Meditation: Visiting the Holly King

Our tradition uses guided meditation to help impress certain symbols on our members’ subconsciousness. Below is our Yuletide meditation. It takes place in the Glass Castle, which is the northwest area of our compass.  It is the home of the Holly King, who we honor as Odin, Janicot, the  Grey Wanderer, Merlin, and by other names.  To use this meditation let yourself relax comfortably and picture yourself drifting downward and inward to the third realm, the lower realm. The third realm is a place of darkness and mystery.  Let yourself sink down into the third realm and rest there peacefully.

Meditation: Visiting the Holly King

It  is dark when you awake in a silent grove of snow-covered Holly trees.  Snowflakes so fat  you can  see their perfect, crystalline designs drift silently down in the  moonlight to land on the  prickly green leaves, blood-colored  berries, and glittering, cold-hardened ground.

You have  the  sense of others  being  present  with  you,  and you look  around the  grove for confirmation. From  between an archway made  by  two tall  Holly trees, you see shining  eyes watching you.  A  black  goat steps into the center  of  grove, followed  by two companions — goats of white and grey  pulling  a  small  sleigh. The  black goat indicates  that he  has something  important  to  show  you, and  you  climb  into the sheepskin-draped sleigh.

All three goats  begin to walk through the forest, slowly picking their  way  through the prickly Holly trees. You  hear tinkling, jingling silver bells as the  rig  moves — and see that the tack has been adorned with them. As the  stand  clears  to a  meadow, they pick up  their  pace. Now trotting.  Now in a  full run across  rolling, snowy hills.  Icy  wind whistles  in  your ears,  and  the  frigid night air  stings  your face, making your eyes water. You  are grateful  for the soft, warm lap robe.

With wonderment, you realize the crest of the next hill  has given way  to a cliff,  and your team  of  shaggy steeds is running  with sure-footed swiftness upon insubstantial  air. You feel  the lightness of  flying in your body  as  you look at the white and grey patchwork  of  the earth  below  you, accompanied by a flock of small brown birds.  They are wrens, you realize.

Through a distant  mist you can see a sparkling castle of glass. Moonlight shines like starfire from its  faceted walls.  Palest blue, white,  and silver banners hang from its towers.  Music drifts to your ears  —  a  choir, strings, horns.  The brightness and warmth of the music stand  in  contrast  to the chill beauty  around  you.

The goats land  in a  snowy  courtyard  beyond the large, mirrored castle doors.  The  black  goat says that he will wait for you outside.  You ask him what place this is and he answers, “There are many names for this place.  Some call it Merlin’s Tomb.  Others, the Fata Morgana.  I call it the Castle of Glass.  It is the home of the  Holly King and his glass orb.  He awaits you.”

The doors of the castle open and you find a glass  staircase,  which  you begin to  climb.  You glimpse of  a  feasting  hall  where a cheerful  gathering has  assembled — the smell of  roasted  meats  and spiced cider, a peek of  evergreen garlands, and  the joy-filled  sounds of laughter, music, and story-telling reaching  your  as  you make your ascent.  Perhaps  you will make merry with these  revelers later, but for now, you  know you  must  continue  upward.

The  staircase  is very  long, but you are not physically fatigued by the  climb. You are  almost floating. Still, as you  ascend, you feel  light-headed. When you reach the  upper landing, you  take a moment to catch your breath  and steady yourself. You find a carved  branch leaning against  the  wall and decide  whether or not you  wish to use it  as  a walking Staff.

In front of you are two large, intricately carved glass doors covered in symbols beyond count. Among these you notice a wren, a goat, and a holly leaf. You move to touch the doors and they swing open.

The room inside glitters  with a cold, pale light. Upon a  carved glass throne  sits a cloven-hoofed man with a long “salt and  pepper” beard. He  wears a wreathed crown of  Holly boughs and goat horns on  his head, and his  robes are grey, white, and silver  furs. To his  right leans  a  staff of Holly, encircled  with  its  own living  leaves and  berries.  Above  his  left hand hovers a large glass orb. His stormy grey eyes regard  you with detached  mirth. “I am Winter’s King, the  Holly King.  Called by many names.” His soft voice  holds  the rumble of  distant thunder, and  you shiver as he speaks. The scents of pine needles, orange  zest, and cinnamon fill the  room, and you feel alert and sharp in the  coolness of his presence.

