Manxwytch is pleased to be a contributing author to the upcoming anthology on Traditional Witchcraft from Three Hands Press.
Manxwytch is pleased to be a contributing author to the upcoming anthology on Traditional Witchcraft from Three Hands Press.
I’ve always had a strong connection to plants, particularly unusual plants – living fossils, carnivorous plants, armed and venomous plants, plants that walk or move, magickal and medicinal plants – in short, plants that have power. As a child I grew plants in my parents’ garden. In fact, I turned the entire property into garden, banishing the tedious, ordinary and useless grass and colourful annuals in favour of sacred plants. I worked my first alraun as an early teen – an heroic first year Verbascum specimen that I spent a day conversing with, digging around, loosening the sandy soil of the cliff on which it stood and teasing it away from each and every root to take up the plant entirely intact. My parents seemed oblivious to what I was filling their yard with – dwale, jimson weed, and henbane mixed in with their petunias and tulips. So long as there was something pretty and recognizable, I got away with a startling amount of weirdness. I also grew the bright cousins of the venificii, lunar, solar and venusian plants alongside my beloved saturnian and martial specimens.
Up until a decade ago, I always had gardens full of plants. As an adult I became semi-nomadic, moving great distances following my career, and I stopped cultivating plants. But I roved and foraged and related to wild plants wherever I travelled. I had completed academic training as an herbalist, and had begun to widen my practice beyond myself and those closest to me before embarking on my travels, and continued to practice as I went.
This past summer I committed to renew my relations with witchcraft and fairie associated plants, regardless of my location. Perhaps a little like a veneficic Johnny Appleseed, I will leave Daturas and Belladonnas in my wake as I move from place to place. But the first challenge I set myself was the cultivation of that Ultimate Diva, the one plant spirit I have never been able to coax into my life, even when I tried religiously and repeatedly in my youth; the Mandrake.
This was back in the dark times before the internet, when seed catalogues were printed on paper and virtually none of them offered mandrakes of any variety. When I found one that did, I ordered an embarrassing quantity of seed and tried every trick I had ever seen to get them to grow. For years I kept this seed company in business, or at least could have, considering the amount they charged per seed, and for years I waited in vain for any sign of life from the mandrake seed they sent to me.
This summer I had the good fortune of finding more than one online source for Mandragora seed, as well as groups of folk online who successfully grew this Holy of Holies from seed. In the end, I ordered from Harold Roth at Alchemy Works in the U.S.A., packets of white and autumn mandrake seeds, twenty seeds of each, and followed his instructions for their preparation and planting. I eagerly awaited their germination according to the timetable Harold provided…
Months went by. The peat pellets I planted the seeds in mouldered, so I broke them up and mixed them into the top layer of soil in a couple of large plastic pots. Still I watered them, and kept looking for signs of life. I was just about ready to admit defeat and, like the fox after the grapes, decide that mandrakes weren’t that big a deal anyway, when for a completely unrelated magical working I collected water from a Holy Well. I figured I had nothing to lose by throwing some of my holy water on those barren pots of stubbornly ungerminating and ungrateful and probably not even worthwhile mandrake seeds.
And the bloody things sprouted that night.
The few that sprouted, I have cared for like newborn babes, and they have waxed strong and large in my care. I swell with pride at the sight of them under my plant lights each morning, and my success with them has regenerated my enthusiasm. There was some marital strife, however, when I brought the little darlings into the house. It seems that Mandragora is aligned with Beelzebub, and they brought the flies and their Lord in with them in the form of swarms of tiny little fungus gnats. I bound them with incantations and fly paper, and their numbers gradually dwindled as millions of tiny bodies were sacrificed on the sticky strips.
I have since bought Atropa, Hyoscyamus, and more Mandragora from Harold (his incense and resins are also of the highest quality, I’ve bought and used them with great success too), and look forward to planting them in my garden this spring to surround myself with a proper witches garden once again.
I have come to think of plants as totemic, as I have ever had stronger connections with green things than with the more typical, winged and furred spirits of the contemporary neoshamanic world. I find this particularly appropriate on the Isle of Mann, where there are few ‘wild’ animals left, and the sacred land animals tend to be domesticated ones.
But more of them in another post.
Here is another display piece from the old Mill Museum on the Isle of Mann.
Here is a small chunk of lucky coal and a card. The card is about 1 1/2 inch long by 3/4 inch tall and the lump of coal is only a wee bit larger.
The card reads:
Lump of coal, found in the street by Miss Devean, and given to me on my return to London, “For Good Luck”
It is written on some kind of advertisement card stock and I have reproduced a photo of the back of the card as well because I found it amusing with its reference to a “Holy Island”.
I’ve always considered coal lucky myself and if in the middle of the bleak, cold, dark, damp Winter Solstice the Devil offered me coal and St. Nick offerred me a trinket – I’d accept the Devil’s gift.
