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My thoughts about Traditional Witchcraft, Wicca, cooking, gardening, and anything else that catches my fancy.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Black Toad: A Review

I got my hardback copy of Gemma Gary's new "The Black Toad" last week. I have to say, I am very, very impressed and now consider it one of my "top 5" along with Doreen Valiente's "Witchcraft for Tomorrow,""Mastering Witchcraft" by Paul Huson, and Gary's own earlier work "Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways."

"The Black Toad" expands on some of the themes we saw earlier in "Traditional Witchcraft," but "Toad" reads much more like a how-to/practical grimoire and with less theory and history than "Traditional." It also contains many highly traditional charms, most of which are of the "dual faith" persuasion that was a hallmark of Cunning folk practice. In such cases the charms themselves (some of which are very old) seem to have Pagan origins but with Christian deities grafted onto them at a later date. Others are various Psalms which have been traditionally used for magical purposes. In my own practice I confess to having struggled with such workings; obviously, I do not consider myself a Christian. However, such spells ARE very traditional and have a lot of power behind them, and I usually go with what works and the Psalms tend to be very effective indeed.

"The Black Toad" is divided up into chapters according to need. The first part deals with power and protective magic, the second with wort-cunning, and the third with darker Craft aspects such as cursing and binding. There is a lot of new material that I have never come across anywhere else (I had no idea that Parsley had an evil reputation amongst certain regional folk!) and the book, in my mind, is probably THE most accurate glimpse into how the Witches of the past operated. I would not consider it a book for beginners; it's very much a guidebook for the working Witch well past the 101 stage. I consider it a must-have for anyone with a love of English witchery and traditional practices. The book itself is beautifully bound and includes many brand-new line drawings and photographs of Witchcraft artifacts and activities. Highly, highly recommended.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ode to a Nightingale

MY heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
’Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
And mid-May’s eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toil me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

-John Keats

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts"

I bought an old favourite of mine from my childhood called "Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts" by Edna Barth. First published in 1972, I came across this book in my school library when I was around 10 years old (not in 1972.) It purports to be a history of various Hallowe'en symbols such as Witches, ghosts, pumpkins, owls, etc. Actually, the history in it is terrible: it claims that the ancient Celts worshiped a God called "Samhain"and that organized covens of Witches existed back to the Stone Age! However, it's still an enjoyable read and as a child it was HUGELY influential on me because of how it portrayed Witches. This book was the first I ever came across that discussed the idea of the Witch Cult as a Pagan fertility religion focused on the worship of a Horned God. Clearly taking a page out of Margaret Murray's books, "Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts"offered a sympathetic, relatively positive view of Paganism and despite its flaws did give a fairly accurate portrayal of magical practices and the origin of the Witch's  broom, cauldron, and familiars.

Prior to this book, the only Witches I'd managed to read about had either been portrayed as fictional or Satanic. To find out that there was (by this time, anyway) a Pagan religion based around Witchcraft that offered a more joyful and organic alternative to Christianity was  a huge "ah ha!" moment for me. This was one of the first times that my own feelings and beliefs had been validated, and I cannot overemphasize the effect this had on me. The rest of the book, which goes into detail about owls, toads, and cats as well as the history of trick or treating, is also a fun read. Above all, the book is very atmospheric and is definitely a good one to read in the Hallowe'en season.

I've been spending a lot of time recently tracking down copies of the first Witch books I came across as a young person, and I'm finding that I was very lucky to have come across the works I did. Such books definitely had a huge influence on me, and to this day I still draw upon the spirit of them even if some of the history wasn't always the best.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A New Acquisition: "Qutub: Or, The Point"

I managed to buy a decently priced copy of Andrew Chumbley's "Qutub" from a friend. For those who don't know who that is, he was an occult writer known for his lavishly illustrated books about what is known as Sabbatic Craft. He died years ago at the early age of 37 and his books, which were already sought after and costly, skyrocketed in price as they were only printed in small batches one time. It's not uncommon to find copies available on Ebay or similar for up to $1000.

I've barely had a chance to look at the book (which, by the way, is my first of his) but it's clearly a challenging read. Written in the style of a long, continuous poem the concepts within are couched in heavily symbolic language and an affected writing style. The book itself is quite small, but clearly it's going to be a time -consuming endeavor to both read and comprehend it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Traditional Folk Music

I've been getting more and more into the music of the past, so I thought I would share a few links to what I've been listening to recently. In the past I was a punk rock kid, but these days I'm much more quiet and laid back. Most of these songs have  at least some relevance to the Craft. Not all of them are  "old," but all are in a traditional style. (Sorry for the wonky lay-out; it won't let me arrange them the way I would like.)



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Coming Soon: Besom, Book, and Wand....The Shop

As some of you may know, I've been talking now about making a long-distance move to the Pacific Northwest.  I am not at all happy in Texas, and I've  got the chance to move with a friend  to Washington state. This should be happening within the next few months.  In related news, I've  been considering now for a while opening my own little online Witch shop. I've hesitated because there are already so many amazing ones out there, but I've decided to try and will offer a smaller selection of Traditional magical tools and supplies. It's all in the planning stages right now, but I should have a concrete plan around the same time as my move.

In other news, Gemma Gary's new book should be shipping out tomorrow. I'm SO excited about it;  I've been looking forward to it for months.  It's very hot here, as ever, and thus I've spent much of my time indoors. Unfortunately my poor plants have more or less died from the terrible climate, so I won't be doing any more gardening until I move to the new place.