He  gestures to the orb. “This is the treasure of the Glass Castle.” You gaze into the glass orb and can see both  misty and  crystalline images swirling within it. Shapes and  symbols  emerge  — some from your past, some from your present, and some from your future.

The symbols swirl faster, and you become overwhelmed with information, emotion, and  possibility. The Winter King  catches your eye with his piercing gaze  and stops  your crystalline vision with  his  chilling  voice. “I have a message for you,” he says.  He leans forward and whispers his secret message in your ear. [long pause]

He bids you farewell. You hurry down the glass staircase,  past the festooned hall, and through the mirrored doors.  The goats wait for you in the snowy courtyard. You climb into the sleigh and they soar into the air, accompanied again by the wrens, as you fly  back across the misty moat.  The goats take you beneath the snow clouds and over the tops of the holly trees, landing gently  in the same  grove  where you began. You  thank  them all, and especially  your  black goat  guide, before settling beneath a large holly tree to rest.

The Evil Eye

Many cultures all over the world share a common belief in a type of curse or hex that is transmitted (usually) unwittingly through a glare or  glance in which the caster is filled with envy, praise, or covetousness. It can also be transmitted, intentionally or unintentionally, by people with green or blue eyes — which is why protective charms to ward against this curse are so often blue, green, or turquoise.

The evil eye is also called the invidious eye, the envious eye, ayin ha’ra (Hebrew), malocchio (Italian), mal ojo (Spanish), jettatore (Sicilian), the stink eye (Hawaiian), nazar (Turkish), and bla band (Farsi).

While the eye itself is a receptive sensory organ, the power of the evil eye is insidious in its ability to send curses outward in a projective manner often unbeknownst to the own doing the cursing. In a traditional context, the person who sends the curse does not necessarily intend the afflicted target any harm. They simply admire and covet what they don’t already have. For this reason, mothers in cultures where a belief in the evil eye is prevalent might respond, “Oh, but he’s got dirt on him,” when told their baby is beautiful. Without saying something seemingly “mean,” the child might attract the evil eye and become sick — or even die!

Perils related to the evil eye include wasting, illness, blight, injury, plain bad luck, and possibly death.
Charms against the evil eye are sometimes also simply called “the evil eye” and take the shape of a blue, green, or turquoise circle banded in white to represent the eye. Various hand gestures and horns (with their phallic connotations) are also reputed to ward against the evil eye.  Eyes, hands, and horns have all been fashioned into jewelry, charms, and art that can be displayed on bodies, in homes, and in vehicles to offer the most possible protection against the threat of this malevolent glare.

Meeting at the Crossroads

Liminal places are those locales that can be described as neither here nor there, and since time immemorial, they have been considered the very best places to meet the Witchfather (or Witchmother) and perform spells.  Liminal spaces might be include the mouth of a cave (neither in the belly of the earth, nor upon the land’s breast), at the seashore (neither in the ocean, nor upon dry land), at a doorway (neither inside the house, nor yet outside its bounds). But the liminal place that has fired the imagination and bred some of the most enduring folklore is that of the crossroads — the place where two or more roads come together and the traveler can stand for a moment in true limbo, on their way to anywhere.

It is in this place of balance, of limitless possibility, of undiscovered potential that magic and initiation are possible. The Seeker of the Mysteries has access to all that Is, Was, and Will Be.

Cultures from all over the globe have expressed this concept in a myriad of ways. Some embrace it, and some fear it. The Keeper of these Mysteries is most often viewed as a devil, demon, whore, or hag, but sometimes they are known as the Master, Light Bearer, Psychopomp, Key Holder. (Sometimes they are both loved and feared, for the Mysteries that illuminate and set the soul aflame can also consume one with madness if not grounded and tempered.) Hekate and Hermes both held this role in ancient Greece.  In Africa (and African-diaspora) religions we see Legba/Elegua (and several others) as well as Pomba Gira.  Odin was honored at crossroads in parts of Denmark and elsewhere in the Norse world.

Folklore holds that rulers, dancers, musicians, artists, and merchants — just to name a few — have all made deals with the Devil at the crossroads to increase their talents, fame, power, and fortune. Perhaps the truer tale is that these intrepid (or desperate) seekers quested for mastery of their natural gifts. They may have come away changed by their initiation, startled by the Keeper they encountered there, but their work was fueled by Cunning Fire  after they had gone down to those crossroads.

