What Makes Something an Omen?

People will see or experience something and start to wonder whether the warble or flight path of a bird has particular meaning on this occasion, or if a seemingly random coincidence has some greater meaning.

But how does one tell the difference between the cry of a crowd and the call of the Morrigan? How can you tell if an object that fell in your path is little more than coincidence or something trying to get your attention?

Out of the Ordinary

The important aspect which makes an something omen is the fact is is out of the ordinary. It might be seeing a plant or butterfly out of season, or an animal behave in a way which is unusual to its species. For example, seeing a fox at dusk is in keeping with its nature but to see one in broad daylight may be something to note.

Simply seeing something does not necessarily make it particularly note worthy. We encounter many planets and animals in our day to day wanderings. Simply seeing a crow on your daily walk is not an indication of a deity or spirit animal attempting to connect with you, even if you see a large number or congregation of them. A messenger will interact with you more closely in some way. They may fly very close to you, drop something in your path or even communicate with you directly by tapping on your window or sitting close by and calling to you.

Context is also important. If you’ve recently petitioned or cast for something and you then have an experience or sighting then it is likely that something is attempting to communicate with you. Equally if you have just thrown out a silent plea for advice or direction and you suddenly encounter something strange or relevant to that plea the chances are that you are beige contacted in a very direct way.

 

Validation – External and Divine

A healthy dose of scepticism is always advisable in magical circles whether it is a of someone’s claims of power/knowledge or your own experiences. The process of ruling out natural phenomenon and misinterpretation is a sensible process which should be undertaken after every experience where it is possible to do so.

Seeking validation is one of the most effective processes, and often can be undertaken in the moment.The best form is in a request for reinforcement of the message, making it in the moment to give any entity trying to communicate with you the best possible chance to provide you with clarification.

It is also a good idea to turn to divination after a period of reflection as another possible source of answers. Dowsing and any form of method that will yield a yes no response are good places to start but using tarot it maybe possible to gain greater insight. Particularly in the cases of animals and birds the symbolism associated with them can also be explored to offer insights and there are many oracle decks which may be relevant to his process.

External validation is another method of attempting to clarify whether or not your experience was something more. Whilst this approach can have its benefits the wider the field of opinion the less valuable it becomes. External validation will always be coloured by the commentators own establish beliefs and experiences. Whilst this can be a valid information gathering process for the seeker they may encounter too many conflicting or contradictory opinions can only deeper confusion.

Unfortunately there are many people on Facebook that will offer unconditional validation in any and all circumstances, regardless of situation and context. Whilst the more innocent of these commentators are doing no more than parroting what the OP and perhaps others have already said, failing to add anything to the conversation, there are others who risk doing far more harm than good. On more than one occasion I have seen people confirm an OP’s experience whilst failing to recognise that the same poster has admitted serious mental health or substance related issues as part of the lives. In these situations far more balance is necessary in response or the advice or suggestions run the risk of merely deepening psychosis. 

This means I need to offer advice both to the seeker and the respondants.

Seeker – don’t seek external validation as your first form. Always be honest about your experience to help the respondents give their fullest answer but equally take the responses you get with a pinch of salt. You are the person in the experience and therefore you are best place to explain it.

Respondents – be honest in your responses, if you disagree with any interpretation do so but be clear as to why so the seeker is able to weigh up all possibilities. Also, read the thread carefully. Seekers often add detail after the fact. If there is any suspicion of substance misuse or ill health which may impact on the OP’s perceptions feel empowered to (politely) say something to that effect. Equally you can just walk away from the thread. Knowing which battles are worth fighting is half the trick.

 

Conclusions

Ultimately the person best suited to identifying what is (or isn’t) an omen is you. It was your experience and you are best placed to understand it in relation to your life in that moment in time and space, and take into account all the various threads in the which this even may bring together in the greater tapestry of your life.

As Witches and Pagans we are attune to this that go beyond the mundane world but we do still live within it and it is important that we keep our feet firmly on the ground. It can be very tempting to read far more into the things we experience and encounter than is actually there, devaluing those moments which are true omens. Hopefully this post will serve as a tool set and reminder that it is okay to step back and be skeptical.

 

Personal Experiences

I’ve previously posted about my experience with Red Kites, a bird I associate with Hekate. This experience, which speaks for itself to a large degree, is a good example of the benefit of validation in the moment in order to seek clarity.

Another example relates to this picture.

