Wytchenwood Interview with Patchouli Tea

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Well this is a first for us; we have done an interview with the wonderful Katie at Patchouli Tea. We’ve always declined to do them in the past but we love this website and we were very happy to talk to Katie. If you’d like to read it, here it is: https://patchoulitea.net/…/24/an-interview-with-wytchenwood/

We hope you enjoy it and especially Patchouli Tea!

Winter Queen

Blackthorn Goblins Cross

Druids Bones

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Our Mistletoe Gift

The lay that is no lay calls for a tree

That is no tree, of low yet lofty growth.

When the pale green of autumn casts her leaves

My leaves are freshly tufted on her boughs.

When the wild apple drops her goodly fruit

My All-Heal fruit hangs ripening on her boughs.

Look, the twin temple-posts of green and gold,

The overshadowing lintel stone of white.

For here with white and green and gold I shine –

Graft me upon the King when his sap rises

That I may bloom with him at the years prime,

That I may bind him in his hour of joy.

The fae of frost and ice have arrived here at last; the hedgerows are white with frost, the trees sparkle in the winter sun and Mistletoe hangs in glistening bunches of gold and silver.

We have been very privileged to be gifted a huge amount of Mistletoe this week from a good friend of Wytchenwood. He has custodianship of an ancient apple orchard that nestles at the base of our local iron-age hillfort and it was necessary to remove some of the Mistletoe from the trees; this will be shared between us and the local Mistletoe Society (more of that later).  When dried, the wood of the Mistletoe looks like old bones because of the “knuckles” at each end and so Mistletoe is also know as Druids Bones by us.

There are many types of Mistletoe around the world but Europe’s Viscum Album is the original from which most traditions are based upon. It is the only Mistletoe that has very distinctive forked branches with paired symmetrical evergreen leaves, the white berries and the beautiful golden colour it assumes with age.

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The gold of the Mistletoe and the white berries

Mistletoe is very sacred and Pliny wrote about how the Druids of these isles revered it, especially that which grows in an Oak tree. According to Pliny, the Druids would go out in search of the Mistletoe when one of the Elders dreamt of it; if no dream came, it was a very bad omen indeed. Once they found it, they would return on the sixth day of the Moon, then the chief Druid would set about cutting it from the host tree using a golden sickle or knife because to touch it with iron would be to profane it. Beneath the tree, the other Druids held a piece of white cloth or a white cloak to catch the Mistletoe as it fell; if it touched the ground it would be worthless as all the sacredness and magical virtues would be defiled and lost.

Once it had been caught, they would take it back to their groves where rituals and rites were performed for the gift of the Mistletoe and then with great ceremony, sprigs of it would be handed out to the people who would hang it over their doorways and animal dwellings.

It was believed that by doing this, the home and animals would be protected form all evils; sickness, witchcraft, fire, thunder and lightening and it would even ensure fertility. No wonder it became known as All Heal, one of the folk-names for Mistletoe.

Mistletoe is very much revered if it grows in an apple tree or a Rowan tree around here and so did the local Druids; there are quite a few local legends about the Druids and as we are in the heart of “Apple Country”, the legends of the Druids associate them with the apple trees.

In Norse mythology, the Goddess Frigga had a son named Baldr who was the best loved of all the gods. Frigga loved him so much that she wanted to ensure that no harm could ever come to him and so she set off through the world securing promises, that they would never harm her beloved son, from everything that sprang from the four elements; fire, earth, air and water. But Loki hated Baldr and so he devised a way of killing him. Loki realised that there was something that was not of fire, earth, air or water; it was the Mistletoe. It has no roots in the earth yet grows, it is not in the air because it is anchored to it’s host tree and it is not of fire or water; it is between the elements, so he made an arrow from the Mistletoe and gave it to Holder, Baldr’s brother who was a keen hunter but blind. Loki guided Holder’s hand and directed the arrow at Baldr’s heart where it hit and Baldr fell dead.

Frigga’s tears became the white berries of the Mistletoe but Baldr was restored to life by the gods and they dedicated the Mistletoe to Frigga and gave her control of it as long as it never touched the ground which was the domain of Loki. Frigga, in return, made the Mistletoe a symbol of love, friendship and goodwill and promised to bestow a kiss upon anyone passing beneath it.

This is believed to be the origin of the tradition of hanging Mistletoe from the ceiling and kissing beneath a sprig of Mistletoe. In Scandinavia, if enemies met beneath Mistletoe, they had to lay down their arms and hold a truce for twenty four hours, again reinforcing the Mistletoe as a plant of peace.