Oath Stone

There are several types of stones that are important to Cunning Folk. With Tubal Cain being such a central figure within the lines of the Craft that have influenced this Tradition, however, it is no surprise that the Oath Stone upon which we take our vows and form our sacred blood bonds is his anvil.

I feel that it is most honest here to point out that this point of symbolism comes less from specific lore or myth as handed down from others, and more from mythopoesis — that poetic sense of symbolic elements fitting together and clicking into place.

This is a piece of American Folkloric Witchcraft that came first from the Clan of the Laughing Dragon, the coven I (Laurelei) was trained in as a young Witch. There, the anvil wasn’t the Oath Stone. We had no such stone. Our oaths were taken upon a Sword (and all vows, including coven bonds, were still made in blood). But the anvil was used in every single ritual that we performed as a way to call upon Tubal Cain, the Forge Master. We struck the hammer to the anvil three times, each time pausing to call his name. It was powerful. It still gives me chills when I call to him this way.

When my son was about 5-years-old, I was away from home and the anvil was sitting at its place (when not in ritual use) at our family’s hearth. He picked up the hammer and started striking, which brought his father running from the other room. He stopped the boy and asked him what he thought he was doing, intending to scold him for disrespecting this sacred tool. My son, not missing a beat, looked his father in the eyes and said in a voice filled with reverence, “Daddy, this is how we talk to God.”

This IS how we talk to God. Through our blood. Through Tubal Cain’s blood. Through the heartbeat that is pounded out in the rhythm of the hammer strokes.

The symbolism of the forge is powerful, alchemical, mystical. The anvil is the foundation of Stone. The forge is the transformational Flame. The bellows are the Breath. The quench is the Sea (both womb and tomb).

Ours is a path of the Mysteries of Life and Death and all that lies Between. It is Creation and Destruction. Destroying in order to Create. Mixing Fire and Water to temper the steel and make it stronger. Knowing how and when to do that in the right proportion.

And the anvil is the rock, the hard place on which this great work happens. It is the altar on which we are pounded and shaped (at our own request!) into something useful, something beautiful, something dangerous.

The earliest anvil’s were actual stones, of course, and a great many cultures have had ceremonies involving oathing and coronation stones. The Lia Fail (Stone of Destiny) and Jacob’s Pillow are two well-known coronation stones upon which dynasties of monarchs took vows to serve God and country. Furthermore, the custom has long-existed in Celtic countries for couples to make their wedding vows upon an oathing stone.

Within this Tradition, the Anvil as the Oath Stone sits at the base of the Stang when the Compass is drawn, along with the Cauldron. 

Making a Ritual Shield

The shield is the weapon of the Southern Gate — of Earth and Goda. It is the weapon of ThisWorld. It is a defensive weapon, used to guard against and deflect the dangers and assaults of day-to-day reality. It also represents the ways in which the physical realm affords certain protections and defenses against the slings and attacks of the other magical realities.

A simple shield is very easy to make and really adds to the protective, defensive magic of your home and magical space. Once it is finished, place it in a prominent location to guard your home or altar. When laying the compass for ritual, the Shield would be placed in the South.

Building the Shield

Materials:

o    Wooden round (a pre-made table top works beautifully)
o    Heavy duty felt (available by the yard at fabric stores) – need enough to cover front of wooden piece
o    Leather – enough to cover the face of your shield plus have an extra two inches all around; buy it pre-dyed or dye it according to your tastes
o    Furniture tacks – to keep leather from slipping across the wood; also for creating a design; any style of furniture tacks works
o    Cabinet handle – one that you can screw/nail from the front side of the handle (counter-sinking a nail or screw from the back will be difficult before you buil the shield and impossible afterward)
o    Pencil
o    Scissors
o    Measuring tape or ruler
o    Hammer
o    Staple gun with staples

Steps:

