Lammastide – the holy of holies

In the good old days, the harvest festivals began in August (Lunasa – ‘beginning of harvest’) followed by September (Meán Fómhair) and October (Deireadh Fómhair) translated as ‘middle of harvest’ and ‘end of harvest’ respectively. Harvest was one of the most sacred times of the pagan year and the Harvest Home or In-Gathering was a community observance at the end of the harvest to celebrate and give thanks for the bounty with all its attendant celebrations, including the singing of the traditional folksongs like John Barleycorn. Celebrating the harvest is still the holiest time of the Craft year and Lammas celebrates the coming of harvest-tide with its decoration of corn sheaves, fancy loaves, berries and fruits – all leading up to the Autumnal Equinox (or Michaelmas) that marked its zenith with the eating of the traditional goose and the raucous festivities of the community harvest supper and country fairs.

Lammas Day (Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, ‘loaf-mass’), however, is a holiday still celebrated in English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere, usually between 1st August and 1st September, to mark the annual wheat harvest – the first harvest festival of the year. On this day it became customary to bring to the local church a loaf made from the new crop that began to be harvested at Lammastide. The loaf was blessed, and in Anglo-Saxon England it might be employed afterwards to work magic: a book of Anglo-Saxon charms directed that the Lammas bread be broken into four bits, which were to be placed at the four corners of the barn, to protect the garnered grain from rot and vermin. In many parts of England, tenants were bound to present freshly harvested wheat to their landlords on or before the first day of August. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where it is referred to regularly, it is called ‘the feast of first fruits’

The Chronicle is an account of events in Anglo-Saxon and Norman England; a compilation of seven surviving interrelated manuscript records that provides the primary source for the early history of England. The original manuscript was created late in the 9th century, probably in Wessex, during the reign of Alfred the Great (c871–899). Multiple copies were made of that one original and then distributed to monasteries across England, where they were independently updated. In one case, the Chronicle was still being actively updated in 1154 and seven of the nine surviving manuscripts and fragments now reside in the British Library. The remaining two are in the Bodleian Library at Oxford and the Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

The ninth century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; the 10th– century Anales Cambraie; Chronicle of Aethelweard and even earlier sources such as the 8th-century historians, St. Bede of Jarrow and Nennius of Bangor, all shed light on the conversion of the pagan Anglo-Saxons, and each of them in turn referred to the 6th– century writings of Gildas the Wise. These are among the primary sources used to study who the early pagan Anglo-Saxons were – and how it was that they came to abandon their ancestral religion in favour of Christianity.

Lughnasadh’s pagan origins are mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature, the festival being named after the old Celtic sun-god Lugh. It involved great ‘in-gatherings’ that included religious ceremonies, ritual athletic contests (most notably the Tailteann Games), feasting, matchmaking and trading – and visits to holy wells – with many of the activities taking place on hilltops and mountains. According to folklorist Máire MacNeill, evidence shows that the religious rites included an offering of the ‘first fruits’, a feast of the new food and of bilberries, the sacrifice of a bull and a ritual dance-play in which Lugh seizes the harvest for mankind and defeats the powers of blight. In Wales, Gŵyl Awst marks the first harvest, because there is a second harvest at the time of the Autumn Equinox.

Old Lughnasadh: Irish: Lúnasa; Scottish Gaelic: Lùnastal; Manx: Luanistyn is the Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man and was originally held about halfway between the Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox; over time, however, the celebrations shifted to correspond to other European harvest festivals such as the Welsh Gŵyl Awst and the English Lammas. According to the Julian calendar, 14th August is the day to connect magically with the Ancestors for a true first Old Craft harvest celebration when ‘Kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood’.

This is also a season of renewed growth in some trees during July and August in the northern hemisphere, and Lammas growth on trees can be really pretty. On oaks it tends to be lime green but is often tinged with red and it brings the trees to life again, and makes the woods and hedgerows look refreshed.  Lammas growth declines with the age of the tree, being most vigorous and noticeable in young trees. It differs in nature from spring growth, which is fixed when leaves and shoots are laid down in the bud the previous year. The Lammas flush is free growth of newly-made leaves throughout the tree.

It was beneath the oaks of the New Forest that King William Rufus went hunting on 2nd August in the year 1100, and was killed by an arrow through the lung, though the full circumstances still remain unclear. The earliest statement of the event was in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which noted that the king was ‘shot by an arrow by one of his own men’. According to an unidentified ecclesiastical account, a charcoal burner took the King’s body, placed it on a rude cart, covered it with a ragged cloth and conveyed it to Winchester.

The body was said to have dripped blood along the entire route, an idea consistent with the belief that the blood of the divine sacrifice must fall on the ground in order to fertilize it. The king was mourned not by the Christian nobles but by the largely pagan common folk, who lined the roads of his funeral procession and followed the body to the grave; thus giving voice to the legend that William Rufus’s death was a ritual sacrifice as part of the dying-god fertility cult since he was descended from a pagan leader on both sides of his family. Many of his friends and close associates were also openly heathen, and his chief advisor was Randolf Flambard, recorded in the Chronicles as the son of a witch.

Along with the Mid-Winter Festival, the celebration of the Harvest is one of the most important celebrations in the Old Calendar and, like Yule, is celebrated over a number of weeks until the full harvest has been gathered in – culminating in a community In-gathering or Harvest Home. That a working knowledge of the natural tides was requisite in traditional witchcraft is shown by Paul Huson in Mastering Witchcaft (1970) and later by Patricia Crowther in Lid Off the Cauldron (1981).  And yet apart from the monthly moon cycle, much of this teaching is absent from contemporary pagan writings. 

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

In ye olden days, the Lammas celebration was exclusively a male affair with the women waiting outside the Circle in order that they may – or may not – be invited to participate in the rite.

Within CoS we tend to keep things simple at Lammas and wait for the ‘big event’ at the Autumnal Equinox when the feast should be a full scale, bells and whistles, Harvest Home supper.  Weather-wise, however, Lammas is still basically a summer event and fresh-baked crusty bread goes with all sorts of seasonal food; if it happens to be cold a thick home-made soup goes down just as well.

It is also a great time for implementing one of those other popular pagan institutions – Pot Luck – that is a communal gathering where each coven member contributes a different, often homemade, dish of food to be shared. The pot-luck supper is a great idea in theory: but in practice, it still needs organizing. What if the dishes clash? What if everyone brings lasagna? If you’re a Type-A personality, like most Dames and Magisters, tell people what to bring, especially if you intend eating outside.  This dispenses with any difficulties.

Everyone uses pot-luck to bring their favorite indulgent dishes, like pasta salads or macaroni and cheese bakes, but don’t be afraid to offer to bring something new.  Ideally, people almost always bring dishes that can be eaten off a plate and that’s fine: but the pot-luck plate often lacks crunch and brightness. Bring something fresh like a grain salad or a raw vegetable side dish for some variety.  If you’re going store-bought, bring cured meats and cheeses, or pick up a great nut mix.  Don’t forget that fresh produce is never better than during the summer, so take advantage and make a dish that highlights the produce of the season. A crisp veggie/salad tray fresh from the garden is a welcome addition to a spread that features mostly comfort foods; serve any dressings separately to prevent things from going soggy – or the beetroot salad escaping into the coleslaw!  And lots of fresh, crusty breads for this Lammas night.

Don’t forget that the Lammas loaf was made from the first corn cut that morning, and by night-fall the woman of the house would have had a freshly baked loaf waiting to be eaten.  The designs for Lammas loaves are varied and can be from a simple cottage loaf to a plait, or the more ambitious wreaths and corn sheaves – the latter often having a little mouse cunningly concealed at the bottom – like Mouseman furniture!  If we’re not bread-makers make a trip to the local bakers and fill a large wicker shopping basket with a selection of different breads and rolls that can be served with lashings of ‘real’ butter. 

Since I’ve never made bread that couldn’t double as a door-stop, the following recipe from A Witch’s Treasury of Hearth & Garden became part of our own Coven tradition and could be quickly prepared when time was pressing at the time of the harvest …

The Lammas Cake

8 oz self-raising flour with 1 teaspoon mixed spice

5 oz castor sugar and 5 oz butter

6 oz currants

6 oz sultanas

2 oz chopped peel

2 eggs beaten with 6 tablespoons milk

Mix flour and spices. Beat butter and sugar to cream. Beat eggs and milk together. Alternatively stir in flour and egg/milk mixture to the butter and sugar a little at a time. Add fruit and mix thoroughly. Line a loaf tin with grease-proof paper and bake the mixture for 1 hour at Gas Mark 5 (350F/180C) for 1½ hours, then at Gas Mark 2 (300F/150C).  Wrap the tin in a thick layer of newspaper to prevent burning.

It is from those last sheaves of Lammas corn that the stems for making the corn dollies are taken. Even today the corn dolly tradition is still followed in the UK, where most counties have their own designs and forms. The Stafford Knot, the Suffolk Horseshoe, the Yorkshire Spiral or Corn Drop are just a few of the old variations that survive today. While many don’t look like a typical ‘dolly’ in the general sense of the word, their care and crafting are still imbibed with intent and mystery, and a desire to protect the promise of the next growing season. Whatever shape or form they take, the ‘Spirit of the Grain’ is still a potent pagan custom and magical working, and we don’t have to be a farmer to take advantage of its talismanic power. It can represent success and bounty, and the fervent hope the future will hold prosperity and abundance. 

In European pagan culture it was believed that the spirit of the corn lived amongst the crop, and that the harvest made it effectively homeless.  James Frazer devotes some four chapters to the ‘corn mother and corn maiden’ customs in The Golden Bough. Among the customs attached to the last sheaf of the harvest were hollow shapes fashioned from the last stook of wheat or other cereal crop. The corn spirit would then spend the winter in the house or barn until the ‘Spirit of the Grain’ was ploughed back into the first furrow of the new season.

Smaller versions of this country craft were usually made for individuals and it is with these personal examples that we are most familiar. A countryman’s favour was usually a braid of three straws and tied into a loose knot to represent a heart. It was believed that if it had been made by a young man from straws picked up after the harvest and given to his loved one – and if she was wearing it next to her heart when he saw her again then he would know that his love was reciprocated.  Corn dollies were also made as a badge of trade at hiring fairs, where men and women would decorate them with a wisp of wool or horse hair to signify that they were a shepherd, for example, or a wagoner.

These annual hiring fairs were held later in the year, during Martinmas week at the end of November, in the northern market towns where both male and female agricultural servants would gather in order to bargain with prospective employers and, hopefully, secure a position for the coming year. The yearly hiring included board and lodging for single employees for the whole year – with wages being paid at the end of the year’s service. These fairs attracted all the other trappings of a fair, and they turned into major feasts in their own right, which attracted poor reputations for the drunkenness and immorality involved.

