Archive for the Folklore Category

Twelve days, Twelve tasks

Posted in Folklore, History, Projects with tags , , , , , , , on December 29, 2016 by manxwytch

The twelve days following the winter solstice have long represented interstices between the end of the old and the beginning of the new throughout the Celtic countries. As the popular calendar shifted the New Year from 1st November to 1st January, many of the traditions and influences around Sauin became associated with the twelve days. Divining the year to come was an important way-marker of this time, and many traditions around post-midwinter divination survived in the folklore and practice of the Isle.

The twelve days were seen as both predictive and prescriptive, in that they could offer insight into the forces at play in the year to come, but also allow a measure of influence to shape the year according to the wishes of the practitioner.

In this spirit, I have chosen to accomplish a specific task for each of the days, to set a theme and to empower completion and accomplishment as motifs for the coming year.

yulefrog1

The Lord of Misrule

The first is a re-working of an antique taxidermy frog which I acquired a half dozen or more years ago. I’m not certain what possessed someone to over-inflate this unfortunate amphibian and outfit him with a homemade musical instrument, but this fellow had been a harpist for most of his afterlife, until I was inspired to arm him with a Yule stang and crown him with a gilded acorn-cap. The staff was originally part of the harp, and the horns I formed and added from deer antler.

 

braggotdec2016

Gale Braggot

A fresh batch of braggot was overdue, flavoured with sweet gale and yarrow.
I’m modifying the recipe this year, to add a second fermentation, and four year old homegrown mandrake root to the brew.

My recipe:

3lbs liquid malt extract
3lbs apple blossom honey, plus 1lb for secondary fermentation
4 gallons spring water, plus 1/2 gallon for secondary fermentation
2oz dried sweet gale leaves, buds and nutlets
1oz dried yarrow flowering tops
Ale yeast
1/2 oz dried mandrake root

Heat 1 gal of water with the malt and honey, add half the sweet gale and all the yarrow and bring to just below a boil.
Put the remaining sweet gale in the primary fermenter with the remaining 3 gal of water. Add the hot wort to the fermenter, cover and allow to cool. Remove 1/2 cup of the liquid, test the specific gravity and hydrate the yeast in it afterward. Return the proved yeast to the fermenter, lock and allow to ferment.
Starting SG should be close to 1.060, add water or honey to reach it. Ferment until still, 1-2 weeks depending on temperature. Strain into secondary fermenter. Dissolve the remaining 1lb honey in a half gallon of spring water in which you have decocted a half ounce of mandrake root. Cool, add to the secondary fermenter and lock. Strain and bottle when clear, adding 1tsp barley malt extract to each clean bottle to prime. The final SG should be below 1.0 and abv will be just over 6%.
flyingointment2016

 

I’ve combined mandrake root with henbane seed as actives in this small batch of flying ointment. I add a small handful of dried poplar buds to the extraction, to contribute their resin as a preservative, as well as to provide their own properties and influences to the salve. Soot and salt round out the symbolic ingredients, with a small amount of beeswax to provide solidity, a touch of solar force and the experience of flight.
My preference is to stick with one family per ointment recipe, as far as the actives go, and I have had good success with this basic recipe. I’ll leave the hemlock and aconite to others.

 
Further twelve-day tasks will include extracting oleoresin from some of my prodigious harvest of last season’s sweet gale, to see if it can be used with efficacy as an oneirogenic incense; the completion of a holly and rowan wood wand, and the remaining number to complete the twelve, which I shall report on anon.

Helrunar

Posted in Art, Folklore, History, Projects with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2016 by manxwytch

My personal rune set is also the first one I ever made: small tiles of green granite, cut, polished and carved over thirty years ago. I’ve carved many sets since then, in different materials; my favourites have been on slates gathered from a beach at the Calf of Mann, and quartz pebbles from the seam of that white stone that stretches the length of the Isle from the Calf to the Point of Ayre.

All the runes I’ve carved since that first set have been gifted to others.

