The Pagan Calendar for Thursday, December 24th

The Pagan Calendar for Thursday, December 24th

The Mothers -The Venerable Bede, writing about the customs of the Pagan Anglo Saxons in England, mentioned their practice of celebrating a holiday he called Modranicht or Modresnacht on the eve of Christmas. In his account of the Pagan calendar in 725 CE, he said:

“And the very night that is sacrosanct to us, these people call modranect, that is, the mothers’ night, a name bestowed, I suspect, on account of the ceremonies which they performed while watching this night through.”

This ‘night of the Mothers’ was evidently a sacred night devoted to a group of feminine divinities, like those pictured on carvings and statues all over Celtic France and Britain which show three women together, holding children and fruit, fish, grain and other bounties of the earth.

In Shetland, into recent times, it was called Helya’s Night when each child was committed into the protection of Mother Mary. Helya may be a corruption of the Old Norse heilagr, meaning holy. This is probably Mother’s Night overlaid with a Christian veneer.  [237] An account written in the nineteenth century says that, once the children were in bed, the old woman (the reporter’s grandmother) rose from her place by the peat fire and made her way over to the cradle where the youngest lay. Raising her hands over the slumbering infant, she spoke aloud:

Mary Midder had de haund
Ower aboot for sleepin-baund
Had da lass an’ had da wife,
Had da bairn a’ its life.
Mary Midder had de haund.
Roond da infants o’ wur land.

This procedure was repeated over all the children, while the grandfather sat raking the peats in the hearth. The old man was also thought to have been reciting something but, unfortunately, his softly spoken words were inaudible.

Anna Franklin, Yule (The Eight Sabbats)

The Wicca Book of Days for Wednesday, November 4th – Mischief-making Night


November 4th

Mischief-making Night


In northern England, “Mischief Night” is the traditional time for harmless pranks and tricks to be played by young people on their elders, who refrain from disciplining them for these misdeeds. This is a healthy celebration of the right to be different, or outside society’s mainstream, and of our tolerance of diversity of faith and belief. While the distinction between Mischief Night and Halloween has faded in most places, its origins on this night are still celebrated in some communities.


Queen Hyacinth

This is a good time to plant hyacinth bulbs, which can be used in love magick. Choose the color with your lover or intended lover, in mind, and plant the bulbs either in an indoor container or in a well-drained, sunny outdoor spot. When the fragrant hyacinth blooms in the Spring, you may use their petals in a spell.



The Wicca Book of Days
Observances, Traditions and Lore for Every Day of the Year

Selena Eilidth Ash


You Call it May Day, We Call it Beltane

You Call it May Day, We Call it Beltane

Author: Peg Aloi

The season of spring has arrived! The rites of fertility have begun! This is a holiday with a colorful past, and strangely enough, one of the only major festivals on the pagan calendar which has never been Christianized. But as we shall see, it is a holiday with two distinct flavors of celebration throughout history…

But first, some nostalgic wanderings…

April 30th, 1972.

Somewhere, I must have learned about May Baskets. I think my favorite third grade teacher mentioned them briefly in Social Studies class (she often talked about holidays and their origins), and then I wanted to find out more about this wacky custom. I was a precocious reader as a kid so it may have been almost anywhere: the Encyclopedia Britannica, Woman’s Day magazine, maybe even Playboy. I don’t recall where, but I know once I learned about the custom of giving them to some one special, I was determined to make one and leave it in secret for my favorite third-grade teacher, Miss V.

I took a small box (about half the size of a shoebox) and glued lavender construction paper to it. I also fashioned a handle out of the same paper, gluing it to both sides. I cut out flower petals shapes in different colors and glued those on, too. Very tasteful, I thought. I cut some daffodils and lilacs from the yard, and put them inside. I had already asked my aunt if she could drive me over to her house, having cleverly looked up her address in the phone book earlier. (Now, these days we would call such behavior something less innocent than childlike admiration; we might call it, oh, stalking). As we drove up with the basket to my teacher’s house, at around 6 pm, I found myself thinking, gee, what if she sees me? I got out of the car, ran on tiptoe (as if that would make me less visible) and put it on her porch. As I turned, the front door opened.

As luck would have it, I was busted: by Miss V. herself! She saw me, then the basket, and figured it out. She smiled and thanked me and said it was very sweet of me. I was mortified that she found me out. But then the next day in school, she made me a card with flowers on it. The front said “Thank you” and the inside said “for delighting my day with a May Basket.” So I got to put that card on my desk like a little teacher’s pet. Of course, I did not think that at the time; at the time I was simply very proud. And realized if I had not gotten “busted” she might never know who brought the May Basket, and I’d have my secret, but only that. This way, maybe the other kids would think of making May Baskets for someone: a teacher, a parent or grandparent. Of course, all I knew was I made something cool and gave it to someone special.

May 1st, 1988

I’m in graduate school. Living in a cool two-bedroom apartment above a funeral home. I have just started really getting into the whole paganism thing. Not in a coven yet, but doing the beginner stuff: practicing a bit of spellcraft, making little altars in my room, going to meetings of the Pagan Students’ Organization, buying books by Margot and Starhawk and Janet and Stewart… So I know it’s Beltane. But not to the extent that I know how to really celebrate it as a true pagan. (Not to worry, within a year or two I would be dancing ’round maypoles, washing my face in the dew and “going a Maying” like a veteran!)

So I get up in the morning and dress in something kinda frilly and festive, not all that atypical for me but I wanted to feel like I was observing the season today. I leave my apartment to go to class, and what do I find on my doorknob but a garland of flowers! Shaped like a crown to be worn. Wow. I don’t even have a clue who it might be from (but I have my suspicions). I take it with me and carry it around to classes that day. I finally run into a male friend of mine who knows I ma into this pagan stuff. He apparently knows a thing or two about May Day folklore, and I eventually find out he left it as a sign he was interested in dating me. Which was rather sweet. This was a very shy young man who I cannot imagine actually asking me out on a date. But his leaving a relic of ancient paganism on my door, well, that was impressive. We did date for a while. He was a nice guy and very smart. At the time all I knew was, he made something cool and gave it to me, so he must have thought I was special.

Beltane: a Pre-Christian Fire Festival

“But they are… naked!”
“Well, naturally, it’s far too dangerous to jumo through the fire with your clothes on!”

–Lord Summerisle explaining Beltane to Sergeant Howie in the 1973 film “The Wicker Man”

According to an article entitled “The Merry Month of May” on (link) “The first day of May is still celebrated as a pre-Christian magical rite in some parts of England. Local people dance around a maypole (an ancient fertility symbol), in what was once one of England’s most important festivals of the year.” May Day and Beltane obviously have much in common, as both celebrate new growth and fertility. Even when May Day celebrations were banned in the late 16th century for being immoral, the customs died hard and it wasn’t long before the festivities were once again widespread. But long before the May Day celebrations, with their maypole dancing, garlands and dances became popular, the ancient fire festival of Beltane took place for centuries.

It is not clear where or how the festival of Beltane first came about; Ronald Hutton in The Stations of the Sun mentions the first recorded instance of a bishop in Lincolnshire complaining about local priests who “demeaned themselves by joining games which they call the bringing-in of May” in 1240. May Games were recorded in Scotland in 1432. There is some speculation that Beltane and May Day is related to the ancient Roman festival of Floralia. According to the article, this was “a six-day party in honor of Flora, the goddess of Spring and Flowers, the Floralia was a time of singing, dancing and feasting in the ancient capital.” Dressed in bright colors in imitation of spring flowers, citizens would decorate the entire city with fresh blooms. “Hares and goats, symbols of fertility, would be let loose in gardens as protectors of Flora, and great singing and stomping would be heard in order to wake up Spring.” Of course, dancing is a large part of May Day celebrations as well. Apparently, Flora was also the patron of prostitutes, and during this festival the Roman “working girls” participated enthusiastically, performing naked in theatres and taking part in gladiatorial events. The themes of fertility and sexuality are obviously still very much associated with Beltane and May Day amongst modern pagans… but let’s look more closely at the ancient history of Beltane in the British Isles.

