Tag Archives: Witch

Monday Halloween Poetry Blogging


A Witch

~ William Barnes

There’s thik wold hag, Moll Brown, look zee, jus’ past!
I wish the ugly sly wold witch
Would tumble over into ditch;
I woulden pull her out not very vast.
No, no. I don’t think she’s a bit belied,
No, she’s a witch, aye, Molly’s evil-eyed.
Vor I do know o’ many a-withrèn blight
A-cast on vo’k by Molly’s mutter’d spite;
She did, woone time, a dreadvul deäl o’ harm
To Farmer Gruff’s vo’k, down at Lower Farm.
Vor there, woone day, they happened to offend her,
An’ not a little to their sorrow,
Because they woulden gi’e or lend her
Zome’hat she come to bag or borrow;
An’ zoo, they soon began to vind
That she’d agone an’ left behind
Her evil wish that had such pow’r,
That she did meäke their milk an’ eäle turn zour,
An’ addle all the aggs their vowls did lay;
They coulden vetch the butter in the churn,
An’ all the cheese begun to turn
All back ageän to curds an’ whey;
The little pigs, a-runnèn wi’ the zow,
Did zicken, zomehow, noobody know’d how,
An’ vall, an’ turn their snouts towárd the sky.
An’ only gi’e woone little grunt, and die;
An’ all the little ducks an’ chickèn
Wer death-struck out in yard a-pickèn
Their bits o’ food, an’ vell upon their head,
An’ flapp’d their little wings an’ drapp’d down dead.
They coulden fat the calves, they woulden thrive;
They coulden seäve their lambs alive;
Their sheep wer all a-coath’d, or gi’ed noo wool;
The hosses vell away to skin an’ bwones,
An’ got so weak they coulden pull
A half a peck o’ stwones:
The dog got dead-alive an’ drowsy,
The cat vell zick an’ woulden mousy;
An’ every time the vo’k went up to bed,
They wer a-hag-rod till they wer half dead.
They us’d to keep her out o’ house, ’tis true,
A-naïlèn up at door a hosses shoe;
An’ I’ve a-heärd the farmer’s wife did try
To dawk a needle or a pin
In drough her wold hard wither’d skin,
An’ draw her blood, a-comèn by:
But she could never vetch a drap,
For pins would ply an’ needless snap
Ageän her skin; an’ that, in coo’se,
Did meäke the hag bewitch em woo’se.

Picture found here.

Wonder Everywhere


I think that I saw a hyena this morning. In McLean, Virginia. McLean’s one of Northern Virginia’s more upscale neighborhoods (which is saying something), but that means that many yards have a woodland buffer between the McMansions on adjacent lots.

I stopped at Balducci’s on my way to work because today was the 25% off a case of wine sale. On my way back, an animal ran into the road and stopped traffic in both directions in order to grab some roadkill and, after being honked at by cars in both directions, run off into some brush by the side of the road. At first, from its size, I thought it must be a rather large fox, although it had the bright morning sun behind it and I couldn’t see too clearly. But it didn’t have a fox’s trademark tail and it had striped markings that I’ve never seen before on a fox. It could have been a coyote or a wolf, but the pictures I’ve looked at online make me think it was a hyena.

All day, as I read transcripts, made notes for briefs, and marked up cases, I kept remembering the animal, giving thanks for an early-morning encounter with something unknown. I can’t find any indication that hyenas live in Virginia; Kentucky seems to be the closest state with semi-verified sitings. But I am full of reverence for the manifestations of the Great Goddess that clean our roads and ensure that even random death serves a greater purpose.

May it be so for you.

Picture found here.

No Religion for Cowards

I was going to post something else this evening, but if you haven’t already read it, you should (trigger warning) go read the Wild Hunt’s post about a young woman who was, just a few months ago, tortured, raped, and murdered for being Pagan, for worshiping the old Goddesses and Gods, and for, of course, being a woman.

You can make a donation in her name to Doctors Without Borders.

Never again, the Burning Times.

Are You the Witch of Your Place?

The Witch of This Place

The Witch of This Place

If you are not the Witch of your place, who will be? Who is better suited to that job than you are?

If you are not the Witch of your place, of which place are you the Witch? What place are you waiting for? How long do you expect to wait?

If you do not arise each dawn and greet the powers, and spirits, and beings of your place, who will greet them? And how long can you stand for them to go unmet? How long do you expect to wait before you live in a place where you cannot imagine rising in the morning and not greeting the powers, and spirits, and beings of that place?

