HOPE

•November 29, 2019 • 1 Comment

The ‘Salve Regina’ meaning ‘Hail Holy Queen’ is an 11th century Marion Hymn sung three days before Advent Sunday, when the mass is replaced by the Gregorian chant ‘Universi qui te expectant.’

Hope is the maxim for this custom that as the Mother of Mercy and Gateway to Heaven, she will bring respite from the toil we endure in this ‘vale of tears’ that is life. Her gift is Hope, hope that manifests in the promise of fulfilment through living a spiritual life endowed with Faith in Her Grace.

Advent Sunday.

Customs include, wreath making, comprised of three blue candles, (sometimes black or violet) a rose candle and sometimes a white central candle for the solar eve itself. Devotional practices associated with the observance of Advent include keeping an Advent calendar, lighting an Advent wreath, daily prayers, erecting a Christmas tree or a Chrismon tree, lighting a Christingle, or setting up Christmas decorations, a custom that is sometimes done liturgically through a hanging of the greens ceremony around the home, church or chapel.

Originally a 16th century Lutheran tradition, the modern wreath as we know it was formed in the 18th century, and today adorns the doors of many homes throughout the Yuletide period.

“The wreath crown is traditionally made of fir tree branches knotted with a red ribbon and decorated with pine cones, holly, laurel, and sometimes mistletoe. It is also an ancient symbol signifying several things; first of all, the crown symbolises victory, in addition to its round form evoking the sun and its return each year. The number four represents, in addition to the four weeks of Advent, the four seasons and the four cardinal virtues, and the green colour is a sign of life and hope.

The fir tree is a symbol of strength and laurel a symbol of victory over sin and suffering. The latter two, with the holly, do not lose their leaves, and thus represent the eternity of God. The flames of candles are the representation of the Christmas light approaching and bringing hope and peace, as well as the symbol of the struggle against darkness. For Christians, this crown is also the symbol of Christ the King, the holly recalling the crown of thorns resting on the head of Christ.” [1]

From the 5th century, Advent has signified a period of fasting broken by the Christmas feast in celebration of the light of Hope.


[1] Wiki

Binding the Dead

•October 7, 2019 • Leave a Comment

They say that death is the final leveller.

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Amidst the grief, the living mourn their loved ones, but amidst triumph, the victor in battle perhaps gloats a little. Yet fear of haunting by ones’ enemies especially, initiated taboos and rituals to prevent the spirits of the dead from returning to torment the living, or to take their vengence upon them.

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Steps were taken to ensure this did not happen.

Artifacts like these are iconic, if somewhat grotesque battle trophies, but they also serve another purpose rooted in the instinctive fears and taboos surrounding death. These are in fact protective talismans for numerous indigenous, remote tribes peoples across South America, India, Africa and Australia.

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Once beheaded, the skulls of ones’ enemies are bound in complex weaves of various organic materials, or shrunk and hung from carefully woven braids, interlaced with spella. Eyes are sewed shut, and beads or shells may be threaded into the flesh for extra protection.

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Nostrils and mouths are pegged or pierced. The heads are defleshed and seared with hot sand and stones. These processes literally ‘sealed’ in the spirit of the defeated enemy to prevent it from returning to torment the living.

Binding the dead was practise common to all peoples the world over, and the few remaining examples attest to the extreme procedures involved. European folk tales provide hints to similar procedures whereby stakes, poles and iron bars were driven through the chest cavity or the skull.

These rituals were often conducted in secret.

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An Egyptian spell typifies the importance of calling upon a higher powere of gods and ancestors to ensure the enemy is rendered impotent and the supplicant remains under their protection.

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“O Ra in his egg, shining in his disk, rising from his horizon,
floating on his sky, whose abomination is evil,
raised on the supports of Shu, without equal among the gods,
who gives the breath of flame of his mouth,
who illuminates the two lands with his power of light,
May you rescue the Osiris N from that god secret of forms,
whose two eyebrows are the arms of the balance
on the night of calculating theft.”

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“It is Bringer by his Arm,
as for that night of calculating theft,
(it is) that night of fire-serpent with sacrifice.
The one who casts lassos against the evil, (roping them in) to his slaughter-block that suppresses souls.”

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“It is the tribunal that prosecutes the enemies of Osiris.
May you together rescue the Osiris N from those ropemen, killers, sharp ones who love to behead, from whose guard none can escape, the following of Osiris.”

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“They can have no power over me; I shall not descend into their cauldrons,
because I know him, I know the name of that one who presses, among them in the house of Osiris, who shoots with his hand without being seen, who circles the land with flame in his mouth, who has reported the Nile Flood without being seen.”

Extract from chapter 17: The Book of Coming Forth by Day – https://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/literature/religious/bd17.html

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Sometimes, other treatments were deemed essential: Shrunken Heads:

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THESE IMAGES ARE THE COPYRIGHT OF SHANI OATES 2019 – THEY WERE TAKEN AT THE PITT-RIVERS MUSEUM IN OXFORD.

Lupercalia- Another Ancestral Tradition misunderstood!

•February 14, 2019 • 1 Comment

Despite the popular notion that Gelasius abolished the Lupercalia, replacing it with the ‘Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, there is no evidence to support this. The closest reference that links Lupercalia to any romantic elements of Saint Valentine’s Day, or the blessed virgin is found in Chaucer, which merges with poetic traditions of courtly love during the Marion Cult in popular tradition. However, we should remember how this geo-centric celebration coincides roughly with the Disirblot held by the Northern peoples in honour of ancestral Female guardians of the people and their lands.

Pagan Rome celebrated Lupercalia, held in February, which proves  interesting due to its relevance the annual wild hunt. As the remnants of archaic pre-Roman pastoral rites that probably originated in the Sabian or Etruscan annual festival for the land and its protective spirits. Lupercalia exhibits several elements fundamental to the Wild Hunt traditions that are shared with the northern peoples.

Lupercalia was a ‘Wolf Festival’ consecrated to Lupa, the she-wolf who nourished and protected the founders of Rome. That wild celebration took place at the mid-February kalends, to avert evil spirits and purify the city, reminding its citizens of the sting of life in death, and death in life. It was a ritual involving the purgation of its citizens of lingering spirits through flagellation by goatskin whips in honour of the Mother Goddess, Juno/Hera whose totemic beast was the goat/wolf.