In Greek mythology, heroes were granted passage to the underworld so long as they carried the Golden Bough.

Today Mistletoe is still revered and is a necessity of the Yule and Christmas evergreen decorations, although still not welcome in churches; only Holly and Ivy are allowed in them – still far too pagan for the likes of the clergy!

It is hung up in our homes and the traditional kisses still take place beneath it; for every kiss claimed, a berry is removed and the kisses can either strengthen the existing bonds of love or instigate and bless a new relationship. Also it has been used for centuries as a formidable love-witching ingredient in magical powders.

It is considered by many to be very bad luck to bring the Mistletoe into the house before Christmas eve and when it is brought in, it must be hung up immediately. When the festive season is over, a sprig of Mistletoe has to remain in the house until the next Christmas eve, when a new sprig replaces the old one; this sprig that remains in the house for a year is believed to ensure good luck, good health and protection.

Burnt Mistletoe is added to charm bags for good luck and in France, a bag of burnt Mistletoe is carried when conducting business or handling money for a good outcome. Also in France, the Mistletoe is called the “Spectre’s Wand” as it was believed that with a bough of Mistletoe, it was possible to see spirits and to command them.

In England, Mistletoe is still sometimes burnt in the fields at New Year to ensure a good harvest.

When worn, it is believed to ward off sickness and is hung on bedposts for a good night’s sleep and for pleasant and magical dreams and preventing the “Night Mare”; on the beds of children, it is believed to stop the Little People taking the child and leaving an Elf-Child in it’s place. It protects the wearer from baneful witchcraft and averts evil, while women often carry it for aid in conceiving.
For centuries it was hung in the dairy to protect the cattle and the milk from witchcraft and the malicious “Little People” or from witches spoiling the milk and the butter.

The Mistletoe was not supposed to be cut from the tree; it is supposed to be blown out by the wind, knocked out using sticks or stones or better still, it was advised at one time to climb a tree where a Magpie had it’s nest. Once near the nest, you were supposed to annoy the Magpie so much that it would fly around in such anger that it would knock the Mistletoe out of the tree.

Mistletoe is still so special to us in our locality, that there is a special National Mistletoe Day. This day is held on the first Saturday in December and a huge Mistletoe fair is held. Mistletoe is brought to the fair and an auction is held for it; buyers come from hundreds of miles around to buy it. The town is decorated with mistletoe sprigs and all it’s variations; photographs, drawings and paintings of mistletoe and mistletoe embroidery.

There will a crowning of the Mistletoe Queen and the Holly Prince who will reign for twelve months.

Some of our Mistletoe will be used for the Solstice decorations and the rest will be carefully air dried and then used in powders, incenses, charms and oils. I think we will have enough to last a while!

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The forked stems and the symmetrically paired leaves

A Rite of Moon and Passage

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August brought a full moon and a lunar eclipse which according to astrologers and soothsayers, was to herald the beginning of new phases in life. For some, the changes from old to new were to be dramatic, for others, more gentle but these things take time and not all of us will know what these changes are to be yet; however, some of us will already have glimpsed what those changes may be.

This significant lunar event coincided with a notable event within the Wytchenwood family. During that same week, I (Mother Wytchenwood) celebrated a significant birthday and I crossed a threshold into a new phase of life. So our full moon rite would be something extra special, marking extra special circumstances.

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Making our way to the ritual ground

We set off to the wooded slopes of the Iron-Age hillfort that we use for many significant rites. We walked and climbed, carrying what we would need and found a wonderful spot surrounded by Hazel trees, Oak trees, Holly trees and Hawthorn trees and within sight of ancient tumulus. We laid out the area and made a makeshift altar from a tree stump and a large stone. We marked out the circle with ash collected from the fires of previous rites (these ashes are gathered from the fires of rites and mixed and kept as they hold the magic and power of all the rites they have been a part of, each new rite adding its power, memory and magic to the mix) and all was ready just as the sun was setting on one side of us and the moon was rising on the other side; there we were, between the most glorious sunset and the most magnificent moon rise.