In recent years I’ve had the urge to carve a new set for myself, in bone. Specifically rib bones, the rib cage being that vault protecting and containing the beating heart, and making possible each life-sustaining breath.
A few years ago I obtained some rib bones, and in recent months I began their transformation into a set of rune staves.
Once cut to length, I began working on caps for the cut ends. These I carved from ash wood, to link these runes physically to the World Tree, as the ribs themselves are joined to the spinal column of the body. This may become more significant in the future, as we lose the ash trees in Europe and now in North America, due to a combination of disease and foreign insect depredation. We may live to see a time when Yggdrasil as ash tree will exist in memory and historical record alone and future generations may not know it as a living presence in the world.
Bone will connect with the otherworldly powers of one who has passed through the gates of Death, crossed the bridge to the Other Side, and will function as eidolon to bring insight and information from that realm to back into this world.
It was the Gallows God who brought the runes out of the darkness through self-sacrifice, and these runes are intended to invoke that power and wisdom.

The inscribed runes that survive on the Isle of Mann show elements of both the Elder and Younger Futharks, in both ‘Long Twig’ and ‘Short Twig’ forms, though none remains extant as a complete set. At the time of Kermode’s writing in 1907, 15 runes were clearly identifiable, though he believed that others were also used on the Isle, and that the 15 we have today are merely what remain physically of all the rune carved stones on the Isle.

bonerunes1

The runic sigils I have used reflect those found on Mann – some of the Younger Futhark and some of the Elder; as my intention is to use this set primarily for divinatory, in addition to specific magickal workings. What is of significance in divination are the ideas and influences represented by the runes, more than each physical shape, so I am comfortable with taking some artistic license in the style and shape of the runes in my personal set.
The dense bone of the ribs is too thin to allow carving of the rune symbols into their surface, so I have burned them into the bone, invoking fire as power to charge the runes as well as to define them, and referencing fire as the catalyst between different phases of being, facilitating the transformation of the material basis into its spiritual potential.

Once marked by fire, I rubrified the runes with heme iron in a protein based colloid suspension. Then sealed them with a blend of oils, beeswax  and resin.

rune-set-close

Mindful of the divinatory aspect of these runes, the energies, purposes and associations therewith; and taking a page from Richard Gavin’s, Benighted Path, these runes, carved and consecrated shall never be profaned by exposure to the rude light of day. Their work will be dedicated to and accomplished in darkness, their illumination sidereal: the light of moon, dream, baalfire and candle glow. The sacred Void will be their womb, the darkness wherein all things become undifferentiated and returned to their unified source, to speak directly to the Night mind that precedes and subsumes again the diurnal conscious awareness.

To this end, I fashioned a bi-layered pouch in which a liner extends beyond the top of a deerskin sack, to ensure that even when open the runes would be protected from exposure, and that the rune reader must, as Glapsviðr did,  reach deep into Ginnungagap to extract the runes. This bag I bound with antique silk and metallic thread ribbon, and a working cord, both inherited from my Initiator into the Manx Tradition.

Once made, I assembled the runes into their cycle and found that again this time, as with the last set I carved, one rune had hidden itself through the process. It demanded to be completed on its own, with my focus solely on it. There are many steps involved in making and finishing the rune set, and many opportunities to discover a miscount or omission. Inasmuch as these omissions occur unasked for, and unintentionally, and elude discovery at multiple steps in the process, I consider them to be significant, an indicator of the guiding Spirit of the rune set as a whole. In this case, I also chose to make it of different materials than the others – antler rather than bone, with an end cap of yew wood, as befits this rune.

rune-set-with-bag

In Work

Posted in Folklore on April 10, 2016 by manxwytch

There are several projects which have been developing toward completion, including seed starting for this years magickal workings, a new visionary braggot experiment involving Amanita muscaria supplied by a Traditional Heathen in eastern Europe; a set of personal rune staves to supplant the first set I carved three decades ago; preparations to accomplish bronze casting at home for ritual tools; and the furtherance of long planned Saturnian explorations, (Chronos is not to be expected to accommodate our wishful timelines).

Inspiration and challenges to overcome in the reification of these things have consumed the days that have passed since the last Manxwytch post, and will do so for a some time to come. As has the arrival of several excellent books which demand to be read and impressions shared here.

More to follow.