1.    As with any magical crafting project, you should create the targe in sacred space. Wear your cords and call the Grove, complete with any Deities whose energy you would like to include in your shield.
2.    Place the leather face down on your worktable. Put the wooden round on top of the leather and trace the shape plus 2 inches all the way around. Cut the leather and set it aside.
3.    Do the same with the felt, except cut just shy of 2 inches. You’ll want the leather to cover the felt completely.
4.    Place the leather face down again on the worktable. Put the felt on top of it, followed by the wooden round.
5.    Fold the leather and felt over the wooden base at the top-most point of the circle. Staple it in place on the back of the shield. Do the same at the bottom, making sure that the fabric and leather are snug but not too tightly stretched.
6.    Repeat the folding and stapling at the two sides, and then work your way around the entire circle. Remember to staple one side and follow it up with its exact opposite. This will keep the leather and fabric even and smooth.
7.    You’ll end up with staples all around the backside of the shield, holding the leather in place.
8.    Next, use the furniture tacks to tack down the leather on the front of the shield. You can make a simple circle of tacks along the outer edge of the flat circle, or tacks the outer rim of the shield. Another option is to incorporate a personal design, using the tacks, on the face of the shield. Any of these options will serve the same primary function – keeping your leather snug and secure.
9.    Affix your handle onto the back of the shield in place that will be comfortable when you are holding it.
10.    Use a strap of leather (or fur, if you want) to create a strap for your forearm. This will help your shield wear comfortably when you have need to hold it.
11.    Finish by placing your sigil and/or bindrune on the back of the shield, if you have one.
12.    Dedicate it to magical use after the Shield is complete by cleansing and consecrating the shield using your preferred method. It would be wise to call on Goda, Horse, Swan, Apple Tree, and the Southern Gate to empower this weapon.

Incorporating a Design

It isn’t entirely necessary to fashion a design onto your shield, though it certainly adds to the personal connection between Witch and Weapon. You can draw the design in pencil onto the leather, or use a paper pattern that you nail onto the shield and then remove once the design is complete.

If you do put a design on the shield with tacks, do it at Step 8.

You may also paint a design onto the leather, but be sure to do two things in this case. First, be sure to use some tacks around the edges to secure the leather. And second, use a sealant to preserve the painted design. It will flake off of the leather, otherwise.

Airts — The Southern Gate

The Southern Gate – Airt of Earth

Values: Growth, Experience, Authority, Money, Physicality, Security, Nourishment
Colors:Brown, russet, black, green
Symbols: Square, stone, cornucopia, scythe, salt, cart, plate, Gnomes
Tools: The casting bowl, patens/pentacles, horns
Weapons: Shield (Targe)
Totems: Swan, Horse & Apple Tree
Musical Instruments: Drums
Times: Lammas/Lughnasadh, Noon, Summer, Coming of Age
Places: Fields, mountains, valleys, canyons, deserts, forests, gardens
Zodiac: Capricorn, Taurus, Virgo
Sense: Touch
Power: To Keep Silent
Process: Brushing Hair/Skin, Grounding, Eating, Burying, Binding

You can visualize the Gates (the portals to each of the four cardinal directions) in anyway you like; but I like visualizing a 2-legged dolmen or even the sort of wooden gate that is common on ranches. 

The Southern Gate is very much associated with the mortal realm, consciousness, and consensus reality. It is the gateway to the Greenworld, the magic of this plane that we inhabit. It is a noon-time, bright day, midst-of-summer’s abundance place.

Because it is representative of consensus reality, some people might mistakenly assume that nothing is secret, hidden, or mysterious through the Southern Gate. This is an illusion, though, and one of the challenges in coming to truly know this place. For it is also the realm of the Good Neighbors — the Little Folk, the Fey.

Goda is the Queen of Elphame, riding forth from her Barrow. She is the White Goddess upon her white Horse. She is the Lady of Sacrifice, linking her earthen power to the first Harvest — the Red Day of Lammas. She is the Sovereignty Goddess with whom the King must conjoin in order to rule, and it is under Her auspices that the King’s life is taken in order to feed the land and the people.

On our Year Wheel, the Southern Gate is open and most easily accessed at Lammas, and the three totems that sit here are all intimately linked with Sovereignty and Self-Mastery.

This is a time for reaping the first harvest, playing games, and settling into the work of approaching Autumn.

Meditation: Visiting the White Goddess at Lammas , Goda

Our tradition uses guided meditation to help impress certain symbols on our members’ consciousness. Below is our Lammas meditation. It takes place at the Southern Gate of the compass, the place of earth and noontide .  It is the home of the White Goddess, whom we know as Goda. To use this meditation let yourself relax comfortably and picture yourself drifting downward and inward to the third realm, the lower realm. The third realm is a place of darkness and mystery.  Let yourself sink down into the third realm and rest there peacefully.