As we began we were acutely aware of the sounds around us; the cry of the buzzards overhead, the first calls of the stags below us, the Swifts out for their last meal of the day, the rabbits stirring the undergrowth and the crows cawing raucously as they headed for their roosts. We could feel the energies of the trees around us; the Oaks sturdy and strong yet ageing and wise, preparing to sleep, emissaries of the God. The Holly young and full of vibrancy, getting ready to take the helm through the winter months. The Hazels, watching, guarding and enclosing our rites. The Hawthorns proud, regal and emissaries of the Goddess. The ivy, twisting, undulating and containing our sacred space.

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The sun setting as the Moon rose

As our rite progressed, the sun set and the Moon rose high, suspended dazzlingly in a royal blue sky surrounded by the glistening jewels of the stars. The power of our rite increased as I felt the shift from one phase to another, both in the landscape around me and the landscape within; I truly was moving across a threshold.

As the sky changed from vibrant pinks, purples and blues to the dark hues of a late summer night sky, we became conscious of the sounds around us changing too. The cries of the Buzzards had given way to the calls of the owls, the Swifts had handed the baton of the night to the bats, the undergrowth now moved slowly and purposefully with the weight of the badgers as they left their setts and the trees sighed from time to time from the gentle breeze. But still they stood, watched, guarded…. and approved.

Towards the end of the rite, I dis-robed and allowed the Moon to bathe me in Her lustrous light. I met the Lord and the Lady of witchcraft as I now am. As the person I have become and allowed them to see me in all honesty; they accepted me..

At the end of the rite, we all felt that we had certainly moved forward into a new and different phase but me, I now knew that I had and the Lord and the Lady had helped and guided me on to my new and ever turning path; a mantle had been passed to me.

By the remaining candlelight, we packed away our belongings and returned the area to how we had found it, leaving no sign of the momentous occasion that it had witnessed and been a party to. As we returned the way we had come, the night became stiller and quieter; the bats had stopped flitting overhead, the badgers had moved off and all we could hear were the owls as if proclaiming their sanction on the activities of the night.

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A Rite of Passage

Hollantide

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crowsIt’s that time of year again when we say goodbye to the summer and enter into the dark half of the year; Samhain roughly translates as “end of summer”. It is also the end of the year, or it used to be and the time when we officially end British summertime by turning the clocks back one hour and so truly sending us into darker months.

The Dark Goddess takes over the responsibility of looking after us, along with the Holly King; the Holly King and the Oak King having had their fight for supremacy and the Holly King having won the crown for now.

We will celebrate Hollantide (Hallowtide) in many ways on many days – we’re not satisfied with just one celebration, oh no, no!  If there’s an excuse to celebrate more than once, the English will take it! Lets face it, our culture is rooted in rowdy drinking, feasting, celebrating and fighting – so, any opportunity to indulge and we’re there (though hopefully NOT the fighting…!)

 Trick or Treat as we know it today didn’t really happen here until the eighties, after films such as Halloween had hit the cinemas; it’s a relatively new phenomenon really and certainly not liked by all who either see it as demanding goods with menace or else see it as an American bastardisation of our traditional hollowed out turnips and “souling”, that should have been left over there.

Prior to this, we had All Hallows Eve which the church imposed in the 7th century to try and oust the older, pagan customs of Samhain. Now, on All Hallows Eve it was the custom for children especially, to go from house to house begging for Soul Mass cakes, (souling) which were a type of oatcake and in return they would pray for the souls of those who had died during the year. The children would wear masks and carry hollowed out turnips with candles in them to scare off the ghosts of the earth-bound spirits that were believed to be abroad on this night, allowing the soulers to go about their business unmolested.  In some villages, the fear of earth-bound spirits and malevolent earth spirits, hobgoblins and Wee Folk was so real, that people went in-doors at sunset, closed the doors and shutters and stayed there until morning, not daring to venture out unless in absolute emergencies.

The English were only too pleased to go along with this because if they were still adherents to the old ways, it allowed them to carry on their observances of honouring the dead without raising suspicion. The cunning folk of England were (and still are) wily buggers; the church thought it was replacing older customs and bringing the people into the new religion but all along the people were finding ways of carrying on under the very noses of the church. Because of the times of the witch-hunts and the times of the puritans, it became common-place among the cunning to observe dual faith; they would adopt the church festivals that had been imposed on their own but instead of praying to the new god, they quietly mouthed the names they gave to their own deities. They had no problem attending church services because most churches were built on ancient power sites anyway and it was the energy they were interested in, not the building. The churches even had a North door (known as the Devil’s Door) built into them to allow the “Heathens” to enter, thinking that once they were in, they would convert; the old folk just smiled as they’d got yet another one over the church because they had always entered their sacred sites from the North and the church had very nicely accommodated their cultural heritage again. Whilst attending services and being seen to honour the new festivals, they kept suspicion of witchcraft away from themselves and so it worked quite well.