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Cherry Blossom © Vicky Newton

This blossom literally fell into my life as I was on my way to an interview a couple of years ago. My then contract, which was tied to a third second funding stream, was about to come to an end. The interview was the third and final one in a time frame which would allow me to walk from one job to the next without a period of unemployment. In the previous two interviews I had been close but unsuccessful so I had a lot riding on this meeting.

As I walked in I passed under a cherry tree in full bloom, a few doors down from the office, when this full blossom fell directly in front of me. In of itself that wouldn’t have been something of note but what set it apart was that I reacted instinctively and caught the blossom with little effort. Although I didn’t have time to perform any of my usual confirmation checks I took it’s appearance, both fresh and new, and the easy at which I caught it as a sign and tucked it away in my bag. It came as no surprise when I received the job offer a few hours later.

I’ve walked under that same tree many times in the last few years and nothing like it has happened since, though I am hoping to get some sign in one form or another now that my contract is once again up for renewal. 

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Hekate and The Charities

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The Three Charis – artist unknown

The Charities are a group of lesser deities (ie not counted within the main Olympiad) who represent concepts such as charm, nature and beauty in the smell way the muses represent the creative arts.

Known singularly as a Charis (/ˈkeɪrɪs/; Greek: Χάρις, pronounced [kʰáris])

together they are collectively known as the Charites /ˈkærᵻtiːz/(Χάριτες [kʰáritɛːs]) and although their number and names may vary from region to region the three best known are Aglaea (“Splendor”), Euphrosyne(“Mirth”) and Thalia  (“Good cheer”)

As with many aspects of Greek mythology the details of their parentage, spouse and offspring vary across time and region but generally speaking it is recorded that the parents of the three above domestic names Charities are Zeus and Eurynome.

Though the Charities did not have a strong cult in their own right but were often incorporated into the cults of other deities and remembered at specific points of the social calendar / life one place which was particularly held as sacred to them was the river Cephissus near Delphi.

 

Aglaea (“Splendor”)

Aglaea is the goddess of beauty, splendor, glory, magnificence, and adornment. She is sometimes referred to as the youngest of the Charite. Her names means “splendor, brilliant, shining one”

Aglaea was married to Hephaestus after hemail separated from Aphrodite. They had children together who became Charities themselves;  Eucleia (“Good Repute”), Eupheme (“Acclaim”), Euthenia (“Prosperity”), and Philophrosyne (“Welcome”).

 

Euphrosyne (“Mirth”)

Euphrosyne is a Goddess of Joy or Mirth, and the incarnation of grace and beauty. She is referred to as the sister of Thalia and Aglaea, who was married to Hephaestus however Euphrosyne is a slow referred to as the half sister of Hephaestus, the god of metalworking and volcanoes. Her name is the female version of a Greek word euphrosynos, which means “merriment”.

 

Thalia  (“Good cheer”)

Thalia is the goddess of festivity and rich banquets. Her name literally means “abundance” and in Greek is an adjective applied to banquets, meaning rich, plentiful and luxuriant. Her name is used for the character Thalia Grace in the Percy Jackson series. This character is the daughter of Zeus by a mortal woman and joined the ranks of Virgins of Artemis to avoid being swept up in the great Prophecy by stopping her from reaching the age of 16.

 

Connection with the Eleusinian Mysteries

Open Wikipedia or any like minded online encyclopedia you will see the assertion that the Charities are associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries. As with any juicy connection like this is it often said but never referenced and it is not entirely clear why the association is made.

One possible explanation may be found in the Orphic Hymn to the Horae (Hymn 43), where the Charities are counted amongst the companions of Persephone in advance of her kidnap by Hades and then after during her sojourn in the celestial realms. They are also identified as being attendants to the God/daimon Iacchus, who in turn is the attendant of the Goddess Demeter/ He is named by Aristophanes as the God of the Call in his play satirising the Eleusinian Mysteries, Frogs.

I have not got to the bottom of this matter just yet, it is possible that there are other connections that I am not aware of.

 

Hekate and the Charities

The inspiration for today’s post is part my favourite Roman statue of Hekate and part a follow on from my past post about Hekate and the Homeless.

Hekate is depicted in the company of three figures, commonly identified as the Charities/Graces, in a statue from (origin). Why she is depicted with the Charities in attendance is not entirely clear but it is likely that it is because of their joint association with Persephone and the Eleusinian Mysteries.