Two noble youths were chosen from (the two named) ancestral families of Rome to lead the hunt, the Luperci in their riotous pilgrimage through and around the city boundaries. At the Lupercal altar, Vestal Virgins offered salted meal-cakes as a priest of the Luperci sacrificed a male goat and a dog. The foreheads of the two youths were anointed with blood from the sacrificial knife, then wiped clean with wool soaked in milk.

Thongs (known as februa) were cut from the flayed skin of the goat, whereupon the two youths, now adopting the role of wolves, were obliged to break out a peel of laughter, braying loudly as they began their hunt, scattering citizens everywhere as they rampaged, near naked, herding everyone to and from the boundaries of Rome, beating upon everyone they encountered with the thin strips of goatskin, purged under the aegis of Juno/Hera’s sacred goatskin mantle, they each wore. After completion of their circuit along the old Palatine boundary, in an anticlockwise direction around the hill, they returned to the Lupercal cave.

Lupercalia served to remind its citizens of their salvation from savagery and the primitive Sabian and Etruscan pastoralism of Rome founders and ancestors. As simple shepherds and goat herders, they were easy prey to the hunter, vulnerable to predators such as the wolves. In other words, it celebrated Arcadia as the mythical ancestral realm. Italic tradition associates the wolf with the Underworld, the ancestral realms. From the study of funerary reliefs, we can link the Lupercalia with the traditions of the dead, indeed the luperci themselves came to represent their returning ancestors.

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Deemed essential to Rome’s continued safety and well-being, the Lupercalia festival initially occurred alongside traditional and Christian festivals. Despite the banning in 391CE of all non-Christian cults and festivals, Lupercalia clearly continued to propitiate the archaic land spirits and ancestral guardians of the city.

[Text copyright of shani oates, taken from ‘The Wild Hunt’ pending publication. Images are from wiki commons]

Faoileach

•January 2, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Faoileach

Greetings all as we enter a new secular year, one that the waxing light of the solar rays always inspires hope and better tidings. Traditionally, many of us relate to January through the ‘Janus’ perspective – fore and aft. We embrace whatever Fate has in store for us ‘braced’ with the gifts we have acquired along the many turnings endured in our lives up to this point of change and opportunity.

Beyond the immediate needs and subjective aspirations of the individual self, the objective world reflects the changing tides in subtle yet interconnected ways that perhaps reveal and preserve a primality of survival, of deep-seated instincts that modern social conventions have buried or eroded into irrelevance.

As the first real month of winter, January perfectly embodies the drive for survival and for reproduction, though these are more typically associated with Spring, being the season of actual birth, the natural product of those instinctive drives.  This view reveals how removed many of us are from nature, or how fiercely we have suppressed those instincts.  

Known to the Gaelic Scots as Faoileach, the concept of this winter-tide eventually became condensed into the month of January.  Deriving originally from faol-chu, meaning ‘wolf,’ Faoileach was to our ancestors, a wilder, bleaker period that brought death and the promise of life to come. Although there have been no (natural) wolves in Scotland for over two hundred and fifty years, this was the month their mating calls reached their peak. That eerie cacophony heralded perfectly the deep-rooted mood as Nature’s gift – to gather, to mate, to hunt and seek the companie of others to ‘dig-in.’

Outwardly, and above, the skies are abundant with meteor showers – bright shards of light, bursting against the inky black winter skies. Peering upwards as they appeared in the north eastern quadrant of the skies falling just before the rising dawn engulfed them, the wonder and promise of new life was surety against the chaotic gloom and uncertainty of winter.  That hope literally kept the wolves from the door….the threshold of all things sacred and mundane, and the boundary of all things pertaining to life and death.

At this time, we too can re-connect with the thousands before us who have gazed in wonder at the phenomenal, celestial displays above and around us.  January the 3rd-4th are the peak dates for the Quadrantids meteor shower as up to 50 meteors radiate out from Boötes in the hour before dawn. This year, the dark moon offers full visibility, so take a step outwards into the real world and embrace the true sensory gifts that Faoileach offers us.

All images are from Wiki Commons, various artists.

A Lame Goat, a Crooked Furrow and a Horned King

•August 7, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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Classical paganism in which the earth and its bounty are honoured through Ceres as the Harvest Mother and Kore as the Harvest Maid, differs from heathenism wherein a pragmatic, yet more personal sense of imminence is conveyed. Though both share a reverence for the divine feminine as a fecund virtue, the mediation of it shifts significantly across the belief systems that developed in the Roman world with that of the so called heathen Barbarians.  These diverse foundations led to separate traditions that crossed first in the Romanisation of Europe and then again in the Christianisation of Europe and finally in the re-introduction of classical paganism as a Romantic movement in the 18th century. Cross-cultural influences no doubt occurred, yet the distinct traditions of the British Isles have retained a fierce loyalty to the folkloric diffused beliefs of our heathen ancestors.

We briefly explore a nostalgic overview of the origins and patterns of quaint folk customs and traditions developed within the British Isles over many centuries concerning the relationship between a people and the land shared inspired by a belief in a divine agent. Social Bonding through festival and celebration has long been established as a way communities have come together to survive and thrive against adversity. Local customs reflect those behavioural patterns. Sadly, crises of self-identity through a loss of ‘Community,’ is not an uncommon feature in modern times. Yet if we consider the purpose of Harvest and of Thanksgiving festivals, they celebrate far more than bounty. What they offer besides abundant ample food, is a brief pause, a temporary freedom from toil to celebrate our humanity and its visceral needs pertaining to life and its celebration, primarily as a gift from the gods.