Meditation: Visiting the White Goddess, Goda

You open your eyes to see bright sun glinting through a leafy canopy above you. The sun is high in sky, and the day is hot and humid. You hear a buzzing of insects at the verge of the forest where the treeline gives way to the verdant farmland. Birds and small animals of all sorts fill the day with a hum of life that you can feel all the way to your bones.
You rise and look to the south, across the deep green corn field that stands just outside of the little woods. The corn is high, but you can see a hillock some distance away, and you know you want to go there. Gathering yourself together for the walk through the corn, you set your feet into the fertile soil. It is loamy and almost black in its richness.
The corn is taller than you, now that you are trying to find a path between the stalks. The smell of the soil and the chlorophyll fills your nostrils as the sun warms your scalp. You fill your lungs with the warm, earthy scent of life and lift your face to the sky. Two swans fly overhead, honking as they go.
You continue through the cornfield, following the straight tracks of the plentiful land until you hear a plodding clip-clop coming from your right. Curious, you adjust your course until you are walking in a small lane. An unbridled horse stops in the path and looks over its shoulder at you. You approach the horse, speaking in a low, soft voice. It allows you to pet its side and neck. Then, surprisingly, it bows low for you to mount it, which you easily do.
Seated upon the horse, you can see ahead on the path much more clearly than you had even from the forest’s edge. You certainly see much more than you did amidst the cornstalks. The path you were taking would lead through a grove of trees before climbing the hillock that you had set as your destination. A glimmer of sparkling water told you there was a stream or pond near the hill, as well.
Riding this horse will bring you to your destination faster, but it also gives you more opportunity to revel in your senses while you make the journey. You take some time to touch the horse’s short, bristled hair and feel its massive muscles moving under your legs. You smell its sweat mixed with the perfume of summer field and the approaching orchard. You see the vibrant and varied shades of green, laid with a foundation of deep brown and accented with colorful flowers and birds in the distance.
Soon, you are within the boundary of the Apple orchard. The trees are old, thick and twisted. The branches are full of both fragrant blossoms and ripe fruit. The horse bites an apple from one of the trees, and you pluck one, as well. You bite into it. The skin is firm and the flesh is juicy and sweet.
The land slopes upward and the path spirals around the hill. The horse bows again, and you dismount. You walk the path together. The orchard hugs the base of the hill on one side, but as you come around to the other side of the small Tor, you see that a stream caresses that edge. The two swans you saw in flight earlier are now gliding on the glittering ribbon of blue water.
When you have almost reached the top of the hill, you see a curious gate – two large rock pillars. You must pass through these twin standing stones in order to reach the zenith of the hill. You can’t see beyond this strange gate, because of the shape of the land. You cannot walk around this door.  You must either go through it or turn back.
The horse whinnies and stamps one hoof into the ground, urging you to choose. The stones are carved with strange markings and symbols. Some are unfamiliar to you, but others have deep meaning in your mind. (Pause.) You see a pentagram carved into one of the rocks along with the Apple tree rune, a horse, and a swan.
A woman is singing and laughing somewhere beyond the two stones, and you step up and through. Once you are over the hump of the hill, you clearly see the woman whose voice you heard. She is voluptuous and beautiful, her body curving and ripe and delicious. She dances naked in the sunshine, her hair loose around her shoulders. Round wooden platter filled with fruits and grains surround her – some set on the ground, others on large rocks. A few round wooden discs are sitting on their sides, with heraldic designs and family emblems painted on them in vibrant colors. You recognize some of these symbolic devices.
The woman stops singing and dancing, but laughter is in her voice and the air around her seems to shimmer as she greets you. “You’ve had a taste of Elphame. Would you stay for the sacrificial feast?” She holds a red-handled blade toward you.
“This place is Life Overflowing. Every living thing revels and quakes in the awesome rush that is this bounty. The beauty and love and life and joy that are here for all to claim with both hands are splendorous magics, and ones that are so easily overlooked and undervalued.” (Pause.) She holds one of the discs up as a shield. “Guard what is yours.” Taking another shield that is filled with food, she gestures for you to take what you want. “And be generous with the bounty of Love and Life and Beauty and Joy that are given to you.” She give you a round shield of your own, and a design appears on it. (Pause.)
“Life comes from Life. These bodies bring forth life while they live, and yet again when they perish and rot.” She smiles, lifting her arms. “There are deep Mysteries that lie hidden in their nakedness beneath the noon-time sun. Search them out.” She pulls you into an embrace and speaks a message just for you.  (Long pause.)
You thank her, and she releases you, turning back to her dance and song. Knowing that the time has come to leave, you turn and walk back to the stones.
You pass out of the standing stones and wind back down the Tor, led once more by the horse. You hear the swans leave their stream as you leave the orchard. You cross the cornfield and bid the horse farewell. Sitting down again in the warm forest floor, you close your eyes and breathe deeply, coming back to yourself.

