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Witch in a Bottle part 1

A Wyrde Woods Tale

By Nils Visser

Part 1: Setting the Scene

The moonlit ruins radiated menace. Joy Whitfield’s companions Maisy and Will perceived the grim and ghastly projection as well.

“Blimey,” Maisy said. “That’s a proper set for an H-Rated horror flick.”

“Shoot scenes in that corner, there.” Will agreed. “Béla Lugosi and Boris Karloff would feel right at home.”

Shoot who? Joy thought. Why?

Maisy and Will were both silver screen buffs and embarked on a discussion that Joy couldn’t understand. She had known about the moving pictures before her friends had arrived in the Wyrde Woods because folk somewhen talked about the ones they’d seen in nearby Odesby, but Joy had never been herself. Her friends’ enthusiasm wasn’t contagious. It all sounded horribly confusing, like some of the things they insisted on teaching at the village school in Wolfden.

“I betcha there’s a beating heart underneath the floor in them ruins,” Maisy said.

She sounded oddly pleased about the morbid prospect. To Joy’s discomfort, Maisy wasn’t far off the mark.

How does she ken that? Folk say the silver screen has magic. Mayhap they’re right.  

“I can just about see Norman Dryden stalking John Kelt,” Will agreed. He changed his tone to speak melodramatically, “True. Nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I’ve been, and am. But why will you say that I’m mad?[1]

“Or!” Maisy exulted. “Doctor Vollin keeps his homemade torture machines in there!”

“Doctor Vollin?” Joy asked. “He bain’t from round here, sureleye? Torture machines?”

“A very curious hobby,[2]” Maisy confirmed.

Will lowered his voice to deliver an ominous line: “It’s more than a hobby.[3]

Maisy copied his tone. “What a delicious torture. I have done it Bateman![4]

“Shadow of a black-feathered, sharp-beaked bird over his shoulder,” Will said.

“Or Murder Legendre’s pet swooping down,” Maisy suggested. “All feathers and razor-like talons.” She followed that with a set of shrill shrieks.

“MWUAHAHA MWHAHAaaa,” Will tried to utter that in a low and deep manner again, but his voice broke and what had started as an eerie guffaw ended in a high-pitched squeak.

Maisy dissolved in merry peals of laughter.

Joy shivered.

Truly this silver screen is magic, they ken much more than I reckoned.

Joy observed the two briefly. The full moon was fierce enow to stage her friends here at the remnants of what had once been the village of Tuckersham, in the dark depths of the Wyrde Woods.

Maisy, whose diminutive physique in no way demeaned her spirited presence, was dressed in a Western outfit her grandmother had made for her. It resembled that of a cavalry soldier from the moving pictures that Joy’s best friend often praised as the best thing “since London was invented – much better than Brighton, ain’t it?”

The bit about Brighton was a dig at Maisy’s cousin Will. The two were outlanders, Vackies – or evacuees in proper posh English. Maisy from the nation’s capital, Will from the popular seaside resort town on the Sussex coast. The both of them could entertain themselves for hours mocking the other’s hometown, cheerfully arguing about which was bettermost. Joy deemed it silly and childish nonsense. Everyone knew the Wyrde Woods were the bettermost place to be. Tucked away in a forgotten corner of the Weald, far away from the busy madness of cities and towns.

At thirteen, Will was the oldest of the three. Joy followed him at twelve. Maisy claimed to be eleven-and-almost-four-quarters, as well as a rapid “not a bloody six-year old, you glocky nickey” when comments were made about her height.

Joy knew her friend’s sensitivity was about more than just her height, as Maisy was especially galled by the common assumption that her mind must somehow have been stunted by her body’s refusal to grow. Joy loved Maisy for the sheer brilliance of her mind and her fervour to shape life on her own terms – only a chuckleheaded puckstool would assume that Maisy was anything other than bettermost deedy.

Will wore his Air Raid Precaution uniform with pride, a blue overall and utility belt, with a Tommy helmet askance on his mop of blond hair, bearing a white “M” for messenger. It wasn’t painted black, like most ARP helmets, because Will had refused to paint over the fading green of the original. He was extraordinarily proud of the helmet because it was something called a Mark One from The Great War that – he assured anyone who cared to hear (or didn’t for that matter) – was far superior to modern regulation issue.

