Claiming Back Our Heritage

Re-claiming the Seasonal Festivals

A large number of the customs and traditions that were an integral part of traditional British Old Craft have systematically disappeared beneath assiduously applied buckets of pagan white-wash in recent years.  In fact, the whole raison d’être for the ‘how to survive (and enjoy) the seasonal festivals’ came from the annual lament of how much pagans hate Christmas. How all the traditional meaning has been profaned and announcing that they will be holed up in solitary misery until all the commercially decadent festivities are over – all of which sadly demonstrated a complete lack of awareness concerning our pagan ancestry and its customs. Let’s understand one thing before we go further: the Church did not invent the Mid-Winter Festival … it was there with all its rich pageantry of feasting and celebration long before a Pope officially decreed, in the 4th century AD, that the birth of Jesus would henceforth be celebrated on the 25th December!

And if we closely examine all the other seasonal events in the Church calendar, we discover most of those had been absorbed into the catalogue of Christian observance.  If we take away the agrarian events, pre-Christian festivals and pagan saints’ days, there’s little remaining on which to build an authentic religious calendar.  The early Church calendar was wholly pagan in its compilation and within Old Craft we still call our main festivals by their Church names: Hallowmas, Candlemas, Lammas, Michaelmas, Martinmas … and by which names they would have been known to our pagan forebears rather than the popular Irish-Gaelic names adopted in the 20th century.

Hallowmas, Samhain and all that …

Halloween may be a secular affair today, dominated by candy, costumes and trick-or-treating, but the holiday is rooted in an annual Celtic pagan festival called Samhain (pronounced ‘SAH- wane’) that was then appropriated by the early Church some 1,200 years ago.  Halloween’s origins date back to this ancient festival with the Celts, who lived 2,000 ago in the area that is now Ireland, Britain and northern France – and celebrated their new year on 1st November.  This day marked the end of summer and the harvest; the beginning of the dark days of winter that was associated with human death.

Traditionally, Samhain was a time to take stock of the herds and food supplies. Cattle were brought down to the winter pastures after six months in the higher grazing. This centuries-old tradition today still parades thousands of bovines from mountain pastures back home to foothill farms. 

Published by ignotus books uk in the Arcanum series : ISBN 978 1 80302 514 8 : 104 pages : £6.85 : Order direct from printer https://www.feedaread.com/books/Halloween-Samhain-and-all-that.aspx  Available in paperback and Kindle e-book format.

Harvest Home: In-Gathering

Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and All Angels, is celebrated on the 29th of September every year. As it falls near the Equinox, the day is associated with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days; in England.  It used to be said that harvest had to be completed by Michaelmas, almost like the marking of the end of the productive season and the beginning of the new cycle of farming. It was the time at which new servants were hired or land was exchanged and debts were paid.  As Michaelmas is the time that the darker nights and colder days begin – and we edge into winter – the celebration of Michaelmas is associated with encouraging protection during these dark months. It was believed that negative forces were stronger in darkness and so families would require stronger defences during the later months of the year.  Traditionally, in the British Isles, a well fattened goose, fed on the stubble from the fields after the harvest, is eaten to protect against financial need in the family for the next year.

Today in many European countries, the Martinmas festival culminates in a lantern walk at night, followed by a bonfire and songs. Traditionally the lanterns were carved out of harvested gourds, and illuminated with a candle – the origin of our jack-o-lantern – but can also be made of paper or jars.  The sacrifice and shedding of blood on this day was once part of the ancient festival of Samhain, but changed in the medieval period to the new date of 11th November, hence the term Old Halloween and what we currently observe as Remembrance Day for honouring our war dead.

Published by Moon Books as part of their Pagan Portals series.  ISBN978 1 803341 110 1 : 84 pages : £6.99 : Order from www.moon-books.net in paperback and e-book format.

Have a Cool Yule

The pagan celebration of the winter solstice is known as Yule, and it’s one of the oldest winter celebrations in the world. It simultaneously celebrates the shortest day of the year, midwinter, the return of the Sun, and a festival of rebirth.

We only have to scratch the thin veneer of ‘Christmas’ to find a highly important pagan holiday with the majority of its ancient traditions preserved intact. Strangely, the ubiquitous pagan Wheel of the Year’ now assigns the Winter Solstice to the place of a minor sabbat, and yet as we’ve discovered, it was probably the most sacred festival of the year for our pagan ancestors.  Nevertheless, these associations reveal that the Mid-Winter Festival was a time of magic and mystery for the ancient Britons, the Germanic tribes and the migratory Celts and Anglo-Saxons, as well as a time for feasting and celebration. It doesn’t matter where we live in the New or Old World, it would be a pity to ignore these facts and not celebrate the season with mirth and merriment as our forebears did – and not let Christian hype and gross commercialism ruin the true magic of the Winter Solstice. Perhaps it’s time to embrace the pagan sacredness of the Mid-Winter Festival and reclaim that which was taken from us by the most insidious of means – absorption!

Remember, the majority of supposedly ‘Christian’ superstitions and traditions we observe today are from our pagan past and they probably wouldn’t have been preserved down through the ages if all those different Briton, Roman, Celtic, Norse and Anglo-Saxon strands hadn’t melded successfully together. When we sit down to our Mid-Winter Festival dinner on December 25th, regardless of whether we’re part of a family gathering or spending it alone, we are participating in a ritual that stretches back to the very dawn of humanity.  After all… what is there for anyone who calls themselves ‘pagan’ to hate about ancient pagan traditions?

Published by Moon Books as part of their Pagan Portals series,  ISBN 978 1 78535 711 4 : 84 pages : £6.99 : Order from www.moon-books.net in paperback and e-book format

Breath of Spring …

Candlemas/Imbolc is the re-awakening of the Old Lass within Old Craft belief and also coincides with the Roman Candelaria and Fornicalia – a spring corn festival celebrated in honour of Fornax, goddess of ovens, and observed by each ward of the city. All this merging of primitive origins and rites, belonging to the European pre-urban agricultural culture, meant that it also commemorated the search for Persephone by her mother and the festival of candles symbolizing the return of the Light. So it continued to be performed until the Christian era, when it was transformed into Candalmas in AD494.

Our seasonal festivals begin with this Breath of Spring … to mark Imbolc/Candlemas on the 2nd February – which in turn marks the official end of the Yule celebrations and a traditional date by when all Yuletide decorations should be removed. Traditional witch, Evan John Jones, acknowledged that Candlemas is the first of the great Sabbats and the start of the ritual year, when it is time to let go of the past and to look to the future, clearing out the old, making both outer and inner space for new beginnings. Followed by the Spring or Vernal Equinox, Ostara and Beltaine to cover the months of spring before we prepare for the summer season …

Living a pagan life-style is more than celebrating the eight important fire festivals each year and calling ourselves a witch.  It’s about observing the continuous calendar of events that may, or not, coincide with the civil calendar.

Published by Moon Books as part of their Pagan Portals series.  ISBN 978-1-80341-188-0 :  84 pages £6.99 : Order from www.moon-books.net in paperback and e-book format

Sumer Is Icumen In …

In Sumer is Icumen In we discover new and exciting ways of surviving (and enjoying) the truly pagan excesses of the Midsummer Festival. Here we can establish and instigate a new smorgasbord of traditions of our own for the purpose of celebration and observance and, in time, even though we must never lose sight of our authentic history, they may even be integrated into future pagan revels.  “So, you want to know about Midsummer? You can’t do better than begin here with this treasure-trove of how the summer solstice has been – and still is – revered all around the world. Melusine Draco is a fountain of knowledge, and wisdom, her books open doors and turn on lights to so many dark places that have forgotten and/or misremembered for far too many years, centuries even…”  wrote Elen Sentier, author of Merlin, Elen of the Ways and Trees of the Goddess.

The Summer Solstice is the longest day in the northern hemisphere and either falls on the 20th or 21st of June, whilst Midsummer’s Day in Europe is traditionally on 24 June; a discrepancy caused by the variants of the Julian Calendar, misappropriation by the Church and further confused by the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar.   Traditionally, Midsummer’s Eve is a time associated with witches, magic, fairies and dancing with bonfires lit all over the country. This was in praise of the sun, for as from today, the days would begin getting shorter and the sun gradually appeared to be getting weaker, so people would light fires to try and strengthen the sun. Practice of this ancient ritual, which also includes a Summer Solstice Circle Dance, is now mainly confined to Cornwall and the West Country.

In common with their usual assimilations of pagan festivals, no doubt the Church adapted yet another pre-Christian festival celebrating the Summer Solstice as a Christian holiday by moving back a couple of days. The Midsummer Festival, now with Saint John’s Day-related traditions, church services, and celebrations became particularly important in northern Europe.  In the pagan community various forms of neo-paganism can be quite different, having very different origins and, despite the shared name, these representations can vary quite considerably.

Some celebrate in a manner as close as possible to how they believe ancient pagans observed the Summer Solstice, while others observe the holiday with rituals culled from numerous other unrelated sources.

Published by Moon Books as part of their Pagan Portals series. ISBN 978 1 78535 981 1 : 82 pages : £ 5.99 : Order from www.moon-books.net in paperback and e-book format

Once again, in her own inimitable style, Melusine Draco shows us how to put the tradition back into traditional British Old Craft and restore the practice of our old beliefs by learning how to survive (and enjoy) our own seasonal festivals.  These are books we can return to again and again to remind ourselves of our true pagan heritage.  Why not treat ourselves to each of these seasonal treats and discover that they make perfect gifts for any of our pagan friends – married or single!

“Melusine Draco opens up the festivals in an engaging, informative and easily accessible way. An enjoyable read, with a mixture of poetry, history and mythology, customs (and even recipes), it builds a fascinating and comprehensive picture of the traditions and festivals, as well as tracing them back to their roots. MD really knows her craft and touches on things like the seasonal effects on the various star signs, while rich descriptions of solar alignments and folkloric practices keep you turning the pages. This will add inspiration to building your own traditions. Definitely for my bookshelf.”  Krystina Sypniewski, author of Pagan Portals – Dream Analysis Made Easy 

New release …

BUSH SOUL: Setting it free …

According to Chet Raymo in When God is Gone Everything is Holy, among the ancients, Mother Nature was more than a metaphor. The veiled goddess was invented at a time when animism and anthropomorphism were the prevailing ways of understanding the world. Every brook, every stone, every heavenly body was thought to have a human-like spirit … But we no longer understand nature animistically or anthropomorphically. New metaphors now instruct our imaginations … The universe, however, sings beyond any metaphor we employ to understand it. We are enchanted by the veiled goddess, teased, seduced [but] we expect no consummation. We would in fact be rather shattered if somehow we were allowed to know the ultimate secrets if the universe.