The whole point of the second part of this post rests both on this association and the fact that that the Latin name for the Charities is Graces. The concept of Heketean virtues has been advanced a number of times within groups and individuals the process of writing my post on Hekate and the Homeless these three virtues or “Graces” came to mind.

 

The Three Graces

I believe that participation in devotional act in Her Honour should inspire us to better know ourselves and the world around us. I would present these processes as three main ‘graces’ through which this can be attained.

Compassion – to garner an understanding and empathy of our fellow humans it is important to have an understanding of their suffering. This is an act beyond sympathy, which is just feeling of pity and sadness alone; it is a process by which in addition to sympathising with a person and situation a process of attempting to alleviate this suffering is also undertaken. Through compassion we not only come to understand the condition of others we can reach a better appreciation of our own.

Humility – there is a saying ‘there but for the grace of the Gods go I’; this reminds us that there is little difference between those less fortunate than ourselves beyond our circumstances. The roll of the dice, the fall of the stones; it doesn’t take much to brighten us down low. It is important to remember that the graces in our lives do not make us better than someone else, nor their misfortunes less. The process of rising someone up neither brings us down nor makes us greater.

Wisdom – it is important to maintain a sense of proportion on all things. Looking after others can be a full and draining pursuit and it is important to exercise moderation in the use of one’s owns resources. You cannot help others if you are not helping yourself, self-compassion is indeed a thing. Wisdom is also knowing how to help, when to help and when you are no longer able to support someone for whatever reason. Not everyone wants to be helped, for a myriad of reasons, and it is necessary to know the signs and what to do in response. No deity who has directed you to help others wants you to wear yourself down in the process and as in all things Hekate can open the door for people and given them the opportunity to walk through it but she will not force the matter. As we all know, she is more than willing to let us learn our lessons the hard well.

 

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Vesna and Lada – Spring and Summer

From autumn to winter and then we reach the spring again. We are a long way off the start of the restart of the cycle of regeneration but it is still time to be posting a little about the Slavic goddesses Vesna and Lada.

Vesna – Goddess of Spring

Vesna is the Goddess of Spring amongst the Slavic people who’s name literally means “spring”. She is brought in on the winds of Stribog each year and her arrival is celebrated as the victory of the warmer, life bringing weather over winter as embodied by the goddess Morena.

Very little remains of this goddess in the written record, and what does remain is often conflated with other Goddesses. Her legacy can be found in the spring time celebration conducted on the 1st March where a progression of young women leave the village to walk the fields singing songs to the Goddess carrying seasonal flowers and representations of the Goddess, including clay larks. In addition to being a goddess of Spring Vensa is associated with the fertility of the land and her arrival is seen as a blessing on the fields for the growing months to come.

Offerings – honey cakes, goat’s milk, spring flowers, crocus, apple, nuts, pastries and sweets

Altar – rook or lark motifs, beech, maple, spring flowers, wooden bird statuettes, window quartz

Spaces – yards, gardens, meadows, beech, maple groves, wetlands

Day – Sunday

Animals – larks, cranes, rooks, other migratory birds

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Lada – Goddess of Summer

The Goddess Lada is a complex deity. She is often cited as both the Goddess of Spring and Summer because of her merry beauty and association with summer flowers however, it is also possible she does not represent a deity at all but a sentiment sung of at Baltic and Slavic weddings. Worship of Lada is not attested to until the 15th Century by which time it is in the context of Christian writers dismissing folk traditions of the Polish people.

Taken as a Goddess Lada is the Goddess of Youth and Beauty. She is honoured at celebrations taking place during the month of May when she is said to dance through the land with her brother Lado, bringing flowers and fertility wherever their feed tread.

Lada exists in a cycle similar to that of Persephone in Greek Mythology. For a portion of each year, as a result of her infidelity against her husband Svarog, Lada lives in the land of Nav with Veles returning each year after the return of Vensa to bring fertility to the land ahead of the harvest.

Offerings – mead, apple, sweets, birch, linden, lemon balm, cherry, dandelion, peony, chestnuts

Altar – flower wreaths, gold, river stones, birch, herbs

Spaces – home, lakes, ponds, the “may pole”

Day – Friday

Animals – Deer

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Artist Viktor Korolkov

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Unicorns – A Talk at Leeds City Museum

The fact that I am posting two event reviews one after the other may give the impression that I live a busy fun packed life. In reality I was was a little bit tardy in getting the Nameless Arte blog out and it happened to cross over with the Unicorns  talk and book signing.

