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Posts Tagged ‘folklore’

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My old herbal stash. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019

In what seems like a never-ending quest to better organize our small home, I decided an herbal cleanse was in order. I mean that very literally in that it was time go through my old trunk of herbs and sundry. I’ve learned over the years that there is an optimal way to store dried plants. They also lose potency, especially if you intend to use them as food, drink, or medicine.

As a younger Druid-in-training, I had so much to learn. I frequently bought interesting baggies of herbs at metaphysical shops. I had a favorite stall at the Sterling Renaissance festival, and I tried to buy one or two samples every year. I clung to these purchases like talismans of witch cred. Simply having them made me feel more magical, at least for a moment. I seldom did anything with the herbs. I occasionally made an herbal sachet or dream pillow, but most accumulated in the trunk. Even as I grew, however humbly, in my Druidry, folk magic, and herbal know-how, the trunk has followed me around. An item of nostalgia.

Until a few days ago.

I went through it, examining each specimen, remembering where I obtained it. Some were from witchcraft shops no longer in existence. Some came from my very first herb garden. There were rose petals from a young man I kissed one summer long ago. Oak leaves picked up and crushed… because I never had any of those trees where I grew up, so I collected whenever I could.

I put many of the ancient herbs in my compost pile. It seemed appropriate to return these dead plants to the Earth. They can help me grow new herbs in the future. As I worked, I developed a composting prayer:

 

Stem to soil
Bark to brown
Wilt to worms
Break it down! 

 

(I did put a few herbs in the fire pit which was probably not the best idea as they made a lot of smoke at first!)

I did keep a few things: plants that, now that we’re reacquainted, truly are appropriate for talismans rather than consuming. I have some mistletoe, which is steeped in lore, and is not something I’ve encountered in my own surroundings before. I also have a dried fly agaric which I’m very fond of. I rediscovered some chunks of dragons blood purchased at a shop in Salem, MA, and I even have a baggie of shed Arctic fox fur (an animal sanctuary sold little samples of it as a way to raise funds). I mean… you never know when you’ll need these things, right?!

As someone who converted to a polytheistic path over several years, it can be fascinating, humbling, and hilarious to look back at my journey. I prefer keeping my herbs in glass jars now, though I do need to improve my usage and not horde them so much. I also strive to grow or forage for most of what I utilize, but I’m not above buying a hard-to-find specimen from a trusted source who ethically harvests plants.

Do any of you have old herbs stashed away in baggies, forgotten or horded for some unknown purpose? Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate how you work with herbs and do your own herbal cleanse!

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My child has been a bit of a handful lately, especially in the evenings.  It’s probably a result of too many things packed into a week, fatigue, and the excitement of the holidays.  The last couple evenings have been particularly trying.

In our home, we talk about Santa as a spirit of generosity and giving; Santa does not deliver gifts to our house.  The spirit inspires us to give to each other.  We honor this seasonal spirit during our Twelve Days of Solstice observation with prayers of gratitude and offerings of milk and cookies.  Tonight, after my daughter was being exceptionally bratty about bedtime, I took a deep breath, and calmly explained what many people tell their children.  She’s aware that most of her peers think Santa himself brings gifts.  Today I shared another piece of that story – that parents tell their children Santa will not deliver gifts if he sees them being naughty.

“Right now,” I said, “I sense Santa’s disappointment because I am disappointed, and we are wondering if we should not give  you some of the gifts we’ve picked out.”

Of course, she did not like the sound of that.

Then I took it a step further.  I told her about Krampus.  I think most of you know who he is.  If you don’t recognize the name, go ahead and google him.

“Many of our ancestors believed in the Krampus.  He is kind of a mean looking spirit who punishes naughty kids around the holidays.  He puts them in a bag and beats them with his sticks!”

She became visibly shaken by this story.  She asked if Krampus is real.  Now, as an animist, I believe in spirits, but I also believe in the power of metaphor.  My husband is very agnostic, and he feels it’s also important that we show our child different sides of belief and thinking.

So I say what I always say.  “Some people believe in him.  No matter what, the story of Krampus exists for a reason.  Long ago, parents told their children that Krampus would do those things because winter is hard.  If children don’t listen to their parents, and if they don’t help with the house, they could get very sick or die.  Other people in the house could get sick and die.  It’s important that we take care of ourselves, keep our bodies and homes clean, and help to make life easier for each other.  So in a way, if you are naughty, you call naughtiness into the house.  Naughtiness, meanness, dirtiness – it’s kind of like a spirit.  We can get sick, we get stressed, we get upset.  Santa is a different kind of energy.  He is joy, safety, comfort.  We want that kind of spirit in the house, right?”