The corn dolly is another way of connecting with a tradition our Ancestors would have celebrated around Lammas-tide – even if we just take a bunch of corn stalks, trimmed and tied with a scarlet ribbon. What will our corn dolly represent? What promises, what hopes do we wish to manifest in the coming seasons? Will we make room at our altar or hearth for the ‘Spirit of the Grain’ to ward off the lean times? The magical power of the dolly is not merely the object itself, but the care and work put into it: a representation of the sacrifice we all make today to ensure a better tomorrow. Whatever form of greater increase and prosperity we desire, perhaps keeping the ‘Spirit of the Grain’ in a safe, warm place through times of slack and dormancy could help us stay opportunistic on our way to our own bountiful harvest!

Because it was common practice to break up corn dollies from the previous year and sow the grains in the spring with the new planting, it’s unusual to see many old ones around.  Since the corn dolly is a symbol of wishing wealth on the household, it is pointless leaving it to gather dust for years on end, particularly as the ‘wealth’ comes from the releasing of the Spirit of the Grain back into the fields to work its magic.  If we give a corn dolly to someone else, do make sure they understand that come spring they should take it outside and burn it, sprinkling the ashes onto the garden.

Lammas is still a time of excitement and magic. The natural world is thriving around us, and yet the knowledge that everything will soon die looms in the background. This is a good time to work some protective magic around the hearth and home.  This occasion celebrates the beginning of the harvest season and the cycle of rebirth, and can be done by a solitary practitioner or adapted for a group or coven setting.  It is an expression of gratitude for the change in seasons — from a season of planting to a season of harvest – that marks today’s observance.

The floral tribute for this time of year is a huge vase full of dried grain stalks with as many different varieties as possible – wheat, oats, barley – these characteristic heads make a distinctive display that will last for weeks. Wheat is one of the oldest and most important of the cereal crops cultivated in Britain since prehistoric times, so its symbolism is timeless.

If working solitary, prepare a platter of fresh bread together with small dips of oil, honey, together with wine and spring water to symbolise the age-old offerings.  Think about the bounty that fills our life. What are we getting ready to ‘harvest’? Have we taken time over the summer to enjoy the fruits of our labour? How are we preparing to shift into the darkness of the coming months? 

Break the bread into large chunks and set some outside (or at your altar) as an offering. Have some of the bread yourself, first with olive oil, and then with honey. Wash it down with your harvest beverage and fresh spring water, and offer your thanks for the abundance of the coming harvest.   Mix the oil, wine, honey and water together and make a libation for the Old Ones by pouring it on the ground outside. 

We often forget that honouring the seasons and our Tradition do not have to be grand celebrations, full of complicated Compass casting, fancy rituals with bells and smells, and sumptuous feasts – yet!  Of course the Sabbats can include one or all of those things, but do they have to be? Of course not. Honouring the change of the season can be as simple as a lighted candle, a murmured invocation, and a libation. Just five minutes to reconnect with our beliefs, our deity and the land.

‘Wishing you all the joy of the Season’ – Melusine Draco

The Temple House Archive series

by Melusine Draco

Every book has a story behind the story of how it came to be written. It may be about a life-long passion, a personal journey, the need to share an experience or knowledge. It may have been fermenting in the brain for years, or sprung fully formed from a blinding epiphany. Whether it be fact or fiction, sometimes the story behind the story is almost as interesting as the published book itself …

Many of us cut our magical eye-teeth on magical fiction and the purpose of the Temple House Archive was to follow in the footsteps of Dion Fortune and Aleister Crowley in creating a series of titles that were entertaining as well as instructional. 

I was always a great fan of The Legacy, that Canadian television series from the 1980s, and although the rather bigoted ‘light is right and anything that comes from the shadows is highly suspect’ attitude was irritating it provided great entertainment. What if …The idea festered for many years and there came along New Tricks and again the ‘what if …’ element reared its head for combining the esoteric with modern investigative procedures, together with the multi-casting story-lines of the CSI series, the idea for the Temple House series was born. What if …

If I’m completely honest the Temple House is pure indulgence – giving the opportunity to bring together all sorts of demons, degenerates and dire doings all under one roof and covering the realms of esoteric, suspense, horror and thriller. Where were these super-heroes coming from? They had to have an authentic and credible historical background. What if …

… the Temple House had been founded in 1586 in Elizabethan England as an off-shoot of Sir Francis Walsingham’s recently created intelligence service, inaugurated to investigate the growing popularity of esoteric learning that was occupying the interests of the intelligentsia of the time. For my purpose he recruited the descendants of the Knights Templar. The Order had remained surrounded by myth and legend ever since its demise – but drawing on this veritable mine of esoteric knowledge and experience of international intrigue, the Temple House was established to combat ‘evil forces’ of a human or supernatural agency, and those who would use occult power for destructive purposes.

The current members of the Temple House, or ‘the Nine’ as they are referred to in memory of the original nine founder members of the Order, had all to be specialists and magical practitioners in the diverse fields of occultism and its relevant histories. And it wasn’t easy to build up a team that were creatures of the modern world and not throwbacks to a bygone age, although they all had a highly developed sense of honour and obligation to tradition. The first thing that went was the location. No gloomy Gothic exteriors, crumbling castles or dank caverns – the Temple House would be located somewhere light and airy – in a smaller version of my own dream home: Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous ‘Falling Water’ perched on the cliffs overlooking the ocean!

Yes, of course, the story-lines descend into darkness but the characters themselves are modern, forward thinking people who exist as a well-oiled machine. House of Strange Gods conjured up a traditional demon from the Abyss with various different sub-plots including a homicidal link to the past but it also weeded out one of the characters who wasn’t up to scratch and had to be replaced. Realm of Shadow weeded out a couple more as the story-lines acted out the process of natural selection; while Hour Betwixt Dog & Wolf stretched credibility beyond reason – as often happens.  This wasn’t my original intention but as any novelist knows, these things have a habit of developing a life-force of their own and whereas certain characters can’t cope with certain situations in real life, so the flaws are also exposed in a fictional world. They just don’t work! The Thirteenth Sign deals with a primitive African-cult manifesting in Central London; a haunted house in the West Country and an on-line business for curses by mail-order, while the latest title – PACT! – speaks for itself.

To assemble the cast I used my tried and trusted trick of ‘casting’ – who would I get to play those characters if it were a television series (regardless of age) – and to help with the creative process I gave the Temple House its own Facebook page. The page keeps readers up to date on the progress of the team’s latest adventures and arranges special offers on Kindle e-books and discounted prices on all paperback versions ordered direct from the printer. It also gives readers the opportunity to interact with the characters, suggest story-lines for future titles, and enjoy reading the additional information on the background research involved for the next title which, hopefully, will appeal to writers as well as readers.

I like to think that the series has an instructional element to the stories because there’s such a diversity to the phenomena that some magical explanation is required to trigger the reader’s imagination. Throughout the books the Knights Templar background is emphasised and so we get history, too, as well as magic. They’ve been fun to write and, I hope, fun to read, too …

The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Salomonici), or more commonly known as the Knights Templar, were formed in 1118 and ‘destroyed’ in 1307 by royal decree when King Phillipe of France moved to have all Templars arrested and their assets seized. The Order has remained surrounded by myth and legend ever since – from searching and reputedly finding the Holy Grail; the Ark of the Covenant; sacred Gnostic texts even more dangerous than those found by the Dead Sea, or at Nag Hammadi in Egypt; to the timely disappearance of their naval fleet from La Rochelle and their treasure from the Paris Temple.

When creating characters for a novel, I use the ‘casting couch’ method by thinking to myself: which actor/celebrity (past or present) would I choose to play my character, and the choice is more likely to be reliant on a particular past role rather than the actor’s own personality. Very often this choice can also have a direct influence on the way the character speaks and acts within the parameters of the Temple House novels. This technique has proved highly successful for the Temple House series especially with such a large cast of major players and to make sure they all get equal ‘billing’. So … in ‘Meet the Characters’ is how I see them in my mind’s eye … or the people I would chose to play the parts.

As one reader commented in a review of the first books: “What interested me the most was the group dynamic of the ‘Nine’. Their skills and knowledge are vast but they’re united by a deep sense of trust in and commitment to each other. This focus and dedication is also applied to combating forces of evil, both human and non-human. They watch each other’s backs. The characters come across as being quite believable and likeable. I took a shine to many of them … Two have Templar lineage, the others consist of specialists in the fields of forensics, archaeology, anthropology, theology, medieval history, classics, and communications. The group comprises of people ‘blessed’ with natural psychic abilities and those with such gifts thrust upon them by accident. They are a tight knit band, which is always necessary for any group work, more so in the pursuit of paranormal anomalies.”

Aliona de Foresta: Professor of Archeo-astrology is Hereditary Head of the Temple House, author and television personality descended from Guy de Foresta, Master of the Templars in England on three separate occasions between 1275 and1288. Initiate of the Egyptian Mystery Tradition and an authority on ancient stellar-associated religious belief and cosmogony. Widow of Phillipe Middleburne; mother of Luc, heir to the Middleburne Estate and twin sister to Guy de Foresta, who preferred to build boats than take over the Temple House when their father Laurent de Foresta died. Both Aliona and her brother are highly intelligent – highly volatile – and devoted to each other; while Luc is constantly driven round the bend by her ‘fussing’.

     Perhaps not surprisingly, she is still my favourite character as she is the lynchpin for the whole Temple House Archive series. She is not always a likeable or sympathetic personality but she has the necessary steely character required to be the hereditary Head of an ancient esoteric Order. She was the first of ‘the Nine’ to come alive having seen Janette Suzman in a similar role in an old Morse episode where she played a dynamic 50-ish professional woman with elegance and conviction. Neither can anyone do ‘exasperation’ quite like Suzman and the younger members of the team often get the opportunity to produce this reaction in their leader. She is fiercely loyal to her ‘troops’ and would defend them to the hilt, regardless of the cost.

     As one reader observed: “She’s a strong female character who knows her own mind; as a trusted and respected leader whose team trusts her implicitly. I thought this was an excellent portrayal of a female character in a position that many authors would have assigned to a male. I would trust her and have faith in her decisions, which I can’t say of many people who profess to be leaders! I think Janette Suzman would have been spot on as regards ‘casting’.”

Robert Sands ‘Monsignor’: Emeritus Professor of Theology, Cambridge

Robert specialises in Norse and Anglo-Saxon languages and culture. He is a widely published authority on alternative religion, new religious movements, cults and heretical sects. Also of Templar lineage – Robert de Sable, Master 1191-1193 – he is Aliona’s greatest friend and Luc’s godfather, and originally brought into the Temple House by Laurent de Foresta following the collapse of his marriage. He is the lover of Christine Kemble, many years his junior, who has managed to inject some brightness into his formerly austere existence and whom he marries after his near-fatal shooting [Realm of Shadow].