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(left to right) Anne Stokes and John Woodward ©Vicky Newton

On the 11th of November I took my daughters to Leeds City Museum to listen to a talk by author John Woodward and illustrator Anne Stokes on the subject of Unicorns.  I doubt that Anne  (link) needs much of an introduction; even if you don’t recognise the name you will have seen her art and licensed products all over the neo-Pagan world. John Woodward on the other hand is a children’s book author, focusing on science subjects and the natural world. Anne and John have previously worked together in producing Spellbound – A Book of Spells Woven from the Art of Anne Stokes but it was their latest book Unicorns which was being presented at the talk. Combining the wonderful art of Anne and the research and writing flare of John, Unicorns details the history, appearance, biology and symbology of the purest of beasts, and the talk too us through both elements of the book and gave us an insight into the mind and processes of the illustrator.  

It was possibly a little adventurous to take the children, in hindsight. Although the event was billed as child friendly asking my youngest to sit through an hour of talk and then line up for a signature was possibly a little much. Whilst I had packed her enough activities to keep her occupied I apparently  failed to provide enough food; one solid chocolate unicorn lolly from Kake and Bakes was simply not enough!

Still, the eldest enjoyed herself and as a budding artist she was very interested in hearing Anne’s portion of the talk. ED enjoys drawing, particularly live subjects, but the use of models beyond herself has never really featured. Now her limited web time is spent finding people to draw. She was also more than a little excited to see the depth of symbolism that Anne employs, from the composition of the image itself to the colours, flowers and animals included in a scene. We are wild garlic nuts in this house so ED sat to attention She she realised that not only were wild garlic flowers included in the image “Pure Heart” simply because they are pretty and white but also because they represent purity and purification.

The main focus of the talk was of course the mythical unicorn, and John lead us through an overview of the book’s content in a series of short explanations of the origin of the unicorn in both art and literature and how it unites so many cultures over a fast spread of time. Of course my favourite reference was to the earliest depiction of what is interpreted as a unicorn in the Lascaux caves located in the Dordogne region of France. The caves, found by a young boy searching for his lost dog, are amongst the best examples of upper Paleolithic art and show the range of animals and landscapes within our ancestors experienced. Amongst these animals is, supposedly, the earliest depiction of a unicorn.

I will admit I am a little confused, and perhaps this is a sign that I need to read the book. The Unicorn Panel, located in the Hall of the Bulls, depicts a number of horned animals. Google “Unicorn Lascaux  cave” and two pictures will predominant be returned.

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The first image shows an animal clearly sporting two horns, although many pages cite it as the unicorn. John, on the other hand, included the second image in his talk and to my eye there is one horn, with the animal in question looking downwards.  Also, it more closely matches the horses that surround it in form and design than the animal in the first image and I think that I am more comfortable with this representing the mythical unicorn, even though it is far from shining white in comparison to the other animal.

One reason for this is that the white hue of the unicorn, as John explained, was a relatively late addition to mythological cannon. The beautiful, elegant light filled creature we all know appears from the 13th century onward and the change in colours and form were intended to align the symbolism of the animal with the concepts it was used to represent such as purity.  

What I find fascinating is the breadth of historical figures who sought to connect themselves with the Unicorns mythology,  particularly as a sign of legitimacy. From Genghis Khan to Alexander the Great, encounters with the Unicorns have connected many of the great men of history further highlighting that the unicorn myth is not limited to just western society but appears throughout the world.

The Unicorn has appeared in many places beside myth and legends, including the bible, which has ensured that it remained in the public eye once the Good Book was translated into the vernacular. The graceful horn would be used as a recognisable sign for the humble apothecary,  with the magnificent horn being endowed with many magical and healing properties. In truth it is the test of the narwhal which is most often found as being sold in this guise and it is really only after the 13th century that the image of the single, gracefully thin spiral horn became synonymous with the Unicorns.  Prior to that the horn had taken on many shapes, including branched, gnarled and multi coloured depending on who was depicting the mythical beast. Unicorn horn was considered very rare, and the narwhal horn that was sold in its name worth more than its own weight in gold. It is not surprising therefore that on Wall Street any start up business worth more than 1 billion is referred to as a “Unicorn”.