There has always been a tradition of honouring the Ancestors in Britain. It is Belas Knap2believed to have started with the Hyperboreans that are supposed to have inhabited these isles before the Druids and then was carried on by the Druids themselves. The ancestors have a unique view from the world of spirit and so have much significant knowledge to share with us. They are also the repository of ancient, tribal and lineage knowledge that is passed down to us through the ages, for fear of it being forgotten and lost. We have carried on this tradition right into modern times through various avenues and guises.

So, Samhain was our old New Years Eve, the time when the dark returned and the night of the year when the veil between the worlds is thinnest and so allowing the souls of the dead to return. But it was not originally on October the 31st, it was originally on November 11th; it only changed dates with the introduction of the modern calendar. But we at WytchenWood will set an extra place at the dinner table on Thursday 31st October and welcome the ancestors and those recently passed-over to come and join us. We will play the traditional games of conkers and apple-bobbing, followed by love divinations with the apple peels and the candle in the mirror.  Young girls used to go out into the garden or fields just before midnight to see the wraith of their future husband; they would pick a cabbage on the stroke of midnight, at which point the wraith would appear.  Or they might pick nine sage leaves on the first nine strokes of the witching hour for the same outcome.  If the girl was not destined to marry, she would see a coffin instead.  Another custom around these parts was death divination.  People would pick ivy leaves and write the names of family and friends on them, one name per leaf and then put them in water overnight.  The next morning, the leaves would be examined for coffin-like marks on the leaves and the person whose name was on that leaf was said to be destined to die before the year was out.  Then at the end of the evening, we will leave food outside for the spirits that come passing by, as we wouldn’t want to risk causing any offence to them.

Participants carrying flaming torches during the Bonfire Night procession in Lewes 5 November 2008All Hallows Eve started to decline however as the Catholic church declined and so we needed another outlet for our “Heathen” practices. Thankfully a chap called Guido Fawkes supplied just the occasion; he tried to blow up parliament in 1605 on November the 5th and gave us an excuse to have huge bonfires, burning effigies and fireworks in commemoration. This worked even better because we could return to the yearly tradition of having fires lit, dancing around them and passing livestock and the ill through the smoke to rid them all baneful energies and bring in health, luck and even fertility. The feasting began again and so did the drinking and again, all without raising suspicion of what we were really up to. We still love our Bonfire Night on the 5th November and we climb the holy hills, eat drink and be merry around a blazing fire where we work our magic and make ready for the coming year. We also welcome the ancestors to come and join in the festivities and be merry along with us. So all of us at WytchenWood Towers will be off to another fun gathering around a huge fire on the 5th November.

 

Witch BonfireBut then comes the real night of Samhaim; November 11th, the date before the calendars were changed. In modern society it is still recalled as the night of the dead in it’s modern epithet of Armistice Day or Remembrance Day when we commemorate the armistice signed by the Allies and Germany at the end of World War One and honour all of those that fell. This is when we at Wytchenwood shall really celebrate Samhain and our Ancestors according to our family tradition.  This is when we shall truly work magic and celebrate the ending of one year and the beginning of the new year. The rites on this night will be the solemn rites appropriate for the time of year and all that it signifies. We shall welcome and converse with the Ancestors of the tribe, the land and the locality. We shall divine for knowledge that will see us through the coming year and we will honour and thank the Ancestors for their guidance and care. This is the night of true magic, witchcraft and the Sabbat!

A Night to Behold!


Tonight saw the full moon after last nights lunar eclipse. A lunar eclipse was not seen as a good omen in centuries past and so we stayed in and went about our usual business. But tonight we climbed to the top of the ancient hillfort (once the home of the druids and ancestors) to take in the full beauty and power of the lunar energy; and what a night it was!12038323_883254281762390_800610717657589690_n

As we climbed, the air was filled with the scents of the apples and fruits from the wild fruit trees. Below us, the smoke from autumn fires wreathed across the landscape and merged with the creeping mists that were swathing the fields. The sun began to set and as it touched the horizon it burst into the most brilliant of reds, scarlet’s and orange colours. The whole of the sky turned from pinks to reds and we found ourselves surrounded in a blood-red haze. As it sank lower, falling beneath the horizon in the west, the moon rose from the horizon in the east; it glowed orange and red as it rose. We found ourselves standing directly between the blood-red of the setting sun and the red of the rising moon and it was as if they were giving a huge light display, bursting forth with the last of their summer energies; going out with a beautifully colourful bang before clothing themselves in the colours and energies of winter.

