Spring Equinox

Melusine Draco

The Elders of the Coven of the Scales and myself always view the Spring Equinox with a degree of trepidation since it usually brings with it the onset of personal turmoil and upheaval.  As the year begins to change we prepare to batten down the hatches until the storm of uncertainty has passed.  And, as we all appreciate, uncertainty is often centered on worries about the future and all the bad things we can anticipate happening. It can leave us feeling hopeless and depressed about the days ahead, exaggerate the scope of the problems we face, and even prevent us from taking action to overcome any problems until the Vernal Equinox has gone.

Canadian wellness coach, Kelly Spencer, observes that the Vernal Equinox is a time of rebirth for all life. “As winter places us in a life of more darkness, we rejoice more sunlight. With all of life dependent upon the sun, you can imagine the energy of celebration this time of year for all living species. Birds sing, flowers bloom, bees dance, and babies of all species are born. In ancient times, rituals were performed at the Spring Equinox and people would cleanse old energy. This is where our tradition of ‘spring cleaning’ came from! We feel more energized and want to plant seeds of vision in our lives or for our gardens. We may feel the urge to open the windows, clean and prepare for a new, warmer and brighter season. We might make plans to get outside more, develop a health plan for ourselves, or set some new goals to achieve, both personally and professionally.”

We also understand that there is a real ‘seasonal science’ concerning the varied affects on our body and mind so that we can all be more mindful of when transition from season to season wreaks its affects on us. In fact, it can affect all living creatures. Seasonal changes, including the increase in the amount of light is a signal to animals, plants and people, of the changing seasons. For some, changes of season can trigger a change in mood. During the winter many develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD), with some experts believing the shorter days, with less sunlight, upset the body’s internal clock causing loss of energy and lack of luster for life.

With the increase in light, as it hits the retina and enters the pineal gland and slows the production of melatonin, we may notice a change in the way we feel and the energy we have. As the melatonin recedes and the light begins to affect the brain, we can get a lighter ‘spring’ in our step, we become more alert and experience increase feelings of happiness. The fresh air, scents and visual displays of bloom and birth, feel good as we consume them with our senses.

But what can account for those feelings of apprehension that some monumental upheaval is about to occur – and it will invariably happen around the Equinox!?  There’s never been a satisfactory answer to this situation but a gentle read through Professor E O James’s Seasonal Feasts & Festivals (1961) provided another train of thought …

This related to the tradition custom of seasonal contests that had been an integral element for promoting fertility and conquering the malign forces of evil, especially at the approach of spring.  According to Professor James, this is apparent in the many ball games that had survived throughout the ages which originally had a ritual significance – not to mention local hostility.  Not infrequently these have occurred in the opening of the year, and have persisted in association with the carnival, revelries and merry-making.  The rites, however, belong to the Spring Festival rather than that of the Winter Solstice – Shrovetide customs looking forward to Easter, not backwards towards Yule.

In England it became the custom for parishes to divide themselves into two opposing groups at this season of the year, which usually coincided with Shrove Tuesday, to engage in ‘rough and rumbles’ such as those recorded in forty-two towns or districts,  and in which they have survived to within recent memory.  ‘Broken shins, broken heads, torn coats and lost hats’, we are told were ‘among the minor accidents of this fearful contest’.  A Frenchman who witnessed the scene remarked that ‘if Englishmen called this playing, it would be impossible to say what they would call fighting’.

According to one local tradition this violent event celebrated the driving out and slaying of a cohort of Roman soldiers marching through the town by unarmed Britons.  And to suppress the observance in 1846 ‘it required two troops of Dragoons, a large levy of special constables and the reading of the Riot Act to secure the desired result’. These regional ‘needle-matches’ or bitterly fought contests between two teams who bear each other a grudge,  aroused exceptional personal antagonism between the contestants.

Seasonal games and contests of this nature were almost universal in England and elsewhere in Europe at the approach or beginning of spring, until they were prohibited on the ground that they were dangerous to life and limb, and property, as indeed they were.  Is the astral turbulence surrounding the Spring Equinox a throw-back to the ‘good old days’ enshrined in our racial memory?  Because the mere presence of such violence in the astral realm is already acutely burdensome, and to be physically exposed to it is exhausting and debilitating

Uncertain times create waves in the astral realm: When the human mind doesn’t know what the future will hold, its natural tendency is to seek out some narrative to grasp on to, to make sense of, and identify with that narrative. Without meditative training, simply remaining in a blank, unknowable present is not how most of us cope with uncertainty. When understood in the context of a society (and, in general, all rules that apply to individuals apply to groups; as above, so below), this means that an uncertain material world (like say, the Covid pandemic) creates even more uncertainty in our collective heads, and all members of society feel a sense of change, and often of unease, like we know something is coming but aren’t sure what. This is what is meant by ‘something in the air;’ a collective consciousness comes to reflect this uncertainty, this sense of foreboding. It is like the calm before a storm. [Astral Harmony]

Both Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes universally represent a time when earth energies as well as our own bio-energetic systems are dramatically shifting gears, so our emotional and physical health can be quite sensitive, and we need extra rest and care to protect our life force and to help us stay steady.

During equinoxes, the Sun also exerts a stronger pull on the Earth than at the rest of the year, because of the alignment between the sun and the equator. Consequently, the water surface is strongly attracted by the Sun, which accentuates what we call ‘great tides’. To the meteorologists, spring is from March to May, and it is seen as a period of instability.  This is because the ground is warming up but the air is still quite cold, producing a bitter-sweet mixture of squally showers, fine spells and cold, frosty nights.  Just when the days appear to be improving, a deep depression can whip moisture-laden air down from the polar seas, hurling it across the countryside as sleet and snow.  After warm March days, when the blackthorn comes into bloom, there is often a sting in the tail of the month – the blackthorn winter!

In fact, the countryman’s observation for this time of year is ‘Beware the Blackthorn Winter’ – because although the blackthorn is in full bloom by now, its pale, softly fragrant blossoms are often matched by frost-whitened grass or snow-covered hills. The blackthorn flowers before its leaves grow, so we get a real contrast of white flower against black bark; blackthorn has a reputation as being one of the ‘witch-trees’ of the countryside, not least because we have to be very careful of its long (and very sharp!) spikes which can puncture skin very easily and the wounds have a tendency to turn septic. The blackthorn is depicted in many fairytales throughout Europe as a tree of ill omen but it along with the alder it is the totem tree of traditional British Old Craft.

WRITER@WORK – spring

WRITER@WORK – Spring

The next book in the How to Survive (and Enjoy) titles is about due for publication in Sumer Is Icumen In – scheduled for 29th April which looks at reclaiming our Summer Festivals for our personal/family calendar.   Harvest Home – In Gathering and Breath of Spring have also been added to the Moon Books publishing schedule and so we now have a complete year of reclaimed fire-festivals.  I’ve also completed the final draft of the ignotus version of Hallowe’en & All That – which is a bit more startling than its Moon Books companions.

Lots of interest on TVWriters’ Vault for Temple House Archive and the Hugo Braithwaite Mysteries from television production companies looking for new series.  This is a long, drawn out process but these two fiction series have both attracted some interest … so fingers crossed.  Have also started on volume four of the Vampyre’s Tale and hopefully this can be added to the list.

Scaling down on all sorts of projects leading up to the planned move back to the UK in the autumn and, who knows, may be making room for some new ones.  I shall miss the Glen since it has been a wondrous source of inspiration over the years but being close to the sea may provide stimulus of a different kind.  Talking of which, Incubation and Temple Sleep is next in the Arcanum series and should be ready for release in April/May.

