Category Archives: Historical

Samhain and Halloween are related… right?

The following post comes from my attempt at an unpublished book which I never completed. I thought I could use my chapters as blog posts instead. This was originally drafted in 2013, and my writing voice was different from what it is now. I’ve edited where I could, but I didn’t fancy re-writing approx 3000 words.

The wheel turns once more bringing with it the darkness stretched shadows and weakened light. Harvest has ended, the fallen leaves turning to mulch now begin to whiten with the first frosts of the oncoming winter. Depends on the year, the October of 2017 is quite a warm one. There are skeletal trees, but there are many that are golden, orange and red.

Both Halloween and Samhain bring to mind skeletal trees standing aloft the icy mists, dusky evenings and streetlights battling against the otherworldly fog…. although today has blue skies, sunlight and children wandering around in costume on this Saturday afternoon. Saying that, as my train goes through the Peak District and there’s the fog!

For many Modern Pagans, Samhain was, and still is, the festival marking the official end of the summer season and the beginning of winter. To the mainstream consciousness, ‘Hallowe’en’ is something celebrated by children at best and a load of “Mumbo-Jumbo” or “Devil Worship” at worst. Samhain and Halloween, two totally different festivals celebrated at the same time and yet one is the evolution, if not the descendant, of the other.

Samhain by the water?

Samhain, pronounced “sow-en” (as in ‘sow’, rhyming with ‘now’), comes from the Old Irish Sam (summer) and fuin (end) and there appears to be a difference between the Samhain of back then and what Samhain means today.
Dr Ann Ross hypothesises that Samhain was a celebratory festival that took place by a local lake by the tribe or even tribes that came together for this occasion.
Great feasts supposedly took place by the local water source (such as a lake, a well, a river or the sea) giving us a possibility that it may have been seen as honouring the local goddesses. It is known the Celtic people saw the local water source as the embodiment of the goddess, the water was considered her realm. This may have been the time for giving offerings to the local deities. Celtic practice did include giving up the spoils of war such as shields, spears, swords, loot, to the river, probably in thanks for the victory they achieved in battle. This practice also included decapitated heads of the losers of battle being offered to the waters. This would have made sense to a people who saw the soul residing in the head, and considering it was one of Bilé’s duties to usher the souls of the dead back to the Mother Goddess figure, Danu, then summer’s end would have been the perfect time to do so.

According to the old stories, such as ‘The Wasting Sickness of Cuchulainn’, Samhain is described as follows:

Every year the men of Ulster were accustomed to hold festival together;
And the time when they held it was for three days before Samhain, and for
Three days after that day, and upon Samhain itself.

It was a festival of trade, feasting, drinking, boasting and games of skill and combat. These activities are found in accounts and stories of Beltane and Lughnasadh; Samhain follows suit in that regards. Where it doesn’t is its name.
Unlike Beltane and Lughnasadh, Samhain wasn’t named after any specific deity such as Bel or Lugh. In that respect, it is similar to Imbolc in that the name of the festival is descriptive (“Summer End” and Imbolc’s “Ewe’s Milk”), however there is no association with any specific deity. Instead, the stories tell us of deities, monsters, shape-shifters and ‘fairy women’ who come from the mists to terrorise or enchant the local populace:

In ‘The Wasting Sickness of Cuchulainn’ during the Samhain festival, Cuchulainn fails to catch one of the birds that come from the sky and everyone finds beautiful. To prove himself to his wife, Emer, he pursues two other beautiful birds that are held together by a red-gold chain as they fly over a lake. Failing in trying to catch them, Cuchulainn dreams of two women who curse him with a sickness for trying to attack them. Only for one of them to fall in love with him, problem being he already has a wife and the ‘fairy woman’ is married to Manannan Mac Lir, one of the Tuatha De Danaan!

The Dream of Angus’, tells of Angus Og, son of the Dagda, falling in love with a girl he dreams about. On his quest to find her, he discovers she is the daughter of another of the Tuatha De Danaan, Ethal Anbuail. He also finds that she turns into a swan for one year, then a girl the next. So, when he learns she will change into a swan that year at Samhain, he goes to the lake Loch Bél Dracon where he sees lots of swans (150 of them!) with silver and gold chains. He calls out the girl’s name, Caer, and when she comes forward in swan form, Angus turns into a swan also, before singing the song of sleeping as they fly away; beginning their elopement.

The ‘Agallamh na Senórach’ (Colloquy of the Ancients) contains a tale of the hero, Caoilte. Who, with his friends, goes to the Sidhe in order to heal an ailment. They won’t help him unless he kills three ravens that come from the Northern sea that come every Samhain and take three young boys with them.

