Archive for the Projects 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.

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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

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.

Potable Alchemy

Posted in Musings, Projects with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2015 by manxwytch

Mead and braggot are goals that were set this spring, and the plant ingredients desired to enhance them have been cultivated, or collected from the fields around my home. Now at the new moon’s turning it is time to begin the brew.

A couple of the basic recipes are old ones, passed down to me. Others are new to me, from books and folk who are brewers of beer, braggot and porter, and makers of mead. And with the basic proportions and ingredients proven, there is always room to experiment. The water where I live is very hard, with staggering amounts of chlorine added. I am thankful for this in terms of water safety, but in the case of brewing, these qualities are exactly what I don’t need. A providential day of continuous rain has allowed me to collect sufficient rainwater for a batch of braggot, (which I filtered and boiled, just to make certain my carefully coddled chosen yeasts will not have to compete with filthy local bacteria in the milieu of my brews). However I do not have time at the moment for travel to the sacred well I know that also happens to be health and safety tested, so I will compromise and purchase spring water for the first batch of mead.

Fires burn and cauldron bubble…

Decocting herbs for Mead

Decocting herbs for Mead

 

The fermentation process is a sacred alchemy, producing an embodiment of a plant genius beyond that which can be accomplished by simple chemical extraction, either by water, acid, oil or alcohol. It is the transformation of sugars and other plant constituents by the biotic processes of yeasts and bacteria, in order to release those substances from the physical corpus vegetale, and attenuate them to a level of spirit. In the process, the physical elements are changed by the living organisms consuming them; made more bioavailable, recombined, concentrated, potentiated and depending on how the alchemist directs the process, rendered more or less toxic than the original ingredients wedded together in this chemico-mystical union.

For the making of mead, I have gathered local honey collected from blaa ooyllagh – apple blossoms, along with herbs sacred to the White Lady of the Isle – tramman – the elder; dress villish – eglantine; and katog – the leaves of the wild strawberry.

The braggot, I dedicate to the Grey One, and draw inspiration from old Norse writings and recipes. It will be ready to drink much more quickly than the mead, so I will make several different types. A basic one now, to trial the recipe, I am brewing with lus roddagagh, the sweet gale. Later, as the summer wanes I will brew darker variations.

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A Witches’ Garden

Posted in Folklore, Projects, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 17, 2015 by manxwytch

After a couple of false starts and one fatal climatic bitch slap from Nature to remind me who is really in charge here, those seedlings who have survived are either in pots or in the ground, and are looking reasonably content.

I am inviting some old friends from the sinistral branches of the plant family back into my living space – my beloved Solanaceae among them: Hyoscyamus, (in Manx, lus ny meisht, one of my favourite Gaelic plant names), Dwale, (lus ny h-oidhche), Daturas of temperate and tropical inclinations; as well as some of the brighter magickal plants: Borago, (borraigh), and most welcome, Verbena off., (vervine). Vervine, if you have not encountered it, is a plant of entirely unassuming appearance. Neither great in stature, nor showy in flower or leaf or fruit, the plant nonetheless projects a palpable aura of power, an intelligence which has entranced me since childhood. It has been many years since I have grown this holy plant, for blessing and protection. It will bloom from now until its guardian star, Sirius, appears in the sky.

The Mandragores, sadly, have been slow to adapt to our new abode. Persistent infestations of aphids throughout the winter have taxed our resources, and adding insult to injury, those aphids which fed on them with impunity absorbed sufficient amounts of their poisons to kill any of the natural predators which I introduced into their growing area. Outdoors now, Nature is balancing out the situation and hopefully the plants will achieve sufficient vigour to bloom this year. All have been moved into long pots, and will provide roots for the making of flying ointments this fall.

In the course of my practice since moving here nine months ago, I have wandered the woods and fields around my home and encountered an abundance of flora for magick and for medicinal use. I will collect Spruce tips and Gale, (lus roddagagh), for beer brewing in the week to come, Meadowsweet for flavouring mead later in the summer, Lus y chiolg for the Sun, and Bollan feaill-eoin for the Moon. I will also be brewing braggot, an old beverage of fermented malt and honey, in a trial of the recipe I plan to brew this autumn for Sauin, using henbane seeds. It was this recipe, and the scarcity of henbane seed, that kindled the urge to order and plant seeds this spring.

 

Cingula

Posted in Folklore, Projects with tags , , , , , on May 9, 2015 by manxwytch

Of late, I have been weaving traditional Manx cords; a process that allows much time for thought and contemplation in the repetition of the weaving and twisting, and is also a potent vehicle for tactile connection with the Lineage in the materials, the spirit, and the passing on of new cords.

The materials and colours of the weaving and binding of the cords connect us with the old faery heritage of the Isle and reflect the dark and light energies with which we work, and must master in the course of our training. One strand of the cord is left its natural colour, another is dyed by hand with oak and iron, both puissant substances and linked of old to witches and our Craft. Twisted together they embody the ophidian power bequeathed to us, and the dual paths of blessing and bane traversed by the Traditional Manx Witch.

As umbilicus, the cord feeds us with life-giving Land and Lineage; as bond, it ties us to our Oath. In being worn, it defines personal otherworldly space, in being seen it shows a badge of office. Its magick is that of connection, (a magick much needed nowadays), whereas the blade separates and directs.

In the old Manx tradition, there are different cords made and given at different times, and used for different purposes. Some of the uses in magickal workings are widely known: the wheel, the ladder; some are shared by many traditions, for measuring and wearing; and a few have fallen out of popular use and knowledge, for controlling the flow of blood in the body and conjuring liminal states of consciousness.

Alraune – Part 1 of 2

Posted in Folklore, Projects on June 6, 2014 by manxwytch

Under the argent sickle of a right hand moon, I sacrificed a two year old mandrake for the making of an alraune. According to custom, the root may be carved into a humanoid shape and then reburied, its wounds to heal and be re-exhumed once its new shape has been adopted. In this case, the procedure was unnecessary as the root had a body and two shapely symmetrical legs as it had grown of its own accord.

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Also, the root was cultivated in a pot, so tying my dog to it and risking veterinary fees or animal cruelty charges as the root was wrenched from the earth was likewise unneeded. Another benefit of having a potted plant is the ease with which I could preserve all the rootlets, thus lessening the injury to the plant and the resulting loss of its power in the process of digging.

 

Once exposed and carefully washed, my alraune spent its first night under the light of the moon. Because of the size of the root and the danger of its rotting before it can dry, it will spend its subsequent days in a bowl of salt, to be removed for a brief period each day for feeding and charming, before being returned to its safeguarded telluric slumbers.

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While blackthorns are  used for violent purpose and defence to inflict pain and suffering, whitethorns are utilized here to move specific intentions into the alraune in a physical, embodied way. No trauma is intended, but the pushing, deep into the core of the vegetal being the qualities sought to make it a powerful spirit ally working in concert with the daemon of the plant itself.

The work will continue through the waxing of the moon, into fullness and through its waning as the salt sucks the sap from the root and readies it for its life to come.