disease / Globularly, spirally, circularly / Fluxy, pellety, horny-grim.". This clear, obvious, plagierism cannot be defended, and this is only a small sample of the many such occurances throughout this book. I might not care about the poor writing or random nature of the work if Akins had simply published this as his own personal inspiration with credit to his sources, but I think plaigerism is simply wrong and cannot be justified away with appeals to spiritual inspiration. A core Druidic principle is Truth.
   I also find it disturbing that in his recipe for "oil of enlightenment" he repeats a medieval witches flying ointement that includes toxic ingredients like Hemlock, Aconite and Belladonna. Were anyone to follow his recipe for this oil and use it they could easily poison themselves, yet at no point does Akins mention that any of these plants are poisonous or require special handling.
    In short the book is clearly a mish-mash of plagierized sources Frankenstiened together. A beginner who reads this first will find information that is both wrong, misleading, and in at least the one case potentially dangerous.
 Other reviews:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Gaelic Heathen Yule

  So Yule is fast approaching, and this Yule will represent my first attempt at incorporating some Celtic elements and traditions into what has so far been a Germanic and Norse festival period for me. Prior to becoming heathen in 2006 I didn't celebrate the winter solstice in any special way, beyond the secular; after becoming heathen I began celebrating the "traditional" 12 days of Yule, beginning on Mother Night and ending usually either on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. I followed the CR approach of celebrating the four Irish fire festivals as holidays and not acknowledging any Celtic aspects of the solstices or equinoxes. However this year I am looking at what the more modern Celtic traditions of this time of year are and how they may relate to older Heathen ones in order to create a more synchretic personal approach (celebrating with my kindred is still Norse oriented).

  In Germanic and Norse traditions Yule is a 13 night, 12 day festival that is considered one of the most sacred times of the year. Yule begins on Mother Night, the night before the solstice which is often celebrated in honor of Frigga and the disir; in my family we celebrate Mother Night two days before the calendar date of the solstice because the eve of Yule has developed its own family traditions.  Many modern heathens that I know choose to stay up on the night before the solstice in order to greet the dawn on the solstice morning. The day of the solstice itself is considered both the most powerful of Yule and also the most dangerous as both trolls and ghosts are roaming free on the night of Yule. On this day the Yule log is burnt and the most sacred oaths are sworn. Celebrations continue until New Year's, a day that itself is important since it sets the tone for the year to come; actions taken on the last day of Yule/New year's eve (or day) influence the year to come.
Swearing oaths and making sacred toasts were sacred activities, as well as leaving out food offerings for the gods and spirits. Odin was especially associated with Yule time, as are the goddesses Perchte, Berchte or Holda. Yule bucks were made (the mask of a goat head, or a straw goat) and used for guising but was also believed to have its own separate spirit that had to be propitiated - often with ale or porridge - in order not to harm anyone in the family. Porridge is also left out as an offering to the house wight or spirit that lives in the home. A Yule tree was used for decoration and a yule log was burnt or in some modern cases a log is set with candles which are burnt.
    Now working with that as a base we can look at what we have for Yule traditions in Scotland. In Scotland McNeill states that while Odin may be known as the Yule Father it is Thor to whom this holiday actually belongs, as does all of the month of December. A Yule log of oak was traditionally burnt and Thor was asked to bring a prosperous new year. She relates a story of Norsemen in Scotland celebrating Yule with a great feast and then a bonfire, around which they danced and then chanted "Thor with us, Thor and Odin! Haile Yule, haile!" (McNeill, 1961, p. 52). In Scotland the "Christmas" season ran from Christmas eve until 12th Night, reflecting the older heathen practice of a 12 day celebration of Yule. Prior to the start of Yule the home was cleaned from top to bottom and stocked with food. During the period of Yule all household work like spinning and weaving was strictly prohibited as it was believed that to do such work, even drawing water, during the 12 days of Yule would risk the girls of the house being taken by a Kelpie. The hearth was cleaned and decorated to please the gods and garlanded with rowan to keep out mischievous spirits. On the eve of Yule the family would go out and collect the Yule log which would be brought in with great ceremony, an offering of ale is poured over it, and it is placed in the fire to burn through the night. In some parts of the Highlands the Yule log is associated with the Cailleach, the spirit of winter, and in those places the Yule log chosen would be the stump of an old tree. Special breads and cakes were baked on Yule eve, and ale and sowans were made with omens taken from how they cooked. First thing on Yule morning weather omens were taken to predict the year to come; green Yule meant snow in spring, warm Yule a cold spring, and a light Yule a good harvest. The rest of the day was spent in social gatherings and feasting. Another Yule tradition is guisers and mummers who travel from house to house in costume singing and offering entertainment and blessings in exchange for welcome into the home and some food. 
     New Year's Eve, called Hogmany, has many traditions of it's own, including special cleaning of the home, settling any debts, returning borrowed items, and generally setting everything in the household right in preparation for the new year. At the exact stroke of midnight on New Year's eve the head of the household opens the front door and lets the old year out while welcoming the new year in with the words "Welcome in New Year! When ye come, bring good cheer!" (McNeill, 1961, p. 104). Another important tradition of New Year's is first footing, or the belief that the first non-family member who enters the home after midnight on new years while indicate the family's luck in the coming year, with a cheerful dark haired man being the best first-footer, with a pretty woman being second best. Anyone born with a deformity, of bad character, who is stingy, whose eyebrows meet in the middle, or who may have the Evil Eye are bad luck. To avert the ill luck of a bad first footing throw salt in the fire, burn a wisp of straw, or put a burning coal in water.
    In Scotland New Years is also a time of blessing the home and of omens. Holly, Hazel, and Rowan are hung up around the home and the entire home was fumigated with burning juniper. Burning the juniper was considered very important to cleanse the home and was done immediately upon waking before anyone ate breakfast. On New Year's eve a silver coin was left out on the doorstep and if it was still there in the morning it was seen as a sign of prosperity for the year to come, but if it was gone it was an ill omen. Wearing new clothes on New Year's day is good luck so is carrying a silver coin in your pocket. To see a red dawn on New Year's day means bad luck and strife to come and the direction of the wind is an omen of the year to come as well: "Wind from the west, fish and bread, wind from the north, cold and flaying, wind from the east, snow on the hills, wind from the south, fruit on trees." (McNeill, 1961, p. 115).
   In Ireland Yule was also started with a complete cleaning of the home which was  followed by decorating with Holly, Ivy, Bay and other evergreens, and as in Scotland food was stocked up on. Preparations were made that included placing lit candles in the windows of the home; these are now associated with Christmas but may well be older as some believe the candles' light serves to guide and welcome the visiting dead who wander at this time of year. Some choose to light a special candle for any family members who have passed in the last year. As in Scotland the weather is seen as being an omen of the year to come with cold weather foretelling a warm spring; additionally a new moon was seen as especially lucky. Mumming and guising is also seen and New Years eve and day were strongly associated with divination and omens. While first footing isn't seen in Ireland the way it is in Scotland there is a belief that if the first person or animal to enter the home after midnight on New Year's eve is male and black or dark haired the house will have good luck. A special bread was baked and then hit three times against the door while the head of the house or house wife chanted either "We warn famine to retire, To the country of the Turks, from this night to this night twelvemonth, and even this very night." or "Happiness in and misfortune out from this night, Until a year from to-night" (Danaher, 1972, p. 261). After this the loaf was tossed out the door.
   So this actually gives us a lot to work with for celebrating both Germanic/Norse Yule traditions and Celtic ones over the course of  a 12 day celebration. I like the idea of including Thor more in the Yule celebrations, especially as they relate to the Yule log, and of lighting candles for my ancestors, which I may do each night of Yule. Including the Cailleach makes sense as well. I also can easily see how to incorporate the specific New Year's eve and day traditions, such as welcoming the new year in and also the Irish custom of banging the bread on the door. And the multitude of divinations and omens can easily be used on the day of Yule and on New Year's day, as can the cleaning of the home before the start of Yule and the cleansing and blessing rituals of New Year's day.
  I'm excited to see how Yule this year is going to go as I work on finding the synergy of this path, which clearly has so much potential.