First of all, the origin of the name “Beltane” is disputed. The holiday was also known as “Roodmass” in England and “Walpurgisnacht” in Germany. Alternately spelled Bealtaine, Beltaine, and any number of Gaelic derived-spellings, it is also the Irish word for the month of May, and is said to mean anything from “Bel-fire” Feast of the god Bel” to “bright fire.” Janet and Stewart Farrar, in Eight Sabbats for Witches offer an excellent tracing of the holiday’s Irish roots, and particularly the European fire-god Belenus whom they believe this festival is named for (a name possible traced back to Baal, the bible’s only pagan god, whose name simply means “Lord”). Ronald Hutton states that since the Celtic word “bel” means bright or fortunate, this is adequate to explain the translation as being “lucky fire” or “bright fire.”

For FIRE is what this festival is all about. It is one of the two great fire festivals of the wheel of the year (the other is Samhain). It also falls upon the cross-quarter days, which mark the astrological movement of the sun. In ancient times, the calendar days for these holidays would have been roughly seven to eleven days AFTER we now celebrate them (usually on the first of the month). The way to know for sure is to observe when the sun reaches 15 degrees of the zodiac sign. For Beltane, this is Taurus, the Bull (the sun reaches 15 degrees Taurus on May 5th this year). At Lammas, Leo; at Samhain, Scorpio, and at Imbolc, Aquarius.

Samhain and Beltane divide the year into two distinct halves of great importance to agrarian-based societies (as in western Europe, where our Celtic calendar of eight major seasonal festivals originates). In F. Marian McNeill’s book The Silver Bough, she states: “At Beltane, flocks and herds went to their summer pastures; as Hallowmass (Samhain) they returned to their winter quarters. Beltane may be regarded as a day of Supplication, when a blessing was invoked on hunter and herdsman, on cattle and crops.” Whereas Samhain was a “Day of Thanksgiving, for the safe return of the wanderers and the renewal of the food supply.”

Fire festivals in ancient times were seen as times of propitiation and purification. Propitiation, says McNeill, “means sacrifice; to propitiate the mysterious forces of nature and ensure fertility in field and fold and on the hearth.”

“You’ll simply never understand the true nature of sacrifice.”
–May Morrison to Sergeant Howie, “The Wicker Man”

Human sacrifice was still practiced in Gaul as late as the 1st century BC, and was later replaced by sacrifice of animals (most notably the Bull – another Taurus connection?), and later an offering of specially consecrated cakes or loaves, as in the sun-shaped loaf in “The Wicker Man.” “The life of the fields: John Barleycorn.” But of course, by the film’s end, more than bread was consumed by the flames.

(Never seen The Wicker Man? It’s a cult classic well-loved by pagans for its deliciously politically-incorrect sacrifice of a morally-uptight police sergeant when he visits and island renowned for keeping the “old ways.” The film’s events take place on the days leading up to Beltane.)

As for purification, fire has always been seen as its chief agent. Traditionally, all domestic fires in Irish, English and Scottish households were extinguished on Beltane Eve, after having been kept lit continuously all year. Just before dawn, villagers would process with their animals up the hillsides to the highest point where fires would be kindled and relit for people to see for miles around. It was also traditional to build these fires out of nine of the sacred woods from Druidic folklore, including oak, ash, thorn, rowan, apple, birch, alder, maple, elm, gorse, holly, hawthorn, and others.

The bonfires were lit so that a narrow passage existed between two fire, so that cattle and other livestock could be led between the fires, to purify them from disease or sterility for the coming year. Torches of dried sedge, gorse or heather were also lit and carried around remaining flocks or stables, to further purify the air.

Fire, Water…

Water, the other element of purification, also plays a strong role in Beltane custom. Spring was the traditional season of “well dressing” particularly in Ireland where wells were seen as holy places (even with the advent of Christianity, when many wells dedicated to pagan goddesses were re-dedicated to the Virgin Mary). But even more specific to Beltane, morning dew was seen as sacred and magical. To this day, young women all over the British Isles rise at dawn to wash their faces in dew (dew from oak and rowan trees is said to be particularly well-suited). It was and is believed doing so would enhance a woman’s beauty and health in the coming year, and if she uttered an appropriate charm while doing it, she might also meet her future husband in the coming year.

This poem was written by someone who observed young women engaging in this practice in King’s Park in Edinburgh:

“On May Day in a fairy ring,
We’ve seen them round St. Anton’s spring,
Frae (from) grass the caller dew-drops wring,
To weet their een (to wet their eyes)
And water clean as crystal spring
To synd them clean.”

Village elders also left libations and offerings of food to guard their flocks against any evil from the fairy folk, or from the ravages of storms, floods, or disease. Butter, eggs, milk and cheese were left in hollow stones, or poured into the ground. Alternately, ale or fresh-baked bread was offered, with the idea that a gift of the finest the household could provide was the most suitable offering.

In Aberdeenshire, McNeill tells of a custom of kindling fires on May 2nd, as it was believed “witches were abroad then.” Beltane, like Samhain, was the time when the veils between the worlds were thinnest, and like fairy folk, “witches” were thought to be fond of this time and to use it for magical rites. Keep in mind, in those days, the “witches” were the ones that country folk worked magic against, and those of us today who call ourselves “witches” are actually closer in spirit to those village wise women and cunningmen, who used folk magic and spells to protect their homes and families and flocks. The Aberdeenshire citizens believed witches would steal milk from cows, and ride stolen horses to their meetings. Fires were lit and villagers would hold hands and dance around them three times deosil (sunwise) – does this sound familiar? Except they would then yell out “Fire! Blaze and Burn the witches! Fire, Fire! Burn the witches!” Thanks goodness we have moved far beyond these, ahem, heathen customs!

Earth and Air…

Dancing was a common way to celebrate the season. The Maypole rites being an obvious example, but before this practice became widespread, dancing without benefit of a giant pole was also common. Dancing round the bonfires was seen as a way to partake of the purification of its flames. Women wanting to get pregnant would perform fertility dances at the fireside. Once the Beltane fires were relit on the hillsides, villagers would carry a flaming torch, the “need-fire, ” back to their homes and relight their hearthfires with it. On the way, it was customary to dance and sing the season in. Records of may dances and songs go back to well before the 16th century. The songs affirmed the purpose of the fire ceremonies: protection and purification. The protective power of the magical woods was thought to affect any who lit their households with their flames. The sight of the bright flames on the hills, and the line of people processing with torches in the dark, must have been an awesome sight to behold.

(This year in Ireland, a huge ritual will be held to re-kindle the ancient fires of Beltane. It was nearly cancelled due to foot and mouth disease, but now it looks like this ancient ritual of healing the land and its creatures will take place after all, and not a moment too soon.)

The most protective wood of all was rowan, and prior to the Beltane Eve bonfire lighting, branches of rowan were cut in huge amounts and used to decorate the homes of all. Branches tied with red thread (signifying the rowan berries, and a favorite color of fairies) were hung in doorways of homes, stables, barns and sheepfolds, and, as McNeill states, particularly “in the midden, which was a favourite of the black sisterhood.” (I think she meant witches.) In the Highlands of Scotland, girls tied sprigs of rowan in their hair or on their clothing just after washing in may dew. (Incidentally, in “The Wicker Man” the hapless Sergeant Howie is first sent for to investigate a missing girl, whom he believes intended for human sacrifice: her name is Rowan.)

Just as rowan branches were seen as protective, people also gathered armsful of tree branches in blossom to decorate their homes in honor of the arrival of spring. This custom was usually fulfilled the following day, on Beltane proper, after the midday sun brought the blossoms to the fullest size and fragrance. In later years, when May festivities spread to England, these branches were carried from door to door, offered with songs, in the expectation that gifts of sweets, money or food and drink would be offered. This in turn led to the “garlanding” customs popular in southern England, once the province of women but later an activity popular for young girls and sanctioned by local schools and parishes. No matter what the blossom, it was known as “gathering the May.” Hawthorn was most common, and so one of its folk names is “May.” (Rowan Morrison’s mother’s name is May, as well). “Going a Maying” innocently refers to the custom of young people gathering blossoming tree branches; but later became a common euphemism for what happened after the branches were gathered in the woods, and before they were brought home.

