Posts Tagged ‘witchcraft’

There’s a very big witch hanging around Philadelphia, NY.


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I finally got around to reading a book that has been on my wish list for awhile –Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants by Claudia Müller-Ebeling, Christian Rätsch, and Wolf-Doeter Storl.  Sarah Lawless first brought the book to my attention in one of her own reviews.  I added it to my Amazon wish list right away and my hubby gave it to me as a Solstice gift over a year ago.  I’m so glad I got it!

First of all, for those of you who don’t identify with the term “witch,” don’t let the title fool you.  This book is about folk healing and ancient practices involving herbs.  There is discussion on witchcraft and witches, but I feel this book is excellent for anyone who identifies as a Pagan and is interested in plants, healing, trance work, wildcrafting, and general incorporation of plants in magical workings. I will say it may be of more use to those of us who follow an Indo-European influenced path or for those who live in similar climates where these plants can grow. Some attention is given to Native American practices and other cultures around the world, though.  I will also say that this is an academic book.  It is probably not for the Pagan novice.

There is so much information in this text.  The authors look into folklore, ethnobotany, and modern research.  Greco-Roman cultures are emphasized and dominate much of the book in the form of discussions on Hecate, Medea, Circe, and Artemis.  Much of our understanding on love potions and flying ointments comes from their lore so it is entirely understandable.  Anyone interested in magic worth their salt should have at least a vague understanding of these figures!  Mary of Christian fame also gets some attention.  I learned much in that section that I didn’t know.  Indeed, women are in the spotlight in this text (sorry boys).  The chapter “Midwives: Fertility and Birth” delves into reproduction and how intimately it is connected with herbalism – whether to aid in fertility, prevent or terminate pregnancy, aid childbirth, or heal a woman post pregnancy.  However there are some great things men can learn about that subject and others that might be of more interest – such as “The Hebe-Ahnin and the Men’s Childbed,” or “Rübezahl: Herbalist and Weather God.”

One of the best aspects of the book is that the authors are not afraid to discuss the plants many now avoid – black henbane, monkshood, belladonna, thorn apple, and mandrake just to name the most infamous.  You won’t really find recipes to make flying ointments, but you’ll learn more about the common ingredients and how they have been used elsewhere throughout the ages – even in brewing!

The book ends with a critical look at contemporary drug laws.  Another reviewer elsewhere took this as the author’s pushing Pagans to take drugs in order to have spiritual experiences – I did not get that impression at all.  The authors are simply sharing the necessary information.  It’s up to the magic practitioner how to proceed and use it.  The book certainly has a lot of respect and caution for the plants as many can be deadly if used incorrectly.  They can also be wonderful medicines if used correctly!  They are worth learning about!

My only issue with the book was, despite the excellent research, some points occasionally made me say, “What now?”  For example, on pg. 15, one of the authors claims that using water during Lughnasadh was taboo to the Celts – this included washing, bathing, and fishing.  I’ve never seen this anywhere in all of my books on Celtic studies.  Maybe there’s truth to it, but it’s eluded me thus far!  Does anyone have any information on this?  Another thing that may occasionally raise a reader’s eyebrow is the sense that these authors wrote from the archetypal perspective.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but some people may find it annoying.  Otherwise, the text is very well-written and packed full of useful, interesting information about a plethora of herbs.  It is a must-read for aspiring herbalists, Druids, and witches!

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Fellow Druid and blogger, A Fundamentalist Druid in America, posted an intriguing and thought-provoking entry this morning. Entilted “Why I am not a Pagan,” he explores the many negative connotations associated with the word such as its historical usage, derivation, and the groups of people who use it to describe themselves. He quotes several well-known “Pagans” on the subject, such as Zsuzsanna Budapest, who are equally wary of the word. Although I honestly told him in his comments that some of his language could be too condescending to generate meaningful discussion on such a worthy topic, I encourage you to head over and read it.

So where do I stand on this issue? I will try to put my opinion into words as best as I can.