 Our Troth volume 2, the Troth, 2007
 The Year in Ireland, Danaher, 1972
 the Silver Bough volume 3, McNeill, 1961

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Nine Virtues

  In heathenry you will hear people talk about the 9 noble virtues (often abbreviated to NNV), a modern list of positive character traits devised by the Odinic Rite in the 70's based on ideas from Norse mythology. Some of these 9 are more historically accurate than others, but in a modern context all of them seek to provide a general guideline of qualities worth nurturing. Some people really like the NNV, while others find the whole idea useless.
  The original Nine Noble Virtues are:
Self Reliance
  Now persoanlly I like to switch out loyalty for fidelity, because I feel that loyalty has a closer meaning to what I feel that "virtue" should be, whereas fidelity is too similar to part of how I would define honor. Fidelty means a strict adherence to promises, devotion to duty, and faithfulness to obligations, while loyalty means steadfast allegiance, faithfulness to a person, ideal, cause, or duty. I also prefer honesty over truth as something we can nurture within ourselves. So my personal NNV would be:
Obviously these are goals to be worked towards constantly and everyone will have a different understanding of what they mean. Part of what I like about them is that even outside the context of heathenry they are still a good guideline for living; you could apply these to your life as a CR, or neo-pagan, or witch, or atheist, or what-have-you and they would still be useful and I like that universal quality. Of course everything must be done with moderation and it's just as easy to go to far with any one of these as it is to not have that quality at all...
   Now personally this is how I see each virtue. Courage is facing fear and not letting fear control you. Honesty is being honest with yourself and others. Honor is living an honorable life by holding true to your principles and keeping your word. Loyalty is being faithful to the people, things, and causes that matter to you. Discipline is self-control and doing what needs to be done. Hospitality is being a good host and a good guest. Self-reliance is trusting in one's own abilities and judgement. Industriousness means being diligent in getting things done. And pereseverance is persistance and seeing things through.
  After an interesting discusison on a heathen parenting group I have been contemplating how to blend the ideas behind the NNV with the only moral guideline, of sorts, that I grew up with, a framed print of the "Children Learn What They Live" sayings by Dr. Dorothy Nolte ( Being raised a secular agnostic we really had no religious influences at all but we had a nice needlepoint of the list of those sayings that hung in the kitchen which I looked at each day. The idea is a short list of negative things that a child could grow up with and the result followed by positive things and the results. So, for example (this is a work in progress), for heathen children it might be something like:
  If a child lives with fear, they learn to be afraid
   If a child lives with deception, they learn to lie
  If a child lives with inconsistancy, they learn not to listen
 If a child lives with betrayal, they learn to be mistrustful
  If a child lives with irresponsibility, they learn to be lazy
  If a child lives with hostility, they learn to be defensive
 If a child lives with encouragement, they learn courage
 If a child lives with truth, they learn honesty,
 If a child lives with respect, they learn honor
 If a child lives with reliabilty, they learn loyalty
 If a child lives with responsibility, they learn discipline
 If a child lives with welcome, they learn hospitality
 If a child lives with independance, they learn self-reliance
 If a child lives with expectations, they learn industriousness
 If a child lives with challenges, they learn perseverance

Thursday, December 1, 2011

the 12 Days of Yule - a holiday song parody

The Twelve Days of Yule-tide - sung to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas

On the twelfth day of yule-tide, my kindred gave to me
twelve happy heathens
eleven rounds of sumble
ten bottles of mead
nine sets of runes
eight hammer pendants
seven hours of feasting
six songs to Sunna
five amber rings
four drinking horns
three ash spears
two viking movies
and a yule log carved with holly