I explained that it’s the same with school.  If you are a good student, you have a happier teacher, friends who want to play with you, a clean school, a safer school.  Being a good person who tries to help, rather than make like more difficult for others, is usually going to be happier.  There will always be exceptions, of course… but I think it’s important to understand the value of cooperation*.

That really clicked with her.  Do good things, attract good things.  Give good energy to cultivate it.

And you know what?  She calmed down.  Assured that we work hard to keep our home safe and positive, she finished her job for the night.  We went to her room, I read her a peaceful Winter Solstice story to remind her of the very happy energy about the occasion, said our prayers of good rest and protection, and it was great!  I reinforced just how enjoyable it was to quickly finish her bedtime chores so that we had time (and I had energy) to read a book and sing a song.

I’m not posting this to encourage other Pagan parents to go about things this way.  I just wanted to share my experience.  It was interesting. As I was talking to hwe, I realized I was verbalizing a belief that I hadn’t fully articulated in the past.  My relationship with Santa has evolved since I was a child, and I really felt close to that spirit tonight.  Krampus, too.  I don’t really think of him as a malevolent, evil being – definitely a spirit deserving of respect and distance.  But I felt I understood his purpose – to remind people of the importance of helping your family, working together to prepare for winter’s dangers, and to teach our children that there are consequences beyond simply losing a momentary pleasure like television privileges.  It was also probably one of the deepest conversations we’ve had about spirits, energy, ethics, and one’s reputation.

 

*Obviously, we want our daughter to feel comfortable with being independent, taking positive risks, not going along with peer pressure, etc.  But that’s a different sort of lesson.  I just wanted my daughter to brush her damn teeth.  LOL

 

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My first jar of elderberry syrup. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

My little family is feeling under the weather, so I figured it was time to finally try my hand at making elderberry syrup. It’s an old herbal remedy to help prevent and cope with colds*. I followed Mountain Rose Herbs’ video recipe.  As the mixture simmered, the divine aroma of berries, cinnamon, ginger, and clove wafted through the home.  So not only can it help internally, but this simmering syrup will add a festive atmosphere to your abode when you may otherwise feel blah.  According to European folk tradition, elder has been used to ward off negative spirits.  So think of cooking it as a sort of spiritual fumigation.  Yet another way to create a purifying fragrance without the use of incense during the winter months?  Hmmm…

As for the syrup itself, it’s delicious.  A whole cup of local honey will do that!  Even my little Bee enjoys a teaspoon here and there…

*It is not meant to replace stronger medicines should the need arise.

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Film poster. (Fair Use)

 

Many of my favorite anime titles involve spiritual elements.  The Hayao Miyazaki films, such as My Neighbor Tototor and Princess Mononoke, were greatly inspired by animistic beliefs native to Japan.  The interaction between the human and spirit world are important elements to the stories, and I find a lot to compare to Druidism – old and new.   Someone online suggested to my husband that we check out A Letter to Momo.  While watching the preview, we couldn’t help but compare it to Miyazaki’s style.  It wasn’t just the whimsical art or the coming of age story – it was the thin line between this world and the next.  We had to watch it.

In the film, a young girl named Momo is dealing with the unresolved argument she had with her father right before his untimely death.  The dramatic change in her life, and her need to adjust, are made concrete when she and her mother move to the small island of Shio, where her grandparents live.  Along for the ride are three spirits on a mysterious mission.  Unlike just about everyone else around her, Momo can see them.  While this chance encounter with the Otherworld creates (often comical) challenges, it ultimately helps both Momo and her mother heal.

One element that intrigues me with A Letter to Momo, and indeed the same element that helps to endear Miyazaki films to me, is the proximity between this world and the spirit world. Set on a rural island, there are scenes at shrines, examples of ancestor veneration, and discussions of Japanese mythology.  The spirits, comparable to Irish lore, are neither totally benevolent nor malicious – they simply are.  They have their own histories, motivations, biases, and faults.  What separates them from the humans they interact with are their powers and Otherworldly jobs.  The three take a shining to Momo in part because of how she comes to interact with them – which includes some offerings of food.   Less obvious but still there, mixed in with all the modern farming equipment, phones, and Japanese snack foods, are little spirit homes people built once upon a time.  One of the major scenes of Momo features an old community tradition in which the families send straw boats with lanterns that they made as offerings into the sea.  I’m assuming it is part of the Japanese Obon celebration, a festival for the dead.  It’s never really explained – it’s just there, part of the culture.  The movie’s purpose is not to explain Japanese customs and beliefs to curious Americans, after all.  They just exist, as they have existed in some way for generations, embedded in the story.

