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The Witches' Almanac
By Witches Almanac
THE WITCHES' ALMANAC, LTD.Copyright © 2010 THE WITCHES' ALMANAC, LTD.
All rights reserved.
Thrice Toss These Oaken Ashes
Thrice toss these oaken ashes in the air, Thrice sit thou mute in this enchanted chair, Then thrice three times tie up this true love's knot, And murmur soft "She will, or she will not."
Go burn these poisonous weeds in yon blue fire, These screech owl's feathers and this prickling briar, This cypress gathered at a dead man's grave, That all my fears and cares an end may have.
Then come, you fairies! dance with me a round; Melt her hard heart with your melodious sound.
In vain are all the charms I can devise: She hath an art to break them with her eyes.
– Thomas Campion, 1567-1620
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
by Barbara Stacy
SWANS OF CORNISH WITCHES. The ancient region of Cornwall, England, has a long history of odd sacred rituals. Among them, an archaeological bonanza some years ago unearthed 30 small pits (15 inches by 6 inches) lined with swan's feathers. The little earthly nests also included dead magpies, emblematic of the region, as well as eggs, quartz pebbles, nail clippings and a chunk of iron cauldron. The discovery, dating from the seventeenth century, added plenty to the mystery quotient. According to Jacqui Wood, leader of the excavation, "Killing a swan at this time would have been incredibly risky, because they were the property of the Crown." The period also marked turmoil in England, when Puritans devoted themselves to destroying any links to paganism, and witchcraft called for a death sentence. Wood speculates that perhaps swan feathers had a connection with fertility and reflected secret offerings. We have no clue, written or anecdotal, depicting the unique rituals enacted with the lovely birds. They still glide around Cornwall in all their elegance, white as the surf that laces the shores.
ARRIVEDERCI, VAMPIRE. Apparently sixteenth-century Venetians knew how to deal with vampires. An archaeological dig has unearthed the remains of a woman's jaw held agape with a brick. Experts believe that the bizarre burial indicates an ancient ritual for persuading vampires to cease and desist their thirsty ways with the living. The skeleton lay in a mass grave created during a plague epidemic. Its brick restraint is unique. "Vampires don't exist," declares archaeologist/anthropologist Matteo Borrini, who nevertheless rejoices in the importance of the discovery: "For the first time we have found evidence of an exorcism against a vampire."
DIM VIEW OF ROBBIN' HOOD. In our time we feel affection for the romantic figure of Robin Hood. We picture him a mythological superstar, gorgeous in green from head to toe, lord of Sherwood Forest, arrows at the ready to rob the rich and give to the poor. It comes as some surprise that Robin may not have been so highly regarded by earlier standards. John Luxford, a Scottish art historian, recently discovered a note in the margin of a thirteenth-century Latin manuscript. The comment, scribbled in ink a century later by a medieval monk: "Around this time, according to popular opinion, a certain outlaw named Robin Hood, with his accomplices, infested Sherwood and other law-abiding areas of England with continuous robberies." Infested? Should we rethink the Robin Hood myth?
BEES LOVE PARIS TOO. Alarmed at the dwindling number of bees in the countryside, the French have set up hives atop some famous Paris rooftops. Everyone loves the parks and gardens of the City of Lights, bees no exception. They have made themselves right at home, sweetly thanking host beekeepers with terrific amounts of honey. The new hives have been established atop the Grand Palais Exhibition Hall, the Opera Bastille and the Palais Garnier, among others. The Luxembourg Gardens bees buzz around in peaceful coexistence with marionnette enthusiasts and kids sailing model boats. Rural bees have been slowing down on the job, producing 20 to 40 pounds of honey per harvest. Their more vital city cousins yield about 110 to 130 pounds per harvest, sold to the public in September to fund more hives. Pesticides are one of the primary reasons for country bees taking such a heavy hit. In Paris, pesticides are a non non in all parks and gardens. Bees respond by doing what bees do best – their magic act, transforming nectar into honey.