     One reader commented: “He’s rather an enigmatic character and as an academic hasn’t got a lot of time for airy-fairy theories and conjecture. I like the spirited debates he has with JJ Dee and his wife but he’s obviously a good natured soul underneath. What a brain! And what a pedigree!”

     Robert is one of the Temple Elders and don’t ask me why – but rock star Bryan Ferry just kept popping up as ‘Monsignor’! Well, he had to have something of the illustrious past etched into his face and I couldn’t get rid of the mental image of the craggy Mr Elegance himself. Neither the reality nor the fictional character appear to suffer fools gladly and while Professor Sands wouldn’t be wearing the glam attire the singer used to favour, he nevertheless is the epitome of his own brand of the immaculate turnout. He’d also got to have something about him to attract a young and attractive wife.

John James (‘JJ’) Dee: Medieval History

JJ holds the rank of ‘Adeptus’ in a Western Ritual Magic Order and a Temple Elder, is an acknowledged expert in the interpretation of the Western Qabalah, esoteric acronyms, sigils and symbols – and demonology. Specialises in icon identification and symbology; contemporary usage and examples – medieval Inquisition and related church affairs. Frequently liaises with the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit at Quantico, Virginia. An excellent chef and connoisseur of good food and wine, with a dry sense of humour to match, he is the only person to win both Mastermind and MasterChef – and usually finds himself acting as ‘exorcist’ to some of the more unsavoury manifestations from the Abyss.

     As unlikely as it sounds, the person that fitted this role to perfection in my mind’s eye was the television cookery writer Nigel Slater with his characteristic all-black outfits, specs and floppy hair; his relaxed, laid-back attitude translated perfectly as an excellent foil for his more seriously minded contemporaries.

     The comment’s been made that: “I think JJ, apart from being a very smart guy and an accomplished magician, is a mighty fine cook. The best traits in a guy any woman could want. Although Andy and Will are ex-military, it is JJ who can stand and look real danger right in the face and hold his ground. And I love his sense of humour. He doesn’t take himself too seriously unlike the other characters.”

Dr Gabrielle Fox – Temple House Medic

Dr Fox is an authority on folk and alternative medicine, traditional wort-lore, altered states of consciousness and historical witchcraft. She also acts as the team’s medic, forensics specialist and connoisseur of Gothic literature and cinema – an interest that she shares with Jack Daws. Close friend of Aliona de Foresta, Gabrielle, along with JJ and Robert, is another of the Temple Elders.

     This was a difficult character to ‘see’ for a very long time as she kept coming out too much like her good friend Aliona de Foresta – then I discovered the beautiful Melina Kanakaredes, the Greek actress in CSI: New York and everything fell into place. It was almost like transporting her from one character to another and the join was seamless especially the Anglo-Greek side to her personality. This is a technique I always use when creating characters because it makes it so much easier to see them in the mind’s eye and lessens the risk of them not acting true to form. It’s no wonder the THA macho-man, Will Burl, falls for her – and I didn’t even see that one coming!

     One reader singled her out: “She’s quietly competent but still manages to exude an aura of strength when required out in the field. She strong, dependable, highly intelligent, adaptable and has a good sense of humour – teamed up with Jack Daws they make a formidable duo.”

James ‘Jack’ Daws: Archaeology/Anthropology

A self-opinionated graduate of University College, specialising in prehistory and archaeo-acoustics – the acoustic qualities of prehistoric and medieval construction, and auditory sensibilities – experiencing the sensation of hearing sounds where there is no identifiable external cause. Aficionado of classic cinema, vintage horror films and literature; and a highly experienced climber – a passion he shares with Chrissie Kemble, Andy Ambler and Will Burl.

     I’m also a great fan of young Johnny Depp who is greatly underrated as a comic actor and I needed someone in the team to be a bit of a clown when the need arises. He’d drive me barmy but as a character he’s credible when it comes to getting folk out of a tight corner – and can always be relied upon to say the wrong thing!

     Our proof-editor likes Jack Daws who specialises in archaeo-acoustics: “What a way to hear blasts from the past! He’s cheeky, helps the team to bond and I imagine somewhat of a hunk! He loves old horror movies, too, so a great character to cuddle up with!”

Andrew ‘Andy’ Ambler: Former SAS, intelligence operative, communications and crypt-analysist. Shot in the head during active service and developed extremely accurate psychic abilities as a result. Originally seconded to the Temple House from MI6 [House of Strange Gods] but now a fully-integrated member of the Nine who shares a climbing interest with Jack Daws and Christine Kemble and his old comrade in arms, Will Burl. Often out of his depth with the occult nature of their work. He has a dry and soldier’s ‘black’ sense of humour, and is fiercely loyal to Aliona de Foresta.

     The character was originally based on a real ex-special forces soldier whom I met many years ago minding a couple of Russians at a conference in London but like the rest of us he would be a lot older now! So … who would fit the role today and it had to be Daniel Craig: not particularly good looking but soooo much animal magnetism, and appears to be a bit of a sour puss at times despite the odd flashes of humour. Forget the tux … he’s best when casual, dishevelled and a bit grubby! A fellow author commented: “Oh, the ex-SAS man [Andy Ambler]. Definitely sexy and cool and loads of common sense.”

Christine Kemble is a Doctor of Geology and leading researcher into electromagnetic phenomena – the strange effects associated with the earth’s magnetic field, with a keen interest in the magical lore of gemstones and ‘earth mysteries’; aka author Crystal Kemble. An experienced climbing companion of Jack Daws and lover (and later wife) of the eminent ‘Monsignor’, Robert Sands. Chrissie has a bright, bubbly personality and an infectious laugh that manages to defuse even the grimmest of situations.

     I was looking for a complete contrast to Aliona de Foresta and Gabrielle Fox but it had to be someone who was as academically sound and who provided the statutory (but not ditzy) blonde. She’s happier being one of the boys but her female friendships are equally as important; and she’s fearless when it comes to field-work. She’s the fourth member of the Temple House ‘climbing club’ with Jack Daws, Andy Ambler and Will Burl and absolutely dependable in a crisis … jump to Amanda Redman who plays the indomitable Sandra in New Tricks and the cast was complete – especially as the original idea for THA came from a blend of New Tricks, CSI and the old 1970s series The Legacy.  One reader has gone for Christine Kemble: “She’s my kinda girl – clever, attractive, witty and a tom-boy to boot!”

Wilbur Burl: Another former Special Forces soldier and former comrade in arms of Andy Ambler [House of Strange Gods], originally appointed as security officer for the Temple House and elevated within the Order because of his courage and adaptability. Romantically involved with Gabrielle Fox and a member of the TH climbing club. There’s a good-natured, on-going competitiveness between the two soldiers except in dress – Will wouldn’t be seen dead in Andy’s cut-offs and faded military t-shirts.

     This role had to go to good-looking American actor (and former fashion model) of Criminal Minds fame – Shemar Moore. In real life the actor is of mixed race and in the books Will has a Caribbean-Greek ancestry. There’s also a lot of good-natured sexist leg-pulling that can only work successfully between a group of highly confident and warm-hearted people who genuinely care about each other.

Timothy Brown: An emotionally underdeveloped teenage psychic who lost his parents in a boating incident and was washed up on the Temple House beach. His remarkable abilities are wide reaching but completely untrained; a probationary member of the Temple House team. Although possessed of an extremely high IQ, he nevertheless has the social and emotional outlook of a schoolboy on account of his parents keeping him isolated on account of his ‘strangeness’ [Hour Betwixt Dog & Wolf].

     I needed a sort of River Pheonix-pretty boy look for this new character to provide a complete contrast to the older males … so had a flick through ‘young blond models’ on the internet and this was the closest I could find.

Barbara Ford-Harrington: Retired librarian from the Bodleian Library at Oxford and a traditional Old Craft witch. She joins the Temple House team following a case involving some of her strange neighbours. An excellent researcher and a highly suitable replacement for former team member Maurice Morgan and a valuable colleague of JJ Dee and Robert Sands.

     I had a sort of mature Angela Rippon-type for this character who wears her long blonde hair caught up in a knot; she wears country tweeds and sensible shoes but is in no way plain or dowdy. She brings with her an amiable beagle called Wilf. [Hour Betwixt Dog & Wolf]

PACT! is the fifth title in the series and due for publication in September 2021 by Ignotus Press UK. For more details see http://www.facebook.com/TempleHouseArchive

Reviews:

“A brilliant read. Love the writing. A real chiller-thriller. The author has all the skills needed to write a cracking good novel. She also has a vast occult knowledge that really shows and writes on the subject with ease. As usual with Melusine there is a subtle humorous element running through that works really well. Best of all there is a volume two underway. I think this would make a great TV series.” Maria Moloney, Axis Mundi Books

A cracking read. An excellent story, the characters are three dimensional, the dialogue reads naturally and the pacing is fine. There is tension and plenty of conflict as well as some nice touches of humour. There is also a sense of truth that only someone who is familiar with the occult can provide in this genre.” Krystina Kellingley, Cosmic Egg Books

“A brilliant read and a walk into the world of the occult that is both fascinating and thrilling. Loved the historical undertones and the work of the ‘Nine’. Kept me gripped throughout. Can’t wait for number two!” Sarah-Beth Watkins : Bookworms

Melusine Draco’s Woodland Walks

Traditional Witchcraft for Woods and Forests

Root & Branch: British Magical Tree Lore

Hunter’s Wood is a dreamscape that a witch can visit at any time, should we feel the need to harness the timeless energy of the Wild Wood, regardless of time or season. For visualisation purposes, the Wood is approximately ten acres in size, flanked by a fast running stream to the east and a long ride, or track, to the west. A ride is a treeless break in forested areas used in ancient times for the hunting of deer – hence the name of this wood. The stream feeds a woodland pool with a slow trickle during the summer months, but when the winter rains come all the accumulated dead leaves and twigs will be swept away by the torrent. The southern edge of the wood opens onto a huge cornfield, in the centre of which is a large mound, crowned by a stand of three Scots pines; while to the north there is a wide expanse of marshy heathland with its alder carr. Narrow paths criss-cross the wood: some are old and man-made, others are animal tracks, but all will lead us deeper into the woodland realm.

This Wood is old. It has grown old alongside humanity and bears the evidence of its passing; generations of witches have wandered in secret glades, gathering herbs and plants at the midnight hour. Near the woodland ride, we discover other signs, particularly in the shapes of the trees that tell of the history of the wood and what it has been used for. The word coppice comes

from the French, couper, meaning ‘to cut’ and the most obvious signs of past coppicing is the presence of ‘many-trunked’ trees growing on the site of old coppice stumps. It was also important in past times to keep livestock out since they would destroy the young shoots and so the area was surrounded by a ditch with a large bank inside, which was often fenced. Old woodland may also have the remains of a stone wall used to protect the coppiced area. In Hunter’s Wood, the remnants of the bank and wall can still be seen where the ruins of the charcoal burner’s cottage disappears under a tangle of briar and bramble.