The Scottish name for Samhain is ‘Samhuinn’, and is used as the setting for the story of ‘The Kelpie’. In this tale, a young shield-bearer called Donall, recounts the act of the Kelpie (sea dwelling creature that can change into either a horse or a handsome young man, either way its enchantment is powerful) taking all the cheiftain’s sons. Donall is sent to look for the one man who may help them, Dall, a blind man who has great wisdom. Dall tells Donall that at the midnight feast of Samhuinn, he shall go to the waters of the sea and pit his magic against the Kelpie to get the sons back. Meanwhile, the Kelpie has seduced Donall’s best friend, Dianaimh, but the spell is broken when she gazes upon the Kelpie’s true slimy, water-horse form. She says she will only go with the Kelpie if she releases the cheiftain’s sons (one of which was her brother). The Kelpie agrees but secretly makes a plan of his own. At the Samhuinn feast, the Kelpie comes and takes Dianaimh’s beautiful cousin into the sea with him. At the same time as this, Dall the Blind has gone to the sea by the castle and works his spell. The Kelpie frees the chieftain’s sons and keeps the vain, selfish girl as a slave in his under-sea kingdom, allowing the mortals to think that Dall’s “magic” was powerful indeed. Now, that’s ‘Trick or treat’ for you!

From the stories and tales, we can see the idea of Samhain being close to the Otherworld and the supernatural. If the stories actually contain a truth in the act of having the feast by a lake or the sea, then this is probably because water was seen as not only the realm of the goddess, but of the Otherworld. Usually, in Celtic myth, if water or an earth mound wasn’t the gateway to the Otherworld, then fog was. What is fog if not a form of water vapour? And in autumn and winter, the chill in the air does indeed bring fog and mist…

Apart from being an ideal time for telling stories of heroes, creatures and gods, Samhain must have also been the last great festival before the hardship of winter was to come. The harvest was already gathered and livestock that was surplus would have been killed for the good of the people. This might seem harsh, but back then when there was only a fire to keep away the cold, sustenance as well as shelter were vital for survival. Animals were not killed for the sport of it as much could be gained from its death: Meat to be cooked and salted, bones for tool handles, jewellery, drinking horns, the creatures fat used for candles and cooking with, fur and feathers for cloaks, bedding and clothes against the snow and ice, its skin used for leather for belts, clothes, shoes, shield decorations and armour. To our modern point of view this might seem brutal, but to our ancestors, it was a necessity as in winter, the cold could kill human and animal alike. And if you didn’t have enough grain to feed the excess cattle, better to use the spare animals than leave them to die of hunger and cold.

Bonfires at Blodmonath?

Coincidentally, the Anglo-Saxons shared in a celebration around the same time as Samhain, this was called ‘Blodmonath’ (Literally ‘Blood Month’) and consisted of ceremonially sacrificing the cattle for the purpose of provision and sustenance as given above. This took place in November and involved a ritualised version of animal slaughter and meat salting, with the head being given to the gods. As well the burial of these animal heads at the homestead, the Anglo-Saxons also lit bonfires; something that Modern Pagans have always ascribed to Samhain and the Celts.

Fire was (and is) seen as a deterrent for spirits of all kinds, whether they are the sprites and brownies of the woods and the home or the spirits of the dead.
There is a number of folk customs around Samhain to suggest that fire was important at this time of year. Obviously when at the end of summer and the beginning of winter, fire was a very useful thing to have. Though it is interesting to note that none of the Celtic stories above mention anything about fire playing a prime ritualistic or ceremonial feature.
Folk customs around Great Britain and Ireland are varied at the time of Samhain, not all revolve around fire, but the some do:

In Ireland, a cross made of sticks and straw called a ‘parshell’ was hung outside the entrance of people’s homes. This was meant to keep out the fairies and goblins from wreaking havoc in the homestead.

In Scotland, Sir James Frazer in his ‘The Golden Bough’ writes of a Highland custom with fires called ‘Samhnagan’, involving the burning of ferns and long grass stalks with tar.
Another tradition involves the collection of peat to make a fire for burning the burning of witches…. crikey!

He also writes of the Welsh Calan Gaef (Calends of winter) custom which happens at the same time as Samhain; this is called ‘Coel Coeth’ and involves the burning of a bonfire until it became ash. At this point each family member of the homestead places a white stone with their name attached, before going to bed. Apparently if any went missing, it meant that the individual whose stone disappeared would die before the next Halloween.

The above practices are mainly Halloween customs of the remaining Celtic lands from the past few hundred years. Though not strictly Samhain rites, there is still the element of the supernatural about them.

