Old Spells – Weather Magic

Onwards we go with the collection of magical practices from witch trials between 1455 and 1850 in Austria recorded in “Anthropology from Criminal Proceedings of the Austrian Alpine Provinces With Special Consideration of the Magic and Witch Trials 1455 to 1850”
Was it love Magic last time, we shall explore “Weather Magic” in this blog post. Like with any Magic, influencing the weather requires quite some precision in terms of formulating one’s intent, and one can rather easily evoke unintended consequences. It’s said that all Magic has its price, so when messing with something that big, one can quite easily be way over their head. Just remember how the German poet and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe elaborated on this in his poem “Der Zauberlehrling”, where the Sorcerer’s Apprentice uses Magic to help with his chores, only to lose control over said Magic, causing a huge mess instead of his goal, to clean up the house. The line:

“Those I called upon, those spirits
“I can’t get rid of now”

has even become the well known cliché “The spirits that I called”.

That said, one could definitely study these methods, and expand (or alter, where necessary) them to help their community when faced with weather situations that cause harm to people, animals, and the land.

As mentioned in my intro blog to this series , this is just to create an interesting overview of how folk Magic was practiced between 500 and 200 years ago, and should not be read as literal instructions to follow. Some practices require materials that are either no longer available (skulls from a graveyard). Other records describe practices that could pose health risks. Rather than an encouragement for you to follow these practices, these examples are a reflection of the times when they were used.

Also, a warning: The language in which these records are penned to parchment is often crude, vulgar, and by no means politically correct. I kept these expressions as they are. The statements of the accused or witnesses, or the terminology chosen by the individuals recording them, do not in any way reflect the opinion of this author.

From the “agreeable” [without torture] and then “painful” [with torture] interrogation of Margarethe Wilhalbm, shoe maker, at a trial in Styria, 1585:

The Sabonickhin [another witch] and the other members [of the witch flight] where flying with her; she used the feathers of a chicken she had plucked on Fat Tuesday and three stones and the water from the creek nearby for her Magic and the following words: “onwards and against nothing, on the wide street where the crossroads are”. Then she and the black Caspar [the devil]**) rode on a crooked stove pipe, with three men flying upfront. Soon thereafter, the gruesome weather***) brewed over the land.

*) This is a variation of the widely used spell to lift off and fly (on a broom stick or oven pipe), a practice that assures that one doesn't bang against obstacles and gets to the place one intents to.

**) Whenever you read that the accused witches admit to doing something with the devil -- and just riding a crooked stove pipe is one of the more lukewarm tales -- you can pretty much assume they admitted that under torture, or at least after being threatened with (more) torture.

**) That particular weather situation was the topic of this trial, as it was often the case that witches (and even non-witches) were accused of causing a particularly devastating weather and these situations were then referred to in the interrogations and sentencing. The next record also talks about a particular weather situations known to the community where and when they happened.

Witch trial against Margareta, the wife of Martl [Matthias/Matthew], accused of making weather; Biberstein, Carinthia, Austria in 1591:

[She didn’t make] the great hail storm from two years ago, but the next one that came up [the valley] from Gnesau. She and her two companions first took a bath in the Gurk [the local river], all three of them naked, and she poured the river water over herself and her three companions. They also buried bones there back then and soon a weather with rain and snow came.

Great witch trial against Christoph Gostner zu Sexten, innkeep, in Brixen, Tyrol. From the interrogation on 21 June 1595:

He mentions he couldn’t possibly know how often he fended [off bad weather,] but whenever he saw the thick and black weather coming close, he fended it off and pushed it back behind the highest mountains, where no rooster caws, no farmhand mows, no oxen lies down, no flower blooms, so that nobody suffers any damage.

*) During the whole trial, chaired by the infamous Henricus Institoris, author of the Witch Hammer, Gostner was able to proof that he always used Magic for the benefit of his community and always invoked Jesus and the Christian trinity (and not the devil) in his spells. And thus he went free.

It seems to me that the part "[I] push it back behind the highest mountain..." is actually the spell, or part of the spell, Gostner used to send bad weather away from his community

Witch trial in Gmünd, Carinthia, Austria in 1603:

Agreeable interrogation of Luisa Neuneger and Hans Träxler about weather-making and dealings with the devil

Last Good Friday, she [Luisa] dug up some soil at a crossroads [lengthy description where she did that near the town wall gate of Gmünd], and later threw such soil into the creek near the Laimbkhoffl farm as follows: she walked barefoot through the creek three times back and forth, throwing the soil with her left hand behind her back into the water, all the while saying: “As it is true that I throw the soil into the creek, as shall be true that the rain should fall on the property of Ruepen Gamper”.

While this particular spell seems to have been an act of revenge, it certainly could be used in cases of drought or wild fires to attract rain.

From the filing by Abraham Hilgartner against the beggar *) Hans Träxler:

As he [Hilgartner] and his companions walked on the public road towards the town, they met there a poor man who called himself Hans Träxler, who smashed his staff into the muddy puddle, which they all observed and thought it was done for a strange reason, yet not for this alone, but also for the motion of the water in the puddle. They asked the beggar in all seriousness how they should understand what he is doing. Thereupon Hans admits that he wants to cause a rain shower on the farmer Steiger’s property so that the farmer cannot bring in the hey – quite an amount of fodder. And the reason for that is because the farmer, who let him [Hans] stay over night, gave him bad food for dinner and the next morning for breakfast.