Once the fires were relit on Beltane Eve, and children put to bed, and the wee hours of Beltane morning arrived, the more adult festivities began. And that includes the traditional activities associated with fertility (remember Flora and her fondness for prostitutes? Kinda along those lines). Newly wed couples and new brides were expected to perform fertility rites around the bonfires, to take advantage of their potency and purification. Humans were much more closely connected with the rhythms of the earth in those days, to put it mildly, and no doubt the running of sap in trees, the blossoms and buds bursting forth, the scents of flowers and new growth and damp soil and rain, all stirred the senses and reawakened the body—these days we call it “spring fever, ” but in antiquity, indulging such urges was completely normal and expected.

Or, in the words of Lerner and Lowe, from the musical “Camelot”:

“It’s May! It’s May!
The lusty month of May!…
Those dreary vows that ev’ryone takes,
Ev’ryone breaks.
Ev’ryone makes divine mistakes!
The lusty month of May! ”

Naturally enough, unwed men and women would also partake of the spirit of these rites, and find themselves venturing off into the nearby fields or forest to perform their own fertility rites. Blessed by the gods on this sacred night, such unions were seen as wholly proper, even when not blessed by marriage; they were referred to as “greenwood marriages.” It is also true that betrothed couples would make love at Beltane, and if the union did not prove fruitful, i.e. no pregnancy resulted, they might dissolve the partnership before marriage without repercussion. In fact, the origin of the “year and a day” handfasting custom observed by modern pagans, in which they renew their vows after one year, dates back to this. If new marriages did not produce children within one year, couple often split and married others, with no penalty.

But why sex? If the point of these festivals was to preserve the land and the flocks, why not simply observe fertility in the birth of lambs, the growth of plants? Ah, but ancient peoples believed in sympathetic magic: that practice of a small, symbolic action representing a larger one. By making love in the fields, human beings believed they were helping make the earth more fertile, blessing it with their own activity of producing new life and abundance. And even if the ultimate goal of such unions was not pregnancy, it couldn’t hurt to help the magic along!

Which brings me to what is often considered a wholly sexual symbol, and main feature of ancient May Day and modern Beltane celebrations: the maypole.

Phallic Symbol? Or Tree Worship?

Beltane celebrations in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and parts of Britain later became intertwined with May Day rites derived from the Floralia (due to the Roman invasion of Britain, mostly). But more importantly, the different customs associated with May 1st became very diverse and widespread to such an extent that these practices were banned on a wide scale. Though complaints about “immoral” practices started early on (as in the 1240 reference from Hutton), the Protestant, well, protest against May rites came to a head in 1555, when May Day observances were banished by Parliament. This mainly had to do with the “Maying” rites, which uptight clergy believed were merely opportunities for fornication in the fields and defiling of young women (mistakenly believed to come away pregnant more often than not. Hutton notes that later demographic research showed no concomitant rise in pregnancy rates at this time of year; in fact, late summer was a much more common time for conception).

By 1565, the common practice of electing “an Abbott of Misrule” and other ritual roles, like Robin Hood, Maid Marian and others, was also banned by law. Such plays had become commonplace, as had Morris dancing, sword dances and other celebratory ways of “dancing in” spring. Margaret Murray, in “The God of the Witches” noted the similarity between Robin and his typical band of 12 men being modeled on a “Grandmaster and his coven.” Although it is just as clearly related to Jesus and his disciples. In any case, the traditional green costumes and elaborate dances, as well as Robin Hood’s association with Robin Goodfellow, or Puck, were also connected to fairy tradition and so seen as “heathen” by the clergy. Some have speculated that this tradition of using Robin and Marian as May Day “deities” actually has its origin in Diana and Herne: goddess of the hunt and forest creatures, and god of the wild hunt. Indeed, Herne is seen as one aspect of the Green man, and many May Day rites also featured The Green Man. Diana is also a predecessor of the Queen of the May, a role later usurped by Marian… but Diana’s virgin aspect makes her a likely model for such a role.

The maypole itself was banned in 1644. By 1660, when it became clear the monarchy would be restored, May Day rites were once again permitted and in fact spontaneously reappeared across the country. But by then the holiday had lost much of its earlier sexual significance; May Day had replaced Beltane, if you will. But it is also true that by this time, the dancing of the Maypole had become the central “ritual” of this holiday, not the bonfires. Only in remote parts of Ireland and Scotland did the fires apparently continue as the dominant feature.

It is not clear when the maypole first became part of the May festivities, or what its exact origin is. Our post-Freudian society naturally wishes to call it a “phallic symbol” and have done with it, and indeed this seems fitting. A wonderful scene in the oft-mentioned “The Wicker Man” finds the young male students dancing round the maypole, while the female students watch them from their classroom, in which they listen to a lecture about the rites and rituals of May Day (even their textbooks have a chapter on it!), and all the girls in unison know the answer to what the maypole represents: “phallic symbol.” The teacher, Miss Rose, says it is the penis, “revered in religions, such as ours, as the generative force in nature.”

But according to Ron Hutton, other explanations present themselves. Some authors, including Sir J.G. Frazer in The Golden Bough, refer to it as “the repository of a fertility-giving tree spirit.” Many years earlier, Thomas Hobbes suggested the maypole was meant to honor the Roman god of male potency, Priapus. Hutton himself suggests they are just as likely symbols of tree worship (particularly since the earliest maypoles were living trees, stripped of all leaves but for a tuft of greenery at the top). He also mentions the Northern European concept of the divine tree which connects the earth tot he world of the divine, and the maypole as a connection between them. Finally, he credits Mircea Eliade for his theory that it is “merely a way of rejoicing at the returning strength of vegetation.”

Modern Traditions

“For the May Day is the great day,
Sung along the old straight track.
And those who ancient lines did ley
Will heed this song that calls them back…
Pass the cup, and pass the Lady,
And pass the plate to all who hunger,
Pass the wit of ancient wisdom,
Pass the cup of crimson wonder.”

Jethro Tull, “Cup of Wonder, ” from the 1977 album Songs From the Wood

Modern pagans celebrate Beltane as a festival of reawakening spring, of fertility, of the renewal of the lifeforce, of creativity, or rebirth, of love and sexuality, or birth and regeneration. Janet and Stewart Farrar, whose work forms the basis for many Wiccan groups, offer a ritual for Beltane in their Eight Sabbats for Witches in which they feature the Oak King as a symbol of the death of the old season, and a “bel-fire” is rekindled to usher in the new season, along with lyrics from Rudyard Kipling’s famous song of tree worship in England, “Oak and Ash and Thorn.”

“Oh do not tell the priest our plight, for he would call it a sin,
But we’ve been out in the woods all night a-conjuring summer in;
And we bring good news by word of mouth, for women and cattle and corn,
For now is the sun come up from the South by Oak and Ash and Thorn.”

Some covens kindle their own bonfire, using nine of the sacred woods. Others celebrate the Great Rite, the sacred marriage of the god and goddess, in symbolic or actual fashion according to their tradition. Solitary practitioners often choose Beltane as a time to reaffirm their dedication to the path; and couples in a magical partnership might choose this auspicious time to work sex magick, to achieve a chosen goal.

Larger pagan gatherings feature maypole dancing; I have attended a number of these over the years and there really is nothing like a fifty-foot tall maypole with a hundred people dancing around it with ribbons!

May wine is a traditional drink of the season: to make your own, simply add dried or fresh meadowsweet to white wine. Let it steep for at least 24 hours. You can either leave the herb in the wine or strain it out. The herby, vanilla-like fragrance and taste are indescribable, and really say “Beltane!” I have also seen recipes for “May Cup” on the net. And this is a fine time to experiment with aphrodisiac brews, for example adding damiana to some white zinfandel.

