The Simple Facts About Samhain

The Simple Facts About Samhain

Shadowfest (Strega), Martinmas (Celtic/Scottish) Samhain, popularly known as Halloween, is the Witches’ New Year. This is the last of the three harvest Sabbats marking the end of the growing seasons. Celtic custom decreed that all crops must be gathered by sundown on October 31st. It is a time when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest. Deceased ancestors and other friendly spirits are invited to join in Sabbat festivities and be reunited with loved ones. In Ireland it is still custom to leave candles in the windows and plates of food for the visiting spirits. Keep a fire lit or a candle burning all night to honour and welcome the dead. If clothes are left outside overnight, they will take on bewitching powers for all who wear them. Darkness increases and the Goddess reigns as the Crone, part of the three-in-one that also includes the Maiden and Mother. The God, the Dark Lord, passes into the underworld to become the seed of his own rebirth (which will occur again at Yule). Many Pagans prepare a Feast for the Dead on Samhain night, where they leave offerings of food and drink for the spirits. Divination is heightened this night. Jack-o-lanterns, gourds, cider, fall foliage can be used as altar decorations.

SAMHAIN, All Hallow’s Eve / Halloween

SAMHAIN

All Hallow’s Eve / Halloween

by Mike Nichols

 


 

Halloween. Sly does it. Tiptoe catspaws. Slide and creep. But why? What for? How? Who? When! Where did it all begin? “You don’t know, do you?” asks Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud climbing out of the pile of leaves under the Halloween Tree. “You don’t really know!”   —Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree

 

Samhain. All Hallows. All Hallow’s Eve. Hallow E’en. Halloween. The most magical night of the year. Exactly opposite Beltane on the wheel of the year, Halloween is Beltane’s dark twin. A night of glowing jack-o’-lanterns, bobbing for apples, tricks or treats, and dressing in costume. A night of ghost stories and séances, tarot card readings and scrying with mirrors. A night of power, when the veil that separates our world from the Otherworld is at its thinnest. A “spirit night”, as they say in Wales.

All Hallow’s Eve is the eve of All Hallow’s Day (November 1). And for once, even popular tradition remembers that the eve is more important than the day itself, the traditional celebration focusing on October 31, beginning at sundown. And this seems only fitting for the great Celtic New Year’s festival. Not that the holiday was Celtic only. In fact, it is startling how many ancient and unconnected cultures (the Egyptians and pre-Spanish Mexicans, for example) celebrated this as a festival of the dead. But the majority of our modern traditions can be traced to the British Isles.

The Celts called it Samhain, which means “summer’s end”, according to their ancient twofold division of the year, when summer ran from Beltane to Samhain and winter ran from Samhain to Beltane. (Some modern covens echo this structure by letting the high priest “rule” the coven beginning on Samhain, with rulership returned to the high priestess at Beltane.) According to the later fourfold division of the year, Samhain is seen as “autumn’s end” and the beginning of winter. Samhain is pronounced (depending on where you’re from) as “sow-in” (in Ireland), or “sow-een” (in Wales), or “sav-en” (in Scotland), or (inevitably) “sam-hane” (in the U.S., where we don’t speak Gaelic).

Not only is Samhain the end of autumn; it is also, more importantly, the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Celtic New Year’s Eve, when the new year begins with the onset of the dark phase of the year, just as the new day begins at sundown. There are many representations of Celtic Gods with two faces, and it surely must have been one of them who held sway over Samhain. Like his Roman counterpart Janus, he would straddle the threshold, one face turned toward the past, in commemoration of those who died during the last year, and one face gazing hopefully toward the future, mystic eyes attempting to pierce the veil and divine what the coming year holds. These two themes, celebrating the dead and divining the future, are inexorably intertwined in Samhain, as they are likely to be in any New Year’s celebration.

As a feast of the dead, this was the one night when the dead could, if they wished, return to the land of the living, to celebrate with their family, tribe, or clan. And so the great burial mounds of Ireland (sidhe mounds) were opened up, with lighted torches lining the walls, so the dead could find their way. Extra places were set at the table and food set out for any who had died that year. And there are many stories that tell of Irish heroes making raids on the Underworld while the gates of faery stood open, though all must return to their appointed places by cockcrow.