When we lose the ones who shared the Way with us, we have lost more than what is stolen in a mortal death. We have lost their unique strand of the spiritual current and legacy they carried and shared with us. And though we may hold our own for future generations to carry the torch of our traditions, the Presence weaves a widdershins thread that is stronger through ancient hands grown tired with the weight of fire.
We carry on. Our old friend, Time lessens the wound but the wound of our loss is always present. The grief of their physical loss is the depth of love in equal measure to the pain of loss. This is the dark edge of the sword of love and the burning pain for the joy of loving. This is also a Wisdom teaching that can only be felt to be known. It takes courage to love, fully conscious of the inevitable painful cost of the loss of love and to love despite it! The Arte therefore requires bravery and is not for the faint of heart. It is no coincidence that the Latin word for heart is cor, which is the root of the word courage.
A simple part of Craft philosophy and in fact many religions of the world is that Love never dies. If we love someone or have been loved by them, then that love bears their spirit, giving them life in the Otherworld. The agape is both the vehicle of communion and the feast. Love and Death are intimates so it is no wonder that the veneration of the Dead plays an integral part of Traditional Craft practice and philosophy and not for Sauin alone.
The Mighty Dead
Our Craft Ancestors join the Host of the Mighty Dead upon passing from this world. There, they guard the Arte in death as they did in life and they can also be summoned by the living for knowledge and aid. This is an unique added benefit to having Traditional Craft Lineage as opposed to ‘making it up as you go’ as many witches do. Knowing the secret names of the Ancestors and calling them from the Otherworld to Watch and Ward in special rites is an unique experience. The simple links to the secret heritage, lore and ancestry are irreplaceable treasures and carry a potency and magic which has a tangible life-force and will of its own. This is not to disregard my brothers and sisters of the Arte who came to Witchcraft on their own but just to say something of the essence of magical legacy. I am sure that even if a self-made Witch called upon the Mighty Dead with a heart of courage, their summons would be met in the Otherworld with welcome and loving arms.
Of course, summoning the Host of the Mighty Dead is not to be done lightly and clearly it is far more appropriate to convene ones personal Ancestors than the Retinue of Ages.
My Ancestor Shrine is a living embodiment of my love of those who have passed on. It changes over time and as I grow old, it becomes more laden. I’ve seen Shrines that include animals, inspiring people, familiars and thought-forms put to rest. I’ve also seen shrines that are entirely symbolic and hold nothing but a skull, rose and candle upon a rough stone. Sometimes it is only a photo and candle upon a hearth. The appearance of the shrine is never as important as that there IS a shrine.
The act of creating the Ancestor Shrine in your home or outdoors should be viewed as a sacred act or ritual that creates a pathway between your Ancestors in the Otherworld and yourself. You are creating a microcosm of the chthonic realm in terrestrial form. Each shrine is clearly as unique as the Witch who creates it and his or her Ancestors. There are no colour coded candles, designer altar cloths, sigils or special crystals of power for this and no instruction manual. You must rely entirely on your intuition and your heart’s relationship with the Ancestor. If your instinct tells you to find a skull and place a crystal in its socket to give vision to the dead on your shrine, then do it. Use photos, use hair, use rowan berries, cremated ashes of your loved ones, use graveyard dirt, use symbols carved or painted, use whatever it is that links your mind to your Ancestors, their Shades. There is no cookie cutter symbol for everyone and they are your Ancestors with their unique personalities for you to consider as well. If your granny loved her knitting, why not give her some knitting needles and wool? The Ancestors live as Shades and still have all the personality they did when corporeal. Keeping in tune with the love we shared with our Ancestors will help to metamorphosis your Shrine into a living micro-world.
Some Witches prefer to feed the Dead or to make personal offerings to their Ancestors on lunar, daily or weekly cycles. Many Ancestor Shrines house bowls for offerings of favourite foods, flowers, incense, water, milk, alcohol or grain. One exceptional Witch that I know has made an offering bowl as central to the Shrine. Her bowl is fired black clay for skrying and it balances upon three femurs, bound by hand-spun red wool. Most Shrines will house a candle flame somewhere. Some witches like to burn their offerings to the Dead while others simply leave their offerings in bowls that are later buried, composted or returned to the earth in some manner. All in all, it is up to you and your imagination as well as your relationship to the Dead.
Communion with the Ancestors
How each Witch communicates with their Ancestors is also a personal affair. Whether you meditate, talk or sing to them is up to you. For some, silence is best and they wait to hear the Ancestors speak first. For others, a more direct approach with visceral tools such as candles, pins in bottles, ouijii boards and the like. Many witches however are relatively happy with the peaceful remembrance of their dead and don’t need dramatics from the Otherworld.
Some Witches are fond of entheogens and alcohol and smoke and drink rather copious amounts to commune with the Dead or the Otherworld Denizens. I don’t advise that route as it may unite the quick and the Dead sooner than anticipated and not by willed, patient controlled means. However, as each shrine is individual; each Witch must form their own personal experiences and connection to the Ancestors by their own methods. Entheogens and alcohol do have a long history in Traditional Witchcraft. The informed use of entheogens and alcohols as ‘spiritual aids’ is especially helpful for those people who can’t quite find the space by their own efforts or for those individuals who require an intense spiritual catapulting leap of consciousness, usually for a specific purpose. Most witches however, are naturals at travelling between the worlds and communicate safely with the Shades without such things. We already live on the edge or… straddle the hedge as some might say so such things are not for everyday use or are entertainments for the clay-born.