A BRIDGE TOO SPOOKY. Like crossroads, stairways and doorways, bridges seem to attract tales of haunting. Pleasant Hill Road Bridge in Etowah County, Alabama, has its own ghost story and proceeds into another chapter. The structure, too expensive to maintain, has been cut in half for moving to another site. One part already has moved to a trial site. Locals wait with apprehension to determine if oddities will continue in either half or cease altogether. "I didn't feel comfortable driving on it, and it was haunted on top of that," said one woman. People declared that crossing the "crybaby bridge" evoked voices. Parking on the structure also drew feelings of malaise – foreboding that if the car shifted into neutral, haunting spirits would push it over to the other side. Some bridges inspiring fear are associated with tragedies, but no historical records yield such a clue to Pleasant Hill Road. So far, no word from either of the split sites.
FILIPINO "DRESSING THE DEAD." A few members of the Hanunuo Mangyan tribe of Mindoro still celebrate an ancient tradition of reviving the dead. The kulcot, which means "scratch" or "unearth," consists of clothing the corpse in a ritual form. A year after burial, the family gathers and exhumes the remains. The skeleton is cleaned, the parts wrapped in a large cloth and ceremonially tied and draped in such a bulky way as to resemble the human figure. Few Mangyans have mastered the skill of creating the correct mannequin image, the sinakot. Each son and daughter contributes clothes and jewelry, and the mummified revival is greeted in the village with gongs and dances. The family keeps the sinakot in a hut for a year and then transfers the figure to a cave where others are housed. Dressing the dead ceremonies, like other traditions, have largely vanished as villagers from coastal areas flock to cities for jobs. According to one rueful Mangyan, "The younger members of the tribe are not interested in performing this ancient ritual of ours. They don't know how to do it."
PARK YOUR CARCASS. Are all big-city dwellers starting to go nuts for some green space? A few years ago activists established Parking Day in San Francisco, now celebrated by over a hundred cities around the world. Each greenie seized a parking space at curbside and set up a mini-park. Some went for sod and arranged potted plants and lawn chairs for relaxation, perhaps browsing through "Walden Pond" for inspiration. Others went beachy with sand or featured kiddie pools. One neighborhood association in Los Angeles captured seven parking spaces and offered a hangout a barbecue grill and workshop about drought-resistant plants. In Chicago, two spaces were transformed into a pit stop for bicyclists to chill out and refuel on drinks and munchies. The idea is to encourage awareness of traffic congestion and pollution, pointing out the delights of grass over asphalt. It's fun street theater, of course, perhaps appreciated least by drivers circling and circling blocks as if seeking parking in earthly hell.
ROCK ON. Travelling stones are as rare as travelling trees, but a phenomenon in Death Valley confounds geologists as much as tourists. The site offering the mineral mysteries is Racetrack Playa, a shoreline track along a seven-mile seasonably dry lake in Inyo County, California. The playa is dotted with "sailing stones" that leave straight, curved or zigzag trails. There they pop up, from boulders to small rocks, their travel routes noted but movements never witnessed. Freaky curiosity, two prevailing theories: Once the lake is flooded, enough clay is created to allow winter winds up to 90 miles an hour to launch stones along the slippery way. Second possibility; ice forms at night when the temperature falls below freezing on the lake, wind drives the heavy ice cubes onto the playa. When the ice melts, the stones are where the stones are. Maybe the movements, long famous, never witnessed, work either or neither way – your guess is as good as ours.
Dana: Goddess of the Fey
THE Tuatha Dé Danann are an ancient race of people in Irish mythology, the fifth race to colonize and conquer the Emerald Isle. Their name, which means "Children of Dana," pays tribute to a primordial goddess. The Tuatha Dé Danann, Dana's Children, were eventually conquered by the Gaels, the present Irish people. In response, they retreated underground, inhabiting barrows, mounds and hills. The Tuatha Dé Danann transformed into the Sidhe (pronounced shee), the Irish name for the fairy folk or the fey. As befitting these powerful spirits, their ancestress Dana is a grand and powerful goddess.
