The Witch Bottle

Recently I attended a witchy gathering where we all made witch bottles. If you’ve never made one, I suggest doing so because you’ll be taking part in an ancient form of protection magic. Witch bottles are put together to draw in and trap evil directed toward a person. They can protect against spells and malice from a witch, but also from evil thoughts sent by those with no knowledge of how their energy manifests. They help keep evil influences away from the house and those who inhabit it. Various types of witch bottles have been recorded. Archeologists have even unearthed one from Colonial Pennsylvania, proving the use of witch bottles was well known in our witch-worried colonies.

Making a witch bottle isn’t difficult but gather some witchy friends put your witch bottles together in a group if you want to draw from each other’s knowledge and share supplies. To put ours together we had a selection of glass bottles, each with a cork. We had a bunch of sharp pointy objects including pins, needles, and nails. Various herbs and hot spices including cayenne pepper, which I managed to get on my hand. Then I made the mistake of touching my face. Part of the night is a bit of a teary blur after that. I remember glitter because I had that on my hands (and face) too. We didn’t add any body fluids in the group meeting but blood, spit or even urine can be added to aid in the protection. I’m fairly sure my bottle had some cayenne pepper induced sweat in it. We filled out bottles with olive oil then put the corks in tightly and blessed them.

If you make a witch bottle, you can bury it in your yard. Or if you don’t have a yard, place it in a large potted plant by the door. Some people even tuck them in an inconspicuous place inside the doorway. Ancient bottles have been found inside the walls of homes. I’ve been told that if I move I should dig my bottle up and take it with me. But I wonder what an archeologist will think if centuries from now he finds my purple bottle filled with sharp objects, olive oil and herbs. Including that cayenne pepper.

What makes a home?

(Thanks Tom for the prompt!)

There are definite differences between living somewhere, and calling it ‘home’. It comes from relationship with place, and any other entities that share it with you. My sense of ‘home’ has often involved places I wasn’t living in – the venue for TDN meetings, folk club venues and festivals give me a huge sense of ‘home’ while dwelling places frequently haven’t.

As a druid, hearth is vitally important to me. I’m happiest in places that can have proper fires, and I think a fire is the best focus for a living room. (Not a television as is the case most places.) Once you get past the bare essentials, there are other things that make a place more ‘home’.

Other living things – be they people, plants or animals. Being the only living thing in a place does not seem homely at all to me.

Items that connect you to others. I’ve always had things from my family, and gifts from friends in my personal space, and they help shape it for me.

The means to work creatively – spaces that enable creativity and inspire it, are vital to me. Again, dwellings set up to enable little more than TV viewing I find challenging.

The investment of care is a very defining thing. Looking after a place is very much key in my relationship with it. Other people sharing the space need to have a similar approach though, or you don’t get something that feels like a home.

A home doesn’t just take your time and energy, it gives back. More than just the shelter and comfort the building provides, a sense of home is a consequence of the family or community living in it and associated with it – friends, neighbours, visitors, those who were there before. A home is very much about people. It should be a place of solace and retreat, a place where it is possible to be sociable, to play, relax and work as needed.

In Irish tradition, Brigid is the Goddess of the hearth. The Romans had house spirits, Norse tradition has them too. A home should include a sense of spirit and sacredness – without that, it’s just a place you go to sleep. Honouring the gods of home and hearth, honouring the dwelling, deepens the relationship we can have with it.

To my mind, the social, emotional attributes shaping a home are far more important than any physical goods. It’s an old cliché that home is where the heart is, but a dwelling place that does not serve your heart, is no kind of home.

Man vs. wolf

In a recent ruling, Rocky Mountain grey wolves were granted federal protection. There will be no wolf hunts this year.  Some wolf advocates fear that the ruling may prove to be a double-edged sword, though; it mandates that the laws regarding a species cannot vary state to state. Meaning that, if the ruling is overturned, it could lead to the overturning of wolf protection laws in three states.

Wolves are a top natural predator, and are frequently misunderstood. They are quite intelligent; they speak their own language, a language of howls and gestures, a language we cannot understand, a language we are not meant to understand. They mate for life, and have a clearly defined social system. Their only natural enemy is us.

 The wolf, in various mythologies, is frequently described as being of demonic descent. In Nordic lore, the wolf Fenrir was pivotal in destroying the world. In tale after tale, the wolf is the danger lurking in the wood, the deceiver. There was the Big Bad Wolf that ate poor Red Riding Hood’s Grandma, and the werewolves that linger in folklore, movies and literature.