Maisy made fun of him all-along-of that. Joy didn’t. She understood all too well the power of symbolism. It could transform the reality most townfolk insisted was the only dimension that could possibly exist and warp it right into something wholly else. As such, to Joy’s mind, Will had made it into a powerful token for himself. He had an aptitude for the Wyrd but Joy suspected he was unaware of it. Will might have been born elsewhere, but his exile from Brighton had brought him home. Maskall blood ran old in the Wyrde Woods. His heritage here was as broadly branched as the roots of the oldest oak, shared with Maisy whose mother was a Maskall. For all their boasts about London and Brighton, Joy reckoned they both belonged to the Wyrde Woods in a manner that was beyond their own comprehension as of yet.

Joy herself was barefooted. She wore a simple white summer shift that seemed timeless in style, as if she had stepped out of any previous century that featured human habitation on the British Isles. It was vanity, she supposed, chosen deliberately – symbolically. Less of a choice was her wild and frizzy red hair that never stayed in place no matter how often she brushed it.

Joy’s connections to the Wyrde Woods were older than that of the Maskalls. The Whitfields weren’t just familiar with the land; they were at one with it, all those who had previously been, and those who would one day.

Well, almost all of it.

Pushing awareness of her friends aside, Joy focused on the forbidding crumbling walls that enclosed the roofless remains of Tuckersham’s church. Unlike Maisy and Will, Joy didn’t need her eyes to establish the hostility exuded by the main building and its short, squat tower – not to mention the lopsided head stones and half-sunken tombs in the churchyard atween the main ruins and the broad dirt path the children were on. It was a tension that hung in the air so thick that Joy felt compelled to urgently whisper words of protection for her friends.

This was a place of vile hatred. The ominous doom of the ruins had spilled over into the woods around it, so folk generally didn’t come this way unless they absolutely had to, and then they would hasten their step as they hurried through, fuelled by shivers running along their spines.

“Oh, Gwydion” Joy sighed.

She frowned briefly at the sight of a girl, three or four years older than Joy herself, scurrying along the path. The girl was incongruously dressed in heavy soldier’s boots combined with a short dress patterned with what appeared to be skulls. A troubled girl, Joy perceived, but before she could take a second look at the strangely dressed stranger, the passer-by had vanished into thin air. No shim, this one, but a lost soul nonetheless. An anomaly of the Sight, or a vision from past or future. Joy could usually see them clear enow but to her frustration had no idea how to identify what she was seeing, or what meaning lay behind it.

“So what’s with this place, Joy?” Maisy asked. “Why did we come here? Oh, hullo there.”

Those last words were addressed to a ferret. Valkerie usually accompanied Maisy when the children were out and about on adventure, and now formed a white blur as she scrambled out of a coat pocket to perch on Maisy’s shoulder, half concealed by the girl’s abundant mane of dark hair.

“I was curious,” Joy answered.

She didn’t really have a better answer. Hours of poring over old books and ancient crumbling paper scrolls had led her to believe there might be answers to be found at the ruins of Tuckersham’s church. Joy hadn’t shared this particular quest of hers with the others because she wasn’t sure how much to tell, especially since she was mostly guessing and only uncovering knowledge a puzzle piece at a time. Howsumdever, Maisy’s inquisitive mind was unlikely to be satisfied with the vague justification of curiosity. She knew Joy well enow to know that her friend rarely ever acted out of impulse. Any expedition Joy led them on in the Wyrde Woods had a reason that would have been extensively weighed in Joy’s mind first.

Fortunately, Joy was saved immediate further interrogation by Maisy when Will raised an observation.

“I though you said there was a village here. I can only see the church.”

“It be here alright.” Joy swept an arm around to indicate the ample undergrowth beneath the pale trunks of the birch trees on the other side of the broad dirt path. “The cottages were timbered but dunnamany had stone foundations. Start coking about that undergrowth and you’ll find them soon enow.”

“Enow? Enough, ain’t it?” Maisy commented.

“Enow,” Joy insisted stubbornly. Whatever version of English the other two spoke, Broad Sussex was enow for her.

“So what happened here? Why did people leave?” Will asked.