Again, Hans' rainmaking ritual is an act of revenge, but that is just the reason for the intent. If the reason was, for example, to put an end to a drought or a wild fire, it would be absolutely permissible to "smash one's staff or walking stick into a mud puddle".

*) Since Hans is a beggar, he neither has a cauldron nor a home where he can boil water and throw herbs into it, and where he could stir the steaming water to cause rain clouds to form. All of which is a well-known ritual to make rain. For him, the mud puddle on the side of the road will have to make due.
"Begging" -- which was less asking for money, but meant vagabonding from one farm to the next, asking for shelter in the stables and barns and for food -- was the "welfare-system" in those days. After the 100 and 30 years wars, many veterans, often wounded and no longer able to work, formed beggar parties and travelled around the countryside, often intimidating farmers to help them. They have heard a lot of magical things wherever warfare brought them and had quite a repertoire of magical practices. Yet they wouldn't be considered witches.
At the same time, people with disabilities and widows also often had no other way to survive, yet they didn't enjoy the "benefit" of being a part of a unruly bunch of war veterans. So they often were accused of wielding Magic, especially if the cows fell victim to diseases (and gave bad milk) or bad weather came around right after such a beggar stayed at the farm for a couple of nights. At the same time, witchcraft was often the only thing such "beggars" could resort to, to either make some money with herbal remedies, find treasures (quite a business model back then), or to threaten farmers if they were not willing to give them shelter and food.

Grand witch trial in Althofen, Carinthia, Austria in 1644:

From the interrogation of the beggar Pograz Summer, co-accused in the trial against Hans Winkler, aka Magic Hansl:

A number of people, amongst whom was the Achatz Wusogger near Guettaring, taught him that he should obtain a skull and put it into a water well. He did exactly that. Thereupon it rained the next night. After the rain, he brought the skull back to the grave yard.
He also reports that the earlier mentioned Wusogger told him to take two sticks, hit the surface of water with them, and say, ” rain, rain rain” and thereupon rain should follow. He did that and it rained soon thereafter.

*) Obviously, taking skulls, or anything, really, from a graveyard, is illegal.

Forming clouds by creating steam in a kettle, or hitting water with sticks, is known as analogue Magic -- the former creating "clouds" and the latter imitating raindrops hitting water.

From the agreeable interrogation of Sebastian Praitbrenner and consorts for practicing witchcraft and sodomy:

He says that he threw clothes lice [bed bugs?] into an ant hill and soon thereafter it rained, which he practice often.

Witch Trail against the beggar Stefan N. for weather making and dealings with the devil in Spittal, Carinthia, in 1666:

“Isn’t it true he can make weather?” – ” He can for sure.”
“How does he when it should rain?” – “He does nothing but bathe in the lake.”
“In which lake does he bathe?” – “In the Ossiacher and Millstätter lakes.”

Here, we might just witness one of those trials where a farming community tries to get rid of a beggar by accusing him of punishable offenses. Often, the court preyed on the superstitions of the accusers as well as of the accused to get to guilty pleas.

Witch Trial against the beggar Simon N. for dealings with the devil and weather making, in Strassburg, Carinthia, in 1666:

In the agreeable interrogation, Simon admits that he can do some, but not much Magic, and in particular he can make rain:

He would smoke [fumigate] with Valerian and stinging nettle, also pussy willow, majoram, and [black] powder, he would also add droppings from wild boar piglets, and he would ask the house guest Agnes Grien to participate.

While the invitation of Agnes might just be because she was a witch, too, and not because it was needed for the smoking ritual, it was also common for people accused of witchcraft to snitch on others in the hopes of a better outcome in their own court proceedings.

Witch Trial in against Mathias Perger aka Lauterfresser near Brixen, Tyrol, in 1645

It’s been more than two years ago when he stayed with a Bavarian woman in Teffereggen, when bad weather came about. Thereupon, the Bavarian woman took a shirt that was worn by a child at its christening and hung it on a fence post, which is good against bad weather. And the weather stopped moving. Folks in Toldern [Tyrol] belief the same thing.

It is not advisable to wash clothes on Fridays, because when one wears a shirt that was washed on a Friday, they have to be afraid of the weather.

When he wanted to make wind, he took a pipe and put into it a needle that was used to sow together a shroud and the tongue of a [non-poisonous] snake into the pipe and spoke the following words, “come, come, eastern wind against the mountain”. And soon thereafter came the wind.

To make sure a brewing storm cloud doesn’t come down on one’s fields, he would bury a knife with its heel in the soil and the blade sticking up, the sharp edge against the weather. When he removes the knife, the weather would come down where it is.

This is a practice that I have already used successfully once because heavy rain clouds threatened to drown out a big Fall Equinox rite. One has to be very careful to bury the knife in a place where no one is going to walk around, and mark it well so people don't step on it.

Witch trial against Hansl from St. Veitsberg for witch flight, alliance with the devil, and making weather; in Paternion, Carinthia, in 1658

Furthermore he says that he, when farmers asked him to during dry times [a drought], took a trough filled with water, put in three hot stones used in soap making, and put it all under the open sky, whereupon it rained soon. He had learned that from farmers and the sacristans do it as well.