All these things are linked in with each other and who knows what writing changes there are in store for me in the coming months …

Book news …

Reclaiming some of the oldest and most sacred times of the year  

 with Melusine Draco

Have A Cool Yule : How To Survive (and Enjoy) the Mid-Winter Festival was published in 2017 and shows this festive to be a wholly pagan event, worthy of being acknowledged as one of the Great Fire Festivals along with Mid Summer, the seed-time and the harvest.  With all the different strands of pagan custom brought to the hearth-fire of the Mid-Winter Festival we all have something to celebrate in time-honoured fashion whether our Ancestors were Briton, Celt, Norse or Anglo-Saxon.  This title is slowly climbing the sales ladder due to its best selling time is restricted to a couple of months in the lead up towards Yule …

“As per usual and in great style, Melusine Draco presents a wealth of information about this historically proven pagan festival. Whichever way the reader chooses to celebrate… whether it’s a traditional family Christmas or a traditional Yule in the company of pagan friends or as a solitary – there is something for everyone. From a complete festival calendar with some simple rites and symbolism, to carol lyrics, recipes, gift ideas and feasting to the ‘art of using up’ and festive games; everything Yuletide is covered. And with generous doses of light-hearted good cheer and a sprinkling of dark humour, the author strikes a balance that is both useful, informative and entertaining. A charming little book.”  Sheena Cundy, Witch Lit author 

Hopefully this is about to change because the next book in the series Sumer Is Icumen In is due for publication on 29th April 2022 – because here 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. And her writing style makes you laugh, makes you think, tweaks your brain and generally delights you. Definitely on my bedside reading list.”  Elen Sentier, author of Merlin, Elen of the Ways, Numerology: Dancing the Spirals of Time and Trees of the Goddess. 

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: 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.  Due for publication 26th August 2002.

“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 need 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.

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 … about to go into production.

“Melusine Draco opens up the festivals of spring 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 of spring 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 one for my bookshelf.”  Krystina Sypniewski – author of Pagan Portals – Dream Analysis Made Easy

Here we look at surviving (and enjoying) the different seasons of the year in true pagan style and reclaiming them for our own use by realizing their importance from the high profile each has been given before being absorbed into the Christian litany.

Pagan Portals: Have a Cool Yule (ISBN 978 1 78535); Sumer is Icumen (ISBN 978-1-78535-981-1); Harvest Home – In Gathering (ISBN 978-1-80341-110-1); and Breath of Spring (ISBN 978-1-80341-188-0) are all published by Moon Books. http://www.moon-books.net

New release

The RATS! are here …

What, historically, do rats and witchcraft have in common? Firstly, they appear to be almost indestructible, and secondly, they HAVE put the fear of the gods into humankind like nothing else on the planet!

Rats have been our close neighbours for a l-o-n-g time and it’s not surprising that they have entered the spiritual lexicon of our superstitions, literature and customs. Because, if we Google ‘rats as spirit-totem animals’ there are some 883,000 results, which just goes to show there are lots of people who actually appear to feel quite positive about them! If we consult Wildspeak – an animal energies webpage – we find that if a rat’s characteristics were part of a human’s make-up we would probably like to have them as a friend!

Whatever humans have thrown at them, the rats have survived. They’ve taken on the might of the Supremist Super Power in the world – the US of A – and won. Who knows what these intelligent little beasties will inherit from their new career opportunities? As Robert Hendricksen observes, men have long compared rats to humans, with no regard for the possibility that the rat might find such comparisons odious, considering the record of our race.

Where they are not soiled by civilization, all rats – and especially the black rat – are beautiful immaculate animals. Unlike people, rats are always personally clean creatures who are continually grooming themselves and each other; they are transformed into ‘dirty rats’ only when they come in contact with man’s environment.’ Rats can also be more compassionate than man. Helpless rats are often fed all their lives by others … The rodents probably cooperate in ways that man can still only imagine. Judging by their many abilities, as well as their stupendous numbers, rats and their close relatives are already more the masters of the earth than man can ever hope to be.

All of which means, of course, that the rat is the perfect totem animal for a witch because the rat as a spirit animal that signifies restlessness and success. As a totem or spirit animal it may be a sign of being unsettled. It is also a reminder of the need to be shrewd in business affairs. The rat also demonstrates how to be resilient and survive despite extreme difficulty. This is through adaptability in both an emotional and physical manner. It has a year-round cycle of power.

Using spirit animals as guides can give us inspiration on how to behave and respond in our everyday lives. Sometimes an animal will make itself known to us at a time when this guidance will be most helpful to us. It is important to remain open to this happening in order to recognise when it happens. This open state of mind is also useful for assimilating insights and making real changes in our life.  Animal symbols may come to us in dreams or whilst meditating. Find out about the characteristics of these animals and think about how these could help you with situations in your own life.

RATS! Fear or Reverence by Melusine Draco is published in paperback and as an e-book by ignotus press : ISBN 978 1 80302 351 9 in the Arcanum series : 98 pages : UK£6.85 : Order direct from the printer at a discounted price from https://www.feedaread.com/books/RATS.aspx

Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore

Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore by Melusine Draco

Natural tides are an integral part of tradition British witchcraft because these are what empower our magical workings and personal spell casting.  Imagine drawing in the energies we’ve given out today. Pull back the energy that has gone into chatting, encounters at work, the distractions of shop windows, or the emotional pull of others. Ethereal meditation focuses on spiritual transformation. It is a form of conscious meditation that combines powerful visualizations and affirmations to help harness the flow of personal and environmental energy in our lives.  Here we use the natural tides of the Earth to help restore our body when we’re feeling exhausted, weary, and tired. We will feel more alive and filled with energy …

Natural tides are caused by the effect of gravity in the Earth-Moon-Sun system, and the movement of those three bodies.  Let’s consider just the Moon for a minute, and imagine the Earth completely covered in water. There would be two bulges of water – one towards the Moon and another on the opposite side. The rise and fall in sea-level is caused by the Earth rotating on its axis underneath these bulges of water. There are two tides a day because it passes under two bulges for each 24 hour rotation.  This is called the lunar tide.

The Sun also creates two bulges of water called the solar tide – this is about a third the size of the lunar tide. Two Bulges? What causes the one on the side away from the Moon? Most people think the Moon rotates round the Earth. In reality, the Earth and the Moon rotate about a common centre just inside the Earth’s surface. At this common centre, the two forces acting: gravity towards the Moon and a rotational force away from the Moon are perfectly in balance. They have to be otherwise the Earth and Moon would not stay in this orbit. The ‘tide-generating’ force is the difference between these two forces. On the surface of the Earth nearest the Moon, gravity is greater than the rotational force, and so there is a net force towards the Moon causing a bulge towards the Moon. On the opposite side of the Earth, gravity is less as it is further from the Moon, so the rotational force is dominant. Hence there is a net force away from the Moon. It is this that creates the second bulge away from the Moon.

The solar-tidal bulges are about half the size of those caused by the Moon. Like the Moon, gravitational attraction to the Sun creates one bulge towards the Sun and one away from it … These occur during full and new Moons when the gravitational influence of the Sun and the Moon line up with each other. Tides cause daily changes in water levels in many coastal areas. Factors such as local topography and weather contribute to the timing and height of tides, but the primary reason for tides is the gravitational attraction between liquid water on the Earth and the Moon. All objects on Earth experience tidal forces. However, the effect is most pronounced with water because, as a liquid, it is more easily deformed by gravity when compared to solid objects.

Basically, oceanic tides are very long-period waves that move through the oceans in response to the forces exerted by the moon and sun. Tides originate in the oceans and progress toward the coastlines where they appear as the regular rise and fall of the sea surface. When the highest part, or crest of the wave reaches a particular location, high tide occurs; low tide corresponds to the lowest part of the wave, or its trough. The difference in height between the high tide and the low tide is called the tidal range.

A horizontal movement of water often accompanies the rising and falling of the tide. This is called the tidal current. The incoming tide along the coast and into the bays and estuaries is called a flood current; the outgoing tide is called an ebb current. The strongest flood and ebb currents usually occur before or near the time of the high and low tides. The weakest currents occur between the flood and ebb currents and are called ‘slack water’ or ‘slack current’. In the open ocean tidal currents are relatively weak. Near estuary entrances, narrow straits and inlets, the speed of tidal currents can reach up to several kilometers per hour.