I’ve personally always been drawn to wolves. I don’t know what it is; their beauty, perhaps, or the way they fit so perfectly into their habitats. I can’t look at a photo of a wild wolf in a forest without thinking how clearly that animal belongs there. They deserve better than being gunned down from helicopters.  

Montana officials, ranchers, and hunters are already moving to block the ruling, intending to form a congressional panel with the hopes of removing the grey wolf from the endangered species list. Farmers and cattle ranchers are angry at the ruling, understandably concerned and angered by the loss of cattle and of cattle weight. Apparently cows that are nervous don’t eat as much, and wolves make cows nervous. Studies have shown that often simply having a man on horseback protecting the herd will keep wolves at bay, and that shooting a single wolf will often deter an entire pack from a hunting a certain area. One would think that cattle barons, with the profits they stand to gain, can afford to pay a cowboy or two to ensure the safety of their herds.  

The wolf is a symbol of the wild world, the world we seem to constantly seek to dominate, to tame, to reshape as our own. Our own nature is no less predatory, that we hunt the wild cousins of our own “best friends.”

I’m watching to see how this will pan out. Perhaps if I were a Montana cattle rancher, I wouldn’t be so firmly on the wolves’ side, but there are risks involved in any industry. The answer, long term, relies on balance.

It’s good to see steps being taken to protect wildlife. It’s good to see progress being made to retain -or, in some cases, reintroduce- balance into the world. Even Prince Charles, unlikely eco-hero that he is, is alarmed at how “man has lost the once innate understanding of how to live in harmony with the natural world and within its limits.”

 The plight of the wolf is just one facet of a struggle that is taking place in every country, every society in the world; the natural world versus the modern world. We have sacrificed a once symbiotic relationship with the Earth and turned it into a parasitic one. Too many species are struggling to survive; the whales, the bees, even the bats are now dying off. The struggle of man vs. wolf  is to me also a struggle of man vs. earth, and that’s a war we can never win. We are stewards of this planet, and I hope that, going forward, we as a species can regain some of the harmony we’ve lost with our Mother.

“We humans fear the beast within the wolf because we do not understand the beast within ourselves.” ~ Gerald Hausman

Skin Art

Skin art and body decoration have been with us a long time – preserved bodies show that our stone age ancestors went in for tattooing, and reporting from Romans indicates the Celts and Picts were into it too. Art on the skin is an expression of creativity. Native people around the world use body modification, decoration and scarification as rites of passage, symbols of belonging and expressions of creativity.

I first encountered the idea of modern spiritual skin art through the work of Poppy Palin, many years ago. I was drawn then to the idea of spiritual expression on skin. In my teens, I had an arty boyfriend who used theatrical paints on me, to amazing effect. I used to paint on myself as well and would go out decked with plant life, dragons and whatever else occurred.

Aged 19, I had my first tattoo – a rose on my shoulder, to make my going to college and a feeling of taking control of my life, and my body. It was a powerful experience, a private rite of passage that meant a lot to me. Then for a long time I lost my way on this one – with no one to paint on me, and few places were serious paint work of my own making didn’t attract adverse comments, I let it go.

Starting OBOD’s course, I promised myself that if I completed all three grades, I would have the awen tattooed on my shoulder. That plan helped to keep me focused, and at the end of four years of study, I felt I had earned the right to wear the druid symbol on my skin. It’s on the top of my left arm – a simple, black awen, and I take much pride in it.

Now I’m blessed with a partner who can wield a paint brush, and finds skin art interesting in all sorts of ways. The possibilities are opening up again. I love the idea of my skin being a canvas for him to work on. I love the idea so much that I grew a story out of it. Naked Canvas is very much about an artist/model relationship, based a little on what I know, and the rest on what I imagine, or have discerned from conversations with others. The cover was done by another arty friend of mine – Sarah Morton.

I have a tattooing story out this week – Virgin Skin – another mix of experience and imagination. There’s been enough interest in skin art as a fetish, that I think I will be writing more stories with these themes, as soon as a good story emerges!

Currently, I’m planning my next tattoos – I have two more in mind. The purple poppy featured on the cover of Lost Bards and Dreamers was originally crafted with a tattoo in mind, and as I don’t do rings, there may be some skin art to commemorate a big event, just as soon as we get all the technical details sorted out. When I have more news on that score, I will share it!

No-Knead Bread

See my first attempts at No-Knead Bread here. The 2nd batch was much better than the first. Have just started on my 3rd batch, will let you know if I’m improving.

This bread is very easy – once you understand about yeast temperatures which I dare say many of you already know. And it tastes great, even when you don’t get it quite right. Am looking forward to getting the hang of it so I can introduce some rye flour.