In watching these films, so full of Japanese customs and folklore, I can’t help but find things to compare to the living fairy faith in Ireland, or think about how things could have been if the Pagan tradition there had not been so altered by Christianity.  What can we, as modern Druids, learn from cultures who have living animistic traditions?  It’s something to contemplate after watching the film.

I highly recommend A Letter to Momo.  It’s heartfelt, humorous, and appropriate for the whole family.  It would be especially appropriate to watch near Samhain because of the ancestral veneration.

 

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My husband recently encouraged me to join Reddit so that I could take advantage of the vast gardening community there. While exploring, I found a subreddit dedicted to Druidism which was where I discovered this gem – “Fable: The Lost Art of the Spoken Word.” It features many bards from the Druidic community, namely Philip Carr-Gomm. It really set a fire in my head! I hope it inspires you too.

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Scottish folklore and superstitions – When the Song Dies – Aeon Film.

Do take a moment to watch this short documentary by Jamie Chambers about the folk traditions of Scotland.  In particular, it focuses on how old songs and places connect us to our ancestors.  There are some interesting accounts of experiences with the spirit world and the Sight.

It is wonderful to see that these beliefs still exist in the lands that so inspire us, but it is sad, too, that they are dying out.  We need to do our part to respect the cultures we learn from and preserve their traditions and language.  It is a monumental task, and not one any one person can achieve.  It must be a collective effort between all of us who practice the traditional ways – the artisans, bards, and liturgists.

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I recently posted about how my mother’s insecurities carried over to me with regards to hospitality in my home.  That one small thing aside, I’ve inherited many other good and interesting qualities – her superstitions being some of them!  Growing up, my mother taught my sister and I several small folk traditions, sometimes thinly veiled in Catholicism, but sometimes not.  My mother first introduced me to sympathetic magic and divination via palm reading.  Did she think I’d ever grow up to become a witch or a Druid as a result?  I don’t think she ever thought about her folk ways in that light – they were just things her mother taught her.

Of the various ideas she passed on to me, I was taught that one shouldn’t discuss one’s dreams prior to breakfast or else nightmares may come to pass and good dreams will not.  Every so often, I try to track this belief’s origin down because it intrigues and delights me all at once.  Dreams are one of the easiest ways to access both our psyches and the Otherworld, after all.  Dreams are incubators for magic and can be prophetic.  I can’t tell where this superstition comes from with any certainty.  I’ve seen some reference Appalachia and others Turkey!  If people in Appalachia have held this belief, there’s a strong possibility it came from Scotland too.  So who knows!

I sometimes think about this superstition and its merits.  To find value in believing it, I think one also must believe in the power of dreams as stated above.  You also have to keep the power of food in mind.  Food grounds your reality.  After magical acts in covens and Druid groves, people are encouraged to eat.  Some magical groups share cakes and ale right in the circle.   ADF Druids share a drink in a round of toasting and boasting.  This practice feels twofold to me.  It’s both a communal way to absorb the blessings of the rite, but it’s also a way to ground  after the big workings and/or offerings have taken place.  After ritual, many regroup for feasting which equals more food.  Food fills our bellies and keeps us firmly rooted in this realm, this space, this reality.  Think about it.  One method to enter trance is to fast and therefore lose touch with our body’s hold on us.  In Greek mythology, if you eat the food of the underworld (another realm) that becomes your reality.  The same happens in Celtic legends of the Otherworld.  If you happen to find yourself in Fairy and partake of the feast, you’ll lose yourself in that reality.  Food is power – it is a great mental and physical anchor.

Perhaps it is this thinking that gave birth to the dreams and breakfast superstition.  To reveal dreams before properly grounding yourself in a new day in this reality, you leave a small door open.  Some, like my husband, only chuckle and shake their heads.  I wonder if my daughter will embrace the superstition as her mother and her mother’s mother, or if she will grow up shaking her head like her father.  Either way, I’ll keep the practice alive.  Why take chances?  It’s not as if the practice is disrupting my life in any way.

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