These are the threads that draw the concepts of animism and the ‘bush soul’ together with one of the oldest beliefs on the planet. Totemism is some mystic relationship between a group of humans and a particular species of animal or plant. But, as T C Lethbridge observed, the exact relationship has defied scholarly definition, and well it might do so. ‘It seems to be a kind of hangover from much earlier times when men are thought to have believed that they were really physically related to animals. Totemism was an indefinable magico-religious idea and the totem animal was in a sense worshipped because it could give help to men belonging to its own particular tribe and which they must not kill without permission.’

Many scholars have noted evidence for totemic beliefs in the Upper Palaeolithic period of at least 12,000 years ago, proving this totem concept was very strong and widespread. It probably went at one time to every corner of the inhabited world. And, as Lethbridge points out, when we find ancient European tribes called Chatti, or Epidii, we can be reasonably certain that their totem animals were once cats or horses respectively. It is highly probable that many of the animals which later appeared as heraldic blazons on the shields of medieval knights were once the totems of the families which bore these images on their arms. This is not a fanciful suggestion: neither is it disregarded by some of the experts of the College of Heralds.

As civilization slowly developed and spread over wider areas, totemism began to be replaced by beliefs of a different kind. Gods and goddesses came to be imagined in human form and in this anthropomorphism, mankind conceived gods to be made in his image and not vice versa. Forces of nature and celestial bodies were gods and they were like men. All that was necessary was to explain to simple people why their totem animal was being replaced by something less easily seen, but more human. This changing of totem animal into deity was found throughout the old world: in India, Egypt; Assyria; Greece; Italy; the Celtic lands and in the mythology and art of the North American first nation.

Since myths appear to be the oral counterparts of religious rites, we can surely assume that wherever we find a myth of this shape-changing nature, there was once a religious performance in which men, or women, dressed up in the skins of the former totem animal and went through the performance which the myth describes. This surely brings us a little nearer to the reason why such curious rites survived for such a long time. The witch-cult seems to have originated at a time when the belief in totemism was on the wane and was being superseded by the belief in gods of human form. When it was begun it was still necessary to explain to the people in general the relationship between the two beliefs in a ritual performance.

‘Since it is generally, the male priest who is dressed up, it is surely the ‘Great Mother’ who represents the new idea. She is taking the place of the old totem animal and is the more important figure. Since it is the kings who are killed and not their consorts, the same conditions hold good. We can then, I feel, be reasonably certain that the [witch]cult came into being when the female principle was recognized as being the most important thing in tribal belief. That is, males had not yet asserted their right to order the doings of the tribe, or their right to succeed to the rulership of it. The organization was matriarchal and matrilineal – which had vanished from Homeric Greece about a thousand years before the birth of Christ – but there is ample evidence from the Greek myths that it had once existed there.’

[Witches: Investigating an Ancient Religion]

A belief in and acceptance of totem animals runs like a vein of iridescent silver through witchcraft lore and is a system of belief in which humans are said to have kinship or a mystical relationship with a spirit-being, contained within a particular animal or plant. The entity, or totem, is believed to interact with a given kin-group or individual, and to serve as their emblem or symbol. The term totemism has been used to characterize a cluster of traits in the religion and social organization of many different peoples. Totemism is manifested in various forms and types in different contexts, and is most often found among populations whose traditional economies once relied on mixed farming with hunting and gathering, or emphasized the raising of cattle.

The term totem is actually derived from the Ojibwa word ototeman, meaning ‘one’s brother-sister kin’ with the grammatical root, ote, signifying a blood relationship between brothers and sisters who have the same mother and who may not marry each other. In English, the word totem was introduced in 1791 by a British merchant and translator who gave it a false meaning in the belief that it designated the guardian spirit of an individual, who appeared in the form of an animal – an idea that the Ojibwa clans did indeed portray by their wearing of animal skins. It was reported at the end of the 18th century that the Ojibwa named their clans after those animals that lived in the area and appeared to be either friendly or fearful.

Similarly, the idea of the ‘sacred’ in African society is as old as the African people. Faced with the puzzles, wonders and mysteries in nature, they had no choice than to consider certain objects and plants as sacred and seen from the perspective of the divine. And as such, they are not to be toyed with; they are given special reverence especially as objects of worship. The African people believe that spirits inhabit these sacred objects and places – and this understanding also gave rise to the reality of totems in African ontology. For sure, belief in totems is an existential fact among African people.

Certain trees, animals, places and individuals are regarded as totems. They are seen as sacred objects that symbolize something real for the people who entertain such belief. Totems are also believed to possess some spiritual and supernatural powers. The thrust of this study is to expose the belief and practice of totemism in Africa and also to ascertain the significance of such belief and practice in a world of change. The focus of this study is on Igbo – African society where the notion of totem is associated with the idea of kinship between certain animals, animate or inanimate beings, and a particular individual or group of individuals in a given society showing that there is a spiritual link between a totemic object and the person or persons concern. [The Background of Totemism]

Totemism has to do with the veneration of some natural objects, namely, animals, plants and other physical objects that are believed to have some spiritual or supernatural powers. In this regard, the mishandling or killing of totemic animals is considered taboo in most African cultures. Belief in totems is a common practice in traditional African society with people having a deep sense of reverence for either their personal or group totems. The reality of totems is not something that is new to the African, who is well known for its belief and practice. Available in paperback and e-book format

BUSH SOUL: Setting it free by Melusine Draco – published by ignotus books uk : ISBN 978 1 80302 584 1 : Price £6.85 : 104 pages : Order direct from https://www.feedaread.com/books/BUSH-SOUL.aspx

Aubry’s Dog …

by Melusine Draco

Dogs Are a Witch’s Best Friend … and Worth More Than Diamonds!

Dogs are never out of the news, especially when we’re extolling their virtues as companion/support dogs … but here they jump to the top of the tree when it comes to magical uses and associations.

Or as ‘Agwren’ observed in her Amazon review: “Ms Draco takes us on a dog’s journey from its earliest forays into the humans world through the four early forerunners groups and onto the many hundreds of variations we know and love today. Through all the mythological connections with the ancient Gods and the recorded ancient historical facts we travel, learning spells and incantations at every turn , discovering craft and planetary connections along the way until finally we reach the lesson at the end of the beginning of our true journey. Each time you look into those beautiful deep dark eyes of your wolf…whether it be the author’s favourite greyhounds or the golden retriever, the lab, the collie or a hundred others from the mighty mongrel to the smallest terrier on your lap … don’t you often wonder what goes on in that mind…what would it be like to walk a mile on the four paws … would the sense of smell blow the human mind … would a thousand new sounds we’d never heard before scream in our ears until we went insane … how would the sudden adrenaline rush feel at the tiniest flicker of movement in a far off hedge ….

“So here is the goal of this particular journey … .let the Teacher lead on a wild shamanistic hedge- ride chase as we follow one of her greyhounds as it takes off across a field in pursuit of a hare. Let us find ourselves shape shifting into a long legged lean hunting dog and run with the hound sharing its excitement as it runs down its quarry … until just at the very last split second the hare cleverly evades us through a hole in the hedge … what a sensational shamanistic shape shifting ride and one so delightfully easy that even a complete novice like me can breeze into it …”

Dogs come in all sorts of power-packs to fuel our magical workings – from simple good luck charms to mighty, full-blown curses. From:

O Guardian of Power

Be thou my guide and defence

against all hostile forces,

visible and invisible,

in every walk of Life.

to summoning the Hounds of Hell …

Gather up a magic spell, summon forth the hounds of hell,

Over sea and over land, answer to a witch command,

Changing moon from bright to dim,

the hounds of hell must follow him

The concept of dogs joining their masters in the sky is an ancient one and in our current sky-scape there are four dogs in view as darkness falls. Orion, one of the most striking of all the constellations, is closely followed by Canis Major (‘The Great Dog’), marked by the brilliant star Sirius, commonly known as the Dog Star – the brightest star in the entire sky. Sirius is said to be responsible for the northern hemisphere’s hot, muggy ‘Dog Days’ that occur in September (taking into account the alterations to the calendar since Roman times), just before Sirius follows Orion into the northern night skies.  And can be another euphemism for the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ that companion dogs cross when they die.

Blazing prominently in the sky, Sirius is the brightest star of Canis Major; its colour appears to be a brilliant white tinged with a distinctive bluish hue. The star has been compared to a sparkling diamond and it is thought that its Greek name was derived for ‘sparkling’ or ‘scorching’. When it appears near the horizon it seems to flicker with all the colours of the rainbow and has more magical lore surrounding it than any other star in the heavens. According to the Greeks, Canis Major could run incredibly fast. Laelaps, as they called him, is said to have won a race against a fox that was the fastest creature in the world, and Zeus placed the dog in the sky to celebrate the victory.

Nearby Canis Minor (‘The Little Dog’), the brightest of its two stars being called Procyon, is said to be the faithful dog Maera (the glistener), which rises in July, a little before the Dog Star. (Greek: pro-kuon). Another myth has both Canis Major and Minor assisting Orion while he is out hunting. Canes Venatici (‘The Hunting Dogs’) are tucked away just south of Ursa Major (‘The Plough’) and represent a pair of hounds, Asterion and Chara, held on a leash by Bootes the

herdsman, as they chase the Great Bear around the North Pole. Unlike Sirius, this is a rather obscure constellation and, with one exception, the stars are quite faint. Whereas Sirius symbolises Alpha Dog, Asterion and Chara are seen more in the role of companions.

The poem, ‘The Gage’ by Walter de la Mare demonstrates the typical reaction to a curse that is thrown because of the sheer bloody-minded arrogance of the people involved. Because two head-strong people fail to appreciate the repercussions of their actions, the ‘curse’ rebounds and no one is happy. It is a perfect example of why we should think twice before bandying curses about – unless of course, it is necessary and all other avenues have been exhausted. By studying this romantic ballad we can see that it contains several magical truths, which are well worth considering.

The arrogance of both parties that led to the death of the hound, and the powerful curse flung in a fit of passion, which cannot be lifted, is set to destroy the lives of both parties. It is only the intervention of the resurrected hound that means the couple can live happily ever after in true romantic fashion. Nevertheless this adaptation of a verse from ‘The Gage’ does offer an example of an extremely powerful curse that could be used in the event of someone injuring a pet dog and should you be willing to pay the price! For example:

O mark me well!

