Craft Your Own Spell, Witch

pferdesegenPeople occasionally ask me if I cast spells, and my answer more often than not is, “Yes, but…”. It may be my answer because I’m a druid and you can’t expect a straight forward answer from a druid. But mostly it’s my answer because I consider casting spells serious business and, unless the situation allows me to use one of the three standard spells in my repertoire – one to mend what’s broken (in humans and animals), one to free someone from restraints, and the third to extract “the worms”, i.e. anything that doesn’t belong in the body (in the widest sense, can be a tree trunk) – I devise my own spell.

Stickler that I am, and plagued by my overly active left side of my brain, I follow a pattern when creating my own spell. Not any pattern, but one that can be deciphered from the very few written down pre-Christian spells.

The other reason for the “but” in my answer is that in Druidry, spell casting is but one of many magical tools, and often enough not the first one to employ. But it is in fact a tool in the druid’s crane bag, as countless examples in lore testify (see for example the tale of the Siege of Knocklong, which sings of the mythical Druid Mogh Ruith who casts quite a number of spells there).

That said, what I would like to explore here today is how to craft a spell in a particular manner. This is “old style”, if you will, and for all intents and purposes old pagan. Let’s have a look at one that was used to mend broken legs. The spell was found in a 9th or 10th century theological manuscript in the City of Merseburg in Germany in 1842. It is written in Old High German and one of the only German texts found so far that refer to pre-Christian Gods and Goddesses. Here it goes:

Old High GermanEnglishNotes

Phol ende uuodan
uuorun zi holza

du uuart demo balderes uolon sin uuoz birenkict thu biguol en sinhtgunt

sulla era suister
thu biguol en friia

folla era suister
thu biguol en uuodan

so he uola conda
sose benrenki
sose bluotrenki
sose lidirenki
ben zi bena
bluot zi bluoda
lid zi geliden
sose gelimida sin

Phol and Woden
rode into the forest
There was Balder’s foal’s leg broken
Then it was charmed by Sinhtgunt,
Sulla’s sister
Then it was charmed by Freija,
Folla’s sister
Then it was charmed by Woden,
as only he could.
If bones are broken
If blood is broken
If joints are broken
Bone to bone
Blood to blood
Joint to joint
So that they are glued

See the actual double-u for Woden here, explaining why “W” is called that way in English.
In European pagan Magic, “speaking at or to” was a common way to work. Charmed may be not the best translation for what we know as “besprechen” in German, and we could call what the Goddesses and Woden did here “horse whispering”.


A similar sequence can be found in many spells in the Indo-European language group.

I tinted the text of the spell in four different colors to indicate distinct sections spells of old often had:

  1. A story that contains an analogy to the situation at hand and invokes deities
  2. What’s wrong
  3. What rights the wrong
  4. An affirmation

So, when you’re called to help a horse, or any animal, or a person, with a broken bone, a ripped blood vessel, or a torn, sprain or otherwise injured ligament, you’d first tell the story of Woden and his son Baldur (sometimes referred to as Phol), and how they ended up in a similar situation where they had to heal what’s broken. This sets the atmosphere for your work, relates your situation to a divine one.

Please also call your local first responders if you are the first on the scene!

To create a spell according to this old template you would, in the story, invoke the Gods and Goddesses you typically work with, or you know are typically called upon for such work. Keep in mind that back then, it seems, people were aware that it wasn’t them (humans) who do the healing work, but the Magic was accomplished through the power of the deities invoked in the spell. In fact, the witch hunt a few centuries later was very much about who you invoked in your craft, the Christian deities (father, son, and holy ghost) or the devil. If you could prove that you called upon the former, you had a chance to walk free. Otherwise the only place you walked to was the pyre or gallows. In fact, there was a case in Tyrol, Austria, in 1595, where a known witch, Christoph Gostner zu Sexten, had more then 30 books of shadows in his house. They were used as evidence in the trial against him, but since he called upon the Christian trinity in the spells written down there, and he could otherwise proof that he only did Magic that was beneficial to his community, he was acquitted, by none less than Henricus Institoris himself, the author of the Malleus Maleficarum, the Witch Hammer.

After having invoked the deities needed for the work, through a story that draws an analogy with the situation you are facing, you have to describe what is wrong. In the case above, the horse has broken its leg, and with it ligaments, and it’s also bleeding. Thus you would say something like “since x, y, and z is happening”, before you get to the next segment of the spell, where you speak out loud what needs to be done.