“They ran away,” Maisy suggested. “From the Martians!”

“Quiddy?” Joy asked. “Martians?”

“Ming the Merciless,” Will said, further confusing her. “Evil ruler of Mongo. I’d run if he pointed his Nitron ray at me.”

“Allied with Azura, the Witch Queen of Mars, weren’t he?” Maisy added. “Oppressor of the poor Clay People.” 

“There bain’t naun of that in the Wyrde Woods,” Joy assured them. “The folk here, they never left. Twere the plague. Killed every man, woman, and child in Tuckersham.”

Will shivered. “No wonder it’s such a cheerful place.”

“It’ll be haunted for sure then,” Maisy concluded with evident delight.

“Don’t be silly,” Will objected. “Ghosts don’t exist.”

“Do too!” Maisy retorted.

Joy remained silent on the subject. Will had an aversion to shims. He was by now willing to admit to the possibility of Pooks, but remained insistent on the subject of shims. As far as Maisy was concerned, the more shims the better, a wish just as foolish as Will’s denial. Joy didn’t want to trigger another endless discussion between the cousins on the subject. Not here. Not at night. Shims were best avoided, like many other beings in the Wyrde Woods.

That thought caused Joy to glance at the ruins again, suddenly doubting the wisdom of this visit.

I need to know. Is it still alive? After all these years?

“I’m going to explore,” Maisy announced. “Find me some ghosts, ain’t I?”

She walked towards a patch of undergrowth to push branches and brambles aside with her boot, chatting away to Valkerie who dooked contentedly in reply.

Joy didn’t mind as long as Maisy wasn’t intent on exploring the church – or rather the dark crypt beneath the grass-edged flagstones inside.

A black feathered shadow. Sharp-beaked. Razor-like talons. They missed out on the menacing eyes, glowing red like fierce coals. 

Left on his own with Joy, Will immediately reverted to a state of awkwardness. Maisy had claimed this was because he fancied Joy like mad, but Maisy never hesitated to exaggerate morsels of truth into grandiose designs of her own. Then again, when Joy was alone with the boy, he mostwhen stumbled over his words like a drunk staggering from the Raven’s Roost after closing time. He also blushed a lot.

Ever slow and cautious, Joy was digesting it all at her own speed. She was fond enow of Will when he forgot to be awkward around her, less comfortable when he turned into a timmersome grummut, and immensely flattered by his adulation. Before the cousins had arrived, Joy had allwhen been the odd one out, virtually an outcast at school where she was disliked and feared for…

Being different.

Maisy’s friendship had changed all that, and Will’s feelings – if they were what Maisy said and Joy now strongly suspected – seemed to cement it. Her worry was that he would change his mind when he discovered just how different Joy was.

“So, who’s this Dr Vollin?” she asked, not especially interested but keen to break the ice before the silence between them became unbearable.

Will found his voice easily enow when there was safe ground to cover. “He was an insane surgeon who liked to torture people to death in his cellars. But he died when Bateman threw him into the shrinking room.”

Joy disapproved. “Doctors are supposed to heal folk, naun frit and hurt them.”

Will seemed to take her admonition personally. He shrugged and began to withdraw into awkwardness again.

Joy quickly asked, “Are there many of these mad doctors?”

Her ploy worked because Will started listing a great many.

“…Doctor Zorka who invented devisualizer belts…”

I bain’t much interested in modern city fashions.

“…Doctor Orloff, he dumped people into vats of water and charged them with electricity…”

Strange way to take a bath.

“…Doctor Janos Rukh, he travelled to Africa to find a meteorite composed of Radium X, that made him glow in the dark and drove him bonkers…”

Africa! A far stride from Sussex.

“Doctor Fu Manchu, who was after Genghis Khan’s sword and threw his enemies in crocodile pits.”

I bain’t ever gwoan to see a doctor again, sureleye.

“…Doctor Laurience, who started out researching minds and souls and ended up transferring brains…”

“Transferring brains?”

“Like putting the mind of one person into the body of another. It’d be like my mind in Maisy’s body, and Maisy’s mind in mine.”

Joy wasn’t sure what to make of that. Maisy stayed at the Whitfield cottage a lot for sleepovers in Joy’s loft room. What if this Doctor Laurience had put Will’s mind in Maisy? That might be really awkward when it was bedtime.