Of course no discussion about Unicorns can neglect the subject of innocence and the capture of the Unicorn. Some of the most stunning depictions of the medieval unicorn dwell on the subject, showing the personification of wild naivety meekly submitting to the presence of an equally innocent maid. The honest, purity, strength and valour of the Unicorn has made its way into heraldry; standing at the centre of our own national identity here in the UK.

The Unicorn is a creature of the liminal,  similar in appearance to the horse that we are all familiar with but sufficiently different enough to be almost alien to our day to day experience. The encounters described and depicted in literature and art lend the unicorn an insubstantial air, emerging out of the forest one moment only to blend back into the mist and haze the next. These is a theme not only taken up by Anne in her artwork, blending colours seamlessly to give the effect of unity between the animal and the background, but also in the new age belief that the Unicorn is a creature through which we can communicate with other realms of existence.  

But why has the Unicorn remained such a powerful presence in the modern mindset? Whilst there is no doubt that it’s presence in the bible has been a factor the beast has transcended not only religion but also cultures. In a sense, once they reached the mass populous their powerful themes of purity, honesty and innocence stand in stark contrast to the structures of power and control that exist. That there is a creature that stands above the tyrants and deceivers, with the wildness to punish them with hoof and horn, is more than a little appealing.

For this, and many other, reasons the Unicorn has been featured over and over again in literature. As literacy expanded, and the methods and means of communication become more and more universal, the Unicorn has kept pace alongside us; giving us hope in the heart face of apparently disastrous political landscape.

 

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The Nameless Arte – Aspects of Traditional Witchcraft in Britain

Introduction 

The 2nd September 2017 was a special day for two reasons. First, it was the OP’S birthday and second was the first, hopefully not last, Traditional Witchcraft Occult Conference celebrating the Nameless Arte, a phase coined by Nigel Pennick to describe the traditional witchcraft of Essex and East Anglia. The day was organised to celebrate the rich folklore, tradition and practice of the southern counties which may begin the question why was a northerner like myself attending in the first place.

Well for starters it was an epic road trip with friend; good food and good company all round. Travelling gave me the opportunity to socialise and make new friends in the wider community as well. Secondly, it never hurts to learn about folklore outside of your own immediate area. Survival varies and sometimes it is possible, even necessary, to look at similarities and build up from there. Finally; learning about lived experience and practice helps put my own process in to context. As was mentioned at the conference, we are now more connected than ever and there is no need for us to be little mushrooms under our own personal rocks. Let’s get out, share thoughts and see all Witchcraft practices grow and become more relevant in our modern lives.

Speakers

Master of Ceremonies

Andrew Collins is an author and explorer living who’s books challenge the way we perceive history as it is given in the mainstream. Amongst his notable publications are Ashes to Angels, a discourse on the Watchers and the Bible, and the Cygnus Mysteries.

Andrew gave an interesting introduction to the day by recounting the experience of an Italian friend interested in learning more about Witchcraft. The moral of the story – witchcraft is not something you can learn in a weekend, or can be denoted by the receipt of a certificate. It is an experienced process which occurs by working with the land and the forces that stalk it.

Andrew is very right in this assessment. Too many people, once upon a time myself included, think that they can read a book and suddenly they know it all and can do it all. All too soon it comes crashing down around people’s ears because they wade far too deep into the deep end with no understanding of the basics… but that is another conversation. Andrew’s caution that whilst we would learn much that day it wasn’t our attendance that made us witches but our practice.

Michael Clarke – Traditional Witchcraft as a Way of Life

The first speaker of the day was Michael Clarke; practitioner of the Nameless Arte and Toadman. Michael gave us insight into his own experience of traditional and folkloric practices in the rural lands of Essex, describing the Horsemen and other agricultural fraternities. He also described the infamous Toad Bone ritual to use, warning that with great power comes a great deal of trouble and strife, as any pact with Old Hornie might.

Michael’s wide ranging experience with the Craft in Essex was reflected in the wide range of subjects covered, which probably represented just a fraction of what he wanted to cover on the day. Speakers were strictly kept to 45 mins, with enough of a break in between speakers to make it possible digest and discuss subjects (and shop of course). Three quarters of an hour may not seem like much but it amazing what can get packed in by a good speaker.