This “speaking out loud” is part of the very important manifestation component of spellcraft, without which the best intent just stays that, an unfulfilled wish. The importance is such, actually, that the story-part of our spell here even mentions that the Goddesses and Woden did exactly that, speak (whisper) to the horse, speak a charm upon it.

And finally, you actually shout out that your invocation of the deities, your analogy, and your procedure shall manifest itself in the apparent world. Today, we often end spells with the words “so mote it be”, which is exactly that, affirming the manifestation of the spell.

Of course, even back then the witches and other workers of Magic didn’t religiously adhere to formulas. So, to look at how these rules are being bent this way or another,  let’s look at another one of these old spells, one to untie someone from fetters:

Old High GermanEnglishNotes

Eiris sâzun idisi,

sâzun hêra muoder

suma haft heftidun
suma heri lêzidun
suma clûbodun umbi cuniowidi
insprinc haftbandun
infar wîgandun

Once the three Idisi sat down
The three noble mothers sat down
Some tied fetters,
Others halted armies
Others fiddled on tight fetters
Arise from the ties
Escape the enemies
Who the Three Idisi were, is unknown, but there is a known trinity called Disen in German lore.

In the script, the monk transcribing it wrote duoder, not muoder, which was a common error.

Although I colored the text here somewhat according to the systematics explained above, the distinction between the parts of the spell are not as clear as it was in the horse spell. In a sense, what the three Idisi do (tying fetters, halting armies etc.) is not only describing what’s wrong, but also still part of the story invoking deities. And there isn’t a clear affirmation at the end, after the “what rights the wrong” section, although the last two imperatives (Arise and Escape) do sound like affirmations.

What that tells us is that we do have a bit of a “witchcraft license” to merge the parts together if need be. But I would, when crafting my own spell, not do that unless absolutely necessary.

A few hundred years later, the four elements of the pre-Christian spells have faded away much, or at least lost  their significance. Especially the story that creates an analogy to the situation for which the spell is cast is often dropped, or sometimes it’s just a vague hint where only the learned witch would know why a certain phrase or even only word is part of the spell. Here is one of these later mediaeval spells, one that still has the four parts, albeit mixed up a bit:

Old High GermanEnglishNotes
Wie hier die dunkle Nacht dem hellen Tage weichet, so soll auch von diesem Getauften (Name der kranken Person) der Staar entweichen, von seinem Auge, von seinem Augapfel, von dem Weißen seines Auges, und diese Geschwüre, sie sollen vertrocknen, verschwinden.
Niemand soll wissen, wo sie geblieben, durch Gottes Macht, des Sohnes Gottes und des heiligen Geistes Hülfe.

Like the dark night gives way to the bright day, so shall the gray star disappear from this baptized (enter name of afflicted person), from their eye, from their eye ball, from the white of their eye, and the ulcers they shall dry out, disappear.


Nobody shall know where they went, through the might of God, through the help of the Son and the Holy Ghost.

In the spell it is made sure that only baptized people are being treated with it.

It’s of course the Christian trinity that is invoked here. Kind of a “safe your ass” policy should the spell become subject in a witch trial.

What seems to remain a prominent part in the later mediaeval spells is the invocation of deities, and the nod to their power, the recognition that it is them who are doing the magical work. The spell begins with a short analogy-story, but then jumps right into a lengthy what rights the wrong segment, which is interrupted with a very short what’s wrong part. The spell then ends with the invocation of the deities, i.e. the picks up the story again, and omits the affirmation.

But our goal here is to craft a pre-Christian spell. Since we really only have the ones from Merseburg in a verbatim form, let’s try to come up with one following the pattern of the horse spell. As an example, I’d like to suggest a spell to get the creative inspiration, which we call Awen in Druidry, flowing. It could sound somewhat like this:

For a year and a day in beautiful Wales
Gwion kept the fire under the cauldron
Containing the potion for Afagddu
To make him the most knowledgeable of all.
When Gwion sucked the three drops of Awen from his thumb
Cerridwen chased him over land,
She chased him through the water, 
She chased him through the Air,
And she ate the seed.
Like Gwion the innocent,
Like Gwion the ignorant,
Let me be reborn
Through the wrath of the Goddess,
Through the womb of the Goddess,
As the new Taliesin.
So mote it be.