For what my hound befell

You shall pay twenty-fold,

For every tooth

Of his, i’sooth,

Your life in pawn I’ll hold.

Here we are bringing down a curse that is ‘twenty times’ the number of teeth in the dog’s mouth, which in an average healthy adult is around 42. This means that the magical practitioner must weigh in the balance whether the punishment fits the crime. After all, it would be rather extreme if someone had merely given your dog a clout for attempting to ravish their prize-winning bitch. That said, any act of cruelty against a dog – intentional or unintentional – might be seen to be justifiable. Cursing, like most areas of magic, is a question of personal responsibility and/or morality, but once thrown cannot be retracted.

Remember that even the mildest accident magnified 20 x 42 is going to have some serious repercussions. The reader may think the author is gilding the lily with this particular curse but there is a very good reason behind it. The following rite, in its original form, requires the skull of a canine and if anyone reading this book is even tempted to go out and harm a dog in order to procure the skull, then they may consider the above curse well and truly thrown … O mark me well!

REVIEW by Krystina Kellingley : Author and publisher
“I really enjoyed this, a really good read. It starts off with an interesting story and maintains the reader’s interest throughout. I enjoyed the historical and scientific information as well as the charm, amulet and herb lore. The second chapter was a fascinating look at breeds and their characteristics and the bearing this has from a magical perspective and I also really enjoyed the stories of superstition. In fact this book has lots of appealing information on everything and anything you could ever want to know about the dog as a power animal and spiritual companion. It’s written in a very reader friendly manner and I can see dog lovers of all descriptions being hooked by it.”

Shaman Pathways: Aubry’s Dog – Power Animals in Traditional Witchcraft by Melusine Draco ISBN 978 1 78099 724 7 : 84-pages : UK£4.99/US$9.95 Published by Moon-Books http://www.moon-books.net

WRITER@WORK

Update >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Summer

Pagan Portals – Harvest Home: In-Gathering – How to Survive (and Enjoy) the Autumnal Festivals is due for publication on 26th August 2022 and is currently in production.  The last in the series, Breath of Spring – How to Survive (and Enjoy) the Spring Festivals is also in production with Moon Books and should be ready for publication by the spring of 2023.

There are a further five books in various stages of preparation for the Arcanum series

Hallowmas, Samhain & All That

Bush Soul: Setting It Free

The Power of Prayer

Talismans, Amulets & Charms

Water: I Hear Water Dreasming

The limited ignotus edition of Inner Court Witchcraft should be ready for publication in early 2023 with the fourth Vampyre’s Tale in preparation.

I’ve decided that the move back to the UK is going to mark my official retirement.  During the past fifteen years I’ve written more books than I can remember and I’ve decided I will stick to a schedule of one fact and one fiction per year … but as a friend says ‘Oh yeah?’  I suppose I’m lucky in that my work is my hobby and vice versa, so let’s never say never, eh because those ideas keep bubbling to the surface unbidden …

Sorting through all the boxes of paperwork prior to a move, it was interesting to come across the proposed programme for the 2006 CoS workshop.  These were usually held from Friday evening to Sunday lunch and the full Saturday timetable involved the following  sessions:

  • Counting the Cost of a Magical Life
  • Commitment: The Meaning of the Oath
  • Working With the Tree of Life
  • Personal Space and the Personal Universe

We always tried to get away from the bog-standard conference syllabus that appeared year after year – hence our popular ‘Exorcisms We Have Known & Loved’ at one annual London event!  Not surprising we were standing room only … It was our firm belief that participants had the right to expect something new and different – and not just a rehash of the content of a current published book.  Just as a new book needs to offer the readership a different approach to a certain type of witchcraft and magic, so surely it’s not unreasonable for talks to cover new ground that it both informative and entertaining?

Once back in the UK, it’s been suggested that I also think about offering writer’s workshops and the odd magical workshop, which I find more appealing than on-line events as I work better with a live audience.   But that’s on the back burner until I’m settled … MD

New release …

Hallowmas, Samhain & All That

Hallowe’en vs Samhain

Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or ‘darker-half’ of the year. In the northern hemisphere, it is customarily held on 1st November, but with celebrations beginning on the evening of 31st October, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset.

Halloween or Hallowe’en, also known as Hallowmass, All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a three-day celebration observed in many countries on 31st October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallow’s Day. It begins the observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.

Well, okay … yeah.

But before we begin … can we imagine the furore if Easter was hijacked by a bunch of loin-clothed rejects from Jesus Christ Super Star dangling from trees in the local park, because they’ve discovered some spurious regeneration connection between the New Testament story and Eostre – the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and dawn? Actually, she is only mentioned once in scholarly writings of the period – Bede, that venerable monk, stated that during Eostremonath (the old Anglo-Saxon name for April), pagan Anglo-Saxons held festivals in her honour. Two hundred years later, in his Life of Charlemagne, another monk – this time named Einhard – gives the old name for April as Ostaramonath. She is also mentioned in a number of German inscriptions, and the modern holiday of Easter – originally the name for the Spring Equinox, but later absorbed into the Paschal cycle for the Eastern Orthodox Christian resurrection holiday built around Pascha (Easter)!?

Nevertheless, this is exactly what has happened to the modern ‘celebration’ of Hallowe’en/ Samhain. Another of the old festivals – like Yule and Harvest – that the Church decided was easier to absorb into its calendar than making any further attempts at abolition. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, we can judge the original importance of these old festivals from the degree of sanctity accorded these former pagan customs within the Church’s liturgical year. This consisted of a cycle of seasons that determined when Church feast days – including celebrations of the newly created saints – were to be observed, and which portions of Scripture were to be read. Distinct colours were used in connection with different seasons, and although the dates of the festivals may vary among the different denominations, the sequence and logic largely remains the same.

According to the Celts, Samhain was the time when the veil between this and Otherworld was believed to be at its thinnest: when the spirits of the dead could most freely mingle with the living once again. They believed the Lord of the Dead, would come that night to take up into the afterlife the souls of those who had died during that year. Like many other pagan traditions, the holiday was eventually Christianized in order to honour the dead, including those newly ‘absorbed’ saints. In its original Elder Faith form it was much more dangerous and threatening – a weird period of dread and ill-omen; a time of gloom and mourning for the dying year and the Mighty Dead.

At this time of the year, some of the Old Ways tell that certain ‘portals’ between the worlds require physically closing once they have been opened to prevent unscheduled souls being sucked through before their time. These portals must be marked with a propitiatory rite of a soul passing through before the way can be closed or the gates will remain open to trap the unsuspecting. It has been suggested that ‘dabblers’ mucking about with things they do not understand can create this type of ‘gate’ that preys on the unwary because the ‘dead’ are often hungry for life. Here we find disembodied entities, such as those of the Unseelie Court of the luchd-sidhe, who simply hate the living.

The Seelie and Unseelie Courts of Scottish fairies are a particular feature of the folklore of that country; the clear separation of the faes into good and bad groupings that are entailed is almost unique in folklore. The Unseelie Court was used to describe the darkly-inclined faere and no offence was deemed necessary to bring down their assaults. As a group (or ‘host’), they were thought to appear at night and assault travellers, often carrying them through the air, beating them, and forcing them to commit such acts as injuring cattle. In Scotland, they were seen as closely allied with witches.

As we can see there is quite a bit of dangerous stuff out there which is not so much ‘evil’ as hungry. The gates themselves aren’t evil, neither are those who open them indiscriminately – just shamefully foolish and irresponsible. This day marked the beginning of the dark, cold winter – a time of year that was often associated with human death. Which is why Celts believed that on this night – before the ‘new year’ – the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred – and dangerous!  So plenty of propitiatory observations need to be performed to keep the malevolence at bay … because on this night they observed the ‘end of summer’ when it was believed ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble or damaging provisions and livestock, the people also thought the presence of these otherworld entities made it opportune for the Druids (the Celtic priesthood), to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on a volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of guidance during the long dark months to follow.

In its most common form it was seen as an agrarian festival held to placate the Ancestors, to propitiate any malevolent forces; to please the gods (and those ‘saints’ who replaced them), and as a clear distinction between the joys of harvest and the hardships of approaching winter:

As current Chief Druid, Eimear Burke (OBOD) commented: “There’s that notion now that Samhain marks the beginning of the Celtic New Year. Think of all the people that have invaded us. We, Irish people are not Celtic, there are no generic markers. But the Celts when they came, did leave their culture – including music, stories and languages – and their festivals. On this night [Samhain] the Calleach (the Crone) comes to strip the leaves from the trees to quicken the decay of the flesh of the year, so that it may feed the new life to come. We can also ask her to take the unwanted aspects of our personal year away, so that these too, might be transformed.” [Irish Country Living]

To commemorate the ‘new year’ and the first day of winter, there were enormous sacred bonfires; it was the time when the night became longer than the day, the last apples were picked, and the year began again with its dark, winter half. When the Earth rests it is sometimes called Trinoux Samonia, or ‘Three Nights of the End of Summer’. Originally a Druid festival, it was observed on either day (31st October/1st November) as the Celts measured the day from sunset to sunset. In the Celtic seasonal tale, The Wasting Sickness of Cuchulainn, it was observed for a total of seven days – three before and three after the feast of Samhain – marking the dangers of Otherworld at that time of the year.

“There is a marked danger of venturing too far into Otherworld. There is the risk of trespassing upon someone else’s ‘turf’ and getting lost. There is the risk that the dead will not let you go; that someone was not ready to leave life and will like yours all too greatly. There is the risk of wandering too far from your body, since to go that far into Otherworld to reach the lands of the dead, one may lose all awareness of the body’s physical surroundings. If something were to happen, there would be no way of knowing,” warns Ronnie Ellis, formerly taibhsearan for his clan.

In the Sacred Order of the Elder Faith, it is the time when Otherworld entities can mix freely with humans, when the liminal space between the two, is easily traversed. The displacement of the natural laws of time and place means that there is a ‘crossing over’ when all kinds of boisterous behaviour can be indulged in – which is seen as an offering of life-energy to replenish the dying year. Food was provided for the dead but these were not the grand feasts of harvest-time and Beltaine, since these were not celebratory gatherings but observances of propitiation in order to avert the anger or malevolence of the old gods. Turnips, apples and apple cider, mulled wines, gourds, nuts, beef, pork, poultry, ale – the Samhain recipes concocted from the harvest brought the community together and the Celts ate the fruits of their labours, told stories and tried to predict their fortunes in the future.