A witch should know that the efficiency of the woodland’s eco-system depends on how much of the sun’s energy can be utilised by the green plants and converted into carbohydrate. The tallest trees of the wood, which form the ‘canopy’, are the first to receive the sun’s rays and what grows beneath this layer depends on how much light can filter through to be tapped by other more

lowly plants. In beech woodlands, there is very little, but oak and ash are relatively light shade-casters and a lush growth of plants can exist beneath them. Immediately beneath the canopy will be tall bushes and small trees, which form the second or ‘shrub-layer’ of the wood.

Growing beneath the shrub layer is a mass of herbaceous plants that form the ‘herb layer’, so vital to a witch’s traditional wort-lore. Many of these plants come into flower early in the year, or have developed large flat leaves to make the most of what light is available. The lowest layer of all is the ‘ground layer’ of mosses and liverworts, which remain green throughout the year and are actively growing even in winter.

Another clue to woods that were once coppiced is the abundance of spring flowers. The regular tree cutting allowed plenty of light to reach the woodland floor and this encouraged the growth of the plants. Woodland flowers are slow to spread and so their presence in large numbers is an excellent indication that the wood is ancient; bluebells spread very slowly on heavy clay soils, so a carpet of them under trees could also be the clue to old woodland. Primroses, violets and wind-flowers are found here – all part of the medieval witch’s medicine chest.

Wild flowers also provide the woods with some of their most attractive features. Because many have adapted naturally to flower before the leaves develop in the shrub and canopy layers, they are regarded as the harbingers of spring. No doubt to our hunter-gatherer ancestors this reawakening of the woodland contributed to the mystical significance of the many rites and rituals associated with the season. A further indication of an old wood is a rich variety of flowers, particularly if bluebells, snowdrops, wood anemones, primroses, yellow archangel and early purple orchids are present. Dog’s mercury may seem to be a common woodland plant yet it is rarely found in recently planted woods – that is, woodland that has formed in the last 100 years – and so is also a good indicator of old woodland. The presence of such flowers in a hedge also suggests that it originated as part of a wood, since these species do not readily colonise hedgerows.

The deeper we penetrate into the Wood’s interior we come to the denser shade of a holly thicket and even on the brightest summer’s day, little light filters through the overhead canopy. This part of the Wood is imbued with a strange atmosphere and, as in so many natural places that people have left alone, a witch enjoys the frisson of nervous wonder. The woodland floor is bare except for dried prickly leaves and a scattering of boulders covered entirely in the rich velvet green of a variety of mosses. Here the stems and branches of the holly trees are almost pure silver-white, not the dingy pewter colour of urban trees – and the holly possesses magical protective powers that can be used in amulets and talismans.

Nearby we find an old beech tree that is so hollow it is amazing the blasted trunk can support the massive branches and rich canopy. This once handsome giant of Hunter’s Wood is coming to the end of its life but each year it sprouts the delicate veil of green leaves that tells us spring is well and truly here again. In the folds of its hollow trunk, we can shelter from summer showers; eat beechnuts in the autumn and remain safe and dry as the winter snow drifts down through the branches. Whenever we pass this way, we greet the old tree as though it were a friend and hope it survives the next winter’s gales.

The Sacred Places

It is said that the forest knows all and is able to teach all; that the forest listens and holds the secret of every mystery.

Since ancient times, woods have been places of sacred groves and nemorous temples, including those of the Druids and Iceni. Sir James Frazer refers widely to sacred groves and tree worship in

The Golden Bough, while Old Craft teacher, Mériém Clay-Egerton wrote extensively on the subject of trees and produced some highly evocative pieces relating to her experiences:

To me this was a place that had obviously been held as a sacred area for so very long now that it had in its turn breathed this very atmosphere itself and so projected this onto a mind which was prepared or conditioned to be both sympathetic and empathetic to various woodlands and their forms of existence … it resembled what I might envisage as a naturally constructed ‘cathedral’. Here lived and breathed holiness and beauty …

The Wild Wood, however, is the dark, untamed part of natural woodland where unearthly and potentially dangerous beings are still to be found. This is not everyone’s favourite place and many urban witches never get over an ‘atavistic fear of Nature uncontrolled’. Historically, the term ‘wildwood’ is the name given to the forests as they were some 5,000 years ago, before human interference, and the pollen records for that time confirm that elms made up a substantial component of the wildwood, along with the oak, birch and lime.

On a magical level, the Wild Wood refers to those strange, eerie places that remain the realm of Nature and untamed by man. Ancient gnarled oaks, festooned with ferns and draped with lichen, carry an air of solitude and remoteness that is deeply unnerving – here birdsong and the trickle of running water are the only sounds to break the stillness. It is the Otherworld of the ‘unearthly and potentially dangerous’. It is the realm of Pan and the Wild Hunt. In modern psychology, it refers to the dark inner recesses of the mind, the wild and tangled undergrowth of the unconscious. Here, among the trees, we are never sure that what we see is reality or illusion.

Mériém Clay-Egerton described the strange half-light that anyone who walks in the Wild Wood will immediately recognise.

I was always glad to go deeper into the apparent gloom because I would be beyond one of the woodland’s outer barriers

Although it is impossible to describe the sensations of the Wild Wood, no one who has walked there can remain unchanged by the experience. Nevertheless, even witches are not always welcome in this tree-filled wilderness. Hostile forces can physically bar our entrance into the inner sanctum of the wood, just as Philip Heselton describes in Secret Places of the Goddess. ‘The undergrowth is a thick tangle of briar and bramble, giving the aura of a place ‘set apart for mysterious concealment’. Entwined with these almost impenetrable barriers, are tufts of tall ferns, the seeds of which can be used to cast a witch’s cloak of invisibility. We must learn to heed the signs, however, for Nature does not always allow humans to pass.

Nevertheless, Traditional Witchcraft for the Woods and Forests takes us on journeys of discovery through Nature’s ownwoodland ‘calendar’ and, hopefully will reawaken the dormantsenses that coursed through the veins of those witches who livedlong ago in these ancient places. In a series of guided meditationsand pathworkings, we will learn how to reconnect with the spiritof the landscape and learn to walk softly through the woodlandsof both the physical and the astral realms. We will come to understandthe gift of Nature’s bounty, and make use of the materialsthat will ultimately lead to an intimacy with wild things that canonly come about through close contact and familiarity.

Throughout our long history, forests have been places of shelter, providing food for man and fodder for the animals; the wood for fuel (i.e. warmth and cooking) and for making weapons and other utensils. At the same time they have also been places of fear, where the temperamental Faere Folk, wood sprites and elementals lurked in the dappled shadows.  Even today, few places can rival an English oak wood in early summer for peace and beauty with its carpet of primroses and bluebells. Or the cathedral-like majesty of the autumn beech wood with the sun’s light filtering through the leaves. Or the brooding quiet of the ancient holly wood. Perhaps it is not surprising that our remote ancestors performed their acts of worship in forest clearings and woodland glades, for this is where they came face to face with ‘Nature’ – however they chose to see it.

So come and walk with us awhile … take my hand, child, and I will take you safely through the Wild Wood

Traditional Witchcraft for Woods & Forests (A witch’s guide to the woodland with guided meditations and pathworking) is published by Moon Books : ISBN 978 1 84694 803 9 : and Root & Branch: British Magical Tree Lore ISBN 978 1 78697 447 1 published by Ignotus Books are both by Melusine Draco.

Time Capsule

Introduced by Melusine Draco

The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy is like Marmite … you either love it or hate it.  Fans of the series are aware of the story behind the trilogy. How the authors were unhappy with the proposed ideas for publishing the first book as humour instead of the polemic typescript they had originally proposed. They finally agreed for the text to be given to me (as a fellow Old Crafter) to ghost-write and Coarse Witchcraft: Craft Working was duly created – provoking more good natured laughter about British witchcraft than we could have expected in our wildest dreams.

The ‘Coven’ was a genuine, real-life traditional group, and the ‘stories’ all actual biographical happenings – and although I do confess to taking some liberties with the dramatis personae, other names were changed to protect the stupid. Any bare patches were filled by other Old Crafters who had plenty of stories of their own to tell and contribute them they did!  While surprisingly, a large number of people wanted to identify with those petulant, waspish, curmudgeonly, liverish and often not so loveable characters who were willing to give a rare glimpse into the Circle of Old Craft practice.

Even esoteric author and long-time chum, Alan Richardson, said of the book: ‘Coarse Witchcraft made me laugh out loud in more than a few places. In fact, I think it is the first book of its kind; although it pokes fun at modern excesses and can laugh at itself, it still manages to teach the real stuff at a very high level.’  In its own way, the Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy represents a small but important time-capsule of Craft history during the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s that we have been lucky enough to preserve for the next generations of witches.

With the benefit of hindsight, Coarse Witchcraft: Craft Working stillrepresents a pretty fair and accurate snapshot of ‘the Craft scene’ during the 1980’s – a scene that has fallen out of favour with the current generation of witches simply for the reason that they object to what they see as the strong elitist, hierarchical and patriarchal elements of the time.  Craft of the 1980s is not, these days, considered entirely proper; its outmoded concepts such as loyalty, rank, merit and reward are frowned upon, regardless of the fact that Old Crafters could also see the absurdity, the tragedy and the rascality of those who should have attained them but either fell short, or deliberately flouted the rules.  Then, we found it all mildly comic and relished the gossip of the whole ‘shooting match’ and this attitude was reflected in the writing of Craft Working.

Much to everyone’s astonishment Coarse Witchcraft was a great success and was on its way to becoming a cult-classic. There was almost enough material left from the first book to launch a second: Coarse Witchcraft 2: Carry On Crafting, with plans for a third. It was dedicated to all those Crafters who believe that reverence should be tempered with mirth and merriment – and was as equally well received as the first.  There was, however, an element creeping into Craft of the 1990s that reflected the growing attitude of the in-coming generation who felt no obligation to the past – only gratifications to which they all felt they had a ‘right’.  As for merit and reward, the whole idea was distasteful to them as the general consensus was that anything or everything within Craft tradition available to one person should be shared, as of ‘right’ between them all.  They simply failed to understand the humour, sadness, roguery or irony of instances in which Craft-lore was accidentally or otherwise breached.  Instead disapproval was voiced and judgements made … and unfortunately no jokes were seen or savoured.

For reasons that quickly become apparent upon reading, the third (and last) title, Coarse Witchcraft 3: Cold Comfort Coven was a long time in the writing. Despite the popularity of the books, the original authors decided to hand all copyright back to the ghost-writer who had created the series (with the proviso that the real names of the characters should never be revealed), and retire from the scene. Cold Comfort Coven was written in the same vein as the previous titles, and in its own way continues the unexpected, but true, story of the Coven from the numerous notes supplied by, and lengthy conversations with, the original members. In its own way the Trilogy is also a valuable piece of history of traditional British Old Craft but during the 2000s attitudes were hardening against the practices of the old approaches to witchcraft and all it stood for.