As a feast of divination, this was the night par excellence for peering into the future. The reason for this has to do with the Celtic view of time. In a culture that uses a linear concept of time, like our modern one, New Year’s Eve is simply a milestone on a very long road that stretches in a straight line from birth to death. Thus, the New Year’s festival is a part of time. The ancient Celtic view of time, however, is cyclical. And in this framework, New Year’s Eve represents a point outside of time, when the natural order of the universe dissolves back into primordial chaos, preparatory to reestablishing itself in a new order. Thus, Samhain is a night that exists outside of time and, hence, it may be used to view any other point in time. At no other holiday is a tarot card reading, crystal reading, or tealeaf reading so likely to succeed.

The Christian religion, with its emphasis on the “historical” Christ and his act of Redemption 2000 years ago, is forced into a linear view of time, where seeing the future is an illogical proposition. In fact, from the Christian perspective, any attempt to do so is seen as inherently evil. This did not keep the medieval church from co-opting Samhain’s other motif, commemoration of the dead. To the church, however, it could never be a feast for all the dead, but only the blessed dead, all those hallowed (made holy) by obedience to God—thus, All Hallow’s, or Hallowmas, later All Saints and All Souls.

There are so many types of divination that are traditional to Hallowstide, it is possible to mention only a few. Girls were told to place hazelnuts along the front of the firegrate, each one to symbolize one of her suitors. She could then divine her future husband by chanting, “If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.” Several methods used the apple, that most popular of Halloween fruits. You should slice an apple through the equator (to reveal the five-pointed star within) and then eat it by candlelight before a mirror. Your future spouse will then appear over your shoulder. Or, peel an apple, making sure the peeling comes off in one long strand, reciting, “I pare this apple round and round again; / My sweetheart’s name to flourish on the plain: / I fling the unbroken paring o’er my head, / My sweetheart’s letter on the ground to read.” Or, you might set a snail to crawl through the ashes of your hearth. The considerate little creature will then spell out the initial letter as it moves.

Perhaps the most famous icon of the holiday is the jack-o’-lantern. Various authorities attribute it to either Scottish or Irish origin. However, it seems clear that it was used as a lantern by people who traveled the road this night, the scary face to frighten away spirits or faeries who might otherwise lead one astray. Set on porches and in windows, they cast the same spell of protection over the household. (The American pumpkin seems to  have forever superseded the European gourd as the jack-o’-lantern of choice.) Bobbing for apples may well represent the remnants of a Pagan “baptism” rite called a seining, according to some writers. The water-filled tub is a latter-day Cauldron of Regeneration, into which the novice’s head is immersed. The fact that the participant in this folk game was usually blindfolded with hands tied behind the back also puts one in mind of a traditional Craft initiation ceremony.

The custom of dressing in costume and “trick-or-treating” is of Celtic origin, with survivals particularly strong in Scotland. However, there are some important differences from the modern version. In the first place, the custom was not relegated to children, but was actively indulged in by adults as well. Also,  the “treat” that was required was often one of spirits (the liquid variety). This has recently been revived by college students who go ‘trick-or-drinking’. And in ancient times, the roving bands would sing seasonal carols from house-to-house, making the tradition very similar to Yuletide wassailing. In fact, the custom known as caroling, now connected exclusively with Midwinter, was once practiced at all the major holidays. Finally, in Scotland at least, the tradition of dressing in costume consisted almost exclusively of cross-dressing (i.e., men dressing as women, and women as men). It seems as though ancient societies provided an opportunity for people to “try on” the role of the opposite gender for one night of the year. (Although in Scotland, this is admittedly less dramatic—but more confusing—since men were in the habit of wearing skirtlike kilts anyway. Oh well…)

To Witches, Halloween is one of the four High Holidays, or Greater Sabbats, or cross-quarter days. Because it is the most important holiday of the year, it is sometimes called “The Great Sabbat”. It is an ironic fact that the newer, self-created covens tend to use the older name of the holiday, Samhain, which they have discovered through modern research. While the older hereditary and traditional covens often use the newer name, Halloween, which has been handed down through oral tradition within their coven. (This often holds true for the names of the other holidays, as well. One may often get an indication of a coven’s antiquity by noting what names it uses for the holidays.)

With such an important holiday, Witches often hold two distinct celebrations. First, a large Halloween party for non-Craft friends, often held on the previous weekend. And second, a coven ritual held on Halloween night itself, late enough so as not to be interrupted by trick-or-treaters. If the rituals are performed properly, there is often the feeling of invisible friends taking part in the rites. Another date that may be utilized in planning celebrations is the actual cross-quarter day, or Old Halloween, or Halloween O.S. (Old Style). This occurs when the sun has reached fifteen degrees Scorpio, an astrological “power point” symbolized by the Eagle. The celebration would begin at sunset. Interestingly, this date (Old Halloween) was also appropriated by the church as the holiday of Martinmas.