 

Plant Gnosis

Posted in Folklore, History, Musings with tags , , , , on February 28, 2016 by manxwytch

With the increasing exposure and detailed information available about the use of entheogens and other teaching plants, larger numbers of practitioners are embracing the idea that working with plants demands a relationship which goes beyond that of practitioner and materia medica / materia magica – a relationship that goes beyond using plants for their biochemical constituents. Much more becomes possible if we approach the work with an attitude of cooperative partnership wherein we encounter the Intelligence of the plant, and open ourselves to receiving insight and information from that encounter.
This seems to me a far more plausible explanation for how we gained the knowledge we have accumulated about plant properties throughout human prehistory, than the dismissal that it was gained through blind trial and error, or through observing the consumption of plants by animals.
By integrating the methods of magicians, herbalists, green witches and hedge wizards, and by re-learning the techniques of intact Witchcraft traditions, it is possible to build an effective modus operandi for making contact with the presiding Genius of a given plant and of gaining insight and direction from it.

The method I have used, and that I share with students of the Path, draws from many sources and has commonalities with many modalities of making these connections, and has proven efficacious in my own experience and practice. Similar methods and approaches may be gleaned from the writings of Crowley, Weed, Schulke, Potts and others.

Begin with the study of what we know about the plant: herbal medicine, field craft, agriculture, folklore, prose and poetry, art, history, are all valid sources of knowledge to amass.

I make a single page synopsis of this information, a monograph of sorts, for each plant which is a focus of developmental study and praxis. Among the points that I gather:

Common Name in English
Taxonomic nomenclature – Genus, species and Family
Common names in languages whose cultures which have made significant use of the plant
Morphological description
Longevity
Range and Habitat
Constituents and known therapeutic chemical compounds
Therapeutic Actions
Traditional uses
Dosage and administration
Side effects and Toxicity
Pharmacognosy (macroscopic/microscopic identification of the crude plant material)
Planetary correspondence
Elemental and Deity correspondence
Typical Magickal uses
Other notes and references

 

Morphology, longevity; those things.

Morphology, longevity; those things.

 

In my formal study of phytotherapy, I prepared similar monographs, albeit minus the planetary and deity correspondences and the magical uses, for some 250 plants in the Western European and North American materia medica.

Following the study and knowledge of the above information, and if the plant is abundant in my area, I will collect a specimen to preserve and examine for further study. I usually press and dry it as exemplar of the species, preferably at a point in its life that shows leaf, flower and fruit/seed forms. I make sure to collect with the roots as intact as possible, and carefully remove the soil to make their form visible as well. In all cases the specimen plant makes itself known to me, presenting itself when my intention to collect is clear in my mind, and an offering is made in exchange for its life. If no plant stands out conspicuously in that location or on that occasion, I wait for another opportunity.
If the plant is not a native of my area, I will secure seeds of it and attempt to grow the plant, or alternatively, will obtain a potted specimen for cultivation.
Throughout the growing season I will get to know the plant, it’s habits and preferences, its development and qualities as I care for it and it grows through its seasonal or life cycle.

During this time I will make a visual rendering of the plant; a botanical drawing, painting, or sculpture, through which to become more intimately aware of the physical presence of the plant. By combining the most typical details from the growing plant, from photographs of other members of its species, as well as from the preserved specimen on hand, I create a visual archetype of the plant, rather than a detailed copy of a particular specimen. In this case, leaf, bud, flower, fruit, seed and root are all depicted simultaneously on the same plant, which may not happen in nature.
I find that this visual and tactile intimacy with the plant is particularly potent in the forging of a personal relationship with its Genius, and this connection enables the efficacious progression into our last step of the process. Frequently, dream and portent will indicate when this has been achieved, indicating readiness to move on.

Helen Sharp, Water-color sketches of American plants, especially New England, (1888-1910)

Helen Sharp, Water-color sketches of American plants, especially New England, (1888-1910)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having learned the properties of the plant, and familiarized myself with its form and habits of growth, I proceed to prepare and consume it at the appropriate stage in its life; using the method of preparation best suited to the plant according to traditional use. It is best to consume it at an appropriate season or phase of the lunar cycle, or during a favourably aspected time according to its planetary correspondences. This consumption of the plant corpus is not limited to the physical, but is a form of communion with the plant Genius; a mingling of spirits. And it is in this mingling that gnosis is shared.

The communion may be ritualized, with preparation and purification preceding, and an invocation of the Spiritus coinciding with the consumption of the sacrament. Gnosis may come to conscious awareness in meditation following the consumption of the plant, or in an dream experience, or as a flash of intuition in the course of your waking life and praxis. Regardless of when it occurs, or even if it occurs at a level of conscious awareness, the validity of the connection will be borne out by practical application and observation of results achieved.

