Archive for Sabbat

The Mighty Dead: Shrines and Cakes and Silence

Posted in Folklore, History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2012 by manxwytch

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.

Ancestor Shrines

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
Hop-tu-Naa, Tra-la-laa
Jinny the Witch flew over the house
To catch a stick to lather the mouse
Hop-tu-Naa, Tra-la-laa
If you don’t give us something we’ll run away
With the light of the moon.

Blessings on this Autumn Equinox

Posted in Folklore with tags , , on September 22, 2012 by manxwytch

“That it may please Thee to give and preserve to our use, the kindly fruits of the earth to restore and continue to us the blessings of the sea, so as in due time we may enjoy them:” (Manx Book of Common Prayer.)

Bounteous Lugh’s Day

Posted in Folklore with tags , , , , , , on August 1, 2012 by manxwytch

May you bless your harvest and give thanks.

May your harvest be bounteous on Lugh’s fair day!

Haink ad thie lesh y vooilley orroo!

(They came home with the blessing!)

Laa Luanys – Lugh’s Fair Day

Posted in Folklore, History, Poetry, Storytelling with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2012 by manxwytch

Laa Luanys (Laa Lunys) – August 1 (August 12th Old Calendar) is the Day of Lammas, which was moved to the first Sunday in August by the Bishop of Mann in an attempt to eradicate the lewd festivities of its original pagan festival of Lughnasadh, the Festival of the God Lugh, Foster Son of Manannan.[1]  Some interpret Laa Luanys as the ‘Day of Lugh’ substituting Luans or Lunys as Lug, Lleu, or Lugh.  Academics and historians of Religion know that Christianity ‘borrowed’ many religious days and festivals from various religions and cultures including the elder Celtic Calendral Cycles in an attempt to obtain converts and destroy the Old Faiths and practices.  For instance, St. Patrick replaced Lugh in Sunday Services.  On Ellan Vannin, Lugh’s festival, rife with apparent lewd behaviour on the mountains, seemed to be one of the most pernicious practices to destroy, with Christian priests complaining of its remnants even up until the late 18th century.

“The curates and wardens represent to the court that there is a superstitious custom, which is yearly continued and practiced in this and the neighbouring parishes by many young people (and some of riper age) going to the top of Snaefell Mountain upon the first Sunday in August, where (as they are informed) they behave themselves very rudely and indecently for the greater part of that day.”  Pg 70 Manx Calendar Customs

First Sunday after Old Lammas: This was Lhuany’s Day, the day of a festival dedicated to the god Lugh. An orgy was held at the top of Snaefell.” ( http://www.isleofman.com/heritage/epedia/arts/calendars/customscalendar.aspx)

Now, to be clear here, the above quotes are as biased toward Christianity as the Manxwytch Tales are toward the Old Faith; so take it all with a grain of salt.  However, it seemed to take many years for such an enjoyable tradition to die out… though I’ve heard the coals are still kept warm.  The last reports of such open activities on Snaefell[2] were said to have occurred in 1870.  More exclusive celebrations were whispered to have continued in homes, fields and keeils, away from the eyes of prudish priests and those who “spend more time on their knees in church than their backs in bed.”[3]

Various attempts were made by the Parish to end the “profane customs” practiced and handed down through generations of Manx families.  One of the most outright offensive attempts was when the church sent Ministers[4] up to the top of Snaefell and South Barrule to collect alms for the Church and to read aloud both the Nicene Creed and the story of Jephthah and his Daughter from the Book of Judges in the Old Testament.  Briefly the story of Jephthah is that the Israelites were no longer worshiping God again and he got angry and gave them to the Ammonites.  Jephthah was born illegitimately and had only an un-named Daughter.  He becomes a leader and defeats the Ammonites and makes some kind of vow to God that whoever exits the door of his house upon his return will be sacrificed as a burnt offering to God on the altar.  And, since Jephthah’s wife is never mentioned, we can only assume that he might of known who would exit the door to greet him upon return home.  He bewails meeting his Daughter, but must keep his vow to God and sacrifice her.  She cries at the loss of her virginity (!?) (some scholars interpret this as that she mourns that she will never marry) and asks for a couple months leeway to prepare herself.  Then Jephthah carries out the deed and sacrifices her on the fiery altar, burning her to a crisp and all the women remember her for four days each year.   But pay close attention to the story and you might read how it fits what was going on at the top of Snaefell[5].  Worship of a god other than YHVH, sexual theme, sacrifice and mourning.  This all appears to fit quite well with the Day of Lugh.  Despite this dour story being read, I understand that the real killjoy was the demand for alms for the church.  Nothing kills a good ale drinking, laughing, singing, frolicking orgy than some Priest expecting cash!

