New video now up on my YouTube channel!
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).
(Artwork from: https://www.deviantart.com/briannacherrygarcia/gallery)
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:
Val Thomas’ Of Chalk and Flint: A Way of Norfolk Magic was the first book I bought this year. And I have a feeling that it will be the best book I’ve read all year, or for many years!
Of Chalk and Flint is a large tome of magical information rooted in the chalk and flint of Norfolk, in East Anglia, UK. Though it is a sizeable book, the material presented within is honest, without pretention and still hugely informative without being academically dry. We get an insight into how those of the Nameless Tradition within Norfolk work, their vision of deity, of the powers of nature that surround them, of the times and tides, the history and the lore of this eastern county. Though I’m a Suffolk girl now, I used to live in Norwich, and then in Loddon, and I can relate to many of the places and the history presented in this book. It’s a wonderful and inspiring book, to get you deeper into your own tradition, wherever you live.
It begins by looking at the Lord and Lady of Norfolk, the deities represented in local form, the goddess and the god. Here in my part of Suffolk, the Lord of Flint is all around, on the heath and in the fields, on the shoreline and in the forests. The Lady of Chalk resides on the other side of the A12 from where I live, and so The Lady for me here is the Birch Lady, whose trees are everywhere, or otherwise the Lady of Sand, as the arid soil where I live is abundant, both on the heath, in the forest and beneath the shingle of the beaches. Thomas’ view of deity inspired me to deepen my own connection to the land where I live, to open my heart to the deities even more, and to know them by naming them.
The second chapter looks at sacred places, and consists of local lore combined with accounts of energies and magical workings that the author and others have enjoyed at various sites around Norfolk. We then move to Spiritual Beings in chapter three, where we are given the lore of such creatures as the merfolk and the ferishers (fairies), again which sing to my heart as near to where I live we have the tale of the Merman of Orford, as well as a host of ferishers, frairies, pharisees, faeries and more.
We then move onto the Quest of the Year, where the author in great and exquisite detail gives us an account of the seasonal celebrations, the flora and fauna that abounds, rites and ritual ideas from the Nameless Tradition of witchcraft. It makes you want to take up spinning, or whip up some homemade marmalade, or visit certain places at midsummer. Following chapters include materia magica, items that can be used in the Nameless Tradition, such as holey stones and the like as well as magical tools, working magic effectively, information on coven working and public gatherings and moots, and famous practitioners from Norfolk.
The way that Thomas writes makes you feel at home. It’s as if you’re sitting down to have a cup of tea with your favourite aunt, while she spins stories or thread on a spinning wheel. You can almost smell the herbs drying from the rafters, and feel the sun beating down on your head out in the Brecklands as you traverse the landscape. This book takes you through the wonder of this county like a friend would, and this is a friend I would trust wholly, for it is clear that she walks her talk, without arrogance or humility, but with a sense of pride in the natural lore, and an honest presentation that comes from the true wisdom gleaned from marrying intelligence and experience.
I cannot recommend this book enough. It is available from Troy Books. I may save up my pennies to buy a hard-cover copy, to treasure for the rest of my life.
Here is the latest in the Elements podcast mini-series, where we look at the element of fire. Hope you enjoy! You can download the entire podcast series, as well as everything else on my Bandcamp page, with a subscription.
This rite uses what is commonly known as “The Descent of Brighid” from the Carmina Gadelica. This rite specifically calls upon the powers of the goddess Brighid, and cannot be used interchangeably with another goddess. If you honour or work with other deities, you might consider using the poem as an example to write your own spell or charm of protection. Alternatively, you might just leave out all the references to deity. At the end of the poem, we find the term luatha-luis, whose meaning is not wholly clear, and which is open to interpretation. It may mean a fast-acting, possibly poisonous plant. Luis is the rowan or mountain ash, a powerful and magical tree, whose berries are poisonous when raw, but delicious and nutritious when cooked.
You can perform this ritual every Imbolc, especially if you are a follower or would like to honour Brighid. Or you can simply use it as a rite of protection. You can perform this rite after undergoing a purification such as smudging or saining yourself with smoke from mugwort or vervain.
