On a Moonlit Night…

A full moon and the spring equinox not two days apart; the energies leave me reeling, literally. My head has been pounding for two days straight, and I just can’t wait for the tides to turn and for the energy to subside, to slide into the more gentle flow rather than being a gushing torrent of turbulence. The light is too bright, sounds are too loud and everything is just too much. But I know it will change. Things always change.

It’s Friday night and I climb into the car and drive down to the beach. Over the farmer’s fields I can see the moon rising, huge and pink in a clear sky. My head has cleared, for the time being – the painkillers have set in. I am excited as I drive down the winding road, alert for owls and hares.

When I get to the car park there are only two other cars there, one leaving. I grab my bag and my drum and make my way across the shingle beach. I haven’t checked the tides, so I don’t know what awaits me or where the shoreline will be tonight. In the last of the evening light I can make out a figure walking in the distance to my right, and a fishing tent with a man moving about it to my left. As the stones of the shingle roll and crunch under my feet, I am glad for the noise, because it means no one can sneak up on me. These are things a woman alone at night usually considers.

As I reach the ridge of the high tide line, I see below me a beach that is not usually there. The tide is right out, and a long peninsula of shingle stretches out into the sea. I have walked on this shingle spit many times, out into the ocean but never have I seen it stretch so far out. My heart beats faster, as I know this will be a very special night.

I slide down the shingle bank, smooth stones rolling about my boots. The fisherman looks on, probably a little puzzled, but I can’t see his face in the growing dark. I reach a sandy beach, which in this area is a rarity. It’s only a small section, and I walk cautiously across it, because what looks like sand in this part of the world can also be mud, which acts like quicksand and to which many a day-tripper has lost their rubber boots as they scamper unwarily across the surface.

I cross the sand and reach the shingle spit. Walking down it, I raise my eyes to the moon now, and am stopped in my tracks. From where I stand, the spit of shingle stretches out into the sea, marking a pathway straight to the moon. It is incredible, and I am utterly enchanted. I want to walk that road, straight off the shingle spit and out into the waves until I reach the moon.

My senses come back to me, and I make my way down the long peninsula of rolling rocks, the waves lapping at either side of me. It’s exciting, being here, where only one set of footprints shows from a previous adventurer on this night. I walk out a little further, almost to the tip of the shingle spit, but not quite. I’ve never walked out this far before, and I don’t know what the tide will be doing. I have a feeling it’s just turning now, and I don’t want to be caught out. So, 50 yards from the end, I stand.  

I am betwixt and between. I am in a place that is not a place, in a time that is not a time. I am utterly between the worlds. I am not on land and I am not at sea. I am surrounded by water with boots firmly on smooth pebbles that roll in and out with the waves. The dark night sky above me is shot through with stars, and the full moon of the spring equinox is rising before me. What a time to be alive.

I take out my drum and start to work with the rhythm of the North Sea. I feel her flowing around me, singing her songs of ebb and flow, of her story of how she came into being. Standing as far out as I am, I understand how the land bridge used to work that carried our ancient Stone Age ancestors across from Europe to this land, before it was cut off by the water. It is still a shallow sea, muddy and roiling and constantly changing, hiding its mysteries beneath the waves.

I drum and sway with the tide. I can see that yes indeed, it is turning. It is now coming in, and I will have to keep my wits about me even as I tumble into ecstasy. My witch blood pounds in my veins, my wild heart soars with the stars above. I call out the goddesses in my life, singing their names, chanting and letting whatever comes to express itself on this night. The wind takes my words and songs away, a gift offered freely to this awesome night. I feel so alive, so utterly free and yet spellbound by the moment. I am the stars in the sky, the moon before me, the waves around me. I am utterly connected, yet without any visible strands that keep me pinned down to just one awareness. This is so exhilarating, so wild, so free. This is pure magic.

I stop drumming and singing and open my arms wide to the sky, drinking it all it. The Fair Folk are all around me, playing in the waves, brushing against my cold skin. I can hear them whispering, feel their light touch upon my hair. Strange sounds are all around me, and I am frightened and not frightened at the same time. This is wyrd.

 I am witch. I am a druid. I am one who walks between the worlds. This is who I am.

This is my Friday night.

I have been to many liminal places many different times, but not like this. This is special. I know that my heart will start to beat a little faster just remembering this night.

My ears are cold. I lower my arms and look around, noticing the tide coming in more and more, for that is what it does, without complaint, without effort, without coercion. I must be more like the tide, I think, as I put my drum away. I say my farewells to the place and all who are with me at the moment, and take a last look at the moon. The pathway to her is now under water, hidden beneath the shining surface of Mardöll, obscured by the grace of Nehalennia, taken with the great mystery. It is time to go.