The solar cycle is the cycle that the Sun’s magnetic field goes through approximately every eleven years. Our Sun is a huge ball of electrically-charged hot gas. This charged gas moves, generating a powerful magnetic field.  Every 11 years or so, the Sun’s magnetic field completely flips. This means that the Sun’s north and south poles switch places. Then it takes about another 11 years for the Sun’s north and south poles to flip back again. The solar cycle affects activity on the surface of the Sun, such as sunspots which are caused by the Sun’s magnetic fields, and as the magnetic fields change, so does the amount of activity on the Suns surface.

Atmospheric tides are ubiquitous features of the Earth’s atmosphere. They are the persistent global oscillations that are observed in all types of atmospheric fields, including wind, temperature, pressure, density, and land height.   Tidal oscillations have periods that are some factor of a solar or lunar day. Atmospheric tides have been studied for many years, since they are evident in both surface pressure and magnetic observations that date back to the early part of the twentieth century.  Atmospheric tides are further characterized by their sources.

The Moon’s gravity forces the lunar atmospheric tide, while solar atmospheric tides can be excited in several ways, including the absorption of solar radiation, large-scale latent heat release associated with deep convective clouds in the troposphere, the gravitational pull of the Sun, and as secondary waves due to nonlinear wave-interactions. The restoring force that acts on atmospheric tides is gravity, so tides are a special class of buoyancy or gravity waves. Solar atmospheric tides are generally larger than lunar tides and dominate the tidal motions in the middle and upper atmosphere, that is, the  stratosphere, mesosphere and thermosphere. [NASA]

Earth tide is the displacement of the solid earth’s surface caused by the gravity of the Moon and Sun. At ground level, atmospheric tides can be detected as regular but small oscillations in surface pressure with periods of 24 and 12 hours. The largest body tide constituents are semi-diurnal, but there are also significant diurnal, semi-annual, and fortnightly contributions. Though the gravitational force causing earth tides and ocean tides is the same, the responses are quite different.  In coastal areas, because the ocean tide is quite out of step with the Earth tide, at high ocean tide there is an excess of water about what would be the gravitational equilibrium level, and therefore the adjacent ground falls in response to the resulting differences in weight. At low tide there is a deficit of water and the ground rises. Displacements caused by ocean tidal loading can exceed the displacements due to the Earth body tide. Sensitive instruments far inland often have to make similar corrections. Atmospheric loading and storm events may also be measurable, though the masses in movement are less weighty. Volcanologists use the regular, predictable Earth tide movements to calibrate and test sensitive volcano deformation monitoring instruments. The tides may also trigger volcanic events. [Wikipedia]

The pole tide is the response of the ocean to incremental centrifugal forces associated with the Chandler wobble – a small deviation in the Earth’s axis of rotation relative to the solid earth.  It amounts to change of about 30 ft in the point at which the axis intersects the Earth’s surface and has a period of 433 days. This wobble, combines with another wobble with a period of one year, so that the total polar motion varies with a period of about seven years. The tide has a potentially important effect on the period and damping of the wobble, but it is at present not well constrained by observations.  In regard to ocean tides in particular: the South Pole is on land so there are no ocean tides; and the North Pole is frozen so it is hard to see the Ocean tides! It is true that tides tend to reduce with increasing latitude, but there are many other factors including the shape of the coastline. [Navipedia]

Tides have an effect on the atmosphere surrounding the Earth and can be used magically to our advantage to enhance our rituals when each individual tides is at its highest/strongest. Here’s an energizing yogic meditation we can do for just thirty seconds that will fill our body and mind with a smooth, natural energy. This is also great for increasing our immunity and clearing our mind. Try doing this in the morning or mid-afternoon to fill ourselves with an intoxicating natural buzz as we plug into the natural tide.

While this is a simple meditation is also a mental practice that allows us to connect back to our physical bodies, slow down, and calm our thoughts when they are racing or frantic. Like all forms of meditation, doing even a quick exercise can train us to press pause on our swirling thoughts and focus, even for a few seconds, on the moment.  The internet can help us to pinpoint the apogee of the tide on which we wish to focus, so that we can concentrate on that precise moment in time prior to engaging in any magical working.

Once we have discovered how to syncronize our routine with the various natural tides by consulting any one of a number of apps or local tide charts available we can literally drop into the exercise anytime, anywhere. If we’re stressed at our desk, or even slipping into negative thoughts while at the gym, we can sink into this mini-yoga exercise any time we feel the need.

  • First things first, get comfortable – whether we choose to cozy up on a couch or step outside into the sunlight. Keeping our feet firmly planted on the ground can be helpful for greater connection and grounding.  On the go or not at home? No problem.
  • Take a few deep breaths . . . like, all the way down to your belly (four seconds in, four-second hold, and four seconds out is a good place to start). Without trying to change what we observe, let’s simply notice the sensations in our body. Do we have clenched shoulders? A tightened jaw? Tightness in our neck?
  • Simply observing what we feel may be shocking once we stop and notice just how tense we’ve been without even realizing it. Once you’ve become aware of sensations, take notice of a few other things like:

The temperature of our hands

The feeling of clothing against our body

The ground under our feet

The smells and feeling of the air around us

  • All of these objective observations can help increase mindfulness – like when it feels like as though our anxiety is taking control. Gently allow our body to relax, from head to toe.
  • Start by relaxing the facial muscles and jaw, neck, and shoulders. Even our tongue and throat might be holding anxiety, so let them go limp. Continue to breathe deeply as we relax all the way down to your toes.  Think of nothing.
  • New to meditation or finding this all a little abstract? As with all types of meditation, there’s no right or wrong way. So if sitting in silence with yourself feels good, you’re doing it right!
  • We can always take it up to the next level and go for five to 10 minutes, or longer! This is a good way to begin our day, self-sooth over your lunch break, or wind down before going to sleep.  Or even focus our thoughts prior to beginning a magical working.

Let this pure thought, the recognition of our pure existence, center you and draw you deeper inside. To find our place of peace in our mind. To be at our most calm mindset and think clearly. Think of this practice as an exercise in meeting our invulnerable core. It can give us the strength we need to open up to our own vulnerability without being overwhelmed by it and connect with the Universe as it manifests in natural tides and rhythms.

Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books ISBN 978 184694 426 0 : 150 pages : Price UK£9.99/US$16.95 http://www.mon-books.net

Add to our family tradition …

Candlemas

Although Candlemas is a Christian holiday celebrated on 2nd February that has aspects in common with Imbolc – although it is referred to as Candlemas in accordance with the  tradition British Old Craft tradition. Its celebration can be traced to 4th century Greece as a purification holiday and a celebration of the return of light. The modern celebration of Imbolc is considered a low-key and sometimes private affair concerned with reconnecting with nature. Since it’s a climate-specific holiday, some followers of the Wiccan religion adjust their celebration of it to correspond with a date more appropriate to the coming of spring where they live. Others embrace the symbolism of the holiday and keep to the 1st February celebration.

Since the Victorian era, it is customary to remove Yuletide decorations on Twelfth Night … but up until the 19th century people would keep their decorations up until Candlemas Eve.  If this custom wasn’t followed, it was believed that greenery would not return and vegetation would not grow, leading to agricultural shortages and subsequently food problems. Even though Christmas decorations are now less about foliage and more about baubles, glitter and tinsel, many people still adhere to the superstition which they ascribe to the modern Twelfth Night on the 5th January. This 17th century poem by Robert Herrick gives us a better idea of what sort of greenery was used prior to the introduction of the Victorian Christmas tree … In his ‘Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve’ he wrote …

DOWN with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe ;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas Hall :
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind :
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected, there (maids, trust to me)
So many goblins you shall see.

In his longer ‘Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve’, he added:

       DOWN with the rosemary and bays,
           Down with the misletoe;
       Instead of holly, now up-raise
           The greener box (for show).

       The holly hitherto did sway ;
           Let box now domineer
       Until the dancing Easter day,
           Or Easter’s eve appear.