Needless to say, in early Celtic tradition, Samhain was closely associated with burial mounds, or cairns, which were also believed to be entrances to the Otherworld. In a Gaelic example in Fortingall, a samhnag was built on a mound known as Carn nam Marbh, ‘The Mound of the Dead’ – local lore has it that the mound contained the bodies of plague victims but is, in fact, a Bronze Age tumulus. A stone, known as the Clach a’ Phaigh, ‘the Plague Stone’, crowned the mound and once the bonfire was lit, the participants would join hands and dance around it, both deosil and widdershins. As the blaze waned, the younger participants would take part in leaping over the flame. No guisers or mummers appeared in this particular tradition as the bonfire was the sole centre of attention. In the Highlands, after sunset, many of the youth carried a blazing torch and walked the boundaries of their farms in order to protect the family from the faeries and other malevolent forces. New fire, kindled from the sacred communal blaze, was then brought into each house where it was kept burning for the rest of the year.

Otherworld entities and malevolent forces were free to walk the land at night, causing mischief. Samhain was seen as a time when the future could most easily be predicted, and was a favoured time among Druids for ritual fortune-telling. As in other major Celtic Festivals, Samhain was a gateway, a transition from one season to the next, and, because in Elder Faith belief at the heart of every gateway is a paradox. The threshold is literally between two worlds but is, in itself, in neither/and or in both at the same time. Thus Samhain belonged to both Summer and Winter … and to neither. It is the gateway to winter, and a magical time of passage between the seasons.

As in many pastoral societies, winter was regarded with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Samhain was the last gasp of summer … a time of uninhibited feasting and dancing. It was a time of release; a time to let go of all unwanted baggage, fears and attitudes, just as the trees let go of their leaves. So the lives of men parallel the sacred cycles of nature.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to their deities. During the festival, the participants wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted divination. When the festival was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier in the day, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

Púca is one of Ireland’s newest festivals and celebrates Ireland as the original home of Hallowe’en, which began as an ancient tradition over 2,000 years ago; as a time for in-gathering and storytelling, as darkness turns to light and the shape-shifting spirits roam the land. Through the spectacular nights at Púca Festival, they salute the Hallowe’en spirits through folklore, food, myth and music reopening the pathways of reflection and celebration carved out over a millennia ago, and lighting up the night sky with awe-inspiring and unearthly illuminations. Púca has been developed by Fáilte Ireland as a three-day vibrant and contemporary festival, strongly rooted in tradition with a programme of events centred around spectacle, music and food (inspired by the harvest at the time of Samhain and the Púca (Irish for spirit/ghost) a creature of Celtic folklore.

Certain agricultural traditions surround the Púca – a creature associated with the Goidelic harvest festival, when the last of the crops are brought in. Anything remaining in the fields is considered ‘puka’, or fairy-blasted, and hence inedible. In some locales, reapers leave a small share of the crop, the ‘púca’s share’, to placate the hungry creature. Nonetheless, 1st November is the púca’s day, and one day of the year when it can be expected to behave civilly. In some regions, the Púca is spoken of with considerably more respect than fear; if treated with deference, it may actually be beneficial to those who encounter it.

The Púca is a creature of the mountains and hills, and in those regions, there are stories of it appearing on November Day and providing prophecies and warnings to those who consult it.

Considered to be bringers both of good and bad fortune, they could help or hinder rural and marine communities. Púcaí can have dark or white fur or hair. The creatures were said to be shape-changers, which could take the appearance of horses, goats, cats, dogs, and hares. They may also take human form, which includes various animal features, such as ears or a tail. The Púca has counterparts throughout the Celtic cultures of Northwest Europe. For instance, in Welsh mythology, it is named the pwca and in Cornish the bucca.

By 43AD, the Roman Empirehad conquered the majority of Celtic lands. And in the course of the 400 years of suppression, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic observances of Samhain. The first was Feralia – a day in October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead; the second was the day to honour Pomona, a Roman goddess and a festival held in her honour in early November probably influenced the development of the modern Hallowe’en. Pomona was associated with abundance, the harvest and fruit, especially apples and nuts.

On 13th May 609AD, Pope Boniface re-dedicated the Pantheon – the most preserved and influential building of ancient Rome as a temple dedicated to all the gods of pagan Rome – in honour of all Christian martyrs, and the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day was established in the Western church calendar. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III later expanded the festival to include all saints as well as all martyrs, and moved the observance from 13th May to 1st November.

Many of our current Hallowe’en traditions have their roots in the Middle Ages when people would dress in costumes intended to scare away any dark spirits that happened to be wandering about. Bells were rung, and there were processions and bonfires to scare away malevolent witches, ghosts, and evil spirits. Children and the poor went door to door, offering prayers for the household’s deceased relatives in exchange for small ‘soul’ cakes.

By the 9th century, the influence of Christianity had spread into the Celtic lands, where it gradually blended with and supplanted older pagan rites. In 1000AD the church decreed 2nd November to be All Souls’ Day – a day to honour the dead. It is widely believed today that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic festivals with related, church-sanctioned holy days.

All Souls’ Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades and dressing up in costumes depicting saints, angels and devils. The celebration was called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English meaning Alholowmesse, meaning All Saints’ Day), and the night before it – the traditional night of Samhain – began to be called All-Hallows-Eve and eventually – Hallowe’en.

The rigid Protestant belief systems in colonial New England severely restricted Hallowe’en celebrations, with the exception of Maryland and the southern colonies. As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups and the Native Americans converged, a distinctly American version of Hallowe’en began to develop. The first celebrations included ‘play parties’, which were public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbours would share ghost stories, and tell each other’s fortunes among the dancing and singing.

Colonial festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. And by the middle of the 19th century, annual autumnal festivities were common – but Hallowe’en had not yet spread everywhere in the country. In the second half of the 19th century, America was flooded with new immigrants and these new people, especially the millions of Irish fleeing the ‘potato famine’, helped to spread the celebration of Hallowe’en as a national festivity. Over time, it gradually evolved into a day of fun activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, in-gatherings, wearing costumes and eating special treats. [americaslibrary.gov]

In the United States today, Halloween is big business: The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans spent over six billion dollars on candy, costumes and ghoulish decor during a recent holiday and it is now a commercial feast for candy producers and pumpkin farmers. In the 19th century, Irish and Scottish immigrants in America began to revive the old traditions – with more of an emphasis on trick-or-treating than religious introspection – and more than 150 million consumers participated in the modern American iteration of Halloween. An estimated 65% of Americans will celebrate Halloween or participate in Halloween activities this year, with 66% of those consumers planning to give out candy, 52% planning to decorate their homes and 44% planning to carve a pumpkin. Total spending in 2021 was expected to reach $10.1 billion, with the average consumer planning to spend $102.74 on decorations, candy, costumes and more.

These celebrations might have their roots in the ancient Celtic festival, Samhain, which marked the beginning of winter but little remains of the need for propitiatory gestures to keep bad luck/evil at bay. Hallowe’en has retained its spiritual and macabre nature through many centuries, thanks to traditions like ‘souling’, where the poor would beg for pastries on All Souls Day in exchange for prayers for deceased relatives. Our forebears believed that the night before Samhain, spirits from the other world came and destroyed vegetation with their breath, leaving the land barren for winter. People would leave food and wine on their doorsteps to appease the spirits, and wear masks when they left the house to blend in with them. Eventually, the fundamental pagan traditions were co-opted by the Christian church and this Ancestor-based observance fell by the wayside.

Around the world, however, many cultures have festivals intended to honour the dead. Like Samhain, some of them are linked to the change of seasons and the harvest, while others mirror the influence of Christianity, spread by missionaries throughout the world. But although many feature jubilant celebrations replete with dancing and music, they’re meant first and foremost as a way to honour dead relatives and ancestors, and should be approached with respect. [National Geographic]

In the Coven of the Scales, where we follow the old Julian calendar in traditional British witchcraft, since Old Samhain conveniently aligns with Armistice Day that is commemorated every year on 11th November to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, at 5:45 am for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven in the morning – the ‘eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’ of 1918. But, according to Thomas R. Gowenlock, an intelligence officer with the U.S. First Division, shelling from both sides continued for the rest of the day, ending only at nightfall

The first Armistice Day observance was held at Buckingham Palace, commencing with King George V hosting a ‘Banquet in Honour of the President of the French Republic’ during the evening hours of 10th November 1919. The first official Armistice Day events were subsequently held in the grounds of Buckingham Palace on the morning of 11th November 1919, which included a two-minute silence as a mark of respect for those who died in the war and those left behind. After the end of World War II, most member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, followed the earlier example of Canada and adopted the name Remembrance Day. Other countries also changed the name of the holiday just prior to or after World War II, to honour veterans of that and subsequent conflicts.

Needless to say, for us this is an extremely sombre observation which has no place for frivolous role-playing and festivities. In Coven of the Scales, we observe Old Samhain/Calan Gaeof on the 11th November so that it can coincide with modern Remembrance Day and, as the time to remember our war dead and the Ancestors – today we wear our poppy with pride. Never more so does kindred call to kindred, blood call to blood … because the most powerful energy on which an Old Craft practitioner can call is that of our ‘Ancestors’, who represent our culture, traditions, heritage, lineage and antecedents; they trace the long march of history that our predecessors have taken under the aegis of the Elder Faith.

In other words, our dead are always with us and when we channel that rejuvenating power into the Coven’s mindset, we are imbuing the group and its members with the strength and magical energy of all those centuries of ancestral influence. In fact, these are the ancestral properties we call upon to consolidate the energy required in spell-casting and invocation, rather than what others may see as the beneficence of deities, angels or spirits. And, we re-affirm this allegiance to this sacred past each time – and to each other – whenever we perform a seasonal rite that includes the breaking of bread and taking of salt – either singly or in a group.

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

So … modern Hallowe’en celebrations and Samhain rituals in America and the UK have very little in common – though both occasions often call for large gatherings. Modern Wiccans and other pagans (Wicca is a subset of paganism; Druids are another example) of all stripes have kept the festivities alive, adapting their Samhain traditions to suit the contemporary pagan community. These days, Samhain is celebrated with more much mischief but (hopefully) it still remains a time imbued, powerful spirituality. Nevertheless, it is often unwise to attempt to combine participants from both traditions since this can lead to offence on both sides.