If you are not in relationship with your landbase, why not? What would it take to begin that relationship?

Picture found here.

Tuesday Night Poetry Blogging

Catechism for a Witch’s Child

~ J.L. Stanley

When they ask to see your gods
your book of prayers
show them lines
drawn delicately with veins
on the underside of a bird’s wing
tell them you believe
in giant sycamores mottled
and stark against a winter sky
and in nights so frozen
stars crack open spilling
streams of molten ice to earth
and tell them how you drink
a holy wine of honeysuckle
on a warm spring day
and of the softness
of your mother who never taught you
death was life’s reward
but who believed in the earth
and the sun
and a million, million light years
of being.

Picture found here.

hat tip: Hanging Garden.

Grounding with Fungi

The other day, Beth Owl’s Daughter, posted this amazing video:

I was struck by the role that fungi play in connecting trees and other plants. Fungi hunt for nutrients next to the roots of forest trees and the exchange that they enable, meters away from the trunk of the tree, provides for communication and a sharing of resources, even between species. I love the description of the process as similar to brain networks comprised of neurons where the neurons are related not only physically, but also metaphysically due to the manner in which they send messages back and forth and build upon each other.

I come back almost daily to a question that Sia Vogel gave as a gift: What Are Witches For? There’s, to paraphrase the Cowboy Junkies, more than one answer to that question, pointing me in a crooked line, but, for this Witch, the primary answer is that I am here to be in right relationship with and to my landbase and then to act upon that relationship. That’s a big assignment, but I work at it in little chunks.

A significant portion of my work involves really, seriously grounding here, into this ground, this specific Bit of Earth that surrounds my little cottage near the Potomac. I don’t mean the sort of generic grounding that we all do at a public ritual, at the home of a sister-Witch whom we’re visiting to perform a group spell, at an office, or courtroom, or car dealer when we need to work some instant magic. I mean running my roots into the soil that I’ve worked, and fed, and weeded, and handled for years and years. The soil fed with compost from the meals that I’ve cooked to share with friends. The soil that I worship with my bare feet in the Summer and that I rake free of leaves each Autumn. The soil upon which I stretch out to perform the Iron Pentacle.

I mean letting my roots re-establish connection with the roots of the ancient oaks that have grown here since America was young, with the giant magnolias that Landscape Guy and I planted and nursed along the Southern border of my woodland garden, with the lavender and sage blooming just now in the herb bed. I mean letting my roots play with the worms, and chipmunks, ants, and armadillidium vulgare that live in the ground.

Lately, I’m seeing if I can get fungii from the oaks, maples, magnolias, cryptomeria, lilacs, and calycanthus floridus to play with my roots, as well. After all, I want, in Joanna Colbert’s words, to be in on the gossip of my landbase.

What is your grounding practice like? What are you a Witch for?

(And of course, it is both synchronicity and lagniappe that the forester in the video concludes her discussion by invoking the metaphor of an ancient tree performing a “a passing of the wand.”)

Stop. Ground. Breathe. Return to Center.

Would now be a good time for you to stop, ground, take a deep breath, and return to your center?

Of course, the answer is, “Yes.” The answer is almost always, “Yes.”

Modern life can be, at the same time, both frentic and routine. And both conditions make it easy to forget who we really are and to ignore our connection to The All.

Being a Witch isn’t just about the connection that you feel when you can get away to the mountains for a few days or when you attend a festival or ritual. Being a Witch is about also about (I’d even go so far as to say “mainly about”) how you live in all of the moments, hours, days, and months in between. When you’re trying to herd the kids out the door in the morning. When you’re behind the most irritating young person in the world at the deli. When the program crashes the night before the report is due. When there’s only time for one: tv, catching up on chores, or your altar. (The best answer may be chores. I suppose it could, on rare occasions, even be tv. But a Witch makes a conscious choice, not one based on habit, or exhaustion, or advertising.)

One of the simplest ways that I know to remember who I am and to remember my connection to The ALL is to stop, as often as possible throughout the day, and ground, breathe, return to center. And then proceed from there.

One thing I do is to establish triggers that remind me to perform this simple practice. When the radio announces the time as I drive to and from work. When my phone rings. Whenever I look at the small dish full of succulents on my desk. When I gather my papers to walk into a meeting. When I turn the water on in my kitchen or bathroom. In a short time, it becomes almost automatic to give myself this gift whenever I experience one of my triggers.