We're learning about analogue Magic again here, for the hot stones will heat the water so that steam evaporates from the trough. Such simple Magic was apparently well known amongst farmers, another group often accused of witchcraft, usually by jealous other farmers.

Admission to practicing witchcraft by the baker and innkeeper Georg Hollerspacher in 1674:

[…] Admits that he, in the night of the Three Wise Kings [Jan 6, aka Perchtlnacht *)], which they also call the rich night, collected bread crumbs and other leftovers from meals into a new pot and placed all that on the pasture before sunrise the next day. Thus he fed the wind so that it does not cause any harm to his land and properties all year long.

*) This is the last night of the Rauhnächte in the Alps, ending the proper time of the Winter Solstice. It is said that, during that night, the Mother Percht (a form of the Goddess in her winterly crone stage) visits people's homes. Traditionally, one would deck the table with white linen and place bread and a glass of milk on it so she can take a rest from her travels.

Such were the practices of old to make rain (mostly) and to either move weather somewhere else or halt it altogether. Again, Magic needs to be applied responsibly, for what one would like (beautiful sunshine all year to attract as many tourists as possible could cause serious harm to farmers and live stock.

More Magic in Alpine traditions can be found in my book “Mountain Magic”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Waiver: Some of these practices can be, as we know nowadays, harmful or even deadly, and could violate laws. The author is not liable for any damages or negative consequences from any treatment, action, application, or preparations, to any person reading or following the information provided in this blog article.

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Old Magic – Spells on Love and Marriage

Here is the first collection of magical practices from witch trials between 1455 and 1850 in Austria recorded in “Anthropology from Criminal Proceedings of the Austrian Alpine Provinces With Special Consideration of the Magic and Witch Trials 1455 to 1850”.

They are all related to either making someone love or marry another, or the opposite.

As mentioned in my intro blog to this series , this is just to create an interesting overview of how folk Magic was practiced between 500 and 200 years ago, and should not be read as instructions to follow. Some practices require materials that are either no longer available (items from a hanged thieve) or are highly unethical to get (ripping the heart out of a living chicken). Other records describe practices that are health risks. Rather than an encouragement for you to follow these practices, these examples are a reflection of the times when they were used.

Also, a warning: The language in which these records are penned to parchment is often crude, vulgar, and by no means politically correct. I kept these expressions as they are. Often enough, the terms have evolved in many ways, and what they called a “whore” in mediaeval times might be considered a normally sexually active woman today, or simply someone who had sex before marriage — which the Church, who tried these witches, thought of an act making a woman not eligible for marriage. The statements of the accused or witnesses, or the terminology chosen by the individuals recording them, do not in any way reflect the opinion of this author.

Grand witch trial in Innsbruck, Austria, in August 1485, presided by the infamous Henricus Institoris, author of the Witch Hammer:

Klörle [Clara] Lienhart, a witness, tells the court why the crone named Fenden taught Ms. Raichartin what to do to make someone love her daughter:

The old Fenden taught the Raichartin that she should climb up the gallows and take something that belongs to the thieve [hanging there] and when a man touches a woman carrying these things on her, he would have to love her. The Raichartin learned that because she has a daughter whom someone got pregnant, and he didn’t want to do anything good to her any more.

Another interrogation in the same trial:

Ennli Forsterin has put a big [wal]nut half covered with leaf gold under Hanns Lamp’s pillow and since then he is no longer gracious to his wife and wants to beat her and he now is in love with and clings onto Ennli.

Interrogation of multiple witnesses:

Old Ms. Rendlin is also accused because she wanted to first hex Cristan Engelsperger and then forgive him; hex him because of love and because she thought that he loved another more than her. She killed three minnows in her vagina*) and ground them to powder with other materials, to give him.
Another time she put powder, in which many little bones laid, into an envelope and gave it to a person called Steinil and told her to throw the powder between the tradesman and the girl Magdalena, Wolfgangs wife.

*) WARNING: fish carry a slew of bacteria such as Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae on their skin, and these organisms would spread manifold in any (!) body cavity, causing infections and even death. Trying this practice at home can seriously harm or even kill you.

[Author's note] Unfortunately, this record is utterly confusing, and it's not clear what the "other materials" are or what is in the "powder". It is also unclear, if throwing the powder between two people makes them fall in love with each other, or the opposite. Clearly, the court and the scribe knew who the people mentioned by the witnesses were, and about their relationships to one another, so hey didn't bother recording these details.

Sworn affidavit by Martein Graff:

Greta Kolers has hexed Martein Graff so that he is no longer gracious to his wife and also that he hasn’t found any sleep for two weeks. And he is sure she did that because he once wanted to force her to help him*). She was his mistress back then and thought that he will marry her and because he took another woman, she said: “I will give you an illness.” Then Greta found a little spider in her bed and wound three different linen and wool threads around it, and took those and the hair from a person and weaved that and some of her pubic hair into a cord from a coat he [Martein] has been wearing for two years now, after she had borrowed the cord and given it back to him after a time.

*) It is not explicitly said, but "help him" in this context may mean "having sex with him".

