Bluenose Magic

March 2, 2009

Bluenose Magic: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions in Nova Scotia by Helen Creighton

The Ryerson Press, 1968

 

“Old Daddy Red Cap was supposed to have been a wizard. He put spells on people. One time he went to see a man and said he wanted to buy his cow. The man had no need to sell and said he wouldn’t part with her. Soon after, a snow-white bumblebee sat down on the cow and she didn’t give any more milk. [Allandale, English]”

— Creighton

 

I’ve always enjoyed reading folklore, and I’ve often wondered why I’ve met so many pagans and witches that avoided it like the plague. They might learn the lore of a country that they’ve never visited, or of a culture that they have no connection to, but would never consider researching local folk remedies or spells. It puzzles me. Perhaps they think that their area doesn’t have any ‘folklore.’

 

Luckily for me, my area has a long tradition of folklore and many dedicated folklorists who’ve traveled around gathering up songs, stories, and other useful bits of information. The lore of the many peoples who’ve settled here (Acadian, English, French, Scottish, Irish, German, African Loyalists, Dutch, etc.) mixed together with the legends of the Mi’kmaq people, and became something else entirely.

 

The late Helen Creighton is the Nova Scotian folklorist par excellence, and any of her books are worth reading. This particular title covers faery lore, witchcraft, folk charms, healing and remedies, meanings of dreams, divination, lore about animals, crops, and the weather, superstitions about good and bad luck, and stories of ghosts, forerunners, and the devil. Of particular interest is the concept of the “witch masters,” such as Sammy B., who filled a role very similar (identical?) to the cunning folk of Britain. They found and could control the malignant witches of a community, and could break their spells as well as cast their own.

 

This is a great book, and one of my favourites. The information in the book is linked up to a Motif Index, so you can find overarching concepts and similarities. I recommend it to anyone living in Maritime Canada, or even if you don’t. Of course, finding yourself a book of folklore local to your area might be even more interesting.

The Dictionary of Sacred and Magical Plants by Christian Rätsch

Translated from the German by John Baker

ABC-CLIO Inc, Prism Press, 1992 (1988 )

 

“In herbs may be found the full power of the world. He who knows their secret abilities is omnipotent.”

— Indian Proverb

 

They wouldn’t let me take this book out of the library, so I had to read it in bits and pieces between classes. Despite my limited time, habit compelled me to read all of the introductions and forewords, a practice which has, for once, served me well. While I expect translating anything from one language to another and keeping its meaning intact is quite difficult, translating a book about psychotropic herbs used in shamanic and magical practices around the world must be even harder.

 

The translator’s introduction to this book is well worth reading, as Mr. (Dr?) Baker discusses the difficulties of rendering into English a complete understanding of the German word Rausch. It is usually translated as ‘intoxication,’ which, in the sense of this book, isn’t quite right. Mainstream North American culture no longer has systems to utilize psychedelic plants safely, nor knows how to interpret knowledge gained from them. We view information gained through non-rational, visionary experiences to be less valid than that obtained through rational, scientific methods, and this bias is reflected in our language. Christian Rätsch introduces us to cultures that have not lost their respect for the visionary experience.

 

The author’s introduction, besides providing a (very) brief discussion of magic and what constitutes a magical plant, also includes categories that can be used to find a plant that is used for a specific purpose. Having Plants of Prophecy, Elixirs of Immortality, Death Charms, Grave Goods, and Aphrodisiacs all sorted out for you is nice if you’re in a hurry. Rätsch also gives his method of placing psychotropic plants in ritual contexts (vision quests, oracles, sacrifices, hunting magic, etc) and sorting which plants were involved in which stages of certain rituals (preparation, implementation, and integration).

 

Each dictionary entry gives the folklore and historical uses of the plant, listed either by genus or individual species if certain pieces of lore are applicable to a specific variety alone. The plant’s uses in folk medicine, spells, and religious ritual (mostly pagan) are also listed. Each entry ends with the pharmacological properties of the plant and a list of sources for further reading.

 

I found the Ayahuasca entry especially interesting. A table, entitled Native Classification of Ayahuasca, listed the many types of Ayahuasca that this tribe (whose name I’ve forgotten) knows how to make. The nifty part is that each type of Ayahuasca brew produces visions of different things; one type might induce visions of hunting, another of famine, another of the land of the dead, and another still of underwater travel.