Try starting with just one. When that becomes a regular part of your practice consider adding another one. It’s easy and no one even has to know what you’re doing.

Do you have a practice that helps you to be a Witch all day, every day? Do you use triggers?

Picture found here.

Thursday Night Poetry Blogging

Pot Macabre

~Donald (Grady) Davidson

“Press out an opiate juice
From berries culled in prick of June-time heat;
Pound nettles in a cruse
Of crimson sard till mixing is complete;
And strain the brew through bags of sarcenet,
Mumbling the runes that crazed Sir Dagonet.”

So spoke the slobbering witch,
Wagging her shaky head incessantly;
Then, with an agile twitch
Stove oddly crackling through the briery.
I caught the swish of her broomstick up to the moon,
And her tattered skirt afloat like a black balloon.

Old Witch, whither art gone?
Hopped off to the well like Chick-o’-my-Craney-Crow?
Here’s work for thy dudgeon,
A brew and a bake for a devilish calico!
What’s but a kettle ready for mad ferment,
Black mouth a-grin at me, the innocent!

I pressed and pounded duly,
And sat to watch the slop at bubble slow;
Fed coals with knots unruly
Of thornbush boles till pot-legs stood aglow.
And thrice the pot gave forth a piggish grunt,
And thrice a bellowing as of hounds on hunt.

A great red swine sprang out,
With bristling gleams as bright as Freyr’s boar;
Then, at his grubbing snout,
Two black dogs leaped, two white-fanged lusts for gore.
They three made hideous noise through brush and dew—
Trembling I stooped and strained the mulling brew.

And there was born a girl
Within a sudden mist wizardry,
And came some faint pipes’ thirl,
While she danced, with lips turned sly, and beckoned me,
And we danced mad till night’s low-burning wick
Snuffed out, hearing like us the Old Hag’s stick.

Picture found here.

A Ceremony for the Worms

Then the night came, like a ceremony.

~Christine Kane in “Now That You Know”

And, tonight, I sat at my altar for a ceremony of gratitude to the worms.

I came home from work in the lovely, lengthening light and planted the last of the Black Cat petunias, and datura wrightii, black hollyhock, and white foxglove seeds. More rain is promised for this evening and tomorrow, so I wanted to finish up the planting. Like the Spring, I’m early this year, although my goal is always to get everything in by Beltane. It feels good, for once, to be done ahead of schedule.

I sit down on the ground and dig the holes for my seedlings and seeds with a small hand trowel. I like that system because it brings me close to the ground and I can see exactly what’s going on. How much has the mulch from the last few seasons broken down and turned into good dirt on top of the red Virginia clay? How wet or dry is the soil? Does it smell like good loam? And, maybe most important, how are the worms? Worms do so much to make soil healthy and their presence is generally a good sign for gardeners. I’ve never seen as many as I’ve seen this year.

I’m grateful for their presence here on my Bit of Earth and I want them to know how welcome they are. I also know that I kill some when I dig into the ground with my sharp trowel. And I want them to know that I’m sorry. (Indeed, I’m sorrier than Dorothy Parker who wrote: “It costs me never a stab nor squirm to tread by chance upon a worm. ‘Aha, my little dear!’ I say, ‘Your kind will pay me back, one day.'”)

And so once my planting is done, I hold a ceremony of gratitude for the worms, sitting at my altar and sending my roots deep into their kingdom and telling them how much I appreciate them, how welcome they are here, how grateful I am for what they do. You can laugh, but my worms and I have a good, well, not talk, but a good communication. I apologize for the harm that I do to them and, in recompense, I rise and go outside to spread coffee grounds (Starbucks will give you pounds for free if you ask) all around the garden beds. Landscape Guy first told me how much worms like coffee grounds and he was right. They do. And so do the plants. I go back inside and sit again at my altar and say to the worms and all of the powers, and spirits, and beings of this place: “May we live in right relation to each other.”

And then I put lavender, rosemary, and peppermint in the hottest bath water I can run and soak my old muscles. The worms are limber and flexible. This old woman is not.

May you and your worms celebrate each other.

Picture found here.

Being a Witch in Liminal Times

If Katherine Graham is watching from the other side of the veil, she must be rending her garments over what’s happened to the Washington Post, for the integrity of which she once stood up to the threat of the most powerful man in the world who wished that she would “get her tit caught in a big fat wringer.” One of the Post’s few remaining lights is the Capital Weather Gang. This week, they’ve been writing, as my brilliant friend E called to my attention, about how truly intense global climate change was this past year. And everything they say is true, but all that I need to do is to step outside into my little cottage garden and see plants sprouting that “shouldn’t” sprout for another 75 days to know that, well, as Ms. Gale remarked, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Our planet is changing and we’ll all have to change along with her.