“Celtic New Year”

It is in Modern Paganism we find the god has now officially died. The Goddess retreats, carrying the new god within her womb until his birth/rebirth at midwinter. In this version, Samhain is seen as the ‘Celtic New Year’ and a time of ancestor worship as Pagans use this time to say farewells to family members who have died in that year or simply get together to honour their ancestors and gods.
The ancestor part of Samhain actually comes from All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Unlike the traditional Samhain connections with the Otherworld, the focus of these Christian festivals is on the dead. The Catholic emphasis was of ensuring the souls of the dead could move on from purgatory to Heaven, often enacted with the burning of fires or straw to help guide the souls of their departed loved ones.
At some point, every culture has a form of recognising the ancestors. For Samhain, is it a kind of “Chicken and Egg” scenario? who venerated their ancestors first? the Pagan Celts? the Christian Britons? Or did the Christians begin honouring their dead because the old associations with the Otherworld and Unearthly beings became seen as something “evil”, or at least ‘Non-Christian?’

And what of the ‘Celtic New Year?’ According to Ronald Hutton in his ‘Stations of the Sun’:

…the philologist Sir John Rhys, who suggested that it (Samhain) had
been the ‘Celtic’ New Year. He had not documented this from early
records, but inferred it from contemporary folklore in Wales and
Ireland, which he felt to be full of Hallowe’en customs associated
with new beginnings.

Hutton also reveals that Frazer expanded on this idea as the ‘Celtic feast of the dead’.
Indeed, in the classical Samhain, there is no mention of the festival having anything to do with the New Year, Celtic or otherwise.
One argument for this could lie in the fact that the Celts counted their days at night and their months on the New Moon (as in the dark phase of the Moon, not the first crescent it is considered now). If this model has been interpreted correctly then it would make sense for the ‘New Year’ to be placed in the beginning of the dark half of the year. Truth is, we don’t really know.

The modern Samhain accepts the classic idea of the ‘veil being thin’ between our world and, in this case, the world of the dead. For Modern Pagans it is a night of honouring the ancestors, even saying goodbye to those family members and even pets who had died in the year. There are many ways of doing this, some give out litanies of those who they want to acknowledge, others give offerings of food and drink. Some even honour the Cailleach (Hooded One, or Hag), the Celtic Dark Mother who is seen as the personification of Death and winter. She has been compared with the Crone aspect of the Goddess in the Western Magical Traditions, along with Cerridwen and Hecate.
Because of the associations of ‘between the veil’, Samhain is now recognised as a time for performing divination magic. Of course this varies a lot, whether its using Tarot cards, runes, pendulums, tea-leaves, even simply watching the dancing of the flames of a bonfire. There is often a ritual or prayer to deity, an offering of incense before the divinatory rite is held. The stereotype here is that witches call upon demons or the spirits of the dead to do their bidding. The reality is actually of reverence, not enforced servitude; spirits and deities are invited to come forward and give any advice should they wish to do so. Once the rite is over they are politely dismissed, or invited to stay and enjoy the energy of friendship and joy, leaving in their own time before the night is done.

So, aren’t Samhain and Halloween just the same thing?

The answer is both ‘no’ and ‘yes’. Samhain, in its classical version, as we have explored, was seen as a time when Otherworldy beings would become more active and prevalent, as if the transition from late summer to early winter created a sort of ‘doorway’ for spirits, fey people and even the deities to come and interact with the mortal realm. It wasn’t until the advent of Christianity the focus changed from one of a time of mystery to a time of honouring the dead.
Even then there are two festivals: All Hallows Eve, a festival for honouring the saints of the Roman Catholic pantheon, which in time became abridged to the shortened name ‘Halloween’. The second is All Soul’s Day, where fires used to be lit and prayers sung to guide the souls of everyone who wasn’t a saint out of Purgatory and into Heaven.
The bonfires (which may or may not have come from Pagan practice) were then employed to drive away the spirits and devils that were believed to be active at this time. In this regard, Samhain and Halloween are similar as the focus is on the supernatural and protecting people from it.
I still remember when I used to go to church and was horrified to learn they didn’t “Do Halloween”, but they did burn a bonfire for All Hallow’s Eve with the intention of driving away malignant spirits and demons.
Being a Catholic tradition, Halloween would have been taken in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries with the immigrants from Scotland and Ireland to America where it intermingled with another celebration: Dias De Los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead. This is another Catholic practice, although mixed with Native American culture of the Aztecs. They believed the journey to their Underworld was a dangerous one, their gods only letting them pass with bribes. When the Spanish Catholics came, they condensed the two month festival into All Hallows and All Souls. This became Dias De Los Muertos and is celebrated for the spirits of children with candy skulls, toys and gifts. The Adult version honours the deceased with alcohol and tobacco. Both have the motif of skulls and skeletons, possibly stemming from the ‘Danse Macabre’ artwork popular in Europe around the Sixteenth to Eighteenth centuries.
It is quite easy to see how in the America’s, the Latino ‘Day of the Dead’ and the Celtic Halloween became entwined. Both were Christian festivals heavily influenced from native traditions and became festivals in their own right. Within the Twentieth Century, Halloween had become something else: it became a night for costumes and playful horror. By the time it returned to our part of the world, here in Great Britain and Ireland, Halloween became a night for dressing up ourselves as well as our homes. Folk traditions of children dressing up on All Hallows Eve with costumes and masks painted, speaking in silly voices so neighbours had to guess their identity have given way to costumes of ghosts, vampires, witches and now space aliens and pirates!
Even today, Halloween has kept some of the old influences; apple bobbing, for instance, now a game for children was originally a mild form of love divination. Originally, apples were filled with a slip of paper onto which a message would be written such as “Your love will be true” or “He will be handsome yet penniless”. Young ladies would still have to ‘bob’ their heads into the water to retrieve the apple without the use of their hands, however. In fact, a lot of the Halloween superstitions are concerned with young ladies finding out the identities of their future spouses whether gained by peeling an apple skin whole to reveal their true love’s initial, divining what kind of man they will marry by pulling out a cabbage stalk, or even combing one’s hair in front of a mirror at midnight by candle light was said to reveal the face of their future love in the mirror as though standing behind them!

