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Posts Tagged ‘charms’

I finally finished the mobile I was working on for our baby!  I decided to go with a woodland theme because I definitely want to instill a love of nature in my daughter. I included some subtle Pagan hints, mostly because they are protective.  I used a combination of natural, found materials, felt, cotton thread and twine, and brightly dyed wool.  I’m very pleased with how it turned out!  I hope our Little Bee likes it!

Included are leaves, a bumble bee, a rowan charm, a white doe, an amanita formosa, an apple blossom, and a red trillium.  Everything was selected for the symbolism and the fact that they are from her surroundings.  The rowan charm is for protection and has a connection to Brighid.  The white doe is a subtle nod to Celtic mythology, as such creatures are often considered to be fairy women in disguise. The deer is my spirit guide, so there’s a protective element to it too*.

 

*The doe looks a little like a llama…  I had a difficult time making the legs slender enough…  But a friend sent her a plush, white llama so either way the little one should be happy!

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Before I get into pregnancy and childbirth lore from old Ireland and Scotland, please note that I don’t necessarily embrace or endorse these beliefs.  As a modern Druid, I seek to know how my ancestors – Pagan and Christian – lived before things became very industrialized and modern.  While some folk practices are seemingly out-of-touch or misinformed, they are, at the very least, helpful in understanding our ancestors’ way of thinking which can help us to understand other practices.  At the same time, some folk practices remain very valid – if not medically, then at least spiritually.  Just as many other Neo-Druids and Celtic Reconstructionists, I only revive what I feel makes the most sense to my modern brain, or to inform possible experimentation with new practices and interventions like  the medicine of today.  Family or friends who are not practicing animists and/or polytheists may find the information in this post alarming, but rest assured that, while I live a magical life, I do so as a modern woman who thinks and acts as she feels best, and who doesn’t simply adopt a practice just because it’s old and esoteric.

Awhile ago, I shared a link  to Woden’s Wandering Witch  in which the author examines some Irish lore relating to pregnancy.  It is definitely a good read, but it left me wanting more. Surely there must be more!  Oh, but it’s difficult to dig up anything on this subject!  Part of the difficulty is that much of what we do know relates to fosterage, the common practice in Ireland where children are placed in the care of others to form familiar and/or political bonds, and good birth mothers were able to arrange this whereas bad mothers were not  (Bitel, 88).  Because the law texts were more interested in this, as well as defining the various types of marriage, we have little information about the birthmother and the childbirth process.  Therefore, we must make inferences based on the lore and rely on modern ethnographic research that took place when Christianity was in place.  Most historical books I own on the ancient Celts deal with other themes.  Some have a chapter about women, but spend most of it examining those famous examples we know from history and mythology – Queen Medb, Boudica, Brighid the Goddess, St. Brigit, Macha…  It’s difficult to find a lot of information on the every day woman or what her life was like.  The aforementioned exceptional examples of womanhood are all very well and good.  As a woman who aspires to be knowledgeable, courageous, and spiritual, of course I admire them!  Of the bunch, researching Brighid or her saintly counterpart is the most helpful in understanding the ancient Irish and Scottish concepts of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood given that she has been prayed to by women seeking help in labor (Freeman, 50) or infertility (Ó Duinn, 157).  She is often considered a mother, or foster mother, to Ireland (Bitel, 100). There are also stories about the saint acting as a midwife or wet nurse to Jesus Christ (Hutton, 135).  And let’s not forget her association with milk – although this remains a contentious subject among Celtic linguists, her festival’s name, “Imbolc” may to refer to the lactation of sheep and thus new mothers in the animal world (Hutton, 134).  There is evidence that Brighid, Goddess or Saint (a matter of perspective, often blurred seeming) was prayed to by laboring mothers, and midwives often invited Brighid to enter a home once a woman went into labor (Freeman, 55).  Prayers in Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica capture some examples from Scotland, such as “Bride the aid-woman:”

There came to me assistance,

Mary fair and Bride;

As Anna bore Mary,

As Mary bore Christ,

As Eile bore John the Baptist

Without flaw in him,

Aid thou me in mine unbearing,

Aid me, O Bride!