When we compiled Coarse Witchcraft: Craft Working, there was the honest intention of trying to reveal some of the Old Ways without becoming too dogmatic about the manner in which things should be done, or breaking any oaths; tempering any high-handedness with humour and hefty dollops of silliness. To a certain extent this idea worked and the majority of readers have laughed with us (and at themselves) but several years down the line the mood changed.  And to make no bones about it … it was no fun anymore. As a consequence of all these changes there followed an almost deliberate attempt to re-write history which none of the old-timers recognize.

Once we fumble our way past beginner stage within Craft learning, we quickly come to realise that witchcraft is a tantalizing system of opposites: black/white, negative/positive, active/passive, male/female, dark/light, day/night and that the opposite of ‘good’ isn’t necessarily ‘evil’ – or even lukewarm wicked!  And once we reach the path of the Initiate, we find that things haven’t changed much, except that we now understand we know nothing and have to begin all over again by looking at life, witch-magic and the Universe from a completely different perspective.  In fact, darkness regularly comes to us all as the Earth spins on its axis and another part of the world gets to see the light. And we must always remember that even in the deepest and most authentic esoteric book-learning there are always bits missing!

In a recent article on Ancient Origins website: ‘Rapidly Closing American Churches Are Shadowed by the Meteoric Rise i9n Witchcraft’ highlighted the new political category of witchcraft – ‘feminist witch’ – a blatant mainstreaming of mysticism, and the politicisation of ancient craft, quite clearly aimed at liberal millennial women, who ‘are already involved in yoga and meditation, mindfulness, and new-age spirituality. Adding sympathetically that the elders of witchcraft, who have been practicising since the 1960s and earlier, must facepalm in frustration and dismay at these ‘space-age mutations’ of the old ways.

Unfortunately, the new generation of witches likes to do things their own way these days, even if it’s the wrong way – since much that passes for modern witchcraft is magically sterile due to the rejection of  the history, traditions and lore of Craft.  These are linked to energies so ancient that they are buried deep within the depository of the collective unconscious, while modern imagery has come about much too recently to act as direct conduits.  For the Old Ones these lines of communication are dead – and the mistake often made is in assimilating modern eclectic usage with witchcraft’s ancient past, where too many outside (or alien) influences are allowed to creep into the equation.

Traditional witchcraft acknowledges the natural – and essential – polarity between the sexes and can’t be bothered with what passes for the contemporary mainstreaming of what is in reality a very old art.  The Old Craft covens that continue to exist in the shadows still maintain those ancient links and retain those elitist, hierarchical and patriarchal elements; while those who continue to seek them out have no problem in coming to terms with the traditional values of the teaching.

In 2008 Daniel Schulke approached Michael Howard, editor of the British witchcraft and folklore journal The Cauldron, about co-editing and producing a witchcraft anthology for Three Hands Press – Hands of Apostacy. Given the quiet but potent renaissance that traditional and hereditary witchcraft underwent in the 1990s, they both felt that such a publication was long overdue. At the time, much written about traditional witchcraft was of poor quality, either crudely derivative of a few often-repeated sources, factually inaccurate, or simply plagiaristic. Though this situation persists, readership on this subject has grown increasingly sophisticated and discerning, and a few new voices have emerged from the collective hedge to articulate important and original perspectives on the Craft.

Though these forms of the Old Craft were known through their exterior writings, there are other such groups who are content to remain out of the public eye, practicing their Art and training their own generation of adepts. All of these traditions share a common feature of extreme selectivity when it comes to prospective members, and the willingness to reject those proven unfit for the work. This unpopular and confrontational stance has often led to thorny relations between groups, but it has also engendered a sanctuary-like environment where creative magical collaboration can unfold according to the design of each tradition.

The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy chronicles three decades and reveals what it was like to be a practicing Old Craft witch during the 1980s and 1990s, and into the 2000s when the Coven disbanded. It is easy to mourn the passing of the ‘good old days’ and to lament that ‘things were no longer like it was back then … but in truth, it never was like it was!

But I guess you had to have been there …

The Coarse Witchcraft Trilogy by Rupert Percy and Gabrielle Sidonie is published by Moon Books : ISBN 987 1 78279 285 : UK£10.99/US$18.95 : 256 pages ¨in paperback and e-book format.

New release

HAGSTONES

Many years ago, I featured a cover picture on my Facebook page, showing dozens of hag-stones washed in sea water, and received a message from someone asking how I managed to create so many without shattering the pebbles! Apparently the sender had been trying for years to make them by drilling the holes in order to sell them online! Wrong … in fact, according to Beachstuff.com cheating by drilling a hole through any old stone you pick up is liable to bring you curses and pestilence and other undesirable occurrences. 

  A hag-stone is an elusive and extremely magical stone tumbled by tides and winds over time to create a naturally forming hole through them. Hag-stones are special because they are rare to find and are also called adder-stones, faerie-stones, Odin-stones, eye-stones or witch-stones. Most are caused by water eroding weakened spots on the stone until a hole occurs, though many are created by wind, erosion, and weathering alone. They can also be formed as a result of the boring of a bivalve mollusk called a ‘piddock,’ whose shells look like angel wings. Or, as a result of smaller stones repeatedly grinding into the stone’s surface caused by weathering or water pressure. Or, more rarely from the deterioration of an embedded crinoid fossil.

First, however, we need to start with the geological aspects of the hag-stone. These small witch-stones all have naturally formed holes in them but they originally came from the bed-rock of the Earth, having been chipped off by impact, tectonic activity, glacial movement, seismic eruptions and weathering. So the original rocks that make up the small pebbles from which our hag-stones are formed may, in some places, be over 3 billion years old; the actual pebbles are probably only a few thousand years old since it only takes a relatively short time (geologically speaking) for streams and rivers to transport them. 

     As rocks are weathered and otherwise broken up, they go through many stages. Pebbles start off as part of a much larger formation of bed-rock in the ground. A crack formed and water flowed through; later, this chunk was broken off by some natural process and has been worn down, probably by being tumbled in a river, or by waves, until it became fairly round and smooth. Pebbles are very common along the lower boundaries of the last glaciers. The rocks get eroded by ice and water, getting smaller and smaller as they are borne along. Most of these pebbles will be rounded off over hundreds or thousands of years.

     Beach pebbles form gradually over time as the ocean washes over loose rocks; the result is a smooth, rounded appearance with colours ranging from translucent white to black, and including shades of yellow, brown, red and green. Some of the more plentiful pebble beaches are found along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, beginning in the United States and extending down to the tip of South America in Argentina. Other pebble beaches are found in northern Europe (particularly on the beaches of the Norwegian Sea), along the coast of the U.K. and Ireland, on the shores of Australia, and around the islands of Indonesia and Japan – and here hag-stones of all sizes and colours can be plentiful.

     Inland pebbles (pebbles of river rock) are usually found along the shores of large rivers and lakes. These pebbles form as the flowing water washes over rock particles on the bottom and along the shores of the river. The smoothness and colour of river pebbles depends on several factors, such as the composition of the soil of the river banks, the chemical characteristics of the water, and the speed of the current. Because a river current is gentler than pounding ocean waves, river pebbles are not usually as smooth as beach pebbles. The most common colours of river rock are black, grey, green, brown and white and hag-stones tend to be much rarer.

     A large number of hag-stones are made of flint and in some of the old Victorian compilations about superstitions, customs and folklore, they are often described as a ‘flynt stone with hole’. This has led a lot of folk to believe that other types of stones with a hole are not true hag-stones but there is no written rule that says that a piece of limestone or sandstone with a naturally occurring hole does not have the magical properties of a hag-stone. In truth, it is about the essence of each individual stone and its geological properties – but it has to have a hole that has been weathered over a long stretch of time.

     From a magical perspective, hag-stones are generally used as protective amulets to deflect negative energy and their additional properties are governed by the type of stone they are made from. Flint is the most common type found in Western Europe and, as a result, these stones have traditionally been seen as the ‘real’ hag-stones described in the old books. Flint is not tied to any geological period and has been formed ever since the pre-Cambrian period, but almost all flint found in Europe was deposited in the period that we call Cretaceous when the world was a vastly different place.

     In the early Cretaceous age, the continents were in very different positions than they are today. Sections of the supercontinent Pangaea were drifting apart. The Tethys Ocean still separated the northern Laurasia continent from southern Gondwana; the North and South Atlantic were still closed, although by the middle of the period, ocean levels were much higher and most of the landmass we are now familiar with, was underwater. By the end of the period, the continents were much closer to their current configuration. Africa and South America had assumed their distinctive shapes; but India had not yet collided with Asia, and Australia was still part of Antarctica …

Flint hag-stones are often created when crinoids fossils deteriorate. The crinoid is an example of a marine animal that left a poorly fossilized image due to its delicate parts … They are an ancient fossil group that first appeared in the seas of the Middle Cambrian age, about 300 million years before dinosaurs and, since crinoids were not usually buried quickly, their hard stem-parts are far more frequently found as fossils. Crinoids are common fossils in the Silurian rocks of Shropshire; in the Early Carboniferous rocks of Derbyshire and Yorkshire; and in the Jurassic rocks of the Dorset coast and Yorkshire (Robin Hoods Bay).

     Flint is a hard, shiny, almost glassy, stone which is often pointed and flaky rather than smooth and rounded. It is formed from a complex process deriving from animals such as sponges, urchins and other marine animals in the sediments lain down to form the rocks. Because it is hard, and can easily form sharp edges, it was used as first human tools. If you find a flint hag-stone, you have good reason to be absolutely delighted with yourself! If it is flint then it could be the remains of a fossil that has been eroded by wave action; these in their whole state are usually a roughly spherical hollow flint with the inside encrusted with crystals.

     The magical properties are enhanced, depending on the type of rock that the pebble is composed of. Coming originally from mountains where rocks and minerals have been brought up from deep within the Earth’s crust, in many cases deep from within the mantle of the planet’s interior where metals and gemstones are formed. Most gemstones are found in igneous rocks and alluvial gravels, but sedimentary and metamorphic rocks may also contain gem materials. From a geologist’s point of view, however, hag-stones are mainly pebbles of sedimentary rocks that have a naturally occurring hole or holes in them.

     Some of the folklore stories link them to having been created by ‘serpents venom in the centre of the stone’, however, the scientific explanation might be less fascinating! The culprits behind the creation of those holes are, as we have seen, those common piddocks – with specially adapted oval shells that are edged with fine teeth, which they use to excavate burrows in rock. These creatures can bore holes into a rock by locking on with a sucker-like foot and then twisting its shell to drill. Their long oval shells are distinctively wing-shaped, giving piddocks their other common name of ‘angel wings’. Even more magically, during the low tide and in darkness, we may witness a weird bluish-green glow because the animals are bioluminescent.