In conclusion…

From (classical) Samhain we gained a time of the supernatural, which then went then became folk traditions of protection and divination. The old stories seem to paint a picture of Samhain being a feast or event taking place by the waters, whereas fire (Christian or not) was also a social hub for people to gather. The Christian element of respecting the dead has now gone full circle, Halloween is about keeping back the monsters. The Modern Samhain draws from a Catholic background with a Celtic flavour, but at the same time has links to traditions that aren’t necessarily Christian. This is why, of all the eight festivals in the Wheel of the Year, I would suggest that if Halloween isn’t the descendant of Samhain, then it is certainly its evolution. Whether Modern Pagans like it or not, Samhain today, with its focus on ancestor worship is not the Samhain of the past; with its physical games, tournaments and slaughter of cattle.

Bibliography

http://m.dictionary.com/etymology/samhain?linkid=8uxrdf&srcpage=definition&site=dictwap

Anne Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain, CARDINAL Edition, Sphere Books, London, 1974.

Peter Berresford Ellis, A Brief History of the Druids, Constable & Robinson Ltd, London, 2002.

Ancient Irish Tales edited by T.P. Cross and C.H. Slover, 1936 used in the book: Celtic Myths, Celtic Legends, R.J. Stewart, BCA, London, 1994.

Peter Berresford Ellis, The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths And Legends, Constable & Robinson Ltd, London, reprinted 2002.

Gale R. Owen, Rites and Religions of the Anglo-Saxons, Barnes & Noble, Inc., New York, Reprinted 1996.

Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford University Press, Oxford, Re-issued 2001.

Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, Wordsworth Editions Ltd, Hertfordshire, 1993 edition.

David Clarke, Strange South Yorkshire: Myth and Magic in the Valley of the Don, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Chesire, 1994.

Jennifer Cole, Ceremonies of the Seasons, Exploring and Celebrating Nature’s Eternal Cycles, Duncan Baird Publishers Ltd, London, 2007.

Anon. The Complete Book of Fortune: The Secrets of the Past, Present & Future Revealed, Blaketon Hall Ltd, Exeter, 1988.

Advertisements

Chasing the Mabon

Big thanks to Teller who asked me ‘So, when are you putting up the blog?’ And a huge thanks to Cthulhudruid who managed to find my original post after it had been accidentally deleted!

Maponus image from Gettyimages

Ah, yes. Autumn! The season of falling leaves, bounties of fruit and vegetation, bird migration and garden spiders coming out to capture unsuspecting prey (shudder). This season also sees the Equinox as the dramatic increase of the dark overtakes the long summer nights. The balance is struck and the wheel turns once again….

Within the usual modern Pagan circles, the Autumnal Equinox has been given a name…. Mabon. Whom or what does this name come from? What the hell is a Mabon anyway?

The short story is that in the 1970’s Aiden Kelly, Wiccan High Priest, came up with the name for the simple fact that he didn’t like that the Autumnal Equinox celebrations didn’t have a grander name. In his own words, please read this.

The long story…..

Mabon is a now shadowy figure, one who once had a cult all of his own stretching from Wales to Lancashire, Northumberland, Cumbria and Scotland. Mabon means ‘Son’ in Welsh and the most familiar version of this is the character of Mabon ap Modron (Son of Mother), from the tale ‘How Culhwch Won Olwen‘.