Perhaps it is best to remember this as the time when Aphrodite, who rules the sign of Taurus, is coming into her own. She presides over the realms of love and sex and beauty, but also over the flowers and fruits which brig us such pleasure: delighting our senses with their colors and scents and tastes and juices. She fills blossoms with nectar, and her body is beneath us as we walk and dance upon the newly-yielding, softened earth, alive again after the dormancy of winter, full of new life. She is in the animals, the lambs born at Imbolc who frolic among spring meadow flowers, the other creatures who come into their mating seasons at this time. And she is in us, offering her discernment of beauty, blessing our eyes with new awareness of color and texture in nature. In our hearts which beat quicker with the warmth of the sun and the fires rekindled within us. In our minds, alive to possibility and creativity, awakened and reborn with new energy. And in our bodies, walking on hills and in meadows and forests, dancing around our own fires and in circles with like-minded loved ones, sharing laughter and song and love, enjoying and creating the feast, the celebration, the magical birthright that is life on Earth.

May your fires burn bright!

Peg Aloi

VESTIGES OF DRUIDISM (In Rustic Folk-lore Part 2)



(Part 2)



In the West of France the pin is endowed with a fabulous power, which is not without a certain interest. One of its supposed attributes is the power of attracting lovers to her who possess it, after it has been used in the toilet of a bride. Consequently it is a curious sight in La Vendeé or Les Deux-Sèvres, to see all the peasant girls anxiously placing a pin in the bride’s dress: the number being often so considerable that she is forced to have a pin -cushion attached to her waist-band to receive all the prickly charms. At night, on the threshold of the bridal chamber, she is surrounded by her companions, each one easily seizing upon the charmed pin, which is kept as a sacred relic.

In Brittany the pin is regarded as the guardian of chastity, a mute witness which will one day stand forth to applaud or condemn in the following manner:–

Some days before the wedding, the betrothed leads his future bride to the edge of some mysterious current of water, and taking one of her pins drops it into the water. If it swims, the girl’s innocence is incontestable–if on the contrary it sinks to the bottom, it is considered the judgment of heaven; it is an accusation which no evidence can overcome. But as the peasant girls in Brittany never use any pins heavier than the long blackthorn, which they find in the hedges, the severity of the tribunal is not very formidable.

On the 7th of December, a young peasant mounted on a strong cob, full of hope and gaiety, was seen urging his way towards Morlaix with a handsome girl of twenty on a pillion behind him, her arm tenderly clasping his waist. It was easy to see in their happy faces that they were two lovers, and from the direction which they took, that they were going on a pilgrimage to try the charm of the pin at the fountain of St. Douet. Jean’s father was one of the richest land-holders in the neighborhood, but above all the young ladies round him, he had chosen Margaret, whose sole wealth consisted in her beauty and virtue.

Through all the glades of the wood with wild thyme and violets beneath their horses feet, they journeyed on till they came to a wild and deserted plain, whence they plunged once more into the dark forests of Finisterre filled with Druidical memories. It might have been those sombre shades which saddened them for a moment, but it was only for a moment. jean feared not the trial, for he loved Margaret, and believed her to be an angel. And Margaret feared it not, for she knew that she was innocent.

Now they were close to the sacred fountain, which burst through the crevices of a rock overgrown with moss into a natural bason, and thence like a thread of silver through the forest.

They dismounted, and Margaret, kneeling down, prayed fervently for some moments. Then rising, she gave her left hand to her lover, and full of confidence, advanced toward the well. Alas! she had too much faith in the virtue of the legend. Instead of a thorn pin, she took from a neckerchief one with a silver head which he had given her. He pressed her fingers affectionately as he took it from her hand and dropped it into the well. It disappeared instantaneously. Margaret sank to the ground with a heart-broken groan.

He raised her and placed her on his horse, but he did not speak to her, he did not caress her. In mournful silence he walked by her side. Her arm could no longer embrace him. She was not his Margaret now. She was a guilty wretch who had dared to tempt the judgment of God.

He placed her down at her father’s door, and stooping he kissed her on the forehead. It was a silent adieu he was bidding her; it was his last kiss -it was the kiss of death.

Next morning her corpse was found underneath his window. There were no marks of violence upon her body; the wound was in her heart; she had died a victim to a destestable superstition.

To the element of air we do not find our peasants pay any particular homage, unless the well-known practice of sailors of whistling for the wind in a dead calm, and of the Cornish laborers when engaged in winnowing may be regarded as such.

But the worship of the heavenly bodies has not yet died out among us’ The astrologists of the middle ages were but copyists of the ancient Chaldeans, and the lower classes to this day draw omens from meteors and falling stars. General Vallancey, by the way, records a curious instance in his Collectanea de rebus Hibernicis, of an Irish peasant who could neither read nor write but who could calculate eclipses.

When we consider how universal and how prominent was the worship of the sun in the world, it is almost surprising that we do not find more vestiges of this idolatry. There are some few however.

It was once a custom of the vulgar to rise early on Easter Day to see the sun dance, for they fancied that the reflection of its beams played or danced upon the waters of any spring or lake they might look into.

In the British Apollo, fol. Lond. 1708, vol. i. No. 40, we read:

Q. Old wives, Phœbus, say
That on Easter day,
To the music o’the spheres you do caper,
If the fact, sir, be true,
Pray let’s the cause know,
When you have any room in your paper.

A. The old wives get merry,
With spic’d ale or sherry,
On Easter, which makes them romance
And whilst in a rout,
Their brains whirl about,
They fancy we caper and dance.

The sun shining on the bride as she goes to church is a good omen. The cloudy rising of the sun is a presage of misfortune. The Highlanders, when they approach a well to drink, walk round it from east to west, sometimes thrice.

The Orkney fishermen, on going to sea, would think themselves in imminent peril, were they by accident to turn their boat in opposition to the sun’s course; and I have seen many well-educated people seriously discomfited if the cards from the pack, the balls from the pool-basket, or the decanters at the dining-table had not been sent round as the sun goes.

All the ancient dances were in imitation of the revolutions of the heavenly bodies, and were used in religious worship. Such were the circular dances of the Druids–the slower and statelier movements of the Greek strophe–the dances of the Cabiri or Phoenician priests, the devotional dances of the Turkish dervishes, the Hindoo Raas Jattra or dance-of-the-circle, and the war dances of the American and other savage nations round their camp-fires, lodges, or triumphal poles.

Such also is the Round About, or Cheshire Round, which is referred to by Goldsmith in his Vicar of Wakefield, and which is not yet extinct in England.

But the best instance of sun-worship is found in the fires lighted by the common Irish on Midsummer’s Eve, and which they tell you candidly are burnt “in honor of the sun.”

The fires which the Scotch Highlanders light on May Day are to welcome back the sun after his long pilgrimage in the frosts and darkness of winter.

Crantz in his History of Greenland, informs us that the natives of that country observe a similar festival to testify their joy at the re-appearance of the sun, and the consequent renewal of the hunting season.

In matters of divination, the moon is supposed by the vulgar to possess a peculiar power. She was supposed to exercise an influence not only over the tides of the sea, and over the minds of men, but also over the future, in weather, cookery, and physic.

When the moon is encircled by a halo, or is involved in a mist, when she is called “greasy,” it portends rain–when she is sharp horned, windy weather. It is also a general belief among all classes that as the weather is at the new moon, so it will continue during the whole month.

In many of the old almanacs and books of husbandry, it is directed to kill hogs when the moon is increasing, and the bacon will prove the better, in boiling; to shear sheep at the moon’s increase; to fell hand-timber from the full to the change; to fell frith, coppice, and fuel at the first quarter; to geld cattle when the moon is in Aries, Sagittarius, or Capricorn.

In The Husbandman’s Practice, or Prognostication for ever, the reader is advised “To purge with electuaries the moon in Cancer, with pills the moone in Pisces, with potions the moone in Virgo,” and in another place, “To set, sow seeds, graft, and plant, the moone being in Taurus, Virgo or Capricorn, and all kinds of corne in Cancer, to graft in March, at the moone’s increase, she being in Taurus or Capricorn.”

Werenfels in his Dissertation on Superstition, speaking of a superstitious man, writes, “He will have his hair cut either when the moon is in Leo, that his locks may stare like the lion’s shag, or in Aries that they may stare like a ram’s horn. Whatever he would have to grow he sets about when she is in the increase; for whatever he would have made less he chooses her wane. When the moon is in Taurus, he can never be persuaded to take physic, lest that animal which chews its cud should make him cast it up again; and if at any time he has a mind to be admitted to the presence of a prince, he will wait till the moon is in conjunction with the sun, for ’tis then the society of an inferior with a superior is salutary and successful.”