       Then youthful box which now hath grace
           Your houses to renew ;
       Grown old, surrender must his place
           Unto the crisped yew.

       When yew is out, then birch comes in,
           And many flowers beside ;
       Both of a fresh and fragrant kind
           To honour Whitsuntide.

       Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents
(grasses),
           With cooler oaken boughs,
       Come in for comely ornaments
           To re-adorn the house.

Thus times do shift; Each thing his turn does hold ;
New things succeed, As former things grow old.

In fact,Herrick (1591-1674) wrote at least four poems concerning Candlemas.  Likewise, ‘Upon Candlemas Day’ shows the day itself had its own entrenched traditions:

END now the white loaf and the pie,
And let all sports with Christmas die.

Finally, in ‘The Ceremonies for Candlemas Day’, he wrote:

KINDLE the Christmas brand, and then
Till sunset let it burn ;
Which quench’d, then lay it up again
Till Christmas next return.
Part must be kept wherewith to tend
The Christmas log next year,
And where ‘tis safely kept, the fiend
Can do no mischief there.

This latter poem recalls the tradition that Christmas greenery would be burned and the Yule log allowed to burn down completely, but that a portion should be held back to start next year’s Yule log fire (and as a good luck charm against ‘mischief’). The ashes were to be spread over the land/garden to ensure a good harvest and the Yule log for the next year would be chosen at that time.  Candlemas was also believed to be a good day for weather forecasting (it falls halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox): If it was a sunny day, there would be forty more days of cold and snow. This belief has carried into folklore tradition around the world, and one olde English rhyme says:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
But if it be dark with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.

All this Christian overlay merely confirms what an important festival this was for our pagan forebears and, as such, it became the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary in the church calendar. The Christian feast-day commemorates the ceremony performed by the mother of Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem forty days after the birth of Christ in fulfillment of the Mosaic Law requiring the cleansing of a woman from the ritual impurity incurred at childbirth.  The convenience of having yet another important pagan festival falling within the ‘nativity cycle’ meant that Brigid easily became a Catholic saint! In the early calendar, on that morning, many candles were lit in the church, symbolically driving out the darkness. In the afternoon, there was feasting all round, with much music as Candlemas Day marked the formal end of winter. 

In the pagan Celtic world it was Imbolc, the festival marking the beginning of spring that has been celebrated since ancient times. It is also a cross quarter day, that midpoint between the Mid-Winter Festival and the Spring Equinox; the name deriving from the OldIrish imbolg meaning ‘in the belly’, a time when sheep began to lactate, their udders filled and the grass began to grow. Imbolc was a time to celebrate Brigid, as the goddess of inspiration, healing, and smith-craft, with associations to fire, the hearth and poetry.  Also called Là Fhèill Brìghde, it corresponds to the Welsh Gŵyl Fair y Canhwyllau as a traditional festival marking the beginning of spring; it was widely observed throughout IrelandScotland and the Isle of Man.  Local festivals marking the arrival of the first signs of spring may be named after either the Cailleach or Brìghde, while some interpretations have them as the dual face of the same goddess.

Là Fhèill Brìghde, is also the day the Cailleach gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that, if she intends to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on 1st February is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood to keep herself warm in the coming months. As a result, people are generally relieved if Là Fhèill Brìghde is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is still asleep, will soon run out of firewood, and therefore winter is almost over.

The Cailleach is a divine hag, a creatorix, weather and ancestor deity while Brigid is a sort of Celtic Athena, with very similar functions. Although most often presented as a mysteriously veiled, ancient woman, the Cailleach is also said to take on the guise of many different beasts and birds as she travels around the rugged landscapes of her homeland.  The Cailleach Béara is said to be one of the most ancient of mythological beings, appearing as an old crone who brings winter with her blackthorn staff when she appears and who wields incredible power over life and death.  Her ability to control the weather and the seasons meant many communities looked upon her with a mixture of reverence and fear.

Candlemas, then, is the re-awakening of the Old Lass within Old Craft belief and also coincides with the Roman Festa Candelarum, which commemorated the search for Persephone by her mother Demeter, Persephone having been kidnapped by the King of the Otherworld, Hades. As Persephone was no longer in our world, darkness was everywhere, so her mother used a torch in her search, and in the end obtained a decree that her daughter would be on Earth and Olympus for two thirds of the year (the light period), and in the Other World (Hades) for the other third of the time (winter season). The festival of candles symbolizes the return of the Light. 

During medieval times, peasants still carried torches and crossed the fields in procession, praying for purification of the ground before planting. In the early churches, the torches were replaced by blessed candles whose glow was supposed to take away evil; villagers and townsfolk would later take the candles to their houses to bring protection to their homes and family.  During the evening, an especially large candle would have been lit while the family gathered around waiting for a celebratory feast, during which plans and promises to be kept through the new season would be discussed and debated until it burned out. It was also customary at sunset to ritually light a candle in each room of the home in honour of the Sun’s return. Not surprisingly, in 1543, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, banned candles on Candlemas Day because the rites were seen as superstitious, i.e. pagan!

In traditional British Old Craft, however, Old Candlemas/Old Imbolc now falls on the 15th February due to the changes in the calendar. Imbolc is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and there is evidence it has been an important date since pre-Christian times: at the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara the rising sun at Imbolc illuminates the inner chamber; the sun also illuminates the chamber at Samhain.  Our Neolithic ancestors were obviously acutely aware of this time of the year, as were the Celts and the later settlers in the Ireland, each seeming to adopt some of the traditions and beliefs of the previous/existing culture. 

In county Meath there are two important Neolithic solar alignments to Imbolc.  Firstly, on the Hill of Tara, at the Mound of the Hostages a Neolithic passage grave has an entrance directed towards the sunrise on the 8th November and the 4th February, the start and end of winter respectively. As the sun rises it squarely illuminates the back-stone of the chamber for about a week. The stone engravings are illuminated, not by the sun beam directly, but its diffuse reflection from the back stone.  Simultaneously in Cairn L on Cairnbane West, Loughcrew, the sun is shining into the monument to perform what can only be described as a carefully choreographed ballet. At the instant of sunrise the first rays of light are focused on a free standing white pillar stone and nothing else. The light is seen to visibly move from top to bottom in a matter of seconds and then swing from left to right where it is then focused onto a ‘mirror’ stone which throws the diffuse sunlight into a dark recess illuminating one of the most accomplished pieces of Neolithic art in the world.

This is the only time when the carvings can be seen without the aid of a torch. All the fine detail being revealed in a very dramatic and stunning way. The sunlight then falls on an angled stone and again within a matter of seconds is seen to shrink and disappear as the sun moves higher in the sky outside the chamber. Curiously the central motif on the Mound of the Hostages stone and the Cairn L stone are remarkably similar, sharing images of nested concentric circles.  From these ancient rites we can see how they identify with the Old Lass and her awakening, not to mention their association with the Mysteries of the Elder Faith.

In Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed, Evan John Jones acknowledges that Candlemas is the first of the great Sabbats and the start of the ritual year, when it is time to let go of the past and to look to the future, clearing out the old, making both outer and inner space for new beginnings.  In ancient Rome, on the eve of Candlemas all the home fires would have been put out, cleaned out, and re-lit being symbolic of the returning light of the Sun. In Old Craft, and in keeping with this symbolism, a broom made from the three sacred woods symbolic of the three-fold aspects of the goddess (the handle from ash, the brush from birch twigs and the binding cord from willow) would be placed by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming in the new.

We are now preparing to move into the bright half of the year and those four great fire festivals that are marked by the Equinoxes and Solstices of the solar year, together with the four traditional celebrations of Old Beltaine, Old Lammas, Old Hallowe’en and Old Candlemas making up the eight Sabbats of the witch’s year that will be coming round again. The fire festivals occur at the beginning of each quarter of the solar-tide cycle, with Candlemas marking the end of the reign of the Holly King and heralding the first stirrings of the bright tide of summer of the Primal Goddess. 