In the story, the hero Culhwch falls in love with the beautiful Olwen. Which is great, because she loves him too and it turns out that marrying her will lift the curse that was put on him by his jealous step-mother. Problem solved. However, her Dad is Yspaddaden Bencawr, chief giant and realm owning badass. He is so against the idea of the marriage, he sets Culhwch 40 impossible tasks which must be completed. No victory from the young upstart, then no nuptials. Amongst these tasks was one where Culhwch must obtain the comb and shears from behind the ears of the dreaded supernatural boar, Twrch Trwryth. But this could not be done unless he somehow obtained the mardiest dog in the world, Drudwyn. And even then Drudwyn had to be controlled by Mabon ap Modron, a huntsman who must ride the steed Gwyn Dunmane…. and the snag was: “Mabon ap Modron who had been stolen from his home when he was three nights old, and his whereabouts not known…..

Luckily for Culhwch, his uncle Arthur (yes, THAT Arthur) had given him some of his knights as companions who helped accomplish most of the impossible tasks like some adrenaline charged-Redbull fuelled group from Dungeons & Dragons…. but they could not find Mabon ap Modron.

Anywhere.

Like, nowhere.

It was only after Arthur discovering hint about asking the Oldest Animals in the World the heroes stood a chance. So Culhwch’s band sought out the Blackbird of Cilgwri, the Stag of Rhendynfre, the Owl of Cam Cwlwyd, the Eagle of Gwernabwy and the Salmon of Llyn Lliw, to find Mabon’s location: the fortress of Caerloyw. Even then they have to break him out by force. Skipping to the end; Mabon and another hunter, some wild dude called Cynedyr Wyllt manage to corner Twrch Trwryth and grab the comb (Mabon) and shears (Cynedyr) before the Chief of Otherworldly Boars escapes and runs into the sea, prophesying he and Arthur shall fight at the end of the world…… well, a big rumble between them in the far future anyway.

In one version of the ‘Dream of Rhonabwy‘, Mabon is one of the advisors of Arthur, although this could be a confusion with another, Mabon ap Mellt (Son of Lightening) is described as a huntsman also….. This version hints at either this Mabon was as quick as lightening or was descended from some cthonic sky-god.

Interestingly, the character of Mabon was taken up by Roman occupiers in Britannia. Or perhaps, was taken up by Romanised Celts in the form of Maponus ‘Divine Youth’. Coins and inscriptions show Maponus with his dog (Drudwyn?). It appears that Maponus was equated with Apollo, the god of healing and poetry….. and linked with the bow and arrow, tools of the hunt?

What of Modron? Does the mother give any indication as to who Mabon is? She is of the ‘Washer at the ford’ variety of supernatural women, and is daughter to Afallach, one of the lords of Annwn (Welsh Otherworld), specifically, the ruler of Avalon. If true, then she was a magical being and therefore a woman of Sovereignty (The right to choose and the right to rule) and supposedly bore two sons to Urien Rheged, king of Rheged (supposedly a kingdom in Northern England and Southern Scotland). One of these sons, Owein, plays chess with Arthur in the ‘Dream of Rhonabwy‘…. see how these things always go in cycles?

Bizarrely enough, one of the stanzas of the Graves reads: “The grave in the upland of Nanllau; his story no one knows. Mabon the son of Modron the sincere.” So which is it? Is this the grave of Mabon who was in the quest for Olwen’s hand in marriage? Or was he always a mystery and none knew his details? If so, then why was he so popular? Could it be that Mabon ap Modron was in fact the figure of a mystery tradition? Like a Brythonic version Mythras?

The fact that there are remnants and inscriptions to Mabon/Maponus means there was some kind of reverence to him. What this originally was is sadly lost to time, but things have a very strange way of returning. In Modern Druidry, especially in OBOD, where the role of Mabon is given to the youngest member in the ceremony. When Aiden Kelly chose that name, did he do it because it fitted his aesthetic or was there a whisper from a long forgotten heroic huntsman? Also, how the hell did a babe taken away from his mother’s breast of only three nights old learn to become a hunter in the prison of a fort!? Perhaps….. and this is my interpretation…. perhaps Mabon in the story is meant as a metaphor for the adventurous spirit. He is the youthful part of us that dares to do the impossible once he has broken free of the dark prison of our minds. The Mabon hones it’s skills and when is broken free by bravery and need it can go forward and seize the fierce dog of anger to accomplish great things. For when the sun goes down at the Autumnal Equinox does the night get stronger. And as the nights draw in, it is the perfect time to develop our own skills and look inward until we need to release the adventurous spirit within.

Sources:

The Isles of the Many Gods, David Rankine & Sorita D’Este. Avalonia, London, 2007.

The Mabinogion, a new translation by Sioned Davies, Oxford World’s Classics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007.