The principal feast of the Virgin Mary celebrates her departure from this life and the assumption of her body into Heaven on the 15th August as ‘Féile Mhuire ‘sa bhFomhar.’ Commonly known as The Festival of Our Lady the Harvest, it is held as a holy day of obligation in the Irish calendar. In the Scottish Highlands, Her feast is also known as  Là Féill Moire, the Feast day of Mary the Great. Early in the morning Barley Bannocks are baked on an open fire, fuelled by rowan wood, after being hand ground on stone querns and kneaded on sheepskins by the lady of the house. The husbandman breaks the bannock – The ‘Moilean Moire,’ or ‘fatling of Mary’.  into pieces for his wife and each child in descending order, hailing their abundance as a merciful gift from the mother, whom they hope will shield them from harm from cradle to grave. While singing  ‘The Paean of Mary Mother,’ known as raising the ‘Iolach Mhoire Mhathàir,’ the family walk sun-wise round the fire, the father leading, the mother following, and the children following in descending order – oldest to youngest.

Image result for bannocks on wiki commonsAcross England, various revels take place throughout the Summer held around this time that honour a Maid, prized for her charity and gifts of abundance.  A beautiful example of this is the Marhamchurch in Cornwall founded initially as a monastic settlement by 5th St. Morwenna (cognate with Welsh morwyn  – maiden).

A Queen of the Revel is elected from amongst the young girls of the village and later crowned by Father Time in front of St. Morwenna’s church. The newly crowned Queen riding on horseback, leads the procession through the village to the Revel Ground where villagers are entertained with games, contests, wrestling and other festivities.

Sharing that gift of life within the community is a sacred act once recognised in subtle contrast to Mary’s blessing above, as the aegis of the chieftain or tribal leader, Earls and later of Kings. In fact, the essence of Germanic sacred kingship is expressed as a gift of good fortune and fate, an archaic principle of cultic belief in his divine descendency from the gods within a faith where he is both subject and object. But it is a position earned and maintained on merit. Failure on his part resulted in dire consequences for his people who might starve or be overcome in battle.

Deemed as void of the blessing of the (female) fates, and the (female) spirits of the land, and of the (female) spirits of the ancestors within their burial mounds, 5th and 6th century Germanic kings were deposed when the harvests were lost to ill weather. Without the waters of fecundity, the ground remained arid, too much water and the crops were spoiled.

Evidence of this can be found on Swedish rune-stones of the 7th and 8th centuries, from Stentoften and possibly Sparlösa where the Kings are depicted ‘giving the harvest,’ and of divine ancestry. As the mediator of fate amongst his people, the King was responsible for the weather and the harvest as well as for external and internal peace. In Christian times skaldic poetry referred to this perfunctory mediation as the duty of the saints who thereafter dispensed those sacred duties, ensuring  ar ok friðr – peace and good year/harvest.

This principle is at the heart of reciprocity by which a leader of a community is the Drighton lord, that is the one who provides for his people and is rewarded by their loyalty. Their mutual bond creates and serves – community. It is this relationship and sacred dynamic deemed co-existent between fate, the dead and the living that fuelled the auspices of a people, of folk whose customs and traditions protect and preserve the lawful balance that staves chaos and all that it invites.

The Drighton Lord is a role adopted by the Lords of the Harvest, of Misrule, of the May and of the Mound or Hunt. He is partnered by a Mistress whose role is to mediate the sacred element of fate imparted to him through the land wights, and ancestral forms. Her presence is the assurance of the divine blessing from the gods that inspires the people of his community and himself as Drighten Lord to serves them truly in return, ensuring and their faith in him will not be unrewarded. Veneration, blot, sumble, libation and Houzle are sacred rites that have evolved around the sharing of bread and mead, or wine – they are always conducted by the women of the house.

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And so, throughout the folklore calendar, predicated upon a round of feasting events, that relationship and principle of provision is projected onto the main characters of those events, from Mummery to Morris, and most especially within the Harvest traditions. The central features of all Harvest festivals are: feasting, joviality, song, laughter and the vital interplay with physical contests of speed, agility and strength to build the rites and festival of life and thanksgiving celebration for it around the world. But how did it all begin?

Cultivation of cereals crops such as barley, and early strains of wheat: einkorn, emmer and spelt, then later oats and rye, helped humans transit from hunting and gathering to agriculture.  Archaeologists have discovered the oldest evidence of bread dating back 14 back over 14,000 years – predating farming. As the origins of domesticated cereals, wild seeds and grains were ground, sieved and kneaded prior to cooking as unleavened flatbreads identified at several Neolithic and Roman sites in Europe and Turkey, produced long before the development of farming.

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Bronze-age myths of Inanna and Dumuzi were formulated in the region later named Mesopotamia. These and other classical descent myths such as The Eleusinian Mysteries were introduced in the 18th century as part of the pagan revival that blossomed in art and literature, especially poetry. Though these clearly influenced James Frazer they do not reflect the rural traditions of Britain, which follow a different origin, as noted above.

The word ‘harvest’ is from the Old English word ‘hærfest’, meaning ‘autumn’. It then came to refer to the season for reaping and gathering grain and other cultivated products. Poor folk especially have long depended upon a staple diet of bread, beer, porridge or oatcakes, a subsistence that hovered between life and death, as this succinct ditty illustrates:

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“The wheat and the barley, as much as the corn

Have kept us alive, ever since we were born.

But unless we had turned them in to flour and bread,

Few would be living, and many’d be dead!”

 

 

First of three main harvests of grain, fruit and meat, Lammas,  is Anglo Saxon for ‘loaf-mass.’  Earlier pagan and heathen celebrations often took place on the last day of July and again marked the first grain harvest. The success of the harvests determined the quality of life through the long winter months. Some Irish and Scottish customs are linked through the ancestry of Celtic speaking peoples, and share the celebration known as Lughnasadh that many presume is named after a Sun god, bearing the name Lugh.

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Traditionally, Lammas marked the culmination of the growing season.’ Lammas is recognised today as a Christian holy day. Since medieval times, loaves of bread baked from the first grain harvest were laid on the church altars as offerings. It was the custom in past centuries to eat them as a celebratory feast, served with early potatoes, boiled over an open fire in a huge pot, then mashed and flavoured with freshly churned butter, or even with other seasonal vegetables and herbs. Wild garlic, leeks and cabbage were common choices available to the poor.

