Whether you’ve been practising your spiritual path for 30 years or 3 years, you will need to shake things up every now and again. Nature doesn’t stay the same. Nature changes, each and every day. As I look out my window, things have changed, sometimes minutely, sometimes drastically, but I can see and feel the change. When I’m out and walking the landscape, I see the wider changes happening, beyond my own little hearth and home. By spending time noticing these changes, I become used change, and so I am also able to transform what I need to in my own life.
My spiritual path does not remain an unvarying constant. It is ever shifting, changing, flowing in and out with the seasons and the cycles. With my many, many, many (oh so many, where did the years go?) years of experience that I have in following my own tradition, I can honestly say that no two years have ever been alike. My interests, my environment, my circumstances lead me down different routes that inform and re-energise my current modus operandi. I am not the same person I was twenty years ago, and nor would I want to be.
Anything that is alive, changes. We often forget that in our day to day existence. We often relive past experiences, but these are done and gone; what we need to do is re-live, to truly live once again in the present moment. Accepting change and circumstances and experience that should, hopefully, lead to wisdom.
Some days are harder than others, for sure. Some days our Craft might seem to take a backseat in our lives, as we try to deal with the hardships and grievances, the pain and the struggles that come from being on this planet at this moment in time. But it is always there, waiting for us to tap back into it, to bring it back to life.
What if your rituals no longer bring you joy? Do something different! Instead of casting a circle, invoking the gods, etc. why not simply go out and walk the land? Whether you are in the countryside or in a city, find a place where there are green and growing things, and be out there in it. Sense the energies, the time of year, the season and the cycle. Feel that deep within your soul, feel your soul reflecting this back out into the world. Let this invigorate you, and take you out of your rut. Let the change flow into you.
Now re-charged, take some time for re-visioning. See how you would like your Craft to be, not how it has always been. Make the changes that you desire, try new things. If they don’t work, put them aside and try new ones. Take some time to visualise the person you want to be, and then go out and be that person. It won’t happen without a little time and effort expended into the process.
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:
It’s finally complete: the entire audiobook of The Hedge Druid’s Craft. Thank you so much to my Bandcamp followers and subscribers for sticking with me throughout this one, as I had a couple months off due to surgery. I hope you enjoy this audiobook. Narrating is hard work, as is editing, maintaining the website, etc. But I’m proud that I’ve been able to do it, and of the finished work.
Here is an extract from my upcoming book, “The Hedge Druid’s Craft“, which is another introductory Pagan Portals book and is now available for pre-order.
Imbolc is a gentle festival, where we honour the first signs of Spring after a long winter. It has long been dedicated to the goddess Brighid who has associations with fire and water. Allow this time of year to fill your soul, the air still cold but the warmth of the light from the strengthening sun inspiring you to go out into the worlds and do the work that you have to do. You can light a candle to dedicate yourself at this time to your work, having spent the winter months thinking long and deeply about it. Now is the time to state your intention clearly. You can carve words or symbols into the candle that represent your work, and strew herbs around it to lend their energies (see A Basic Candle Spell below). As you light the candle, state your intention clearly, calling upon the ancestors and the Fair Folk, the gods and goddesses to bear witness. This is not an oath to be made lightly.
Meditate upon the candle’s flame for as long as you wish. Then take a bowl of spring water and anoint yourself with it. I like to collect water from Chalice Well and the White Spring in Glastonbury every time I visit, and I use this special, holy water for use in rituals and in spellcraft. You can draw the shape of a crescent moon upon your brow with the water, or place any other symbols which have meaning to you upon your body. It is also a good time for healing work, and anointing yourself with sacred water on areas of your body that need healing can kick-start the process (as well as following good medical and spiritual advice).
A Basic Candle Spell
Take a candle of an appropriate colour to use in your work. As a very basic guide, red is for love and passion, pink for emotions, blue for healing, green for the environment, brown for animals, yellow for inspiration, purple for magical strength, black for release of negativity. White candles are used for purification, as well as can be used to replace any other colour that you may not be able to obtain.