Martin Duffy – Graven Image – the crafting and Manipulation of Effigies in British Witchcraft

Britain had a rich practice of image  magic from which to draw from and one really only need to visit at the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle to see the breath of method and materials used. Failing that, a wonderfully illustrated and comprehensive talk by Martin Duffy can bring the Museum to you. Martin’s talk, which discussed the materials, magical procedures and methods of deployment as well as the potential uses of poppets, was brought to life through the inclusion of photos from the museums archives.

I love poppets, but I particularly liked the knitted woman dressed in an WWII RAF uniform. Whoever the doll represented the maker went to great lengths to create her doppelganger. The talk was based on Martin’s new book Effigy: Graven Image and Holy Idol which, despite my long standing rule the shipping shouldn’t exceed the item, may mean I will be paying to ship a book from the States.

Richard Ward – Between God and the Devil – The origins, history, evolution and preservation of folk magic in rural Essex

This talk was divided in to two parts.  Firstly Richard discussed the blurred lines between Christianity and Paganism in the rural practices of Essex and how the concepts of God and the Devil were not as clear cut as we perceive today. The Devil was close, and the Arte of appeasing him a fine and noble one, just a few steps removed from making parts and controlling Him. Richard discussed his own family background within the Roma tradition as well as practical such as maintaining a plot of land dedicated to the Devil to ensure the productivity of the rest of the farm.

The second part concerned about gentleman know as Cunning Murrell.  Perhaps not as well known as George Pickingill, a name became synonymous with the pelars of Essex, Murrell’s existence and connections in the landscape are clear in the literature of Edwardian folklorists. Pickingill on the other hand burst on to the scene some time after his death, being dragged from the memories of people who lived in the area. The so called Pickingill Papers have recently been called into question and given that many of the attributes and feats accorded to him were first attributed to Murrell in contemporary sources it is likely that the identity of Pickingill as Cunningman extraordinaire is a later fabrication. This opinion may be unpopular for many, but compelling when presented with evidence of both men in comparison.

Andrew Mercer – The Wicked Shall Decay – Charms, Spells and Incantations of Rural Britain

Andy is a member of the Folklore Society and as a native of Essex has a keen interest in the magical practices of the area so it was nice to find out that his new book “The Wicked Shall Decay” looks beyond the southern counties and into the north. Included in Andy’s talk was reference to a charm/spell from the north riding of Yorkshire, a mere stones thrown from myself in the West Riding. Andy stumbled a bit with the rhyme, having a soft southern accent there were elements of dialect he just couldn’t wrap his tongue around. It is hard to believe that prior to increased mobility both for information and labour the difference in language from one end of the country was very marked. Even now it is possible to find pockets of dialects which sound like entirely different languages, far closer to the old English and Norse from which the dialect emerged. 

 

As one might expect, many of the spells and charms were concerned with cursing, either causing or averting them, as well as finding and creating love where it may not have been before. Modern practice hasn’t really travelled too far from these core concepts if truth be told, and the preoccupation remains strong amongst people first approaching the craft. It can be hard to see the wood for the trees but there are some useful lessons to be found in referencing and may be even adapting these older examples into our modern practice, even if it only to keep them alive in our own traditions going forward. Andy’s book is currently available on Amazon for pre-order and is definitely something I will be adding to my shelf when the time comes.

Gemma Gary – Cornwall and the Modern Traditional Craft

The final talk of the day was delivered by Cornish Witch Gemma Gary. Gemma is well known in the Trad Craft community as the owner of Troy Books publishing house as well as a most prolific author on the subject on folk magic and traditions of Cornwall. One particularly defining book is Traditional Witchcraft – A Cornish Book of Ways, which will be celebrating its 10th year in print in 2018, and Gemma used her talk to revisit the book and its subject in light of the conference. Whilst being centred on Gemma’s own experience of the Craft community, including the various working groups and covens she has engaged with over the years, Traditional Witchcraft was written in such a way that it has gone on to influence a large number of independent traditional covens and  solitary witches up and down the country. As well as giving an overview of the book itself Gemma read passages and used them to illustrate her experiences over the years, helping the listener understand not only the context and content of the book but also how it truly represents a lived tradition.