Further north in the Shetland Isles, barley and oats ripened later, around September. Blessing rituals were performed there upon the harvest and upon the entire farming community. Shetland crofters believed the grain harvest and October potato crop (as well as the cutting of peats for winter fires) should take place during a waning moon, during an ebbing sea tide. Food crops are at the mercy of weather so harvesting can be an unpredictable operation. Our ancestors observed the seasons very carefully, monitoring each fluctuation in the weather very carefully.

Early fruits, gooseberries, red and blackcurrents, raspberries, then strawberries, bilberries and bramble berries were gathered as soon as they were ripe, providing valuable source dietary supplements. Some were dried along with herbs gathered at their peak.

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The Harvest Moon is the full moon that rises nearest the autumnal equinox, therefore, Harvest Festivals are traditionally held on or near to the Sunday of that moon as it blooms full. Once every three years or so, this moon rises later, in October. Food production is dictated by season, hence the importance of seasonal rites. But due to modern trends like polytunnels that help delay or speed up growth, so many of our seasonal traditions and customs are now sadly redundant. New potatoes can be lifted as early as April and root vegetables are available all year round. We need to re-introduce the rhythmic growth cycles celebrated by our forebears if we are to understand the traditional customs they constructed their lives around.

Harvesting Crops

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To some extent, being so out of touch with those cycles, modern pagans have lost sight of just how wide-ranging the crops harvested were, and of their value to the livelihood and well-being of the common folk who devised the lore and customs around them accordingly. Harvesting of these vital resources began in June with the first apple crop and hay load, and did not cease until December with the last crop of apples and root vegetables. Apples grown for Cider-making created a lucrative trade and business for the apple blessed counties of the UK. During a waning moon, animal parts and even nitrogen rich blood was added to the barrels of raw pomace to ensure fermentation.  Each round of cider given to the workers, was passed sun-wise around the men, with the last man pouring a little onto the ground as “a drap t’ t’ owd mon.”

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The grain harvest and its attendant lore concerning John Barleycorn, was made popular by James Frazer’s promotion of the mythic cycle of a dying and resurrected King. The myth of John Barleycorn properly refers to the magical brewing of beer and its communal consumption, and is not classical at all. We should remember that August is just one month which falls midway in this extended preparation for the long winter ahead. Now remote from this reality, we are no longer sensitive to the ebb and flow of seasonal tides of land and of celestial orbits.

 

In July, sheep shearing, sheep fairs and mop fairs begin, signalling the influx of labour needed for the forthcoming hop-picking events of Kent and parts of the Welsh borderland counties, Herefordshire, Shropshire and parts of Worcestershire. Hops were picked by hand until 1960s from middle of August through into mid-September, providing employment for local and non-local labourers. For the duration of the harvest, urban working class people from the Midlands were drafted en-masse, into the countryside on trains chartered by the farmers, as seasonal labour.  Exacting, arduous graft, it was nonetheless the closest the urban poor ever came to experiencing a holiday. Moreover, the summer weeks given over to this task generated the long break in schools and factories that once ‘shutdown’ for the summer to enable the free- flow of labourers to the countryside to bring in the harvests.

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One man recalled that it was:

“Lovely in th’ ‘opyard. Everybody was a-singin’.

You sung while you were pullin’ the ‘ops off.

“We ‘ad sing-songs round the fire.

I’ve ad some good times down th’ ‘opyards.

I ‘ardly missed a year.

 It was the best o’ my days”

 Observing a natural camaraderie, a custom arose known as ‘cribbing;’ it was much frowned upon by the farmers. Some of the men, fresh from the cities, were seized by women and thrown in to the ‘hop cribs,’ which were effectively, large cradles constructed out of sacking and wooden frames. Enveloped with hops, the young man was held captive until he’d kissed all the women party to his predicament who then released him only after providing the ring leader with enough money to buy them all a drink.

Once the hop-picking was over, any young lady a lad had taken a fancy to might expect to be treated in like manner, but where the lad himself would join her in the cradle, both covered in hop bines. This relaxation of strict social conduct between the sexes exhibits a lifting of the taboos normally imposed through gender motivated behaviour. For a few brief weeks, women could act with the same free license as men.  During the picking season, the man and woman elected as King and Queen had to goad and chide the workers, tease and torment them, keep spirits high and the load moving, driving them towards a fruitful conclusion.

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An informal procession of pickers and sack bearers each bedecked with hop sprays, signalled the end of that harvest. The chief hop picker bore a pole garlanded with hops, leading them all to the farmhouse where they could expect a lavish feast presided over by the ‘King and Queen’ of the hop pickers. In order to avert ill fortune or ill luck from the evil eye, or sprites, the King and Queen caused confusion by exchanging their clothing. Cross-dressing during a celebration is yet another peculiar custom of the British Isles that has it origins in the superstitions that surround the fear of misfortune importuned upon them by non-human beings and forms. Everyone raised the first toast to the farmer and his wife for the feast’s provision.

Rush-bearing ceremonies also occur in August, although this is now commemorative rather than functional, though reeds gathered from the fenland reed-beds remain essential roofing and thatching materials. In the Middle Ages, rushes were strewn across cold flag floors to bear the bulk of dirt trodden in from muddy streets.

Towards the end of August and into September, coppiced hazel poles from managed woodlands were harvested and made into essential baskets for the fruit harvests, and hurdles for the sheep and cattle corals and pens.

Under the right to forage laws within the forests, fallen branches were gathered, dried and stored for winter fuel. This supplemented the gorse, bracken and peat gathered in July, used for fuel, baking ovens and thatches. Acorns, beech-mast and cobnuts, beans and barley spears were gathered by the poor to sell to farmers as winter feed for the pigs.

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Brambles and other late soft fruit, including wild bilberries and sloes were gathered along the lanes and hedgerows to eat, preserve or dry. It was a common superstition that after the 29th September, they were not fit for eating as the Old Devil had either spat upon them or trodden them with his dirty hooves. Turning now to folklore and tradition connected to the harvesting of grain, we find an even greater association with the King and Queen of the Harvest as purveyors of abundance.