Add To Your Family Tradition

Although the festival of Candlemas – aside from the church litany – has lost much of its significance, it is not difficult to realise just how significant this time was for our pagan Ancestors.  Perhaps it’s a good idea to clear out the fire-pit in the garden and take it as an opportunity to burn the Yule greenery with a reciting of one of Herrick’s poems as the winter air is perfumed with the fragrance of burning twigs.

And, our Christmas tree is great fuel for an outdoor fire. Cutoff the branches to use as kindling, and cut the trunk into logs. Pine is not recommended for burning indoors, as its creosote content makes for sticky, sooty fireplaces but it’s perfect for keeping us warm while we’re enjoying a Candlemas evening outside. The greenery used to decorate our home for the Christmas season has also served its purpose, and the bonfire from burning them also celebrates the light and warmth of the Old Lass returning to the world on one of the darkest (and often one of the coldest) nights of the year.  If we removed our decorations at Twelfth Night, keep them dry in the garage until Candlemas Eve.

Once again, Fire is the most important aspect of this celebration because it symbolizes bringing the light of the Old Lass back to the world and the start of the Old Lad beginning to relinquish his power.  Ideally, our inside working space should be flooded with candle-light, and we’ve found the best method is to place collections of tea-lights in plain glass holders on large glass or silver trays.  This gives off the maximum reflection and the trays can be placed safely at different levels in different parts of the rooms.

This is also time to reclaim another pagan tradition that has been absorbed into the church calendar without us realising it.  We’re given free rein to pile our plates high with thin crépes or thick pancakes, slathering them with a selection of sweet and savoury spreads and toppings. It’s a truly joyous occasion but have you ever stopped, mid-chew, to wonder why we eat pancakes every Spring? Let’s bring you up to speed about this religious tradition of and give you the low-own on the true origin of the custom.  Nowadays, Pancake Tuesday, more formally known as Shrove Tuesday, falls forty-seven days before Easter. The day is always followed by Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent whereby Christians traditionally fast for forty days.

Shrove Tuesday marks the last day before Lent – a period of forty days whereby Christians traditionally fast or give up certain foods. The forty days represent the time that Jesus spent fasting in the desert where he resisted the temptation of Satan. In the past, families would traditionally prepare to fast by using up all the ingredients in their kitchen. These would usually consist of eggs, milk, and flour – everything you need to make a good pancake!

But … 

For many people worldwide, a pagan Candlemas has a particular smell: not just the scent of lighted candles but also the fragrance of pancakes being cooked for family and friends.  Candlemas pancakes should traditionally be made with wheat flour from the previous harvest. Stacks of them can be prepared without fear of famine, since the fields would soon be regaining their golden colour.  There was even an old saying that held if you ate pancakes on Candlemas Day, you would be ensured a good harvest in the coming year.

It was also commonly believed that the blessed candle would protect the house from lightning. A superstition concerning the beneficial virtues of this object suggested that a piece of blessed candle placed beneath the threshold of the house would ward off maleficent witchcraft. Candlemas announces the coming of spring and daylight has already increased by one hour. According to a saying: ‘Candlemas sun announces spring, flowers and joy’. This day is also important for bee-keepers because it is believed that a clear and limpid sky on Candlemas foretells a beneficial year for bees.

In our Celtic countries, it has always been a tradition to make pancakes at Candlemas. Another saying goes: ‘If you want to avoid infected wheat, pancakes at Candlemas do eat’. This custom dates back to the day when new maids and man-servants were hired. To celebrate this and alleviate their sadness about being separated from their family, the mistress of the house took up her frying pan and treated her new staff and the rest of the house to pancakes; a great celebration at the time. This feast was also the opportunity to eat the surplus wheat from an earlier sowing.

When we eat pancakes at Candlemas, all the candles in the house should be lit, which is easy to understand when considering the etymology of the word: in vulgar Latin festa candelarum  means ‘feast of the candles’.  Candlemas! Candles that drive back the darkness of winter are lit. Candlemas brings to mind clarity and light. The six dark weeks are past; winter is fading. Candlemas is a prelude of the coming spring to which humans aspire and hope will be a liberation, a new beginning … 

WRITER@WORK

WRITER@WORK – Winter

Firstly, there’s been some positive response from TV Writer’s Vault concerning The Temple House Archive and the Hugo Braithwaite Mysteries and all we can do is keep our fingers crossed that both series find favour with a television production company in the not too distant future.  Decided that The Temple House had come to the end of its natural life but if it turns out to be a popular TV series then I can always turn my hand to new titles.  The HBM series now has Break-In in preparation.

Had submitted a proposal to Moon Books for the last book in the ‘How To Survive (and Enjoy)’ the varies seasonal festivals and to reclaim these ago-old celebrations back from the church and re-introduce them to our own people.  Just reporting that I’ve just received and accepted the Moon Books contract for Breath of Spring to complete to complete the series for ‘How to Survive (and Enjoy)’ the seasonal festivals. The whole series should be out next year with an extra title Hallowe’en vs Samhain in the Arcanum-ignotus series, which we thought was a bit too gamey for mainstream readers.

The ARCANUM series is rapidly growing and at close of play in 2021 we were up to eight titles with RATS!: Fear or Reverence, Incubation & Temple Sleep and Bush Soul in the pipeline for the first half of 2022.  Our second limited edition title, Inner Court Witchcraft has passed the half-way stage …

Taking a bit of a break and trying my hand at science fiction during the next few months to see how it works out and hopefully will make a start on the fourth book in The Vampyre’s Tale series.

Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living

By Melusine Draco

An extract from the book and a bit more …

Only recently, a rather mature witch of my acquaintance reminded me of the time when I’d advised her on how to cope with a recent move from rural Berkshire to a large sprawling city;  of how she needed to get out and find the old heart of her new community and reconnect with the heart-beat of her kind.  It was amazing, she said, just how many old life-lines were still evident in the abandoned water-courses, derelict churchyards and ancient architecture. 

Late 18th-century antiquarians portrayed the urbanizing towns of the period as ‘centres of a new-style civilization, confident, reformed, free of the old superstitions of the past.  The urban laboring-classes were still views as ignorant and vice-ridden, but they were not thought to be as ignorant, and consequently not as superstitious as their country bumpkin cousins.  By the mid-19th century, confidence in the civilizing effects of urbanization had worn off somewhat … but many intellectuals of the period believed that urbanization rescued people ‘from the idiocy of rural life’.   Thus an editorial in the periodical All The Year Round (November 1869), remarked that although the belief in witchcraft still existed ‘to a very considerable extent in England’ it was not heard of in the busy towns

Washington Irving, writing in 1820, described how the inhabitants of Little Britain (near Smithfield Market) still believed in dreams and fortune-telling but failed to mention witchcraft among the beliefs still held in the area.  It is evident from the scant folkloric source material, and from the newspaper archives, that accusations of witchcraft were far less common in London than in rural areas during the modern period.  In early modern England the flow of rural migrants to an expanding London, for example, did not necessarily lead to irrevocable breaks in social relations between village and city.  Rural teenagers were apprenticed to urban relations or friends, and many townspeople returned to their village homes to help at harvest time, this reinforcing those kinship links which geographical distance might have otherwise broken.

Owen Davies, who is well-known to most pagan readers for his classic Popular Magic: Cunning Folk in English History charted the transition of cunning folk from village to city in his The Decline in the Popular Belief in Witchcraft and Magic; his unpublished PhD thesis for the University of Lancaster, 1995 – which was later published in the Journal of Social History (1997).   By the time of WWI there were far fewer cunning folk operating in England than there had been fifty years before, and by the 1940s they seen to have disappeared altogether.

Interestingly, Gabrielle Hatfield made a similar observation in Memory, Wisdom & Healing (1999) following her researches into the history of domestic plant medicine , that had been passed down orally from one generation to the next.  She acknowledges that many women described as witches were probably innocent practitioners of herbal medicine; while others undoubtedly cultivated the image of witchcraft so that they had more to offer their customers than the common knowledge of plant medicine.