Testimony by Elizabeth, wife of the tailor Heinrich:

From Els Heiligkrützin, the sacristan’s sister, the people learned that to hex a man so he has to take [a particular woman], they have to buy a black hen as it is offered [i.e. without heckling] and they should take the heart from the still alive bird and put it between their secret end [the vagina] and give it the man to eat*).

*) WARNING: Raw meat, particularly chicken, can carry salmonella and other bacteria, which can infect any (!) body cavity and cause serious and even deadly infections, and food borne illnesses as well. Trying this practice at home can seriously harm or kill you.

Witch trial near Brixen, Tyrol, Austria in 1645:

Mathias Perger [the accused] has learned from a gal, and also from a little book [grimoire] which Jacob Gasser gave him, that if a guy is in love with a gal and wants to get her, he should take a tree frog*), put it into a little box with holes, burry that in an ant hill and run away. On the 9th day he should go back there and he’ll see that the ants have eaten the frog, except for the bones. There will be one bone that looks like a hook and another one that looks like a fork**). The girl he is in love with, the man should touch her with the hook on her naked skin; the girl he doesn’t want, he should push her away with the fork touching her naked skin.

In the little book we [the court] have heard about is also listed the craft where someone takes a needle with which a shroud has been sown together and puts that into a vessel into which someone takes a piss so that the person using that pissbowl will no longer fornicate.

*) Please abstain from killing tree frogs, generally, and be aware that they may be a protected species in your area, making this practice illegal.

**) This bone may have only two tines, as forks back then did.

Witch Trial in Gutenhag, April 1667

Interrogation of Margaretha, Phillip Sodtler’s girl:

When she [Margaretha] went to the meadow, Janscho Pollonez’ daughter called her and asked her for some of her daughter’s hair, some of the lace of her dress, and a tassel from her belt. When Margaretha asked the woman what she wants to do with these items, she said she wanted to make it that she [?] can’t marry and will become a whore.

Interrogation of Agnes, daughter of Janscho Pollonez:

She [Agnes] admits that she asked Margaretha for the tassel of her [M.’s] daughter’s belt, but she has lost it since. When asked what she wanted to do with it, Agnes said that her mother had heard from Nescha, Manfred Schollamun’s wife, that she could make it so that the person who owns them will become a whore and will never get to marry.

It is not clear here, who the person is that is supposed to be hexed, or if it is the same person in both interrogations.

Such were the practices of old to get a person to love another, to force people to break up with each other, or to keep them from cheating. All these methods seriously interfere with the free will of those that are so hexed, can be harmful to the person practicing such Magic and to the person on the receiving end. Please exercise your best judgement!

More Magic in Alpine traditions can be found in my book “Mountain Magic”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Waiver: Some of these practices can be, as we know nowadays, harmful or even deadly, and could violate laws. The author is not liable for any damages or negative consequences from any treatment, action, application, or preparations, to any person reading or following the information provided in this blog article.

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Old Magic — A Collection of Spells and Rituals (Intro)

After an eventful summer, which culminated in a fantastic visit of the Emerald Island, Ireland, I am back at Druidry, Magic, and blogging about it (although my Druidry was by all means an integral part of my travels through Eire).

With the kids out in off the grid camps in the woods of Vermont, where they had to forage for their own food on the camp farmland, cook over fire only, and bathe in creeks with bio-degradable soap, I had time to do everything from cooking to gardening more intensely, more purposefully. And that also included reading through social media feeds.

One common thread I noticed particularly on Magic group chats was a continuous inflow of requests for spells for all kinds of situations, for love and for when love was betrayed, for money and jobs, for healing an ailment and sometimes for pure revenge.

Why old spells and rituals

The suggestions for spells in the responses to the inquiries were of course as valid as any. Yet they are more or less modern, and sometimes require modern equipment. For example, any freezer spell today would suggest to use a freezer, unless you live somewhere where ice occurs naturally. And in many places where it does, you’ll only have it to your disposition during the cold time of the year. In other words, mediaeval folk didn’t do freezer spells, yet “halted” people with various methods. But still, it is rather likely that these more modern spells may in fact be way more applicable for you today than what I am planning to gather over the next few months. I just think it’s beneficial for anyone practicing Magic to know how it once was done. One difficulty with these old practices is that they often require props in the ritual that are really hard to get these days (e.g. parts of the ropes that were used to hang people, or pieces from the wood of the axe used by the executioner for decapitations, from the wood of the gallows, or, as described in this record from 1666, a spoke of a breaking wheel (a versatile and deadly torture instrument) were often used as talismans:

This piece of wood [spoke of a breaking wheel] is priceless, if one is lucky enough to get hold of it. Seldom do people regret to have one. One cannot put a spell on the person or make their wine go bad in whose house that wood can be found; no lightning can strike. The one who carries one, no thieve can mug them, which has often and many times been proven. Also in whose house that wood is, no thieve can steal nothing.

Why the sometimes weird language?

The original texts are in the German from the period when the court records were created. Since that covers a time span of approximately 500 years, and German has changed significantly since then, I could have chosen to translate the texts into modern English. I could not have chosen to translate them into old English, for I am not educated in that. But…there is something about this old way of expressing oneself that actually lends an additional layer to the Magic. It does not make the Magic stronger, but somehow the way folk talked about these practices reveals a lot about how they thought.

Why also spells that can harm?