As you can see, I used all four elements of a full-fledged pagan spell. First telling a story, creating an analogy to my situation – wanting to get inspired – and invoking a Goddess to help me with it. Then I say what’s wrong with me (that I am ignorant and also not witty), followed by the remedy, even though it may be bitter medicine. The affirmation in the end rounds the picture up and makes sure that my intent is heard and manifests itself.

But, why bother? Why not just whittle a quick spell, shout out what I want and be done with it?
Well, structuring a spell like this has the advantage that you might avoid things going wrong. Like when you cast a spell that you want more quiet in your life, and then you die. Because that’s much more quiet.
But when you find a story, preferably with a deity in it, and this story describes a situation similar to what you want, you basically are ensuring that the outcome, the effect of your spell is similar to your story. So all you need to do is be smart and find a good story that fits your purposes. For example, if you want to increase your income, you could use the Grimm’s tale “Frau Holle”, where a girl is literally showered with gold in return for her work. Frau Holle is the Goddess, so you have the invocation of the divine right there, and the outcome is predetermined, too. Thus, you don’t have to go through the painstaking process of covering all bases and then more to make sure that your spell does not backfire.

The second insurance is that you actually, by invoking deity, have them do the Magic. And they don’t screw up. Period.

The “price” (of sorts) you pay for this insurance is that it is actually harder to cast a spell that will harm someone. Because by embedding a story into your spell, you, and the spell, are bound to the story, and it’s outcome. Also, you are invoking a God or Goddess with this way of crafting a spell, which means that you are at the mercy of them. After all, once invoked,  they would have to agree to your intent.

This is a fair price, in my book. But it would be naive to think that everything in Magic is always fluff and sugarcoated. Even the witch’s gingerbread house (which is absolutely sugarcoated) in Hänsel und Gretel clearly has a dark side to it. And we would be fools if we were to believe there aren’t any Gods who wouldn’t agree to inflicting harm. Loki comes to mind, but so many others do questionable stuff in the olden tales. Like Zeus frequently rapes women.
What makes it harder to use the suggested way to create a spell for harmful Magic, actually, is that so many stories are somewhat moralizing, openly or between the lines, and thus even when you invoke say the Ice Queen in your spell to freeze someone really hard, in the end of the story she succumbs to the strength of love, or metaphorically to the powers of spring, the eternal cycle of life. As always, clarity of the intent is key.

But why not even go down that particular, dark rabbit hole? Just a thought. What I think of abusing, or performing harmful, Magic, I have written in previous blog posts (Paganism, Rules, and Dogma vol. 2, Paganism, Rules, and Dogma vol. 2, and Finding Ethical Guidance in Lore).

So, next time you need to change your, or someone else’s, stars through Magic, with a spell, why don’t you try out this ages old method and see what happens.



Read about other tools for your practice found in Alpine customs in my book “Mountain Magic” available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Magically Fresh Into 2019

IMG_5126After a short break over the Winter Holidays, the “Weekly Druid” is back with a new issue. But before I get into the weeds, let me first and foremost shout out a big

Thank You

to all you readers of my blog, visiting my ramblings 12,363 times in 2018! It surely was as rewarding writing them as it was seeing that what I had to say was relevant to basically a little town.

Now that not only the dark half of the year has commenced with Samhain in last year – for some the start of a new year – and the light has returned after it stood still at the Solstice – a beginning of a new solar year for others – even those following the Gregorian (most folk, but hey) have now caught up and entered a new year, 2019.

RauchpfandlWhatever your preference, this seems to be a time of change for all of us, of new beginnings, and of resolutions. But, as physicists will tell us, there cannot be a body where another one already occupies space. And for that reason it is advisable, and not surprisingly tradition in many a region, that folks cleanse their homes and other matters before embarking on a new journey. I have written about what one can use and how to go about cleansing the house with incense in my article “Smoking the House Clean” a couple of years ago. Since this is my most visited blog article, I just leave it at that.
I would like to add one ingredient to the incense mix suggested there, though: parts of the besom or broom you have used to sweep out your home on the last day of the Solstice, as describedhexenbesen in this blog post: “Practical Magic“. Even if you haven’t had a chance to do that then, or even get or build your own besom as described in the article as of yet, there is still time to do all that until January 6.

