Saturday, 31 August 2013

Raymond Buckland

Raymond Buckland was born 31st August 1934.

Although English by birth, he and his wife emigrated to the USA in 1962. It was after this time that he became interested in Witchcraft and contacted Gerald Gardner to discuss the subject. The two men became friends and Gardner attended Buckland's initiation by Monique Wilson, probably around 1964, as Gardner died not long afterwards.

Back in the USA with a copy of Gardner's Book of Shadows, Buckland formed the Long Island Coven in New York. This was the start of American Witchcraft and virtually all fully initiated American Witches can trace their lineage back to this one coven.

Soon Buckland began to write books, his first published in 1969 was A Pocket Guide to the Supernatural, shortly followed by Practical Candleburning Rituals. Later on he wrote The Tree: A Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft which detailed the basis of his own Tradition founded in 1973 and based on Anglo Saxon paganism, known as Seax Wicca.

However perhaps his most famous book, sometimes known as Big Blue from the colour of its cover,  is Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft. Designed as a course in Witchcraft with seasonal rituals, magical exercises and spells this certainly gives anyone the basics of what Witchcraft is about and has been in continuous publication since 1986.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Am I Weird?

In adverts for our business 'Raven', magical suppliers, we often insert the phrase 'Suppliers of Weird and Wonderful Magical Stuff.', which is a phrase which has strange and exotic connotations - and of course includes the word 'weird'.

These days the word 'weird' means something strange or bizarre, but the word 'weird' has some very ancient and magical roots.

One sense of it relates to fate or destiny. This is often seen in Scottish folk tales, where you might be told that you will have to 'live out your weird' which means, that you are destined to follow a particular path, your fate is to behave in a certain manner, or to undergo certain trials, and as it is your fate there is no escaping it. It also refers to the Norns, the three Goddesses of destiny who live in a cave at the roots of the world tree Yggdrasil and are the northern equivalent of the Greek Fates.

In Shakespeare's play Macbeth, there are three witches who are referred to as the Weird Sisters, and who make predictions to Macbeth about his fate or destiny. These are, of course the Norns again. The inevitability of the pronouncements of the goddesses of fate has led to these predictions often being referred to as 'doom' and in 'he met his doom' or "'My doom is come upon me!', cried the Lady of Shallott."

In Old English the word is sometimes spelled 'wyrd' and as well as meaning fate, destiny, strange, bizarre it also means both uncanny and supernatural. Wyrd also refers to a way of approaching the unknown. Brian Bates wrote a smashing fiction book called 'The Way of Wyrd' which is the tale of an Anglo-Saxon sorcerer or shaman and his approach to the unseen but very real spirit world. Although this is a work of fiction, it contains a great deal of magical insight, wisdom and teaching too if you have the wit to see it and the Will to make use of it.

Wyrd is a word that describes the world of magic and Witchcraft. This does not mean that everything in the world is 'doomed' to happen, or that you are bound to your predicted fate.

Prediction can be likened to making a weather forecast or even a road map: that the conditions surrounding you, and your actions in those surroundings indicate that this, this and this will also occur. Those predictions are showing you that if you keep your feet on this particular path, your destiny will be found further along that same path. However what this Wyrd also tells you is that: if you do not want to visit that particular destination you can NOW do something about changing your circumstances to put yourself on a different path.

Witchcraft is very often about the manipulation of those Wyrd energies. Witchcraft helps you to choose which Wyrd you want and helps you get on to the right path to get to the destiny you choose, instead of the one you are just allowing yourself to be steered towards.

Witchcraft is therefore about making choices, not about bewailing your sad fate, but about seizing your Wyrd and making it what you want it to be.

So, am I weird? Oh yes!

Wyrd and proud of it.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Naked In Your Rites

In the interesting documentary A Very British Witchcraft presented by Professor Ronald Hutton, and in many 'exposes' of Witchcraft, one of the areas of great interest is: 'Do real Witches work their rituals naked?' (and if so can we have some piccies please? But preferably of young and pretty female Witches.)

I would say that there is no evidence for Witches in the British Isles holding outdoor rituals in the nude prior to Gerald Gardner.

However there are at least a couple of classic paintings of Witches creating a spell indoors (in private) where they are naked - except for a pair of fashionable shoes in one case.

There is also a passage in 'Aradia:the Gospel of the Witches' a collection of Witch spells and rituals from Italy collected by the folklorist C. G. Leland in the 19th century which says:
And ye shall all be freed from slavery,
And so ye shall be free in everything:
And as a sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also:

It is well known that Gerald Gardner was a naturist, popularly known as 'nudists'. The main point of being a Naturist is to celebrate the fact that humans are, by nature, born and designed to exist without clothes. Clothing is a convention and fashion imposed by society.