The responses to these “Does anyone know a spell for “x”?” questions are usually “Don’t do that”, “Definitely do that”, and mentions of spells. Here, I am not going into the Do or Don’t discussion. I have written about what I think about responsibility when wielding Magic in a number of posts already. In this series of blogs, I intend to simply translate some rituals and spells as they were dotted down in witch trial court records in the Alps anywhere between the 15th and the 19th century. It is meant to be a record of Magical practice hundreds of years ago, and requires the reader to muster their own integrity and to make sensible choices when deciding to use these spells today.

Magic and Christianity

Given the time and the area in which these spells and rituals were recorded, we have to expect to see a lot of Christian thinking and wording. Unlike the general believe, that witches were pagan back then, they acted very much within the Christian life during these times. Many of their spells, often penned down in their “little books” invoked Jesus, the Christian trinity, or one or more Christian saints. They were also not accused of, tortured, and executed because they were witches, but for what they did as witches. At least in the early days of the inquisition. In fact, if a witch was able to prove that they invoked the Christian deities, and not the devil, in their practice, and that they acted for the benefit of their community, they were acquitted. From a court record from 1455 we even know that a man accused to have killed another one in a brawl requested the court to be let into the town where the court resided without being harmed or arrested, to do the following:

He [the accused] will travel to the town. The corpse of the deceased is to be exhumed and laid in state outside the gate of the city wall. Then he and the other three involved will step towards the corpse and will, one after another, lay two fingers on the wound of the deceased and utter the following oath: Should I, <name>, have fatally shot the deceased, I shall forever forfait God’s martyrdom and his rose-colored blood on behalf of my soul, and my soul shall never step in front of God, so help me God and his saints. Amen

Clearly, we are looking at some form of Magical practice here, known as “bier probe”, in other words a test of truth next to a corpse, that was not only sanctioned by the Church, but also a way to convince the secular judiciary of someone’s innocence. In the collection of spells I am putting together, however, I will replace the names of the mentioning of Jesus, the Christian trinity, or the saints with the variable <deity>, so you can insert whichever God, Goddess, or natural force with which you connect.

How does this series work?

In the following weeks and months, I will translate and publish here spells and rituals from witch trial court records, and order them into categories such as

  • Love Magic
  • Weather Magic
  • Milk and other food Magic
  • Magic against thieves and getting stolen items back
  • Binding and defense Magic
  • Sleep Magic
  • Health Magic
  • Magical items (talismans etc.)

Each blog entry will be about one of these categories, and eventually all linked together to form a collection of mediaeval spells and rituals.

You can find more about Magic in Alpine traditions in my book “Mountain Magic”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Cooking Can Be Rather Pagan

When scanning through my social media feeds, one of the questions with which many fellow pagans — especially those newer to this world– struggle is how to define what they are doing — or just embarked upon.

Interestingly enough, from the responses — some of which rather challenging — one can see that there is quite a bit of confusion between paganism and the Path. While the former is more of a general life style outside the revealed religions (those where the essence of the religion was revealed to someone — usually a prophet, sometimes disciples, or authors of scripture — by a deity), the latter, the Path, is the spiritual aspect of that life style. That could be Druidry (like in my case), Wicca, Asatru, Heathen, you name it. Witchcraft is somewhat a hybrid, because it is first and foremost a craft, a tool kit, that can be used in any Path, but which can also, but doesn’t need to, become its own path for a particular person. Yet, witchcraft can also be practiced by followers of the revealed religions (as it was actually by many mediaeval European witches who were for all intents and purposes Christian — just not in the way other, more powerful Christians would have expected (but that’s worth another blog post)).

All these Paths do have certain elements in common, even though these elements are processed in sometimes vastly different ways. In pagan times, there were differences of practice between households within the clans and villages as well as differences between clans, tribes, and regions. If you were to time travel to a northwestern Europe before the dawn of Christianity, you would probably see how a family of inner-Alpine Celts would act out their worship, their spirituality, differently from Western Gauls, and they differently from the Britons, the Irish, the Picts and so on. The practice would be different, and so would be the Gods. If you were to cross over the Rhine and wander northwards, you’d see a slow but steady change to not only an entirely different language, but very much a different pantheon, lore, and worship.

However, Britons, Gauls, Germans, Slavs and whatnot still went about their lives in similar ways: they farmed, kept live stock, and interacted with one another — just guided and inspired by their particular faiths and pantheons.

So, let me take one aspect of life — food — today and contemplate how you can, through the simple act of production and consumption of life sustaining matter in all its variety, be essentially pagan, all the while completely independent from your and someone else’s path.

For me, taking an active part in processing food is one way to directly connect with my pagan ancestors. I know I have pagan ancestors, because every single person on this planet has them (we all come from people who lived before any of the revealed religions were formed). What I mean with actively partaking in the process of making food is to learn how to make the things I eat from scratch. As much as possible. So, while I am not able to keep and slaughter pigs in the suburban setting I live in, I can go to a farmer not far from me and get, say, pork belly from the recently slaughtered pig. I know, it sounds harsh for many nowadays, but it is in fact a part of my paganism to know where my food is coming from, that the meat that my family and I eat comes from animals that once went about their lives more or less happily. Only by not being in denial about this fact, and certainly by not thinking that some god gave me dominion over such animal, am I able to fully appreciate the gift — pork belly as it were today — that I am holding in my hand and that allows me to sustain myself and my family.