There are many stories of Lugh in both Welsh and Irish mythology but I will emphasise the Manx legends as they are scantily discussed.  Lugh was the bright Solar Warrior God of the sun, corn and as mentioned earlier, Foster-Son to the great Wizard King Manannan.  Lugh was said to have spent his youth with Manannan on Ellan Vannin and it was here that he was trained in poetry, philosophy, music, smith craft, skill in battle, love and war, sailing, craftsmanship skills and cunning magic, all tutored by the Wizard King.  When his training was complete and Lugh was ready to fulfill his destiny as a warrior of epic renown, Manannan gave to Lugh his own great sword Fragarach, (the Answerer), whose power  forced anyone at whose throat it was held, to speak only the truth when questioned.[6]  Fragarach also bestowed command of the four winds to its owner and any piercing from its blade would deal a mortal wound that would never heal.  Manannan also gave Lugh flashing armour that could not be penetrated and a helmet that could not be broken.  For Lugh’s journey from the Isle, Manannan summoned from the depths of the underworld sea, a swift floating coracle called the Wave-Sweeper and lent to him his prized mare from his royal stables, the horse Aenbharr (Enbarr) whose hooves travelled as easily on water as on land.

Lugh

As a corn (grain) and solar Deity, it is little wonder that the word lugh in Manx Gaelic means mouse.  The mouse, as a totemic animal of Lugh makes obvious sense when one examines the Celtic Harvest Festival named after him, Lughnasadh.

As well, we can possibly see fragments of the relationship between the solar harvest god who dies and is reborn, Lugh’s magical spear and John Barlycorn, though this song is not particular to Mann, it was still sung in a few pubs… and may still be.

John Barleycorn: By Robert Burns

There was three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.

They took a plough and plough’d him down,
Put clods upon his head,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.

But the cheerful Spring came kindly on’
And show’rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surpris’d them all.

The sultry suns of Summer came,
And he grew thick and strong:
His head weel arm’d wi pointed spears,
That no one should him wrong.

The sober Autumn enter’d mild,
When he grew wan and pale;
His bendin joints and drooping head
Show’d he began to fail.

His colour sicken’d more and more,
He faded into age;
And then his enemies began
To show their deadly rage.

They’ve taen a weapon, long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee;
They ty’d him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgerie.

They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgell’d him full sore.
They hung him up before the storm,
And turn’d him o’er and o’er.

They filled up a darksome pit
With water to the brim,
They heav’d in John Barleycorn-
There, let him sink or swim!

They laid him upon the floor,
To work him farther woe;
And still, as signs of life appear’d,
They toss’d him to and fro.

They wasted o’er a scorching flame
The marrow of his bones;
But a miller us’d him worst of all,
For he crush’d him between two atones.

And they hae taen his very hero blood
And drank it round and round;
And still the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.

John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise;
For if you do but taste his blood,
‘Twill make your courage rise.

‘Twill make a man forget his woe;
‘Twill heighten all his joy:
‘Twill make the widow’s heart to sing,
Tho the tear were in her eye.

Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne’er fail in old Scotland!

As has been noted, the pilgrimage to mountaintops was important on Mann to celebrate Lugh, light, the corn and the first harvest.  But this was only one of two pilgrimages on Laa Luanys, the second of which was to the Holy Wells.  For some reason, perhaps related to Manannan, it was important to visit the known healing wells, in particular Maughold[7], Laxey[8], and St. Patrick’s[9] though there were many others, these three appear prominent.  It was said that the curative powers of the wells were more accessible at this time and offerings were made to the Genius Loci of the well and its particular power.  This was often done by the exchange of a pin or a silver coin for its curative spirit.  During the offering, a prayer was made invoking the healing property to cure whatever the ailment was.  Once accomplished, the well was often circled three times and then dressed in ribbons, and flowers.[10]

There is so much that could be told of Lughnasadh, Lugh and his Harvest Festival but I will leave that for another time.  What we can see, is that on a tellurian level, the celebration took place both in the heights and in the deeps.  The very same locations  where the spiritual celebration of this Great Sabbat is held for all witches.