Of all the Witchcraft holidays, Halloween is the only one that still boasts anything near to popular celebration. Even though it is typically relegated to children (and the young-atheart) and observed as an evening affair only, many of its traditions are firmly rooted in Paganism. Incidentally, some schools have recently attempted to abolish Halloween parties on the grounds that it violates the separation of state and religion. Speaking as a Pagan, I would be saddened by the success of this move, but as a supporter of the concept of religion-free public education, I fear I must concede the point. Nonetheless, it seems only right that there should be one night of the year when our minds are turned toward thoughts of the supernatural. A night when both Pagans and non-Pagans may ponder the mysteries of the Otherworld and its inhabitants. And if you are one of them, may all your jack-o’-lanterns burn bright on this All Hallow’s Eve.


 

Document Copyright © 1983 – 2009 by Mike Nichols.

Blessings To Everyone This Fantastic Friday!

I apologize for us, yes “us,” running late. Lady A and I are sharing a computer today. She is sitting beside me looking at everything I do. Anyone want to adopt a witch? I am kidding, of course. I love her to death and I am very glad she is here. It didn’t seem like the same place without her here.

She has been wanting to read all the comments in the back. I have been wanting to get the posting done. We have had a conflict of interest, lol! There a lot of wonderful comments in the back. We thank you for them and we will eventually work our way through them and reply to you all. There are great words of encouragement and love expressed in them. We truly thank you for your love and support. You are all very special and we love each one of you.

We hope you have a fantastic Friday and a super weekend,

Love and Hugs,

Lady A and Annie

 

More Friday Comments

Wishing You The Very Best On This Gorgeous Tuesday!

Have a Good, Great Day Images, Quotes, Comments, Graphics

Good Tuesday morning, my dearest of friends! I hope you are having a great day. Me, well, it’s getting better! Since that last couple of days have been sort of blah, blah for me, I decided to start the day off on a different note.

With a little Irish  Humor….

WHAT IS AN IRISHMAN

An Irishman is a man who?

May not believe there is a God,
but is darn sure of the infallibility of the Pope…
Won’t eat meat on Friday,
but will drink Jameson for breakfast…..
Has great respect for the truth,
he uses in emergencies…
Sees things not as they are
but the way they never will be…..
Cries at sad movies,
but cheers in battle….
Hates the English,
but reserves his cruelty for countryman…. Gets more Irish the further he gets from Ireland…..
Believes in civil rights,
but not in his neighborhood…
Believes to forgive is divine,
therefore doesn’t exercise it himself….
Loves religion for its own sake,
but also because it makes it so
inconvenient for his neighbors….
Scorns money,
but worships those who have it…
Considers any Irishman who
achieves success to be a traitor

Deity of the Day for Monday, June 11 – Cailleach

 Deity of the Day

 

Cailleach

In Irish and Scottish mythology, the Cailleach (Irish pronunciation: [ˈkalʲəx], Irish plural cailleacha [ˈkalʲəxə], Scottish Gaelic plural cailleachan /kaʎəxən/), also known as the Cailleach Bheur, is a divine hag, a creatrix, and possibly an ancestral deity or deified ancestor. The word Cailleach means ‘hag’ in modern Scottish Gaelic, and has been applied to numerous mythological figures in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man

In Scotland, where she is also known as Beira, Queen of Winter, she is credited with making numerous mountains and large hills, which are said to have been formed when she was striding across the land and accidentally dropped rocks from her apron. In other cases she is said to have built the mountains intentionally, to serve as her stepping stones. She carries a hammer for shaping the hills and valleys, and is said to be the mother of all the goddesses and gods.

The Cailleach displays several traits befitting the personification of Winter: she herds deer, she fights Spring, and her staff freezes the ground.

In partnership with the goddess Brìghde, the Cailleach is seen as a seasonal deity or spirit, ruling the winter months between Samhainn (Wintermas or first day of winter) and Bealltainn (Summermas or first day of summer), while Brìghde rules the summer months between Bealltainn and Samhainn. Some interpretations have the Cailleach and Brìghde as two faces of the same goddess, while others describe the Cailleach as turning to stone on Bealltainn and reverting back to humanoid form on Samhainn in time to rule over the winter months. Depending on local climate, the transfer of power between the winter goddess and the summer goddess is celebrated any time between Là Fhèill Brìghde (February 1) at the earliest, Latha na Cailliche (March 25), or Bealltainn (May 1) at the latest, and the local festivals marking the arrival of the first signs of spring may be named after either the Cailleach or Brìghde.