However nudity is associated in many people's minds with sexuality, and some might say: 'How can you be naked together and not indulging continually in wild orgies?'

And, of course, one of the charges which has always been levelled against Witches is that their rituals are scenes of wild debauchery.

Gerald Gardner certainly padded out rituals with information, poems and spells gathered from a variety of places, and one of his sources was Aradia.

As a Naturist he would have been delighted to find that passage, and quick to incorporate it into his rituals. But just remember: Aradia is a collection of Itallian Witchcraft. The climate of Italy is a lot warmer than Britain, where even a summer night can be chilly - and in Scotland: beware of the midges!

So: do Witches work their rituals naked?

The short answer is: some do and some don't.

Witchcraft or Wicca as it is often known today. is not a religion that imposes a strict set of rituals and dogma on its adherants. The emphasis is on re-awakening your personal connection to the Divine.

One way of doing this is through breaking social taboos - sexuality and nudity are both frowned upon in public (unless the protagonists are young and pretty, in which case 'pass the camera'), but perfectly normal and natural activities. So by entering the ritual area naked you are going against most of society's ideas of what true religion is about.

To Witches this nakedness, or as we say 'being skyclad', is a sign of trust between ourselves and deity - and a sign that we are hiding nothing, and holding nothing back. Nudity is also a great equaliser. We can tell a lot about a person by their clothes, we can tell their financial status and social position, their rank even their job. But when we are naked there are none of those clues, and therefore none of the social restrictions which would make you wary of approaching a person of  a different rank or class.

Most Witch initiation rituals will insist that the postulant be naked. This is a symbol that you are putting aside all your worldly trappings, everything that defines you in the everyday world, and are come before the deities in a childlike and innocent manner. It is also a symbol that to Witches our ritual area, wherever we create it, becomes a place not of the mundane world, so in a similar way that if you step into a dreaming world you can take nothing from this world with you, and bring nothing back from there to this world, when you step into the Witches world, you bring nothing with you from your previous life.

However having said all that, it is still up to the individual how they choose to worship or work with the God and Goddess. Nude or robed is a personal choice.

Blessed Be

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Witches Cauldron

I am currently working on The Folk Witchery Book of Halloween which should be out by the end of the month. The book will be full of all sorts to do with Halloween from what Witches look like, to spells and party games and even a special potion for those who would like to visit the land of Fairy. To whet your appetite here is an extract from the book. I hope you like it:

The oldest form of cooking is to drop some raw meat into a fire and let it burn for a while. A step up from that is suspending the meat over a fire so you avoid having to eat ashes with your meal.

However if you want to heat anything liquid, or you want to catch those lovely meat juices which are dripping into the fire, you will need something to catch them in. You will need some sort of cooking pot.

Over the millennia many ingenious solutions have been found to this problem, from pots made of closely woven basketwork, to clay and finally metal pots. The general household cooking pot for several thousand years in Britain and Europe was the cauldron.

The cauldron is a round bottomed cooking pot, usually with three small legs and either a lip or some lugs so that is could be suspended over the fire.

It was never empty and was always over the fire. It was used to make a never-ending stew (the French name for a casserole is still 'pot au feu' - pot over the fire) just keep adding liquid and ingredients, eat some, add more liquid and ingredients to top it up again.

It was used to prepare potions and tisanes, to boil your porridge, to create the wort for brewing, to dye wool and cloth.

The contents of the cauldron were also mysterious. No one knew what was in the ever boiling cauldron, just that sometimes the results were delicious, and sometimes they were poisonous.

The most experienced cauldron user would be an old woman, who may have a child helping her to stir the cauldron and make sure nothing burned.

So here we see Cerridwen with her magical cauldron full of a special potion that had to be brewed for a year and a day. She has a small boy, Gwion, assisting her. He is stirring the cauldron while she gets on with other work.

The time is nearly up. The potion is nearly ready, when the child is distracted, his stirring stick slips and the boiling potion splashes his finger.

Alarmed and hurt, he does what every small child does in that situation, he stuffs his finger into his mouth to suck it better. And when he does that, he sucks in the three magical drops of the potion. These are the drops that Cerridwen has been waiting for, for a year and a day.

And suddenly the boy can understand the language of animals, he knows the magic of the shape-shifter and he gains the wisdom that Cerridwen was brewing to turn her own son, the lumpen, ugly and stupid Avagdu into the greatest and wisest magician on earth.

And he knows that when Cerridwen finds out what has happened, she will kill him.

So he runs as fast and as far as he can.

But Cerridwen has returned. She sees the abandoned cauldron and sniffs it cautiously, then screams in rage and frustration. For all that is left in the cauldron is a seething mass of poison.