Panel and Excursion

The day of talks closed with a panel consisting of all the speakers. Amongst the usually questions for clarity or to reinforce concepts and ideas with personal experience was one particularly profound and pertinent questions on which the day was closed. What is the future of Traditional Witchcraft? My thoughts align very closely with the sentiments expressed by the speakers on the day; Traditional craft practices are, by their nature, an exercise in looking back at the sources and references we have and finding a way to incorporate them into our own practices. By doing so we are inevitably drawing the past into the present, blending our own traditional practices for future generations. They will, as one might expect, have far more information to draw on that we do currently but even as they read our material and the inspirations behind it they will bring their own changes and inspirations. Traditional Witchcraft is a lived and living tradition, changing and evolving to meet the times. It is a practice of working with the land and the spirits of the dead, how we work with them reflects our own time and place it is the very fact we work with which makes our craft Traditional.

The entire event was followed by an excursion, lead by Richard Ward, around the sites and places associated with Cunning Murrell. Unfortunately I was flagging by this point, as were others in my party so we bid our farewells this point. It would have been nice to meet up with the people a few hours later at a pub for drinks and to digest some good food and interesting information but we weren’t clear on where the excursion would end so we settled on Taco’s and Tequila instead. Very yum.

Photo’s © Victoria Newton

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Castlerigg

Of all the ancient sites that you can visit in Cumbria Castlerigg is possibly the most awesome inspiring of them all. Inspiration to artists and poets alike if it weren’t for the English Heritage signs by the gate you would think you had been dropped into a scene from Skyrim. As my OH said ‘those ancients sure knew how to pick a location’.

Situated a short drive outside of the picturesque town of Keswick, and erroneously signposted as a ‘Druid’s Circle’, Castlerigg is an open access site with limited roadside parking. Sheep are grazed in the enclosure alongside the stones so it is advisable to keep animals under control. My two animals were pretty well behaved but the YD developed a strange desire to becoming friends with the sheep.

History of the Site

Castlerigg is a slightly flattened circle measuring 32.6m (107ft) at its widest point. Constructed from local metamorphic slate somewhere around the 3200 BCE mark, placing it in the later Neolithic /early Bronze Age period.  Castlerigg is officially recognised as having 40 stones in its construction, including the so called sanctuary, a rectangular structure located in the eastern quarter. Counts vary between 38 and 42 stones as erosion has revealed a number of stones which may more accurately be defined as packing stones.

The heaviest stone is estimated to weigh 16 tons whilst the tallest stone measures approximately 2.3m high. There is a 3.3m wide gap in its northern edge, which is normally designated as the entrance to the circle. With an earliest construction date of 3200 BCE Castlerigg is recognised as the earliest stone circle is Cumbria, perhaps even in England, though that designation may be a result of Castlerigg being one of the most investigated sites in Cumbria as well.  

The purpose of any stone circle is often Horley debated, and Castlerigg is no exception. In addition to a number of astronomical alignments (see below), which may indicate use as an agricultural and religious calendar / location Castlerigg is often cited as agricultural example of the combination of religion and socio-economic structures. The site is situated upon a plateau surrounded on all slides by hills and fells and the natural amphitheatre is clearly awe inspiring but it is location close to the Langdale fells which is most relevant to this suggestion. The area was home to the Neolithic Langdale axe industry and Axes associated with this industry have been known to travel as far as Ireland and Cornwall.

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Inner Rectangle / “Sanctuary” © Victoria Newton

Archaeoastronomy

Given that Castlerigg is the most excavated site in the region it makes sense that is is also the best explored in terms of astronomical alignment.

There are a number of notable solar alignments including midsummer’s day, where the setting sun creates a shadow between the set stone and the ridge of Latrigg. In reverse, the same alignments seems to correspond with the rising of the sun on Candlemas. The other significant sun alignment occurs on the sunrise of the autumnal equinox, with the Sun appearing over Threlkeld Knott in the East. Various other alignments with the midwinter sunrise and lunar stations are also suggested but sometimes archaeo-astronomy can be a bit of a ‘draw a line and see what fits exercises. Not all observable alignments were intentional or even relevant.  

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Modern Pagan Usage

Given its mid summer and winter alignments Castlerigg is a place of pilgrimage for modern pagans, and others, at these times. Being accessible by road is both a blessing and a curse as it means it is easily accessible by everyone so observers at rituals are likely even if human observers aren’t present sheep are likely to wander in and out. I suspect the site is quiet after dark, bar the odd local dog walker, so I am sure that locals make use of the space.

Unlike Long Meg, Castlerigg doesn’t have a history of deposited offerings being left, in part because the field is still in use by the farmer and the site is actively maintained by English Heritage due to its popularity. This means that attempts at digging ‘offering pits’ is both discouraged and stymied and offerings tidied away.