Why all this is done in the Alps at precisely this time of year, I explain in another post, “Having a rough time? Try Alpine Raunächte… . This period is basically a very sacred and auspicious set of nights. They start with the actual lowest, i.e. most southwards point of sun rise (usually around December 21). The Solstice, from Latin sol sistere — i.e. “Sun standing still” — lasts another three days, and only on the fourth, after the night from December 24 to December 25, the Sun embarks on its path towards to north, where it reaches the farthest northern point at the Summer Solstice.
It is not surprising, that the Catholic Church, well aware of the important role this time of year was for the Europeans following the Old Faiths, claimed that their most prominent figure, which they sometimes simply called “The Light”, was born in the night following December 24.
Equally unsurprising, the date Catholics celebrate the day dedicated to Jesus’ second in command, John, on June 24, is the last day of the Summer Solstice. Obviously, these are all Old World dates reflecting the stellar happenings there.

However, I would like to offer the recommendation to not use the phrase “the Christian stole the holiday(s) from the pagan Europeans”, simply because the term appropriated is more precisely describing what took place. After all, when something is stolen, it is no longer available to the one from whom it was purloined, which is not the case here: the Winter Solstice, the Wild Hunt, the Raunächte, and everything else that is connected with this amazing time is still accessible to us pagans.

treeoflifefullAnyway, one tradition that lends itself nicely to these dark and long nights is doing some divination. Surely, family and friends, with all their New Year’s resolutions, must have questions about what helps and what hinders them from following through with them. Or some might just hope that a particular, life changing event will present itself in the new year. And what’s better than preparing oneself with the insights from the line-up of the planets, from a deck of cards, a handful of sticks with Ogham markings, stones with runes engraved on them, or bones with special, personal meanings for whatever comes your way?

So, in the next few days, I will keep sweeping the house with my little besom; step outside before I go to bed and listen to the sounds of the night; ask my Tarot cards and Ogham fews all kinds of questions; and finally walk through the house on the last night of the Raunächte (the one from the January five to January 6) and fumigate, make noise, and cleans our home for the next season to come.
At home in Austria, the fellows in the picture you saw on top, the Perchten, would help me with my cleansing efforts, scaring away any left-over, no longer needed spirits of the old year

And with or without their help, only when all this is done will I feel as though I have created the space for new things to enter my life in 2019.


Read about other tools for your practice found in Alpine customs in my book “Mountain Magic” available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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The Druidry-Wicca Confusion

kraeuterpfanndlA typical social media conversation in Druid groups these days goes somewhat like this:

Person 1: I am new to Druidry and would like to know if Druids cast circles or call upon the elements.

Person 2: No, that’s Wicca practice, which was made up by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s.

And right there and then, we are already in the thicket of murkiness. Not like the mist of Avalon, more like the fog of Chernobyl.

Yes, Gardner created Wicca. And yes, Wiccans draw circles and work with the alchemical elements. That we can say is true. But it’s only the half-truth. What is left out here, but must be considered, is the Gardner didn’t come up with this practice out of thin air. He studied what witches have done for centuries, particularly what hints at practice has been available in records from witch trials. In fact, I once saw a reader of one of his main works complain on an online shopping platform — named after South America’s largest river or a female warrior from Greek mythology — that the book was boring because it was practically a litany of witch trials rather and a how to cast a spell in 12 steps guidebook.

I don’t know where Gardner learned about drawing circles. But I do know that in old Alpine tales, and in 19th century anthropological works, there is mention of something that is called Kreisstehen in German. The practice is basically to go to a crossroads, draw a circle (Kreis) around you and stand (stehen) in there over night. If you are able to stay there (and don’t run out of fear of what you might experience there), you’ll be able to learn something about whatever question about the future you have. Also, Grimm’s sorcerers frequently draw circles around them when the brothers penned down the old German fairytales in the mid 1800s. All that long before Gardner made his first beeps.

Thus, drawing circles is much older than Wicca.

And so are the four elements. It’s basically alchemy, and that concept was already used by Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus, in the 16th century. Again, long before Gardner and his Wicca.

So, the truth is that Gardner gathered information about old practices, created a spiritual path rooted in these practices, and called it Wicca. Quite a feat, mind you. But he didn’t invent all of it.

