I’ve started a new series of devotionals dedicated to the goddess, Brighid. These are available to my everyone in my Patreon community (which starts from as little as £1 a month). In these posts, you will find material that I have written, and material from others that I have come across in my research and work with the goddess (all material is credited, and links provided to find out more).
Brighid is a goddess that came to me as I was diving deeply into my Druid practice many years ago. She helped me greatly with her blessing on Druid College UK, and motivated me to keep it up (sadly, we’re only offering an online course at the moment, due to the pandemic). She has walked with me for many years, and feeling her with me is like the beautiful, golden autumnal light filling my soul.
If you are interested in joining me in my Patreon community, click HERE to find out more.
Blessings of Brighid be with you!
Note: my Patreon community also enjoys many other benefits, including material for everyone from my personal Book of Shadows, photography and more as well as special material for different levels of support.
Over the years I’ve heard quite a few people equate the riding of the broom by a witch to a sexual experience. Often these folks state that the witch used a hallucinogenic ointment which was rubbed onto the broom, and then inserted in a sexual manner which made her think she was “flying”. I can tell you, there are a lot easier ways to get high.
This theory comes from a few confessions extracted during the dreadful times of the witch hunts across Europe. What is often forgotten or purposefully left out is the fact that these so-called confessions were extracted under torture. Europe and Scotland had absolutely awful methods of torturing so-called witches to extract information from them, usually with questions led by the examiner to produce a consistent result among the captives. In England, torture was illegal, however, they still kept their victims awake and used sleep deprivation to get what they wanted, as well as having the person kept in one position for hours at a time without being able to move. That’s torture too.
If we are to believe that what was said under torture is factually correct, then we must also believe what else was said alongside this confession. We must believe that these people had sexual congress with goats, or the Devil himself. We must believe that these people suckled their familiars (animal helpers) with their own blood. We must believe a host of other outrageous stories that were created to instil fear and hatred, dividing a populace and creating a space where the old, the weak, the poor and the independent thinkers were targeted against the power of the Church and patriarchy.
It is my firm belief that the sexual imagery of the witch “riding” her broom is the result of the sexually repressed minds of the witch hunters themselves. It is only one of many sexual fantasies created by these men who were paid to bring people in for prosecution. This was their job, and they made money from it. You would have to be quite a horrible type of person to want to do this sort of job in the first place. Just saying.
In fact, the witch riding her broom comes from a long heritage of witches working with staffs, stangs, wands and distaffs. We can trace this work in Europe back to the völva (plural völur), a type of Norse shamanistic practitioner of magic and divination. Völva actually means “staff carrier”. Usually a woman, she always had a staff, sometimes wood, sometimes an ornamental iron distaff. We know this from the many burials found across Scandinavia which have these women buried with the tools of their trade.
I’ve even heard some folks say that the practice of the völva was seen as shameful in Viking society. They use the sexual fantasy imagery and overlay it against the profession of the völva, claiming that this is what she did with her staff, like a witch riding her broom covered in the flying ointment. First, let’s look at the “shameful” aspect.
For women, it was not considered shameful to practice magic, except from a Christian point of view. For men to practice the magic of the völva, known as seidr, it was seen in Viking times as “ergi”, often translated as shameful. For a man to do women’s work was seen as unmanly, though we do have to remember that the sources from which we get this information were written after the Viking period by the patriarchal Christian monks. We also see women warriors, buried with their weapons, and so the question of men’s work and women’s work is even more circumspect. We see in the myths of the gods and goddesses a couple of the gods doing womanly things: Odin learns the art of seidr from the goddess Freya (he’s not seen as unmanly), Thor dresses up as a woman to get into a giant’s hall (still not unmanly) and Loki turns himself into a mare to have sex with another horse (still not called out as unmanly and actually producing Odin’s steed, Sleipnir, in the process).
