My Dears: I was just cleaning my ritual room.
I was pretty agitated through this substantial task, because the whole big thing was a train wreck. Chaos fest.
So as I gathered up and put away every jar of herbs, every vial of oils, every pen and bit of paper, the random charms and spilled garden soil, crystals, feathers, and stray poplar buds, I realized, “It got this way because magic was afoot.”
Big magic in my wild world doesn’t consist of perfectly painted or chalked out symbols on a mysterious, immaculate temple floor or hooded, robed people chanting the ineffable names of who knows what, wreathed in candlelight and swimming in the smoke of rich incense.
While that does sound kinda fun, that’s not what big magic looks like in my kingdom.
Big magic looks like herb bits everywhere, and a candle dripping wax over there on the altar…
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In my defense, I really don’t have any defense. I have been in my house for a year and one of the best things that just enchanted me is that I have space for a garden. Last year my kids and I took that piece of hard baked dirt and made some rickety flower beds with herbs and strawberries, and a few attempts at veggies and some tomatoes that crashed their cages because they got so big. We also overdid it on the pumpkins that took over the garden along with a gigantic moonflower plant that I’m pretty sure was inhabited by fairies or something. It was magical like fairies themselves came in and helped the plants grow. We were on fire with our green thumbs (most information supplied by google) and the plants thrived beyond my wildest dreams. We spade turned that garden over and over to get the weeds out, all summer long. My son is a hard worker and I was on board for the fun of being with him, and having our mission and because truly, it did feel like a secret cottage garden.
This year, I want it to be just as much fun and we’ve planted stuff but the weeds are just so fricking bad that I did the unthinkable: I used weed killer. Yes, I’m supposed to be an earth-in-tune magical person who can work with the land and yadda yadda but those damn weeds were just not going to give up. I mean I turned the whole thing with a spade. I even got an energy star battery garden cultivator to help. We did
a good job and then POW it rained and it looks like hell again. So I did it. I sold my soul to the modern world and sprayed some of the worst offenders with weed killer. I did avoid the sprays with some of the worst chemicals that I know harm bees and animals and people too for that matter. The one I used is less potent and acts in a different way than blasting it with roundup or something. That means the killer is much slower and the weeds are mocking me and may survive. Some of them look like they could eat children or small pets. (They will outlive us all.)
But really, there’s just so much open ground in there in between the planted areas and that open ground is full of crazy mutant greens.
So, someone should take away my witch credential or secret decoder ring or the witch badge or whatever it is we have when we’re magically legit because it turns out I’m just a weed-spraying suburban woman who is just desperate to get to the enchanted part of the garden season and whose back isn’t prepared to keep turning that soil and raking the demon weeds out.
Don’t tell anyone. I’ll try harder. Maybe if I put a fairy house in there, it will make up for it?
If you’re a non traditional religious person, whether cunning folk, witch, assorted pagan, nature spiritual, etc, who do you call upon when you’re afraid? Mainstream religions have their God to pray to. I’m not saying that non traditionals are not also another faith too or don’t have gods to reach out to. For example, many of us are just very diverse Christians or something else. Where do you draw your comfort? I find the holy in our natural world, but it’s a different sort of holiness. Not very pastoral, just constant and unwavering which is a virtue too in its way. It’s not going to pray with me, but it will hold me in a different way I guess.
I’m sitting in a waiting room with a lot of unknowns and no one I really feel I can pray to. I call upon the power in the land which is also in our bodies, to strengthen me- but truth be told, it’s not helping much. So here it is, very real, and it turns out I’m not immune to fear.
Outside is the golden display of Autumn, constant and unwavering, and that’s worth something. It’s worth everything .
I was thinking about something tonight. It’s dark. If I could see the sky through clouds, a slender crescent moon would be hanging in it, like a delicate necklace on the perfect complexion of night.
As it stands, all I have is the clouds tonight, and the soft sound of the tree frogs. They were louder in early spring, but I can still hear them if I open my windows. I think about the idea of holding nature in such wonder. If I had always lived surrounded by countryside, it would be as mundane to me as the sound of traffic.
But “nature” is this place, like a magical theme park, that I feel apart from, instead of entwined with. Tree frogs, like magic, are singing out in the field for me and my children. It feels special and different and new.
I think that I must have gotten awfully far away from the wild for a very long time, to look so forward to sundown and the sounds of the night. If I had never gotten caught up in the urban world, artificial light, artificial people, and concrete, I suppose sounds from the trees and fields wouldn’t seem so very magical.
So then I wonder, was it a good thing, that I was so caught up in decades of being inside my own head and just
trying to survive the world? Maybe I could not have truly appreciated the peace of the green world unless it was taken from me for a while (or I set it aside for a while. My own fault.)
I wonder if it will be like that with the rest of society too. We have gone so long living apart and aside from that which is not man-made that when we encounter the simplest thing- a sunset, the sprouting leaves on a birch tree, a hawk, or a muddy creek flowing fast from spring rains under the viaduct, we can grow entranced by it.
If we have gotten far enough from the natural world, maybe we can turn to it sometime, even by accident, and finally appreciate it enough to preserve it, like a jewel we found in great grandmother’s dresser drawer in an attic we forgot about.
Maybe our alienation had to happen, for us to remember what treasure we have ignored, and crave to grow close to it again. I don’t know about any of that for certain. I just know that after a long day of anxiety or despair in the world of men, there’s the sunset, and tree shadows, the sound of an airplane that I will ignore, and the tree frogs.