As always in Traditional Witchcraft, the proof is in the potion.

Baal Sauin

Posted in Folklore on October 31, 2015 by manxwytch

DSC_2183

The last of the harvest is gathered, enough to sustain through the winter.

Henbane braggot is brewed, honey bannock is baked.

Sweet scents await the arrival of the Ancestral Dead.

A fire is kindled.

The veil is thin.

The Gudeman’s Croft and the Blighting of the Fields

Posted in Folklore, History on September 4, 2015 by manxwytch

There is a tradition that I follow and practice, shared with me long ago by a Scottish Traditional Witch, of the Gudeman’s or Goodman’s Croft. Though not Manx, I feel it is important in spirit, lore and practice and so I continue the tradition and teach it in my Line.

Wherever I have lived in a house with a yard or garden, an area of that land is set apart, fenced, or defined with less tangible borders, and left entirely Wild. That space is not entered, nothing is sown or harvested there, it is not subject to human activity or influence in any way. This land is dedicated to the Gudeman, the Devil. With this space left undisturbed, the Spirits may take up residence here, and as the folk tradition goes, not have a negative or resentful impact on the rest of the cultivated land, the home, the crops or the animals raised on that land.

It is also an important instinctive lesson that we must set limits on what we claim to own and control, and that we must agree to leave some places entirely untouched in order to have a healthy relationship with the Land and the Spirits there. ‘Conservation Lands’ do not meet this requirement, inasmuch as we freely enter those for the sake of recreation, and leave our traces, pathways, refuse and damage behind when we leave, regardless of how careful we may be. And the vast majority of humanity is not at all careful.

The Gudeman’s Croft creates a physical locus for that which is Other. This is a necessary condition for our spiritual, as well as our environmental health. The important consideration here is that it is, entirely Other. Not that it is a spiritual resource that we can make use of, any more than it is a physical resource that we can make use of. To think of it as one’s own personal patch of ‘spiritual wilderness’, defeats the purpose of it and it’s dedication to the Devil is a reminder of the tabu placed around that land. The practice was condemned in Scotland in the late 1500s as devil worship by the clergy, and so must have been sufficiently established and widespread by that time to warrant proscription, and is doubtless much older.

Related to this in spirit is the practice of not harvesting anything left in the fields after Sauin. Traditionally, as of that night anything remaining was considered blighted by the Devil.
This practice accomplishes temporally what the Gudeman’s Croft accomplishes spatially. It sets temporal limits on what we humans can take from the Land, teaching us that we cannot take and endlessly take until nothing remains.

Reaping that which has been Sown

Posted in Art, Folklore, Projects on August 11, 2015 by manxwytch

With Laa Luanys and a Blue Moon just behind us, there have been several projects concurrently in work:

This year’s corn dolly, (a basic five straw Nek made from wheat and barley); bottling of the braggot made a few weeks ago; and the working of a rite that has been repeated over the course of several nights, which I have marked by sacrificing another of the Mandrakes I have grown – a young Mandragora officinarum root which went dormant just before the onset of the ritual work. Each night I have taken a piece of the fresh root and carved from it a bead to mark the progression of the ritual. The largest of the beads is about two centimetres in diameter and they vary downward depending on the size of the piece of root I’m working with. I am carving as large a bead as is possible with each piece, and drilling all of them with an eighth inch hole for stringing them later. I prefer to do the rough shaping while the root is fresh. As they dry they will shrink and harden into something much more like wood, and I will sand them into their final shape and surface texture. The parings and drillings I have carefully collected and will dry to be infused into flying ointment, along with those parts of the root which were too small for carving.

MandrakeRootBeads1

I have obtained two pieces of apple wood for carving, pieces from ground level where the graft of the fruiting variety onto a hardier rootstock have developed into fantastic burl-like growths. One of these I will work into an altarpiece linking the Abysmal with the Chthonic; the liminal point between root and trunk as the nexus supporting the Other.
Apple is highly charged symbolically, with concepts of Soul and Other, knowledge and transgression, Ophidian wisdom, and the unsanctioned bringing of techniques and skills of magick from the heavenly to the earthly realm.