The Harvest Lord

Seasonal harvesting was a prized skill and a good crew could command a healthy stipend. Carried out by travelling bands of casual labourers, Reaping gangs toured local farms announcing their arrival by scraping their scythes on farm yard cobbles. The most skilled reaper was elected as Harvest Lord who negotiated rates of pay for reaping, carting and stacking of the grain and for gloves to protect hands against thistles and thorns. The contract was sealed by a token payment of 1 shilling and a pint of ale per head. Newcomers to the crew, especially if unseasoned, or from out of town, could expect an ‘initiation.’

Undertaken by the Lord, this took the form of a simple charming secured by scraping the soles of the newcomer’s boots with a stone, ‘to ground’ any unfavourable sprite activity, or ill-luck brought there from outside the ‘consecrated’ gang members. Ably assisted by his Harvest Queen, the work began in earnest as soon as the corn was deemed ripe. It was her role to ensure each man received his allotted cider allowance of 8 pints per day and sandwiches and small pies to keep them going until sundown. Caraway seed cake was a popular treat served to the workers because the seeds were deemed to provide strength whilst securing their loyalty from other farmers wishing to lure away a proficient gang with the prospect of better pay.

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No time was wasted in their wandering off to find food and drink – it was brought to them. The race was on to harvest whilst the grain was dry and before it could deteriorate or spoil. A prolonged wet spell at the critical time could – and still can – cost an entire harvest. While the weather held, every able-bodied man, woman and child would be out in the fields. Harvest was a time of social bonding.  On fine days, work began at dawn around 4am and continued well into the evening as the Harvest Moon rises very close to sunset providing a few hours more of valuable extra light.

Sporting his conspicuous rushen hat entwined with green bindweed, interlaced with wild red poppies, the Harvest Lord opened the day’s work, setting the pace at an acre a day per man in each field tackled. Working in lines known as ‘flights,’ the men advanced through the swaying corn armed only with hand sickles or scythes, laying out the cut sheaves across the field ready for binding. The cut must be swift and sure, if manoeuvred incorrectly, the blade would knock back the stems, flattening them, rendering them useless.  To help counter this, the juice form the wild Arum lily was rubbed over the blades at intervals to retain sharpness and charm away ill strokes. Each field was cut in a circle, from the outside in.

Related imageAble-bodied youths followed behind the Reapers binding the corn sheaves with wisps of straw. An efficient binder was able to bind the sheaves for three Reapers; these were then stacked, or ‘shucked’ in pairs to dry for several days before taking them to the winnowing barns.

There was intense rivalry and competition between Reaping gangs, all desperate to prove their superiority, thus retaining the title of top gang which ensured their Lord could secure the best fee for them at the next year’s harvest tide. Singing loudly, folk songs echoed out across the busy landscape, each gang showing their prowess keeping up the pace and rhythm whilst giving good voice. In the Hebrides, this rivalry manifested in the creation of the Gobhar Bhacach -‘Lame Goat,’ fashioned intentionally to lay low the prowess of rival gangs. Once completed, the figure was hurled into the field where Reapers were yet to finish.  Tossed back and forth along the line to the last man reaping his own acre, fighting often erupted as a result of this grave insult.  No one wanted this misfortune, for it meant that perceived as lazy, he would not be hired in next year’s gang, and would find labour elsewhere hard to come by and he and his family might starve in the winter. There was a hardened incentive then to work hard in order to survive.

The Last Sheaf

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Deemed sacred, the last sheaf of corn left standing in the last field, known as the Mare or the Nack was believed to shelter the retreating corn spirit, which attracted several customs attached to its culling. Cutting this final sheaf was therefore subject to great ceremony and reverence.  Known as ‘Crying the Nack,’ the reluctance to cut this blessed last sheaf was never lightly broached.

In many cases, the reapers would encircle it backwards (so as not to be ‘seen’), and throw their sickles up and over from a safe but close distance, each man pitching for the prize. Once won, it was raised up with great pomp to “Holla the Nack,” the winner declaring “Arnack, Arnack, Arnack! We hav’en, we hav’en, we hav’en!” This was quickly fashioned into an intricate knot known as a corn dolly and tied with ribbons.

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A very similar rite took place in Hertfordshire called ‘Crying the Mare;’ using variations on the calls, including the following one, the Sheaf was fashioned into a four legged figure, with the ears of corn falling as a mane:

 

“Master he’s got in his corn
Well mawn, well shorn
Ne’er heeled over, ne’ stuck fast
Harvest he’s come home.”

The Reaper claiming that prize was awarded a place of honour at the supper table opposite the ‘Maister’ or ‘Lord.’  As so much of this lore is created to stave or assuage ill luck befalling the farm, the land and its produce, we can see how the Harvest King and Queen were substitutes for the farmer and his wife, who were the real patrons of the feast and the couple obliged to the Reapers for their labour. Diverting attention to them, and their antics, the ill-luck was distracted and lost to that subterfuge.

In the Scottish highlands, the youngest member of the team was given the dubious honour of culling the last sheaf, named the Maiden if the harvest was plentiful, or the Hag (Cailleach) Hag if the harvest was poor. In other places, she was referred to as the Kern Babby, plaited and knotted to form a female figure, which may even be ‘dressed’ later by the harvest Queen. It was deemed an ill omen if the Kern Babby got wet on its way to the Barn, the person guilty of that transgression was duty bound to forfeit any drinks owed to them by the rest of their gang members.

Image result for kern babby, Maiden, corn dolly on wiki commons

The Mare, Nack, Kern Babby, Maiden or Hag, brought its own blessing to the household that held it, to maintain the flow of good luck upon and across that threshold. It was dispatched in several different ways according to local custom, via a complimentary rite that again, invited further blessings upon the land. They could be hung up by the farm house hearth, ploughed into the field on Plough Monday, hung out on New Year’s Day to feed the birds, fed to the horses or burned and trampled into the ground by horses hooves during the next year’s harvest when a new one was fashioned. When ploughing began in the New Year, a crooked furrow was tilled near the farm house to ensure any malicious intent from the faerie folk or curmudgeonly mortal was averted away from its hearth.