Hallowmas, Samhain & All That by Melusine Draco and published by ignotus books uk : ISBN 978 1 80302 514 8 : Pages 104 : UK£6.85 : Arcanum series No 11:  Order direct from https://www.feedaread.com/books/Halloween-Samhain-and-all-that.aspx

A Magical Miscellany

by Melusine Draco

Having just re-read Al-Khemy: Being in Two Worlds for research purposes, I’m reminded why I’ve always considered Alan Richardson one of the most under-rated esoteric authors of our time.  This was the latest in his series of ‘magical journals’ for which he is well-known:

The Templar Door

Searching for Sulis

The Sea Priest

Dark Imagery

And which his short-sighted publishers (in their wisdom!) have since remaindered because of low sales.  Most titles are, however, still available in e-book form and via ABE-books and well-worth collecting …

Whether it was because we share a similar connection with ancient Egypt (The Inner to Egypt and The Setian) and an abiding loathing of Akhenaten, or whether my irritation resonated on another level over his cavalier attitude to certain magical mores – rejecting Tarot cards if he doesn’t like it and demanding a better one – ignoring psychic communications if they don’t suit – his fondness for augers/seers/mountebanks – likening the studying of the Kabbalah to reading the assembly instructions for IKEA flat-packs (and this from the author of An Introduction to the Mystical Qabalah!) – or refusing to admit that he is one of the Elect.

Nevertheless, these magical journals contain more than their fair share of magical truths that once read are never forgotten – such as our Dame introducing “Alan Richardson’s Bell-jar moment’ into Coven parlance; or my never being able to read about Robert Kirk of The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Faunes and Fairies fame, without visualising Billy Connolly is the title role of The Giftie.  His books offer a glimpse into his remarkable talent for visualization and perception from which we can all learn …like magic – as long as it’s done sincerely – always works although rarely When you want, or How you want – but always when and how you need.

Incidentally, in his tiresome youth, our hero was mentored by that irascible ritual magician, Bill Gray (The Old Sod), so don’t be fooled by his self-effacing comments about his lack of magical ability, because this talent come through at every turn.  I suppose we’re blessed with a sort of what he refers to as a sort of ‘communicative empathy’ because although we’ve always had a literal distance between us, he’s never out of my thoughts (or writing) for long.

Of course, mention must also be made of his ‘long suffering Margaret’ to his Victor Meldrew (‘One Foot in the Grave’) because I’ve warned my lot that if I land up in a ‘home’ I will invoke a Diana Trent persona (‘Waiting For God) – so if we find ourselves in the same care home, life will be very interesting indeed …

*All AR back titles are listed in italic and well-worth collecting.

New release:

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 suppers and country fairs.

The internet is awash with all sorts of harvest ideas from across the world but not under one title. Harvest festivals are believed to be the oldest form of festivals around the world. They are a way of thanking Nature for the bounty it offers in the form of new crops. They are a celebration at the time of year when all the crops have been harvested, and people celebrate to show that they are grateful for all the food that has been grown. Given the differences in climate and crops, harvest festivals can be found at various times throughout the world because the ‘tradition’ of celebrating the season of harvest as a festival has been around for eons. Ever since mankind began cultivating produce for self-sufficiency and subsequently business, the agriculture culture has been given its due importance.

Different cultures around the world have their own distinct ways of celebrating this harvest season at different times of the year, depending on the regions where crops are cultivated and the differences in climates. However we choose to celebrate the harvest, it is important it is carried out in a spirit of community and sharing and if this is the re-introduction of this integral pagan festival, then it needs to include all ages. Children were an essential ingredient of haymaking and harvesting and anyone who had ever taken part in these rural pursuits, probably still have warm memories of those seasons in their hearts.

Pagan Portals: Harvest Home – In-Gathering: How to Survive (and Enjoy) The Autumnal Festivals by Melusine Draco and published by Moon Books : ISBN 978 1 80341 110 1 : 84 pages ¨UK£6.99/US$10.95 http://www.mon-books.net : Published 26th August 2022


“This is yet another useful, informative, and charmingly written guide from Melusine Draco. With the usual sprinkling of humour and lively writing, she takes a comprehensive look at Lammas/Lughnasadh and the other months of the harvest. The In-Gathering: How-To Survive (and Enjoy) the Autumnal Festivals has everything the reader needs to know about celebrating the important harvest season. Brimming with history, folklore, customs, recipes, traditions around the world and so much more information and ideas of how to celebrate, I heartily recommend it. This is a book that will certainly be going on my own bookshelf.” Harmonia Saille, Pagan Portals – Hedge Witchcraft, Hedge Riding, and Hedge Magic 

Breath of Spring: Beltaine

From time immemorial the seasonal sequence has arrested the attention of mankind and aroused an intense emotional reaction in all states and stages of culture and types of society extending from the Upper Palaeolithic in prehistoric times to the highest civilizations of the ancient Near East and the Graeco-Roman world, with repercussions on the subsequent development of custom. Belief and behavior in the intervening ages, not least in the folk-cultures in Europe.

     The reason is not far to seek.  Everywhere and at all times the means of subsistence have been the primary concern and from this fundamental requirement recurrent seasonal periodic festivals have sprung, and by constant repetition they have assumed a variety of forms and acquired divers meanings and interpretations.  But since food has always been an essential need it is in this context that the observances have exercised their primary functions. [Seasonal Feasts & Festivals]

In Scotland and Ireland, the ancient Celtic practice of lighting bonfires at the beginning of May as part of a sacrificial rite lingered on until the 18th-century in the observance known as Beltaine.  The name derived from the Gaelic tein-eigin – ‘need-fire’ and the practice of lighting sacred fires, often on hill-tops, at the beginning of the second division of the Celtic year was for the purpose of stimulating the sun as the life-giving agent at the commencement of summer.  Thus on the Eve of May Day, branches of rowan of buckthorn were fastened to the houses and cattle-stalls to keep away malevolent spirits, and the gorse was set on fire at the break of day to burn them out.  ‘Home fires were extinguished and rekindled with appropriate ceremonies – the antiquity of which custom is indicated by the use of earlier methods of fire-making by friction, tinder and flint and steel being employed for the purpose, according to Professor E O James.

When the Beltaine bonfires had been lighted from the need-fire, branches were lit and carried into the houses to ignite the new fires in the grates.  In the Highlands of Scotland this was the only occasion when the peat-fires were put out and relighted (by the friction method) like the annual renewal of the sacred fire in the temple of Vesta on 1st March by the Vestal Virgins.  That the Beltaine fires were regarded as cathartic and regenerative is suggested by the custom of driving cattle through them to protect them from disease.

April’s showers will hopefully have given way to rich and fertile earth, and as the land becomes greener, there are few celebrations as representative of fertility and/or regeneration as Beltaine.  Festivities typically begin the evening before, on the last night of April. It’s a time to welcome the abundance of the fertile earth, and a day that has a long (and sometimes colourful) history.  This spring celebration is all about new life, fire, passion and rebirth, so there are all kinds of creative ways we can set up for welcoming the season.

There are many different ways we can celebrate Beltaine, but the focus is nearly always on the fact that it is a major Fire Festival and we need to find ways of incorporating this into our celebrations. A fire pit is primarily ambient/atmospheric, although it can have some warming properties, depending on how powerful it is and how large. It’s one of those lovely features for people to gather around in the evening, since it’s pleasant in cool, balmy, or even slightly warm weather. Only in downright hot temperatures does the mere look of fire cause discomfort. However, since fire pits are mainly ornamental, if weather is truly frigid or there’s a lot of precipitation, a fire pit doesn’t really do much to combat the weather and may actually get damaged.

Having a fire pit in our garden will ensure we can enjoy the outdoors for longer when the sun goes in and, really, who doesn’t enjoy sitting and looking at an open fire? Covid restrictions have hopefully been amended, so now we can begin to think of having the family over for a big celebratory ‘Beltaine Bash’. If we haven’t already invested, a fire pit is a great item to have in our garden for those Fire Festivals, so we can continue with a much-needed me-time behind the garden-gate once the sun’s gone in. But what to choose? There are lots of designs but before using your garden fire pit, ensure it’s in a safe location and away from any combustible surfaces.

  • Make sure that the location is safe and there’s nothing hanging nearby that could catch fire.
  • Position your outdoor fire pit in the middle of your patio, so you have plenty of room to move around it safely and it’s not too close to combustible surfaces, grass, trees, plants or shrubs.
  • Make sure that it isn’t too close to your property or sheds/summer houses.
  • Don’t light the fire pit under a gazebo or other covered area.
  • Check the wind direction before lighting.
  • Take fire safety precautions. For example, have a fire extinguisher, fire blanket or at least a bucket of water/sand nearby.
  • Keep children and animals away if they are unsupervised.
  • When you have finished with the fire pit, ensure that the fire is completely extinguished. Cover the fire pit with a suitable lid to contain any hot embers and prevent ash from blowing around.
  • If you have chosen a fire pit that doesn’t have legs or which gets very hot, you may need to protect the surface underneath.

On the evening of 13th May, those of traditional British Old Craft observe the Beltaine ritual in compliance with the old Julian calendar, or we may choose a weekend nearest to the 31st April in harmony with the general pagan community.  The rite can be as simple or complicated as we like to make it but the basic component is fire, which can be a roaring summer bonfire, a smouldering fire-pit or an open patio fire-basket.  We’ve even taken part in a rite where the fire was contained within a metal bucket with holes knocked in it! 

Whether as part of a group, or a solitary working, fire should be an integral part of any Beltaine ceremony.  Again, the purists would say that the fire should be lit as part of the ritual but there’s nothing more embarrassing that being stared at by a group of people eagerly awaiting a cheery blaze while the fire-maker fumbles about with damp matches and even damper kindling that refuses to ignite.  Beltaine should be a joyous occasion but this kind of enforced gaiety is on a par with those who insist on still holding a family barbeque in the garden when it’s pouring with rain because it’s been planned for that day!

In modern parlance, in our rites we are basically asking for health, wealth and happiness in the coming days of plenty, i.e. a summer – with plenty of food = health and wealth plus ‘mirth and song’. The holiday celebrates spring at its peak, and the coming of summer. This holiday is associated very strongly with fertility/regeneration, but for pagans how does this translate into a generic meaning that all our guests can relate to?