She intends to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on February 1 is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood to keep herself warm in the coming months. As a result, people are generally relieved if February 1 is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is asleep, will soon run out of firewood, and therefore winter is almost over. On the Isle of Man, where She is known as Caillagh ny Groamagh, the Cailleach is said to have been form of a gigantic bird, carrying sticks in her beak.

In Scotland, the Cailleachan (lit. ‘old women’) were also known as The Storm Hags, and seen as personifications of the elemental powers of nature, especially in a destructive aspect. They were said to be particularly active in raising the windstorms of spring, during the period known as A’ Chailleach.

On the west coast of Scotland, the Cailleach ushers in winter by washing her great plaid in the Whirlpool of Coire Bhreacain. This process is said to take three days, during which the roar of the coming tempest is heard as far away as twenty miles (32 km) inland. When she is finished, her plaid is pure white and snow covers the land.

In Scotland and Ireland, the first farmer to finish the grain harvest made a corn dolly, representing the Cailleach (also called “the Carlin or Carline”), from the last sheaf of the crop. The figure would then be tossed into the field of a neighbor who had not yet finished bringing in their grain. The last farmer to finish had the responsibility to take in and care for the corn dolly for the next year, with the implication they’d have to feed and house the hag all winter. Competition was fierce to avoid having to take in the Old Woman.

Some scholars believe the Old Irish poem, ‘The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare’ is about the Cailleach; Kuno Meyer states, ‘…she had fifty foster-children in Beare. She had seven periods of youth one after another, so that every man who had lived with her came to die of old age, and her grandsons and great-grandsons were tribes and races.

Imblc – Brigid’s Well Spell

Imbolc – Brigid’s Well Spell

To Heal Or Bring General Good Health

Purpose:  To ease ill-health or bring well-being in the coming year.

Background:  Imbolc is also known as the Feast of Brigid, a well-beloved Irish Goddess renowned as a patron of healing. Many springs and rivers are sacred to her, bearing features of her name, in Brittany, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, but her strongest association with the healing power of waters is with wells.

In pre-Christian times, people venerated the genii loci, or “spirits of place,” of natural locations that were considered particularly sacred springs and wells, sources of water that came up from the earth, were considered very special, and healing properties, including cures for eye and skin problems, became attributed to many of those associated with Brigid. In this spell, you will be recreating Brigid’s Well in symbol, in the form of a pottery or stone bowl or cup. Since Brigid’s Healing Well is a spiritual symbol, this recreation is just as valid as if you had applied to the spirit of a well in Kildare, in Ireland, or a river in Wales. You may make up to three requests for healing, including one for general good health, as appropriate.

How to cast the Spell

Items You Will Need:

  • Six white candles, 6-8″ in length
  • One stone or pottery cup or bowl
  • Three small beach pebbles
  • One small cup of salt
  • Spring water
  • Matches

Timing:  Cast this spell at Imbolc

Casting the Spell:

  • Place the candles all around the cup.
  • Name each stone as an ailment you wish healed, as appropriate, sprinkling a pinch of salt over each. Breathe onto them, saying:

By my breath.

  • Cover them with your hands, saying:

By my flesh.

  • Place the in the cup, and cover them with water, saying:

By the living waters of Brigid, may health prevail and good reside.

  • Light each candle, saying:

Hail, Lady of Fire.

  • Hold your palms toward the flames and close your eyes, then visualize dark stains on the stones dissolving in the water, rising to the surface to be burned away in the candle flames.
  • Chant the following until you feel the energies in the circle rise:

Earth, water, flame

Work in Her name

Earth, water, fire

Work my desire.

Discharge the energy raised by raising your hands into the air and mentally releasing it.

  • Return the stones to a beach as soon as possible after Imbolc night.
 The Spells Bible
The Definitive Guide to Charms and Enchantments
Ann-Marie Gallagher

The Wiccan Book of Days for Feb. 1 – Imbolc & Maiden’s Milk

Imbolc/Candlemas Comments
February 1

Imbolc and Maiden’s Milk

Between February 1 and 2, Wiccans celebrate the Sabbat of Imbolc(also known as Oimelc or Candlemas), and the return of the Goddess from the underworld in her maiden or virginal form, as exemplified by the Celtic Goddess Brigit (“High One”), Bride or Brigid the name under which the Christians sanctified her. In Ireland, Brigit was venerated as a protector of livestock, a bestower of fertility upon the natural world, a promoter of healing and a patron of poetry and the blacksmith’s art. Oimelc means “ewe’s milk,” for this was the day on which ewes usually began to lactate, and the Goddess’s association with milk was preserved in the notion of Saint Brigid of Kildare’s cows producing milk thrice daily.