Add on top of that the fact that all the burials found of the women who are considered to be völur are high status burials, and the question of shame seems absurd. The Osberg ship burial, perhaps one of the most famous Viking ship burials, had the body of a völva laid to rest with with a host of beautiful treasures (what was left of them, for the burial had been broken into a long time before, with many of the goods stolen). No person who was considered shameful would be given such a send off.
The question of drugs does come into play when looking at the ancestors of the more modern-day version of the broom riding witch. Many of the burials were found to have pouches of hallucinogenic herbs on the body, such as henbane or cannabis seeds. These seeds, when thrown onto hot coals would produce a smoke that, when inhaled, would most definitely get you “high”, but not in the way that the sexual fantasy of the witch riding a broomstick would by the witch hunters. The clue is in the staff itself, and what it symbolises.
The word seidr is thought to derive from spinning or weaving. The völur were those who could see the way that fate was woven or spun through their contact with the spirit world. Their distaffs were their link to that ability. For those graves wherein a wooden staff was found, the link lies more with the World Tree that one can use to travel to the nine worlds in Norse cosmology. Through the staff there is a sympathetic link created with the World Tree, with Yggdrasil, and it can be used to “ride” between the worlds.
And this is where the descendant of the völur appears today, in the form of hedge riding, an aspect of Hedgewitchcraft. Riding the staff/stang/broom/whatever you have to hand that resembles the world tree helps you to travel between the worlds in order to find the information that you require in your Craft. Most Hedgewitches today do not use hallucinogens, being able to perform the working through trance states that are induced by other means.
So, in conclusion, the equating of broom riding and sex seems more like a far-fetched fantasy than the actual reality when we dig a little deeper into the history and the ancestry of witchcraft. That it is continuing to be spread today only helps to demean and undermine the power of women in working magic, turning something extremely symbolic and important into a sexually repressed fantasy created by the patriarchy. When a witch is riding her broom, or using her staff, stang or wand in ritual, the lineage is far greater than most people can ever assume, and is far more powerful than any witch hunter could ever dream of.
For a great video on the staff of the völva, see Freya’s video below:
I have a lovely book which I’m re-reading, about empowering the wild woman within, manifesting her in all her glory. This book is filled with beautiful poetry and great exercises, written from the heart from a Woman Most Wild. And yet – and yet…
It’s one of many books about female empowerment that talks about working with the energy that originates in your womb space. While this book does state that you can do this even without a womb, it still annoys me, going against the grain of my very feminine soul. Like so many others talking about energetic womb space, many in the Pagan community with feminist goals are still being held back by a woman’s reproductive organs. At least, that’s just my opinion. I’m sure many will disagree.
Maiden, Mother, Crone. Right there, we have the Divine Feminine in a nutshell for so many Pagan paths, and yet it is one that is defined by a woman’s reproductive cycle. We are told that we can feel Her in our own womb spaces, whether we still have them or not. She is defined by her womb that birthed the universe. Is the Divine Masculine defined by his phallus? The Cerne Abbus Giant might say so, but his club is a lot bigger.
Even when I still had a womb, before the hysterectomy that gave me my life back after 30 years of living with fibroids and cysts, even then I never connected to the Divine Feminine through womb energy. I knew from a very early age that I would never birth any children physically. I never wanted to. My dolls were my friends, not children I wanted to raise. Even my Cabbage Patch dolls that I wanted so much (because everyone else had one), even then, after the first day I was tired of taking care of them as children, and they immediately “grew up” to become companions. I have never wanted children in my life. A day spent with someone who has young children reinforces this each and every time. I’m too sensitive, I like quiet and peace and being able to have the freedom to do whatever I wish or need to do at any given moment. My womb was never going to be used for what it was meant for.