She also found that when she was collecting data on 20th-century plant remedies, many people initially disclaimed any knowledge of the subject. “In our present century, elderly people with such knowledge usually have not passed it on to the next generation for fear of being laughed at, or simply because they felt that such information was of no interest … especially in view of the condescending attitudes shown towards the users of such remedies.”

As far as today’s witches are concerned, the pursuit of this hidden urban knowledge is concerned, will be long and often misleading.  After all, why should an eager young witchlet expect these elderly kinfolk to be forthcoming?   The modern witch seeks to drop into a stranger’s life and expect to share their recollections and knowledge, and very often they will not be immune to having the wool pulled over his or her eyes!

For the witch whose career confines them to an urbanised environment, regular Craft practice may often seem like a futile gesture, especially if home is a small, gardenless-flat. Even the suburbs can be magically incapacitating, if there is constant noise from traffic and neighbours. People work long hours; often setting off for work and getting home again in the dark during the winter months, without having the opportunity to notice the subtle changing of the seasons. Weekends are a constant battle with family commitments, domestic chores and socialising. It’s no wonder that the urban witch has little time or strength left for magical and spiritual development.

There are, of course, others who find themselves having to remain town and house-bound because of age or disability; because they are caring for an aged/infirm parent, or partner; or because they have small children. Urbanisation often provides on-the-spot facilities to make things easier on the domestic front but it cannot give the one thing that a witch needs most – privacy and spiritual elbow-room. So how do we manage?

We get up close and personal. And we reject the textbook clichés of what is, and what is not, recommended witchcraft practice. We do not follow stereotyping when it comes to when, where and how we perform our rituals simply because it may not be practically possible to always follow the instructions to the letter. For example: I am a Welsh witch and I come from a place midway between the mountains and the sea, but I have not lived in my homeland now for many years. It would be untrue to say that I never experience what the Welsh call hiraethus, that indescribable feeling of longing and home-sickness, but as we all know, in magical terms there is always a price to be paid for our Craft. During those long years, my career and domestic life has taken me to London (where I lived for 20 years), to the industrial Midlands and, more recently, to a totally urbanised area of East Anglia. Not once, before moving to rural Ireland, did I have the luxury of wild, open spaces – it was all concrete and asphalt. But not once, in all that time, did I stop being a real witch.

In my experience, the greatest problem a solitary urban witch faces is that an urban environment is not user-friendly when it comes to psychic activity, but then we don’t always have a choice of where we are going to live if someone else’s needs have to be catered for, too. Mostly I have been confined to renting small terraced cottages and flats, often with little or no garden to give that extra bit of space. I make this comment merely to demonstrate that my Craft activities have not been conducted in a round of luxurious city apartments and picturesque Grade II listed town houses! Under these circumstances, for me the key words have always been: acclimatise, adapt and improvise. Any animal, plant or person that is uprooted and transported to another environment quickly learns to acclimatise if it is going to survive. I have adapted to my surroundings and drawn on whatever material/energy there is to hand, even if it is not what I’ve been used to working with. I improvise by drawing on existing knowledge and experience. So …

Acclimatise: Accustom yourself to tuning-in to your environment, even if you’ve lived there for some time. Try to imagine visiting the place for the first time. Buy a detailed street map or guidebook, and familiarise yourself with all the hidden nooks and crannies in the immediate vicinity. Is there a park nearby? Public gardens? Churchyard? Cemetery? What trees are growing locally? Which are the most important/attractive buildings?  Where is the nearest river or canal? Where is the oldest church? Take your time … explore … rediscover … acclimatise.

Adapt: Modify or adjust the way you look at things. There is no point in wishing you were elsewhere when circumstances dictate that you remain where you are. But on the other hand there’s nothing quite so mind-numbing as doing the same thing, day in day out, for weeks on end. For a change, try walking to the shops, school, or travelling to work, via a different route. Examine what’s growing in all the front gardens along the way to the shop, school, station or bus stop. Make sure you take time out for lunch – and get out of the home or working environment for an hour – even if it’s a wet Wednesday afternoon: after all, a witch shouldn’t be afraid of a little drop of Elemental Water! Start seriously inter[1]acting with your environment … adapt.

Improvise: Be prepared to perform a magical working at any time, without preparation, and without what is considered to be the ‘proper regalia’. Be aware of the magical signs Nature has to offer and be ready to act spontaneously, even in the middle of a crowded railway station or shopping mall during rush hour! It may also come as a bit of a shock to realise that a large number of books mentioned in this text are not about witchcraft, or written by witches. This is because we are learning to improvise and look at things from a different or unexpected perspective. Before we go out and meet Nature face to face, however, there may be one or two changes needed to enable us to re-connect with the natural, elemental energies that are an essential ingre[1]dient within any magical environment. Sorry … we’re not talking about symbolic bowls of water, salt, night-lights and a joss stick to mark the quarters on the sitting room rug, we’re talking about encountering real Elemental Air, real Elemental Water, real Elemental Earth and real Elemental Fire – up close and personal!

Elemental Air: This is … wait for it … fresh air! It’s the stuff every living thing on the planet needs to breathe to stay alive but, apart from the occasional jaunt to a pagan camp, a large number of urban pagans appear to be terrified of it. I’ve been into some homes where the stuffy, cluttered atmosphere is so over-powering that you could cut the reek of stale incense with a knife. Whilst we appreciate that modern society no longer allows us to live with our doors and windows wide open, we must get used to letting cleansing air back into our lives.

There is a purifying element to fresh air! In both religious and magical terms, however, Elemental Air is usually represented by smoke from the incense carrying our prayers and entreaties up to the gods. As Joules Taylor observes in Perfume Power, the burning of fragrance to represent questions or appeals is an ancient and well-nigh indestructible facet of worship. In other words, from very early times fragrance has been associated with the gods, the soul and spiritual qualities. Learn to recognise natural fragrance (not always pleasant) from the world around you, and not to rely totally on the contrived atmospherics of the incense burner!

As Jules Taylor goes on to observe, our once highly developed sense of smell is now generally under deployed and now perhaps the least-regarded of all human senses. We can improve our ‘scent perception’ by simply concentrating on becoming more aware of the smells around us. Unfortunately, the urban witch also has to contend with exhaust fumes, fast-food outlets and all manner of other municipal pollution, but with practice it is possible to detect the faint fragrance of Nature. If we want to reconnect with Nature the first thing we must do is sharpen our senses and learn to read the signs that come to us on the breeze

Elemental Air brings lightness and freedom of spirit, as well as being a universal symbol of irresistible force and uncontrollable power. Exercise: In town it’s often difficult to find a moment, or even a place to relax. In the larger towns and cities the noise is a constant, 24- hour drone of traffic, where people never seem to sleep. With the use of a local map, find a ‘green spot’ … even if it’s only a small churchyard or square … where you can sit, watch and listen.

Okay, but what are we watching and listening for?

Nature … because she is there all around us, all the time. For example, I’ve encountered a green woodpecker while sitting in the small courtyard garden of a coffee shop in the middle of town. I’ve seen (and heard) hundreds of these birds over the years, but this was the closest I’d ever been … just five feet away. How many different birds (most certainly creatures of Elemental Air) can you identify? If the answer is very few, then how can you hope to begin to read those ‘signs’ that make up a large part of the witch’s world? Invest a few coppers in a book on British birds from a local charity shop, or buy off e-bay, or ABE-Books on the Internet. Start learning, even if it’s only by watching the pigeons in Trafalgar Square! You’ll be surprised how many different birds can be spotted in our towns and inner cities on a regular basis, and birds have been always been considered bearers of omens since ancient times.

Elemental Water: Water is the essential ingredient of life but how many of us consciously pay homage to this fact in our day-to-day existence? We use water for the daily ritual cleansing of our home and body, to water the garden or wash the car, but often neglecting its spiritual properties. From prehistoric times, our ancestors considered springs and ‘watery places’ to be sacred, and the contemporary custom of throwing coins into wells and municipal fountains goes back to the times when votive offerings were cast into the waters to propitiate the gods. We should be mindful that water, particularly spring water, is truly a ‘gift of the gods’ and not to be treated casually.