The act of processing this pork belly into bacon, or Speck as we call it in my home country, has actually started much earlier, last fall even, when I went into the forest to harvest wild juniper berries. I talked with the juniper tree there, sat a while leaning against its gnarled trunk — which wasn’t the most comfortable back rest — connecting with this creature and asking for some of her (only “female” junipers produce berries) seeds. I put the berries into self-made incense mixtures, but had already in mind to eventually use some of them in the rub for my Austrian style bacon.

Today, when I cut the pork belly into sizable pieces; ground coriander, caraway, the juniper berries, gloves, and pepper corns in my mortar; mixed that with curing salt, brown sugar, onion and garlic powder; and rubbed that mixture all over the meat and fat, I consciously connected with my ancestors, the plants, and the pig to honor the gifts each of them provided, gifts that enabled me make food today.

It is these little things, not the certificate of having been duly initiated into the Druid grade of the Most Ancient Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druid,s that form my paganism. It’s being there in the moment, feeling the coarseness of the rub against the smoothness of the meat, it’s the honoring of the traditions (e.g. putting juniper berries into the rub) and the ancestors, and it’s the listening to the whispers of the future — when all this has become bacon — that connects my paganism with my path of Druidry.


More thoughts about Alpine traditions in general can be found in my book “Mountain Magic”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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The Bloody Business of Sacrifice

schwarzesschaf

When the topic of sacrifice, especially that of animals, flared up on pagan social media sites recently (and only the Gods old and new know why), posters and commenters immediately formed two camps, categorial opposition versus “but the ancestors”.

As always, before I decide on anything, I try to deliberate the nuances of the question. And folks who know me know that I take great pleasure in deliberation of pros and cons, and none whatsoever in actually taking any decisions. I am a Libra after all.

What I did see a lot in the online discussions is a confusion of sacrifice and offering; often playing out as “why don’t you pour some milk and honey on the ground instead of killing a chicken. Well, short answer, “Because the former is an offering and the later (most likely) a sacrifice. We have to qualify the statement with most likely because if you were, for example, a member of the Perdue family (a mass producer of chicken in the USA), killing a chicken might as well be an offering. As you can imagine from that nuance, an offering is typically something that one has in more or less abundance. It can be obtained routinely — milk, for example, every day, whether you buy it at the grocery store or you are a dairy farmer. An offering is a gift, a token of acknowledgement, often an in-kind reimbursement for a deity’s or a spirit’s presence, blessing, guidance, or inspiration. Sometimes the offering is for straight forward divine help. In such cases, it usually is a bit more than a tablespoon of honey; a gold bracelet or a sword hurtled into a lake or such.

A sacrifice has a few components that elevate an offering to a different level. For one, the English term sacrifice comes from the Latin sacer facere, translating into making sacred or holy. That means you take an item (in the widest sense of the word) and, through an act of transformational Magic, change its very essence into something that is worthy of, and of the ethereal consistence accessible to, the Gods or the animus of whatever you want to gift that item to.
That sounds a little theoretical, but consider one widely practiced and known sacrifice, the Christian eucharist. In this process, a particular form of bread is, through the Magic of the Christian priest, transformed into the body of their demi-God, and then devoured by the worshippers. It’s a somewhat complicated (and deeply discussed) procedure, where the very essence of the inanimate piece of “bread” is made holy and then destroyed through ingestion.

Similarly, when our pagan ancestors sacrificed an animal, the intent was to give it to the Gods, not in its material form (that would be an offering), but with its essence changed. To achieve that, they, animists that they were, needed to free the soul of the animal – the part that actually is of the ethereal consistency that can be accepted by the Gods — from its material boundaries, the animal’s body. And the only way to do that is to terminate the current vessel trapping the soul, in other words kill the animal.

That transformation, the liberation of the animal’s soul, was the very act of making it holy, of sacrifice. Burning a part of the flesh, transforming that into ethereal smoke, too, was also oftentimes part of this transformation. Equally important in the process, but not the core act of sacrifice, was the ingesting of the animal’s flesh, most often as a communal affair. That allowed everyone to participate in that transformation, to become part of this Magic.

This complicated procedure was never done lightheartedly. There had to be a major issue at hand; the tribe had to be at a dead end of some sort, or needed one particular outcome of a venture to survive, so that the killing of an animal, of valuable live stock, was warranted.
So, if you are thinking about embarking on an animal sacrifice instead of an offering, don’t even start down that path unless it’s of immensely high importance for your whole community. Cracking a chicken’s neck to secure a new job or something of that nature would not fall under that. From the way the Gods communicate with me, slaughtering a goat to, say, bind an annoying person, is not only quite literally overkill, it would also be viewed as offensive brown-nosing. That one of their creatures would have to give its life for some personal profit or vanity would appall them far more than flatter them.