© M C Daimler

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Facing Fear - or why I don't blog about heathenry often

     This is a blog I've needed to write probably since the beginning, but I have been putting off because it's personal, it's painful and it's messy. It's also unresolved, but it still needs to be said, and maybe saying it will help me push myself into blogging more about heathenry and related topics...
   People ask me sometimes why I write so much Celtic material if I am also heathen. Well there are two main reasons. Firstly I have studied the Celtic side of things for about 20 odd years now so its definitely my comfort zone; not that I know everything, or even comparatively that much, but I'm comfortable with Celtic mythology and paganism and feel confident talking about it. It's sort of my metaphysical comfy sweater.
  The second reason is that heathenry is a difficult emotional subject for me to talk about. On the one hand I love my kindred, and I very much enjoy the heathen practices in my life, which are probably more numerous than most people would assume. On the other hand I often find the larger heathen community enormously frustrating for me, personally. When I "converted" to heathenry in early 2006 it was the first time in my life I had ever moved from one religion to another - and initially it was a full conversion, only later did my religion become dual-tradition and only now is it evolving into something more synchretic as I explore Gaelic Heathenry, but I digress. The first several years went very well; I started a kindred, was hijacked by Odin, met lots of great people, and generally really liked it. And then the train de-railed in late 2008 when my youngest daughter, then only a year old, started really struggling with chronic health issues. I had to pull back from several community commitments and also had to start turning down invitations to other groups events. And in the middle of these months of feeling alienated from the larger community, feeling that I had failed at something that is a core aspect of heathenry, I had the inevitable crisis of faith. Oh it wasn't quite that clearly defined, since I had already been missing some aspects of my Irish practices and had already been reaching out to the Druid community in particular, but it was at this point that I really had a dark night of the soul experience. I missed the easy comfort of Celtic paganism and I felt that I had no connection to any of the gods (except Odin but he's an all around exception). I felt cut off from my new community due to my own inability to participate in it and while my kindred remained strong I felt increasingly alienated form heathenry at large. Which is a problem in a faith that is so deeply community based. I started to feel like I needed more to depend on, but was stuck in the Catch-22 of feeling like I had no one to go to to explain my nebulous feelings of insecurity, the nagging sense that I was doing it all wrong, which only fed into the feelings of failing at being a self-sufficient, persevering heathen. Now looking back I can see that a lot of this probably related directly to me projecting my feelings about my daughter's health issues onto my religion because I could not let myself feel weak or ineffective as her caregiver, as the person she depended on, but I could feel that way about my faith even though it made me totally miserable. I had my kindred who stood by me through everything, I had friends I could have gone to, I had people who I could have reached out to, but I convinced myself that my problems would be a waste of their time, or that I was already bothering them enough with other things going on at the same time. Maybe it was pride. Maybe it was fear of judgement. Either way I fell back into what was comfortable, my comfy sweater religion, only I didn't stop being heathen either - which was a very good way to alienate myself from both the CR and heathen communities, so maybe that was another subconscious expression...or maybe it's just that on a deep level I need both Celtic and Norse paganism to find any real balance in my life. I'm still sorting that one out, but it certainly is a system that works for me.
      Anyway, I never stopped being heathen, I just also had other separate Celtic practices and I struggled for a long time to find a balance between the two, in the end settling on an equal division of time.  I joke that I treat it like a divorced couple sharing custody, although as I mentioned earlier I am now exploring Gaelic Heathenry which is more directly synchretic in it's approach....I never stopped being dedicated to Odin (as if I could!), or being a gythia to my kindred, never stopped living the 9 noble virtues as best I could, or honoring the gods, vaettir, and ancestors with fainings, but these years of struggle and difficulty put me in a place where I feel very apart from the larger, and local, heathen community, a fact which in and of itself makes me feel worse about all of it; community is a huge part of heathenry, so feeling cut off from that, even if it's only in my own mind, makes me feel less heathen, less worthy. And that just sucks. I've made a right mess of things at my end and there is no easy way to fix it, so I keep stumbling on, one foot in front of the other.
  This all makes it hard for me to write about heathenry or my heathen practices, because it immediately pulls up a mess of emotions. But I realize that not doing it out of fear isn't helping anything, is just perpetuating the feeling. The only way to defeat fear is to face it, and I need to face this one, so I am going to start writing one heathen themed blog each week, on whatever topic comes up.
  So if you've ever wondered why my heathen themed content so far was limited mostly to book reviews, now you know. No one has as much power to mess us up as we do over ourselves.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Celtic Healing Magic - part 2