“Flowery Words”

In northern climes, the emergence of early spring flowers is evidence that nature is awakening and that Brigit is among us again, so pick a posy and pour a glass of cow’s milk on the ground as a libation to the Goddess.

Magickal Graphics

Brighid Lore for Imbolc

Brighid Lore for Imbolc
by Doreen Motheral

 

The goddess Brighid (also known as Brigit, Bride, Biddy and other names throughout Europe) is a goddess who is near and dear to my heart for many reasons. I like the fact that she is associated with both water (her wells in Kildare and other parts of Ireland) and fire (her fire pit in Kildare). I like the fact that she spans both the pagan and Christian worlds and some of her traditions are still celebrated today.

Since the festival of Imbolc (also called Óimelc) is this weekend I thought I’d write a few thoughts for those who aren’t familiar with her (and perhaps renew an acquaintance for those who already were). Imbolc is the time of the year that the ewes lactated, and the successful timing of this event was approximate, so the exact date of Imbolc could vary from region to region and from year to year depending on the climate. Production of this milk supply was very important to both man and animal. From the milk comes butter and cheese. Newly calved cows were also put under Brighid’s protection. Here’s an old saying:

Samhain Eve without food,
Christmas night without bread,
St. Brighid’s Eve without butter,
That is a sorry complaint.

Cormac mac Cuillenàin, who lived in the 9th century said, “Brighid i.e. a learned woman, daughter of the Dagda. That is Brighid of learning, i.e. a goddess who filid worshipped. For her protecting care was very great and very wonderful. So they call her a goddess of poets. Her sisters were Brighid woman of healing, and Brighid woman of smithcraft, daughters of the Dagda, from whose names among all the Irish a goddess used to be called Brighid” In this writing, Cormac mentions her triple aspect of three sisters, common among the Celts. I often call on one or more of her aspects of creativity, writing and healing, but she is much more than that.

The Christian aspects of Brighid and the pagan aspects often overlap, so it’s difficult to figure out which stories have pre-Christian beginnings. I think there is a seed of paganism in many of the later stories associated with her. We’ll never know for sure, but in my own private practice I take many of her current customs and use them for my own worship of her – and I don’t worry about the pre-Christian aspect of the story or not. Your mileage may vary, of course.

On the eve of Imbolc, a piece of linen, other cloth or ribbons is placed outside (some folks put them on their window sill). This piece of cloth is called Brighid’s Brat or Brighid’s Mantle. It is said that Brighid travels all over the land on Imbolc eve and if she sees this cloth, she will bless it and give it healing powers. Some folks in Ireland say that the older your brat is, the more powerful it is. Mugwort Grove (the grove to which I belong) destroys ours from year to year. We put out a whole piece of linen and tear it into strips for members of the Grove during our Imbolc ritual. People take the strips home to use for healing and some are kept on personal altars throughout the year.

Other folklore says that if the mantle gets bigger overnight, you will be especially blessed. It’s a nice tradition, especially if you have a lot of illness to overcome for the following year, and a brat is nice to have for healing rituals later in the year.

Brighid’s fiery aspect makes her the perfect goddess of the hearth – in fact, my hearth at home is dedicated to Brighid. There are many hearth prayers dedicated to Brighid, especially concerning smooring. Ashes and embers were often deposited in the fields. Also, indoor activity associated with Imbolc often took place near the hearth, and if there was a feast, an extra place was set for Brighid. It is also considered bad luck to do any type of spinning on Brighid’s Day.

There is also the custom of Brighid’s Bed. A small bed is made near the hearth and a doll (called a Brídeog), often made from a sheaf of corn and made into the likeness of a woman and is sometimes placed in the bed. In Ireland the doll was often made from a churn dash decorated in clothing (associations t milk again). Sometimes the doll was carried around town to visit houses in the neighborhood. Songs, music and dances are performed – then prayers are said to St. Brighid for blessings upon the house (this is similar to wassailing in other countries around Christmas). Then the family is asked to contribute a donation – which used to be bread and butter (there’s that dairy again!) but now it’s often money (sometimes given to charity).