It’s also true that we don’t know whether or not the Druids of old cast circles or worked with the alchemical elements. The latter is less likely than the former. Ancient Druids must have been aware of the concept of the importance of a circle. Some knew about the stone circles (like Stonehenge, Avebury, or new Grange). And even though these (or any) Druids didn’t build these stone circles, one would wonder if they weren’t aware of what their forebears wanted with these. Or did they just discard the whole idea as “Meh, circles, whatevs”?

True is that knowing, being aware of, the sacred geometry of a circle does not allow the conclusion that they also cast circles. But I would be careful with categorically discarding that idea.

In the end, it doesn’t matter, though. And here is why:

  • There are spiritual paths. Druidry is one. Wicca is one. There are also others.
  • And then there are tools. Like casting a circle.

The big question is, can one path (Druidry) use a tool that comes from a practice which has become the core — but not the invention — of another spiritual path (Wicca)? Does a Druid using that tool turn them Wicca?
Obviously not. It would be like saying: If a shoe maker uses a hammer, they become a carpenter. Both use the same tool, but while the shoe maker might use the hammer sporadically in their trade, hammering in nails is essential in carpentry. And who knows who invented the hammer in the first place.

The third bullet point is therefore:

  • A tool can be used in more than one path, without the tool defining it. Or defining you and your practice.

So, it is important to differentiate between what is a path, what is a tool, and is that tool proprietary to the respective other path. If not – and Magic as practiced in Wicca, including casting circles and invoking the alchemical elements simply isn’t – all one has to ask is: “Does that tool help me on my own path?” And there is no right or wrong here (common sense assumed!) If you are a Druid today (which means that you are a contemporary Druid, no matter what) then you and only you can choose your tools. Wisely, for on the other end of the spectrum of “do whatever you want” you will find some dangerous traps, like cultural appropriation and abuse of power. But if you steer clear of them, your tools enrich your path, and don’t define it.


Read about other tools for your practice found in Alpine customs in my book “Mountain Magic” available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Short Days, Dark Nights

AlbanArthanNightfall here on the northern hemisphere now surprises us in the middle of afternoon,  Krampus (who is that you ask?) has returned to his realm again for another year and we have started to bake cookies (click here for a recipe of my favorite cookies, “Vanillekipferl” (vanilla almond crescents)). Clearly, the Winter solstice is upon us, and preparation for this festival of Alban Arthan, as we call it in Druidry, are in full swing. And don’t forget to get or make your own besom, with which you sweep out the house on the solstice night, and then use pieces of that broom as incense when you smoke your house clean. In the Alps, we not only celebrate the night of the solstice, but the twelve nights after that — the Rauhnächte as we call them — are also filled with opportunities for food, drink, and stories.

Festivities in Austria means food. It always has been, and it always will. In fact, before my father died a few years ago, we co-wrote a cook book with a three course meal for each of the eight stations on the Wheel of the Year. We wrote it in German, but I am working on translating it into English as we speak. Here is a glimpse at it, addressing our seemingly historical obsession with food.

Foreword

And they retired that night, and the next day Arthur prepared to depart. “My lord,” said Owain, “this is not well of thee; for I have been absent from thee these three years, and during all that time, up to this very day, I have been preparing a banquet for thee, knowing that thou wouldst come to seek me. Tarry with me, therefore, until thou and thy attendants have recovered the fatigues of the journey, and have been anointed.” And they all proceeded to the Castle of the Countess of the Fountain, and the banquet which had been three years preparing was consumed in three months. Never had they a more delicious or agreeable banquet.

You can find the quote above in the „Mabinogi“, a collection of traditional Welsh tales from the twelfth or thirteenth century CE, tales which appeared first in the earlier Red Book of Hergest. The stories tell us, amongst their main plots, also about some of the customs of our European ancestors.

Lady Charlotte E. Guest (1812-1895) not only translated the collection into English, but also researched the origins of the tales and found a web of correlations of the King Arthur stories with Celtic Europe.

Parts of the Mabinogi seem to go back into Pre-Christian times, and parts are clearly about the era of courtly knighthood, to a certain extent from the western regions of Gaulle in what is today the French Bretagne.

The excerpt above is, however, not the only one in the collection that describes feasting and drinking. In total, we find the word “banquet” thirteen times in the Mabinogi, on average once per tale, and “going to feast” is something we encounter over sixty times in the text. Yet we not only learn that they held feasts, period. In fact, they are sometimes described in elaborate details; what meats were brought to the tables, what the drinks were and even that dishes and silverware were made from gold and silver.