  Celtic healing magic, like all Celtic folk magic, relies on some basic principles: use of objects, both natural and man made, transferring the spirit of one thing - in this case the illness - into nature, and the power inherant in certain items. By understanding these principles and how to apply them in different situations a person may effectively use folk magic healing in a Celtic style whenever there is a need for it.
  Many types of Celtic folk healing relies on the use of objects and these fall into two categories: man-made and natural. In many spoken charms a metal knife, pin or other sharp object is used to threaten the afflicted area with the belief that this action will drive out the spirit that is the source of the affliction; there are several examples of this in the Carmina Gadelica. Another example of a man made charm used in healing is the brat Bhride, or Bride's Mantle, a piece of cloth that is left out on Imbolc eve with the belief that the goddess Brighid (or Saint Brigit) will pass by in the night and touch the mantle imparting some of her healing power to it. The Mantle can then be used throughout the year for healing people or animals by placing it over them, generally over their head. The Mantle is recharged each year on Imbolc by being left out; some believe the Mantle attains full power after seven years, while others say that after seven years it should be destroyed and a new Mantle created. In Scotland there is also the use of different colored thread for healing purposes. Red thread was worn during childbirth, and was worn with amber beads for protection. As well Rowan twigs were formed into a solar cross and wrapped with red thread for protection, especially of the home. Blue thread was worn as a charm against fevers, particularly in nursing mothers, and often these threads were passed down through a family. Black thread was tied with 9 knots and worn as a cure for a sprain, something that could easily be ocmbined with any of the spoken charms for sprains.
   Natural objects were also commonly used for healing purposes. One common item thought to have healing powers were herbs, but not taken as a medicine, rather worn on the body often by being sown into the clothes. Several of th eherbal charms in the Carmina Gadelica refer to this practice, but the herb was believed to work only if no one else knew you were wearing it. In addition there were very specific ways te herb must be gathered, generally before breakfast and without intent - meaning that you could not go out meaning to find that particular herb, but must find it as a lucky accident. All herbs gathered on Beltane have great power for good or ill, but they must not be pulled or broken by hand so the folklore discusses several means of gathering the herbs safely, such as tying a string to the herb and a dog so that the dog is the one to pull the herb, or else putting your right hand out through your left sleeve and then pulling th eherb back through your garment. Lady Wilde lists 7 herbs of great value in her book, and these are: ground ivy, vervain, eyebright, groudsel, foxglove, the bark of the elder tree, and the young shoots of the Hawthorn. Additionally several sources list Yarrow was the most powerful healing herb for any purpose.
   Another natural object used in healing are stones. These seem to fall into two categories, clear quartz stones and natural river or ocean stones. Round quartz stones were used for both healing and cursing. In Scotland such a stone might be set in silver and several examples of these were passed down as relics within different clans. Called Clach Bhuai (powerful stone) or Clach Buaidh (Victory stone) they were believed to grant victory in battle and cure diseases. The stone would be dipped in water while a prayer was recited and then the ill person or animal would drink the water, or else the stone would be touched to the afflicted body part. When used on Beltane it was believed that such stones could cure elfshot or any type of bewitchment. In contrast curing stones were stones that were found in a river, stream, or the ocean and were believed to have healing powers. Curing stones are often white, sometimes green or black, and less often red or blue. The use was similar to the Clach Bhuai, with the stone being dipped in water which is then drunk, or else rubbed on the injured area; if applied to a specific area a prayer would be said three times, ending with "This day well, next day better, after that naught but a scar." according to George Fraser Black. Curing stones were used for sterility in women, with the stone being placed in a south flowing stream in which the woman washed her feet. Generally obtaining a curing stone meant going out between midnight and dawn to a south flowing stream in total silence, finding the stone, and returning again also in silence. Even a single word would dispel any healing magic the stone possessed before it was safely acquired. Such stones were kept wrapped in wool or linen cloth when not in use.
  Often any charm that used an object would also involve a spoken component, either a prayer or a spoken charm. Examples of such were given in teh last blog. The words of the chram were combined with the proper action to achieve the desired result.
  Part 3 of this will look at healing water, sacred wells, and the clootie trees

 Irish Cures, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions by Lady Wilde
 Scottish Charms and Amulets by George Fraser Black
 The Silver Bough, volume 1 by F. Marian McNeill
  Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael
 Lore of Ireland by Daithi O hOgain

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Celtic Healing Magic - part 1

(this is the handout for my class from Changing Times, Changing Worlds 2011 on healing magic in the Celtic tradition, with the emphasis on folk magic. In the next blog I will post the outline and shortened version of the class itself - and I feel that I should add that all classes from CTCW 2011 will be available in the next few weeks on CD, you can check the website for details)

From Irish Cures and Superstitions by Lady Wilde:
  To Cure a Fever: “Place the patient on the sandy shore when the tide is coming in, and the retreating waves will carry away the disease.”
  (In modern practice you could visualize this or create a chant using this imagery.)
For Hip Disease: Take three green stones, gathered from a running brook, between midnight and morning while no word is said. In silence it must be done. Then uncover the limb and rub each stone several times closely downwards from hip to toe, saying,
          “Wear away, wear away
            There you shall not stay
            Cruel pain, away, away.”
A Very Ancient Charm Against Wounds or Poisons: (Hold your hands over the wound or affected area and chant)
             “The poison of a serpent, the venom of the dog,
               The sharpness of spear, does not do well in man.
               The blood of one dog, the blood of many dogs,
               The blood of the hound of Fliethas– these I invoke.
It is not a wart to which my spittle is applied.
I strike disease; I strike wounds.
I strike the disease of the dog that bites,
Of the thorn that wounds
Of the iron that strikes.
I invoke the three daughters of Fleithas
Against the serpent
Benediction on this body to be healed;
Benediction on the spittle;
Benediction on him who casts out disease.”

From Scottish Charms and Amulets by George Fraser Black:
 To Bless Water with a Healing Crystal: Dip the healing crystal in the water while saying,
         “Let me dip you in the water
           You beautiful gem of power
           In water of purest wave
          Which Bridget kept pure
           A blessing on the gem
          A blessing on the water and
          A healing of bodily ailments
          To each suffering creature.”              

From the Carmina Gadelica Volume 2 by Alexander Carmichael
Charm for the Rose [Mastitis] 124
THOU rose deathly, deadly, swollen,
Leave the udder of the white-footed cow,
Leave the udder of the spotted cow,
Leave, leave that swelling,
     And betake thyself to other swelling.
Thou rose thrawn, obstinate,
Surly in the udder of the cow,
Leave thou the swelling and the udder,
Flee to the bottom of the stone.
I place the rose to the stone,
I place the stone to the earth,
I place milk in the udder,
I place substance in the kidney.