Does anyone know how to make the basic sourdough – from scatch? I want to do the whole thing, not start with a piece of the previous dough.

writer artist gardener shaman
Wye’s Woman Rainbow Warrior
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Celtic shaman – Elen Sentier The Lough Pool Inn

Relationship through doing

As a child and young adult, I found it hard to make friends. I had no idea how other people did this. Watching my son fall in easily with other children, it’s still something of a mystery. What is the process by which people decide that they will be friends with each other? I’ve never really sought casual acquaintance, although I can be passably friendly because I find other people inherently interesting. But it normally takes me years to really bond with a person.

It’s certainly easier when you have common ground – I am a lot quicker to make friends with fellow pagans and folkies than with others, because I know that we share something significant. Those are such defining part of who I am.

It has dawned on me that my closest and most successful relationships are defined by what we do together. I don’t ‘hang out’ with people, and I spend most of my time doing. I’ve never really known how to sit round not doing much and ‘being sociable’ – I find it challenging, and am not terribly good at it. Where I can do stuff with people, I know how to relate. As a consequence, a number of my closer connections have been with people I’ve shared music with. Other friendships come from sharing ritual and voluntary work, green activism, and my work life with the writing and editing and so on. I bond with people by walking with them, or cooking together. There has to be something going on – if all I can do is watch TV with someone or go down the pub (not activities I do much of) there’s little scope for relationship.

This means that the people I am closest to are also people who do stuff. There have been people in my life who chose to be very passive about their use of time, and I found it impossible to connect with them in any meaningful way. People who don’t do much do not generate new stories, either, and stories are the basic currency of human interaction. I wonder sometimes if relationships flounder when we run out of new stories to tell each other. ‘Did you see that thing on telly last night’ is not a strong enough story to hold people together. People who do not do anything have no stories to share. That’s my other reason for finding it easier to relate to more active people – they tend to have things going on and hearing what they’re up to is interesting. Folk whose stories consist of very small scale trivia – curtains bought, work gossip etc, I find it very hard to relate to. That said, I remain intrigued by the ways in which people fill their time and craft their relationships, and where I have space to listen and am not called upon to interact much, that fascinates me.

Man Power

I’ve been out with a saw today, tackling a fallen tree. Yesterday involved spade work. I’ve always considered myself a bit of an amazon, ready to get to work with axe or shovel as required, not afraid of the heavier jobs – I had to be, the only way I’ve reliably had wood for the fire was by cutting it myself.

I can put in a good hour or two, working hard in intensely physical ways, and that’s about all I’m good for. Now, in that time I can get a fair bit done. I’m also aware that male ancestors not so many generations back, were doing that kind of thing all day, every day. Raising the topic with Tom before I set to typing, he talked about manual labour, and enjoying it. I can’t imagine working physically for that many hours. I’ve coppiced willow and planted trees, painted fences, and all sorts, but for eight hour working days? My body won’t take it. I was in a lot of pain today from yesterday’s digging, and no doubt with today’s sawing, I will hurt tomorrow as well. My hands are killing me, typing this – everything else I can put up with, but not that. I can work inside a house all day, or in less intensive physical ways, but I could not do what my male ancestors did.

Mostly, I’m not that drawn to gender difference as a concept, I see myself as fairly androgyne – especially in terms of how I think. I don’t believe in socially defined gender roles or assumptions about personality. There is more to life, and identity than what you have in your trousers. Even when I’ve been doing intense physical work on a regular basis, I can’t sustain more than a few hours a day, and it takes a significant toll on me. When it comes down to it, your average bloke has a lot more muscle power than your average woman. I feel like I ought to be able to keep up – I can’t – and that’s an uncomfortable thing to have to acknowledge.

At the same time, I want to recognise the strength that enables (some) guys to work in this way. Especially those ancestors who worked with their hands all their lives. The more I do, and struggle with, the deeper my respect for those who can and will do such work day in, day out. Nursing my aching muscles, I want to honour the men who use their strength productively, making, protecting, supporting and enabling others.

I wonder what my life would (will) be like, when I don’t have to take on what are traditionally male jobs. I’ve hefted a lot of coal… How would not having to do the heavier work affect my sense of self, my gender identity? Will that bring a sense of loss, or will it enable me to be more feminine? I don’t honestly know, but it will be interesting to explore and find out. How much of my sense of self has grown out of necessity? I don’t know. How much of how I think I should be will change when it’s not needful for me to be out swinging an axe or wielding a bow-saw? Time will tell.