We find similar descriptions in other collections of lore such as in the one of the Irish heroes Fionn mac Cumhaill or Cú Chulainn. Even the Irish Brehon Laws from the fifth Weisswandcentury BCE regulated the course of the meals for certain festivities and who sits where at the table relative to the king

What does this show us: Clearly, that feasting (opposite to the daily eating of simple meals) had an important social function in the lives of our ancestors.

And feasting, retiring to the table of one’s own castle with family and friends to enjoy a delicious multi-course meal is the essence of this book. And maybe, just maybe, we can recreate a kingly feast to celebrate one or all of the stations of the Wheel of the Year.

Christian Friedrich Brunner, Druid

There is no „Celtic Cuisine“! Not only because there are no ancient Celtic recipes left by our ancestors. But we also have to consider that the area where the Celts dwelled was rather extensive. We find traces of Celts in Austria, Southern Germany, Switzerland, Northern Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, and as far as Romania. There was even a Celtic tribe in Turkey. On the western end of Europe, they breathed the air of what’s today northwestern Portugal, western Spain, France and further up north the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium (the Belgae were the most courageous of the tribes, if we were to believe Ceasar). And of course they mingled with the people of the British Isles.

The Celts were an agricultural society; they cultivated crops like barley, millet, spelt, and emmer, an older version of wheat, as well as vegetables like peas, lentils, kale, and broad beans. The typical root vegetables grown were beats, celery and onions.

Livestock breeding was the other widely practiced activity on the Celtic farmstead. Folks bred cattle, pigs, sheep – in the higher mountains also goat – and chicken. The Celts also reared Horses , but it seems that this was mostly done for trading purposes, for warriors and nobles needed these animals for transportation and warfare.

When talking about the Celts in the Alps, specifically, one would be remiss if not also mentioning rock salt. This crystal buried deeply in the sides of the mighty mountains was so important to the Celts, that centuries after their disappearance, their successors, who started to speak a form of German, still called the places they mined for the white gold “holy”. Or, in their language: “hall”. This is why still, millennia later, villages and towns bear these people’s reverence in their name, and we find Hallein, Bad Reichenhall, Hall in Tirol, and of course Hallstatt, the village giving its name to the earlier Celtic culture all over Austria and Bavaria

Fishing – except in the coastal areas – was originally less important sources of food, and hunting for large game was mostly restricted to nobility.

vaterIn essence, what folks brought to their tables was highly dependent on the area they lived in, might that be the sea coast, plains and rolling hills allowing for large fields, or the narrow Alpine valleys making farming tough due to incline and a short growing season because of the altitude. This is why we can’t really talk about a Celtic Cuisine, only about a Cuisine of Regions. Thus, while the Alpine region was rich in milk, cheese, and butter due to cattle breeding, folks dwelling in the coastal region of Aremorica – an area of the French Bretagne where we find the village of the Comics hero “Asterix” – for example would have more likely enjoyed fish, crustaceans, and mussels.

The region whence the following recipes origin, are the Eastern Alps, where my family is from.

Reinhard Brunner, Passionate Layman Cook


Until the cookbook is published, read more about Alpine customs in my book “Mountain Magic” available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

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Krampus And Other Social Aspects of Magic

December 5th is when he comes to your home. Krampus, the feared hairy and horned creature from the wider Alpine region, making its ways into homes an many parts of the world now. Unfortunately, Krampus is also widely misunderstood. He doesn’t, for example, hate Christmas. He doesn’t care about Christmas, for he’s long gone come December 25th. He is associated with the time around the Winter Solstice, announces its coming and the purging aspect of it. But Krampus couldn’t care less about what people do at Christmas; or about the presents. He is not the Grinch!

I have written about Krampus in a previous blog article (and more extensively in my book (see below)). Today, I want to carve out one aspect of the figure, and put it in the wider context of Magic.

As different folks in the Alps, who organize Krampus Runs in towns and villages, have told me a number of times when I did research for my book, tradition was that the people dressing up as Krampus created their masks in secrecy over summer. When they came to the town square in Winter and hit, with their horse hair whips or bundles of birch twigs, rich and poor, high and low born (as it were in the old days), powerful and powerless, they acted as punishers, as moral authority chastising indiscriminately and, equally important, with impunity. If that hadn’t be the case, who would dare whack the butt of the count or the duke looking on, with their security around them? But masked, amongst others also masked, it was those in power wouldn’t dare retaliate, mostly to not lose face and being called a coward and wimp by the cheering crowd.