I make my way back up the shingle spit, narrower than before. The fisherman is still there, and I wonder if my chanting, singing and cries were hear by him or whether they were scooped up by the sea there and then. I scramble up the steep shingle bank from the beach, almost twice my height. I sit for a moment at the top, looking at the little bay that has been created by the ever-shifting of the shingle. Each time I come here it is different; a bay disappears or suddenly appears elsewhere, a lagoon shines in the light, a seal swims close to the shore, geese fly overhead to the marshes, a cormorant makes its way home. Each time it is different. Each time it is magical.

I crunch my way back to the car. As I drive down the winding road, watching out for owls and hares, my headache comes rushing back, pounding in my temples. It lasts for two more days, until the equinox shifts the energies, and finally I am released from the swell. I can breathe in the spring sunshine, the daffodils in my garden bobbing their heads in the warmth, the robin singing, the bees beginning to make their rounds. It’s as if the earth has held its breath, and now it is released.

These changing tides are hard on the old body, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I smell the green grass and moss beneath me, and revel in the blue sky overhead. I give heartfelt thanks for my many blessings, and say a prayer for peace under the late March sunshine.

A little magic and spellcraft…

Did you know that on my Patreon page, I share magic and spellcrafting tips? Every month I put up a new spell, alongside some other tips, herbcraft and more. Here is an example of the spellcrafting that’s on offer for the top two tiers with my Patreon community 🙂

The Cairn of Stones Spell

In this spell, we use the power of stones to help bring about what it is that we need/desire. Ensure that your intention is good as well as being nice and clear. You can perform this spell outdoors or indoors. I personally prefer not to work with crystals unless they are ones that I have found myself out in the wilds, because a) they may have been mined through blasting the earth or obtained using dubious labour practices, and b) most crystals for sale are tumbled, meaning that they won’t pile one of top of the other very well.

Gather up some stones to use in this spell. If you are collecting them out in the wild to take home later, then please ensure that there are no restrictions as to what you can and cannot take home with you from this area. As you walk the land, keep your intention in mind, and your eyes and heart open to stones that seem to speak to you. Pick them up as you go, feeling their energy to see if they are in tune with your intention. If you are using stones that you already have, then do the same with each of them at home. Leave an offering to the earth after you have collected the stones. Thirteen stones is an ideal number for this work.

Find a place that speaks to you, and where your stones will be left undisturbed. Don’t place them in a prominent spot, say, in the middle of a busy beach, because children, adults, dogs etc. will probably knock them over before they’ve had a chance to work. It’s a good idea to find a place near to where you gathered the stones, so that they are all staying roughly in the same area. If this is not possible, bring to mind the area where you found the stones when you are ready to start the spell, and say a word of thanks.

In your designated place, cast a circle if you so wish and call upon any deities, ancestors, spirits of place or Fair Folk as appropriate to your path. Call upon the element of earth specifically, and really focus on this element. Through the stones, your spell will be working through the element of earth.

Hold each stone separately, and think of your need/desire. Blow gently on the stone to attune it to yourself and your personal energies. Then, place your intention into the stone, letting it flow from your mind and into the stone. Pour some of your personal energy into it as well, and visualise yourself as having obtained or achieved your goal. Say these or similar words after you have done this, to seal it into the stone:

Stone of earth, elemental power

Lend your strength here at this hour

To my spell manifest for me

This is my will, so mote it be.

Place the stone down, and repeat with each stone in turn. Make the little cairn or pile of stones wider at the bottom, so that it narrows towards the top where you can place a single, topping stone. As you place this final stone with the words spoken, see the whole pile lighting up and glowing with

combined energy. This energy radiates outwards and into the world to manifest your goal. Take a moment to relax, ground your energy and then leave an offering nearby (but not right by the stones – an animal might knock it over if it is a food offering). Rise and make your way home if you are out in nature, and let the spell do its work. The rocks may radiate your energy and intention for some time.

If you are performing this indoors, use your altar or a place where the stones will not be disturbed for several days at least. Leaving the stones for a cycle of the moon is ideal. When you are ready, dismantle the stones and thank each stone for lending their aid to your work. You can do this with an outdoor cairn as well, returning the stones to where you found them, or you can leave the stones there as you wish. If you need to break this spell at any time, simply dismantle the cairn and state “the spell is broken, through the words I have spoken” and see the energy of spell dissipating into the air. Some residual energy may linger, but you may not have any control over that, as it has been “put out there” so to speak and you no longer have complete control over it.

Working with stones is a wonderful way to get to know the earth and its energy.

Witches and Brooms – Sex Magic/Sexual Fantasy Or Something Far Greater?

Witches and Brooms – Sex Magic/Sexual Fantasy Or Something Far Greater?

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:

Of Chalk and Flint – A book review

Of Chalk & Flint - Paperback Edition cover gallery imageVal 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.

New Podcast Now Up!

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.

Imbolc Protection Ritual

Snowdrops ButleyThis 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 machĂ© 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, woman-comrade,
Brigit of the peat-heap,
Brigit, woman-helper,
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
Is Brigit.

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