Tooth Charm 126
THE incantation put by lovely Bride
Before the thumb of the Mother of God,
On lint, on wort, on hemp,
For worm, for venom, for teeth.
The worm that tortured me,
In the teeth of my head,
Hell hard by my teeth,
The teeth of hell distressing me.
  *       *       *       *
The teeth of hell close to me;
As long as I myself shall last
May my teeth last in my head.
On lint, on comb, on agony.
On sea, on ocean, on coast.
On water, on lakes, on marshes

Charm for a Sprain 130

BRIDE went out
In the morning early,
With a pair of horses;
One broke his leg,
With much ado,
That was apart,
She put bone to bone,
She put flesh to flesh,
She put sinew to sinew,
She put vein to vein;
As she healed that
May I heal this.

From By Land, Sea, and Sky by Morgan Daimler
Charm for Mastitis
    When performing these charms a sharp object such as a knife or pin should be held towards the body part, you should spit on your fingers and trace a triskele on the area while invoking land, sea, and sky. This follows a common method of folk healing where the illness or injury is threatened as if it were a sentient thing, and ordered to leave the person it is tormenting. All healing charms would be recommended in addition to traditional and alternative medical treatments for the conditions.
Charm  122See, Blessed Brighid
The breast of this mother is swollen:
May you give peace to this breast
May you subdue the swelling;

May you give peace to this breast
May you subdue the swelling.
I see it myself, Brighid,
The suffering of this mother
May you appease this breast,
May you subdue the swelling;

May you appease this breast,
May you subdue the swelling.
See, Healing Goddess
Midwife of all mothers,

May you appease this breast,
May you subdue the swelling;

May you appease this breast,
May you subdue the swelling
Brighid sees the suffering
And she does what is needed
She gives ease to the breast
And rest to the swelling;
She gives ease to the breast
And rest to the swelling
Charm for a Toothache 126
The incantation put by Brighid
Before the Mother of the Gods,
On sea, on ocean, on coast.
For painful aching teeth.
The pain that tortured me,
In these teeth in my head,
Agony hard with my teeth,
This agony distressing me.
I put this pain far from me;
As long as I myself shall last
May my teeth last in my head.
To Remove Blood from Urine 180
By the tides of the eternal sea,
by the bedrock of the firm earth,
by the ceaseless winds of sky,
So shall this be.
Great wave, red wave,
strength of sea, strength of ocean
the nine wells of Mac Lyr
to pour help on you
Put a stop to the blood,
Put a flood to the urine
Charm for Tumors

This is the only charm which does not come from the Gadelica. I've used it before for cancer patients with success, and so have chosen to include it here.  It is a heavily rewritten version of a Pow-wow chant; I would recommend the book Pow-wows, or Long Lost Friend for more on this school of folk magic.
    The charm should be chanted while holding your hands over the afflicted area, or a picture of the person. I highly recommend doing this charm on a set regular basis, for example three times a day for a series of nine or 27 days. In order for the charm to be effective it must be done often and consistently.

A Charm to Reduce and Heal Tumors
 Nine waves upon the ocean
The nine become eight,
The eight become seven,
The seven become six,
The six become five,
The five become four,
The four become three,
The three become two,
The two become one,
One becomes none;
Out from the marrow into the blood,
Out from the blood into the flesh,
Out from the flesh into the skin,
Out from the skin into the hair,
Out from the hair to the healing earth

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Celtic Healing Deities

(this is the hand out from my class on Celtic healing deities from Changing Times, Changing Worlds 2011. The beginning of the class we talked about how, IMO, instead of the common modern "cafateria" approach it is better to nurture a relationship with one or two specific deities associated with healing if a person is interested in being a healer or in having a healing-specific deity to call on. We talked about ways to do this including a client-type relationship, devotional work, offerings, setting up an altar for the deity, and establishing the expectations and boundaries of the relationship. After that we talked about several Celtic deities who were either known as healing gods or had healing shrines. Information was presented in a broad format to allow the individual to get an overview of the subject)
                               Celtic Healing Deities

Brighid – also Brigit, Bríd, Brig, Bric, Bride, Brigantia, Brigandu. A pan-Celtic goddess, in Ireland she was a deity of healing, poetry and smithcraft, sometimes seen as a single deity and sometimes as three sister deities. Her name may mean “exalted one”. Brighid is a goddess associated especially with childbirth and fertility, and any healing relating to issues around those topics, but she is often called in folk charms for any type of healing at all, from toothaches to blood in urine. Brighid was said to possess two great oxen who would cry out during periods of pillaging, as well as a boar who was called “king of the swine”; she was also strongly associated with sheep. As a patroness of farm animals she is often called on for healing animals, something that can be very useful in modern times. Brighid has a special healing well and site at Kildare and is associated with water that has healing powers, as well as a special talisman called a brat Bhride which is a small piece of cloth left out on Imbolc eve to be blessed by the goddess/saint which would then have healing properties throughout the year. Offerings to Brighid often include milk, butter, cheese, and bread, and in some cases chickens. Her special bird is the oystercatcher, which in Scottish is named Bridein, Bride’s bird, and Gille Bride, paige of Bride. The linnet is also special to the goddess and is named bigein Bride, little bird of Bride. Brighid’s flower is the dandelion.

Airmed –  also Airmid, Airmeith and Airmedh, she is the daughter of the healing god Dian Cecht and sister of Miach. Irish goddess associated with herbal healing. In one version of the story of the healing of the king Nuada by Miach, after Miach died Airmed found healing herbs growing from his grave and harvested them; she laid all the herbs out on her cloak and organized them to preserve the knowledge of their properties. Some sources say the herbs numbered 365, with one for each of his sinews and joints, and one for every possible bodily ailment. Many people today associate her especially with herbal healing. I have often used a mortar and pestle to represent her on my altar; she is also associated with the cloak or mantle, called a brat in Irish.