Gwion hears the scream and shape-shifts into the swiftest hare, but Cerridwen is a greyhound, hunting him down. He leaps into a stream and becomes a salmon streaking through the water, but the otter who is Cerridwen is catching him up.

Desperately he leaps into the air and becomes a dove, but Cerridwen is ready and leaps after him in the shape of a hawk. Then just as she is about to seize him with her sharp talons, Gwion sees below him a heap of shining, golden grain. Thousands upon thousands of tiny grains all alike and he falls gratefully into the heap, losing himself amongst the myriad.

But Cerridwen is not giving up. She is become a hen, pecking here and there amongst the grain, seeking, seeking......  and finding!

In anger and triumph she swallows the grain and Gwion is lost forever.

Or is he? For nine months later Cerridwen gives birth to a beautiful baby boy, Taliesin, the 'Shining Brow' who becomes the greatest, and most magical, of all the Welsh bards.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Easy Peasy Banana Bread

Now even though this is called Banana Bread, what this actually is, is a light and tasty cake.

This all started because I was chatting to a friend while playing WoW, and she said she was going to bake a cake. I said I couldn't because I had no eggs. So she said you could make a cake without eggs, using bananas, yogurt or even mayonaise!

So I had a look on the internet and came across quite a few different recipes and decided to have a go at one using bananas.

135g sugar
70g fat e.g. butter or Stork
250g Self Raising Flour
1/4 teasp salt
3 mashed, ripe bananas
1 teasp vanilla extract
4-5 tablespoons of milk or water

The recipe I have adapted did originally have extra baking powder in it, but as I didn't have any (and I don't like using it as I can always taste it) I missed it out, and the result was still fab.

Pre-heat the oven to 180

Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix together.

Now this part is quite magical and astonishing. I had not pre-mashed the bananas, which the recipe said to do. Being an impatient soul I just bunged everything apart from the milk straight in a bowl and started mixing. It was a bit hard going at first, mashing the bananas and fat into the flour and sugar, but then all of a sudden the whole thing combined and turned into something that looked like a semi- liquid cake mixture.

Graham and I regarded this with awe. Then added the vanilla and milk, mixed it in and put the whole lot in a floured loaf tin.

I spread it out roughly flat and popped it into the oven and set the timer for 45 mins

45 mins later..... Voila!

According to the recipe this could be used to make cup cakes or muffins instead, and it does have a muffin texture. I'm guessing if you made muffins the cooking time would be around 20 mins - it usually is when I make buns (cup cakes)
Another recipe said you could add 4oz or 100g dark chocolate chips to the mix.

The only thing I would say is - you do have to like the taste of bananas

I think we shall try a yogurt cake next time

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Don't Panic Bread Making

Ok so this is Llughnassadh, also known as Loaf mass and the celebration of the first harvests of grain and it being made into fresh flour. An ideal time to celebrate by making your own fresh bread.

But the main thing to remember is: don't panic this is soooo easy.

Milk Bread

This is a recipe my dad showed me how to make one day when we had run out of bread and I was preparing to dash to the nearest village shop several miles away.

Self Raising Flour

Before you start, get your oven switched on and warming up. How hot? Well my dad said 'As hot as your oven will go.' but I reckon anywhere from 180-220 works, again don't worry. If the oven is cooler it takes longer, if it's hotter they are quicker.

You will see that I have not put any quantities up there, largely because you make as much or as little as you want.

As a rough guide, a mug full of flour will make two small bread buns - and add a good pinch of salt of salt per mug of flour. I reckon 2-3 bread buns per person is plenty.

Put your flour and salt into a big bowl and add milk. And mix with a knife to make a soft dough. Don't get your hands in this, it is to be very soft and therefore sticky.

The amount of milk is: enough to get all the flour to incorporate easily.

If the dough feels too stiff add more milk, if it is too sticky add more flour.

Now use the knife to cut the dough into small lumps around the size of a small apple. You can roughly shape these into balls with well floured hands. These are your bread buns, so pop them onto a floured baking tray. As soon as you have got them all on the tray, pop them in the oven. If you want them to go brown and shiny brush them with melted butter - I don't bother

Leave to bake for around 10 minutes.

They will puff up because of the raising agent in the flour.

When you get them out of the over. Have butter and jam ready and waiting - eat them hot or warm.
They are delicious and in total take about 15 mins to make including the cooking time

Variations for the adventurous:
Use Wholemeal self raising flour - these are yummy too
Soak some dried fruit in warm water, when it has puffed up use the fruit and its sweet water instead of milk - sweet and yummy. You can add a bit of cinnamon to these too - even more yummy

If you don't want to make bread buns, flatten the whole dough into a plate shape and cook in a nearly dry frying pan - I did this one day in a pan we had cooked bacon in for breakfast they were delicious

There is no wonder that I am of the well upholstered build :)