The Keys to Avalon, the True Location of Arthur’s Kingdom Revealed, Steve Blake & Scott Lloyd, Element Books Limited, Dorset, 2000.

Indiana Took and the Wolf Wood

image

Despite living in Nottingham, I’m actually a Sheffield lad.  I grew up in a place called Wincobank.  It used to be a village until it got absorbed into Sheffield when, like all cities, she expanded and grew.

Lower Wincobank rests at the roots of Wincobank Hill, one of seven (Although, some would argue eight, or even fewer….) in the Don Valley.  The hill has some remains of a fort that up until recently, everyone thought was Roman.  Turns out they were wrong and it belonged to the defending Britons who used it to mark their territory.

image
Wincobank Hill?

Between Wincobank and Ecclesfield, there is a woodland, just over five hundred years old.  Woolley Wood.  It’s a beautiful place and the bluebells and wild garlic are in bloom at this time of year.  There are many species of tree, including Sessile Oak, Holly, Yew, Birch, Ash, Sycamore.

image

I have many memories of that wood, of playing there during school lunch breaks, of playing Wide Games when I was in the local Scout Troop.  I especially remember when three boys ran all the way back to the Scout House because they claimed to have seen Wanker Bill, a local urban myth which I’ll write about another time!  There are fond memories of taking my Nan’s Jack Russell (Toby) for walks in there.  And of course, the Tarzan Swings that other kids made.

When me and my brother were little, we used to call it ‘The Haunted Wood’, so I was a bit disappointed to find it already had a name.  And it isn’t haunted.  Not by the dead, anyway.  Woolley Wood is alive, there is a presence that runs through it, I feel it whenever I walk along its paths.

image

When I was a fresh starter in Paganism (when I was 19), I’d go there to meditate.  I often found the bivvies that someone keeps making there, and they’re usually where the Yew grows thick and heavy… Leaving nice dark areas for concealment.  So I’d use these as meditation areas.  Not all the time, as often the wood reclaimed them when they fell apart.  But I always found somewhere nice and secluded in the wood’s deep.  It was here I first really touched the Earth, where I spiritually recharge.  It was at this time I felt very close to the spirit of Wolf.  And it turns out there is a reason why.

Woolley Wood takes its name from the medieval Wulfinleghes, Wolveleghes, and Wooleleghes; which all take their names from the Anglo-Saxon word that means ‘Woodland clearing frequented by wolves.’ It was originally part of a farming ground until 1161 when it was awarded to the Abbey of Normandy as part of Woolley Grange in.  1539 saw it confiscated from the Church and awarded to the Earl of Shrewsbury and passed onto the Dukes of Norfolk right up until Sheffield City Council in 1929*.

I doubt it has seen a wolf there in hundreds of years.  But the spirit remains.  During my university years, whenever I’d come home to Sheffield I made sure I’d go into the woods again.  Late at night, I’d lie awake feeling the need to go running under the moon and stars, to be surrounded by trees, naked and panting…. I didn’t of course.  But I so wanted to!

In recent times (at least within the past ten years) there has been an art project that has sought to bring out a connection with the Pagan mythology.  Slabs of rock have been put together to create a sort of shrine to the wolf.  It is covered in images of fish, claw marks and runic script.  I think it’s amazing and I know that if it was there during my childhood, it would have fuelled my imagination to no end!

image
Wolf Shrine

image

image

image
Oh look, runes!
image
Werewolf?

I have written before that I feel more connected to the Pre-Roman spirituality of the Land, but I do wonder if when discovering Paganism and the shrine was there, would I have been drawn more towards the Norse or Anglo-Saxon ways?

image
Bluebells!

*Sheffield City Council.

Samhain road trip: Stonehenge and Glastonbury!

Being reeeeeeaaaaly busy over the past few weeks, I managed to finally finish my notes on the birthday/Samhain road trip that took place on 29th-31st October 2014

My friends Lumi and Jax were sitting in the car as I was loading some stuff into the back.  “Do you fancy coming to Glastonbury in October?” They asked, it was July at this point.  So that’s how I found myself joining Lumi’s birthday road trip.

So, fast forward to October 29th and this was the day the grey skies came back (my last post? Yeah, well the day after, we had gorgeous golden autumn again!) Drizzle and all.  We even got stuck in traffic for nearly two hours! Sign posts for miles saying ‘Roadworks’ (the bane of British drivers) until we got to the source: fuck all! By this point we’d been entertaining ourselves with listening to T-Rex and eating Cherry Bakewells.  As soon as the roads cleared we cruised to the that all time hit: ‘20th Century Boy’!