Shibber Valloo: Dumb Supper
On Mann, a custom for communing with the Ancestors was the consuming of Soddag Valloo (Dumb Cakes). The general custom took place during Hop Tu Naa (November 11th but now celebrated on October 31st) however the rite itself was performed at any point the Witch desired. The cakes were made during the day with a base mixture of flour, eggs complete with ground shell, salt and ashes and could be considered a form of bannock. Other ingredients were often added by the Witch to give further potency to the cake, mindful that the cakes were actually consumed. The Witch would go to a private place of the Ancestor she sought communion with. This could of course be at a graveyard but keep in mind that smart Witches did not want to get caught. Most witches performed this rite in the privacy of their own property.
The place would be hallowed by the elements and after that, the Witch set out plates, silverware, glasses and napkins for both the living and the Dead. The Shade was summoned to attend the meal by calling its name into the North. At that point the Witch tolled a bell in a patterned sequence into the silent night. The knells acted as an auditory guide for the dead as well as protecting both the Witch and the Shade from unwanted travellers along the ghost roads. Once the Ancestor had arrived, the dinner candle was lit and it was time to begin the Shibber Vallo, or Dumb Supper.
The Witch did not speak at any time during the Shibber Vallo and made every effort to perform the meal in a widdershins way. If she commonly used her right hand, then she would use her left. If she wore clothing, she would remove it and redress with the clothing on backward. The understanding here is that the Otherworld is a mirror of our own and the reflection is often reversed, therefore the joining of the Worlds creates a respected temporal distortion that the Witch embraces physically. Wine and water was poured for both the Shade and the Witch and the cakes were lain upon the plates and consumed entirely in mute silence. When the supper concluded, the Witch arose with the candle and walked backward with the Ancestor to their bed or a place where they may lay comfortably for the night. Visions and dreams were the least to be expected of this night.
However you celebrate the coming season with turnips, or pumpkins, tricks or treats, we hope you have an intimate time with your Beloved Ones in both worlds.
Hop-tu-naa-I met an old woman
Tra-la-laa -She was baking bonnags
Hop-tu-Naa-I asked for a bit
Tra-la-laa -She gave me a bit, as big as my big toe.
Hop-tu-Naa-She dipped it in milk
Tra-la-laa -She wrapped it in silk
Jinny the Witch flew over the house
To catch a stick to lather the mouse
If you don’t give us something we’ll run away
With the light of the moon.
This is another intriguing display of Traditional Witchcraft, folklore and magic, from the old Witches Mill Museum.
Two sticks cut of the same length, bound with green ribbon and wax. The top stick is painted and labelled:
ASH, Coles Pits, August: 1918
The second stick is labelled
ELM, Wadley, August: 1918
The Ash and Elm are secured onto a mat board and the writing explains the charm saying:
Ash and Elm Charm, placed on a mantel shelf
To keep off Ghosts and Hobgoblins.
And in very tiny script it continues saying:
As used in Cheshire 1895.
The Clagh-array is a heterotopic eye bestowed from nature and given to the witch as a magical gift from the Ancient Ones. This never blinking vigilant sentinel is used for a multitude of purposes, the least of which is protection, warding and warning of the approach of danger. It is sometimes placed in a window, on the pathway to the house, or on the outer lintel of the main door to the home.
It is not a seeing-stone per se however; one of its more interesting uses has been to place it in an area where a witch would like to keep vigil. It therefore forms a third-eye link to a terrestrial area that the witch may not be able to physically inhabit. Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall? This is the means for the adept of vision.
The Clagh-array is highly sought after in Manx Traditional Craft and its power can’t be underestimated. Greater than eyes of glass or beast or crafted by the hands of man.
A magical tool formed through hundreds of years by Nature Herself and Fate’s spinning webs that shaped the eye through rolling turns in sea and sand. It is considered one of the most powerful vision stones to possess.
This small and unassuming item was once part of a display in the Witches Mill Museum on the Isle of Mann. There were various displays of folk charms, curses and cures.
We feel that it is important to publicly archive some of the items that we own because they are withering with time. That said, there are also many people, who for various reasons, may be interested in these windows of Traditional Witchcraft history and specifically its relationship to Gerald Gardner.
The card is written by an unknown hand and states:
Lucky “Nine Peas in a Pod”,
Take out two peas and hide them on the mantel shelf, place pod with 7 over door and good luck will follow. A long absent unexpected friend will arrive, or may have some unexpected money, or the first man who passes under the doorway will be your husband.
London: Aug 1918.
We hope you enjoy this small perspective of an item once displayed at the Witches Mill.
More to follow…