If you are really interested in reading further I suggest obtaining a copy of Marie Mac Neill’s book, written in 1962, titled ‘The festival of Lughnasa: a study of the survival of the Celtic festival of the beginning of harvest‘ and published by Oxford University Press.

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FOOTNOTES


[1] There was for many years a harvest fair that continued in the Parish of Santon.  Further there was a Laxey Fair, a Maughold Fair and a Fair at Ballasalla.  Take note of this as you will see, it is important because these were also places of prominent healing wells.

[2] Snaefell is the Isle of Mann’s tallest mountain and therefore those who celebrated Laa Lunys on its summit were as close to the sun as possible.  On a clear day you can see all seven kingdoms – meaning Ellan Vannin, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, the kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of the Sea.  From here, it was easy to give thanks for the harvest and all that could be seen.  Nowadays it’s tough to find a day without rain!  The jaunt up the summit is made easier by the electric train which takes you easily to the top where there’s a good cafe house / tourist shop.  As well, there is almost always someone flying off the peak in a chute.  I prefer to climb the way my Elder taught me, which is by an old footpath straight up from the Mountain Road.  It’s far more fulfilling for the spirit.  Besides this, he was climbing that mountain until well over the age of 75 and I feel that his pilgrimages added to his longevity, happiness and wellbeing.  I can only pray to reach his age and vigour!

[3] Perhaps you recognized it.  An altered quote taken from the classic movie The Wickerman in the extended version.  Apropos for this blog entry I would think.

[4] Ministers Parick Beg and William Giek in the mid 1800s.

[5] Also, there was said to be people who climbed South Barrule and other mountains on Mann but Snaefell seems to be the most prominent at this time.

[6] Magical items that force people to speak the truth are particularly emphasised in Manx folklore.  More on this in another post.

[7] A legendary witches’ haunt.

[8] At the foot of Snaefell, as it is at the beginning of the electric tram.

[9] Obviously re-named from an older Celtic Deity.  Possibly Lugh, as we know the Church replaced Lugh with Patrick during the festival.

[10] It is believed that as the bouquets fade, so too does the disease.

Midsummer Tributes

Posted in Folklore, History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2012 by manxwytch

On St. Johns Night, Midsummer’s Eve[1] it was the old tradition to pay tribute to Manannan Mac Lir[2] at South Barrule.  The People gathered two bundles of St. Johnswort, Midsummer Men[3], Meadow Rushes, Rue and Mugwort to pay tribute to the Just King of Mann for allowing them to live and prosper on His Holy Isle.  The first bundle was placed at the foot of the mountain and the second was taken up the slope to the top of the mountain where a small hill fort remains[4].  In effect this act pledged fealty to Manannan in all the heavens above and all the earth beneath.

According to an old Manx ballad, the only yearly tribute that was levied on Manxmen by the wizard-chief Mannanan was a bundle of rushes delivered to him every St. John’s Eve, i.e., the eve of the Midsummer festival. A survival of this is still seen in the custom of strewing the path from the Church to the Tynwald Hill with rushes, representing a former sacrifice or offering to the Spirit of Vegetation. “  (Manx Quarterly, #25, 1921)

For Witches, this was the eve to renew pledges to the Ancient Gods and the Ancestors. Sometimes, this was called Renewing the Pact, and was often done on Mann by either circling seven times deosil on the top of South Barrule, or seven times round a Midsummer Fire muttering old incantations.  One such incantation to Renew the Pact was said to be chanted by Witches in Cornwall on Midsummer Eve and it was:

Green is Gold – (Nature is clothed  in the Sun’s light)

Fire is Wet – (Candleboats are set afloat)

Fortunes told – (Divination that eve)

Dragon’s Met – (Green lines or serpent tracks)

Huge bonfires were often lit on every hill-top and sometimes fires were set out on small coracles to follow the currents of the Irish Sea.  Ellan Vannin was ablaze with fire, light, music and dance.