I always feel a bit awkward when someone questions me about my religious beliefs. The most accurate way to describe myself would be to say that I am an American Druid of the ADF tradition who ascribes to Celtic Reconstructionist methods and practices some traditional folk magic. If pressed for further explanation, perhaps by someone who practices another religion, I would explain that I am a polytheistic animist who practices magic and ritual within an Irish and occasionally Pan-Celtic cultural context. These are as accurate descriptors as I can think of, but my Gods, they are a mouthful aren’t they?!

Like many others, “Pagan” is just the easiest explanation for those on the outside looking in. Yes it is a terribly loaded word full of negative connotations both within and without the community it describes, but it is the best we have at the moment to refer to a general group of people who are not strictly monotheistic. Fundamentalist Druid states:

Because the word isn’t explanatory or even defining (hell, it doesn’t even state what side you’re on when it comes to animism, polytheism, monotheism…), and all in all, it’s an entirely extraneous word, only really of use in scaring Christians or feeling superior. Paul Beyerl hits on the same notion, calling it “a lifestyle word“. If somebody asks what religion I have, I can say I’m a druid if I want to be direct, or I’m a mystic if I want to take the long route, or I can launch into a shamanic litany of all the things I am and have been and could be, if I want to be obscure and truthful. But what can you or anyone assume about the addition of pagan?

I definitely agree that the word is not very helpful in truly understanding a person’s spiritual beliefs. (I don’t agree that it’s only use is to scare Christians or feel superior. For some, sure, but I don’t think it’s that simple. Truly, this could be said of “Druid,” “witch,” or “heathen” as well.) “Pagan” is very general to the point of being misleading. How many in the Druidic, Heathen, Recon, etc communities have gone to a “Pagan” meetup, CUUPs meeting, or moot only to discover that it’s really not some general, multi-path group at all! It’s really a bunch of people who, despite their insistence that they are an eclectic group, are really practicing some form of Neo-Wicca. One of the more negative aspects of the word is that it’s s0 open-ended and so inclusive that it’s almost implying eclectic these days. People who can’t or don’t commit to one path tend to embrace the title “Pagan” which can cause some confusion within and without of our communities. Those of us looking for something very specific can become discouraged by the word.

But without that word, what do we have? Some embrace the term “witch” which is fine and dandy, but that doesn’t cover all of us. Some “Pagans” reject that title for various reasons. Fundamentalist Druid suggests “heathen,” but that is generally used by people who follow a Norse path so, again, not useful to all of us. (If you’re interested in spiritual descriptors in Celtic tongues, do check out this link for the CR FAQ.) Not all of us are animists. Not all of us are polytheistic (I won’t even touch the hard vs. soft issues in this post). We’re not all magicians. “Mystic”, in my opinion, is far too broad because there are Christian, Jewish, and Muslim mystics as well. “Magician,” again, is not applicable to all and tends to make one sound like a stage performer. The way I see it, “Pagan” is the best we have right now.

I do understand that the title can be offensive to some. It could be particularly offensive to those who follow a hearth culture conquered by the Romans. It’s no wonder many Celtic Reconstructionists use names in their hearth language of choice! That said, linguistically, I’m a descriptivist. I know and accept the fact that language changes, thus the meaning of words change. It seems that a majority of us within the community are comfortable using “Pagan” as an umbrella term to describe a variety of non-monotheistic beliefs. It might not be the first word we choose to describe ourselves (heck some of us, like the Feral Druid, are still trying to figure that bit out), but it is helpful when it comes to organizing larger gatherings (Pagan Pride events), multi-denominational education (Cherry Hill Seminary), news (The Pagan Newswire Collective), or civil rights initiatives. When the meaning of a word changes and is accepted, it’s very hard to change – especially when a majority of the group it describes accept it.

Whether Fundamentalist Druid intended it or not, I think his post could be a springboard of discussion for this topic.  I was really inspired by his thoughts and wanted to share my own on this blog.  I hope some of you will share your own feelings, either in my comments section, his, or on your own blog.

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“Witches Brew” by Omnia.  This makes me want to dance  under the moon…

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Excellent essay from Sarah Lawless.

There is a very fine line between magic and madness. Some who follow this crooked path believe they go hand in hand and you can't have one without the other, but I say that is an unhealthy view point. For magic to work, it is best to be a sane functional human being grounded in this world. That is what I was taught. Too often sanity is thrown without caution into the gutter and people run head first into madness not even thinking for a second of … Read More

via The Witch of Forest Grove

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Necropolis Now: Interview with Professor Ronald Hutton of the University of Bristol, United Kingdom.