To put the matter in a nut-shell – regeneration is an ambiguous term with diverse meanings. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to be regenerated is to be ‘re-born; brought again into existence; formed anew’, no doubt an accurate usage but one that is arguably too narrow. More appropriate is another meaning the OED suggests: ‘restored to a better state’ – spiritual renewal or revival.  Most definitions of regeneration, however, have been driven, over many times and places, by concern about ageing and the desire, at best, to reverse or, at least, to modify its perceived ill-effects.  And as  Robert Cochrane once observed, there had been no cause for a fertility religion in Europe since the advent of the coultershare plough in the 13th century!

The May Pole dances are survivals of ancient rituals around a living tree as part of the spring rites to ensure fertility. Over time it usually became a tree trunk of the correct height, age, and type (usually pine or birch). Some writers claim that the tree represented masculine energy, and the ribbons and floral garlands that adorned it represented feminine energy.  While those ribbon-weaving dancers are either pairs of boys and girls (with girls taking one colour of ribbons and boys the other), or a group of multiple ages where younger dancers take the inside of the circle and older dancers the outside; either way, the maypole itself is a splendid reminder that spring has sprung and regeneration has begun.

Given that May Day celebrations are all about expressive dancing and celebrating, the Puritans in 16th and 17th century New England labelled the rituals ‘bacchanalian’, which naturally led to the banning of the celebrations during that time.  Luckily May Day festivities made their way back into the modern era and remain a symbol of the wondrous shift from the dreary cold season to the lively warmer one. We can find today’s most dedicated revelers in Scotland and Ireland, where they recognize Beltaine or Gaelic May Day, or in the United Kingdom and Bavaria – where the maypole is painted in their region’s white and blue and adorned with representations of the local craftspeople and trades.

The tradition of the Maypole Dance has been around for a long time – it’s a celebration of the fertility of the season. Because Beltaine festivities usually kicked off the night before with a big bonfire, the Maypole celebration  usually took place shortly after sunrise the next morning.   Young people came and danced around the pole, each holding the end of a ribbon. As they wove in and out, men going one way and women the other, it created a sleeve of sorts – the enveloping womb of the earth – around the pole. By the time they were done, the Maypole was nearly invisible beneath a sheath of ribbons. If you have a large group of friends and lots of ribbon, you can easily hold your own Maypole Dance as part of your Beltaine festivities. 

In some regions, however, a different maypole tradition existed: the carrying of highly decorated sticks with hoops or cross-sticks, or swags attached, covered with flowers, greenery or artificial materials such as crêpe paper.  This tradition is known as garlanding, and was a central feature of May Day celebrations in central and southern England until the mid-19th century and is a more practical adaptation that we can use within our Craft celebrations as a lead-up to Old Beltaine.  It can even be hung on the front door where the Yule wreath will later mark the Mid-Winter Festival.

The Beltaine/Oestra Bash

The Beltaine bonfire festival is really incomplete without a meal to go with it.  For this occasion celebrate with foods that honour the earth but probably the most wide-spread tradition is that of ‘Scottish Bannocks’.  It is a form of flat bread, the same thickness as a scone cooked on a griddle or fried in a pan.  Today it may also be baked in the oven for about twenty minutes.  In parts of Scotland, the Beltaine bannock is a popular custom. It’s said that if you eat one on Beltaine morning, you’ll be guaranteed abundance for your crops and livestock.

BANNOCKS OR OATCAKES (TRADITIONAL)

4 oz (⅔ cup) medium oatmeal

2 teaspoons melted fat (bacon dripping is good)

Pinch of bicarbonate of soda

Additional oatmeal for the kneading

Pinch of salt

¼ cup hot water

Mix the oatmeal with the salt and bicarbonate of soda in a basin, then

make a well in the middle and pour in the melted fat. Stir around, then

add enough water to make a stiff paste.  Scatter a board or table thickly

with oatmeal, turn out the mixture and roll into a ball.  Knead well with

the hands covered in oatmeal to prevent sticking.  Press down a little

and keep the edges as regular as possible.  Then roll out to a ¼ inch

thickness, and shape by putting a dinner plate on top and cutting round

the edges.  Sprinkle finally with a little meal, then cut into quarters or

less.  Place on the warmed girdle, or pan, and cook until the edges curl

slightly.  In Scotland they were finished on a toasting stone, but a

medium hot grill to crisp the other side is adequate. [A Taste of Scotland]

Oatcakes are very good with fish, especially herrings, either smoked or fresh, with raw onions; also served with soups, butter-milk, or with jam, honey or marmalade for breakfast. Bannock is also a main staple of many indigenous communities in Canada because it’s a simple bread that can be cooked in a pan, in the oven or over a fire. Top with butter, nut butter, jam or even melt a cube of cheese inside the dough.  During Beltaine a bonfire is kept going all night long. Pieces of bannock are thrown into the fire as an offering.

Froissart, the 14th-century chronicler, writes that the Scottish soldier always carried a flat plate of metal and a wallet of oatmeal, as part of his equipment.  With a little water he could always make himself an oatcake over a wood fire, which contributed to his remarkable stamina.

Loaded with beef, potatoes, and lots of vegetables, this dish celebrates winter and welcomes spring. It’s warm and hearty, yet fresh and bright.  And, at this time of year, when the days can fluctuate between spring-like with clear skies and warm air to cold and chilly rainy days that feel more like February, there’s still justification to slow cook something cozy and savory for Beltaine. With the shifting weather, we never know if there’s a last chilly day around the corner and this slow cooker beef stew has the best of both seasons. With tender beef cooked low and slow in a rich gravy along with spring veggies and plenty of fresh herbs, it’s a set-it-and-forget-it recipe that simmers all day in your slow cooker.

SPRING BEEF AND VEGETABLE STEW

1 tbsp vegetable oil
500g beef diced stewing steak
1 tbsp flour
700ml beef stock
1 carrot, thickly sliced
400g Jersey Royal potatoes, cut into wedges
1 leek, thickly sliced
100g Spring Greens (or Baby Leaf Greens), shredded
25g pack fresh parsley, chopped

Pepper and salt

Preheat the oven to 180C, gas mark 4. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the beef until browned. Stir in the flour and seasoning and cook

for 1 minute, add the stock and bring to the boil. Stir in the carrot and

potatoes. Transfer to an ovenproof casserole dish (or slow cooker), cover

and bake for 1 hour. Add the leek and bake for a further 1 hour until the

beef is tender Add the greens and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley

and serve with plenty of crusty bread [Waitrose]

Beltaine festivals, both in ancient times and today, are commonly accompanied by a large feast. Traditional Beltaine celebrations would set aside some food and drink for the aos sí as a nod of respect.   Since Beltaine used to focus on livestock, perhaps it’s not a bad alternative in providing an enormous ‘cheese/ charcuterie board’ with a wide variety of cheeses and cured meats for the occasion, together with a large wicker basket full of fresh bread and crackers. And best of all, this has something for everyone! From different types of cheese to sweet and savory snacks to crackers and cured meats, the best cheese boards leave no one behind.

Select the cheeses. Try to include a variety of flavors and textures by selecting cheeses from different families (for example):

  • Aged: Aged Cheddar, Gruyere, Gouda.
  • Soft: Brie, Camembert, Goat.
  • Firm: Manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Edam.
  • Blue: Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton.

Use cheese markers to label cheese so everyone knows what they’re getting and bring cheeses to room temperature before serving in order to bring out their true flavor.

Add some charcuterie…aka cured meats. Prosciutto, salami, sopressata, chorizo, mortadella or paté are all good options.

Add some savory. Think olives, pickles, roasted peppers, artichokes or spicy mustards.

Add some sweet. Think seasonal and dried fruits, candied nuts, preserves, honey or chutney.

Offer a variety of breads. Sliced baguette, bread sticks, and a variety of crackers in different shapes, sizes, and flavors.

Finish it off with some garnishes. This is a great way to give your cheese board a seasonal touch. Use edible flowers, cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs, celery or grapes to give your board the look and feel you want.  [Lemon Tree Dwelling]

Now is the time to begin preparing your Beltaine celebrations and we join in wishing you all the joys of the season. MD

New release

Incubation & Temple Sleep

Anyone who is interested in dream interpretation will be familiar with the works of Carl Jung and his allegorical dream-scapes of the collective unconscious. In truth, the allegorical expression of ideas pervades literature, art, music, religion, politics, business, and advertising – as well as everyday speech. For the magical practitioner, the immense richness of the allegorical tradition was thoroughly mined and exploited by no less an individual than Aleister Crowley himself, whose grasp of classical understanding knew no bounds.

Jung saw dreams as the psyche’s attempt to communicate important things to the individual, and he valued them highly, perhaps above all else, as a way of knowing what was really going on in that individual’s mind. Dreams are also an important part of the development of the personality – a process that he called ‘individuation’. If dreams are sometimes difficult to comprehend it is because we need to understand that dreams express themselves through the use of symbols; of symbols, he wrote: “A symbol is the best possible formulation of a relatively unknown psychic content”.

He also voiced his opinion that the dream is ‘a spontaneous self-portrayal, in symbolic form, of the actual situation in the unconscious and we can see that by treating the dream images as symbols, with the images all representing elements within the dreamer’s own psyche, and by asking for the dreamer’s personal associations to the dream, as well as amplifying other images with relation to archetypal themes, we are able to understand a dream and what it may be trying to communicate to the dreamer. [Man & His Symbols]

Similarly, the concept of magic is also communicated by a whole host of signs and imagery – where nothing is as it seems. The magical world is concealed behind a veil of analogy and allegory; similes and metaphor; sigils and symbols; praxis and motif; illusion and allusion; myth and legend – all of which is a complicated shorthand for the techniques of magic and its practices. The amount of knowledge needed to understand esoteric symbolism can border on staggering for the uninitiated at times, since the knowledge and science they represent is not taught outside of esoteric circles for a valid reason; in fact, in almost every instance what people have been taught is often the exact opposite of the truth. And symbols and sigils, allegories and metaphors, are used as esoteric concepts because of the amount of encapsulated knowledge they represent, which is not always easily explainable to the layman.

Some theories propose that myths began as allegories for natural phenomena: Apollo representing the sun, Poseidon representing water, and so on. According to another theory, myths began as allegories for philosophical or spiritual concepts: Athena representing wise judgment, Aphrodite desire, and so on. In this context, these figures are allegories, representing symbolically abstract concepts, or Muses, goddesses of the liberal arts … Their presence in connection with a library, for example, could allude to the pursuit of virtue through the study of the sciences and arts.