As Christ was conceived of Mary

Full perfect on every hand,

Assist thou me, foster-mother,

The conception to bring from the bone;

And as thou didst aid the Virgin of joy,

Without gold, without corn, without kine,

Aid thou me, great is my sickness, 

Aid me, O Bride! (71)

Carmina Gadelica actually contains a whole section on “Birth and Baptism.”  It is full of rituals, many Christainized, but the original meaning is still there.  Most are to protect the new baby from aggressive fairies.  The author observes, “When a child was born it was handed to and fro across the fire three times, some words being addressed in an almost inaudible murmur to the fire-god.  It was then carried three times sunwise around the fire, some words being murmured to the sun-god” (189).  He continues to discuss the use of water in this first rite of passage; “The first water in which the child is washed after it is born into the world, the bathing-woman puts a gold piece or a coin of silver into the vessel of water in which the child is being washed” which is supposedly done to bring the child “love of peace…love of means…love of wealth…love of joyousness by day and night…grace of goodness…grace of fortune…[and] grace of victory on every field” (189).  This old custom was followed by a baisteadh ban-ghlùin or “knee-woman’s baptism” which occurred shortly after birth, in the name of the Christian God, to protect the child’s soul (189), for it was believed that unbaptized children were not allowed into heaven.   Carmichael explains they were believed to have a spirit but not a soul –  a distinction that warranted separate burial grounds in the more remote and rocky lands beyond a church’s borders.  These graves were unmarked and called torran which meant “little mound” (190).  Morbidly interesting is the fact that people who committed suicides or murders were also placed in these burial lands (190).  Returning to the little baptism prayers, a favorite of mine is “A small drop of water,” which I think could be easily Paganized for a Druidic ceremony utilizing the Three Kindreds, the Three Realms, and the Three Hallows:

A small drop of water

To thy forehead, beloved,

Meet for Father, Son, and Spirit,

The Triune of Power.

A small drop of water

To encompass my beloved,

Meet for Father, Son, and Spirit,

The Triune of power.

A small drop of water

to fill thee with each grace,

Meet for Father, Son and Spirit

The Triune of power (221).

These prayers suggest a deep fear of Otherworldly influence when it comes to infants.  It is the same conclusion Woden’s Wandering Witch reached : many birth and pregnancy customs in Celtic lands are to protect the child.  According to Walter Gregor, author of The Folklore of the North-East of Scotland, the fairy folk had a craving for mothers’ milk and also stole human babies to pay off debts to Hell (4).  Now of course this is very Christianized, but as with many other later customs among Celtic nations, they have an essence of earlier times.  Different rituals kept the fairies away, including blessing the mother and child with bread, milk, a fir-scented candle, and a Bible.  These were placed under the mother’s pillow, or at a distance.  Gregor explains that, “A pair of trowsers hung at the foot of the bed had the same effect” (4) for some reason.  Once a woman had given birth, she was not permitted to do any work other than the most “simple” and “necessary,” and she wasn’t allowed to travel or visit with other households home to pregnant women (6).  

Similar traditions of restrictions and protection against fairies existed in Ireland.  Pregnant women were warned against attending funerals, sitting up with a corpse, or visiting graveyards due to the sensitive spiritual state of her growing baby (Franklin, 60-61).  William Butler Yeats explains the danger of fairies in his work, Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry.  He describes the dreaded changelings, sick fairy children, “or a log of wood so bewitched that it seems to be a mortal pining away, and dying” (47). One way to get rid of a changeling, or to test if it was one, was to burn it on the hearth fire (47)!  This is a wretched practice when you consider the modern medical opinion that changelings were really children with disabilities!  Thankfully, Yeats explains that some changelings were exchanged peacefully once a mother realized what was going on (47).  One way of protecting infants, that is particularly interesting to this tree-hugging Druid, involves tree branches.  Apparently “a bundle of oak, ash, and thorn” should be placed in the nursery to protect babies from dangerous spirits (Franklin, 151).  Alternatively, a branch of mountain ash (rowan) tied over the cradle will protect a female infant, while alder protects males (151).  I’m imagining a very earthy mobile with a rowan or alder base…

The way mothers interacted with their babies and others was also significant.  People who complimented babies out loud were said to put them in danger, so it was suggested that mothers say “God bless” or “safe be it,” after such praise (Franklin, 149).  In her book, Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, Lady Augusta Gregory explains that pregnant women should not visit another household with a woman in labor for the labor pains may jump to her prematurely.  This suggests that our ancestors understood the danger of early labor, at least.

Speaking of labor, it was believed that ashes or coal should not be removed from household fires once the pregnant woman who lives there begins her contractions (Franklin, 84).  Locks were unlocked (Gregor, 4), which was surely sympathetic magic to help encourage the woman’s cervix to open.  Today, an expectant mother in a birth center or a hospital, rather than her home, may utilize similar symbolism by having open flowers by her bed.  If you give birth at home, many suggest redoing anything unlocked or untied once the baby is born or else negative forces may find places to hide before stealing the baby (Franklin, 85).