So, what we have is a person becoming, for the time being, a magical creature. A young person shapeshifting into an otherworldly beast. With that they assume the role of judge and executioner in one, breaking a very profound ethical rule actually, that these two jobs should be separate. And with that comes a certain level of responsibility. Now, aside from the fact that these are mostly young men in their twenties, their spirit enhanced by a few rounds of Schnaps before the show starts, we still expect a certain level of responsibility, of restraint. Doesn’t always pan out, admittedly.

The core concept here is, though, that a usually powerless person suddenly gains power over the otherwise powerful through the magic of a mask and by assuming the role of a magical creature.

Fast rewind to the witch trials of the 15th through 17th centuries. Why? Because here, too, we learn much about the imbalance of power and what Magic had to do with it.
In a book dissecting 23 witch trials in one county in the Alps, the author, Peter Klammer, of the book “Daß sy der Rit schütt” – roughly translated “May the fever shake her” (a curse logged in one of the trial records) – comes to the conclusion that almost all of the cases have some or another connection to “beggars”. I.e. with the poorest of the poor, the absolute powerless.

“Beggars” might be a weird expression, but it has to do with the fact that back then, there was no safety net for the poor provided by the government. People who had lost their income and home, or never even had either, roamed the country and tried to survive on handouts by farmers and trades people. They, typically the disabled (physically as well as mentally and developmentally), widows, and war veterans, would wander from one farmstead the next, getting food, drink, and a place to sleep in the hey for a few days at each. They would knock on the door and beg, hence the term. While it was customary, and somewhat an unwritten moral law, to accommodate these beggars, the practice also meant that people had to share what little they had. And farmers usually had very little back then.

So people thought of ways to get rid of the  beggars. One way was to accuse them of witchery. Sometimes, the beggars themselves, fed up by their own fate and by the condescending attitude of the farmers, gave the latter, upon they depended, ample opportunity for accusation, for they would demand charity rather than ask humbly for it. And, if the farmers were reluctant, the beggars would curse them. One who curses – like “May the fever shake her” – could only be one thing: a witch.
The sense was, “I, one of the “good, hardworking people” give them milk – granted the oldest one I have, because I want the sweet, fresh one for myself – and they complain about it, even wish me bad? They must be witches! Only witches know how to turn the milk sour!
“A year with poor harvests, where I can give less to the beggars? If they complain, they must be weather witches.” And so on and so forth.

Now, there were some of these beggars, who actually did claim to know witchcraft.
Some were so mentally disturbed that they proudly recounted the times they fornicated with the devil, rode with him on oven pipes and wished bad weather upon the farmer who gave nothing.
Others claimed no such thing, but didn’t have the power to withstand the painful interrogation, aka torture, and told the drooling monks whatever they wanted to hear in their crazed madness. 
Some couldn’t even hold up in the “normal” interrogation, because they knew what was coming their way.
One woman ran a con-operation claiming she can see and find hidden treasures.

Off to the pyre they went.

Some women had to pay the farmers for their charitable gifts with sex, and were tried not only for devilishly seducing the otherwise oh so outstandingly devout Christian, but also for having sex with a married man, threatening his holy bond of marriage.  

To the pyre they, too, went.

But there were a few who were able to avoid the death penalty, often enough though not prison (where one of them died). They were accused of witchery by other members of the community as a form of revenge or in an attempt to get rid of them. But the accusations didn’t hold, and people went free.

And then there were a few, less than a handful, who actually did practice witchcraft, successfully as it were. One stayed free because he helped some superior nobleman with his illness. Another was hunted for decades, but never found. A couple died on the pyre.

In the end, Peter Klammer concludes that, from 1640 onwards, beggars were under the general suspicion of being witches. He also concludes that it seems that of those who practiced witchcraft only a few did it to help and heal (because they had the knowledge), while most others did it out of the desperation fueled by their poverty. In essence, a number of disenfranchised, poor social outcasts tried and claimed to be witches, to make a buck, and often enough to get back at those who had it all, who were in power.

Fast forward to today. A question discussed – a lot – in social media and in the blogger scene these days: is there, and should there be, a moral compass that pagans should voluntarily submit to?