By entering our consciousness as ‘symbolically abstract concepts’ these classical entities do not in any way infringe on our belief in whatever godhead is pertinent to our personal faith, path or tradition when it comes to dreams and divination. When referring to an individual, it generally means a person or personified force, who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist. Often filmmakers talk about a certain actor being a muse – meaning the actor inspired a movie. Writers, painters, musicians, and other artists have muses and if we are searching for inspiration in any of the sciences or arts, we could do worse than call upon any of these classic ladies for originality.

In Greek mythology, the nine Muses were goddesses of the various arts such as music, dance, and poetry. Blessed with wonderful artistic talents themselves, they also possess great beauty, grace, and allure. Their gifts of song, dance, and joy helped the gods and mankind to forget their troubles and inspired musicians and writers to reach ever greater artistic and intellectual heights. The Muses were the daughters of Zeus and the Titan Mnemosyne (Memory) after the couple slept together for nine consecutive nights. There was a muse who created the inspiration for every aspect of artistic and scientific thought, and the ancient Greeks believed that by communing with the actual Muses, they could achieve great things:

  • Calliope, traditionally the most important (beautiful-voiced and representing epic poetry and rhetoric), she inspired Homer as he wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey and was normally depicted with a writing tablet in her hand. Calliope was the mother of Orpheus, the great musical hero of Greek mythology, and Linus, the inventor of rhythm and melody; their father is often named as the Olympian Apollo.
  • Clio (glorifying and representing history) was sometimes referred to in her capacity as ‘the Proclaimer, glorifier and celebrator of history, great deeds and accomplishments’, she is often represented with an open parchment scroll, a book, or a set of tablets.
  • Erato (lovely and representing singing), she is the Muse of lyric and love poetry, particularly erotic poetry, and mimic imitation. In the Orphic Hymn to the Muses, it is Erato who charms the sight and since the Renaissance she has mostly been shown with a wreath of myrtle and roses, holding a lyre, or a small kithara, a musical instrument often associated with Apollo.
  • Euterpe (well-delighting and representing lyric poetry), was Muse or patron of lyric poetry or flute playing and her attribute was the double-flute. She inspired the development of liberal and fine arts in ancient Greece, serving as an inspiration to poets, dramatists, and authors (such as Homer). According to tradition, ancient Greek musicians would invoke the aid of Euterpe to inspire, guide and assist them in their compositions. This would often take the form of a prayer for divine inspiration from this minor goddess.
  • Melpomene, patron of tragedy and lyre playing. In this guise, she was portrayed holding a tragic mask or sword, and sometimes wearing a wreath of ivy and cothurnus boots. The name ‘Melpomene’ is actually derived from an ancient Greek meaning, ‘to celebrate with dance and song’. In the early days of her worship, she was considered to be the Muse of singing. Over time, the way the people viewed her changed and she became the muse of tragedy; in some traditions, she remained the muse of both, depending on which custom you adhere to. In most works of art, she is usually shown holding a mask, which is the symbol for tragic theatre; it is usually speculated that she represented tragedy after the Greeks invented theatre and regularly performed tragic plays. She became the Muse of Tragedy during the classical period of ancient Greece.
  • Polyhymnia (depicted as very serious, pensive and meditative, and often holding a finger to her mouth)), the Muse of sacred poetry, sacred hymn (representing hymns to the gods and heroes), dance, and eloquence as well as pantomime. In the Classical era, when the Mousai were assigned specific artistic and literary spheres, Polyhymnia was named Muse of religious compositions. In Bibliotheca historica, Diodorus Siculus wrote, “Polyhymnia, because by her great (polle) praises (humnesis) she brings distinction to writers whose works have won for them immortal fame…”
  • Terpsichore (delighting in dance), the Muse of music, song, dance and chorus. She lends her name to the word ‘terpsichorean’ which means ‘of or relating to dance’. In the Classical era, Terpsikhore was named Muse of choral song and dancing, and depicted with a lyre and plectrum. According to the traditions and beliefs of the ancient Greeks, a dramatist writing a play or drama – including the songs for the chorus – would invoke the aid of Terpsichore to guide and assist him in his work. The invocation took the form of a prayer for divine inspiration from this Muse. The theatre was an important and primary form of Greek entertainment and plays were often combined with music and dance. Plays consisted of three major parts: the prologue, the chorus and the scenes. In Greek drama, the chorus, or the singers, told the story, not the actors. Actors used gestures and masks to act out their parts and changed roles by changing masks. 
  • Thalia (blooming and representing comedy), was crowned with ivy, wearing boots and holding a comic mask in her hand. Many of her statues also hold a bugle and a trumpet (both used to support the actors’ voices in ancient comedy), or occasionally a shepherd’s staff or a wreath of ivy. Patron of comedy who, according to the Greek poet Hesiod, presided over idyllic poetry She was the mother of the Corybantes, celebrants of the Great Mother of the Gods, Cybele – the father being Apollo, the god related to music and dance.
  • Urania (a heavenly being representing astronomy). Like the other Muses, Urania is depicted as a beautiful woman and generally draped in a flowing cloak. The globe and the compass are used to identify her in ancient art she often gestures towards them with a short staff. This likely reflects the connection between astronomy and navigation in the ancient world. As goddess of astronomy, she could read the stars better than anyone else and watched the movements of various celestial bodies in order to predict the future. In fact, her namesake was Uranus, the primordial Titan who embodied the sky – and her grandfather. This was a very powerful concept in Greek mythology, as the sky was a place of divine power. Zeus, for example, was also a being associated with the sky. As the granddaughter of Uranus and daughter of Zeus, Urania’s role as the Muse of astronomy is not inconsequential. She contained some of the power and authority of her forebearers.

The Classical Muses were believed to live on Mt. Olympus where they entertained their father and the other Olympian gods with their great artistry and extensive knowledge, but later tradition also placed them on Mt. Helicon in Boeotia where there was a major cult centre to them; or on Mt. Parnassus where the Castalian spring was a favourite destination for poets and artists. On Mount Olympus, Apollo Mousagetes was, in a certain sense, the choir leader of the Muses, although his attachment was not limited to music, as he fathered many children with his musical ensemble! Calliope was the mother of Orpheus, the wonderfully gifted lyre player whose father was said by some to be Apollo himself.

Although bringers of festivity and joy, the Muses were not to be trifled with when it came to the superiority of their artistic talents. The nine daughters of Pierus foolishly tried to compete musically with the Muses on Mt. Helicon and were all turned into birds for their impertinence. The Thracian musician Thamyres (son of the nymph, Agriope) was another who challenged the Muses in music and after inevitably coming second best to the goddesses was punished with blindness, the loss of his musical talent, and his singing voice – the subject of a tragedy by Sophocles. The Muses also acted as judges in another musical competition, this time between Apollo on his kithara and the satyr Marsyas, who played the aulos given to him by Athena. Naturally, Apollo won and Marsyas was flayed alive for his troubles.

Hesiod in his Theogony claimed that he spoke with the Muses on Mt. Helicon, and they gave him a luxuriant laurel branch and breathed into him their divine voice so that he could proclaim the glory of the gods and their descendants. Thus, the simple shepherd was transformed into one of the most important poets in history. Hesiod also states that the Muses were created as an aid to forgetfulness and relief from troubles, perhaps as a balance to their mother, (Mnemosyne), who personified memory.

Since the Muses were goddesses of the arts, how did astronomy get wrapped up in all this? We don’t generally consider astronomy, or other sciences, to be artistic … but that’s not how the Greeks saw it, because to them there was no firm line between art, science, and philosophy. In their endless search for universal truths, the Greeks found all of their disciplines could be based on the same moral and logical principles. Each of the Muses became a goddess associated with one of the arts. Eight of them mastered arts closely connected to life on Earth. One, however, set her sights a little higher. That was Urania, the Muse of astronomy who was obsessed with the sky and the study of the stars.

In ancient Greece, music, and by association the Muses, were held in great esteem and music was played in homes, in theatres, during religious ceremonies, to accompany athletics, provide rhythm during military training, accompany agricultural activities such as harvesting, and was an important element in the education of children. For example, Themistocles, the great Athenian politician and general, considered his education incomplete because he could not play the khitara. Throughout the ancient Greek world musical festivals and competitions were held in honour of the Muses and philosophical schools bore their name: the Mouseia. [World History]

Invoking the Muse

Mary Ann Burrows, for example, is an artist, poet, author and life coach who recognizes that the poetic tradition of invoking the Muse has a long history in which this ethereal being is synonymous with the creative voice. ‘Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire …’ (1.6-7) is a quote from the 1600’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, by John Milton. In these first lines, Milton is not only stating the theme for his very long poem, but he is also asking for heavenly guidance and inspiration. This was the first invocation of the Muse by Milton in this poem, although he continues to ask for guidance a few more times. The most interesting thing being that Milton was blind when he wrote these ten books and over ten thousand lines of verse – Paradise Lost was recited by him to his daughters.

 A prayer or address is made to one of the nine Muses of Greco-Roman mythology, with an invocation beginning the epic poem and serving as a prologue to the events to come. The poet asks for the inspiration, skill, knowledge, or the right emotion to finish a poem worthy of his subject matter. Homer began his two epic poems with an ‘Invocation to the Muse’ as in this invocation from The Odyssey, where he asks for inspiration …

Speak, Memory –
Of the cunning hero
The wanderer, blown off course time and again
After he plundered Troy’s sacred heights.
Speak
Of all the cities he saw, the minds he grasped,
The suffering deep in his heart at sea
As he struggled to survive and bring his men home
But could not save them, hard as he tried –
The fools – destroyed by their own recklessness
When they ate the oxen of Hyperion the Sun,
And that god snuffed out their day of return
Of these things,
Speak, Immortal One,
And tell the tale once more in our time.

Greek writer Hesiod claimed in his work, Theogony, to have spoken with the Muses who blessed him with divine voice and a once simple shepherd became one of the great ancient poets at the pleasure of the gods. Dante had at least six invocations to the Muses in The Divine Comedy. Chaucer called upon the Muse in three of his poems. Plato also saw poetic inspiration as a sort of instability but a necessary evil for creating lasting works of literary art. Ever since the beginning of storytelling, writers have invoked ‘the muse’ to help them tell the stories in their minds and as modern-day writers, poets and creators this helping hand is available to all of us. Although writing poetry has changed dramatically over the years, one thing that has remained crucial to people is the belief in themselves and the ability to choose one’s own influences. Simple enough, right?

So what happened to the Muses?

Did they abandon us?