The islanders of Sky will not dig peats (which is their only fuel) in the increase of the moon, believing that they are less moist, and will burn more clearly if cut in the wane.

In the parishes of Kirkwall and St. Ola, Orkney, none marry or kill cattle in the wane.

In Angus it is believed that if a child be put from the breast during the waning of the moon, it will decay all the time that the moon continues to wane. I will mention two more instances of divination, one from Thomas Hodge’s Incarnate Divells, viz., “That when the moone appeareth in the springtime, the one horn spotted and hidden with a blacke and great cloude from the first day of her apparition to the fourth day after, it is some signe of tempests and troubles in the aire the summer after.”

When the new moon appears with the old moon in her arms, or in other words when that part of the moon which is covered by the shadow of the earth is seen through it, it is considered not only an omen of bad weather, but also of misfortune, as we learn from the following stanza in the ballad of Sir Patrick Spence:

Late, late yestreen
I saw the new moone
Wi’the auld moone in her arme;
And I feir, I feir, my deir master,
That we will come to harm.

One might enumerate examples of this kind to volumes, and I fear I have already passed the limits of human endurance; I must, however, write a few words upon the subject of moon-worship.

The feminine appellation is traditionally derived from the fable of Isis, who was entitled the wife of the sun. The superstition of the man-in-the-moon, is supposed to have originated in the account given in the Book of Numbers, XV. 32 et seq. of a man punished with death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath Day, though why, it is difficult to explain. In Ritson’s Ancient Songs we read, “The man-in-the-moon is represented leaning upon a fork, on which he carries a bush of thorn, because it was for ‘pycchynde stake’ on a Sunday that he is reported to have been thus confined.” And in Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of the actors says, “All I have to say is to tell you that the lantern is the moon, I the man-in-the-moon, this thorn bush my thorn bush, and this dog my dog.” Vide also Tempest, act. ii. sc. 2.

The new moon still continues to be idolatrously worshipped by the vulgar of many countries.

On the night of the new moon, the Jews assemble to pray to God under the names of the Creator of the planets, and the restorer of the moon.

The Madingoe Tribe of African Indians whisper a short prayer with their hands held before their face; they then spit upon their hands and religiously anoint their faces with the same.

At the end of the Mahometan Feast of Rhamadan (which closely resembles the Romish Carnival) the priests await the reappearance of the moon, and salute her with clapping of hands, beating of drums and firing of muskets.

In the 65th Canon of the 6th council of Constantinople, A. D. 680, is the following interdiction: “Those bone-fires that are kindled by certaine people on new moones before their shops and houses, over which also they are most foolishly and ridiculously to leape by a certaine antient custom, we command them from henceforth to cease. Whoever therefore shall do any such thing, if he be a clergyman let him be deposed-if a layman let him be excommunicated.”

No bonfires are now lit in honor of the new moon, but the common Irish on beholding her for the first time cross themselves, saying:

May thou leave us as safe as thou hast found us.

English peasants often salute the new moon, saying: “There is the new moon, God bless her,” usually seating themselves on a stile as they do so.

They also believe that a new moon seen over the right shoulder is lucky, over the left shoulder unlucky, and straight before good luck to the end of the moon.

That if they look straight at the new moon (or a shooting star) when they first see it, and wish for something, their wish will be fulfilled before the end of the year.

The peasant girls, in some parts of England, when they see the new moon in the new year, take their stocking off from one foot and run to the next stile; when they get there, they look between the great toe and the next, and expect to find a hair which will be the color of their lover’s.

In Yorkshire, it is common enough for an inquisitive maid to go out into a field till she finds a stone fast in the earth, to kneel upon this with naked knees and looking up at the new moon to say:

All hail, new moon, all hail to thee,
I prithee, good moon, reveal to me
This night, who shall my true love be,
Who he is, and what he wears,
And what he does all months and years.

She then retires backwards till she comes to a stile, and goes to bed directly without speaking a word.

The Irish believe that eclipses of the moon are effected by witchcraft, and this occasions me to narrate a curious custom of the ancient Peruvians who were the Egyptians of the New World.

When the moon became eclipsed, they imagined that she was ill and would fall down and crush the world. Accordingly as soon as the eclipse commenced, they made a noise with cornets and drums, and tying dogs to trees beat them till they howled in order to awake the fainting moon who is said to love these animals, for Diana and Nehalenna are seldom represented without a dog by their side.

Since we find in a book, called Osborne’s Advice to his Son, p. 79, that “the Irish and Welch during eclipses ran about beating kettles and pans, thinking their clamor and vexations available to the assistance of the higher orbes,” it is probable that they made use of the same canine resources as the natives of Peru, and that such is the origin of the Irish proverb that “dogs will bark at the moon.”

Having thus considered the worship of the elements and of the heavenly bodies extant among us, let us pass on to those minor idolatries which are still retained among the lower orders.

There is no religious custom of the Russians so celebrated as that of presenting each other with eggs dyed and stained, saying, “Christ is risen.” To which the other replies “He is indeed,” and they exchange kisses.

An egg was the Egyptian emblem of the universe, and it was from the Egyptians that all the Pagan nations, and afterwards the Greek Christians derived this ceremony. They are used also by the Roman Catholics and by the Jews in their Paschal festival.

It is probable that it was also a Druidic ceremony, for it prevails in Cumberland and many other counties of England. On Easter Monday and Tuesday the inhabitants assemble in the meadows, the children provided with hard boiled eggs, colored or ornamented in various ways, some being dyed with logwood or cochineal; others tinged with the juice of herbs and broom-flowers; others stained by being boiled in shreds of parti-colored riband; and others covered with gilding. They roll them along the ground, or toss them in the air till they break when they eat them-a part of the ceremony which they probably understand the best. They are called pace-eggs or paste-eggs, probably corrupted from pasche.

This reminds us of the strange fable of the serpent’s egg. As I mentioned in an earlier chapter many of these eggs or adder-stones are preserved with great reverence in the Highlands. There are also some traditions upon this subject which are worth narrating.

Monsieur Chorier in his Histoire de Dauphiné informs us that in the divers parts of that county, especially near the mountain of Rochelle on the borders of Savoy, serpents congregate from the 15th of June to the 15th of August for purposes of generation. The place which they have occupied after they have gone, is covered with a sticky white foam which is indescribably disgusting to behold.

Camden relates that in most parts of Wales and throughout Scotland and Cornwall, it is an opinion of the vulgar that about Midsummer Eve the snakes meet together in companies, and that by joining heads together and hissing, a kind of bubble is formed which the rest by continual hissing blow on till it quite passes through the body, when it immediately hardens and resembles a glass ring which will make its finder prosperous in all his undertakings. The rings thus generated are called gleinu madroeth, or snake stones. They are small glass amulets commonly about half as wide as our finger rings, but much thicker, of a green color usually though sometimes blue and waved with red and white.

Careu in his Survey of Cornwall says that its inhabitants believe that snakes breathing upon a hazel wand produce a stone ring of a blue color, in which there appears the yellow figure of a snake, and that beasts which have been bit by a mad dog or poisoned, if given some water to drink wherein this stone has been infused, will perfectly recover.

The following custom is evidently a dramatic representation of the rape of the serpent’s egg à la Pliny:

On Easter Monday, in Normandy, the common people congregate à la motte de Pougard which they surround. They place at the foot a basket containing a hundred eggs, the number of the stones of the temple of Aubury. A man takes the eggs and places them singly on the top of the tumulus, and then descends in the same manner to return them to the basket. While this is doing, another man runs to a village half a league off, and if he can return before the last egg is restored to the basket, he gains a barrel of cider as a prize, which he empties with the co-operation of his friends, and a Bacchanalian dance round the tumulus ends the proceedings.

Serpent-worship is almost extinct, if not entirely so; . and the belief of the lower orders in Ireland that St. Patrick expelled all the snakes and other reptiles from the island is perhaps derived from his having extinguished their adorers.