     Anyone who has ever walked on the beach, especially in southern England, has come across flint. For most people it is not really an especially attractive or beautiful stone, despite the interesting shapes or beautiful colours – but no rock or mineral has had so much influence on human history as flint. This makes it one of the most important, if not the most important rock in human development. Flint is a cryptocrystalline quartz rock, ranging from black to grey and from red to brown – caused by contamination with chalk, iron or organic material. In England (actually across the whole of Europe) we find flint almost always as layers in chalk or limestone: sometimes in narrow bands, sometimes in thicker layers.

     Flint is always a marine deposit – a seawater deposit. Silicon dioxide, the building blocks of quartz, dissolves in water at high temperature (no worries, your quartz crystal really does not dissolve should you decide to wash it in warm water). Seawater normally contains little silica, and silica-containing water is often only seen after volcanic eruptions in the cavities in the solidified lava. That is why quartz geodes form here – but in seawater it has to come from somewhere else. The theory is that the silica from which flint is formed comes from animal remains: microscopically small skeletal particles of micro-organisms in the sea. Of all these animal fossils many have been found in flint. In addition to the organic origin, silica-containing water also enters the sea through groundwater in which silica is dissolved from the soil, and through clay particles that wash into the sea and dissolve in sea water. Flint is very ‘fossiliferous’ anyway and the fossils are often very well preserved: for example sea urchins, shells, ammonites, etc.

     Flint is created on the seabed. Many of these cavities were made by animals that lived in the seabed, such as crustaceans. These critters dug a way through the seabed and in these burrows flint eventually formed. Hence flint concretions can have the most amazing shapes. These petrified burrows are not fossils, after all they are not actual imprints or physical remains from the animal. We call these types of remains ichnofossils, trace fossils. Just like, for example, saurian footsteps or crawling traces of trilobites are ichnofossils. The ‘skin’ of a flint concretion is often white. Sometimes flint can also have beautiful bands. This is the so-called banded flint. In southern England, the colour of the rock sometimes tells where the flint comes from. In the Southeast, the White Cliffs area, the flint ranges from pale gray to black. Further west, towards Dorset, the flint becomes more reddish brown in colour.

     Fossils in flint also plays an historical role. Flint containing a fossil has sometimes been worked in such a way that the fossil had a prominent place in the tool. An example of this is a flint axe with a sea urchin from Homo heidelbergensis, which is 400,000 years old; and a Neanderthal axe from Norfolk with a fossil shell that is 200,000 years old. A recent study also shows that Neanderthals had an eye for the beauty of stone and that they kept exceptionally beautiful pieces of flint.

Hagstones by Mélusine Draco is the third title published in the ‘Arcanum series’ for Ignotus Books. Arcanum books will be titles of under 100-pages of practical and/or instructional text on a specific esoteric subject or theme and written by magical practitioners with proven antecedents. Based on the idea of those children’s ‘Ladybird’ books that often introduced us to an interest that lasted a life time and, taking its name from the Coven of the Scales’ foundation course, the aim is to offer further tuition/guidance on specific elements of witch-lore and practice.

Coming in at around 25,000 words, each title will be packed with information and instruction rather than puffed out with superfluous wordage and regurgitated text borrowed from other publications. The series will be aimed at those who have attained a certain level of magical competence and who don’t need to be spoon-fed basic instructions for Circle-casting with each volume and are therefore not written with beginners in mind.

Hagstones compiled by Melusine Draco for the Arcanum series, published by ignotus press uk : ISBN: 9781803020334 : In paperback and e-book format : Pages: 98 : Published: 23 June 2021: Price £6.68 : Order direct from https://www.feedaread.com/books/HAGSTONES.aspx

New book release …

Keep it Simple … with Melusine Draco

Although the Romans introduced many plants into Britain, it was the Emperor Charlemagne who actively encouraged the spread of herbs and spices throughout Europe; decreeing that each city within his empire should have a garden planted with ‘all herbs’. The foreign emperor’s edicts, however, did not reach as far as Britain and during the Dark Ages it was left to the monasteries to preserve and augment the legacy of herbal knowledge abandoned after the fall of Rome.  Fortunately for posterity, at the Dissolution of the Monasteries c.1536, some valuable books and manuscripts on the subject found their way into private libraries.

Dr Richard Aspin searched through 17th-century recipe books to find out more about the herbal medicine found in Shakespeare’s plays because locally harvested wild herbs were the foundation of medical practice in England of the time. Some plants were cultivated in kitchen and herb gardens, but they differed little from their wild equivalents. Exotic herbs – that is, plants from overseas – were beginning to play an increasing role in the English pharmacopoeia, but whether native or exotic, ‘Simples’ – ‘those medicinal substances that nature provided without any human intervention’ – still formed the basis of Elizabethan domestic medicine.

In Shakespeare’s time there was a London street, named Bucklersbury (near today’s Mansion House), so noted for the number of apothecaries who sold Simples and sweet-smelling herbs that in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Sir John Falstaff describes the dandified fops of his day as ‘Lisping hawthorn buds that smell like Bucklersbury in simple time.’

William Fernie also made rare mention of the ‘green men’ [and women] who were first licensed in the Elizabethan Wild Herb Act to gather herbs and roots from wild, uncultivated land – but it was an occupation that had been going strong since the late 14th-century. A new kind of medical herbalist had evolved – the apothecary – who purchased plants collected from the countryside by these wandering herb collectors. In Green Pharmacy, Barbara Griggs records that during the 17th-century herbs could also be bought direct from the herb women in Newgate Market or Covent Garden.  According to Fernie:

‘Coming down to the first part of the present [19th] century, we find purveyors of medicinal and savory herbs then wandered over the whole of England in quest of useful Simples as were in constant demand at most houses for the medicine-chest, the store-closet, or the toilet-table.  These rustic practitioners of the healing art were known as ‘green men’, who carried with them their portable apparatus for distilling essences, and for preparing their herbal extracts.  In token of their giving formally officiated in this capacity, there may yet be seen in London and elsewhere about the country, taverns bearing the curious sign of The Green Man & [his] Still

The Green Man & Still was a tavern originally situated at 335 Oxford Street, London and was also a coaching inn (a 1792 map shows it at the entrance to a stagecoach yard), the starting point/terminus of several stage coach routes out of London.  Although the original tavern closed and re-located, it retained the Green Man & Still name as late as the early 1920s. Another Green Man & Still is recorded at 161 Whitecross Street, Clerkenwell in 1789 run by one Peter Richardson/ victualler from Sun Fire Office records held at the London Metropolitan Archives. It closed in 2006 and remained empty until it became a coffee shop in 2011. The ‘Green Man’ became a popular name for English pubs in the 17th-century (when the Distiller’s Company Green Man & Still heraldic arms were still in common use), although most inn signs tend to feature the familiar foliated face of church architecture; while the ‘green men’ of Elizabethan times probably merged into the cunning-folk tradition and faded into oblivion.

The confusion between the two grew from a simple misunderstanding. Julia Somerset (Lady Raglan) only published one article on folklore in her lifetime, which appeared in the journal Folklore – formerly The Folk-Lore Journal (1883–1889) and The Folk-Lore Record (1878–1882) – and it almost certainly had a more lasting influence than anything written by her folklorist husband. She claimed to have investigated the supposed mythic-ritualistic origins underlying popular cultural motifs, but her focus of study was the foliate head seen everywhere in European medieval church decoration of the eleventh to sixteenth centuries. Before Lady Raglan’s intervention, this figure had been anonymous. She gave him a name: the Green Man.

The Green Man largely disappeared during the neo-Classical period and Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, although this time also saw the rise in popularity of the related figure of Jack-in-the-Green at May Day festivities (and rather mysteriously having a particular association with chimney sweeps in the early years). Leaf-covered Green or Wild Men had been appearing in town pageants for centuries, possibly as live representations of the Green Man of church architecture, but the first attested appearance of Jack-in-the-Green was as recent as 1775. Indeed, one might have expected the Green Man to disappear completely in this age of science and rationality, and for a time he seemed to have done just that. But he has never entirely faded away … [The Enigma of the Green Man]

In Memory, Wisdom & Healing; The History of Domestic Plant Medicine, Gabrielle Hatfield has gathered together material from manuscripts, letters, diaries and personal interviews to produce a detailed picture of the use of domestic remedies in Britain from 1700 to the 21st-century.  And although historians have neglected this captivating subject, her extensive research caused her to make an extremely important observation:

‘How far have we misinterpreted the role of the ‘cunning man’ or ‘wise woman’ of the past?  Perhaps many of them were the equivalent of this informant’s aunt: well versed in plant medicines, and therefore able to help family and friends in time of sickness; just this and no more: there may have been no ritual or magic in their home medicines.  This is not to deny the existence of magical and ritualistic practices in medicine. To deny this would be to fly in the face of evidence.  What I am suggesting is that family plant-medicine was relatively free of these elements. Indeed, the use of native plants in self-help medicine in this country may have been the one constant thread in the history of medical practice.  Magical and religious and astrological practices associated with physic waxed and waned in popularity, but the use of ‘simples’ remained constant: a standby for country people in times of illness.’

Knowledge was handed down orally and only rarely were written records kept for posterity in rural communities. And, as Gabrielle Hatfield also observes, what few records there are on the subject have usually been written by those with no direct experience of country remedies.

‘Such writing tends to treat fragments of information as curios, of a rather quaint nature, to be collected together like a collection of dried butterflies.  This not only removes the information from its context, it also tends to lead to a condescending attitude towards the users of such remedies.  The very word ‘folk’ has come to have a patronizing ring to it, and too often accounts of folk medicine concentrate on the bizarre and fanciful.  Taken out of context, and sometimes even quoted quite wrongly, this has built up a picture of folk medicine as a collection of odd and anachronistic rituals, practiced by the ignorant and superstitious.  In reality, domestic [plant] medicine was a necessary tool for survival … and it is our loss if we dismiss this wisdom too lightly.’

Up until the 18th– century, botany and medicine were closely allied but they subsequently drew apart and developed as separate disciplines.  This is not to say that the old herbal remedies disappeared: traditions were kept alive in many rural locations, and in some countries they never fell from use.  In Europe the day-to-day use of herbs remained more widely practiced than it did in Britain. Mrs Maud Grieve, whose famous herbal was published in 1931, did much to promote the renewed interest in herbs in Britain in the 20th century.

Witch’s Book of Simples: The simple arte of domestic folk medicine by Melusine Draco will be published by Moon Books 25th March 2022 : Paperback  ISBN 978-1-78904-789-9

In the Presence of God …

In The Wind in the Willows Mole asks Rat if he is afraid in the presence of the ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, and Rat replies: ‘Afraid! Of Him? Oh, never, never! And yet – and yet – I am afraid!’

Those who have grown up with Pan as a playmate would know exactly how Ratty felt at that precise moment. Back in those days it was possible for a young child to disappear into the woods with only a dog for company for hours on end without there being a hue and cry raised in its absence; and it was on those woodland rides and pathways – summer or winter – that I often encountered Pan.