Miach – Irish god associated with restoring the lost limb of the god Nuada and healing physical injuries up to those that are immediately fatal. He is the son of Dian Cecht and brother of Airmed. In some versions of the story of his healing of King Nuada his father was so jealous of his healing powers that he dealt him four blows, the first three Miach healed but the fourth killed him; after this every healing herb in the world grew up from his grave and Airmed was organizing them when Dian Cecht scattered them (however in other versions Miach is not killed). This is a reflection of the belief that the plants that grow on a person’s grave hold some of their spirit, and so what grew from the grave of the healing god were all the healing plants in the world. Of course being a god his death was not permanent, but may have served the purpose of giving such plants to the world, in my opinion.

Dian Cecht – also spelled Dian Céacht, an Irish god associated with physicians, healing, and restoring the body. Dian Cecht was considered the supreme physician of the gods and possessed a well or cauldron into which the wounded could be placed and from which they would emerge restored. His name may mean “swift traveler” and he is called “the healing sage of Ireland” and “god of health”. He is the father of two other Irish healing deities, Miach and Airmed, and in the mythological cycle is referred to as having three brothers who are also healers. Not only a god of active healing but also of the knowledge of healing arts and of healing magic. He is known as a superlative healer of any method. Some say he created his great healing well by placing one of every healing herb into it, and in mythology he is known to heal grievous wounds and cure plagues in the guise of dragons. The cauldron or well could be used as his symbol, perhaps with herbs in it.

Nodens – also known in Wales as Nudd, or Llud Llaw Eirent (Llud the silver handed), sometimes equated to the Irish Nuada, and on the continent as Noadatus. A pan-Celtic deity synchronized with Mars, sometimes Silvanus, and in one case Neptune. His name may mean “Cloud Maker” or “Spirit of Water”. A god of healing who had a shrine in Gloucestershire where votive offerings where made of bronze objects representing the area of the body the person needed to be healed, particularly limbs and eyes. He is especially associated with amputees because he was believed to have lost an arm in battle, which was later replaced with a silver one, hence the epithet “silver hand”. His companion is a dog who can heal wounds by licking them. Besides dogs, he is particularly associated with salmon and trout which may make good offerings to him.

Sulis – also known as Sul, Sulei, and Sulla, she is synchronized with Minerva. Inscriptions at one of her sacred sites, the hot springs at Bath, imply that she may be a triple goddess, referred to as the Sulevi. Her/Their worship has been found from Switzerland to Britain and is always associated with hot springs. Sulis is associated with healing diseases and with childbirth. Coins and votive offerings were left on her shrines and in the water, generally after being purposefully damaged.

Belenus – another pan-Celtic god, he is variously known as Bíle (to the Irish), Bellinus (in Britain), Belen (Welsh), and also Belenos, and Bel. His name likely means “the shining god” and he is associated with the sun and sacred fire and synchronized with Apollo. Some authors think his healing associations may relate to his solar connection. He had temple sites in many parts of the Celtic world but a significant one at Burgundy where people would travel seeking cures for illnesses. Clay horses were left as offerings here to the God indicating that horses may have been one of his sacred animals. In a modern setting Belenus may be called on especially for illnesses, and I think, for issues that the sun is a good treatment for such as seasonal affective disorder. Images of horses could be offered to him as could written prayers.

Brighid: Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend by Miranda Green
            The Lore of Ireland by Dáithí O hOgáin         
            Carmina Gadelica, volume 1 by Alexander Carmicheal
Airmed: Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore by Patricia Monaghan
             The Lore of Ireland by Dáithí O hOgáin
Miach: Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore by Patricia Monaghan
            The Lore of Ireland by Dáithí O hOgáin
Dian Cecht: Myth, Legend, and Romance: an encyclopedia of the Irish folk tradition by Dáithí  O hOgain
            Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend by Miranda Green
            The Lore of Ireland by Dáithí O hOgáin
Belenos: Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend by Miranda Green
Sulis: Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend by Miranda Green
Nodens: Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore by Patricia Monaghan

Thursday, November 17, 2011


  Tomorrow I head out to the changing times changing worlds conference up at Amherst in Massachusetts, which runs from Friday through Sunday. This is the conference's second year and I am excited to see how it has grown since last year. The main theme of this year is healing/wholing/holistic and the workshops cover a variety of topics under that theme. My own contribution is four workshops: healing magic and chronic illness, the shadow of death (how healers relate to the concept of death), the healing well and clootie tree (healing magic in the Celtic tradition), and Under Airmed's cloak (healing with Celtic deities). I am also on three panels: Otherworldly guides, Offerings and the modern practitioner, and teaching children. I'm pretty excited about all of this, but especially the two Celtic classes I am doing. And of course besides my own workshops there are many interesting workshops I would like to go to, so I expect the weekend to be busy and educational.
  After the conference I will blog about how it goes and also post my handouts from my classes along with an abridged version of the class itself. I have had a lot of fun researching the healing deities especially as I leanred about several that I had never previously interacted with at all.
  Have a great weekend everyone, I will be back to blogging on Monday, but I leave you all with a W. B. Yeats quote from 1902:
 “I believe when I am in the mood that all nature is full of people whom we cannot see, and that some of these are ugly or grotesque, and some wicked or foolish, but very many beautiful beyond anyone we have ever seen, and that these are not far away. I will not of a certainty believe that there is nothing in the sunset, where our forefathers imagined the dead following their shepherd the sun....If beauty is not a gateway out of the net we were taken in at our birth, it will not long be beauty, and we will find it better to sit at home by the fire and fatten a lazy body or to run hither and thither in some foolish sport than to look at the finest show that light and shadow ever made among green leaves. I say to myself, when I am well out of that thicket of argument, that they are surely there, the divine people, for only we who have neither simplicity nor wisdom have denied them, the simple of all times and the wise men of ancient times have seen them and even spoken to them.”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book review - Heathen Gods