For magical purposes we need to re-connect with water, for even the most rubbish-clogged urban watercourse carries life[1]giving properties along its muddy artery. If we live close to a river, canal, park or golf course, then it makes it easier to observe water at close quarters during the changing seasons, and come to recognise the local wildlife that depends on it. Even the modern fountain in the city centre can be a focus for meditative moments when the sun catches the colours of the rainbow in the falling spray. Our local brook regularly acts as a depository for shopping trolleys, traffic cones and other domestic debris, as it runs right through the centre of town. Growing through the restraining brickwork, however, is a magnificent elder tree and an amazing collection of harts-tongue ferns, which I haven’t seen in such profusion since leaving Wales.

Most days the flow is the barest trickle but when it rains, the watercourse becomes a raging torrent. The only other ‘watery’ place is the dried bed of an old pond that only floods during the winter months, but this is the real magical place. The water has gone because the surrounding urban development has drained it, but the site is old, with a large stand of reed mace and a host of other interesting creatures living in this well-established habitat.

There are numerous ideas for a ‘water feature’ in the home, and much depends on personal taste rather than pagan cliché. Even the smallest courtyard can host an ornamental wall fountain, birdbath or wooden barrel containing miniature water lilies (although these do require direct sunlight for success). Inside, a large bowl with flower heads floating on the surface can be extremely attractive … but not a good idea if you have small children or a large dog. Be creative, use your imagination.  

Elemental Water ‘saturates our lives and language and is the most compelling of human metaphors’ wrote Rebecca Rupp in Four Elements; it is the universal symbol of primal mystery.

Exercise: Trace your local source of natural water and try to follow it for as far as possible. You may be lucky enough to live near a pond, stream, lake, river or canal and can watch the changing face of the seasons at the water margin. How many different species of flora and fauna dependent on an Elemental Water habitat can you identify? If the answer is very few, then how can you hope to begin to read those ‘signs’ that make up a large part of the witch’s world? Remember that pure (or purified) water is sterile and that for magical purposes we need to work with natural water. Unless you have access to a spring or holy-well, place a wide bowl or jar outside on a window-sill, to catch rain or moisture; transfer to a sealable bottle and keep for use in your rites. But don’t drink rainwater!

Elemental Earth: Of all the elements, Earth is the symbol of solidity and substance, and the ‘most intrusive in our daily lives’, was an observation made by Rebecca Rupp. The subject of global warming and saving the planet is at the forefront of everyone’s mind these days, but for the witch, the sanctity of the Earth and Nature has always been paramount. The witch does not ‘worship’ Nature but exists in a sort of ‘spiritual care-taking’ capacity – after all, it is from Nature direct that we divine the signs and symbols that give us the power over natural things. Communing with Nature isn’t always easy in an urban environment and it is very often necessary to ‘manufacture’ a moment of peace for ourselves amongst the busy populace.

Dig out a copy of that famous junior school poem by William Henry Davies, ‘Leisure’ that begins: “What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare … ” and take a verse for your very own Thought for the Day. Without compromising your personal safety, try to visit the local park or old cemetery during school hours, or early on a weekend morning, when you can guarantee having a quiet corner to yourself for a while. Many years ago, long before the ‘great clean up’ got underway, we lived near Highgate Cemetery and this was a perfect place for a meditative or magical moment. The magnificent monuments were overgrown and apart from the occasional tourist visit at weekends, we pretty much had the place to ourselves via a discreet hole in the boundary fence. Not only had Nature taken over completely and the place full of wildlife, but there was also the comfortable familiarity that all witches should have with both the spirits of the dead, and the spirits of Nature.

But how do we bring Elemental Earth into our urban home? By growing something, of course! Not everyone has green fingers but it doesn’t take much effort to introduce a small selection of supermarket-grown potted herbs to the kitchen window-sill, does it? This small gesture gives a dual sense of purpose, in that we are caring for something that we can utilise in our day-to-day cooking and magic. Go one better and buy a small kitchen bay. As well as having culinary uses, bay is one of the oldest sacred herbs with strong protective powers when used in spell-casting. My bay started out (many years ago) some six inches high and now stands three-foot tall in a large pot that can be transported anywhere. This is your first step in learning (or re-learning) about wort-lore within the confines of urbanity.

Elemental Earth gives a feeling of security. Universal myths claim that first man was created out of clay, earth or sand; traditionally Earth is represented by the ‘mother’ and the harvest.

Exercise: It must be obvious that Elemental Earth is much more complex than we would first imagine. We live on it, our food comes from it, we bury our dead in it, Elemental Earth (North) is the direction of magical Power … and yet most of us are afraid of getting our hands dirty by interacting with it. So now is the time to rediscover the Earth energies around where you live, by going out and making time to stand and stare!

This also time for an exercise in personal honesty; be truthful, just how comfortable are you with quiet corners of a park or cemetery? If the answer is ‘not very’, then how can you hope to begin to read those spiritual and temporal ‘signs’ that make up a large part of the witch’s world? Again, I would repeat, never compromise your personal safely while on your quest, but try to determine whether you are nervous because you feel vulnerable (i.e. alone), or whether you are uncomfortable with the close proximity to the natural (and supernatural) worlds.

Elemental Fire: In its natural state, Elemental Fire is the most elusive of the four within an urban environment, unless the local vandals have ignored the ASBO and gone on a car-torching spree! Fire has always played an important part in esoteric gatherings but the historic concept of a coven gathering around the bonfire in a woodland clearing is highly suspect. A single candle flame can be seen for miles on a dark night, and in the days when witches were falling foul of the law, a blazing fire would have been an open invitation to the Witch Finders. Fire, however, is part of the Mysteries of Craft and an integral part of any magical working.

First man probably encountered fire as the result of a lightning strike, and so he would have been left in no doubt that the resulting blaze was indeed heaven-sent. From that time to the present, that god-gift of heat and light has provided the dual[1]purpose of hearth fire (domestic) and sacred flame (religious) … both equally as important as a spiritual focus. For our purposes the hearth-fire is, of course, the most obvious, for witches require no formal temples or sanctuaries in order to follow their Craft. Our urban problem of fire lighting was solved by purchasing a circular patio heater – this is a domed-mesh cover affair, with a tray underneath to catch hot ash so it can safely be used on decking – and also doubles as a barbeque. It can be used in confined spaces and moved to another home when necessary. We also have a collection of old-fashioned lanterns (probably nearer the true), which double up for both indoor and outdoor working … and infinitely safer than naked candles.

Elemental Fire is the symbol of warmth, passion … and danger. It can offer the welcome of a glowing hearth or an uncontrollable conflagration that destroys everything in its path. Those who pass through the flames and survive, emerge transformed and improved.

Exercise: Learn to love fire and make a point of always having a candle burning (safely) while you are at home. Treat yourself to a ‘special’ holder that will always act as the focus for your devotions – whether indoors or out – so think in terms of something generous, expensive and wind-proof, like a storm[1]lantern. If you are fortunate enough to have a patio heater or an open fire, buy some of those wonderful copper sulphate- coated pinecones that produce the most amazing coloured flames – perfect for divination – but don’t cook over them! Now … how comfortable are you with fire? If the answer is ‘not very’, then how can you hope to begin to read those divinatory ‘signs’ that make up a large part of the witch’s world?

Important: When out and about, never put yourself at risk by wandering in remote places. More attacks on lone people occur in urban areas rather than out in the countryside, so do not be foolhardy – the gods do not always protect.