Image result for kern babby, Maiden, corn dolly on wiki commons

The Hay Wain

The end of the grain harvest was cause for great celebration. A procession of the horse led hay wain, laden with the Harvest Lord/Maister his Lady/Dame, the exhausted Reapers, trundled triumphantly in the fading light back to the farm, bedecked with ears of corn, ribbons, corn flowers and poppies amidst much jubilation.

Painted and garlanded horns, were placed upon the head of the Harvest Lord; anointed with cider, he was then hailed as King of the Harvest. As the old folk gossiped and told stories to the young, fires were lit, the grand supper of meats, cheeses fresh bread, pies, fruits, tarts and puddings was served and the ale and cider flowed ever freely accompanied by singing that became increasingly bawdy, drinking games and much reverie.

In Wiltshire, the traditional harvest shout was:

Image result for 19th century harvest supper celebration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Well ploughed! Well sowed!

Well harrowed! Well mowed!

All safely carted to the barn

with nary a load throwed!

Hip hip hip hooray!”

Gleaning

The woman elected as Harvest Queen or Dame, supervised the acquisition and fair distribution of the fallen ears of corn, a process called gleaning. Once grain harvest proper and the Harvest Supper over, women and children began scouring the fields for the leftover ears of corn picking up stray ears of corn from the stubble. Claimed under forage laws, all they could gather before sunset the next day was theirs to keep, an essential bonus that once ground into flour, could help provide bread during the winter months. In like manner to her Lord’s ‘initiation’ of new unseasoned Reapers, new gleaners would receive the grounding stone, tapped upon the sole of their boots before they were allowed to step foot into the fields to work.

Image result for horned mummers on wiki commons

Once replenished with food and drink, sporting contests held the next day were favoured activities, these included football, swimming, sack races, leap frog, wrestling, tug o’ war, racing and dancing.  There was even an extraordinary broomstick dance contest, where the fittest men vied and pitted their agilities against each other, a quality that could mark them as potential Lord the following year. Gatherings of entire communities also honoured patron saints by visiting shrines and holy well, leaving tokens and making wishes for loved ones. Afflicted body parts were sometimes immersed in healing waters. Above all, the sense of a blessing, an obligation, a reciprocity, and gratitude for abundance instigated the theme for the grand fairs and events undertaken during August through to October. Celebrating community through custom and tradition, all of them involved drinking, feasting and revelry.

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In 1921, Punch published the following rhyme entitled ‘Hell in Herefordshire’ after hearing of the Bishop’s railing against the perils and consumption of cider and ale in England.

“The wild white rose is cankered
Along the Vale of Lugg,
There is poison in the tankard,
There’s murder in the mug;
Through all the pleasant valleys
Where stand the palefaced kine
Men raise the devil’s chalice
And drink this bitter wine.

Unspeakable carouses
That shame the summer sky
Take place in little houses
That look towards the Wye;
And near the Radnor border
And the dark hill of Wales
Beelzebub is warder
And sorcery prevails.

 

For spite of church and chapel
Ungodly folk there be
Who pluck the cider apple
From the cider apple tree,
And sqeeze it in their presses
Until the juice runs out,
At various addresses
That no one knows about.

And maddened by the orgies
Of that unholy brew
They slit each other’s gorges
From one a.m. till two.
Till Ledbury is a shambles
And in the dirt and mud
Where Leominster sits and gambles
The dice are stained with blood.

But still, if strength suffices
Before my day is done,
I’ll go and share the vices
Of Clungunford and Clun,
But watch the red sun sinking
Across the March again
And join the secret drinking
Of outlaws at Presteign.

Beware of farmhouse cider!”

Sadly, during the 1870s, harvest traditions changed forever when the horse-drawn reaper-binder appeared. What had once taken one man a day to reap and another to bind after him, could now be achieved by two men in an hour. Combine harvesters arrived in the 1930s which further reduced our active engagement and celebration of the land. Even so, over and over again, there are clear examples of long cherished customs preserved within the folk traditions of the British Isles, from the sacred gift of life, the divine king, the fecund queen, ancestral protection, and of camaraderie. What was once a collective effort and magical celebration of life that involved an entire community, now involved only a handful of farm workers. How much we have forgotten. How much we take for granted. How flaccid we have become. How apathetic to the chimes of Life and death? It is surely time to reclaim and revive an understanding of the customs we have lost and understand those better we continue still!

ár ok friðr! peace and good harvest!

Image result for scything the harvest on wiki commons

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THE KALEVALA. PROEM.

•June 16, 2018 • 1 Comment

MASTERED by desire impulsive,
By a mighty inward urging,
I am ready now for singing,
Ready to begin the chanting
Of our nation’s ancient folk-song
Handed down from by-gone ages.
In my mouth the words are melting,
From my lips the tones are gliding,
From my tongue they wish to hasten;
When my willing teeth are parted,
When my ready mouth is opened,
Songs of ancient wit and wisdom
Hasten from me not unwilling.

Golden friend, and dearest brother,
Brother dear of mine in childhood,
Come and sing with me the stories,
Come and chant with me the legends,
Legends of the times forgotten,
Since we now are here together,
Come together from our roamings.
Seldom do we come for singing,
Seldom to the one, the other,
O’er this cold and cruel country,
O’er the poor soil of the Northland.
Let us clasp our hands together
That we thus may best remember.
Join we now in merry singing,
Chant we now the oldest folk-lore,
That the dear ones all may hear them,
That the well-inclined may hear them,
Of this rising generation.

 


These are words in childhood taught me,
Songs preserved from distant ages,
Legends they that once were taken
From the belt of Wainamoinen,
From the forge of Ilmarinen,
From the sword of Kaukomieli,
From the bow of Youkahainen,
From the pastures of the Northland,
From the meads of Kalevala.
These my dear old father sang me
When at work with knife and hatchet
These my tender mother taught me
When she twirled the flying spindle,
When a child upon the matting
By her feet I rolled and tumbled.