We reached the summit and as the last of the sun disappeared beneath the horizon, the geese flew overhead; their silhouettes against the deep red that had leached out and spread across the whole of the horizon, their calls loud as they went. In this part of the country, this signals summers end and the beginning of the colder months and it was as if they were joining with the sun and the moon in announcing the end of summer.12042968_883254955095656_10616682764915141_n

Now it was dark, the sunset gone but the moon rose higher and lit up the hillfort. As we stood in wonder, the owls began their songs; one after another sang out into the clear night. The bats flew over and around us and the deep resonant call of a stag rose up from the woodland below, announcing the beginning of winter.

The summer Wee Folk were scarce; already they are busy finishing their business and packing away ready to re-enter the hollow hills for the winter but the Wee Folk of winter have not yet arrived and so there was a strange quiet from the Good People.

The ancestors were standing in a ring around the summit and in groups on the earthworks beneath; all watching and saying their farewells to the summer and giving voice their welcome of the winter.

There are still some pleasant days to come but those days will now have the bite of winter in them and we feel immensely blessed to have witnessed such an awe-inspiring transition and to have been allowed to be a part of it.

Michael Howard – A Sad Loss

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Michael Howard

1948-2015

A Sad Loss

Michael Howard

Today, the news has broken of the sad passing of Michael Howard. Michael was the editor and owner of “The Cauldron” magazine since 1976 and published some of the most wonderful articles on magic and folklore. I remember the early ones; A4 papers stapled together! Nonetheless, they were the beginnings of some of the most informative articles that ever appeared and the magazine became the UK’s foremost journal on folklore, magic, witchcraft and paganism.

He was also intimately involved in the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle and helped to add and preserve some of the most treasured artefacts that are now housed there.

Michael also wrote many wonderful books including The Witches Herbal, West Country Witches and Pillars of Tubal Cain; just some of the many he authored, each one a labour of love and scrupulously researched. In total, he wrote over thirty books.

Michael was also a great friend of Andrew Chumbley and had strong links to the Cultus Sabbati.

He passed in Devonshire surrounded by family and friends after a short illness.

He will be greatly missed

within the magical community

and without.

The Feast of Avalon

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The autumn equinox is here and the autumnal mists have arrived, along with the drawing in of the nights and that special autumnal scent emanating from the hedgerows; this year they are especially bountiful.

The harvest festival is celebrated by many around the 21st September but in reality, the harvest begins at Lammas with the grain harvest and continues right through until December, when the last of the apples are harvested.

Locally to us, the harvest very much incorporates  apples and hops and with this harvest, there are a lot of traditions incorporated and played out.  Cider apples that have not fallen or been blown down by the wind, are knocked from the trees with Ash poles and taken to the presses.  In years gone by, the apple juice was cloudy to begin with and was fermented in huge barrels with the addition of meat (pork or beef), rabbits and or quantities of blood to provide the nitrogen to feed the yeasts.  It was believed that cider should only be made on a waning moon because to do otherwise would cause the drink to become sour and undrinkable.

Up until around 60 years ago, most farm labourers were paid in cider, with the average allowance being four pints per day.  It was customary to pour a little of the cider from your allowance onto the ground as “a drap to the owd mon” (a drop for the old man).

The importance of the cider apple tree was such that it was considered most unlucky to cut one down and it is still within living memory that farmers would throw the placenta from their cows into the branches of the cider apple trees as a fertility charm.

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The importance put on the cider apple and the customs associated with it, caused the Bishop of Hereford to complain and in response, “Hell in Herefordshire” was published in Punch:

“The wild white rose is cankered along the Vale of Lugg, There is poison in the tankard,there’s murder in the mug;through all the pleasant valleys where stand the palefaced kine men raise the Devil’s chalice and drink this bitter wine.

Unspeakable carouses that shame the summer sky take place in little houses that look towards the Wye; and near the Radnor border and the dark hills of Wales, Beelzebub is warder and sorcery prevails.

For spite of church and chapel ungodly folk there be who pluck the cider apple from the cider apple tree and squeeze it in their presses until the juice runs out, at various addresses that no one knows about.