  I'm doing my weekly book review on Thursday this week...
  I have a new book to add to my recommended reading for new heathens: Heathen Gods by Mark Ludwig Stinson. This book is a great way for anyone to get a feel for what heathenry is and not only learn the basics of it but get some good advice about starting out as a new heathen, starting a group, and living as a heathen.
  The book itself is a collection of short essays, each of which has a different topic. It is broken into roughly 7 sections: Essays for new heathens, Building a kindred or tribe, Maintaining a kindred or tribe, Living a heathen life, Personal and miscellaneous essays, Iceland trip journal, and Poetry by the author. It also includes a good recommended reading list at the back. Each of the first 4 sections contains around a dozen individual essays that fall under the larger section topic, such as "What is a Heathen?", "Differing Views within the Heathen Community", "Why Start a Kindred", and "Wyrd and Worth", to name but a few. The final three sections are much more personal to the author's life and experiences, including personal anecdotes and reflections as well as his journal about a trip to Iceland and provide a look at one person's journey living as a heathen.
  One of the main strengths of this book for me was the way that it touches lightly on many important topics without overwhelming the reader or getting bogged down in details or history. The writing style is engaging and interesting while still being informative and the author tackles difficult topics in a way that encourages the reader to think about the issues. It manages to present a workable modern heathenry in a way that is both understandable and often unflinching to the realities that people in community-based faith face, such as jump-starting spiritual practice and dealing with bad experiences in the community.
   Another thing that I really like about the book is the essay-based format. I admit initially I was unsure about it because I wasn't sure how all the short essays would flow together, but I found that it was perfect for reading a few a day, or skipping around to whatever essay seemed most appropriate each day. It made referencing specific ideas much easier and having the material organized the way it is actually does flow very well.
  All in all a good addition to any heathen's library and definitely a good starting place for a new heathen looking for a better understanding of what modern heathen practice is.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Green Faced Witches

   One thing that never changes about the larger pagan community is that there are always trends going around. This year I keep running across a poem written in 1999 by "Angel" that talks about witches being depicted with green faces as a result of torture ( Halloween Witch if you want to read it). It's been going around for a while of course but this year it seems to have really gained steam and more than that people are believing it and repeating the idea that witches were believed historically to have green faces and that the green color was actually a result of being tortured during trial. One site even went so far as to describe a very long theory about the green faces being the result of gangrene, while another had people linking it to Celtic mythology. Suffice to say I am sufficiently annoyed by this trend now that I have decided to devote a whole blog to trying to educate people about the reality of where the green faced witch came from and why it has nothing to do with the witch hunts.
  So just to get this out of the way - as far as I have been able to find the earliest appearance of a green faced witch is in the Wizard of Oz movie - the movie specifically because in the book the character of the Wicked Witch of the West did not have a green face. It seems likely that this was a purely cinematic decision, based on a desire to show off the new technology of color film (Gerry, 2011). I suspect that the Wicked Witch in the movie was so scary and so memorable that after the movie came out the idea of green faced witches became embedded in our collective minds.
  Now that we have that out of the way lets look at the idea - visceral and emotional - that victims of torture would have green faces and that people seeing this would think it was a sign of witchcraft. Everyone knows that older bruises turn greenish colored so at first glance this idea seems plausible. But lets stop and think about this for a minute. First of all is it possible to bruise someone's entire face - every inch of it? I don't think so; the shape of the face with it's curves and crevices would make such a thing very difficult and unlikely and the way blood pools would mean that you would never see any kind of even coloring that could be described as "green faced". Secondly this idea assumes that the people seeing the person would not realize that it was bruises turning green and I find that highly unlikely. People hundreds of years ago may have had less technology and a more primitive understanding of physiology but they weren't stupid; they knew as well as we do about bruises and the colors they turn over time. These accused witches were members of the community, well known to friends and neighbors and don't think for a moment that everyone didn't know that the person had been tortured. Thirdly most accused witches were tortured in complex ways but not necessarily beaten - and remember the point of the torture was to gain a confession so beating the person around the face in a way that might limit their ability to speak would be counter-productive. Finally, this green-faced theory assumes a fairly quick turn over between confession and execution which is also unrealistic. In fact an accused person was involved in a long trial where witnesses spoke against them and they may be tortured but often with a week or more between each interview with the court (Kors & Peters, 1972).
    And since this sometimes was mentioned on some of the sites, I want to be perfectly clear that none of the Salem witches were tortured to obtain confessions. The only person who could have been said to be tortured was Giles Cory and that was because he refused to enter a plea either innocent or guilty; without a plea either way his land could not be seized and he could not be brought to trial (Giles was pretty darn smart, even if he was crushed to death under big freakin' rocks). Nobody was burned at Salem either - they were all hung or died in prison during their extended stay. Never trust any source that says different.
    As to the idea of gangrene being the cause of the green face - gangrene is not actually green. The word gangrene comes originally from the Greek gangraina which means an eating sore, and that says a lot right there. It is an infection that occurs when blood flow is cut off and tissue dies and there are multiple types of gangrene; however in this case wet gangrene is the only possibility. When caused by trauma it creates a tight red swelling that slowly turns purplish-blue and then black and can cause a secondary septic infection which is fatal. I'll spare you the visual and won't include pictures but trust me it doesn't include the color green that I have ever seen or heard of and large infections will kill you, especially if they happen to be on your face. If you don't believe me you can read more here:
   Now finally the Celtic mythology link. I have read stories that link the color green to fairies and stories about green skinned children that came from the world of faery. I have read stories about "green" hags who lurked in rivers and ate children. And I am familiar with the idea of people wearing green, or described as wearing green, being connected to faery. But I have never personally read anything or heard anything about green skinned witches in Celtic mythology; if anyone can point me towards any such evidence I would certainly be interested in seeing it, but until then I have to conclude that people talking about green faced witches in Celtic myth is a mistaken conflation of the two separate mythologies.
   During the period of the witch hunts witches were not seen as ugly or scary to look at. In point of fact they weren't seen as only being women; both men and women were suspected, accused, and tried. The Malleus Maleficarum has an entire section on male witches, for example. That same text makes a point of noting that witches could be anyone, young or old, and would often use their beauty to lure good men into sin (hey, it's considered a glaring example of misogynistic writing for a reason). That was part of what drove the hysteria, the idea that absolutely anyone could be a witch.
   So basically I think there is no basis for believing that the green faced witch is anything but a modern 20th century invention. I also think that we need to seriously consider how disrespectful we are being by creating this false history of the green faced witch as a sort of emotional touchstone for modern pagans. Real people, men, women, and children, died during the witch hunts and those people deserve to be respected and remembered not exploited as yet another thing for neopagans to hold up as a symbol of modern "persecution".