Responding to a question from her step-daughter about what would happen if our government were to “collapse,” Alison Leigh Lilly said:

“So, if the government ever collapsed, your job would be to be a good person, to have hope and work hard and do your best to help make the world a better place. To love others and believe the best of people and do what you can to make your community safe and happy, to support and help those who are vulnerable and strive to always be kind, compassionate and fair. All right? That’s your job now, and that will always be your job, whether or not there’s a government. It might get a little harder, or it might get easier. But the really basic truths of life don’t change.”

I don’t think you can explain it any more succinctly than that. (Must be the Druidic training.)

Ms. Lilly’s little girl has reason for concern. (Although I doubt that she’ll live to see the complete collapse of an entity known as the United States government. After all, Charlemagne was still calling himself the Holy Roman Emperor some nearly 400 years after the decline of the Roman empire. What she (and my G/Son) are likely to see is some form of government quite different from what we see today, but one that insists that it’s the same American democracy created by Jefferson and Adams. It may be worse. It may (I hope) be better. But it’s likely going to insist on a provenance that it may not entirely deserve.) We live, in the words of the ancient Chinese curse, in interesting times.

Interesting times are liminal times. As a devotee of Hecate, I have an affinity for liminal times, liminal spaces, the condition of liminality. Hecate, in my humble experience, doesn’t create magic or change. Instead, what She does is to show up at liminal times and in liminal spaces. When humbly and genuinely invoked, She can dance liminality into being. And it is liminality that creates the conditions in which change (provoked by magic, or by hard work, or by luck, or by love) can occur. She forks the road so that the two roads diverge in a wood and one can take the road less traveled by, and that makes all of the difference. (Actually, She’s a bit more complex than even that poet of complexity, Frost, could imagine. Hecate Trivia, Hecate of the Three Roads, generally creates a crossroads with (at least) a third road that would have given poor Mr. Frost even more pause. Because that’s how liminality works. It’s never either/or. It’s either/or/and/and/and.)

Some time ago, John Michael Greer, another Druid, wrote a piece that’s greatly influenced my thinking about America’s truly frightening (at least until Wisconsin and Occupy) response to the liminal times in which we live. He said:

That possibility [of a soft landing for our culture, as described by Lovelock] was foreclosed when the leaders of the major industrial nations embraced short term politics instead of meaningful planning in the years right after 1980. At this point, the resources that might have powered a transition to sustainability have been burnt [in order] to fuel one last orgy of conspicuous consumption, and the consequences of that final spree, combined with epic economic mismanagement and a good solid helping of chicanery and outright fraud, have tipped the industrial nations of the world over into what promises to be a long and difficult period of economic malfunction.

When familiar myths fail and life gets difficult, in turn, the results rather too often include a form of collective flight into fantasy well known to sociologists and students of history. Think of cargo cults, Ghost Dancers, Americans waiting in a suburban Chicago backyard to be taken off the planet by the Space Brothers, and every other example you recall of people responding to a difficult situation by a leap of faith to a farther shore that didn’t happen to be there. Now think about it again, remembering that this time the motivating factors may well include the symbols and slogans and passionate hopes that matter most to you.

The standard jargon for phenomena of this kind is revitalization movements. They happen when a society is hit by repeated troubles that cut straight to the core of its identity and values. In such times, when existing institutions fail and the collective foundations of meaning crack, there’s a large demand for some new vision of destiny that will make sense of the troubles and offer a way past them to some brighter future. The economics of popular belief being what they are, that demand very quickly finds an ample supply.

Revitalization movements, like new cars, come with standard features and a range of optional gewgaws that can be added on to suit the tastes of the buyer. The standard features include a thorough critique of the existing order of society, which is meant to show that the troubles have occurred because either the people who have suffered from them, or some other group that’s to blame for them, have misbehaved and are being punished; a vision of a Utopian future that will arrive right after the troubles if the right things are done; and a straightforward plan of action to make the transition from the troubles to the Utopian future. The problem is that the plan of action can’t actually deliver the goods; that’s what defines something as a revitalization movement rather than, say, an ordinary movement seeking social change. Revitalization movements emerge when all the practical options for dealing with a crisis are either unworkable or unthinkable.

