Back in the 1990s I participated in mummers groups at Reclaiming Tradition witchcamps in British Columbia. Combining my fascinations with folklore and ritual, mummers plays and costumed evocations were sometimes remarkably potent, memorable events. For this reason, I love to see folkloric celebrations taking place during the dark times of the year. Here are a few videos worth a look.
The Mari Lwyd is a tradition seen in South Wales around Christmas and the twelve days of Christmas. Featuring a decorated horse skull, often with a mobile, clacking jaw, with the “horse” clad in white, and accompanied by a costumed retinue, the Mari Lwyd makes house visitations, with the retinue striving to be invited in. Sometimes there are traditional songs, an offer of hospitality by the people at home, or a rhyming contest. See for yourself how this tradition has recently been revived in a local school in Wales.
A spookier and more disturbing tradition comes from the Alpine regions of Germany and Austria. Perchta (plural: Perchten) is a folkloric woman, possibly related to the Goddess Holda, who visits homes between Christmas and Twelfth Night. She knows, like Santa, whether you’ve been naughty or nice. This crew of antlered Perchten is from the Tirol region of Austria, and is creepy, wonderful, loud, and decidedly ancient AND postmodern. Take a look.
A joyful Twelfth Night to you all.
This afternoon, while out walking, I stumbled across a house that had put remarkable energy into making it spooky-wonderful for Samhain/Halloween. The house, a beautifully maintained Old Portland from the first decade of the last century, looked better than I’d ever seen it look before. Check out the chimney.
Not so many years ago I assembled some magnificent pumpkins and corn on my porch, but these deceased climbers have made my decorative efforts seem feeble. There’s still time to come up with something deliciously witchy and worthwhile. How’s your porch or doorway looking?
The hawthorn tree in my front garden is laden with berries, and they are suddenly a dusky orange color. The leaves have begun to turn a bright yellow.
I live near an atmospheric old pioneer cemetery, and took a few photos as I walked through this afternoon in the chilly sunshine. There are old gravestones literally being swallowed up by a huge old tree. I wonder whether the coffins below are entangled in the roots.
Light your candles, invite the ancestors to your altar, and relish every day of this sacred season.
I’ve been going to Pantheacon in San Jose, CA over President’s Day weekend in February off and on for many years. Meanwhile, oh so quietly, another conference of interest has been putting down roots to the north: Many Gods West. It’s specifically a polytheist conference, so should be a good fit for my interests. This will be the third year for MGW, and I think it’s time I register and check it out.
Here’s the link to the conference website. I’ll probably stay at the conference hotel to keep the access simple. If we cross paths at Many Gods West, please come over to say hello.
Today I celebrated Winter Solstice in ritual with a close friend and long-time priestess. We worked with the Dagda, Brigid, and a number of the land spirits at Bru na Boinne, where the most exquisite thing happens at every winter solstice. A shaft of winter sunrise sunlight makes its way down the narrow stone passageway to Newgrange and floods the chamber with light. It happens only for a few days on either side of Winter Solstice each year, making it a rare and special event.
Charging the ogham staves.
Offerings to the Dagda.
And so we traveled there to work magic for personal and political ends. It is the house of the Dagda, so we sought his permission for our visit, as well as consulting the land spirits. It was a potent ritual for both of us, and has left us with a number of ideas, visions, and further ritual work to explore.
If you’d like to learn more about the Winter Solstice alignment at Bru na Boinne, this video provides further information.
Light is returning. Sleep well.
It is a few weeks since the Presidential election in the US, and I have determined not to recede into silence. While many in the mainstream media are saying, “give Trump time to make his political appointments,” and “wait and see,” I have seen plenty. The country is weeks away from passing into the hands of a narcissistic, ill-prepared, surly-tempered demagogue, and we are in serious trouble. So many of us are equating this election result with the rise of Hitler in Weimar Germany in the early 1930s. Our eyes are open, and we have the benefit of historical awareness, so we cannot be silent.
I’ve been thinking about the role of ritualists and magic workers in acting out, speaking up, and choosing to focus our will decisively. Let’s stand together for social justice and political sanity in the face of hateful and destructive rhetoric and actions. Street protests, calls to legislators, and keeping up pressure on the parts of government we can reach all have an important role. But we are ritualists–witches, seers, magicians and druids, to name but a few. Now is the time to draw on those skills to make social change and work the channels that we know how to work.