There is much, much more about Brighid I could share, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. A bit of trivia – Brighid is so loved by the Irish people that in 1942 a survey was taken on “The Feast of St. Brighid”. The replies about the customs run to 2,435 manuscript pages. A great book, if you can find it, is The Festival of Brighid Celtic Goddess and Holy Woman by Séamas Ó Catháin. There are many really cool stories and legends about her.

Last but not least one of the other interesting aspects of Brighid is a prayer attributed to her from the 11th century which goes like this:

I would like a great lake of ale, for the King of the Kings
I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us.
I would like an abundance of peace.
I would like full vessels of charity.
I would like rich treasures of mercy.
I would like cheerfulness to preside over all.
I would like Jesus to be present.
I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us.
I would like the friends of Heaven to be gathered around us from all parts.
I would like myself to be a rent payer to the Lord; that I should suffer distress, that he would bestow a good blessing upon me.
I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I would like to be watching Heaven’s family drinking it through all eternity.

Drink up!

Herb of the Day for Jan. 30 – Toadflax

Herb of the Day

Toadflax

Botanical: Linaria vulgaris (MILL.)
Family: N.O. Scrophulariaceae

—Synonyms—Fluellin. Pattens and Clogs. Flaxweed. Ramsted. Snapdragon. Churnstaff. Dragon-bushes. Brideweed. Toad. Yellow Rod. Larkspur Lion’s Mouth. Devils’ Ribbon. Eggs and Collops. Devil’s Head. Pedlar’s Basket. Gallwort. Rabbits. Doggies. Calves’ Snout. Eggs and Bacon. Buttered Haycocks. Monkey Flower.
—Part Used—Herb.
—Habitat—The genus Linaria, to which it belongs, contains 125 species, native to’ the Northern Hemisphere and South America, seven of which are found in England.

The Toadflax grows wild in most parts of Europe, on dry banks, by the wayside, in meadows by hedge sides, and upon the borders of fields. It is common throughout England and Wales, though less frequent in Ireland. In Scotland, it is found, as a rule, only in the southern counties. Having been introduced into North America, probably originally with grain, it has become there a troublesome weed. It is especially abundant in sandy and gravelly soil and in chalk and limestone districts.

—Description—From a perennial and creeping root, the Toadflax sends up severalslender stems, erect and not much branched, generally between 1 and 2 feet long, bearing numerous leaves, which are very long and narrow in form. Both stems and leaves are glaucous, i.e. of a pale bluish tint of green, and are quite destitute of hairs.

The stems terminate in rather dense spikes of showy yellow flowers, the corolla in general shape like that of the Snapdragon, but with a long spur, and with the lower lip orange. The Toadflax flowers throughout the summer, from late June to October.

The mouth of the flower is completely closed and never opens until a bee forces its entrance. The only visitors are the large bees – the humble-bee, honey-bee, and several wild bees – which are able to open the flower, and whose tongues are long enough to reach the nectar, which is so placed in the spur that only long-lipped insects can reach it. The closing of the swollen lower lip excludes beetles from the spur. When the bee alights on the orange palate, the colour of which is specially designed to attract the desired visitor, acting as a honey-guide, it falls a little, disclosing the interior of the flower, which forms a little cave, on the floor of which are two ridges of orange hairs, a track between them leading straight to the mouth of the long, hollow spur. Above this is the egg-shaped seed-vessel with the stamens. Between the bases of the two longer stamen filaments, nectar trickles down along a groove to the spur, from the base of the ovary where it is secreted. The bee pushes into the flower, its head fitting well into the cavity below the seed-vessel and thrusting its proboscis down the spur, sucks the nectar, its back being meanwhile well coated by the pollen from the stamens, which run along the roof, the stigma being between the short and long stamens. It is reckoned that a humble-bee can easily take the nectar from ten flowers in a minute, each time transferring pollen from a previous flower to the stigma of the one visited, and thus effecting cross-fertilization.

The Toadflax is very prolific. Its fruit is a little rounded, dry capsule, which when ripe, opens at its top by several valves, the many minute seeds being thrown out by the swaying of the stems. The seeds are flattened and lie in the centre of a circular wing, which, tiny as it is, helps to convey the seed some distance from the parent plant.

Sometimes a curiously-shaped Toadflax blossom will be found: instead of only one spur being produced, each of the five petals whose union builds up the toad-like corolla forms one, and the flower becomes of regular, though almost unrecognizable shape. This phenomenon is termed by botanists, ‘peloria,’ i.e. a monster. As a rule it is the terminal flower that is thus symmetrical in structure, but sometimes flowers of this type occur all down the spike.