The optional features range all over the map from the harmless to the horrific. A focus on purification, for example, is one common optional feature, but purification can mean a great many things. In the Native American revitalization movements of the twentieth century, for example, it usually meant abstaining from alcohol and other toxic products of white culture, and did a great deal to help First Nations communities begin to recover from the ghastly experiences of the previous century. In the European revitalization movements that sprang up in the wake of the Black Death, by contrast, it usually meant getting rid of Jews and other social outsiders who were blamed for spreading the plague, and helped lay the foundation for the witch hunting mania of the following centuries.

It seems uncomfortably likely to me that such movements could be set in motion by the emergence of peak oil as a publicly acknowledged crisis. Tendencies in that direction are already welded firmly in place in popular culture across the industrial world. The Sarah Palin supporters who turned “Drill, baby, drill” into their mantra du jour are engaging in incantation, to be sure, but there’s more to the slogan than a comfortable thoughtstopper; a great many of the people who mouth it believe with all their heart that all we have to do is drill enough wells and we can have all the petroleum we want, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get those wells drilled. That plan of action can’t deliver the goods; they might as well be out there with the cargo cults, building mock airfields on isolated Pacific islands hoping to bring back the DC-3s full of K-rations and cheap trade goods that landed on a hundred archipelagoes during the Second World War. Still, that’s not something they are likely to grasp any time soon; mere reason has essentially no power against a nascent revitalization movement.

The shift from incantation to revitalization movement is under way on the other side of the political spectrum as well, though it hasn’t generally gotten as much traction yet – a reminder that in America, at least, the ideologies of the left these days tend to be favored by the still relatively privileged middle classes, while the working classes that favor ideologies of the right have gotten the short end of the stick for decades. Still, the tendencies are there. Watch the conversations on most reasonably active peak oil forums, and you’re very likely to see people insisting that all of us, or at least a chosen few, can make the transition to a brighter future if only we follow some plan of action they are eager to share. In those conversations, the seeds of the revitalization movements to come are putting out their first tentative shoots.

If those seeds sprout and blossom, keeping a clear mind amid their heady perfume will be a more challenging task than I suspect most of my readers realize. What sets revitalization movements apart from the more incantatory activities of the true believers in progress or apocalypse is that revitalization movements actually buckle down and do something, and tolerably often, at least some of the things they do are worth doing. Hope is an intoxicating drug; hope blended with opportunities for apparently constructive action is an even stronger one; add the emotional lure of belonging, the promise of mutual support and encouragement, and the rush that comes from dropping ordinary concerns for the single-minded pursuit of a shared ideal, and you’ve got an addictive high that’s hard to resist and harder to quit. That’s why revitalization movements so often gather large crowds, and proceed to follow out the consequences of their internal logic to its furthest extreme, no matter how catastrophic the consequences might be.

In the present case, they could be catastrophic indeed. I think most people know in theory about the destination of the road paved with good intentions, but revitalization movements that go awry have a bad habit of putting that theory into practice. Next week, I’ll explore those uncomfortable possibilities in more detail, and in the process, show how the magical thinking that underlies revitalization movements could be put to use in much more constructive ways.

For the moment, though, I want to pass on the counterspell against incantatory thinking that I mentioned at the conclusion of last week’s post. Like the magic spells in fairy tales, it comes with a taboo that limits what you can do with it. The taboo is this: you can use it to guard yourself from incantations, if you think about it and understand it, and you can pass it on to someone else who’s ready to receive and understand it. If you give it to someone who’s not willing to accept it, though, it will cause exactly the flight into incantation and fantasy it’s meant to prevent. Here it is:

There is no brighter future ahead.

Keep it secret; keep it safe. We’ll talk more next week.

And, while I agree with Greer that the “good times” fueled by carbon that we couldn’t imagine expiring, aren’t coming back, I also believe, along with Ms. Lilly, that perhaps not so much will change. With or without regular electricity, with or without predictable planting cycles, with or without a central government, our job as Witches would still be:

to be a good person, to have hope and work hard and do your best to help make the world a better place. To love others and believe the best of people and do what you can to make your community safe and happy, to support and help those who are vulnerable and strive to always be kind, compassionate and fair. All right? That’s your job now, and that will always be your job, whether or not there’s a government. It might get a little harder, or it might get easier. But the really basic truths of life don’t change.”

A Witch’s job is to turn the Wheel. And round and round the Wheel must turn.

Picture found here.