Also, please avoid, at all cost, justifying an animal sacrifice with “our ancestors weren’t such pussies” (as I have read on occasion in such discussions). Yes, they saw slaughtering of live stock – especially before winter — as a normalcy of life.
But, as discussed above, a sacrifice has never been a normal thing. And the animals chosen for a sacrifice weren’t normal either. Most likely, they were picked by the farmer well in advance, right after they were born, for that exact purpose. They were brought up in a special way: fed better than other animals, even brought into the living quarters to spare them from the elements. The farm family had a deep relationship with these animals.
And thus, when the animal’s time to be sacrificed came, it was a big deal to separate from it. It hurt. Emotional pain and suffering was part of the process. It supposed to hurt. It was the high and painful price to pay for the Gods goodwill.
In that sense, anyone whose plan is to grab a random chicken at the farmer’s market on Wednesday and to kill that poor bird in a non-pussy manner on Saturday has totally missed the point. Don’t go there unless you have obtained the animal as a little fluffy chick or big-eyed lamb, bring it up as if it were your own child, give it all it wants, including your love, and then cry your heart out when you gift it to the Gods (again, also only if the reason for that is of an importance as discussed above).

“So, Libra-man, what’s your decision, your judgment on animal sacrifice?”, I hear you, dear reader, asking. “Well,” I’d say, “Not hard. If your community faces a threat from where the only way out, the only guarantee for survival, is the sacrifice of an animal, and where that animal was brought up by you in the above described manner, or is given to you by a community member and their heart is ripped out by giving it to you, then by all means, conduct an animal sacrifice with the greatest integrity you can muster.

For all other instances: milk and honey. A gold bracelet maybe.

Here’s some food for thought, though. There is a valley in the Alps that has something like three villages, and every so often a ram is sacrificed. Based on a rotation, one family in one village is tapped to rear up a male lamb until its ready to be sacrificed. As it is tradition — stemming from pagan times — this animal is being pampered beyond belief, and then, when its old enough, brought to church in an elaborate procession. Nowadays, it is basically gifted to the church and the community, albeit the sacrifice is that it is not being killed, but rather that is allowed to spend the rest of its life in bliss, grazing on pastures and pampered even more. The sacrifice is that it is not turned into profit.

Just an idea.

 


More thoughts about sacrifice and Alpine traditions in general can be found in my book “Mountain Magic”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Apple Trees Are Queer

ApfelbaumTwo completely unrelated festivities have somewhat converged within a month now. One was Beltane (in the northern hemisphere), a fire festivals on the Pagan Wheel of the Year, and the other ones are the many LBTQ+ pride days and parades and balls that are now happening all over. There is certainly no purposeful correlation in timing between Beltane and the LBTQ+ festivities, but the closeness of these two got me thinking about one particular element of Beltane, procreation. And with that I wanted to contemplate some pagan paths’ focus on the unity between male and female, the alchemical Great Rite, the wand that is placed in the cauldron etc., particularly in light of being inclusive of the LBTQ+ community when organizing, and participating in, pagan ceremonies..

This seasonal focus works for me, I admit, for I am a straight, cis-gender male. So all these metaphors make perfectly sense to me, personally. At the same time, I am one of the elder Druids in my Grove, and as such I am also a go-to person when it comes to discussions about inclusivity of our Grove happenings. In this function — and quite frankly because I feel the urge to fight injustice when I see it — this question is no longer about me and how I feel about it. It has gone beyond my ego, and must be answered, well, inclusively.

But how do we find the right recipe for a balanced concoction enjoyable for all palates equally?

I — together with many others — do enjoy it when the traditional aspect of procreation (not acting on it, but the metaphors) and  the unity between male and female, form an essential part of a Beltane rite I attend. I can, at the same time, emphasize with anyone who’s unity with someone else does not follow the biological necessities of procreation, but for whom the magic such unity comes from loving someone of the same sex. Or the magic involves unity with someone from the other gender today and with someone of the same gender tomorrow. Or in a year and a day.
And I can not begin to imagine what meaning — or lack thereof — this concept of unity between male and female could possibly have for those members of our diverse genus homo sapiens sapiens,  whose gender identity does not correlate with their biological sex, or does not settle on either one gender for good.

So, should this unity, the alchemical Magic of procreation, be left out of the Beltane ritual entirely, to make it more inclusive? See, I am not a fan of that either. Not because I am insisting on traditional approaches, but because leaving out procreation in a ritual celebrating the coming of the season of procreation would make the whole festival a moot point.

Something’s gotta give. That’s the core of compromise. But what if, instead of doing away with the traditional procreation theme, instead of the LGBT community having to stack away their lifestyle once again just to be able to participate, we both, LGBT+ and hetero/cis folk, give up on something  else entirely, something we both share, and something I’d argue is not at all necessary for our ceremonies: anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism; our inherently human tendency to apply our value systems onto everything else, particularly Nature. We do that as kids when we begin to believe stories telling us that lions are majestic, eagles are proud, foxes are sly and hyenas are just plain and simple evil. That’s simply attributing to undeserving mammals our human (Greek: anthropos) form (Greek: morphe). Add to this that we humans think that everything should center around us, and poof, Nature all of the sudden is divided in genders just as we are. Well, most mammal species have one type that has a penis and the other a vagina, so they must identify as male and female, right? I do get it. We see the penis and the vagina (or at least where it is) when we look at other mammals. Ever seen a stallion? Or the butt of a “female” chimpanzee in heat?
But what about a whale? An enormous body breaching out of the ocean’s surface for mere seconds…you need to be specialist to determine the gender there. And fish? Reptiles? Only if the genders differ in size. Amphibia? There are some frogs who can actually change gender if need be. Some invertebrates have both genders.