Meditation: Visiting the Black Goddess at Imbolc


Our tradition uses guided meditation to help impress certain symbols on our members’ consciousness. Below is our Imbolc meditation. It takes place at the Northern Gate of the compass, the place of air and midnight.  It is the home of the Black Goddess, whom we know as Kolyo. To use this meditation let yourself relax comfortably and picture yourself drifting downward and inward to the third realm, the lower realm. The third realm is a place of darkness and mystery.  Let yourself sink down into the third realm and rest there peacefully.
Meditation: Visiting the Black Goddess, Kolyo

You awaken in the darkness on a windy, snow-covered plain. The frozen ground crunches beneath your hands and feet as you rise and look to the North, trying to make out the shape of the gate you know must lie ahead in the darkness. A gust of icy wind greets you, making your eyes water.
The plain is nearly barren in all directions, with the exception of a naked Willow tree, its branches sparkling in the cold, clear starlight. You walk carefully through the frozen landscape, having made the tree your first goal.
When you arrive under the drooping branches, you find a staff leaning against the trunk. You examine the markings and decorations on the staff and then continue along your northward path, now utilizing the staff for greater stability on the sometimes treacherous and slippery earth.
A movement in the shadows catches your eye and you turn your head just as it reaches your side and brushes your leg. The cat stands for a moment, its back arched and looking up the path you are walking before lifting its face to look at you. It meows. You reach down to touch the friendly animal, but it bolts forward, just out of your reach. It meows again and takes a few steps forward. You follow, and the cat picks up the pace, jogging on its silent, padded paws.
A night bird swooshes very close to your head, startling you. You can see the faintest paleness of its wings, but you can hear no evidence of it, even as you watch it fly ahead. Far away, you think you hear the hoot of barred owl.
Looming ahead of you is a stony archway – two large rock pillars capped by a third massive stone. A dolman. Beyond this strange gate, you see nothing but more of the same night-covered and frozen plain. You could easily walk around this dolman door, but instead, you walk right up to it.  The cat rubs its side against one of the pillars, and you can see that the owl has perched on top. The dolman is covered with strange markings and symbols carved into the stones. Some are unfamiliar to you, but others have deep meaning in your mind. (Pause.) You see an owl with large eyes carved into one of the rocks along with the Willow tree rune and a cat.
Your ears perceive a whistled tune as you pass beyond the arch, and your eyes search the darkness for the one who is blowing the eerie music. You can see so little that you must trust to your hearing instead, and you follow the sound until you are aware of a small, darkly-cloaked figure standing just a few yards away. You are close enough now to hear her breathing.
The small figure holds up her hand in warning. “Come closer, Child. But be wary of your footing.” You walk forward more slowly, using your staff to judge the safety of each step. As you breech those last few yards between you and Her, you are aware of a wind that seems to come from the ground, and you realize that you are standing together at the edge of a steep and treacherous cliff. You brace yourself and know that you are secure, even at this height.
Turning your attention to Cloaked One, you can see very little of her face, as it is shrouded in both her hood and the darkness of the night. Her out-held hand is gloved. You cannot clearly see the color of her hair, although you can see an interplay of light and dark in the strands. She holds a staff, and sometimes it seems she leans upon it. At other times, it seems like a weapon she is holding at martial ease.
Her voice is clear and ageless.
She speaks to you. “This is a place of knowledge, of wisdom, and of strategy. It is a place of contemplation, a place of counsel. It can be bitterly cold here, and the Truth that you seek can be both illusory and fleeting.” (Pause.) She hangs a lantern from the end of your staff and lights the wick. “But knowledge and thought are not always cold comforts. They can be the light one needs on the darkest nights of the soul.”
She lashes a sharpened metal tip onto her staff, transforming it into a spear. She pulls a single arrow from the quiver at her side, removing the arrowhead and feathers. She holds the newly fashioned wand in one hand and holds up a single finger of the other. “Weapons are tools wielded for either attack or defense. But they are just tools. The most useful tools can be used in both peace and war.” She pokes you with her finger. “And the greatest tools are the ones that lie within.” She gives you the wand, grasping your hand for a moment and whispering a message only for you. (Long pause.)
You thank her, and after a moment more of looking at you, she turns back to look over the cliff. Knowing that the time has come to leave, you turn and walk back through the darkness.
You pass out of the dolman and cross the plain, led once more by the cat and owl. You pass under the Willow tree, returning the staff that you borrowed. Sitting down again in the frozen field, you close your eyes and breathe deeply, coming back to yourself.