The name Toadflax originated in the resemblance of the flower to little toads, there being also a resemblance between the mouth of the flower and the wide mouth of a toad. Coles says that the plant was called Toadflax, ‘because Toads will sometimes shelter themselves amongst the branches of it.’

The general resemblance of the plant in early summer to a Flax plant, accounts for the latter part of its name, and also for another of its country names, ‘Flaxweed.’ The Latin name, Linaria, from linum(flax), was given it by Linnaeus, from this likeness to a flax plant before flowering. The mixture of light yellow and orange in the flowers has gained for it the provincial names of ‘Butter and Eggs,’ ‘Eggs and Bacon,’ etc.

Gerard says:
‘Linaria being a kind of Antyrrhinum, hath small, slender, blackish stalks, from which do grow many long, narrow leaves like flax. The floures be yellow with a spurre hanging at the same like unto a Larkesspurre, having a mouth like unto a frog’s mouth, even such as is to be seene in the common Snapdragon; the whole plant so much resembleth Esula minor, that the one is hardly knowne from the other but by this olde verse: “Esula lactescit, sine lacte Linaria crescit.”
‘ “Esula with milke doth flow,
Toadflax without milke doth grow.” ‘

This Esula is one of the smaller spurge, Euphorbia esula, which before flowering so closely resembles Toadflax that care must be taken not to collect it in error, the milky juice contained in its stems (as in all the Spurges) will, however, at once reveal its identity.

The leaves of the Toadflax also contain an acrid, rather disagreeable, but not milkyjuice, which renders them distasteful to cattle, who leave them untouched. Among the many old local names given to this plant we find it called ‘Gallwort,’ on account of its bitterness, one old writer affirming that it received the name because an infusion of the leaves was used ‘against the flowing of the gall in cattell.’ The larvae of several moths feed on the plant, and several beetles are also found on it.

—Part Used Medicinally—Cultivation. For medicinal purposes, Toadflax is generally gathered in the wild condition, but it can be cultivated with ease, though it prefers a dry soil. No manure is needed. Seeds may be sown in spring. All the culture needed is to thin out the seedlings and keep them free of weeds. Propagation may also be carried out by division of roots in the autumn.

The whole herb is gathered just when coming into flower and employed either fresh or dried.

When fresh, Toadflax has a peculiar, heavy, disagreeable odour, which is in great measure dissipated by drying. It has a weakly saline, bitter and slightly acrid taste.

—Constituents—Toadflax abounds in an acrid oil, reputed to be poisonous, but no harm from it has ever been recorded. Little or nothing is known of its toxic principle, but its use in medicine was well known to the ancients.

Its constituents are stated to be two glucosides, Linarin and Pectolinarian, with linarosin, linaracin, antirrhinic, tannic and citric acids, a yellow colouring matter, mucilage and sugar.

—Medicinal Action and Uses—Astringent, hepatic and detergent. It has some powerful qualities as a purgative and diuretic, causing it to be recommended in jaundice, liver, skin diseases and scrofula; an infusion of 1 OZ. to the pint has been found serviceable as an alterative in these cases and in incipient dropsy. The infusion has a bitter and unpleasant taste, occasioned by the presence of the acrid essential oil. It was at one time in great reputation among herb doctors for dropsy. The herb distilled answers the same purpose, as a decoction of both leaves and flowers in removing obstructions of the liver. It is very effectual if a little Peruvian bark or solution of quinine and a little cinnamon be combined with it. Gerard informs us that ‘the decoction openeth the stopping of the liver and spleen, and is singular good against the jaundice which is of long continuance,’ and further states that ‘a decoction of Toadflax taketh away the yellownesse and deformitie of the skinne, being washed and bathed therewith.’

The fresh plant is sometimes applied as a poultice or fomentation to haemorrhoids, and an ointment of the flowers has been employed for the same purpose, and also locally in diseases of the skin. A cooling ointment is made from the fresh plant – the whole herb is chopped and boiled in lard till crisp, then strained. The result is a fine green ointment, a good application for piles, sores, ulcers and skin eruptions.

The juice of the herb, or the distilled water, has been considered a good remedy for inflammation of the eyes, and for cleansing ulcerous sores.

Boiled in milk, the plant is said to yield an excellent fly poison, and it is an old country custom in parts of Sweden to infuse Toadflax flowers in milk, and stand the infusion about where flies are troublesome.

The flowers have been employed in Germany as a yellow dye.