And maddened by the orgies of that unholy brew, they slit each others gorges from one a.m till two. Till Ledbury is in shambles and in the dirt and mud where Leominster sits and gambles the dice are stained with blood.

But still, if strength suffices, before the day is done, I’ll go and share the vices of Clungunford and Clun, but watch the red sun sinking across the March again and join the secret drinking of outlaws at Presteign.”

The other great harvest was that of the hops (There is definitely a drinking theme around here…) and this began in August and carried on until mid September and we still have the hop fields but mostly mechanised nowadays.

With the hop picking, another tome of traditions danced in attendance and the two main ones were “Cribbing” and the Hop King and Queen.

Cribbing was the act of throwing any male stranger to the hop field being seized by the women hop pickers and thrown into the cribs (Bins made from wood and lined with sacking for the holding of the hop bines).  The unfortunate stranger would then be buried under the hops and only released when he had kissed all of the women and given them money for a drink.  There were some overtly sexual overtones to these practices, in which the women take the lead and are afforded much more freedom than they usually enjoyed in a type of role reversal; it therefore seems probable that these practices held onto the older fertility rites of harvest.  At the end of the hop picking season however, the unmarried women were thrown into the cribs. but they were allowed to retaliate and throw in their molester if they could.

On the last day of picking, the last and best pole of hops was hoisted.  A king and queen were chosen from the hop pickers and the pullers caps were decorated with rosettes, dahlias, asters and sprays of hops, then a procession was formed, with the head pole-puller walking in front of the last load of hops to leave the hop yard.  Behind this, followed the King and Queen; the woman dressed as a man and the man dressed as a woman, making it’s way to the farmhouse.  Headed by the busheller beading his metal measure to a drum and followed by the pole-bearers, sack holders and the pickers; once at the farmhouse, a feast was prepared and the farmer and his wife were toasted.  Again the roles were reversed and it is probable that this was to underline that at this time the boundaries of the worlds were blurred.

We still decorate our kitchens with fresh hops and enjoy their wonderful aroma filling the house and look forward to all of the forthcoming alcoholic beverages!

Other harvests that were important were the nut, acorn, gorse and bracken.  In some areas, bracken and gorse were harvested; the bracken for thatching and the gorse for fuel, starting on 1st September and it was forbidden for any to be cut before this date.  So, on the evening of the 31st August, the harvesters gathered on the Commons to await the chiming of the church bell at midnight whereupon the families would claim and mark out their area.  The following morning, they would all return to start the harvest.

Mid-September brought the beginning of the nut harvest; hazelnuts and acorns.  Acorns were gathered to be sold to farmers for winter feed for their pigs and sheep.

The harvest that is not mentioned so much these days, especially by the modern pagan, is the Blood Harvest.  In the days leading up to Samhain, the surplus livestock were slain so that the meat could be preserved to feed the family through the winter and it saved on having to find yet more feed for the animals.  Only those needed for the next year were kept.

Because a lot of farms and business around here still rely on the apples for the cider and the hops for the beer, harvest time is still very important to us and is far from a token gesture to mark the turning of the seasons.  It is real, it is vibrant.  And with this reality comes a chance to view our own personal harvests; have we done enough this year to see us through the winter?  Is there anything that we can add to the Blood harvest, anything that needs to be slain and cut out of our lives?  Have we reaped the rewards for our labour, both good and bad?  Because the equinox is a time of balance and the harvest may well give us both good and bad – abundance and scarcity.  It is a time of bringing in but also a time of getting rid  At the end of the harvest, we can decide what worked best for us and what did not and make plans for the next year in accordance with these insights.  For all of the abundance we have reaped, it is a time to say “thank you” and a time to wonder at the magnificence of nature and Her capacity to provide.

 

‘hærfestlice emniht’ and Michaelmas

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We are now at the autumn equinox where once again the days are held in balance before the dark wins; ‘hærfestlice emniht’ being Old English for Autumnal Equinox  The harvests are nearly done and the hedgerows are full of fruits; sloes, hips, rowan berries, elder berries, hawthorn berries, quince and of course, crab apples to name but a few! We at Wytchenwood have been very busy harvesting the hedgerow fruits and our cupboard is well stocked with bottles of Elder Rob (elderberry cordial) and rosehip syrup.