The day would be peaceful and calm with a soft breeze whispering in the treetops, and the whole wood alive with bird calls. The woodland floor would be carpeted with bluebells in the spring; or summer sunlight filtering through the overhead canopy; crisp, dry leaves crackling underfoot in autumn; or the frozen quiet of a late winter afternoon as a fiery sun began to sink in the west, casting long shadows beneath the trees. Then, almost imperceptibly, there would be the sound of muffled footsteps following quickly in the undergrowth. Your pace quickened and so did that of your stalker. A suddenly flurry of old dried leaves would be picked up by a passing zephyr and flung into the air like a mini-whirlwind. All the hair on the back of the neck would be standing on end, heart thundering in the chest, breath almost impossible to take. Then you turned to confront this persistent intruder only to find … nothing. The wind died away, carrying with it the faintest sound of laughter and a voice in your head saying: ‘Gotcha!’

I knew this experience long before I was ever aware of who had been with me all those years ago, and he still catches me out from time to time. Out with the dogs in the woods or the lonely lane when there’s no one else about, Pan will still be up to his old tricks. The long track stretches away into the distance; sunlight filters through the trees on either side and suddenly there’s that sensation of someone coming up behind, ready to pounce. The old panic is there and you turn to confront … nothing. I’ve long since learned to laugh with him, but I can still hear that laughing voice saying: ‘Gotcha!’

For those who practise their paganism in the safety of numbers, or behind closed doors, then perhaps there is much to be feared from this most ancient of gods; but for those who have grown up with Pan for a playmate, the reaction is probably more in keeping with his gentle compassion. For Pan is all things to all who follow him – from the laughing pastoral deity to Pan Pangenetor, the cosmic All-Begetter. For all his complexity, however, once we’ve encountered Pan in his natural environment, our own response will probably be the same as that endearing little rodent from The Wind in the Willows:

Afraid! Of Him? Oh, never, never! And yet – and yet – I am afraid!’

Pagan Portals: PAN – Dark Lord of the Forest and Horned God of the Witches by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books : ISBN978 1 78535 512 7 : 84 pages : UK£5.99/US$9.95

What people are saying about Pan:

Alan Riachardson, author of biographies of Dion Fortune (Priestess) and Bill Gray (The Old Sod): As you read this, Pan is opening his strange eyes with those lucid, rectangular pupils, which give him huge peripheral vision. He is observing you very quietly. Look up from the page, look around. He is here, now. Believe what I say! Also be aware that at this same moment there is an Inner Pan within your psyche who yearns to be aware of things from this wider perspective, who aches to take you toward the dark recesses of your mind, and the wild, tangled undergrowth of your unconscious. As you make your own antic path into the Wild Woods in search of the Great Pan, your nape hairs might prickle, you might see things at the new edges of your vision and strange realms might open up. If you have a frisson of fear – you are on the right path. Keep going. There is light and love there too, in abundance.

     Melusine Draco’s book is filled with pleasing seeds and roots that she has collected from obscure, musty corners of the mythological and literary forest. Just brooding upon them ensures that they will be planted and grow in your consciousness, often in startling ways. And if you ever find yourself on hilltops in Wiltshire and see an elegantly ageing and once-handsome chappie chanting: ‘Io Pan, Io Pan, Io Pan, Pan Pan!’ then you’re probably hearing me putting to good use the practical evocations she gives.

Sarah Beth Watkins, author and publisher at Chronos Books: A fascinating and interesting read packed full of historical and mythological information and knowledge. Draco has researched her subject well, illuminating Pan as never before. His mystique and folklore jump off the page and make you yearn to find him in the forest! Draco is a well respected instructor in British Old Craft and she shares her wisdom in her many books on traditional witchcraft and magic. This latest book richly adds to her collection. A must read for those interested in learning more about the Horned God with practical exercises to enhance the reader’s consciousness along the way. Enter the woods – if you dare!

  Pan & Hecate FB page | FB 
Just finished this book and I highly recommend it. I’m a polytheist so I don’t believe in one overall horned god and I’m happy to say this book can appeal to all. I’ve studied Pan’s lore for many years yet there are pieces of lore in this book I have not seen and also insight that made me stop and think. Great book.

Rose Pettit | Insights Into Books 
Pagan Portals – Pan: Dark Lord of the Forest and Horned God of the Witches by Melusine Draco introduces us to Pan and his many gifts. We are given a short ancient prayer or ritual to Pan to in order to ask for visions or gifts of prophecy or even theatrical criticism all of which fall under Pan’s areas of expertise. We are shown the history of Pan through Ancient Greece to his transformation by Christians into the devil and also his journey to Britain and our modern times. We are shown hymns to the god Pan. We are given a lot of information about Pan. I enjoyed the magical exercises at the end of each chapter designed to bring us more knowledge of Pan and his energies. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the Pan, his history and magical practices that could be used to connect to him. I acknowledge that I received this book free of charge from NetGalley in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

M Orlando | Amazon 
A thoroughly enjoyable journey through Pan’s forest of legend and myth as expressed through art, literature, poetry and spiritual beliefs from ancient through to modern times. As always, Melusine Draco’s fine scholarship and insightful perspectives elevate what might have been a dry academic study to that of intriguing discovery. Also appreciated are the author’s inclusion of personal experiences connected with the Dark Lord. Highly recommended!

Ionia Froment | Goodreads/NetGalley 4/5 stars
From the start, I was impressed with this book. The author did a fantastic job of researching the material she used as sources, including many passages to prove the points she was making. I liked her informative writing style and thought this was a really interesting look at pan through the ages and different cultures. A lot of times, books like this can quickly become redundant and lose my interest, but this one didn’t. I enjoyed reading this and felt like I learned quite a bit from it by the end. If you are interested in the horned god, this is a book that you don’t want to miss.

Mat Auryn | http://www.patheos.com/blogs/matauryn/2017/07/15/review-pan/  Melusine Draco’s Pan: Dark Lord of the Forest and Horned God of the Witches is a fantastic little introduction to one of the most beloved gods in paganism and witchcraft. Exploring Pan throughout history, mythology, literature, religion and the craft, Melusine traces Pan from classical era history to Christianity’s adoption of his image for that of their Devil. She showcases Pan in his role of the Horned God of the Witches in the writings and beliefs of Margaret Murray, Dion Fortune, Robert Cochrane, Nigel Jackson, Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner and more. Melusine also shares some of her personal gnosis and experiences with Pan in this book and she isn’t shy to delve into both Pan’s free-spirited and joyful side as well as his darker wild side.
     The book touches on Pan’s myths, his home of Arcadia and his companions such as nymphs and satyrs. The book is full of a wide variety of classical prayers, paeans and hymns to Pan, including some that I’ve never came across. One of the things I found the most interesting was her comparison of traditional prayers to Pan versus certain Catholic prayers of the Church. Melusine does a great job of providing accurate historical information on Pan without the dry and boring writing style of academia scholars. Falling just barely under 100 pages long this book can easily be read in one sitting and is perfect for those of you out there with limited time to read or that might just have a short attention span.
Dawn Borries | PaganPages.org 
I found this book to be a fascinating read. The author opens with The Orphic Hymn to Pan. She talks about the Coven of the Scales, of which she is the Principal Tutor, they worship Aegocerus ‘the Goat-God’ and not Cernunnos. Ms. Draco puts forth the question, “How did the pre-Olympian Deity find his way into traditional witchcraft of Britain?” No other foreign Deity has been added to Traditional British Old Craft, so why Pan? Ms. Draco goes into some great depth on the history of Pan. She does this in a way that is very smooth and never a dry read. It is interesting to think that because in early times art was a way of teaching, the early church was able to pick Pan as a stand-in for their Devil. People didn’t know how to read, so the church used art to teach them what to fear and what to love. So, they had to change the landscape. You can’t fear a scruffy looking being playing the pipes surrounded by half-naked beauties in a lush green valley. The church changed his surroundings.
     Ms. Draco writes about the resurgence of interest that lasted into the early 1920’s. Here she talks about some of the writings that many pagans grew up reading or having read to them by their parents. One of these stories is that of The Wind in the Willows By Kenneth Grahame. “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” is very much the story of Pan appearing to the characters of the story. He looks like a protector of the wild places. The way this piece reads you feel a closeness to Pan that is calm and beautiful. I also learned all the different names of the different types of nymphs from this book about Pan. I find that the history of Pan, in all the different ways he was seen, to be fascinating. It becomes an attractive subject, in such a way that if you would let it, it could quickly become a rabbit hole for you to fall down.
     Ms. Draco’s book Pan: Dark Lord of the Forest and Horned God of the Witches is both entertaining and educational for those Pagan’s seeking more knowledge of an old God, that seems older than even the Olympian Gods. I look forward to reading more of Ms. Draco’s books and in learning more about the ‘Goat-God’.

Dawn Thomas (Reviewer) | NetGalley 
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. The author begins with a detailed description of Pan and horned gods along with their association to Satan and the Devil. She also discusses the outlaw of Paganism and whether there was a continuation of it through modern times. She provides an image of Arcadia which was Pan’s home but was described as other places in mythology stories. If you are interested in Pan and his story, you will enjoy this book. Although it is a short book, it contains thorough research on the subject.

I WANNABE A WITCH!

with Carrie West

Yes, of course you do, my dear!  But it’s not as easy as that, is it?  I mean … the first question we’re going to ask is: Why?  And we don’t want some time-worn cliché about nature-worship, goddesses and finding your place in the Universe, either.  When we ask what you expect to gain from studying traditional British Old Craft, what we do expect is a response that shows some forethought has gone into your decision and that you’ve bother to find out a little of what it means to belong to the Elder Faith.

In truth, an Old Craft witch is judged on his or her natural abilities with the Craft.   Not on their proficiency in each individual talent but the application of how they approach each separate sphere of learning and how each method or technique moves onto the next.  Neither are we impressed by a Who’s Who-type listing of those who have inspired you – particularly if they are American with no formal knowledge of our Tradition.

It is not unfair to claim that witches are born not made with their natural abilities pre-programmed.  It is also true that many people discover these latent talents in later life, having been around the pagan block a few times and subsequently we can help them recognise and develop these special gifts.  Neither does this mean, however, that we favour those who have built up an impressive collection of esoteric merit-badges from a wide variety of ritual magic and revivalist Orders.

A good candidate for prospective witch-hood will have a sound appreciation of the natural world; and awareness of natural tides and energies and have a good understanding of the history of Craft.   Some of our members have completed their training in other disciplines of magical practice, which they bring with them to the group.   Our teaching methods explore traditional British Old Craft magic, aiming at both solitary practitioners and group-working – providing a safe way to gain a solid grounding in practical Craft techniques. 

