With Samhain having passed, the Winter Solstice will be the next Station of the Sun we may want to observe. I say “may” because there is a good deal of evidence that folks in Old Europe may have celebrated the Quarter Days (known under their (Old) Irish names Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain) more than the Solstices and Equinoxes.
As a Druid from the Alps, though, where there is such an abundance of traditions around the seasonal marker of the Winter Solstice, I feel that this particular Station deserves particular focus.
Even though there is still some time until then, it’s never too late to start with preparations. And for what I’d like to suggest today, it’s important to begin with this project now so you are ready for the 12 days after the solstice.
The time between the Winter Solstice and the night of Mutter Percht (roughly what has become to be known as the crone aspect of the Goddess) are called Rauhnächte in some, especially the southern, German speaking regions. Definitely in the Alps. While rauh in today’s standard German means rough, in Rauhnächte it is an old dialect corruption of Rauch, i.e. smoke. So, when we say Rauhnächte, we are actually talking about “Smoke (as in fumigating) Nights; the nights when we walk around homes and farmsteads and cleanse rooms, people, and life stock with incense. In my blog post “Smoking The House Clean” you’ll find more info on those traditions.
And it is one special ingredient to the incense mixture for which some of us might need to start preparations now.
If you read my blog regularly, you may have learned in last week’s article that I am researching Magic for a new book I am writing. Last week I was talking about how it is somewhat impractical to follow most of the methods admitted by folks accused of witchery in the 15th through 19th centuries, methods recorded in witch trial court documents.
But this week I would like to offer an absolutely usable suggestion.
As mentioned before, not everyone of us might need to follow the procedure laid out below. For, if you have a besom already, you’re all set until the nights of the Winter Solstice. You’ll just have to take your besom then and do what a miller’s wife — obviously knowledgeable in witchcraft — suggested in 1676 (see further below).
If you don’t have a besom, here is a quick guide to make one. First — and that’s why it’s important to know that now — you need to collect thin, flexible branches from a tree. Birch would be the one most likely to give you the best result. Hazelnut would make it very magical, but is much harder to bend. Willow is witchy, but might be too bendable. Just some suggestions, but in the end you can use whatever works and grows in your area. Be sure to gather the branches in a manner appropriate for folks with deep connection to Nature.
The essential thing to observe here is that the besom will hold up best throughout the years when the branches are collected during the waxing moon, as close to the full moon as possible. Next full moon is 23 November 2018, in nine days from when I am writing this. And the full moon thereafter is already during the Winter Solstice, 22 December 2018. Doable (for it’s “as close to the full moon”), but you might be occupied with a thousand other things then.
You will also need an about four feet long stick with a 3/4 to one inch diameter. That should not be made out of easily bendable wood.
When you have the thin branches collected, put them into water, the bath tub for example, overnight, so they soak up a lot of water. Prepare some twine and a knife or scissors. The next day, lay the four foot broom stick on the floor. Take the soaked branches and lay them on the floor (maybe on a towel to protect it) alongside the thinner end of the stick, with the ends of the thin branches pointing towards what will become the top of the handle of the broom. In other words, they would look up, not downwards.
Let the lower end of the broom handle stick about four to six inches beyond the thicker ends of the thin branches. Now bind the branches tightly around the broom stick, at about four inches inwards. At this point it becomes clear why it was important to soak the branches overnight, because the next step is to bend them over into the other direction (180 degrees), so that they are now actually pointing down, where they belong. Bind the branches tightly around the broom stick again, one to two times with three to four inches in between the ties, and voilá, you have your besom.
Now, let’s have a look what the wife of Jörg Weiß stated at the county court Gutenhag on 4 July 1676:
The miller’s wife gave Jacob Reppa’s lass the advice, she should take a piece of a besom with which she swept the living room on the holy night [Winter Solstice] and should then fumigate with that and everything will soon turn for the better.
So, come Winter Solstice, take the besom and sweep out your home. This is generally a tradition in the Alps, on that and the following 12 nights. But for this particular purpose, you’d do it so you can cut off a few ends of your besom thereafter, or a sliver of the broom stick (or both) and add it to whatever incense you are using for cleansing and general healing purposes. Traditionally, we would use Mugwort (best collected at the Summer Solstice), Juniper, and dried sap of the European or Norwegian spruce for that purpose. We use small iron pans (see picture on top) for that, in which we put either a piece of ember from the fireplace, or one of these little coal disks and the incense on top.
More on traditional magical practice can be found in my book “Mountain Magic – Celtic Shamanism in the Austrian Alps”.