Manannan and his Faery Queen, Fand, began their royal ride with the 12 Fey Lords & Ladies of the Keys, from South Barrule, 15 miles to rule the High Court of Tynwald[5] at Baldwin in Braddan, Algare[6].  The King and Queen lead the Seelie Court, surrounded in song and dance, accompanied by faery music, fire brands, revelry and starlight.  Upon arrival at Algare (the Place of Justice) Old Tynwald court would be held and lasted a full week.  Disputes were settled, children, flocks and crops were blessed, the old laws were read and new laws proclaimed, wisdom and sage advice was sought from the Wise Sage of Mann, and titles and honours were bestowed upon the finest beasts and the most gifted men and women.  The People celebrated the summer harvest fair with the first seasonal fruits, herbs, honey and berries, drank mead wines and old ale libations were given.  The nights were warm weathered and many spent an enchanted night with their loved ones on the soft mossy floors of forest beds.


[1] Also called St. John’s Night.  One must remember that John is an old pagan survival, often called the Oak King and connected to Jack in the Green.  If this wasn’t enough, he was often called ‘Pan the Baptist’ much to the chagrin of the Christian priests.  This is because he was often depicted as a shaggy man, sometimes even cloven hoofed such as a satyr.

[2] Manannan often appeared in the form of a great Crane, his totem animal and a bird of esteemed magical powers.

[3] Sedum telephium

[4] This was also reported to be a place where one of eight cyclical castles of Manannan once resided.

[5] Tynwald is the oldest surviving parliament in the world, making a claim on the Isle of Mann to be at least 1000 years old.  It is now celebrated on July 5th in St. John’s and attendees still wear sprigs of St. John’s Wort as a protection against evil and to bring good fortune.

[6] Old Tynwald is north of St. Luke’s Church in Braddan.  Of an interesting note, the name of the homestead where Old Tynwald stood is still called “Algare” which is a word meaning “justice” or “A Place of Justice”.

The Witch’s Ride

Posted in Art, History with tags , , , , on May 19, 2012 by manxwytch

The besom (broom), pole or stang are well known horses for the witch’s ride to the sabbat and otherworldly realms.  Possibly one of the earliest European depictions of a woman riding a pole or besom is in Le Champion de Dames (The Champion of Women) written by Martin le Franc in 1451 and illuminated by Peronet Lamey.

The image of the Flying Women are easily overlooked and appear in the margin of a single page in the text seen here.

The book itself is beautiful on an artistic level and chronicles the great women of history, folk lore and mythology.  As a precursor to the Enlightenment Period, Les Champions de Dames criticises French aristocracy and points to corruption in politics and government.

The Rowan Cross: Crosh Cuirn

Posted in Folklore with tags , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2012 by manxwytch

On May Eve the tradition is to gather two twigs from the Cuirn (Rowan) and make them into a cross which was said to be a powerful charm against all malevolent spirits.  To obtain a crosh cuirn the branches were respectfully requested from the tree by addressing her “Lady of the Mountain” which is another name for the Rowan Tree.  The wee branch was gently bent and if She gave way, then the tree gave her blessing and protection for the year.  The branches were never, ever to be cut as the Lady of the Mountain abhors steel.

Having received the blessings of land, the next step was to bind the twigs with the life of the beast.  This was accomplished by foraging along the fence-posts and hedges for the right sized amount of tangled wool which had been caught up and snagged over the winter or early spring.  Best of all if the wool found was from the Manx Loaghtan, the King of Sheep, who was said to be the herd of Faery.

With beast and branch, the crosh cuirn (rowan cross) was then crafted.  Farmers would place it in the barn or sometimes would bind many crosses and knot them in the tail hairs of their cattle and horses.  Manx fishermen would often travel into the hills, returning with the crosh cuirn and place it in a secret place of the boat.  Many folk scattered the first wild flowers on their doorsteps and would place it over their lintel until the following May.

I’ve seen many beautiful versions of the Rowan Cross made by talented artisans and some are for sale on the web or in crafty shops.  They make lovely decorations for the home and certainly there are many variations of the Rowan Cross from local traditions in the U.K.

But for myself, I feel that the real magic is in the making of the cross.

These things that can’t be bought are priceless.