However, it is considered unlucky in England to kill the harmless green snake; and there is a superstition almost universally present, that it will not die till the setting of that sun, of which it was an emblem.

Its tenacity of life is indeed something marvelous. Mr. Payne Knight, in his work on Phallic worship, (which I read at the British Museum, but which is somewhat absurdly excluded from the catalogue) states that he has seen the heart of an adder throb for some moments after it had been completely taken from the body, and even renew its beatings ten minutes afterwards when dipped in hot water.

Many of our ladies wear bracelets in the shape of a snake, as did the Egyptian dames of old. The lower orders believe that a serpent’s skin will extract thorns, and its fat is sold to London chemists at five shillings a pound for its medicinal properties.

Most curious of all, is the superstition that by eating snakes one may grow young, and of which the three following passages are illustrations.

“A gentlewoman told an ancient bachelor, who looked very young, that she thought he had eaten a snake. No mistress, (he said) it is because I never meddled with any snakes which maketh me look so young. “–Holy State, 1642, p. 36.

He hath left off o’ late to feed on snakes,
His beard’s turned white again.

Massinger, Old Law. Act V. Sc. 1.

He is your loving brother, sir, and will tell nobody
But all he meets, that you have eat a snake,
And are grown young, gamesome, and rampant.

Ibid, Elder Brother, Act IV., Sc- 4-

Of stone worship there are still many vestiges. In a little island near Skye is a chapel dedicated to St. Columbus; on an altar is a round blue stone which is always moist. Fishermen, detained by contrary winds, bathe this stone in water, expecting thereby to obtain favorable winds; it is likewise applied to the sides of people troubled with stitches, and it is held so holy, that decisive oaths are sworn upon it.

There is a stone in the parish of Madren, Cornwall, through which many persons are wont to creep for pains in the back and limbs, and through which children are drawn for the rickets. In the North, children are drawn through a hole cut in the Groaning Cheese, a huge stone, on the day they are christened.

To go into the cleft of a rock was an ancient method of penitence and purification. It may be remembered that in the tradition of Hiram Abiff, the assassins were found concealed in a hollow rock, in which they were lamenting their crime.

To sleep on stones on particular nights is a cure for lameness with our peasants, though perhaps a hazardous one, especially if the disease originated from rheumatism.

A Druidic monument of great historical interest is to be seen under the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey. Originally called Liag-fial, the Fatal Stone, by others Cloch na cineamhna or the Stone of Fortune, it was that upon which the Kings of Ireland used to be inaugurated, and which, being enclosed in a wooden chair, was, by the ingenuity of the Druids, made to emit a sound under the rightful candidate, and mute under a man of bad title. It was superstitiously sent to confirm the Irish colony in Scotland, and it continued at Scone as the coronation of the Scotch Kings, from the commencement of the Christian Era till 1300 A. D.,when Edward I. imported it into England. It is still a superstition in the Highlands that those who lay their hands against the Druids’ stones will not prosper.

Many of these monuments are approached with great reverence by the natives of Scotland and the Isles, especially the Tighe nan Druidhneach in the Isle of Skye, little arched, round stone buildings capable of holding one, where the contemplative Druid sat when his oak could not shelter him from the weather. The common people never pass these without walking round them three times from east to west.

In Chartres, which teems with Druidic vestiges, a curious specimen of stone worship remains. At the close of service in the cathedral, no one leaves the church without kneeling and saying a short prayer before a small pillar or stone–without polish, base or capital–placed in a niche, and much worn on one side by the kisses of the devout. This stone is rumored to be of high antiquity, even earlier than the establishment of Christianity–for many centuries to have remained in a crypt of the cathedral where lamps were constantly burning–but the stairs having been much worn on one side by the great resort of pilgrims to the spot, the stone had been removed from its original site, to avoid the expenses of repairs. It was said to be a miraculous stone, and that its miracles were performed at the intercession of the Virgin Mary.

There is a certain reverence paid by the peasantry to those caves in which the Druids held their initiatory rites. Many of them are said to be inhabited by spirits, and there is one in the neighborhood of Dunskey, Scotland, which is held in peculiar veneration. At the change of the moon it is usual to bring even from a great distance infirm persons, and particularly rickety children whom they supposed bewitched, to bathe in a stream which flows from the hill, and then to dry them in the cave.

As among the Druids it is still customary to place a platter of salt and earth upon the breast of the corpse in many parts of Britain. Salt was held in great reverence by the Eastern nations as an emblem of incorruptibility. So among us to spill salt is considered unlucky; it was only the other day that I saw a talented and well educated lady overwhelmed with consternation at this mishap, but with admirable presence of mind she flung a pinch over her left shoulder and so recovered her self-possession.

Hare was forbidden to the ancient Britons by their religion, and to this day the Cornish eat it with reluctance. Boadicea also augured from the running of a hare; and a hare that runs across a path (to any one but a sportsman, or rather a pot-hunter) is an omen of ill-luck.

The onion was an emblem of the deity among the Egyptians, perhaps also among the Druids, for it is a custom in some parts of England for girls to divine by it, as Barnaby Googe in his translation of Naogeorgus’ Popish Kingdome informs us.

In these same days young wanton gyrles that meete for marriage be,
Doe search to know the names of them that shall their husbands bee;
Four onyons, five, or eight, they take, and make in every one
Such names as they do fancie most, and best to think upon,
Thus nere the chimney them they set, and that same Onyon then
That firste doth sproute, doth surely bear the name of their good man.

In matters of dress, there are not many traces of the Druids and the ancient Britons to be found.

The caps of rushes, however, which they wore tied at the top and twisted into a band at the bottom, may still be seen upon the heads of children in Wales and some parts of England. In Shetland, the ancient sandals of untanned skins are worn, and also, by fishermen in cold weather, the Druidic wooden shoes. I could not discover their real origin during my visit there: some said they had been imported by the Dutch, others that the Dutch had borrowed the idea from them; but in any case these wooden shoes, the sabots of the lower orders of France, are derived from the Druids.

The best instance of dress however, is the Highland plaid, which was the very garment worn by the Druid Abaris, on his visit to Athens, and which is an extraordinary example of savage conservatism. From the breachan of the Gauls and Britons, is derived our word breeches and also that inelegant but necessary article of clothing.

Upon the subject of words I will also remark that our word fortnight or fourteen nights, is derived from the Druidic habit of counting time by nights instead of days; and the word dizzy from their deisul, or circular dance, (in Hebrew dizzel). I could give a multitude more, but ohe! jam satis est.

A very curious memorial of Druidism in the very bosom of victorious Christianity was discovered a few years ago by the well-known French Antiquary, M. Hersart de la Villemarqué. It is a fragment of Latin poetry which all the children in the parish of Nizon, Canton de Pont-Aven, are taught to sing at school and in church. The original poetry is almost the same as its Latin adaptation, except that in the latter various biblical allusions have been slipped in.

I will give the first strophe of the original, then its translation in the French of M. Villemarqué which is too good for me to meddle with, and then the Latin hymn as sung by the children


Daik mab gwerm Drouiz; ore;
Daik petra fell d’id-dei
Petra ganinn-me d’id-de.


Kan d’in euz a eur raun,
Ken a ouffenn breman.


Tout beau enfant blanc du Druide, tout beau réponds-moi; que veux-tu? te chanterai-je?


Chante-moi la division du nombre un jusqu’à ce que je l’apprenne aujourd’hui.


Pas de division pour le nombre un, la nécessitéuni que; la mort père de la douleur; rien avant, rien après. Tout beau, &c.


Chante-moi la division du nombre deux, &c.


Deux bœufs attelés à une coque; ils tirent, ils vont expirer–Voyez la merveille!

Pas de division, &c.


Chante-moi la division du nombre trois, &c.


Il y a trois parties dans le monde; trois commencements et trois fins pour l’homme, comme pour le chêne; trois cêlestes, royaumes de Merlin; fruits d’or, fleurs brillantes, petits enfants qui rient.
Deux bœufs, &c.
Pas de division, &c.

The christianized version in Latin is as follows:


Dic mihi quid unus,
Dic mihi quid unus.


Unus est Deus,
Qui regnat in Cœlis.