Modern Druids and Celtic revivalists may want to incorporate some of the above traditions into their own childbirth experience.  As noted, many of the prayers to Mary or St. Brigit can be easily Paganized.  For some examples, see the chapter “Naming and Saining the Baby” in Skip Ellison’s book The Wheel of the Year at Muin Mound Grove, ADF: A Cycle of Druid Rituals.  Protective charms, inspired by folklore or modern inspiration, may be placed around the laboring mother or the newborn.  Just remember not to forget the pragmatic concerns of having a newborn!  If you make a mobile with sacred wood or charms, be sure to hang it securely out of reach from baby!  Most modern folk don’t fear changelings or fairies spiriting babies away; rather our new demons are suffocation, SIDS, and other horrible afflictions.  Malevolent forces at work, medical complications, or a combination – whatever you believe, parents must be vigilant and mindful about what is in and around the crib.  Beliefs that women out of labor should limit their work and travel ring true today – we ladies still need to recover!  With regards to a special “baptism” or blessing for baby, mother and father may want to prepare a little prayer to say over the child when they have some privacy after birth.  A vial of sacred water may be packed away in the mother’s suitcase for just such a ritual.  However, don’t let this eclipse an even more important ritual – mother bonding and, if possible, breastfeeding the little one.   Later, when the new family feels ready, the baby can be officially welcomed into the larger family, grove, and community in a special naming ritual.

Bitel, Lisa M.  Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland.  Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.  1996.
Carmichael, Alexander.  Carmina Gadelica.  Edited by C J Moore.  Lindisfarne Press,  Hudson, NY.  1997.
Franklin, Rosalind.  Baby Lore – Superstitions and Old Wives Tales From the World Over Related to Pregnancy, Birth and Motherhood.  Diggory Press, 2006.
Freeman, Mara.  Kindling the Celtic Spirit.  Harper Collins Publishers, Inc,  New York, NY.  2001.
Gregory, Lady Augusta.  Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland.  1920.  Web < http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/vbwi/index.htm >
Gregor, Walter.  The Folklore of the North-East of Scotland.  1881.  Web < http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/nes/index.htm >
Hutton, Ronald.  The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain.  Oxford University Press, Inc,  New York, NY.  2001.
Ó Duinn, Seán.  The Rites of Brigid Goddess and Saint.  The Columba Press, Blackrock, Co Dublin.  2005.
Yeats, William Butler.  Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry.  1888.  Web < http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/yeats/fip/index.htm >

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This is my first official post in which I review and recommend Pagan shops.  In my introduction to the series, The Ditzy Druid Goes Shopping, I lament the quality of products in most metaphysical shops but agree that they are still important places to strengthen community, educate, and provide tools to newer Pagans.  Unfortunately, once you’ve exhausted the honeymoon period and realize that, to progress, you actually need to leave the 101 books behind, most such shops leave much to be desired – especially in the area of environmental sustainability.  This series will be a way for me to laud my favorite shops, old and new, and help those emerging from their Pagan chrysalises to find reputable, worthwhile merchants – both online and physical locations.  This series will, unfortunately, be relatively infrequent because I do make, gather, and grow a lot of my own materials.  That’s part of growing up and away from most new age stores – you become more of a DIYer and less about the cheap, factory produced “clutter” pushed by so many.  Thus I will only post about shops I have actually had positive experiences with.  If you make a suggestion, please don’t expect that I will patronize or post about it.  Second, I will only post about shops that, in my opinion, are worth sharing.  I will not be posting negative reviews.  I only have so much time and I think you’ll agree that it is better spent recommending rather than spewing forth negativity.  I highly suggest the stores I post about, but it’s important for others to grow and experiment as well – and that includes the organic process of growing out of the stores I tend to avoid.  I do not want to publicly badmouth someone else’s shop.  They are entrepreneurs who are also learning and growing, and as stated they do have a role in this community.  Hopefully my recommendations will assist others in making improvements!  (Gosh, this makes me sound like an obnoxious know-it-all.  I assure you, I’m also growing and learning.  There are still times when I’m a little materialistic – especially at Pagan Pride events. (“Ooooh…shiny…”)  No one is perfect.  Etc etc…  I’m sure many of you will turn your noses up at my choices and that is fine.)

Name of Shop: Stang and Cauldron

Owner: Sarah Lawless: traditional witch, artisan, and a very prolific blogger

Location: The shop is online, but Sarah Lawless lives in the Pacific Northwest of Canada.