Sit with your candle and meditate upon the work that you wish to achieve. Then, stating your intention clearly, pour your energy into the candle. Allow energy to flow from your hands into the candle. When you have poured enough into the candle, you can then add more strength to it by carving words or symbols into it, still holding your intention. Then, place the candle it a holder and light it with a match. As you strike the match, keep your intention in your mind, and as you bring the match to the candle’s wick, visualise the power of fire igniting your work. Sit before the candle and meditate upon the flame, still holding your visualisation of the end result of your spellwork coming to fruition. You can add herbs around the base of the candle, if you so wish, to allow them to add their magical energy to your work. You can infuse the herbs with your intention and energy in exactly the same way as you did the candle. See with your mind’s eye a cone of power rising from the herbs around the candle, blending with the candle’s flame and sending the power out into the world.
At the end of 2014, some things began to wind down, not least of all my office hours at the music company that I work at part-time. It seems every five to ten years the fates give me a kick up the behind; just when things get very comfortable, very stable something happens that pulls the rug out from under my feet. At the time, it can feel dreadful – for the most part we humans hate change. But change can be a good thing, keeping us from stagnation, from seeing this from only one perspective. Nothing ever stays the same. The seasons are always turning, the river is always flowing, we are endlessly spinning through the cosmos. Change is everything.
And so I’ve made a big decision. I’ve decided to train as a professional herbalist (meeting new EU regulations) with Herbcraft, run by Melanie Cardwell in association with the ANM (Association of Natural Medicine). I’ve created a new blog, The Druid Herbalist, to record my progress through this journey that begins in April. This new blog focuses solely on herbalism and natural healing. Down the Forest Path will still remain my primary blog site, but please feel free to join me on The Druid Herbalist as well!
My journey begins, to deepen my service to the land, the people, the ancestors and the gods. Wish me luck!
Within Druidry, and indeed in modern Paganism, it is usual to adopt a craft name within your tradition. It is not necessary, and if you feel that you don’t need one, or one doesn’t appeal, then by all means forego the craft name. However, choosing a craft name, or having one bestowed upon you can enhance your connection to your tradition, if you allow it.
Craft names can provide an air of mystery and magic. We can choose something that reflects our work, such as Oak Seeker, Coll (hazel, if working with ogham), or Pathfinder. We can choose something that reflects a part of the environment that we love – Alder, Willow, Rain. We can put two words together that express a deep part of our soul, or a deep love that we have, such as Gentle Bear, Running Horse, or my craft name – Autumn Song. We can adopt names of the gods and goddesses that we love, such as Nehalennia, Freya, Lugh, Branwen, Rhiannon, Bridget. There are also mythological names like Merlin, Morgan and Nimue that might strike a chord deep within our hearts. We can even choose names from fantasy books that we love – Gandalf, Radagast, Arwen, Goldberry, Eomer, Eowyn, Faramir (all Lord of the Rings names). What matters most is that our name expresses a deep part of our soul; that when we utter it, write it, exhale it into the twilight it means something to us, connects us to the awen.
You can inscribe your craft name upon your altar, or your tools. You can sign correspondence with it. You may even change your name to your craft name if you feel that better reflects who you are. I like having both names, as I can honour my two grandmothers for whom I am named after, and honour my tradition with my craft name. Besides, it took me long enough to learn how to write my own name, and I’m sticking to it…
We might choose our craft name, or we might be gifted it by another. We could meditate, commune with the local spirits of place, or deity, and ask that they bestow us a name. In some magical traditions, a craft name is given upon initiation into the tradition, or upon completion of various grades. When working alone, we do not have to wait to have a name bestowed upon us – we can seek it out ourselves from whatever inspires us whenever we feel ready. We can ask our ancestors, our spirit guides, even friends and family for ideas and inspiration.
Our craft names may also change with time. As we grow and develop in our spirituality, we might find that we outgrow our name, and thereby be inspired to choose another that better suits our current work. We can include our naming in ceremonies, whether it is our first time or our fifth time in choosing a craft name. Taking on a name is not something to be done lightly, however. It requires much thought and meditation if you wish for it to be important to your work.
Whatever name you choose, or however you decide to be named, honour that name with all that you are. Find ways of being that reflect your name in deep and compassionate ways, working to create peace and harmony in your life and in all life around you.