For this ritual, I would strongly encourage the entire formality of designating sacred space. This will lend focus to your intention, as well as inviting the powers of the ancestors, the three realms, the spirits of place and more to your rite. Choose something that symbolises protection for you, a talisman if you will: something strong and durable, something that will “shield” you physically, spiritually and psychically. You can make a shield yourself, using whatever materials you prefer. This doesn’t have to be a full-body protecting hunk of steel, but again can be symbolic; you can make one out of papier maché to keep near your altar, should you so wish. You might wish to use something natural that you can carry with you, such as a stone or crystal, or even say the poem over a pendant bearing the triskele or triquetra symbol, reflecting the triple nature of Brighid. There are many ways you can use this; be creative!
Rite of Protection Using the Shield of Brighid
Set up and designate your sacred space. Once you have done so, sit or stand for a moment and breathe, focusing your intention on what is to come. Visualise a glowing light beginning to emanate from within, centred on your chest. This light reflects the light of the moon, or the light upon water, or the light of a flame. The energy from this light is not hot, but cool, flowing through you and filling you with strength and confidence, as well as compassion and love. Raise your arms to the sky, drawing down the power of the sky and the full moon. Then hold your hands out in front of you, and draw in the power of the sea, and the highest tide. Finally, hold your hands to the ground, and draw the power of the land into yourself, the serpent energy that courses and connects everything to each other. Stand fully upright once more, noting how the light emanating from within you is even brighter now. Take that light within your mind, and form it into a circle or sphere of light around you. Visualise that light encompassing you, shielding you. If you have a talisman to represent the shield, hold this aloft and still visualise the circle around you. Then say the following words, from “The Descent of Brighid” from the Carmina Gadelica, feeling free to adapt or leave out the Christian influence:
Brigit daughter of Dugall the Brown
Son of Aodh son of Art son of Conn
Son of Criara son of Cairbre son of Cas
Son of Cormac son of Cartach son of Conn.
Brigit of the mantles,
Brigit of the peat-heap,
Brigit of the twining hair,
Brigit of the augury.
Brigit of the white feet,
Brigit of calmness,
Brigit of the white palms,
Brigit of the kine.
Brigit of the peat-heap,
Brigit, woman mild.
Brigit, own tress of Mary,
Brigit, Nurse of Christ, —
Each day and each night
That I say the Descent of Brigit,
I shall not be slain,
I shall not be wounded,
I shall not be put in cell,
I shall not be gashed,
I shall not be torn in sunder,
I shall not be despoiled,
I shall not be down-trodden,
I shall not be made naked,
I shall not be rent,
Nor will Christ
Leave me forgotten.
Nor sun shall burn me,
Nor fire shall burn me.
Nor beam shall burn me.
Nor moon shall burn me.
Nor river shall drown me.
Nor brine shall drown me.
Nor flood shall drown me.
Nor water shall drown me.
Nightmare shall not lie on me,
Black-sleep shall not lie on me.
Spell-sleep shall not lie on me,
‘ Luatha-luis ‘ shall not lie on me.
I am under the keeping
Of my Saint Mary;
My companion beloved
Let the words sink into the air around you. Let them suffuse the light that encircles you with their power. When you are ready, draw the circle of light that surrounds you back into yourself, centred on your chest. If you have a special talisman that you’d like to infuse with this energy instead, draw the circle of light that surrounds you into your talisman. When all the light has gone where it should, stand for a moment and see how this makes you feel. You can test the circle of light, by holding up your dominant hand (right if you are right-handed, left if you are left-handed) and immediately bring the circle of light back around your being. See it spring back up with ease, to surround you and protect you. If you are using a talisman, see it coming forth from the talisman. You can call and release this power as you wish, as you need. It is not something to be played with, but something real, an energy being focused around you. You are connecting with the power of Brighid.
When you are satisfied that you have the protection you need, it is time to reciprocate and leave an offering for what you have been given. As the lady of poetry, smithcraft and of healing, an offering related of one or all of these would be suitable.
Close down your ritual, and renew this rite of protection whenever you feel it necessary.
This ritual is an excerpt from my latest work, The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker, published by Llewellyn Worldwide.
(c) Joanna van der Hoeven 2019
Learn about the festival of Imbolc, and how to incorporate it into your magical life 🙂 Subscribe to my Youtube channel to keep up to date with all my new videos! Blessings of the coming gentle time of Imbolc to you all. xoxo
The moon has always held a special fascination for me. Everything seems magical under the silvery moonlight. Here is where the magic happens.
