July 10 – Daily Feast

July 10 – Daily Feast

New trends and new ideas interest us, but how we love the familiar. We like to keep those things that are dear to us, old songs, familiar places, the good faces. Most of us don’t want to recapture the old times. They have served their purpose and we have put too much into what counts for us now. But when something familiar comes to our ears, or a certain fragrance touches our memory, we are suddenly back there and reliving old times. It is tiresome to be forever striving toward the future. The road is unfamiliar – and every inch of it will have to be tested and tried. And then something we know by heart rises to the top and it buoys us up and we are ready to go again. Sometimes it takes the familiar to help us appreciate what we have today.

~ Grandfather, Great Spirit, the good road and the road of difficulties you have made me cross; and where they cross, the place is holy. ~

BLACK ELK

‘A Cherokee Feast of Days’, by Joyce Sequichie Hifler

Introduction To Scrying – The Magickal Mystery Tour

Introduction To Scrying

The Magickal Mystery Tour

The first scrying technique is very simple, and can be very entertaining. The results you get with this method can range from silly to sublime, from inconsequential to important, depending on the conditions of the moment. This method lets you acquire a feel for the ways in which your unconscious mind symbolizes things, and gives it some practice in doing so in a non-critical situation.

Enter your magickal space and re-affirm your safety there, using the method previously described. Then go to some familiar outdoor location in your space, and look around to establish your bearings and the relative positions of the other familiar regions.

Having done this, imagine that these familiar territories are surrounded by vast areas about which you know nothing as yet, in which anything at all might be happening at any given moment. Decide that you are going to take a walk and look around some part of those areas. Then look around you again, pick a direction, and start walking. As you move out of your familiar areas, don’t try to imagine that you will find any particular features in the landscape, and don’t try to look for any particular thing. Let the your imagination fill in the features of the areas you pass through without interference.

Move around in the wilderness until you find some interesting item. It might be an interesting natural feature, an object, a building, a person or animal. Examine the object or explore the building, remembering that everything unusual has some sort of meaning in a magickal space. If nothing clear comes to you, move along in the direction you were going. Sometimes it happens that several locations in sequence tell a story that isn’t clear until you have been to all of them; other times, the first locations you come to simply aren’t very important.

Talk to a person or animal as if they existed independently of yourself; treat them with the respect and politeness you would give to any stranger you encounter in an isolated place; try to maintain a friendly and unthreatening attitude no matter what the being does, and remember that since all this is taking place in your private world, you are perfectly safe. Don’t try to script their actions, just let them speak and act spontaneously. Asking a person you meet to tell you about himself and what he is doing will nearly always get a positive response.

If the person does not acknowledge your presence, or does not respond to your queries, then watch what they are doing for a time, until you don’t see any point in continuing to do so. Then move on to another location. If they do respond, when you have run out of questions then ask them if there is anything else interesting to see in the neighborhood, and follow any directions they might give you.

Usually such explorations will tell you something about yourself, your life-situation, or your current magickal environment. It will all be in symbolic form, of course; the obvious meaning of the events won’t always be their deepest significance. But once you understand the symbolism, the results usually turn out to be something useful or interesting, though not always important.

This method is particularly good for those times when you know something important is going on in the magickal side of your life, but you can’t tell what it is. It is also very good for any situation where you aren’t certain what questions you should be asking. To use the method in such a way, hold the idea that you need information or answers in your mind while you are picking the direction for your tour, and try to sense the direction in which the answers lie; there will always be such a direction. Then go in that direction and continue finding interesting things until you feel like you have received all of the answer; this will usually manifest as a sense of relief or a reduction in some vaguely-sensed pressure. Then consider the things you have seen in relation to your current situation; the meanings they contain will usually provide essential clues you need.

Familiar Consecration Spell

To cement and/or formalize the psychic bonds between you and your familiar:

  1. Cast a circle large enough to hold you, your familiar and any magickal tools that you wish to consecrate (these may include leashes, collars or similar pet paraphernalia, as well as spell components or ritual tools).

  2. Burn frankincense on the periphery of the circle.

  3. Sit within the circle, with your familiar, until you feel that it’s time to come out.

  4. Repeat as needed.

Live dangerously! If your familiar is a cat, cast your circle with dried catnip and instead of frankincense, burn diviner’s sage to enhance your powers of prophesy. Let the cat play, while you allow yourself sudden bursts of inspiration.