Before anyone goes all “Lousie Hay” on me, I will stipulate that I firmly do not believe that my desire to not have children caused my condition. I am a staunch believer that genetics, diet, lifestyle and good/bad luck are the reasons for medical conditions. I think that if we begin to believe otherwise, we are instilling a process of blame and shame for medical conditions. Yes, the body and mind are one, and do affect the other to a certain degree, but I believe that this is taken way too far in many people’s opinions that have absolutely no basis in scientific fact. I am a very practical Pagan. I am happy to dance with the faeries in the moonlight and have a great interest in herbal medicine, but I also feel very strongly about getting all my vaccines and using the benefits that modern medicine can provide. Others may feel differently, and I respect their opinion, though I might not share them.
My womb is like my appendix. It’s a part of me, but if it isn’t working properly, it’s better to have it out. All my life I had painful periods, and was only diagnosed as the womb was being cut out of my body and the real extent of the damage from my condition became known. How much of my life was lived in pain I can only attest to now, because I am free from that pain. It’s like having a whole new life. Sure, I’ve got other problems – don’t we all – and I still ache with arthritis and manage my asthma as best I can. But I’ve got my life back. My womb space caused me nothing but pain since puberty. That’s not something I’m going to celebrate. Like an ancestor who caused you pain, you can acknowledge that they were a part of your life, but you don’t have to celebrate them.
Besides, I am more than my womb.
My womb does not make me a woman. It does not make me what or who I am today, nor did it ever define me in the past. I am more than my womb. I don’t and never have fit into the Maiden Mother Crone categories. I am me, a part of everything and beholden to no one thing.
Was I a “girly girl”? Yes, and no. Labels never really stuck very well on me. As a child I loved dresses and princesses and unicorns. I also loved knocking the ball out of the park when it was my turn at bat on the baseball ground. I played hockey with the boys at lunchtime at elementary school, and I figure skated by myself in the evenings at the outdoor rink. I adore belly dance and the wonderful costumes, but I wear jeans and shirts or leggings for the most part in the rest of my life. The Divine Feminine roared through my veins, but I also heeded the rallying cry of the Divine Male and everything in between. Baseball isn’t masculine, and unicorns aren’t feminine. These are just “tools” we use to put everything into neat little boxes, just like the terms Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine.
I have loved The Goddess all my life. It began when I was very young, and had a book about Greek myths. Artemis and Atalanta, these two ladies were my inspiration, my guiding force. Artemis, the eternal maiden, strong and free, what a role model. Running through the forests, standing under the moonlight, beholden to no one. That was The Goddess for me, and still is today, though in many other forms alongside this one. I have always loved independent female deity: Brighid, Freya, Morrigan, Andraste. Give me these ladies over an Earth Mother any day.
Some of these ladies are extremely sexual and sensual. Good for them, and good for me and all women! I’ve always embraced my sexuality and sensuality. Combined with the intimacy of a good, strong relationship there really isn’t anything better. But did I feel Their energy in my womb centre? Nope. Not once. Where did I feel Them? In my heart. Always, in my heart. That energetic centre swells just thinking about these ladies, just as it does when I think about whatever it means to be in the Divine Feminine category. Same for the Divine Masculine category. My power lies in my heart chakra, not my womb space. My love for this planet comes straight out of my chest, filling my soul with a brilliant light that guides me through the darkest of nights.
So each time I read a passage in a book, or attend a workshop that mentions moving into my womb space, I just have to grin and bear it, and shift the energy up higher, to where it belongs: in my heart. I am not my womb space, and no woman should be defined by that, whether they have them or not. Perhaps if we drop the labels we give to divinity, and forego Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine, then we will truly see that the energy really does emanate from the heart for both, or All, instead of from Their, and our, reproductive bits.
We are star-stuff, as is everything. You can’t define something like that with any more clarity. Or by their physiology. You just have to accept it, and love from that wonderful energy centre that we all have: our hearts.
Most people in Modern Paganism have heard of the Witch’s Pyramid, sometimes known as the Magician’s Manifesto. In this, there are four goals for a person to achieve their own power, which are: to know, to dare, to will, and to keep silent. I’m discussing each of these one by one in my podcast series, but I’d like to take a closer look at the adage: to keep silent.