We also need to accept that witchcraft (unlike Wicca) is not a religion – it never has been, simply because it’s an individual’s natural ability that distinguishes him or her as a witch. In other words, a witch is born, not made. It just isn’t possible to learn how to become a witch if we haven’t got these abilities, although it is possible to learn how to hone and develop latent, or suppressed psychic talents, under the right tuition. And there is no age limit for these discoveries – in either the young, middle-aged or old. Wicca, on the other hand, is fast becoming accepted as the ‘new pagan religion’ with its doctrines drawing heavily on an eco-feminine shadow-image of Christianity. This again is nothing new, since Christianity itself absorbed many of the existing pagan festivals and celebrations into the Church calendar (including an identification of the Virgin Mary with Isis), and contemporary paganism is merely reclaiming its own. But in reality, even in the days before the Christian invasion, not all of the pagan populace were skilled in the Craft of witches.

To use a natural analogy, the differences between witchcraft and paganism per se is to liken them to the relationship between the domestic and the wild cat. To the casual observer there is little difference. Just as the similarities between the modern wild cat (felis sylvestris) and the house cat (felis catus) are so great and the differences so few, that it is difficult to establish any authentic genealogy. There is evidence that wild cats have mated with domestic cats and domestic cats can survive in the wild having gone feral, but they don’t usually move far from human habitation and will quickly revert if given the opportunity. The wild cat, however, cannot be handled or tamed; even a small kitten it is extremely ferocious. In appearance it is difficult at a distance to distinguish a wild cat from a large domestic tabby that has gone feral, but (as with witchcraft and paganism), the subtle differences are there, if you know where and how to look.

Witchcraft is not bound by social rules and conventions, only by the personal morality of the individual, and is governed solely by the natural tides. Any form of magical working or spiritual observance tends to be of a solitary nature, or in the company of tried and trusted people. Witches believe that esoteric knowledge should be kept hidden because it is impossible to convey the meaning of the ‘true mysteries’ without the appro[1]priate teaching. Traditional witches are now rarely seen at pagan events, and hold that any ritual equipment will be acquired as and when it is necessary.

The witch learns his or her Craft along the way, and pays homage to Nature but in a more abstract form that the textbooks will allow, something along the lines of Blake’s ‘Auguries of Innocence’:

“To see a World in a grain of sand,

And a Heaven in a flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour”

Sources:

Memory, Wisdom & Healing, Gabrielle Hatfield (Sutton

The Secret People, Melusine Draco (Moon Books)

Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living, Melusine Draco (Moon Books)

Sources:

Memory, Wisdom & Healing, Gabrielle Hatfield (Sutton

The Secret People, Melusine Draco (Moon Books)

Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living, Melusine Draco (Moon Books)

Urbanization & the Decline of Witchcraft: An Examination of London, Owen Davies, Journal of Social History vol 30, No 3 (Spring 1997)

Book sale on Kindle

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

Coming in at around 25,000 words, each title will be packed with information and instruction rather than puffed out with superfluous wordage and regurgitated text borrowed from other publications. The series will be aimed at those who have attained a certain level of magical competence and who don’t need to be spoon-fed basic instructions for Circle-casting with each volume – and are therefore not written with beginners in mind. Published by ignotus press they are available direct from Feedaread at a reduced cost of €6.85/£5.90 plus shipping.

No 1: Sacrifice to the GodsThe act of propitiating or appeasing the gods is as old as humankind. And, it is just as much an integral part of pagan worship today as it was when our Mesolithic ancestors first began leaving their mark on the landscape – both to honour the gods in times of plenty and to appease them in times of trouble. For the tribes that were beginning to track their footsteps across the open plains of the vast continents, they left behind evidence of their ‘holy places’ – where they periodically stopped and gathered together in the act of honouring the Gods, the Ancestors and denizens of Otherworld, according to the light of their times … and as their customs directed. What is the meaning of sacrifice? Sacrifice is the offering of food, objects or the lives of animals or humans to a higher purpose – in particular divine beings – as an act of propitiation or worship. Needless to say, putting others ahead of ourselves requires sacrifice and in more modern parlance it is the act of offering or the giving up of something we would prefer to keep

No 2: Talking to Crows‘Talking to crows’ is said of those who have some presentiment or foresight in Sicilian folk-lore. It is believed that to those who can understand them, these black birds, garrulous creatures they are, communicate the latest news on the doings of human beings, since they have a clear view – a bird’s eye view – of the whole. They have also been around for a lot longer than human beings and, perhaps not surprisingly, long ago developed the reputation of being messengers of the gods in many different cultures across the world. Members of this large, adaptable family live in habitats ranging from treeless tundras where land is flat to mountain forests. They live in deciduous forests, where trees shed their leaves, and coniferous forests, with cone-bearing evergreen trees. Corvids range in deserts, grassland steppes where there are few trees, and on the edge of rainforests, where heavy rain produces much growth. In addition, they live in cities and small villages. They are always our close companions and who more able to communicate news from Otherworld, should we choose to listen?

No 3: Hagstones‘The hag stone tells the more human side of this history perhaps. Of fear, suspicion, disease and its healing, of countering dark magic, of minding the gap between the living and the dead, natural and supernatural. Its very form is a negotiation between the visible and the invisible, a combination of stone and air, presence and absence, at home in this transient place where land and sea meet, a place of limbo and secret, slow transformations …’ Alex Woodcock, In the Eye of the Hagstone Much of the information that has been collected for Hagstones is of a repetitive nature but this is, in itself, an endorsement of the strong beliefs that were still prevalent in the early part of the 20th-century up and down the country. In fact, the oddity of hag-stones has long made them a focus of folk magic – where they’ve been used for everything from wishing spells to hedge-riding and protection – and serious academic study. The names for these perforated rocks vary by region, but hag-stones have been viewed as magical across the world and, are also said to be bringers of high psychic powers and heightened intuition.

No 4: Thrice Great ThothIn its simplest form, the modern function of the ancient Egyptian god, Thoth, can be seen as being the patron of writers and magical practitioners. Thoth is attested from the earliest historical periods onwards: he already played a prominent role in the oldest religious texts of Egypt, the Pyramid Texts, and continues to appear almost everywhere in Egypt up to the end of Egyptian religion some 4000 years later. Throughout this long period the god is overwhelmingly present in a vast body of documentation that yields an extraordinarily colorful picture of his nature and functions within the Egyptian pantheon. We should not forget that the archaic Thoth-cult of the pre-Dynastic era was a long way removed from the sophisticated theology of Ptolemaic times. Neither is my shadowy concept of Thoth enjoying a fine single malt and a cigar any more incongruous that the anthropomorphic images carved in the stone of the ancient temples. In historical terms, the death of Cleopatra was nearer to man’s landing on the moon, than it was to the magnificence of the pyramid-building era of ancient Egypt – but through all these times of change Thoth’s popularity has endured. Still holding the brush and palette of a scribe, since the wisdom of which he is the Master is in particular that contained in the sacred texts.

These are availble at a special discounted price direct from the printer – Feedaread https://www.feedaread.com/…/SACRIFICE-TO-THE-GODS…. The first four titles are avaailble on Kindle as a special offer of UK£0.99 between 3-10th January.

BOOK NEWS

Gateways to Otherworld

Melusine Draco

When we talk of Otherworld, we are usually referring to the world of spirit, of fae, and the ancient Ancestors, from where kindred calls to kindred and blood calls to blood. It is a separate reality, or a world that exists simultaneously with ours, but independent of it – and most genuine witches find that they spend their lives with one foot in the ‘real’ world and the other foot in Otherworld. We co-exist in a way that enables us to ‘see’ things on the other side of the veil without the rigmarole of trance- or path-working, self-hypnosis, meditation or contemplation.

To find the psychic gateways or portals that enable us to step through into this Otherworld that are as clearly defined as stepping through our own front door, enhanced by our ability to perceive the subtle-dimension or the unseen world of spirit. The terms gateways, portals and doorways speak for themselves, and as a witch’s magical ability develops these psychic ‘gateways’ will begin to open – maybe in one, or even several directions simultaneously. Personal advancement along the Old Craft path depends on an individual’s willingness to pass through or stay put, since these gateways open as a result of personal progress serving as an indication that the time has come to move on and to climb to the next level.

ISBN: 9781803022758

Type: Paperback

Pages: 96

Published: 3 December 2021

Price: €5.68