May the power of Brigid’s forge inspire us to action,
I’m just back from 3 1/2 weeks in England and Ireland. As is our tradition, we’ve built our trip around visits to long barrows, passage tombs, dolmens, cists, stone rows, and caves. Which brings me to my topic: How to Visit a Sacred Site.
(some of the books we used to plan this trip)
Doesn’t everybody know how it’s done? The sad truth is that I’ve seen some shocking behavior to avoid. But if you, like me, are a seasoned veteran at visiting important pagan places, there is always more to learn–especially about yourself–when preparing for a visit. Here is a brief summary of what I have found helpful.
- Plan, plan, plan before you go!
Some sites simply require that you walk up to the location and do what you want. Many of the bigger sites are now tourist attractions, and that means a trip to a ticket booth and a visitor center. It’s also fairly challenging to attempt to do ritual work while on a, say, 15 minute “in and out” tour of Brú na Bóinne. You might amaze the little kids with your invocations, but will likely rattle the adults around you. A wise soul will know, however, that there are plenty of quiet and important places within a short meander from the front door of the Newgrange burial chamber where you could engage in some full-on ritual without being distracted or causing a disruption.I recommend a short walk or trip down the road to the third of the three sites, Dowth. While access to Knowth and Newgrange is all managed by tour buses and visitor center access, you can walk or drive right up to Dowth, and while you cannot climb into the tombs, you can walk the mound’s perimeter, boldly priestess from the top of it (as I did just last week), and have a full ritual experience.
(my partner opens the creaky front door at FourKnocks)
Read widely and esoterically, so you know about the less touristed sites. Did you know that with some planning, you can (and I did) visit FourKnocks tomb by knowing where to go, and by phoning ahead to the elderly gentleman, Finton White, who holds the key at his home? We called Mr. White, had a visit, left our 20 euro key deposit, and walked away with the key to the great iron door of the richly decorated burial chamber. We had this glorious place all to ourselves, and enjoyed the zigzag patterns on the stones both outside and inside. Information like this tends not to be found in Lonely Planet or Rick Steve’s travel books. Do your homework, and you will yield rich rewards.
(inside FourKnocks tomb, where we were the only living guests)
- Bring a flashlight / torch
It’s good to carry a small torch/flashlight with rechargeable batteries when you make these visits. Even in broad daylight, it can be helpful to shine a light down a passageway to see what’s what.
- Bring an Ordnance Survey map
It’s a huge help to carry (and know how to navigate with) an OS map. For Ireland and the UK, we like both the LandRanger maps, which have a 1:50,000 scale, and the more detailed Explorer maps with the 1:25,000 scale. These can be massively valuable in helping you to locate hard to find sites in the countryside. They also carry markers for tiny, locals-only stone circles, tumuli, hut circles, Ogam stones, and other beautiful surprises you’d never know to watch out for. Here’s a snippet from a map of Dartmoor in S. Devon, England. Bet you didn’t know there was a ‘Crock of Gold,’ did you? Which leads me to my next bit of advice…
- Please don’t make a mess
I wish I didn’t have to write this. While visiting Loughcrew’s famous Cairn T this summer, a woman brushed past us in the tomb, pulled out art supplies, and began to do a stone rubbing of one of the beautiful, fragile, and highly decorated stones! I alerted the OPW staff, but should have called her on it directly. I’ve seen this sort of behavior before; about 20 years ago we visited West Kennet Long Barrow and witnessed the remnants of a bonfire inside the tomb. By all means, make offerings, but please ensure that they are small, biodegradable, and respectful of the site’s energies, and of its future visitors. I like to pour out some cider, sing or chant, trance or go into a deep grounding and listening place, or leave a tiny local flower from the field. Resist the urge to shove a piece of pink quartz from your altar into a crevice. It might feel meaningful to you, but you’re messing with the energies. For a little bit of information on offerings, check out Dvor’s recent post on the subject. Make your offering intangible.
- Photography and ritual are a bad match
When you arrive, why not put the camera away and take a moment to ground, focus, and tune in to the energies of the site? I have learned not to photograph a site until I have done the work that needs to be done, and then I consult how I’m feeling, and decide whether, when and how to take any pictures. Photography can be a distraction and a barrier between you and the direct experience of a place and its powers. See what you think when you tuck the camera / phone / device away, and let yourself be led by the power of a place.
That’s it. Enjoy your sacred site visiting.