 

The entry on witches’ ointments (which is one of the reasons I was so happy to find this book, the other being that I’m an ethnobotany geek), although it could have been longer, contained this nice tidbit from Leuner: “The witches’ ointments may be psychopharmacologically interesting because we apparently have here the only toxic technique of ecstasy in the world in which the specific components of the experience are achieved by the way the psychopharmacological agents are added together.” This differs from the various types of Ayahuasca, apparently, because of the physical sensations accompanying the trip. Either that or Leuner is out of date, I’m not sure. Further rambling is beyond the scope of this review.   

 

Rätsch gathers lore from all over the world, both contemporary and historical. He shows us the valuable interactions between plants and people that our society would do well to regain. Also, we should all take St. Anthony as our personal saint. You should read the book to find out why.

The Horn of Evenwood

March 23, 2008

The Horn of Evenwood by Robin Artisson
Pendraig Publishing, 2007

  The moment you’ve pinned him down, you find yourself staring at the bare ground, the empty sky, a dim forest, or just handfuls of dust. What you thought was a fleshy body is just bare white bone, and when you grasp for the bones, they turn out to be slivers of light on the ground.”
— Artisson

 Having dithered over the introduction to this review off and on for several days now, I’ve decided just to state that although at times I have found Artisson’s writing to be long-winded, I have never been disappointed by it. His most recent effort is a tidy grimoire and sourcebook for those interested in pursuing a more traditional witchcraft path. It engages the spirit of the writings of Nigel Jackson and Robert Cochrane and is a fascinating elaboration on the themes of their work. 

Artisson describes his book as a tool kit, rather than a recipe book. He gives techniques designed to help you forge relationships with the spirit world, and although his “exemplary sorcerous workings” can be used as written, they are meant to show one possible method of doing things. This is a teaching grimoire, and to make the most of it, you have to apply what has been written to your own practice, rather than just following along.  

The book begins with Artisson’s absolutely chilling invocations. Simply reading the poetry gave me shivers. These are given without explanation; Artisson states that as you read on in the book, you can figure out what to do with them and how to create your own. The reader’s engagement with the text is required; this is not a 101 book where everything is laid out in front of you. You have to think about it, and sometimes, to not think about it.    

Next is a section called the Ten Pillars, which consists of some basic points to ground your practice of witchcraft. These include brief instructions on preparing materials for talismans, old-school (seven planets) astrology, the power of spoken words, familiar spirits, and a few other concepts that should be taken into consideration. The section ends with a few practical notes about tools and what Artisson calls the “Power that Binds,” meaning the weaving that holds the worlds together. He asks the reader to really think about how our words and actions affect ourselves and everything else.  

I think this is one of the reasons why I keep returning to Artisson’s writing. There is a deeper level to it, an underlying philosophy that holds true throughout his works. All of his further ideas for rites or spells are built up from this foundation of relationships with the spirits, the quest for true knowledge, and the recognition of Old Fate Herself.  

Continuing on in the book, Artisson offers a method of casting a Witch-Ring and several sigils for invoking the Huntsman, the Witch-Queen, and the Master. I wasn’t as impressed with Artisson’s chapter on the Mandrake plant, mostly because I didn’t see anything new, although there is a lot of good information gathered there for someone unfamiliar with the plant. I especially liked that he gave a way of using the Mandrake that encourages people to grow it, rather than going to a New Age shop and buying root chips in a plastic bag. 

Some of the most interesting pieces of information in the book are Artisson’s thoughts on the Horned Master of witches. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it in the Luciferian current, the ideas are certainly leaning that way. Several meditations on the subject are included, and they (along with the section on arcane flight) are worth the price of the book by themselves. (Also, the appendices of various sorcerous currents, such as Lunar or Mercurial, are more useful than any correspondence table could ever be.)

In Part Six, Artisson takes a charm from the Long Lost Friend, deconstructs it, and puts it back together again in various usable forms. He throws enough ideas at the reader for them to re-write the charm a thousand different ways for hundreds of purposes and still not be done with it.  

To end the book, the author explores the pagan themes in the folktale, The Nixie of the Millpond, and also gives several rather dark rituals for springtime: “I feel real fear now. I am a blasphemous creature of winter evenings long dead, stalking about in fields of gold and white…” The writing is, as always, evocative of the Unseen landscapes. A fascinating book; it’s definitely recommended reading.