Everyone should head on over to Necropolis Now to read the interview with Ronald Hutton. It is fantastic, as is often expected from Mr. Hutton.  I think it is unfortunate that more Pagans don’t read actual history books.

I really liked this bit from the interview:

Certainly I don’t know any Pagans who would aspire to be the malevolent witches of popular tradition. The difficulty here is that many whom I know do aspire to be both priestesses or priests and witches of a different sort from the traditional: and the distinction is important. To be a priestess or priest can mean simply serving the divine passively, but a witch is more of an independent agent, making a relationship with the supernatural more on her or his own terms and working to change things. Pagans today are commonly trying to do both, but more the second. I think that the term ‘magician’ also fits the latter role just as well as ‘witch’, without the same connotations of fear and suspicion. ‘Witch’ however, also carries today associations of power and glamour, especially for women, so perhaps it is worth carrying on the struggle to redeem the word in popular parlance anyway. I think the choice must be up to individuals, as long as they have a good understanding of where the old prejudice against the words ‘witch’ and ‘witchcraft’ comes from, and how deeply and widely a fear of the witch-figure runs, through many societies which are not Christian. (Emphasis mine.)

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I_love_blog_awardA big thank you to Caroline for the award she sent me this morning.  She says my blog is full of “artistic and environmental awesomeness.”  Knowing that other people enjoy my crazy ramblings means a lot to me.  Caroline, over at Wandering the Numinous Wilds, is also a very talented artist within ADF.  In addition to her blog, you can see and purchase some of her work at her Etsy shop Land Under Wave.  I actually turned to her when I wanted gifts for my bridesmaids a couple years ago.

Now, on to the requirements for accepting such a lovely accolade:

The Rules:
If you are tagged…Thank the person who gave you the award
Share 7 random bits about yourself
Pass the award on to a few of your favorite blogs
(And don’t forget to let them know!)

These are the blogs and bloggers I choose:

Melissa’s Meanderings – Her blog cheers me up.  She reminds me to be thankful, shares recipes, and posts great photos – especially of cats!  What’s not to love about that?
F that S – I’ve just got to send an award to my friend C!  Her blog is full of art, environmentalism, and interior decorating ideas.  She also keeps me in touch with the local art and environmentalist scene!  I got to know C through her blog before I ever met her in person and I just knew we could be friends!
The Witch of Forest Grove – Sarah Lawless is kind of a big deal when it comes to witchcraft and hedgecrossing.  She is a breathtaking artist, a talented writer, and a great teacher – even if I only ever learn from her blog posts.  She continues to be a huge inspiration in my spiritual path.
Walking the Hedge – Is another great blog on witchcraft.  I’ve learned a lot from her and her website too.  Her articles have been really helpful to me and I love the photos she shares.
Into the Mound – I also want to throw some love to Ian Corrigan.  This prominent ADF Druid shares a lot of his thoughts and experiences with the Kindreds on this blog.  He sometimes shares some great chants or poems, especially around the high days.

And my 7 bits of randomness:

    1. If I’m not outside, at work, keeping house, blogging, or reading, I’m almost always creating something.  I experience near-extreme guilt and self-loathing when I’m not keeping my hands busy in some way.
    2. I’m addicted to the Dragon Age franchise.
    3. I’m a very strict vegetarian – so much so that I probably annoy people.  I always know I’ve found a true friend when they accept this about me without giving me any trouble.
    4. Although I try really hard to be an environmentalist, I fail in two ways – I tend to take long showers and I consistently fail to wake up early enough to walk to work.  I need to try harder…  See?  I’m full of self-loathing.
    5. I have two ferrets – Potion and Puck (both girls).  Collectively, I refer to them as Stinky Babies.
    6. I have a growing collection of baskets.  I keep/display them on top of my cupboards.  You never know when you’ll need a basket…
    7. I have a box of bottle caps in a cabinet.
EDIT : I want to add, to the blogs I sent the award to, don’t feel compelled to do the meme.  I just wanted you to know I appreciate you!

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