The Witch’s Teat and Fluffy, the Evil Devil Poodle


Author: Fire Lyte


Black cats, warty toads, and a menagerie of creepy, slimy, crawly animals have all been accused of allying themselves with witches. The image of the witch with her pointed hat and magic broom just wouldn’t be complete without Fluffy the magic talking cat taking a nap on the bristles as she flies through a full moon sky casting her spells on the unsuspecting public below. It is because of their connection to witches that many people are afraid of black cats, black dogs – otherwise known as Grims, and toads. In fact, people kill black cats every year, because people are so frightened of them. Where does this deep-seated fear come from, and is it merited?

The word we use to call a spirit in animal form that helps a witch is ‘familiar.’ This term originally comes from the Latin ‘familiaris, ’ meaning ‘domestic, ’ but it also has root definitions in the Old French ‘familier, ’ and the Spanish/Italian words ‘familia/famiglia’ meaning ‘family.’ Dr. Jim Maloney of NYU proposes that the noun form of ‘familiar’ that we use to mean a witch’s companion spirit most likely derived from these later definitions in the 1580s, because women that lived apart from society – who were tried for witchcraft – would have probably brought in stray or wild animals, nursed them back to health, and tamed them. That woman would have, most definitely, thought of such animals as family.

As with all things witchy in the Middle Ages, familiars got a really bad rap from their respective local populaces, as everything having to do with those put on trial for witchcraft was considered of the Devil. The Encyclopedia Britannica showcases these definitions clearly in their entry on familiars, in which they highlight that the noun form of ‘familiar’ – meaning an imp or spirit that assists, instructs, or otherwise augments a witch’s powers – came about in the Middle Ages during the witch trials. Not only were they thought of as spirits, but also they were automatically assumed to be demons.

But, let’s think about this for a second. So, familiars were actually wild or stray animals that men or women brought in from the outside – where they otherwise would have starved to death – nursed them back to health, and tamed them. Think about what this looked like to the average person in the 14th century in conjunction with what we know about the witchcraft trials. A man or woman living away from town near the woods, who has knowledge of medicine and agriculture, that subsists off of their own garden, and also seems to have tamed wild animals to do their bidding without any help from anybody else. Wouldn’t that seem strange to you? Would that seem a little…magical? It would if you lived 500-600 years ago and relied on your fellow townsfolk for your needs, and if you also happen to be a puritanical sheep that listened to everything your local fire and brimstone preacher said.

The Britannica goes on to explain that people believed these tamed animals must have been gifts from Satan, who apparently tames animals in his spare time. It was believed that the witch must feed the familiar by a mark given her by the devil known as the witch’s teat. During the trial of a witch, he or she was typically stripped naked and searched head to toe for such a teat. And, in every instance, some such mark of the devil was found: a mole, a wart, or even a finger could be used as evidence of this mark. Elizabeth Howe, Harvard scholar on the Salem witch trials, said in her book ‘The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane’ that a woman’s clitoris was also used as evidence of this witch’s teat. Once the mark was found, it was over for the defendant. The mark was considered a sure sign of the person’s guilt, and sentence was passed shortly thereafter.

However, a familiar wasn’t always just a mooch from Satan who sucked on a woman’s nether regions and blighted the crops of nosy neighbors. They could also be what are known as ‘tutelary spirits, ’ or ones that teach. Michael Freeze in his 1992 book Patron Saints talks about a host of tutelary spirits in various religions. From the African tribes that worshipped the spider god Anansi, to the Native American people whose entire pantheon was made up of animal spirits, to the magical foxes of Japan, to genies, angels, and devas, the never ending list of spirits that take the form of animals covers the globe. And, of course, none of them had anything to do with the devil.

Zeus turned into a swan and a bull in order to mate with a young, pretty girl. Odin had ravens that flew across the world and reported back to him each night the events of the day. Animals as teachers have had a firm place in religious and folkloric history for thousands of years. However, that was legally put a stop to in 1604 with England’s passing of the Witchcraft Act, which made it illegal to associate with, hire, be friends with, feed, or reward any evil spirit for any reason. The law was truly put into effect in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts when two dogs were tried, convicted, and hanged for being believed to be a witch or a witch’s familiar.

Given all this, though, familiars have become one of the most beloved tools of the modern witch. Every television witch from Sabrina, to the Halliwells, to Samantha had a cat that, in one way or another, identified itself as their familiar. They are there to point out information that is right under the witch’s nose, but is being overlooked. While many witches today like to keep an animal – or seven – around the house, the idea that they are working magical companions does not seem to be as prevalent as it once was. Or, is it?

Let’s go back to the original propagation of the familiar. They were probably animals that needed care, love, and attention from someone, and the people on the edge of the town were the ones that provided it. In all reality, did these people actually work magic or learn arcane secrets from these animals? No, but they probably appreciated the company and felt less lonely, which is a kind of magic in and of itself. Though, a quick scan through your local bookstore will tell you the notion still exists in modern witchcraft and paganism that we learn from our pets, and many texts actually encourage us with spells and high rituals to find our familiars.