The Muse is an energy and a force that is still available to all of us to call upon.

The gift, then, of the Muses, or one of their gifts, is the power of true speech,” wrote the great classicist, E R Dodds.

We all have a muse. My muse is different than yours. We can decide how we see it, or if we see it at all. I know that I have felt a deep connection to my muse during painting, writing, and meditation and that my muse is a force that connects me to this vast, limitless universal well of creative inspiration. I often wake up from hours of creative work and look at my painting, poem, or writing and wonder how it happened. This deep level of consciousness is there and available for all of us to tap into. I think that it’s our job to learn how to tap into our muse and be open enough within ourselves to receive Her guidance. Rather than waiting around for an idea to show up or for my muse to appear and drop off some really good inspiration, I have discovered a variety of ways to connect with Her that work better, such as the ones that I am about to share with you. [Mary Ann Burrows]

Nearer to home in English folklore and literature we have The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – the title an analogy that refers to elves whispering among themselves in the leaves of the willow trees as people walked or sat underneath. Figuratively, the wind refers to inspiration just as the willow is the symbol of creativity and inspiration for poets and writers when we pause beneath its branches. This tree inspires our creativity and encourages us to make the most of our talents. It helps us overcome our doubts and fears regarding our abilities and helps us take actions to fulfil our dreams. Just making sure we pause to listen next time we walk beneath the tree and it seems to whisper … Or similarly the ash tree from Llwyn Onn – a traditional Welsh folk song …

The ash grove, how graceful, how plainly ’tis speaking;
The wind through it playing has language for me,
When over its branches the sunlight is breaking,
A host of kind faces is gazing on me.
The friends of my childhood again are before me;
Each step wakes a memory as freely I roam.
With soft whispers laden the leaves rustle o’er me;
The ash grove, the ash grove again is my home.

How to Call Upon Our Muse

First and foremost – we need to bring forth a conscious invitation and hold a firm belief in their existence. After all, these are powerful entities of the Ancient World, as Mary Ann Burrows reminds us …

  • The most important step towards finding and invoking our Muse lies in the act of opening ourselves up to a belief in the mystic elements of something that we cannot see. Our trust in what we cannot touch is what ignites the spark of our Muse to come out and play; a relationship that takes time to foster and grow. Our particular Muse has been with us our whole life, waiting and available, however, she needs to get to know us, too. The best part about a Muse is that we are the one who gets to decide what she is and isn’t. If we don’t believe in her existence, she will never step out of the shadows. We need to have faith.
  • A daily ritual can include meditation, a prayer, a blessing, lighting of a candle, the polishing of a crystal, or playing music that signifies we are calling upon our Muse. Set aside fifteen minutes before we begin to create to ground ourselves, in order to centre our being, and create a connection with our Muse. It’s like a warm-up before going to the gym. It includes emptying our old thoughts and clearing out those old threads so that inspirational thoughts can come through.
  • Find a symbol. Some item that associates us with our Muse. A feather, a candle, a piece of jewellery, a crystal, an ocean stone, a seashell … we take our time to find the perfect item. We follow our gut instinct, pick what we are drawn to, and something that resonates. Keeping the item close with us whenever we travel, walk, meditate, work on our projects, or sleep. Setting the item in front of us during meditation.
  • Finding a sensual location – picking a physical location where we can sense a visceral energy. A place where all of our senses are alive and awake – where we feel very deeply and find it difficult to control or ignore those feelings that are not the result of conscious thought – under or near a willow tree, perhaps? Or by a rippling stream … or a large expanse of water where we can hear the wind among the reeds. It’s important to spend time in our special place of connection because this is a sacred space. This is where we want to return to in our mind when we are calling up our Muse at home.
  • Traditionally, the poets associated music with the invocation of the muse as sound shifts energy and opens our minds. It’s a welcoming mat and an invitation for our Muse. Do you like Bach or Rap? Only you know the answer to what makes your heart sing. Whatever calms our nerves and makes us smile, play this. This is a personal choice and it is ours to make.
  • If we’re having trouble connecting, it’s perfectly normal. It takes time. It’s also a sign that we need to further ground ourselves. Try to take a different path, walk a new way home, choose a different routine, find a different and new symbol or location to sit in. Meditate, have a nap, ask a question to find the answer when we go to sleep. Try something new and the blockage will disappear. Muses don’t suffer from writer’s block!
  • When your muse speaks, listen. Take note and use those inspirations. We all have the ability to invoke and connect with our own individual Muse – and to benefit from those otherworldly influences.

Similarly, in his Creativity Quartet Masterclass, Willemijn Brouwer expounded his own theory on divine inspiration: On Mount Parnassus, there was a spring that was sacred to Polyhymnia and the other Muses. It was said to flow between two big rocks above Delphi, then down into a large square basin. The water was used by the Pythia, who were priests and priestesses, for oracular purposes including divination …

Inspiration is a gift from the gods. Right. Let’s start our historical review with the Big Three: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. I will shortly mention the first, focus on the second and end with the third, and the words inspiration, madness, demons or demonic possession. The first word sounds positive to us, the other words not really. For the Greeks, they were all the same. Socrates talked about ‘the demon as a divine gift granted to a few individuals’. This possession by the gods Plato referred to as divine inspiration or divine madness. And Aristotle doesn’t have a different name for divine inspiration. But he is important because he is the founder of association theory, and if you know anything about creativity, you know about association.

     In Greek mythology, Zeus was the supreme God who had nine daughters. And if you created a poem in Ancient Greece, those nine daughters had something to do with it. It was Plato who was credited for explaining this possession by the Muses as ‘divine inspiration’. He argued that the Muses possessed the mind of a poet that brought him to the creation of poems. Plato only discusses the work of poets as a result of divine inspiration because according to Plato, the work of a painter was not divine. Because the painter was only trying to capture the beauty of nature. And because nature was already an imitation of the idea of nature, a painter was producing an imitation of an imitation. 

   Plato’s entire theory was based on ideas. He argues that there is an ‘idea world’ and that everything we see is an imitation of that world. If we transform his argument into contemporary language: a poet is creative and an artist like a painter is an imitator and ‘just a craftsman’ or worse, a Chinese copyist. Even though the focus of creativity was on poems, Divine inspiration was not only possible for poetry but also for other art forms that were not imitations of the idea world. [Willemijn Brouwer]

In Ancient Greece, if we had written a great poem, we were complimented for producing the poem but not for inventing or creating it. It was one of the Muses that gave us inspiration, and we should feel honoured about it. In Phaedrus, Plato wrote: “The creative poet needs divine madness: the madness of those who are possessed by the Muses: which taking hold of a delicate and virgin soul, their inspiring frenzy awakens lyrical and all other numbers; with these adorning the myriad actions of ancient heroes for the instructions of posterity. But he who, having no touch of the Muses’ madness in his soul, comes to the door and thinks that he will get into the temple by the help of art – he, I say, and his poetry are not admitted; the sane man disappears and is nowhere when he enters into rivalry with the madman.”

And in Ion: “The poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him: when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless and unable to utter his oracles.”

For Plato, there is no credit for the person himself in the creative process. If we came to an ‘act of creation’, we were simply lucky because the gods had chosen us. The fact that we had to translate the inspiration into a poem, was of no importance for him. This is where Aristotle differs in opinion. Aristotle gives credit to the person who created the poem where Plato did not.  According to Aristotle, thinking started with the person’s own thoughts. And thinking is a process of jumping from idea to idea: to associate.

Today we might scoff at the idea of the existence of the Muses, but the idea of inspiration in relation to creativity is very much alive. And also, Aristotle is not only the founding father of how we see science but also of the association theory. Maybe what we call inspiration today is actually an association as Aristotle meant it to be.  In modern parlance, creativity allows us to view and solve problems more openly and with innovation. Creativity opens the mind. A society that has lost touch with its creative side is an imprisoned society, in that generations of people may be closed-minded. Creativity broadens our perspectives and can help us overcome prejudices – even if we use Old World techniques to help us achieve our goals.

Incubation & Temple Sleep by Mélusine Draco – published by ignotus books UK as the tenth in the Arcanum series ISBN978 1 80303 454 7 : 100 pages : £6.85 : Order direct from the printer at a discounted price from https://www.feedaread.com/books/Incubation-Temple-Sleep-9781803024547.aspx

New release …

The Witch’s Book of Simples

The simple arte of domestic folk medicine

A Simple is a philtre derived from a single herb and was an important element among the natural resources of the parish-pump witch, wise-women and cunning-folk.  Simples are common kitchen ‘stuff’ that has been handed down through generations of country people in the form of family cures for everyday ailments.  Or as William Fernie wrote in his Herbal Simples (1897) “The art of Simpling is as old with us as our British hills.  It aims at curing common ailments with simple remedies culled from the soil, or got from home resources near at hand.”

These were no fancy recipes with magical formulae, and, often given as a tisane, the women of the household were able to use the remedies to treat common ailments suffered by her family. And, this elementary form of domestic plant medicine can be as simple as a cup of chamomile tea made from flowers picked fresh from our own garden to aid sleep.  This was the most elementary way to use medicinal plants since no fancy recipes or scientific acumen was needed as Simples were often given as an infusion or used as a poultice or compress.  But this element of traditional witchcraft has long been in the shadows …

As most of my readers will know, I have a fascination for odd and obscure historical facts that are hidden away in the millions of sources that outstrip and confound the confines of the Internet – it’s finding them that presents the stimulation and the challenge. Because if we merely rely on the regurgitated information of contemporary paganism not only does our mind become stagnant, but for those who follow the Craft of the witch, so do our magical abilities.

Over the years I have also incorporated a great deal of folk- cunning- and country-lore into my books on witchcraft with a view to preserving that knowledge for future generations. Much of what even those of my grandparents’ generation once knew is now lost because it was never recorded for posterity. True there are numerous pagan books written about similar subjects but it is obvious that a large number of writers don’t have the countryside in their blood and fail to reflect the magic and mystery of growing up in an uncomplicated rural environment. Strangely enough, these sentiments are often now viewed as some form of elitism but I prefer to go back to the roots of learning rather than consult something that has been cobbled together from different popular titles without any true grounding in Nature.

Finally, special thanks must go to medical herbalist Tish Romanov of The Old Apothecary for giving The Witch’s Book of Simples the once over to make sure I wasn’t about to kill anyone, or that my brain hadn’t failed during the long years since I was first introduced to (and used) these simple domestic plant remedies … and for adding the warnings, cautions and dangers where applicable.

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