Imbolc Meditation

Submitted By: Cogar niMhorrighan

Here is an original meditation for the Imbolc festival (can be used at
any time):

It is a lovely spring day. The air is fresh with the fragrance of green
plants preparing to bloom. The sun’s radiance bathes you in comfort,
perhaps the first warmth you have felt in many months. You sense that
you are in Ireland, because it is green and everything feels clean and
alive. The landscape is timeless and magical. In the distance, you
hear birds singing as they welcome the unexpected warmth of the day.
Inside you, happiness begins to bubble and dance, very quietly at first.
It feels almost like anticipation, but it puts a smile on your lips as
well.

You are walking up a slight hill, not steep enough to tire you but just
enough to sense that something wonderful can be seen from the top. As
you walk, the grass is already tall enough to brush against your lower
legs. You know you are in a wild place where Nature flourishes.

Towards the top of the hill, you see a dolmen – two standing stones and
a large stone across the tops of them, like an arch. You wonder why you
didn’t see this dolmen sooner. It is as if it appeared when you were
just twenty feet from it. Does it mean something? Is it real? You do
not pause to wonder, but keep walking towards it.

As you walk between the stones, you notice carvings and symbols on the
sides of the dolmen. Some of them are lines and hash-marks, which you
suspect are an Ogham message. Others are just symbols, which you will
return to look at, another day.

As you pass through the dolmen, you feel an invisible curtain brush over
you gently. In the space of a blink, it is a clear, crisp night. The
stars are above you, brilliant and twinkling. You know the moon is
behind you, but you do not notice its light because there is a sparkling
fire just ahead. There is no breeze, but the evening is chilly as you
would expect when Winter is still in the air.

You pull your clothing more closely around you, as you continue up the
hill. You are eager to reach the warmth of the fire, which is bigger
than you thought at first. In fact, it is a bonfire and you realize you
have arrived at Imbolc.

You run the last few steps to stand next to the fire pushing your hands
towards it, to capture the heat from a safe distance. Tall yellow and
white flames seem to warm you inside and out. You pause to look at the
sky again, and savor the moment.

Looking across the flames, you suddenly realize that you are not alone.
You can see the top of someone’s head, and you aren’t certain if you
have intruded on a private ceremony. Slowly, you walk around the fire,
and your companion stands up from the rock she was sitting upon. She is
a tall, strong woman, with long hair so light you cannot tell if it is
blonde or white. She looks like the Queen of Pentacles in a way, with
an ageless sense of knowing and accomplishment. She wears a long gown
and an embroidered cape, yet you can see her bare feet peeking out from
under her skirt. You know she is someone noble yet without artifice.

Without a word, she stretches out her hands to take yours in welcome.
You know, as if you’ve known her all your life, that this is Brighid.
This is a special and sacred moment.

She welcomes you to her fire, which will burn tonight and every night,
for Imbolc is her festival and her fire is never extinguished.

You sit down next to her, on large flat rocks that are warm from the
fire, and very comfortable. She begins to explain to you the meaning of
Imbolc, and its promise of a fresh beginning–not just to the plants and
animals, but also to everyone on Earth who chooses to permit Imbolc into
their lives.

She helps you to remember your past dreams, especially the ones from
your childhood which began, “When I grow up…” And as you recall these
fantasies and goals, you realize how many of them were left behind with
your childhood, yet how many are still alive in what you do each day,
today. This is not a sad realization as much as it is a recognition
that you can start afresh now. Every one of those dreams is still with
you.

Brighid reaches to her side and picks up a fallen twig from a nearby yew
tree. It looks like any other twig, in the firelight. However, when
Brighid places it into the fire, the bark on it sparks and flames like a
sparkler, giving enough heat energy to set the twig burning brightly.
Without saying anything, Brighid is showing you how even a small spark
will set alight your oldest and most neglected dreams.

The lesson was simple, but vital. Now it is time to return to your own
world. As you stand, Brighid offers you a cup of clear water, which you
sip. The sensation in your mouth is unique. There is a kind of
life-giving energy, that is Spring itself. You take a large swallow of
the water, and feel your entire body respond to that water with a
vitality that–like your forgotten dreams–you had almost forgotten from
childhood.

After returning the cup to Brighid, and then a quick embrace, you stride
purposefully around the fire and back to the dolmen. Passing under it,
you emerge back into the daylight and the warm air and clear sunshine of
an early spring day. You know you have not merely learned the meaning
of Imbolc, but actually experienced it in your soul. From now on, every
time you sip fresh water, or see twigs and branches burning in a
bonfire, you will feel Brighid’s presence, and be reminded of the
fire–and dreams–that burn within you, too, and will never be
extinguished.