Joy giggled, briefly stalling Will mid flow, but he recovered.

“Erm, anyhow, he swaps his mind for that of a younger man, cause he…ahem…really fancies Anna Lee who plays Doctor Wyatt, and he reckons as a younger man he’s got a shot with her, but all sorts of things go wrong, with people’s minds prisoners in the wrong bodies and such.”

Joy nodded. She doubted any good could come from such exchanges, no matter who fancied whom, although she was pleased to hear a first mention of a female physician.

“…Doctor Moreau, on the Island of Lost Souls, who changed beasts into people in the House of Pain. Wolfish for the Sayer of the Law, or a panther like Lola. But it all became a mess and the apeman Ouran turned against him! They tied Doctor Moreau to his own operating table and cut him to bits with his surgeon’s tools…” 

Joy frowned at the mention of beastlike people, or humanlike beasts. She wondered again just how much the silver screen had revealed to Will and Maisy.

Maisy joined them again. “Dontcha forget Perfessor Bandov from Castle Sinister.”

Will nodded wisely, before providing another incomprehensible explanation, “Mad doctor tries to put girl’s brain into apeman’s head.[5]

“They’re not all bad though,” Maisy said. “There’s Professor Norton who helped Ray Crash Corrigan stop Unga Khan from taking over Atlantis.”

“Don’t forget Doctor Huer in the Hidden City,” Will exclaimed.

“Or Doctor Zarkov!” Maisy enthused. “Who helped fight Emperor Ming, King Kala of the Shark Men, and King Vultan of the Hawk Men – but Vultan later changed sides. Oi, Joy, look what Valkerie dug up from them foundations.”

“That be nice,” Joy said absentmindedly, not really registering the item Maisy held up. Her mind was a-swirl with a mizmaze of strange names and even stranger storylines. The odd names reminded her of incantations and Joy was trying to discern a pattern in this strange new magic. Further distraction was caused by the tantalising notion of Will on a sleepover. Would it be better to have his mind in Maisy’s body, or Maisy’s mind in his? Joy had never appreciated the complexity a simple sleepover could pose.

Bettermost to naun…

The object in Maisy’s hand caught the moonlight and lit up in a spectacular manner, dazzling all three of them and finally drawing Joy’s full attention.


[1] The boy (played by Norman Dryden) in The Tell-Tale Heart (1934)

[2] Doctor Vollin (played by Béla Lugosi) in The Raven (1935)

[3] Doctor Vollin (played by Béla Lugosi) in The Raven (1935)

[4] Doctor Vollin (played by Béla Lugosi) in The Raven (1935).

[5] Castle Sinister (1932)

Find out more about Nils and his Wyrde Woods books here – https://nilsnissevisser.co.uk/


Wild Fire – a review

Wild Fire is the third book in Anna McKerrow’s awesome Greenworld trilogy. That’s a tricky reviewing setup right there, because reviewing the third book without spoilering the first two means I can’t talk about the story much at all. Further, you don’t want to start here, you want to start with Crow Moon which I reviewed here – eco-pagan-mythmaking/ and then read Red Witch – reviewed here ways-to-live-a-trio-of-reviews/

The Greenworld is in the southwest of the UK, a small country led by witches, hived off from the rest of the world as said rest of world plunges into fuel wars, environmental degradation and chaos. A little bit of utopia set against a very dark background. Except that, like most utopias, it is held together by things that don’t work so well for everyone. Book one – Crow Moon introduces us to the Greenworld through the eyes of Danny, and Danny isn’t a fan. His journey into becoming a witch opens up the setting. I liked book one, I enjoyed having so much Paganism in a novel, and ecotopian thinking is a good thing.

 

 

 

When I read book two – Red Witch, I thought it blew Crow Moon out of the water. New book, new perspective, and time inside the head of Melz, one of the young witches we first met in Crow Moon.  Melz rocks. Melz is the sort of person teenage me wanted to be, and wasn’t. She’s complicated and brilliant and learning to stand in her own power. The story takes her out into Redworld, and casts everything I thought I knew from the first book in an entirely different light.