Dana (pronounced Dawn-uh or Day-na) is the ancient Celtic goddess of the fairies. Throughout the Celtic world, she is the special friend and caretaker of the fey. Sometimes called Danu (Dawn-oo), this deity is also equated with the Welsh mother goddess Don. Her name may be the inspiration for the great Danube River, a region once inhabited by Celts.
Dana is associated with handicrafts, fire keeping, and manifestation ritual magic. A tremendous source of inspiration, she can be invoked for general creativity as well as for fertility. Dana is a High Priestess who shares and transmits profound spiritual teachings. Dana is a goddess of alchemy, revealing secrets of transmutation – perhaps she is responsible for the Tuatha Dé Danann's transformation into fairies.
Dana's tarot card is The Empress. Amber and all stones with natural holes are her talismans. A perfect summary of her archetypal attributes is suggested by the Old Irish root word "dan," which translates as "knowledge." In Sanskrit and Pali, which are Indo-European languages as are the Celtic tongues, Dana means "generosity" and "giving" whereas among the Scandinavian vitki and rune casters, Dana means "woman of Denmark."
– Elaine Neumeier
Divine White Mare: In stables, garlands of roses
A FEW MILES south of Uffington, incised into the chalk bedrock of the hilly English countryside, stretches the gigantic figure of a horse at full gallop. Angular and abstract, elegant and mysterious, the white form measures 374 feet from muzzle to tail. Experts believe it dates from the late Bronze Age, about 1000 BCE, and may be a tribute to Epona, the ancient Celtic horse goddess. Now largely shrouded by time, the "Divine White Mare" had epochs of glory.
Epona worship arose in Gaul, flourished with the conquering Romans and traveled with the legions throughout Britain. The goddess was especially worshipped by the cavalry and turned up everywhere in Roman stables and barracks. Somewhere in the rafters an icon of Epona and her horses would turn up, sometimes depicted with foals on her lap. She often holds a basket of corn or fruit, especially apples. Sometimes Epona is riding, always "lady style," never astride. She may be lying back along the horse but never sidesaddle – the goddess sits the horse on the side as if on a chair, legs dangling over the animal's flanks.
The deity loved roses, and soldiers believed that decked with garlands of the fragrant flower she worked protective magic. Tiny clay images of Epona were available for travel, tucked into tunics or saddle trappings for luck in battle.
Charioteers were the athletes of the military, and they too relied on Epona to keep them safe in the perilous sport. Eight annual Equirra celebrations in holiday-mad Rome honored horses, the chief festivity dedicated to Epona on December 18. The daredevils drove two- or four-horse chariots around a tight oval in the Circus Maximus, cheered on by over two thousand bloodthirsty spectators. It took immense skill not to be hurled out on the turns; an official on the sidelines threw water on the smoking wheels. For the victor, a laurel wreath, palm and glory. For Epona, adoration.
On horseback or off, mother for all
Other than as battle goddess, the White Mare has profound dominions especially appealing to women. Epona also personifies an early fertility goddess, a protective deity, in icons offering the symbolic horn of plenty. Sometimes Epona is depicted as a goddess of rivers and thermal springs, a naked water nymph in such shrines. When an Epona image holds a key, she is honored as a psychopomp – guide to the underworld land of the dead. As a crossroads symbol, the goddess is conceived as an intermediary between the living and the dead or between day and night. And especially in Ireland she has a connection with nightmares. Beyond the horse, she is especially protective of oxen, cattle and donkeys, a lover of dogs and birds.