Many say that this maxim was used in order to protect witches from “outing” each other during the witch trials and persecution of the Middle Ages. I’m not sure if this quote dates that far back, in all honesty. However, that’s beside the point of this article. There are some beneficial ways that the motto can be used, and also a lot of detrimental ways.
A good point: it teaches people to shut up and listen. You can’t really listen if you aren’t quiet. It also teaches us that words do have power. We need to use our words responsibly, especially in this age of social media and the abuse of people through the anonymity of the internet. A Witch’s word is said to hold power too – lies and half-truths undermine a Witch’s power (this applies to all people, in my opinion). Words can heal or destroy.
Being silent also helps us to see the bigger picture. When we step outside of our ego and its chattering, we begin to hear the stories of others and see the grander scheme of things. We all have egos, and we need to learn to work with them in order to not be ruled by them. When we are ruled by our egos, we aren’t living intentionally: we are instead living reactionary lives.
Being silent is also helpful in teaching us to be alone. With so many gadgets to hand to distract us from ourselves, we’ve forgotten how to be alone, how to be bored and, yes: how to be lonely. It’s only when you truly deal with loneliness that you can come to understand it and work to improve your situation. Then again, there are the more solitary folk who prefer to be alone, and who find solace in this space for themselves, to work, to heal, to dance and to pray. When we have cut ourselves off from all other distractions, we begin to realise that we are never truly alone. We have nature, the gods, the ancestors, all around us, all the time.
But what are some of the detriments to the saying, “to keep silent”? Well, silence has been used to abuse people for a long, long time. When we silence someone, we are exerting our power over them. Taking away a person or a group’s voice can be the most harmful thing you can do socially, politically, environmentally and ethically. Sometimes this even crosses over into the Pagan sphere, where unsavoury and unethical groups or persons use the adage “to keep silent” to use and abuse others. It can also be used to keep power from an individual or group, to not share knowledge in order to control them. It can be used as a front, a guise, a glamour for when someone doesn’t know an answer, and simply quotes this maxim to maintain an air of mystery and power. These kinds of “teachers” are really just in it for their egos. The best teacher will willingly admit to not knowing something, often learns from the student, and is willing to say so openly and honestly.
This sense of secrecy helps a group or person to establish power and mystique. It entices people to come closer, to learn more. The old Victorian orders and groups wove this veil of secrecy around their groups, not only to protect their members but also to make themselves feel more important. This has carried through in various forms throughout the decades, and has led to the history of Modern Witchcraft being a bit of a fuddled mess. If people were open about themselves, where their traditions came from, and who did what, we might have a more cohesive and coherent history to turn to. Even in the last 70 years we are still trying to unravel pieces of the puzzle, from Gardner and his associates and beyond. They can’t tell us – they’ve all passed on to the Summerland, taking their secrets with them. We can’t verify a lot of claims made by people and groups, which in this age of fact-checking has become paramount.
Many people, myself included, have found this utterly frustrating. So many traditions have created false histories in order to claim validity. In this way, they feel their tradition has the stamp of authenticity, because it goes back to so and so, etc. The irony of lies and half-truths to authentic a tradition is, I’m sure, not lost on many. I personally am not one to equate a religious or spiritual path’s age with validity, and there are many others out there who feel the same. If a spiritual path works for someone, and it was created yesterday, it’s just as valid as a 2,000 year-old tradition that spans the globe. But when secrecy is used to obscure fact because of false claims or untruths in a specific tradition, it can devalue it in the eyes of some. It’s never fun when you find out that your tradition had charlatans and forgers, ego maniacs and more thrown into the historical mix.
History will always have a veil of obscurity over it, hidden truths and perspectives written down by “the winners”. But with the adage of “to keep silent”, this can simply perpetuate the wilful abuse of the truth and facts.
Perhaps we need to learn when to speak up, when to speak the truth, our truths, and when to keep silent. When it is appropriate to do so, in order for power to be shared by all. The person with the most power is the person who is most willing to share it. And they usually don’t shout about it either.