Stonehenge
As part of our plan we went to Stonehenge.  It was my third time and the weather was wetter than the first.

image

The new tourist centre is open, so you have to take a specially provided bus service to the site, although there is the option for you to get off and walk the rest of the way.  I made eye contact with a Mum of three who returned my friendly smile with a po-faced glare.  So I turned to Lumi, and pulled my snootiest face.  Did the mum see? I hope so, there is no excuse for rudeness.  The Asian family to our right were much friendlier.

image

Jax and Lumi

The Henge is fenced off, but at least you can get a bit closer than you could 17 years ago (shudder).  Stonehenge is majestic, it has presence and is a testament to the people, our ancestors, who built it.  Again, I experienced no palpable feeling of spiritual power emanating from it, some people say there is, but I think its more out of a desire to ‘feel’ something.  If anything I’d say it feels…. dead.  Unlike the lone standing Heel Stone we came across, it just sang a long sorrowful song, as though it didn’t want to be apart from its brethren.

It was gift shop time, where I picked up mead and a book on folklore stories (some of which I hadn’t read for years!).  We got back into the car and headed our way to Glastonbury racing into the countryside that was devoured by hungry fog and the inevitable night…. dragon’s breath indeed.

Glastonbury
And here we were! The Pagan and New Age Mecca of Great Britain.  It was a 10 minute walk into town and I was surprised by three things:

Cleanliness: It was totally clean! No rubbish piling up on the streets or anything.  Didn’t even notice any street cleaning going on, but there must’ve been, right?

Quietness: No blaring music or police sirens, being out of Summer season the tourist trade must have trickled off.  Although there were still plenty during the day.

Chain shops: There aren’t any! No BK, no KFC, no GAP, no McDonald’s (thank fuck) the only KFC and Subway we saw were the ones back at our hotel.  Main Street has pubs, butchers, pastry shops and an organic market…. what England high streets SHOULD be.

Glastonbury was a very friendly place (except for when I entered a Hemp shop ran by a woman in what I took to be her Goddess of Avalon dress, her look of disdain gave me the impression that Men weren’t welcome in her shop.  You ladies might be able to feel when a man is checking you out, but we can certainly feel when we’re not welcome- amendment: a source has confirmed that her particular shop has nothing to do with the Goddess movement) and everyone we came across was friendly in an almost Yorkshire way.  My Northern British readers will know what I mean.  There were even hippies hanging around the war memorial and outside the George and Pilgrim.  There are more esoteric shops than you can shake a wand at! Some have an aura of incense before you go in (I love it), some are really expensive, some are what my friend, Dumbledore, calls: Seaside shops for witches.  There is literally something for everyone.  That’s one thing you need to prepare for…. make sure you go with a healthy wallet!

One of the coolest things was the first night there and after exploring the pubs and drinking mead (mine included flies!), we headed back and chilled out.  I got out my Druid Animal Oracle and asked a random question, not even relating to Glastonbury.  I got the Fire Dragon card and couldn’t help notice the Tor in the background.  The morning after, me and Jax got breakfast in Subway and on our way back to the hotel we saw Glastonbury Tor on the hill outside our room!

Note the Tor and Tower on the right hand side
Note the Tor and Tower on the right hand side

image

View of Tor and Tower.

The very last day of our visit was October 31st and it was a glorious, windy, golden autumn day! It was hot too!  We decided to visit the Chalice Well.  The gardens had a beautiful serenity that was immediately full of calm.  I even walked around barefoot.  Everyone was chilled out and it was, for me, the most potent spiritual place in Glastonbury.

image

image

image

Gardens, fountain and Jax in the sun.

We had missed the special Samhain ceremony but got to look and sit by the well once the people had moved.  The well itself didn’t feel that special (has to be said) as I felt more drawn to the waterway that fed the pool we put our feet into.  One question remains, though:  why oh why didn’t I tell the selfish person who was talking very loudly whilst people were trying to meditate by the well to shut the hell up?  Answer: I didn’t want any bother…. really wish I did though!
Eventually, it was time to go and try the Tor.  Word of warning, parking for the Well and Tor is almost impossible, there is nowhere really close, unless you don’t mind a brief walk (I rather enjoyed it).  Well, there is one car park sort of close, but you have to get there early….

image

To get to the Tor, you have to go up a steep hill and then make your way up the winding Tor itself until you reach the Tower, which was already decorated with Halloween themed items.  The higher we climbed, the windier it got, I had to take my hat off so it wouldn’t get blown away! And the sky became bluer and bluer, then when at the top, you could see the gorgeous panorama!  I’d sat down on the grass and closed my eyes for a few moments and remembered the Fire Dragon card, so I asked ‘Alright, Fire Dragon: what did you want to show me?’. Jax asked ‘What’s that?’ I opened my eyes and turned to where she was pointing.  There was a bird of prey hovering in the wind eddies, a hawk or kestrel.  It dive bombed so I went to have a closer look and saw a whole bunch of them playing in the wind currents,circling and bombing each other.

image

image

image

image

image

Pics of Tor, tower and us three.