Destiny and Doom in the Craeft

One of our earliest articles over on the AFW blog, Witch Marks, Witch Blood, and the Kuthune, has been a perennial favorite of blog visitors since Glaux first wrote it in 2011. In it, she talks about the history and folklore of the magical inheritance or birthright — the idea that some Witches are descended from other Witches and will pass aspects of their power onto their descendants, much as they received power from their ancestors.

There are two really salient points that I think are often overlooked in Glaux’s article, judging from some of the comments and questions we receive. Both points are stated very clearly, though, and I think they bear repeating.

“Witch Marks” by Gemma Gary

1. The concept that Witches inherit their power through bloodlines and have a physical birthmark of  this lineage is a folkloric concept that does not bear out in every case. You can absolutely be a witch without having any known witches in your family tree. You can also be a red-head with three nipples and a goat-hoof birthmark on your inner thigh and not be a Witch at all.

2. Witches today most often form a blood bond and take a mark at their initiations. We take blood oaths to our covens and to the Witchfather himself. We tattoo ourselves so that the bond is visible to those who know its meaning.

Witchcraft is a CRAFT. Says so right on the label. It is a work, an action. Whatever may be in your blood is meaningless if you allow it to lie dormant. Yes, you may be a direct descendant of Isobel Gowdy or Alice Kyteler or Sarah Goode. You may even be able to prove it through birth, death, and marriage certificates. (Not likely, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.) You could also be a direct descendant of Charlemagne, but that does not make you Emperor.

If you are descended from Witches, be proud … and do something worthy of them. Do not wait for witchy things to happen to you. Find your power and learn to use it. I promise that it will not come exploding out of you the way it does for young witches and wizards on television or in the movies — when you reach a certain birthday or when a particular family member dies and “inherit their power.” Your power is yours alone, as are your action. They can be influenced by family and friends, but it is you who must walk the Crooked Path if you ever want to know what secrets lie at the heart of the forest (or upon the empty fields at night).

If you have no idea if you carry the Blood of Qayin, don’t fret, my love. He will give it to you himself.  And he will mark you in a way that makes sense to both you and him. This, after all, is what those medieval witch-hunters had assumed anyway. The lore in those trial records claims that the mark isn’t a “birth” mark per se, but a mark placed upon the body of the Witch after she made a compact with the Devil — usually by drinking a concoction made of blood, wine, and herbs.

Along these lines, I had someone recently write to me with questions about their possible “great destiny within Witchcraft.” I am not trying to embarrass this person, but I want to use (part of) this correspondence as an instructive moment for others, if possible. I see so many people hoping that there is something inherently magical and special within them that marks them for greatness. To them, I say, “There may be some gift inside you. But YOU will have to do the hard work of digging it out, clearing away the dirt, polishing that gem, and finding a way to share it with the world.”

This particular person wrote with the following inquiry:

Some people think I have a huge Wicca destiny due to my birthday, and while you don’t follow Wicca, a folklore insight would be helpful. I do not practice but am researching whether my birthday is a big deal, and if yes probably will. Do you find anything noteworthy of my Samhain birthday 1969?
I replied with the following:


Traditionally (historically), there was no set “date” for Samhain. There have been three different ways for figuring up the date, to my knowledge. Samhain is the final harvest, and it happened before the cold weather claimed the crops that had been left in the field too long. Many rural Pagans simply used weather signs or local signs as their markers for Samhain. The Druids (who were the priestly class of the Celts), marked Samhain astrologically – when the sun reaches 15* Scorpio (which usually puts Samhain between Nov 4 and 7) – as this would have been the midway point between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice. And now, contemporarily, we use a set date based on the Julian calendar (which was the calendar of the Church).
Given that Samhain has many more years of history as a floating holiday, it’s hard to see a birthday of 10-31-69 as particularly indicative of being marked for destiny within the Craft. It’s like being born on Easter (a floating holiday in the Christian tradition.) It’s cool, and it can have a lot of personal meaning to someone whose faith and spiritual experience are rooted in the folklore of that religion.
As for your birthday being a “big deal” – it truly isn’t within the Craft, other than as a cool curiosity. However, your birthday is absolutely a big deal in the astrological influences in your life. As is your birth time and place. If you haven’t already done so, I would recommend checking out a free birth chart generator like the one at www.alabde.com/freechart. Every member of my coven is expected to be familiar with their stars. We ALL have a destiny, and we all have energetic patterns. Astrology is a great way to unlock some of the secrets of your life.
Truthfully, nobody is marked for greatness within any branch of the Craft unless they choose to walk this path. Wicca, Stregha, Rootwork, or Traditional. This can be a grueling, ordeal-based path. On a mundane level, we can (and do sometimes) lose our jobs because we are Witches, lose our children because we are Witches, lose our families because we are Witches. Glaux and I both lost jobs (good jobs) in the name of the Craft. I have friends who have fought court battles over the right to parent their children within this religion. One won that battle. Another is still fighting with tooth and claw just to have basic rights to SEE her kids on a reasonable basis.
This isn’t a path where you can go shopping to see which one has the highest potential for bringing you power and glory. If those are what you crave, you will likely not find either here within the Craft – in any branch of it. The Power comes from within. Glory isn’t something worth seeking. Not for Witches. Not as a Witch. It’s bad for our health. (There are plenty of famous Witches these days, but most of them are famous in their Trade – not their Craft.)

September Totems: Chicken

In our tradition we divide the year not only by eight solar and agricultural holidays, but also by the Kalends. We celebrate twelve months of the year by the common calendar, plus a special thirteenth month for Samhain.  These month cycles are associated with different totemic spirits. Each month is assigned an animal, a bird (or other flying creature), and a tree. September’s totems are Pig, Vine, and Chicken.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Swine (Torc/Muc) – hunt, search, nourishment, putting up a fight
Vine (Muin) – prophesy, prediction, rebirth, and omens
Chicken (Cearc) – fertility, battle, sexuality, watchfulness

September is a month of sacrifice, blood, and feasting. All of the totemic beings for this month are associated with food (vine = wine), and they have an underlying association with death and rebirth.  Their blood is the “sea of blood” that surrounds the Castle Perilous, and theirs is the blood/wine of the Holy Grail that is the treasure of this Castle.

Chicken 

Fowl have been domesticated for over 8000 years and have a long history with man as a provider of both meat and eggs. They originated in Thailand and Vietnam and were descended from a wild bird species called the red jungle fowl.

Chickens are diurnal creatures, and while the crowing of a rooster is synonymous with daybreak, any farmer will be happy to tell you that his roosters crow all day long.

Chickens are very social and have complex hierarchies within their groups. Pair bonding is unheard of,. Yet despite this abundant promiscuity, there is tremendous territoriality and rivalry between two roosters as to who gets to mate with whom. The same applies for the hens. Both hens and roosters will get quite aggressive in defending their exclusive right to mate with whomever they deem “best.” These aggressive qualities can be violent in the extreme, and farmers have to take precautions to keep adult roosters away from each other, least one kill the other.

This aggression has been exploited by the sport known as “cock-fighting.” Indeed, etymologically, the use of the terms “cock” and “cocky” to describe an arrogant and aggressive male — or his penis — is due to the proud strutting and arching confidence of the rooster.

It is no wonder that the rooster has been seen as a mythical symbol of courage throughout many civilizations in the world. The Romans associated chickens with Mars, the god of war, owing to this aggressive and territorial behavior.In Greek myth, Ares (Mars) took advantage of the rooster’s watchfulness and aggression by setting him as a guard to watch over Aphrodite while she slept, that none might disturb her.

The “mother hen” is a different sort of archetype associated with this fowl. Brooding and clucking over her young, the female chicken is a significantly maternal animal, particularly associated with the fecundity of spring — although, in fairness, hens lay eggs all year round. She is the quintessential “nesting mother,” though even she has a dark and cold side. Chickens, like pigs, are known to eat practically any organic thing that is put before them. It is common practice to feed baked and ground eggshells back to the chickens who produced them. Sometimes, though, the hens start eating their own eggs (often due to accidentally puncturing one, mistakenly eating it, and then developing a habit).

Cerridwen, who is the Silver Queen of the Castle Perilous, transformed into a hen to devour Gwion Bach when he became a grain of corn to escape her.  Cerridwen later gave birth to the bard Taliesin, who was Gwion reborn.  Because Cerridwen is both the great sow and the devouring hen, these two animals are sacred to her and the month that she reigns over in our tradition.

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