 Gerry, D (2011). The Secret Symbolism of a Witch's Wardrobe.
  Kors, A. and Peters, E. (1972). Witchcraft in Europe 1100 - 1700. University of Pennsylvania Press

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


 I love this time of year. Halloween has been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember and when I became pagan I incorporated the practices that I loved about Halloween with the ones I learned went along with Samhain; luckily for me trick'or'treating and dressing up in costume are pretty strongly connected to the old Celtic custom of guising which have continued until today. In Ireland up until around  a hundred years ago there was still a practice of  a small parade led by someone dressed as a white mare that would go from house to house singing and asking for "tolls" (Estyn Evans, 1957; Danaher, 1972) . In some parts of modern Ireland  children still  chant “Help the Halloween party! Any apples or nuts?” when trick or treating (Danaher, 1972)  All through Scotland it was the custom of groups of boys in costume to go door to door  asking for money or treats, often while singing or chanting which slowly became the custom of younger children that we consider trick or treating in modern times (McNeill, 1961) .
   I took my children out trick or treating, with the girls dressed up as Cleopatra and a pirate queen respectively. It was extremely fun being out at night with the children, under the crescent moon, with the snap of snow in the air. We had actually had an unusual early snow storm last Saturday that knocked out power and generally mucked things up for awhile, but by yesterday everything was enchanted.
 Now the modern dating of Samhain is given as October 31st and this is when I choose to celebrate it for convenience, but in reality the date was originally not a set calender or astrological date, as far as we know, but rather was an agrarian date In Ireland and Scotland; although the Coligny calendar of Gaul does list three specific days as "Trinuoxtion Samonii" or the three nights of summers end (Kondratiev, 1999). In practice Samhain celebrations occurred in November because this was the end of the harvest and the time when the herds were brought back in from the fields, but it wasn't until the Catholic church moved their celebration of All Saints and All Souls day to the first days of Novemeber that Samhain seem to have gotten a set calendar date in a modern context (Estyn Evans, 1957; McNeill, 1961). Of course then the switch was made from the Julian to Gregorian calendar and so you still see people celebrating Samhain on November 12th, refusing to acknowledge the change (McNeill, 1961). I debated for awhile trying to hold to a more traditional agrarian marking of the date, perhaps at the first hard frost each year, but with the kids it was just too difficult to get them engaged and excited about it when it seemed random to them. I do however follow what Caesar said about the Celts starting the new day at sunset and the new year at Samhain and begin my celebrations at sunset of the 31st and I also generally make it a three day celebration, something that is supported by the Coligny calendar and at least tenuously by the Irish belief that it was actually on November 2nd that the spirits of the dead returned to visit the living (Freeman, 2002; Danaher, 1972).      
    After trick or treating we came home and had a small ceremony together. We lit a candle for those we love who have passed and talked about them, things we remembered and missed.
My cauldron with the candle for the ancestors burning inside; the skull in front is from my ancestor altar and represent all of my ancestors whose names I do not know, but who are still with me, who I also honor
It was an old practice in Ireland to light a candle for each deceased member of the family and to leave the doors unlocked - in some cases even open - and to leave out either fresh water or porridge as an offering to those ancestors who chose to visit (Estyn Evans, 1957; Danaher, 1972). Our lighting the candle carved with their names is our way of carrying on this tradition. Then, in honor of the idea of leaving out food for the dead, we took a cake that we had baked earlier in the day and put pieces outside for the Gods, daoine sidhe, and ancestors, all in different places, as well as leaving out something for any wandering spirits. And we went back inside and each had a little piece of cake ourselves. Then the children went to bed and I did some divination on my own.
  Tonight is the second night of my Samhain celebration. I will honor an Morrigan and an Dagda who united on Samhain, and who are both deities I am personally close to. I will kindle a sacred fire symbolically relighting the fire of my hearth and of the world* and  I will do some more divination and make charms to bless my home in the coming year; Samhain was associated with a solar cross charm similar to the Brighid's cross of Imbolc and with using fire to sain the property (Danaher, 1972; McNeill 1962). Tomorrow will be focused especially on honoring the dead and on blessing the people of the house for the year to come using the ashes of tonight's fire. And then Samhain will be over for another year.

Danaher, K., (1972) . The Year in Ireland. Mercier Press
Estyn Evans, E., (1957) . Irish folk Ways. Routledge and Kegan Paul
Freeman, P., (2002) War, Women, and Druids. University of Texas Press
Kondratiev, A., (1998) . The Apple Branch: a path to Celtic Ritual. Citadel Press.
McNeill, F., (1961) . The Silver Bough, volume 3: Halloween to Yule. Stuart Titles Limited

* If anyone is curious about why I place the ceremony with the ritual fire on the second day and not on the first where it should more logically be - the first night is very much about doing as much as I can with my children and my youngest daughter, at this point, has several issues that make anything involving total darkness a bad idea. I am still working out what exactly should go where, ritually speaking, and next year I hope to have the fire on the first night in a more "traditional" way since fire was such a major part of this holiday. But this year, this is how things worked out. Sometimes you just have to roll with it.