Dic mihi quid duo.
Dic mihi quid duo.


Duo testamenta,
Unus est Deus,
Qui regnat in Cœlis.


Dic mihi qui sunt tres
Dic mihi que sunt tres.


Tres sunt patriarchæ,
Duo sunt testamenta;
Unus est deus,
Qui regnat in Cœlis.

Both of these dialogues are continued to the number twelve. In the Druidic version containing precepts on theology, cosmogony, chronology, astronomy, geography, magic, medicine and history. The Latin version teaching that there is one God, two testaments, three prophets, four evangelists, five books of Moses, six pitchers at the marriage of Cana, seven sacraments, eight beatitudes, nine choirs of angels, ten commandments, eleven stars which appeared to Joseph, and twelve apostles.

The resemblance of style and precept throughout is very striking, and a discovery which I have made of the same nature renders it still more surprising.

There is a peculiar song of the Oxfordshire peasants, the meaning of which had often perplexed me and which of course those who sung it were the least able to explain.

It is sung in this manner. One of them begins:–

I will sing you my one O!

To which the rest sing in chorus.

What is your one O!

And he sings.

One is all alone,
And ever doth remam so.

The song continues to the number twelve, each verse repeated after each as in the original versions above. Most of these verses are local corruptions, and it is probable that in some parts of England a purer version is retained. However, since the first refers to the One Deity, the second to “two white boys clothed in green,” the fourth to “four gospel preachers,” the seventh to the “seven stars,” &c., there can be no doubt as to its origin.

There is so superstitious a reverence paid by the lower orders in many parts of Britain to bees, that one is almost inclined to suppose that they also were held sacred by the Druids.

The Cornishmen consider bees too sacred to be bought. In other counties, on the death of their proprietor, a ceremonious announcement of the fact is made to them and a piece of funeral cake presented to them. It is believed that were this omitted they would fly away. In Lithuania a similar practice prevails.

There is no clue to this, except in the circumstance that the bee-hive is one of the emblems of Freemasonry, and like many other Druidic and Masonic symbols, e.g. the seven stars, the cross-keys, &c., a favorite tavern sign. For instance the one at Abingdon, under which is written the following jocose distich:

Within this hive were all alive,
Good liquor makes us funny,
So if your dry, come in and try,
The flavor of our honey.

From the apple-tree the Druids were wont to cut their divining rods. And to this tree at Christmas, in Devon, Cornwall and other counties a curious ceremony is paid. The farmer and his laborers soak cakes in cider, and place them on the trenches of an apple tree, and sprinkling the tree repeat the following incantation :

Here’s to thee, old apple tree!
Whence thou mayst bud, and whence thou mayest blow.
Hats full! Caps full?
Bushel, bushel, sacks full!
And my pockets full too! Huzza!

After which they dance round the tree and get drunk on the cider which remains. They believe that if they did not do this the tree would not bear.

I have now to consider the vestiges of mistletoe-worship extant among the descendants of the Druids.

On Christmas Eve it was lately the custom at York to carry mistletoe to the high altar of the Cathedral, and to proclaim a public and universal liberty, pardon and freedom to all sorts of inferior and even wicked people at the gates of the city towards the four quarters of heaven.

The mistletoe was considered of great medicinal virtue by Sir John Coldbatch for epilepsy and other convulsive disorders. The mistletoe of the oak is used by the common people for wind ruptures in children.

Like the houzza! of the East, the mistletoe would seem to have a religious exclamation, as I judge from finding it so often the refrain to old French songs, especially this one :

O gué la bonne adventure, O gué.

And in one celebrated English ballad:

O the mistletoe bough! and O the mistletoe bough!

It is still a custom in many parts of France for children to run down the street on New Year’s Day, and to rap the doors crying “Au gui l’an né, or Au gui, l’an neuf.”

In the island of Sein, there is a mistletoe feast which it is believed has been perpetuated by the Bas Breton tailors who, strange to say, have been formed from time immemorial into a fine association. They are poets, musicians and wizards who never contract marriages with strangers, and who have a language of their own, called lueache which they will not speak in the presence of foreigners.

At this feast there is a procession. An altar covered with green boughs is erected in the centre of a circular space of ground. Thence they start, and thither marching round the island return. Two fiddlers form the vanguard; they are followed by children carrying bill-hooks and oak-branches, and leading an ox and a horse covered with flowers. After them a huge crowd which stops at intervals crying Gui-na-né voilà le Gui.

There is one more mistletoe custom which I had almost forgotten. Let us imagine ourselves in the hall of some old-fashioned country mansion. Let it be Christmas- night, and at that hour when merriment and wine has flushed every face, and glowed into every heart.

And now I will paint to you a young maiden who embraced in the arms of her lover is whirled round the hall, her eyes sparkling, her white bosom heaving and her little feet scarce seeming to touch the floor. They pause for a moment. An old lady with an arch twinkle in her eye whispers something to her partner, he nods and smiles; she blushes and turns her eyes, pretending not to hear.

They join the dance again, when suddenly he stays her in the centre of the hall. Above their heads droops down a beautiful plant with pale white berries and leaves of a delicate green. He stoops and gives her the kiss-under-the-mistletoe. All laugh and follow his example till the scene vies the revels of the ancient Bacchanals.

It is this picture which awakes me from a reverie into which I have long been buried. Reader! you have sought with me for the first germs of religion in the chaos of youthful Time; you have dived with me into those mysteries which the Veil of Isis held secret from our sight; you have sojourned with me among the tombs of the past, and trod upon the dust of a fallen World.

Let us now return from these caverns of learning to the glorious day-light of the Present, and to the enjoyments, of a real existence.



From the Book



As The Wheel Turns ~ Legends and Lore for November

Witchy Comments

As The Wheel Turns ~ Legends and Lore for November

Today Is:

Dedicated to Horned Animals. Leave food in the woods for them.

In ancient times, a Pagan festival honoring the Lord of Death was celebrated in England every year on this night (the Eve of Guy Fawkes Day). The bonfires and mischievous pranks associated with modern England’s Mischief Night are actually remnants of the old Pagan customs.

England, Australia, & New Zealand – Mischief Night. Originally, an ancient pagan festival celebrating the Lord of Death was celebrated this night. The remnants of this festival can be seen in the pranks and bonfires of modern England’s Mischief Night.

Hindu: Karva Chauth Vrat (fast)

Greek: The fourth day of every month is sacred to the Goddess Aphrodite and the God Hermes.

St. Charles Borromeo. Worked among the sick and dying during the plague. Patron of apple orchards, bishops, catechists, catechumens, seminarians, starch makers, and against stomach diseases, ulcers and intestinal disorders.

St. Gerard de Bazonches
St. Gregory of Burtscheid
St. Helen Enselmini
St. Henry of Zweifalten
St. Hermas
St. Modesta
•           •           •           •

Live each Season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.
~Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)
NOTE: Because of the large number of ancient calendars, many in simultaneous use, as well as different ways of computing holy days (marked by the annual inundation, the solar year, the lunar month, the rising of key stars, and other celestial and terrestrial events), you may find these holy days celebrated a few days earlier or later at your local temple.

Courtesy Granny Moon’s Morning Feast

Celebrating Other Spirituality 365 Days a Year – Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

Gypsy Comments & Graphics

 September 10

Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

Annually, the Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire, England, is host to one of the most well-known living relics of Pagan ancestry, the horn dance. Ancient reindeer antlers are attached to poles and carried through the streets by dancers who simulate fighting between rutting stags. Following the procession of stags are Robin Hood and Maid Marion, along with jesters of all sorts and people in medieval costumes riding hobby horses.

Instant Witch

Instant Witch

Author: Sunfell 

You’ve seen them: They’re usually the ones with the most outrageous costumes and jewelry; the ones who at times are almost a Hollywood parody of a Pagan, who look like they’ve escaped a Tolkien novel. You’ve heard them–giggling clutches of teenage girls in the new-age section of the bookstore poring over ‘love spell’ books. You try to avoid them–their incessant pontification and magical one-upmanship can drive a veteran Pagan crazy (and by ‘veteran’, I mean someone who has been practicing for at least a decade).