You see, our human thinking, our urge to identify differences, does not even bring us that far with animals. For them, there is probably just the other one and if that other one smells a certain way, or has some body parts swollen, or dances in a weird way, then hormones trigger  some activity. Unity yes, but female and male? Nah.

Even more so when it comes to plants. Take, for example, apple trees. They procreate, right. Actually, if you want them to do exactly that (i.e. bear fruit), you need two apple trees, so they can cross pollinate. Now you tell me — or the bee flying back and forth between them — which tree is the male and which the female. Tell me that there is a male and female apple tree. They are both cauldron and wand for each other. Apple trees — almost any trees, or plants — are so gender non-conforming, and are at the same time gay, drawn to each other while being the same. They are of the same sex and they have sex with each other. Nobody could tell if they are gays or lesbians, though, because they don’t even have a gender.

But they still unite with each other to procreate.

This is the very essence of what we celebrate at Beltane: that the myriads of species in Nature sing their own song of uniting with each other to bring forth fruit — and they certainly don’t need us humans attributing any gender and other questionable distinctions to them. And if we see ourselves not as the center of this Magic, but as humble observants, we surely should all be able to celebrate that particular fire festival together, without excluding anyone, and also without feeling excluded. All we need to do is to be explicit about what it is we actually are celebrating: the queer way of Nature procreating.


How we celebrate the stations of the Wheel of the Pagan Year in the Alps can be found in my book “Mountain Magic”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Hexing the Cheater

DruidenFeuer

If you are like me a member of social media groups, particularly those into witchcraft, you have probably read, or even answered to, inquiries about spells for all kinds of things. Lately, it seems, the requests for spells to deal with someone who cheated, or abruptly left a relationship, have increased. Maybe it’s because it’s Spring (at least on the northern hemisphere) or maybe it’s just that I am more aware of these posts because that issue has caught my attention.

Typically, I see three types of responses.

One is basically to cut the loss, end the relationship, and move on. That’s how I would feel my best option would be. Because, why bother? Of course, this rather laissez faire approach only works if there is little responsibility the couple had together. No complicated financial situations (e.g. a house), for example.
And, more importantly, if there are no kids. Because if that’s the case, a total end of the interaction with one another is not possible. Money needs to be transferred to the person keeping the kid(s), visitation has to be agreed upon and so forth and so on. I am aware that this is not always (or even almost never) such a clear cut case, but spellwork won’t help there either.

Then there are the suggestions of what to do, what spells to utter, to bring the cheater or dumper back. I don’t know. Is that really the best course of action? How much trust can remain? And if the spell compels the perpetrator to do something they actually no longer wanted in the first place — i.e. love the betrayed or dumped person — that can only result in a relationship with a love-zombie.

What concerns me, though, are the responses of the third type, those that actually suggest to make someone sick, or even kill them with a spell. And these are not far and few in between! You often can read a litany of spell suggestions calling anything from erectile dysfunction to cancer all the way to deadly accidents upon a person who does not longer love their partner. These posts are usually accompanied with absolutely vile accusations and unmanaged anger.

Often enough, the original poster was just asking for a friend. May that as it be, when asked for a spell we would first and foremost ask ourselves what do we really know about the relationship in question, would we not? Because as functioning adults we’d have to gage if we really are in the position to judge a situation from one brief, and usually biased, social media post so that we can determine torture or death sentences as being what’s warranted? Especially considering the “though shalt not judge me” attitude that is prevalent in pagan and witch circles. Because if we don’t want to be judged, we shouldn’t really pass judgment on others, at least not with little to no knowledge of the circumstances. Otherwise…hypocrisy, right?
Unless you are willing to, if you’re the one who’s doing the cheating, the dumping, self-inflict.

Let’s just keep in mind that a relationship is based on love and attraction to things valued by one partner which the respective other partner has. And that is not restricted to looks. Sometimes, these attractions fade or change throughout one’s life . And of that happens, is one really to stay in a relationship against their will because they would otherwise be hexed into disease or death? What allows the person wielding such magic (purposefully not capitalized here) to think they can demand another person to love them no matter what, against their own interest, just because the partner knowing magic wants it that way?

I guess these out-of-proportion reactions to something that simply happens in life, like here in relationships, is why Gardner put the Rede in his Wicca. Or why folks from antiquity on warned that abusing Magic for pure egocentric purposes has its price (no, Gardner did not invent that concept, he just adapted it for his movement). Of course, one can whisk away the notion of ethical use of Magic by declaring they don’t believe in these measures — the Rede, the law of threefold return and such. And that would be fine if that person is able to stay within the ethical boundaries and expectations that come with power. But when I read some responses to these how-can-I-hurt-my-ex questions, there seems to be no boundaries or ethics. At all.

My way, my wish, or disease and death. That’s what these responses boil down to. We just have to ask ourselves if that is any better than the Catholic Inquisition with their “Burn them at the stake!” mentality, the Taliban, or some fundamental Evangelicals.  And that one moment of giving the matter some thought may help us avoid falling into the pit of rage like Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones.


Less outrageous Magic can be found in my book “Mountain Magic”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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