I’ve been unwinding new discoveries over time, while digging in folklore and actual old transcripts of what books could be found of folk remedies in Scotland and surrounding areas. As I have done so, I’ve discovered lots of fun things. First, much to the great chagrin of a lot of neopagans and self described witches, a “witch” was not necessarily what people now try to reframe as the folk healer and do-gooder of old. They weren’t particularly considered good people. They had their uses, to be sure, but overall not necessarily some utterly benevolent soul, innocent child of nature that 20th and 21st century pagan folks keep insisting they were. They could do good, surely, and they weren’t afraid to do harm either. There were cunning men and women and fairy doctors and general do-gooders; in charge of solving problems like curses and hexes from actual witches or ill inentioned faery folk, and who were in charge of medicine for the community, midwifery, and random other wise-people stuff. In my digging for actual herbal folk remedies, I came across a couple of names I was less familiar with. There’s the spaewife, which I had heard but didn’t know much about, and then the Cailleach-chearc, or henwife, about whom I knew nothing. Both have their places in Scottish legend and folklore, and in history too.
The Spaewife could render cures, or medicines but was also thought of as a seer, teller of futures, and such. She might live a little bit on the fringes of society. If you were under a hex from a witch or malefic being, she probably had the skill set to solve that little problem. She wasn’t a witch herself, precisely, but a close and more benevolent approximation. Close enough, I should say, to get herself burned, between 1500 and 1700 in Scotland. Then there was the henwife, or Cailleach Chearc, who I find completely interesting. A wife, probably mother, and certainly a mother to the community, this woman was a domestic, home keeping woman with her poultry and her household and her baking, and she just so happened to be able to dispense medicine, folk cures, a few charms or spells, and some wisdom about womanhood to girls about what a wedding night was going to be like, or what to do about morning sickness. A henwife might really annoy the local priest but may have been a little less likely to be targeted for a burning, I think. Both figures fascinate me. If you wanted to know if your husband’s ship was going to make it through the storm or if he was going to die, you probably go see the spaewife. Likewise, if you think a witch has made your cow sick, or made your husband infertile and you need that hex lifted. If you need something for your ear ache, or a charm to handle that problem with your husband’s tendency to drink too much or stare a little too much at the younger wife next door, the henwife is probably who you go see. The two of these add up to what some 20th century (and after) people think witches were, and how they see themselves now.
For my part, I felt some connection to both, having a great deal of Scottish blood running in my veins. I have attributes of both, as well. I can do some of what both of these figures can do, though not all.
As a child of this modern world, if I have a serious medical condition, I’m heading straight for my local physician. There’s no doubt about that for me and I don’t feel less magical for that. However, I do see a place for the spaewives and henwives of this world, though we probably don’t call them that anymore.
Below are a couple of blogs that just touch on these topics, just for your reading entertainment. They have some more information, and some references. You can find a lot more bits and pieces if you dig around google, and a lot of them take you to texts of folklore, and a few bits and accounts from people still living, who knew the name of a person who served this way in a local village where their grandparents grew up. I saw one photo in my browsing, of a woman’s grave marker along a women’s history exhibit, with her title “spaewife” inscribed below her name.
Tonight, I gathered the herbs I needed, steeped them in a big bowl of boiling water, with plenty of salt (of course) and climbed into my shower once it cooled. This was not going to be a leisurely “soak in rose petals” moment. The herbs were green and brown and earthy and some are even bitter. A friend of mine hates a couple of these herbs He says they smell like “dirt,” and that’s probably true. Graveyard dirt, he says. There’s no graveyard dirt in this particular recipe but I take his point. This kind of spiritual bath is not meant for leisure, or beauty, as much as solving a problem. I’ve done many of these before. However, this time I paid attention how I felt during the process rather than just after. There was this moment when all of a sudden it was like a burst of fresh air came into my
body, and it was blissful. It’s a little bit like the part of a workout that sneaks up on you after the cardio is hard and you keep pushing but you want to quit- that endorphin burst that fills the body with pleasure and new energy. That happened, while I stood there in the shower working clingy and thick bits of roots and leafy crumbles out of my hair, salt stinging my eyes a little where it snuck in, clumps of herbs slowly losing their grip on my slippery skin and hitting the shower floor. As it all washed down the drain, I felt like a hand tightly squeezing me just sort of let go. I haven’t always noticed that, and maybe it’s because I didn’t pay enough attention. In some of these events, it just hasn’t happened. Maybe those are the pretty baths with the jasmine and hibiscus flowers, where it’s pleasant but it’s not a hard working sort of bath. I know that the world of spirit is unable to be measured and we really can’t show how it all works, but when it works and I pay attention, I feel it, either in my body or mind. This time, I felt it in my body, and it spread the peace to my mind.
I don’t recall experiencing anything like that feeling in prayer. I will have to ask some of my Christian friends if they do. Perhaps it depends on the type of the prayer. There are perhaps pretty jasmine and hibiscus prayers, that feel nice, and provide peace of mind, and that’s all they’re meant to do. Then maybe there are “down on your knees in the dirt and loam” sort of prayers, that strip you clean and take the tight bands of pain off of you. I don’t suppose it really matters
how it gets done, whether in prayer or in a spiritual wash, as long as it happens. For my part, I like my flowing water and simple salt, and herbs from our green world who leave behind the scent of the wild places in my hair, even as I lie down upon my pillow.