Our drive back took us through Bristol and nearly to London, but we were witness to a gorgeous sunset and beautiful sky.  An alternative Samhain and one I’ll never forget.

Goddess of Another Land…

Wow! Really!? My last blog was back in April!?…..

Well that’s screwed up my attempt at making this blog fortnightly (why do people call this “biweekly” nowadays? Do folks just turn bisexual every two weeks or something?).  Oh well, I’d best get on with it.

Basically, this year a LOT has happened.  Remember my card reading for this year? See here.
Well it looks like the catalyst for my life giving way to destruction in order to build something new has happened:

Me and Pipes parted ways back in the first week of March.  Yep, our marriage has been called to an end.  We are separated but still friends, which is important.  I will not deny Pipes has been a very big influence in my life and she still means much to me.  To some of you, this will be no news whatsoever.  To others, this will be big news indeed, I’m sorry, I haven’t had the chance to tell everyone yet and I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it as a Facebook status.

What has this got to do with the title?

Well, in mid May, I had the fortune of going to Cyprus to celebrate my Dad’s 60th birthday and my parent’s 35th wedding anniversary (2014 would have been mine and Pipe’s 6th) for an entire week.

The sun was hot, the skies blue and the sea aquamarine and refreshing.  The food was gorgeous, especially if you go for a meze where you get dishes and dishes and dishes of different food in many courses.

image

A Briton in a Greek land (I know Cypriot is its own culture and language, just bear with me, OK?) What was a follower of the gods of the Isle of Destiny and the Isle of the Mighty to do?

Pay homage of course!

The first night we were there, we saw the gorgeous full moon and all the stars surrounding her.  From the villa, we could see the sea to the south, the mountains to the north, and the air had a welcome coolness.  I saluted Luna on her beauty and asked for the blessings of Earth, Sky and Sea as well as those of Aphrodite herself.  This was her Island and I wanted to pay tribute… all with a cool can of KEO beer!

image

Aphrodite’s Bath.  Photo by Locksley2010.

On the Sunday we went to visit the Baths of Aphrodite, where she walked from the mountains to bathe in the rock pool.  It was a lot smaller than I imagined, but it was still beautiful.  There was even a sign to warn you against dipping your feet in it.  Quite right too.
I didn’t know how to approach, so I waited until it was quiet and I removed my hat and sunglasses then knelt on the slabs before the pool.  I called upon Aphrodite; allowing me to come to this wonderful place and to give thanks on any blessings she gave while I was in her land.  I’m not familiar with how Aphrodite should have been honoured, so I did it like I would to the goddesses of home… I spoke to the water.  I then felt compelled to put a hand into the cool water and wipe it all across my face.  So I did.  I got up and gave a bow to the pool only to turn around to a young couple looking at me in total disgust.  I flashed them my “Yeah, I spoke to the water, go fuck yourself” smile and carried on my way.

It was whilst we walked down the mountains on a hike that my Aunt pointed out that Aphrodite must have been one hell of a strong woman to have done the walk every day… she’s a goddess, she probably shape-shifted into a bird perhaps or one of the goats that were stampeding down the path…

On the last few hours of being in that beautiful country, we came upon Aphrodite’s rock. 

image

Aphrodite’s Rock, photo by Locksley2010… still think it looks phallic…

This was where she was born, allegedly.  The rock itself is the smallest of three lone standing natural pillars.  I think it looks like the tip of a glans.

I wanted to pay my last respects before saying good bye to the land and its goddess, so I squatted in the surf, letting the sea drift over my boots.  Placing my hands into the flowing sea, I called upon Aphrodite once more, thanking her for the experiences shared and lessons learned.  I then found myself chatting with her.  Telling of my heartbreak and of how I faced it.  I couldn’t help it, it just seemed natural to talk to the goddess of love about what I endured.  I even asked her something personal, for advice, blessings and inspirations… I certainly didn’t expect a response! A voice! A voice in my head and my heart.  It wasn’t my voice, it wasn’t a woman’s voice… it was just there.  What it said took me by surprise and made my joyful and sad all at the same time.
I then gave thanks and took my leave, running the seawater all over my arms.  I took a tissue from my pocket (yes, it was clean and unused!) and tied it to the tree that so many others had done, all asking for Aphrodite to help in some way.  I only asked that I make the right choice.  There were hundreds of clooties, some of tissue paper, some of plastic carriers, some of shirts.

So, what did Aphrodite say? What took me by surprise? That, dear reader is between me and the Goddess of another Land.