Magic lies thick in the air all around at this time of year. The scent of woodsmoke and fallen leaves tingles our noses, and we just know that a shift is happening. A big shift. Not the gentle flowing of early summer to midsummer and then to Lammas; no, this is something quite different. While the sun may still be warm, the nights have turned colder and longer, and it’s very noticeable. Each evening, the sun sets further south along the horizon, seeming to run towards that direction with abandon, leaving the lazy, hazy summer nights and bunking down quickly to escape the frosts. The moon now takes over, shining brightly for many more hours in the night sky. The focus has changed, and a new time is upon us.
I love this time of year. At Samhain, we lie between the thresholds of the year. We are in an in-between time, after the death of the God and awaiting his rebirth at the Winter Solstice. We, like the God, are between the worlds, in a place that is not a place, in a time that is not a time. Not quite winter, most definitely not still autumn, we wander in the darkness.
Why do I love this time of year? For many, it’s difficult, saying goodbye to the summer months and embracing winter. But this embracing is, indeed, what I adore. Just as I love seeing the first leaves peeping out among the spring blossom, heralding Beltane and the summer months, so too do I take great joy in the winding down of things, of welcoming the coming winter and all the wisdom that it has to bring. Sure, like many, after a few months it becomes more difficult, dealing with the long dark nights and sometimes dreary days. But it is in winter that we know what we are made of, and provides the perfect time to delve within, to find that authentic self and nurture it to bring it forth into the daylight once again.
Then there are the childhood memories, of Hallowe’en back in Canada, of that special night of all nights. It was the highlight of the year for me, even overshadowing Christmas. For on this night, every child could be what they wanted to be, and had the shadowy streets under the moonlight all to themselves, satisfying their sweet tooths and daring each other to go up to that scary old house. It was a time of magic, of fantasy, where anything was possible. And it still is.
For in this time between the worlds, anything truly is possible. We are able to become whoever it is that we wish to be. At the Samhain fires, we can release what we do not like about ourselves, and resolve to change that in time for the rebirth of the sun. We state our intentions even as we let go, and hold true to our word. We can be whoever or whatever we want, reborn in the dawn’s light after a long night of magic and mayhem.
May these coming months both challenge you and bring you great knowledge, understanding and joy. May you meet these challenges with courage and wit, strength and intuition. And may you enjoy this time that is not a time, in a place that is not a place, in a world that is not a world.
Blessings of Samhain to you all.
We’ve had a winner in the e-newsletter prize draw, and congratulations to Kelly Pederson! The course is now available to all, and here are details of what it includes:
- A 118 page pdf document containing information, practical exercises, things to think about, reference and suggested/further reading
- Audio mp3 files to complement the course, including two meditations and a journeying session, as well as a storytelling session from Robin Herne and a chant to be used in ritual by Joanna van der Hoeven
- Email tutorship from Joanna and Robin throughout the duration of the course. You can take the course as your own speed, there is no time limit.
So, what does this course cover? It covers the basics of Druidry, including:
- What is Druidry
- What is Relationship?
- History of the Druids
- The Gods in Druidry
- The Spirits of Place
- Working with the Ancestors
- The Quarter Days and Fire Festivals
- Druid Ethics
- Druid Philosophy
- Altars and Ritual Tools
- Ritual Structure and Performance
- Anarchy and the End of Submission
- Suggested Reading List
How much does this course cost? It is £75, which includes the pdf file, the audio files and the email correspondence with both tutors. You may correspond as little or as much with the tutors as you like. Payment can be made via online bank transfer, or by cheque in British pounds.
This course is aimed for those new to Druidry, and can also serve as a good refresher for those who have walked the Druid path for many years. It is based on the teachings we provide at Druid College, condensed down to an introduction to Druidry and offered alongside guidance provided by both tutors. This course is about reweaving that connection, our connection to the land, the ancestors, and the gods. It is about learning the native spirituality of these British Isles, and exploring how they work in the wider world. As an introduction into the path that is Druidry, it focuses on our relationship to the land, the ancestors, the gods and the spirits of place.
What you get out of Druid learning is what you put into it. There is no room for passivity; Druidry is very much an active path. No one can do it for you. You must search out the awen, the inspiration yourself. Teachers may act as guides, priests may work as celebrants in ritual, but they do not take the place of active learning on the individual level. No one can do it for you.
So we actively encourage you to take those first steps along the path, and to hold the intention of your learning close to your heart as your journey. Know that the work that you put in will reap benefits, for yourself, your own sense of well-being and for the earth as a whole. For we are all part of the great tapestry of life.
If this sounds like something you would be interested in, then please email email@example.com to register.
We hope that you will take this journey with us. In the meantime, awen blessings!
Joanna and Robin