Hopefully, we provide a broad-based introduction to basic Craft magical techniques that will prevent beginners from being deceived by those with lesser expertise than themselves because we offer an accessible and structured foundation course providing sound guidance for those wishing to explore different areas of Craft practice before committing themselves to a particular Path or Tradition.  That is why we operate two forums – one, a public facebook page for pagans from different disciplines (Coven Café Culture); the second an invitation-only group for more advanced students and Coven members – for discussion and debate.

Most people learn about magic and witchcraft from books, and they learn alone. Their magic remains a very personal and private thing.  This has one very major drawback, however … where do you go to ask those niggling questions, or check whether you are working safely and efficiently? 

Carrie West

For more information concerning Coven of the Scales tuition go to our website at www.covenofthescales.com where you will find further details about traditional British Old Craft on our Blog page.

WRITER@WORK: Summer

WRITER@WORK: A FOX IN THE HEN HOUSE

Well … it’s coming into Summer, so what better time to mention Christmas, eh? Not that I’m actually going to write about Christmas but rather those seasonal celebrations that mark the different stages of the Old Craft year – either as minor or major Sabbats, depending on your Tradition. In Coven of the Scales we mark the turning of the year at the Vernal Equinox (spring); Summer Solstice (summer); Autumnal Equinox (autumn) and the Mid-Winter Solstice (winter) as important fire-festivals.

The Vernal Equinox, whether the opposition likes to admit it or not, controls the dating of Easter each year … and Easter as we know was named for a pagan goddess! In 325 the Council of Nicaea decreed that Easter should be observed on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox (March 21). Easter, therefore, can fall on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25. It must have been a pretty riotous bash because the bishops rewrote the Bible for propaganda purposes. The feast day of John the Baptist (24th June), was established by the Church to honour of the birth of the saint, which the Bible records as being six-months before that of Jesus. Conveniently, this coincided with the major celebration of the Mid-Summer Festival, or Summer Solstice on or around the 21st June which allowed it to correspond with the official birth day of Jesus that would henceforth be celebrated on the 25th December (the Winter Solstice).

The Summer Solstice heralds in Mid-Summer’s revelries and I’ve just submitted Sumer Is Icumen In: How to Survive (and Enjoy) the Mid-Summer Festival to Moon Books for consideration. When it comes down to research, it’s amazing just how much of the authentic Mid-Summer celebrations have been suppressed – having been fiddled around with to coincide with the Church calendar’s St John’s Day. The Swedes are the only ones who appear to thoroughly enjoy their midsummer celebrations and so we suggest we take a leaf out of their flower wreaths and bind them in our hair …

Fortunately, the Autumnal Equinox still retains most of its pagan heritage intact and Song of Harvest Home is currently in preparation. The Winter Solstice , of course, has already been dealt with in Have a Cool Yule, while Now ‘Tis Spring … brings us full circle with all the old festivals reclaimed for pagan celebration.

That severe bout of conference fever that inflicted the delegates at Nicea turned the whole (of the Christian) world upside down. The Emperor, Constantine brought together bishops from all over Christendom in order to resolve some divisive issues and ensure the continued unity of the church – and they must have thought they’d never be found out. Today, those Nicea chickens have come home to roost and there’s a pagan fox in the hen house!

Still on an avian subject, the second book in the Ignotus-Arcanum series, Talking to Crows is now in publication, following Sacrifice To the Gods and Hag Stones is currently in production. Several interesting titles are in the various stages of preparation and these handy little how-to books will build into a useful and unique library for traditional British Old Craft … and they don’t take very long to write, either.
MD

Have A Cool Yule: How-To Survive (and Enjoy) the Mid-Winter Festival by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books in their Pagan Portals series. ISBN 978 1 78535 711 4 : 82 pages : Price UK£6.99/US$10.95 ; Available in paperback and e-book format

Book news … new release

Talking to Crows: Messengers of the Gods

By Melusine Draco

‘Talking to crows’ is said of those who have some presentiment or foresight in Sicilian folk-lore. It is believed that to those who can understand them, these black birds, garrulous creatures they are, communicate the latest news on the doings of human beings, since they have a clear view – a bird’s eye view – of the whole. They have also been around for a lot longer than human beings and, perhaps not surprisingly, long ago developed the reputation of being messengers of the gods in many different cultures across the world.

The best way to introduce ourselves to Corvidae is by feeding them. Some may argue that corvids are wild creatures and by feeding them, we encourage an unnatural dependence. With most wildlife, this is an excellent philosophy. But most corvids and humans have been living side-by-side for centuries now, and researchers like Marzluff and Angell (co-authors of In the Company of Crows and Ravens) point to many instances of cultural co-evolution between us. This relationship has been arguably symbiotic for quite a while now. Certainly, after all this time together, our lives and histories have become closely intertwined. They’ve watched people come and go for years; people who may have watched them right back.

Don’t try to get too close. These are wild creatures, after all. Our goal shouldn’t be to tame them or make them into pets. Even after years of friendship, a corvid will be skittish and standoffish, and it’s better this way. They are never going to come running for a fuss, and their standoffish attitude is probably a major reason why they have thrived as a species for so long … but if we’re interested in them, we have to learn to appreciate their charms from afar.

Besides, get real, most humans view crows as ominous, murderous evils (or at best, rats with wings). For centuries, crows have played the bad guys in the stories humans tell themselves, and I’m sure those crows have noticed the eye daggers most people shoot at them, how cars veer to the shoulder to intentionally run them over. Why wouldn’t that distrust be mutual from a creature with this level of intelligence? So crows will take their own sweet time deciding if they trust us or not … but once they know who we are, they’ll never forget. At first, they may give us the cold shoulder and ignore our offerings, but don’t take it personally. Remember that paranoia is all about survival, but patience and vigilance will eventually pay off. If we pass the test, they will decide to trust us. [Joanne Fonté, How To Make Friends With Crows]

We can also see how there are various attributes that are associated with all members of the Corvidae family but that there are also subtle differences between each of the species. All are monogamous and loyal, although some are more aggressive than others; all have a highly developed intelligence while others often display anti-social habits. When we begin ‘talking to crows’ we are entering into a mystical dialogue with Otherworld by being sent spiritual messages showing us a symbolic image of a corvid, either a physical bird or the spiritual image of one in the guise of a totem.

These messages are words of wisdom and advice, and they can help us to identify talents we are not using, or the negative beliefs and thought patterns that are holding us back. Once these messages are understood and applied to our lives, they can be a valuable source of direction as we progress on our spiritual journeys. Birds reflect a strong symbolism. They encourage us to aim high and realize our goals despite the challenges we might face as we chase those dreams. They can also be a motivation to deepen our spirituality even more because they help us explore our devoutness and push the boundaries. Although some may represent good omens, some, unfortunately, do not. Which is why it is important to know which of the species we encountered before we get in a state with worry – we need to be able to interpret our sightings accurately. [Birds: Divine Messengers, Angela Wansbury]

Fossil records suggest that modern birds originated 60 million years ago, after the end of the Cretaceous period about 65 million years ago when dinosaurs died out. And, since prehistoric times, people have probably looked to the heavens for signs; and since birds fly, it makes sense that people would have perceived birds as messengers of divinity. After all, a bird’s-eye-view is significantly more omniscient than any earthbound perspective. Birds know what the world looks like from 30,000 feet high; they have seen the insides of clouds, so looking to birds for perspective makes an odd kind of primitive sense.

And, wouldn’t it be convenient if all we had to do to find answers and guidance in life was to walk outside, look up at the sky, and ‘read’ the birds flying overhead, especially if black meant always bad and light or brightly coloured birds always meant good – but of course, nothing is that simplistic. For example: What does it mean if a crow follows us? It doesn’t necessary mean some highly significant or mystical message. It’s more likely that the crow recognizes us for some friendly reason. If a crow follows us, it feels a connection to and/or curiosity in use for some reason. Maybe we fed that crow once before (or we look like someone who did) … because we’ve learned that corvids have the power of recognition for humans.

Or if a corvid shows no fear of us, it may be something to pay attention to for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the bird is trying to tell us something. Either it is just the bird’s interest in us (maybe we looked familiar – maybe it is hoping for food), or perhaps it represents someone else’s interest in us – a deceased loved one, an ancestor, or just the universe, trying to connect with is for some reason. See the incident outside the bookshop at the end of Chapter 4.

  • There are two kinds of bird signs: impetrative (sought after, asked for, or requested) and oblative (unasked for; coming out of the blue like a bolt of lightning!). So ask yourself: Is the bird bringing us an unasked-for message from the universe? Or is it answering a question we’ve asked – explicitly or implicitly?
  • Seeing a bird is not going to give us a clear answer. It’s no magic 8-ball (a fortune telling gadget shaped like a classic pool eight-ball; filled with water and containing a multi-face dice, with each side featuring the answer to a question – and who thinks those are really magic!?). A bird’s colour doesn’t necessarily make any meaningful difference whatsoever. 
  • And the millions of corvids that exist aren’t on the planet simply for the purpose of providing humans with messages from Otherworld because they have a difficult time as it is merely staying alive! We need to establish an affinity with the birds in our immediate vicinity, because there is little point in claiming a raven or chough as our personal totem when we’ve never encountered one in the flesh. Similarly, I rarely see a carrion crow or jay, but the ‘hoodies’ are regular visitors – as are the magpies and rooks – and I talk to them on a regular basis.
  • And what better way to affirm this affinity than with a tattoo. A bird tattoo meaning is deep, and primarily stands for freedom, independence, and fearlessness. Some people who choose to get a bird symbol inked on their body tells us something that is individually unique to that person, and his or her experiences. They often relate to one of the following:
  • Spirituality, higher understanding or a connection to the being supreme
  • Self-sufficiency, self-actualization or the power of self-direction
  • To enhance perspectives or capabilities, like agility, lightness, buoyancy, and the ability to rise above adversity.

Birds that represent freedom can mean mental autonomy, spiritual self-direction, and independence from the hindrances of physical capabilities or freedom of any other choice.

Let’s be honest … anything can be symbolic if we want it to be and everything in Old Craft is linked in some way to sigils and symbols, allegory and analogy, metonym and metaphor. This is the language of witches.

Members of this large, adaptable family live in habitats ranging from treeless tundras where land is flat to mountain forests. They live in deciduous forests, where trees shed their leaves, and coniferous forests, with cone-bearing evergreen trees. Corvids range in deserts, grassland steppes where there are few trees, and on the edge of rainforests, where heavy rain produces much growth. In addition, they live in cities and small villages. They are always our close companions and who more able to communicate news from Otherworld, should we choose to listen?

Talking to Crows: Messengers of the Gods by Melusine Draco is published by Ignotus Press UK as the second in their Arcanum series : ISBN 978 1 83945 968 9 : 104 pages : Price £6.85 : Available in paperback and e-book format. Order direct from https://www.feedaread.com/books/TALKING-TO-CROWS-9781839459689.aspx