Some viewers perceive the Uffington figure as a dragon rather than a horse, perhaps the site of the battle with St. George. Who knows? It is difficult to reconstruct the mind set of Iron Age people and the purpose of such quirky vestiges. But we do know the prodigious figure has inspired awe down the ages. Since ancient times, every seven years the local lord hosted a three-day festival at the spot, fun and games, including wrestling and cheese rolling down the hillsides – how Merrie England is that? The basic purpose of the event was to clean up overgrowth and scour the horse to the whiteness of new blizzard. The celebrations lapsed about a hundred years ago, but the English Heritage is responsible for the site and keeps things nicely pristine, thank you.
– Barbara Stacy
Celestial Powers: Lightning gods, bolts from the blue
FROM ANCIENT TIMES and ancient places, the supreme deity controlled the sky. People tended to call them thunder gods rather than lightning gods, but thunder is only bluster. Lightning is the boss and its power manifests in formidable numbers. A bolt can travel at the speed of 130,000 mph and reach a temperature of 54,000 degrees F. In its area lightning immediately sizzles the air to 36,000 degrees F., about three times hotter than the surface of the sun. This sudden intensity constricts the clear air, producing a supersonic shock wave sliding acoustically into the boom of thunder that sends pets and sometimes people hiding under beds.
Since sound fails to lend itself to image, "thunder gods" are depicted with lightning bolts. The zigzag icon serves as the main attribute of Zeus, for instance, along with the eagle and the scepter. In 265 BCE Theocritus writes of the Greek deity, "Sometimes Zeus is clear, sometimes he rains." The name of Zeus, supreme ruler of Mount Olympus, derives from dios, "bright," and he is also known as Zeus Astrapios, "lightbringer."
The Romans know a wondrous pantheon when they find it. When Zeus emerges as Jupiter, the newborn sky god assumes the same attributes – Jupiter too has a bolt to hurl, an eagle, a scepter and even more weather nomenclature. Known as Dios Pater, Shining Father, he is also worshipped as Jupiter Elicius (weather, storms), Jupiter Fulgurator (lightning), Jupiter Lucetius (lightning), Jupiter Pluvius (rain).
Thor, the Norse weather deity, has his own lightning icon made by dwarves – the hammer Mjollnir, "that smashes." When Thor throws the hammer, lightning flashes. Then Mjollnir returns like a boomerang to his right hand, on which Thor wears an iron glove. Sometimes the red-bearded giant blasts lightning bolts from the eyes, adding to his ferocious appearance. The Norse believe that Thor creates thunder when he rumbles through the sky on a carriage pulled by two goats, Tanngrisni (Gap Tooth) and Tanngnost (Tooth Grinder).
Our early forefathers believe that the most powerful of gods control the weather, weather controls fertility and fertility controls survival.
Power cult, lesser known
Perkons prevails as a pagan weather god less known to us, but widely venerated throughout the old Baltic pantheon. In Latvia, Lithuania, Prussia, and sometimes Russia, the deity turns up in powerful fertility rites as agriculture begins to put down roots. The cult continues until twelfth-century restrictions, sometimes underground, and pockets of practice may still be found in the region. A Catholic clergyman, D. Fabricius, writes in 1610: "During a drought, when there has not been rain, they worship Perkons in thick forests on hills and sacrifice to him a black calf, a black goat and a black cock. When the animals are killed, then, according to their custom, the people come together from all the vicinity, to eat and drink there together. They pay homage to Perkons by first pouring him beer, which is first brought around the fire, and at last pour it in this fire, asking Perkons to give them rain."
The god's whole family helps with his work, resonating farming tradition skyward. The sons strike lightning and thunder, the mother and daughters send rain, and the daughter-in-law peals thunder to rival the deity's own ear-cracking level. The Perkons cult appeals to him in folk songs. One peasant sings to bring rain because "the shoots of barley are faded;" another lyric gives thanks for the autumn harvest.
Excerpted from The Witches' Almanac by Witches Almanac. Copyright © 2010 THE WITCHES' ALMANAC, LTD.. Excerpted by permission of THE WITCHES' ALMANAC, LTD..
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