All right, old timer–time to sit back and remember your early days. Remember when you had your ‘Ah-Ha!’ moment–when perhaps you read about a particular spiritual practice in the first edition of Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon”? and said, “That’s for me!” Remember rushing home from the bookstore with the first edition of Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance” and staying up all night reading it? Remember those lonely BI (Before Internet) days when you wondered if you were the Only Witch/Pagan/Druid in the world and if you’d EVER run into anyone else with similar beliefs? And how you felt when you finally did? I do.

In the 28 years since I realized I was a Witch and a Priestess, a lot has happened in our community. Much of it has been very positive. And some of it has not. One of the perhaps not-so-positive things has been the instant do-it-yourself, be-a-witch-in a week sort of book. Are they useful? Could they be considered dangerous? Should they be taken seriously? How should a Pagan Veteran handle an eager newbie? What are the dangers to a newcomer? I shall try to address these things in this essay.

Perhaps my own story of my journey to the Craft can be used as an example. At the tender age of 12, I knew that my religious path was not going to be in the church of my parents. I felt a calling beyond that stricture, and I knew in my heart that mine was to be a different path. I sat down with a candle at a makeshift altar late one evening when the rest of the family was asleep, and declared myself a Witch. I was a little fearful of that word, but it seemed to me that ‘witch’ fit me better than any other designation. Somehow, through the limited resources I had at that time (1973), I knew that the Witch I had declared myself to be was a Priestess, not an evildoer. And even though I did not know Her by Her many names yet, I felt myself embraced by the Goddess.

And so things remained until I left my home and family to join the US Air Force in 1979. Away from Arkansas and the fundamentalist stranglehold on the libraries and bookstores, I found Starhawk’s and Adler’s books, and many others. My education began. I read those books, and true to the teaching “when the student is ready, the teacher shall appear”, I began running into people who were instrumental in teaching me the principles of Magic and becoming comfortable with rituals outside a church service. The Rosicrucian Order was a great help in doing that. In 1985, I went overseas to Germany, and there my training towards Wiccan initiation began. I was fortunate to get to study with a wonderful group of people, and they believed in a long-term commitment. My training to Third Degree took a total of 7 years–one for the Year of Inquiry (neophyte), one for the First Degree, two to Second, and three to obtain Third. I had moved to England by then, and my Craft Mother made a trip to England to see me and initiate me. While in England, I received additional training and initiations from several different groups, including a ‘Fam-Trad’ lady of the Old Ways.

Now, my path is probably not typical. And I do not claim that my initiation is any ‘better’ than anyone else’s. But I was brought into the Craft in the ‘traditional’ way, even though I called myself a Witch long before. I had no “Instant Witch” books–I just ‘knew’ who I was.

I think that the main thing to look at is the quality of the books in question. Are ‘Instant Witch’ sorts of books useful? Yes, they are, if they have the right concepts. A good Witch primer should teach the basic laws of Magic, and emphasize the ethics of the Craft. They should outline our holidays and our roots. They should contain a self-blessing or dedication rite that is simple to perform, but spiritually effective. They should give the seeker a resource to contact like-minded others and learn more. If used correctly, they permit the seeker to ‘try on’ our rites and mindset and see if they ‘fit’ their own spiritual feelings. Such books can bring forth that ‘Ah-Ha!’ moment–that flash of recognition of ones own spiritual community. But it has to be emphasized that such books are only the beginning of training–they serve as gateways only.

Are such books dangerous? Not in themselves. The dangers lie in the mindset of the seeker. Why are they interested in becoming a Witch? Do they seek an alternative way to acknowledge God/dess or are they looking to have ‘power over’ others? Are they on a manipulative ego-trip? Or do they crave a return to a less dogmatic path than the popular religions offer?

An experienced Pagan can usually spot out the power-tripper pretty quickly. They’re the ones who misuse our rites to threaten or manipulate others by fear and ignorance. Or they’re trying to build an ‘instant Coven’ and inviting one and all to join it. Or else they are trying to shock others by taking on an ‘evil’ persona and relying on the general ignorance of Wicca by the mainstream to have their way. Some are mentally ill. Some want to be ‘fashionable’.

Should a neo-Witch be taken seriously? Yes!! Were you, when you were a young pup? How were you treated when you finally found your community? Newcomers should be treated kindly and courteously. Yes, they are Witches, or ‘baby Pagans’ as my friends like to say. And yes, they can be annoying. But as ‘babies’, they need to be guided and closely watched, because they are going through the measles and mumps that every spiritual ‘baby’ in the Magical Traditions undergoes. If you do not consider yourself a Craft Mother/Father, please, find your newcomer someone who is, and who will give him or her the proper care and guidance.

Here, courtesy of Starhawk and Z. Budapest, are some spiritual ‘measles and mumps’ that every newcomer runs into one time or another. Without a guide, our Instant Witch can be destroyed by any or all of these. The following is excerpted from “The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries” by Z. Budapest, First printing 1980. Susan B. Anthony Coven No. 1, Publisher.

“ÖIt is a necessary part of everyone’s magical education to fall victim to one’s character traits occasionally. We all find ourselves ego-tripping, do-gooding, showing off and all the rest from time to time, but how else can we learn compassion and tolerance for others who go off on the same tangents? Falling victim to one’s own illusions eventually confers a sort of immunity, much like the result of a childhood disease, and with luck, recovery is rapid and complete. Here, then, are the ‘mumps’ and ‘measles’ of magic.

“Omnipotence. This is quite common when first discovering that your Will can effect events. You may feel a tremendous rush of power and believe that you can do anything and everything.

“Guilt. You may believe you can do everything, but sooner or later you will fail. ÖUnless you realize that magic has its limitations and works within the framework of laws (just as standard medical science does) you run the risk of feeling responsible for everything that goes wrong in the universe. Relax. You are not that powerful, nor are you that important.

“Paranoia. As your awareness grows and you become more conscious of negative energy and impulses in others, you may become oversensitive and begin jumping at shadows Ö(and) ascribing every negative thing that happens to you as a ‘psychic attack’. A healthy streak of cynicism is a good defense against this one. Remember that magic that is ‘real’ rarely conflicts with common sense.

“Saintliness. It is hard to resist the temptation to be more ‘spiritual than thou’, to offer unasked for advice to your acquaintances, and to look down on others who have not ‘seen the Light’ – all while trying to appear humble. With any luck at all, you’ll come back to earth before you lose all your friends.

“Showing off. This, like Saintliness, is hard to resist. When the fanatic Jehovah’s Witness in your chem class spouts off about religion, how can you NOT tell her you see a hypocritical green spot in her aura? With painful experience, however, you will discover that listen to your advice or commentary unless they have asked for it, and that magic only works when it is for real, not show.

“Going Half-Astral. When you get so caught up in magic and psychic work that you neglect the earthly plane and your physical body, you will become drained and weakened. In extreme cases, people who lose touch too completely with earth can have what amounts to a psychotic ‘break’. This is easily avoided, however, by making sure you stay grounded and centered when you do any magical work or meditations. Also, it is vital to have a satisfying and rewarding earth-plane life, including a good sex life and a love of good food.

“ÖYour very best protection, against all these ills and any others you may meet physically or psychically, is to maintain your sense of humor. As long as you can laugh at yourself, you cannot head too far down the wrong path, and you always have an immediate ticket back to truth. ÖRemember, laughter is the key to sanity!”

So, you see, becoming an ‘Instant Witch’ is only the first step along a long, but rewarding path. The ‘Instant-Witch’ books should be a sign of how far we have come in 25 years. It is the veterans, and the soon-to-be Elders in the Craft who have done the hard work of clearing the brambles from the entrance to our Path. Look at our young self-starters as a sign of our success, and welcome them warmly, take them in hand, and train and initiate them properly.


Your Animal Spirit for March 2nd is The Badger

Your Animal Spirit for Today
March 2, 2014


Badger is a ferocious opponent, unwilling to back down over any issue. Unfortunately, this unwavering stance leads some Badgers to their demise. If Badger has dug into your reading, he is asking whether you are fighting the right fight. Is this issue the hill you’re willing to die on, or are you fighting for no other reason than pure stubbornness?  Think about it.

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