A quick story: The folklorist William Morgan said that during the English Civil War, the Royalist general Prince Rupert was in the habit of taking his large poodle dog named Boye, into battle with him. Throughout the war the dog was greatly feared among the Parliamentarian forces and credited with supernatural powers. The dog was apparently considered a kind of familiar. At the end of the war the dog was shot, allegedly with a silver bullet.

So, what category do you fall in to? Are you the loving outsider who takes in strays or runaways, who has a house full of love and furniture covered in pet hair? Or, are you the puritanical witch who dances with the devil on the full moon and feeds Evil Fluffy from your nether-teat? Either way, make sure to spay and neuter your familiars. We don’t need more imps running around.



Footnotes:
William Morgan, “Superstition in Medieval and Early Modern Society”, Chapter 3

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tutelary_spirit

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/familiar

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/201201/familiar

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/401680/familiars_in_witchcraft_history_of_pg2.html?cat=37

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=familiar and searchmode=none

http://homepages.nyu.edu/~jmm257/familiar.html

Daughters of the Witching Hill: In Search of Historical Cunning Folk


Author: Mary Sharratt

In 2002, I moved to East Lancashire in northern England—the rugged Pennine landscape that borders the West Yorkshire Dales. My study window looks out on Pendle Hill, famous throughout the world as the place where George Fox received the ecstatic vision that moved him to found the Quaker religion in 1652.

But Pendle Hill is also steeped in its legends of the Lancashire Witches. Everywhere you go in the surrounding countryside, you see images of witches: on buses, pub signs, road signs, and bumper stickers. Visiting friends found this all quite unnerving. “Mary, why are there witches everywhere?” they’d ask me.

In the beginning, I made the mistake of thinking that these witches belonged to the realm of fairy tale and folklore, but no. They were real people. The stark truth, when I took the time to learn it, would change me forever.

In 1612, in one of the most meticulously documented witch trials in English history, seven women and two men from Pendle Forest were executed, condemned on “evidence” provided by a nine-year-old girl and her brother, who appeared to suffer from learning difficulties. The trial itself might never have happened had it not been for King James I’s obsession with the occult. His book Daemonologie—required reading for local magistrates—warned of a vast conspiracy of satanic witches threatening to undermine the nation.

But just who were these witches of Pendle Forest?

Of the accused, Elizabeth Southerns aka Mother Demdike, had the most infamous reputation. According to the primary sources, she was the ringleader, the one who initiated the others into witchcraft. Mother Demdike was so frightening to her foes because she was a woman who embraced her powers wholeheartedly. This is how Court Clerk Thomas Potts describes her in The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, his account of the 1612 trials:

She was a very old woman, about the age of Foure-score yeares, and had
been a Witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast
place, fitte for her profession: What shee committed in her time, no man
knowes. . . . Shee was a generall agent for the Devill in all these partes: no
man escaped her, or her Furies.

Quite impressive for an eighty-year-old lady! Although she died in prison before she could even come to trial, Potts pays a great deal of attention to her, going out of his way to convince his readers that she was a dangerous witch of long-standing repute. Reading the trial transcripts against the grain, I was amazed at how her strength of character blazed forth in the document written expressly to vilify her.

Mother Demdike freely admitted to being a healer and a cunning woman. Her neighbours called on her to cure their children and their cattle. What fascinated me was not that Mother Demdike was arrested on witchcraft charges but that the authorities only turned on her near the end of her long, productive life. She practiced her craft for decades before anybody dared to interfere with her.

Cunning folk were men and women who used charms and herbal cures to heal, foretell the future, and find the location of stolen property. What they did was illegal—sorcery was a hanging offence—but most of them didn’t get arrested for it. The need for the services they provided was too great. Doctors were so expensive that only the very rich could afford them and the “physick” of this era involved bleeding patients with lancets and using dangerous medicines such as mercury—your local village healer with her herbal charms was far less likely to kill you.

Those who used their magic for good were called cunning folk or charmers or blessers or wisemen and wisewomen. Those who were perceived by others as using their magic to curse and harm were called witches. But here it gets complicated.

A cunning woman who performs a spell to discover the location of stolen goods would say that she is working for good. However, the person who claims to have been falsely accused of harbouring those stolen goods could turn around and accuse her of sorcery and slander. Ultimately, the difference between cunning folk and witches lay in the eye of the beholder.