We now start to turn inwards and take a look at ourselves.  The magic we work takes on a different hue and a different way of working.  The “sight” begins to increase again and the Wee Folk begin the job of packing up their belongings ready for their retreat back into the hollow hills for the winter.  The spirits of the land begin to change too; as we go into autumn and then winter, they become the harsher “no-nonsense” teachers and guides who do not suffer fools gladly.

But in less than a week it is also Michaelmas and to the rural folk, it has always been important and is still marked today with fairs, merriment and traditional activities.

The Michaelmas daisies are out in full colour now and looking beautiful. A local garden has such a wonderful display of them, the owners open the gardens to the public at this time of year, just for everyone to be able to enjoy the Michaelmas daisies they grow there.

Michaelmas daisies growing in abundance in a local garden.

Michaelmas daisies growing in abundance in a local garden.

Michaelmas Day is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, celebrated on 29 September but Old Michaelmas Day is October 10th and is traditionally the last day of the harvest season.

The harvest season used to begin on 1 August and was called Lammas, meaning ‘loaf Mass’. Farmers made loaves of bread from the new wheat crop and gave them to their local church. The custom ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church, and nowadays we have harvest festivals at the end of the season near Michaelmas Day.

Michaelmas Day is sometimes also called Goose Day. Goose Fairs are still held in some English towns, but geese are no longer sold. A famous Michaelmas fair is the Nottingham Goose Fair which is now held on or around 3 October.

A Great custom in England was to dine on goose on Michaelmas. One reason for this was said to be that Queen Elizabeth I was eating goose when news of the defeat of the Armada was brought to her. In celebration she said that henceforth she would always eat goose on Michaelmas Day. Others then followed her lead.

On the day after Michaelmas, every year agricultural labourers presented themselves, along with their tools, at the nearest market town. There they offered themselves for hire for the coming year. A fair followed the hirings and this was called a ‘Mop Fair’.

Farm workers, labourers, servants and some craftsmen would work for their employer from October to October. At the end of the employment they would attend the Mop Fair dressed in their Sunday best clothes and carrying an item signifying their trade. A servant with no particular skills would carry a mop head – hence the phrase Mop Fair.

Employers would move amongst them discussing experience and terms, once agreement was reached the employer would give the employee a small token of money and the employee would remove the item signifying their trade and wear bright ribbons to indicate they had been hired. They would then spend the token amongst the stalls set-up at the fair which would be selling food and drink and offering games to play.

Michaelmas Day is celebrated on the 29th September but Mop Fairs were tied to the seasons and the harvest, not the calendar. When the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752 and 11 days dropped from that year events associated with the end of the harvest moved 11 days later to the 10th October. This date is known as “Old Michaelmas Day” and since 1752 has been the date Mop Fairs take place.

Tewkesbury Mop Fair is the largest street fair in Gloucestershire and one of the oldest fairs in the country, that takes place annually on October 9th and 10th. Earliest records so far date the origins of the fair to the 12th century.

Mops are still held in some English towns and usually last for 2 days and take over the centre of the town, they attract thousands of visitors.

Michaelmas weather-lore, beliefs and sayings:

He who eats goose on Michaelmas day shan’t money lack or debts to pay.

If St Michael brings many acorns, Christmas will cover the fields with snow.

Folklore in England holds that the devil stamps on bramble bushes or as they say in some areas, spits on them. Therefore one must not pick blackberries after Michaelmas.

The reason for this belief has ancient origins. It was said that the devil was kicked out of heaven on St Michael’s Feast Day, but as he fell from the skies, he landed in a bramble bush! He cursed the fruit of that prickly plant, scorching them with his fiery breath, stamping on them, spitting on them and generally making them unsuitable for human consumption. Legend suggests he renews his curse annually on Michaelmas Day and therefore it is very unlucky to gather blackberries after this date.

Sorry For Being Away


I feel an apology is due for our absence from this blog for such a long time, so “Sorry!” BUT we are back now and we will be back to regularly updating and adding our thoughts, ramblings and experiences for anyone interested enough to want to know  🙂

We have never stopped working away at our craft, we just found it increasingly difficult to live the way we do and keep up with social media; it’s not easy when you live half of your life outside in nature and the other half indoors crafting magical items and working for people in need and times of trouble – things like social media tend not to come into the equation!

However, after receiving feedback off some lovely people that we have met in the virtual world, we have decided to try again and share what we can as often as we can.

So, if you are still with us, “Hello!” and we are looking forward to sharing with you again.

From all of us at Wytchenwood.