Incantations were not wanting
Over Sampo and o’er Louhi,
Sampo growing old in singing,
Louhi ceasing her enchantment.
In the songs died wise Wipunen,
At the games died Lemminkainen.
There are many other legends,
Incantations that were taught me,
That I found along the wayside,
Gathered in the fragrant copses,
Blown me from the forest branches,
Culled among the plumes of pine-trees,
Scented from the vines and flowers,
Whispered to me as I followed
Flocks in land of honeyed meadows,
Over hillocks green and golden,
After sable-haired Murikki,
And the many-colored Kimmo.
Many runes the cold has told me,
Many lays the rain has brought me,
Other songs the winds have sung me;
Many birds from many forests,
Oft have sung me lays n concord
Waves of sea, and ocean billows,
Music from the many waters,
Music from the whole creation,
Oft have been my guide and master.


Sentences the trees created,
Rolled together into bundles,
Moved them to my ancient dwelling,
On the sledges to my cottage,
Tied them to my garret rafters,
Hung them on my dwelling-portals,
Laid them in a chest of boxes,
Boxes lined with shining copper.
Long they lay within my dwelling
Through the chilling winds of winter,
In my dwelling-place for ages.

Shall I bring these songs together
From the cold and frost collect them?
Shall I bring this nest of boxes,
Keepers of these golden legends,
To the table in my cabin,
Underneath the painted rafters,
In this house renowned and ancient?
Shall I now these boxes open,
Boxes filled with wondrous stories?
Shall I now the end unfasten
Of this ball of ancient wisdom,
These ancestral lays unravel?
Let me sing an old-time legend,
That shall echo forth the praises
Of the beer that I have tasted,
Of the sparkling beer of barley.
Bring to me a foaming goblet
Of the barley of my fathers,
Lest my singing grow too weary,
Singing from the water only.
Bring me too a cup of strong-beer,
It will add to our enchantment,
To the pleasure of the evening,
Northland’s long and dreary evening,
For the beauty of the day-dawn,
For the pleasure of the morning,
The beginning of the new-day.

 

Often I have heard them chanting,
Often I have heard them singing,
That the nights come to us singly,
That the Moon beams on us singly,
That the Sun shines on us singly;
Singly also, Wainamoinen,
The renowned and wise enchanter,
Born from everlasting Ether
Of his mother, Ether’s daughter.

Text from Sacred Texts

Images from Sacred Texts and Pinterest

The Knife

•April 30, 2018 • 1 Comment

The Knife

Much has been said on the Stang, but very little has been explored regarding the Knife.

Robert Cochrane believed that when placed and used in conjunction with the (whet)stone, the cord, the cup and the staff, a powerful and magical mandala was generated. He also believed the correct preparation of these tools was essential prior to any and all rituals.

As the Foundation of Wisdom, the Stang is established as a combination of the Masculine and Feminine up to Death. Thereafter, it becomes the Pure Path of Enlightenment; the Goddess and The GODDESS are lower and higher aspects of One Source. Also described as ‘the Supreme Instrument, the Gateway, it is at the base of physical experience. The Chariot at the centre because it is the power and the treble. Horns at the top, the High Spiritual endeavour.

It forges the pathway through the Mysteries as the entwining of Love, Beauty and Mercy, a three-fold magical binding of the Supreme Triadic Virtue it represents. It is phallic and represents Hermes the Guide. As the steed of Oðhin and Hermes, it is the winds that pulls and push us forth, elevating us towards the forked crown of choice that is Life and Fate or Death and Destruction of Fate, since to achieve the Highest, one must pass the Lowest the Passage of Time, “In this aspect it becomes Lethe, Chronos, in fact Mercy and Chronos in One.  The next attribute at the Horns is mystical and may not be written.”

In the Transcript for their Midsummer Ritual, Cochrane provides instruction for the ritual purification and preparation of the site and of the self. Amongst the tools, he emphasises the purpose of the knife in conjunction with the staff and knotted cord, the hangman’s noose, used as a personal rosary and ‘meditation device’ to shift consciousness out and beyond the Round of Life: The Round of Life as agreed upon, represents not the actual aspects of the Round, but the Power The Goddess, as primal movement, has over them. As the supreme tool of balance, it is used in the ‘ring’ which can be aspected as the ‘threshing floor’ or the ‘dancing ground.’ Small knives may be substituted for three nails in acts of cursing. Its wielder holds the powers of life or death, justice or mercy….therefore it is temperance. [fire] and of the Masculine Mysteries incorporating the Order of the Sun and the Grail Mysteries. (Ref: Tubelo’s Green Fire). Beyond the physical ‘cutting’ purpose of the knife are its spiritual attributes.

Cochrane writes:

Knife: This is the masculine Tree, and such represents Intellect, or the actual search for wisdom, experience and knowledge. Basically then, it represents these aspects. Wisdom. Love physical. Mercy and generosity. Victory and conflict. And as such when sharpened against the Stone of the Mysteries (the Gateway….Malkuth) it represents our passage through time and space on our search.

Stone: Any stone will do providing it is square and natural. The Stone represents the Stone of the Mysteries and it is three-fold. I will not explain in the letter, but examine the Triad at its highest level.

I can keep on explaining but I think you find everything interlocks and forms One Whole. I know it is a lot to remember but I have a career and considerable responsibilities external to Witchcraft. Incidentally, before anyone starts to say that I am complicating things have a look at my original letter. You will find that we all agreed to a common symbolism, and these symbols are historically valid and correct. It was what the true witch used to believe in, no simpleton by any means. Now work before the ritual. Each night a small amount of time will have to be spent upon these things.

(a) Consecrating each of the tools.

This is done simply by imagining yourself filled with the highest power from above, bringing that power down to the base of the spine and lighting the basic fires there, bring it up to the right hand, externalise it and bless each tool in the name of the Goddess (anyone will do) in its particular aspect. ie. The Knife

Invocation to Hermes:

Hermes. Hermes.  Thou Bright Light leading us through the Gateway of Death. Thou Guardian of the Portholes, Fashioner of all Skills and Knowledge. Torchbearer, here me! I pray for Thy assistance in my trade. Thou who burnest as Love Physical, Thou who bearest the entwined snakes, Thou who knowest all things, who was born from the Union of the North Wind and Darkness. Here me. Here me. Here me. Hermes bless this Knife make it all Thou Art. May it fashion my art for me may it protect me from ill doers, may it lighten the way for me…. Amen.