Intriguingly, Mother Demdike’s family’s charms recorded in the trial transcripts mirror the ecclesiastical language of the Catholic Church, demonised and driven underground by the Reformation. Her incantation to cure a bewitched person, quoted by the prosecution as evidence of diabolical magic, is a moving and poetic depiction of the passion of Christ as witnessed by the Virgin Mary. This text is very similar to the White Pater Noster, an Elizabethan prayer charm Eamon Duffy discusses in his landmark book, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England: 1400-1580.

It appears that Mother Demdike, born in Henry VIII’s reign, at the cusp of the Reformation, was a practitioner of the kind of quasi-Catholic folk magic that would have been commonplace in earlier generations. The Old Church embraced many practices that seemed magical and mystical. People believed in miracles. They used holy water and communion bread for healing. Candles blessed at the Feast of Candlemas warded the faithful from demons and disease. People left offerings at holy wells and invoked the saints in their folk charms.

Some rituals such as the blessing of wells and fields may have Pagan origins. Indeed, looking at pre-Reformation folk magic, it seems difficult to untangle the strands of Catholicism from the remnants of Pagan belief that had become so tightly interwoven. Keith Thomas’s social history Religion and the Decline of Magic is an excellent study on how the Reformation literally took the magic out of Christianity.

But it would be an oversimplification to say that Mother Demdike was merely a misunderstood Catholic. Although her charms drew on the mystical imagery of the pre-Reformation Church, Mother Demdike and her sometimes-friend, sometimes-rival Anne Whittle, aka Chattox, accused each other of using clay figures to curse their enemies. Both women freely confessed, even bragged about their familiar spirits who appeared to them in the guise of beautiful young men. Mother Demdike’s description of her decades-long partnership with Tibb, her familiar spirit, seems to reveal something much older than Christianity.

In traditional English cunning craft, the familiar spirit took centre stage: this was the cunning person’s otherworldly spirit helper who could shapeshift between human and animal form. Mother Demdike described how Tibb could appear as a golden-haired young man, a hare, or a brown dog. In traditional English folk magic, it seemed that no cunning man or cunning woman could work magic without the aid of their familiar spirit—they needed this otherworldly ally to make things happen.

So how did Mother Demdike, a woman so fierce that none dared meddle with her, come to ruin? The triggering incident reads like the most tragic of coincidences. On March 18, 1612, her young granddaughter, Alizon Device, had a bitter confrontation with John Law, a pedlar from Halifax in Yorkshire.

Moments after their blistering argument, the pedlar collapsed and suddenly went stiff and lame on one half of his body and lost the power of speech. Today we would clearly recognise this as a stroke. But the pedlar and several witnesses were convinced that Alizon had lamed her victim with witchcraft. Even she seemed to believe this herself, falling to her knees and begging his forgiveness. This unfortunate event resulted in the arrest of Alizon and her grandmother. Alizon wasted no time in implicating Chattox, her grandmother’s rival, and Chattox’s daughter, Anne Redfearne. Before long, further arrests of family and friends followed. The rest belongs to the tragic history that ended at Lancaster Gallows in August, 1612.

Although first to be arrested, Alizon was the last to be tried at the Lancaster Assizes. Her final recorded words on the day before she was hanged for witchcraft were a passionate vindication of her grandmother’s legacy as a healer.

Roger Nowell, the prosecutor, brought John Law, the pedlar Alizon had allegedly lamed, before her. Again Alizon begged the man’s forgiveness for her perceived crime against him. John Law, in return, said that if she had the power to lame him, she must also have the power to heal him. Alizon regrettably told him that she wasn’t able to, but if her grandmother, Old Demdike had lived, she could and would have healed him.

Long after their demise, Mother Demdike and her fellow Pendle Witches endure, their spirit woven into the living landscape, its weft and warp, like the stones and the streams that cut across the moors. No one in this region can remain untouched by their legacy. This is their home, their seat of power, and they shall never be banished.


Footnotes:
Further reading:

Owen Davies, Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History (Hambledon Continuum)
Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (Yale)
Malcolm Gaskill, Witchfinders: A Seventeenth Century English Tragedy (John Murray)
John Harland and T.T. Wilkinson, Lancashire Folklore (Kessinger Publishing)
King James I, Daemonologie, available online: http://www.sacred-texts.com/pag/kjd/
Jonathan Lumby, The Lancashire Witch-Craze (Carnegie)
Edgar Peel and Pat Southern, The Trials of the Lancashire Witches (Nelson)
Robert Poole, ed., The Lancashire Witches: Histories and Stories (Manchester University Press)
Thomas Potts, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, available online: http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=230481
Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (Penguin)
John Webster, The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft (Ams Pr Inc)
Emma Wilby, Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits (Sussex Academic Press)