Like the Wiccan “Rede”, the Law of the Harvest (Druidry), the Law of Threefold return (Witchcraft (TM)) or Karma (Hindu and by now pretty much everyone)?
If I were to evaluate the current situation based on what I read in social media discussions, things like

“I have been broke and treated unfairly so long that I have the right to hex… (fill in things like employer, ex-boyfriend, mother-in-law)”. 

“I don’t believe in the Rede/threefold law of return or what have you and if someone goes against me, I get back at them.”

“I hexed a guy who raped me, he died, and that way I made sure he can’t do it to someone else.”

…I would have to come to the conclusion: epic fail. Then again, if we in the pagan community can’t even decide whether or not there should be a moral compass in the first place, how could we ever hope that we could agree on what it would look like.

Nimue Brown, whose blog I follow regularly (she also writes impressively regularly), issued a number of posts vaguely linked to that question, albeit mostly for Druidry. Even so, what she writes in her article Responsible Druid:

The first thing that you do when you set out to become a Druid, is to take responsibility for your path.

…could be the first step if we were to at least agree that we should come up with something like pagan ethics. Because, if I compare some of these remarks with the witch trial court documents, I’d have to admit that we, as a community, are still deeply stuck in the stinking mud of the dark ages – also in the very literal meaning of that expression.

I think that it is permissible to defend life and limbs, even with Magic, in the very moment we face danger or someone else is. We are not bound to the Christian “present the other cheek” doctrine. But vengeful vigilante witchery? That is way off the moral compass not only by the standards of muggles.

There is no charter, no bill of right, that grants one the right for revenge.

At least not anymore. There was such a thing in one region of Europe for a time, but we have progressed from there a bit, thank the Gods. No more bond-slaves, thralls, and forced marriages either, so let’s not go back there.

Unfettered righteousness in the form of uttering curses left and right is something we, as a community, may want to stay away from. To keep each other safe from harm. If we ever want to have a chance of being an accepted alternative to the revealed Abrahamic religions; if we ever want to become a strong, responsible community.

Krampus is a little bit of a revenge creature. All within the framework of actual tradition. Responsible in a way that he doesn’t kill, or otherwise permanently harm those he calls out. He whips them a little bit.
Maybe we need Krampus to whack our arses once a year, too, just to keep us on our toes.


Read more about Krampus and other Alpine customs in my book “Mountain Magic” available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

 

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Making of Tinctures – Comfrey

This is my first attempt to record what is part of my Druidry in video format.

Please refer to this blog post for details about Comfrey (lat. Symphytum officinalis), and to this one to learn about a particular tradition  about collecting herbs in the Alps.


More on herbs and other Alpine traditions can be found in my book “Mountain Magic – Celtic Shamanism in the Austrian Alps”.

Available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com

BuchVorderseite

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Impractical Magic

AltarWhen starting on the path of Druidry, I was – how could I not have been – also exposed to Magic. So I began some research into my ancestors’ magical arts, which, just for the sake of distinguishing that from stage magic I shall not only capitalize it, but also call it Witchcraft. I do realize that this is an expression coined and defined by others (Gerald Gardner comes to mind), but in the context of this article I would like to use that term as the word describing the actual craft, the art of casting spells and ritual Magic of the witches.

Druid Magic is one thing. Different intent, different way of manifestation, sometimes in vastly more elaborate rites. The witch’s craft seems more direct, a momentary intent put into life through a spell maybe, or some purposeful ritual. Obviously, there is no clear demarcation line between the two, and as much as a Druid might cast a quick spell, a witch might stage an elaborate ritual with Coven and even guests.
As to the “how-to”, one can find a number of books on how to craft spells, volumes listing already created spells that one can use to manifest their intent. What’s beneficial about these manuals is that the spells and rituals in them do not, generally, raise too much of an eye-brow (except with radical religious people, but that should not be a topic here). Here’s an example of what I mean:

Breathe in and out slowly three time to clear your mind and center yourself. Just let your mind be clear and your energy calm. Chant the following:

Elements of the Sun, Elements of the Day,
Please come this way.
Powers of Night and Day,
I summon thee,
I call upon thee,
To protect me.
Do mote it be.

Beautiful. You don’t need any tools or gadgets, just a clear mind and intent, which you then manifest with these rhyming words. Only…that the witches of old may have done it a bit differently.

Mediaeval Spell Craft

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