Stones in the Next Field

I may have mentioned in the past, at least in face to face conversation, about the presence of stones in the field across the road from Castlerigg. When I was studying for my degree many moons ago I was told that these were potentially evidence of a cairn or degraded long barrow which predated the stone circle in the wooded area across the road. I went looking for the stones and indeed located them, though I suspect they are more to do with field clearance than any ancient monument. If you are up there take a poke around yourself, they not far from the far right entrance (as you look at Castlerigg from the road). It seemed to me that there was enough modern farm debris mixed in with the stones to call into question the explanation I was originally given.

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Long Barrow or Random Stones? © Victoria Newton 

 

Other Fun Photos

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View from the North Entrance © Victoria Newton

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Cumbrian Hills © Victoria Newton

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Looking South © Victoria Newton

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Meeting the Locals ©  Victoria Newton

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Dodola and Morena – Queens of Autumn and Winter

Given the current changing of the seasons and the approach of All Hallows Eve I thought it appropriate to honour the season. Dodola and Morena are the two Slavic goddesses most associated with the later months of the year and both the drawing in of harvest, both arable and pastoral, and the coming times of shortage. Like Mokosh, Dodola is a Goddess associated with roles of women, particularly household roles such as wife and month, where as Morena is her antithesis; representing decay and the dissolution of the family unit through her power over life and death.

As the year slips through autumn into winter the bite of the darkening days cuts deeper and deeper, bringing the dread of death ever closer. In our modern world we have lost a sense of what these dying days of the year really meant to our ancestors.

Dodola – Goddess of Autumn

Dodola, also known as Perunica, is the seasonal goddess associated with the harvest and autumn rains. She is the wife of the God Perun and has control not only of the rains but of lightening also. She is said to wield her lightening of her husband in order to punish those who were violent or disrespectful of their wives and women. She would also use lightening to punish those who broke oaths taken in her or her husbands name. Ensuing oaths, particularly those associated with debt and provision of food and shelter, were fulfilled in the dying days of the autumn was something that was of high importance in a world where winter very often brought death. 

The name Dodola is consistent with the Lithuanian word for lightening, whilst the name Perunica is the feminised form of Perun, sharing the same roots. Both Dodola and Perun were highly popular deities and as a result they were transformed by later Christian commentators into a snake and a dragon respectively.

Dodola was invoked through the act of dancing, particularly during periods of drought. The goddess would be worshipped and specific songs and dances performed in her honour in order to encourage her to visit them, bringing the rains with her. The Dodole dance is still performed by folk groups, particular during July  as a result of her conflation with Mary Magdalene in the Christian calendar.

Offerings – milk, round cakes, flowers, ribbons, fresh fruits and vegetables

Altar – evergreen, willow branches, iris flower, flower crown, rain water, chimes

Spaces – outdoors, hilltops, evergreen, pine groves, mountain meadows, fairy rings

Day – Thursday

Animals- Cow

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Morena – Goddess of Winter and Witchcraft

Morena is the Slavic Goddess of Winter, Death and Nightmares. She is the opposite of Vesna is all senses, being cold and hateful towards humanity. Of all the goddesses Morena is the most feared because the season she is associated with is one of death and despair.

The name Morena shares the same Proto-Indo-European root of mor-, signifying death. This route is also similar to the Russian word for pestilence. Where her name is rendered as Marzanna an associations with nightmares and hallucinations is established. Death, winter illness and fear are three things that stalked the ancient Slavs in the dead of Winter and Morena was believed to gather the dead to her so that she could draw them down into the world of Nav to become part of her entourage. Morena is often likened to the darker aspects of Hekate, particularly in the form of a psychopomp and Queen of the Dead. 

At the end of each winter season the departure of Morena is celebrated with great joy, as her departure announces the arrival of Vesna. One of the main rituals associated with this time is the construction of a straw effigy of Morena which is then ceremoniously walked to a river or lake where she is drowned. This act both enacts the victory of Vesna over Morena and the return of spring but also returns Morena to the world of Nav, where she resides until the next winter season.

Offerings – raw meat, elder, henbane, mandrake, birch, lily of the valley, nightshade, blood

Altar – death motifs, skulls, bones, besom, scythe, straw effigy, epidote

Spaces – forest ponds, elder groves, crossroads

Day – Saturday

Animals – fly, cat, swan

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