And so on. It should be simple to prepare a personal consecration for each tool.  The Goddess is the Highest aspect, image Her transformed into each of the Forces you invoke.

Words should be whispered to achieve a state of group or self-hypnosis the words also have great relative meaning at certain parts of the ceremony.  And then by being whispered, act as a depressant to oxygen supply to the head. The dance steps and movements with the tools are also important. The totality of all these movements is to produce a great ‘whoosh’ of directed Will and power to the object desired.

After some time spent discussing Natural Magick with Bill Gray, Cochrane summarised the process to him, explaining that, “Midsummer is my big night, or the nearest I can get to it. Quite simply our ritual falls into this pattern:

 

This is the Taper that lights the way.

This is the Cloak that covers the Stone,

That sharpens the Knife

That cuts the Cord That Binds the Staff

That’s owned by the Maid Who tends the fire

That boils the Pot That scalds the Sword

That fashions the Bridge That crosses the ditch

That Compasses the Hand That knocks the Door,

That fetches the Watch That releases the Man

That turns the Mill

That Grinds the Corn That makes the Cake

That feeds the Hound That Guards the Gate

That hides the Maze That’s worth a light

And into the Castle that Jack built.

To those of his Clan, he’d explained these as: “The Preliminaries.  I am sorry if they are complicated, but there is no simple way to do them. It is all time and Will, day in day out.” After the rite had taken place, he questioned their grasp of its concepts:

 You will notice that it contains considerable chunks of philosophy: for instance, why should the cord bind the staff, and why should the knife cut it? There is a lot more in it, and basically it represents both Jane’s and my total knowledge upon witchcraft.

Meantime, in another letter, he continued his discussion of these principles to Bill Gray:

As you can see, it is a child’s game, but one that works. We use a skull as much in the same fashion as the Knights Templars, but Mithraic worship is out for us, two differing concepts. The druids, however, were eastern in origin, they again superimposed a different pattern upon the aboriginal gods of the Kelts. They were supposed by the Romans to have more magic than the rest put together, however they were a bloody-minded lot. It you want to use nature magic, then you must work outside, preferably by running water, or failing that, as high as you can get. It must be open to the four winds, since they carry the seeds of life and destruction, and they represent your four elements.

There are no hard and fast rules, it must be played by ear. The sense of power is usually denoted by a sensation of extreme panic, then comes the ‘gathering’ in you feel that you are being surrounded by hosts of ‘watchers’. You may possibly see them out of the corner of your eye, these must be ignored, and the panic overcome.

Then there comes a cold blast of wind, and the power which is being asked for begins the manifestation, this will appear in the form that you expect to see, the main difficulty is in holding it, since (and I speak from experience) it is rather like being hit with a hammer. Usually green, brilliant lights flash on and off in the centre of the working space. ….Whatever you do, resist the temptation to panic or to feel that ‘everything is going wrong’ The Farmer has a reputation for affecting human beings in this fashion (hence the words ‘panic’, ‘pandemonium’, etc.)

Here is a short prayer that may help to consolidate:

 

My Lord …..

Here I be stripped of all finery.

No clothes, lover or home have I Excepting by thy Grace

Master, I have descended the Paths towards Thy gates …

Leaving all but my truthful spirit behind me.

Here am I as naked as the sea, as the sky ,

As grave winter itself.

I pray Thee take pity on me and listen unto my prayer.

Basically nature magick is very simple, it is as simple as doing it , but like all simple things, it has some fantastic fortifications behind it. Witches believe that all things are One and joined, there is no singular (except human beings – Law of correspondence).  To create spiritual effect, – one must create physical effect, and to work nature magic, you must first do natural things. There are dangers though, these are in effect leaving anything undone. Once you have achieved your purpose, leave everything as you found it, or else you will spend some uncomfortable nights with nature spooks clomping around your room, taking it out of you for disturbing them.

Cochrane stressed here a rather distinct application of the principles of Natural Magick as the theology of (religious) science; crucially he was extremely keen to avoid what he perceived as generic practical demonstrations of it as superstition, found in both positive magics (sorcery), and negative magics (taboo).

He believed that true magick crosses all boundaries of theory, science, sorcery, taboo, religion and art, to be acts of desire, fuelled by the human instinct to ‘overcome’ Fate. In the field of animism, we pitch ‘Will,’ in accordance with Wyrd—the grand conjunction where human force merges with the cosmic force of The ‘Natural’ World, as understood by Agrippa. There is no point of separation, and no part of us that is not, ‘of ’ it.

 

Cochrane asserted that the state of being in alignment with one’s Fate to the extent we may anticipate it, judge, dodge, assess, pre-empt, prepare and advance our own causality. Precognitive attunement and unsubtle sentience together, form the twin-edged blades of the sword we carry as spirit, honed in focus, to battle against apathy and despair. Balance, wrought only within the field of Nature, is where ‘Will’ staves all too briefly, the onslaught of an unrelenting Fate.

And the knife is ultimately the pure form of that virtue – the pure force of Will as the vehicle for Wisdom.

All acts of magick become an act of Will, specifically of True Will. Complete surrender evokes complete absorption of the lesser will, allowing us to act freely and spontaneously without fear of conflict.

Gnosis is not a rejection of the world, but an awareness of the dual gifts of our humanity and divinity, their harmony and symbiosis. Successful symbiance is reliant upon this premise. Complete detachment defeats the purpose of life.

Guénon understood that no-thing and no-one is of consequence, yet truth or wisdom gained, is always of consequence. That all may act according to their nature, is to be accepted, and all responses should be our own, and not another’s.

So we come to the heart of the People, a belief that is based upon eternity, and not upon social needs or pressures—the ‘witch’ belief then is concerned with wisdom, our true name then is the Wise People, and wisdom is our aim.

………………………………………………………………………………..

All texts are from ‘The Star-Crossed Serpent III The Letters of Robert Cochrane Revealed’ by Shani Oates, published by Mandrake of Oxford 2016

Photos of Ritual Tools artifacts and sacred places are copyright of Shani Oates, the dancers and the mare are on wiki commons.

 

 
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