Knowledge of goods:

First of all, let me begin by acknowledging how obvious a choice this is for a first review.  Sarah is known for her wisdom, experience, and authenticity.  She is highly regarded by Pagans from all around the globe and in many traditions.  She shares much of her knowledge on her blogs which have become a goldmine for those who are becoming intermediate practitioners, reading outside of the New Age section, but are having difficulties connecting their knowledge to practice.  Sarah continues to share, educate, and also warn: she definitely does not sugar coat her words.  Many need that.

When it comes to her shop, Stang and Cauldron delivers and then some.  If you follow her blog, you know that she has researched and experimented before listing.  Often, the books and articles are linked on her blog for you to see for yourself.  You also get to see the progress of her merchandize.  Sarah usually shares photos from her harvesting trips, in-progress art, and finished products well before they go up for sale.  She is quick to respond to any questions and can tell you where and how her ingredients were procured.

Audience:

I feel Stang and Cauldron is mostly for intermediate and beyond Pagans, especially traditional witches, spirit workers/shamans, and those following an Indo-European influenced path such as Druidic or Hellenic.  This is not necessarily exhaustive, and I do not dispute that others could benefit – but I’m only going from my own experience.  Beginners would definitely benefit from her extensive selection of charms, handmade incense and oils, but I do not recommend using the flying ointments until you have mastered more of the basics.

Number of Experiences:

To date, I have made three (technically four) transactions with Stang and Cauldron. Each time, I received everything in a timely fashion. Nothing was broken or missing.

Most Recent Experience:

I made two separate orders, technically, but because they were within a day of each other, Sarah refunded my second shipping and handling payment and sent it together in one package (talk about good customer service!).  My order is photographed above – some mandrake salve, a collection of blackthorns, and a hag stone.  As I’m only starting to experiment with flying ointments, I did not trust my own DIY spirit.  Not to mention, I do not grow mandrake.  For something like this, it’s best to go to an experienced practitioner.  The blacktorns and hag stone charm were ordered for similar reasons – I have never been able to find blackthorn or a hag stone, try as I might.  The hag stone called to me and I couldn’t help myself.  Everything arrived in a snug little package.  Nothing was damaged or missing.

Environmental Impact:

To begin with, Sarah uses almost all local ingredients that she harvests or grows.  She creates small batches so as to not have anything spoil.  Stang and Cauldron is also starting to feature work from other artisans.  The hag stone charm actually came from such an individual.  As you know, I’m very supportive of featuring work from artisans rather than similar products made in factories. Sarah’s packaging is very sustainable.  The only plastic was tape on the outside of the cardboard box.  Inside, everything was wrapped in reusable tissue paper.  The blackthorns, as photographed, were attached to a bit of cardboard with embroidery floss.  As someone trying to reduce her use of plastic, this was much appreciated!  Sarah is definitely not a hypocrite when it comes to walking lightly upon the Earth.  She does the best she can and it really shows!

Summary

I cannot recommend Stang and Cauldron enough.  If you are looking for hard-to-find magical herbs or salves, this is the place to go.  Furthermore, if you’re looking for spiritually themed artwork, Sarah delivers in that area too.  She’s an incredibly talented Pagan who is sure to inspire you.

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Rowan tree and red thread

Keep the witches from their speed.

– Irish saying

Rowan is a very magical tree that has been connected to Brighid and Imbolc.  The fiery red berries that ripen in the autumn remind one of her sacred flame.  Country folk would make crosses with the branches and red thread, then attach them to their cows’ tails as a protective charm (Freeman, p. 264), which further connects them to Brighid in her role as a patron of domestic animals, particularly livestock.

The Witch of Forest Grove recently posted an inspirational entry on her blog about rowan – “Rowan, Red Thread, and Feathers.”  She describes the Scottish tradition which is very similar to other Irish customs of using rowan as a protective charm in the house.  Alchemy Works has an equally interesting description of rowan – the magical, culinary, cultural, and medicinal applications.  Check out Edible Wild Plants A North American Field Guide by Thomas S. Elias & Peter A. Dykeman for some more recipes.

Inspired by The Witch of Forest Grove, the full moon, and my excitement over Imbolc’s approach, I decided to make my own protective rowan cross with strings of dried rowan berries attached.  I consecrated it in Brighid’s name during a ritual tonight and hung it in my bedroom.  The ogham I drew following the rite were very good.  I interpreted them to mean that Brighid had definitely joined me and that the charm was full of protective energy.

If you’re looking for something new to try to celebrate Imbolc, I definitely suggest making a rowan cross.

Freeman, Mara.  Kindling the Celtic Spirit.  Harper Collins, 2001.

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