In Memoriam: Michael Howard

Posted in In Memoriam with tags , on September 26, 2015 by manxwytch

mementomoriEarlier this week I was told of the death of my friend, Mike Howard. Years before he and I were acquainted, he had been a longtime friend of several Manx Elders, and was an important supporter of the Manx Line, in addition to the tremendous work that he did for many surviving Traditional Craft Lines and recensions.

He will be greatly missed.

His extensive work and research on the Traditional Craft has left a vitally important legacy for those of us who follow the Old Ways. He made important connections between folk of valid lineages and traditions, and through The Cauldron, brought this wisdom to a wider audience and preserved it for future generations of practitioners.

The announcement of his passing may be read here.

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.

Lugh’s Fair Day

Posted in Folklore, History with tags , , on August 1, 2015 by manxwytch

A bannock recipe for Laa Luanys:

1 cup flour (I use half whole wheat and half unbleached white all purpose)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp honey
A handful of dried currants
Whole milk, sufficient to make a moderately stiff dough

The way I was taught to make this seasonal bannock, the traditional ingredients had to include whole grain flour, honey, salt and milk. The measurements were not specified. The above is what I’ve worked out over the years.
All the dry ingredients were mixed, the butter was cut into the dry, and then the milk added. The dough was baked in a buttered cast iron pan with a lid over a slow fire. Poke with a skewer to make sure the centre is cooked through, and the outside is brown and crispy. Allow to cool, well out of reach of hungry dogs.
When done, a token ritual toasting of the bannock over a rowan twig fire was the final preparation before the bannock was ritually consumed.

I wish you all a bounteous harvest. May John Barleycorn’s sacrifice bring you health, happiness and prosperity.

 

Manx Corn Dolly

An old Manx corn dolly from the Museum of Witchcraft in Castletown

 

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.

2Carboys1Pail

Midsummer Nights’ Dreaming

Posted in Musings, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 23, 2015 by manxwytch

HenbaneEdit2

Henbane, namedĀ lus ny meisht in Manx, has been variously ascribed to Jupiter; Gerard claiming that the plant was called Jupiter’s Beame by Pythagoras; or to Saturn, as postulated, (and in his own opinion proved), by Culpepper, based on where it grows.
But my experience of this plant’s genius, along with what we know of modern neurochemistry, make meĀ  inclined to consider this plant and its spirit to be quintessentially Lunar.

Aside from her traditional associations with goddesses of Witchcraft and of the Moon, henbane’s power and chemistry work almost entirely upon the nervous system. I tend to associate psychoactive plants with the domains of either Sun or Moon, depending on their actions. If one considers the vault of the skull to reflect a microcosm of the vault of the sky, then the luminaries of Sun and Moon are the primary lights affecting this part of the anatomy. They are also widely held to be the right and left eyes of God, allowing direct access to the Divine and the personal, individual Spirit. Pharmacologically, the alkaloids of the nightshade family are anticholinergic, binding to muscarinic and to a lesser degree, nicarinic receptors – physically affecting the fluids and autonomic functions of the body, and evoking sleep, dream, terror and stupefaction in the mind. Hyoscyamine and scopolamine, the main alkaloids found in henbane, affect the smooth muscle tissues of the body: those rhythmic undulations that occur beneath the level of conscious control. Henbane also pulls the fluids of the body inward, drying the peripheral mucosa, condensing and retaining the fluids in the hollow organs. This control of the bodily waters is held in common with the power of the Moon, as are the unconscious, the soporific, the primal, the terrifying and the oneiric.

Henbane’s morphology also suggests to me her Lunar energies: leaves that are fat, succulent and fragile, bearing long silver hairs that glisten in the dark and damp; flowers that are round and pallid with purple-brown irregular spotting coalescing in the throat of the blossom. The flowers bear five petals and later produce an abundance of tiny round seeds contained within a capsule which is sealed until ripe by a tiny circular lid. Once germinated, Hyoscyamus niger grows with astounding rapidity provided there is sufficient moisture. A strong, narcotic smell is released at the slightest touch of any part of the plant, evoking her anodyne properties, sleep and dream.

Henbane has traditionally been used to relieve pain in cases where opiates are ineffective or undesirable. She has also been used to calm the mind and induce sleep in cases of insomnia. Overdose of the plant dilates the pupils, causes dimness of sight, delirium, profound sleep that may be prolonged for days, and death. All in accordance with the most extreme effects of the Moon. Her dual faces, causing stimulation at lower doses and sedation at higher ones, also align her with the bright and dark faces of the Lunar Orb.

Flos et folia

Flos et folia

Several of these effects may also be aligned with Saturn, but in my experience, Saturnine energies have more to do with decay, degeneration and permanent loss of mental and physical faculties than with the transient, seemingly alien narcotic undermining of the waking consciousness that typifies henbane intoxication.
Saturnine plants also tend to be slow growing, physically expressing the slow, plodding pace of their planetary ruler.

Historically, the magicks of this plant are those relating to thanatotic workings, to love and to theriomophism, also suggesting that she belongs within the Lunar Mansion.

Of all the seeds I planted this year, henbane has been the most generous, amenable and prolific in her growth. She and her sister, belladonna, have overshadowed all the other veneficii in my garden. I regard this as in indication that I have work to do, and much to learn from these plants this year. Combining this with the wild plants I have found in my wayfaring, and happening upon formulae that call for these specific plants together, I am directed in my research and explorations at this time through this specific region of the plant world.

Buhner has a useful section addressing henbane and recipes using it in his, Sacred Herbal Healing Beers, and Schulke has worthwhile research and experience to add in his, Veneficium. I sincerely hope he will share his Hypnotikon with an appropriate, educated and eager audience one day.

HenbaneEdit1

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.