 

 

 

Then along comes book three, Wild Fire, and a new perspective (and I can’t tell you who without spoiling some things for people who haven’t read book one yet!). I love this narrator – flawed, romantic and cynical at the same time, painfully self aware… This is in part a story about forgiveness, and when it needs doing and when it doesn’t. Wild Fire takes the small UK scene of the first two books and blows it open onto the world stage. Things that had been background details before – like the fuel wars – suddenly become a good deal more important and in the foreground.

There’s a message in all of this, and it is that we cannot hive ourselves off from the world and build little private bubbles. We all of us have to deal with the totality of what’s going on. It will not go away if we ignore it. We will be affected whether we choose to engage or not. It’s an essential message for our times. I spent much of the last few chapters of Wild Fire crying, because it had hope in it, and I honestly did not expected that.

All three books have a serious pace on them. There’s no mucking about – events come thick and fast, with the scale of the action increasing at every turn. The characters are messy, complicated, often confused. They make mistakes, but they build on what they learn from their mistakes. They learn to forgive themselves, and each other, and the adults who have never been enough. They learn who not to forgive as well, and that’s important. These are stories about what we do in face of fear and difference, who we include and who we shut out when banding together to overcome difficulties.

It’s really, really good stuff. Engaging, hard to put down and likely to stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.

These books are ideal for Pagan teenagers, and for anyone else who is happy to have Pagan teens as the main characters in a series. Highly reccomended.

find out more about Anna McKerrow’s work here – annamckerrow.com/books.html


Fairycraft

I read Morgan Daimler’s Fairy Witchcraft some time last year, and very much enjoyed it, although if I reviewed it here I’ve managed to hide it from myself. Fairycraft is the recently released and much longer and deeper look at fairy orientated magic. There isn’t much overlap between the two books so if you’re keen on the subject it is worth reading both, start with Fairy Witchcraft.

Over the course of the book, Morgan explores the folklore and mythology of faeries – her main focus is faeries in British folklore (especially Irish, quite a lot of Scottish) but she does encourage people to find out what’s traditional for their part of the world. As an American she’s faced with the complexities of ancestral ideas about the Otherworld, and ideas associated with the land, and has some interesting things to say on the subject.

There’s a fair amount of the history of fairy witchcraft , and the very revealing linguistics of it. Morgan Daimler does a lot of translating from Irish, and in the nuances of language use, all kinds of things emerge.

Alongside this, Morgan talks in detail about personal practice and experience, and what happens when you take the things from the folklore and start trying to do them. This is really fascinating stuff, and is presented with a balance of reverence and questioning rather than any kind of desire to impress. It’s made very clear that fairy work is all about relationship, so what happens for one person is a very limited indicator of what another person might experience while doing the same things. The personal qualities required to work in this way are flagged up and explored.

I suspect that what Morgan says about fairy magic is true of pretty everything to some degree – that relationship is key. Who we are, how we think and act and feel informs what we take into any situation. How that relates to whoever or whatever we’re working with will also have an impact. Care, respect and knowing where the boundaries are, will be important in all things. What this book offers is an explicitly co-operative approach to magic. The Fairy Witch needs a very strong will and great clarity of intention, but isn’t generally forcing that will onto the world, but working with Others. As an animist, I’m always more drawn to ways of being that are co-operative and consenting rather than about forcing will.

I’ve always been fascinated with faerie, it probably started with childhood exposure to the myths of Tam Lyn and Thomas the Rhymer. At the moment my personal practice is very quiet, and in an incubating stage, so I didn’t read this with an eye to acting on it. I think it’s worth noting that even if you aren’t planning to *be* a fairy witch, this is a great read. The wealth of folklore is wonderful, and the content around practice is really engaging to read anyway. There’s some genuinely innovative material about seasonal celebration (I say this as someone who is otherwise bored sick of wheel of the year sections in books). If you do want to take up this path, these two books are well worth a look.

More about Fairy Witchcraft here –moon-books.net/books/pagan-portals-fairy-witchcraft

More about Fairycraft here – http://www.moon-books.net/index.php?id=99&p=4684


Stepping out, uneasy

Stepping out, uneasy

 

There comes a time when life

Leaves you hungry, cold, and you say, “enough.”

I will go to the woods,

Take the dark path

To the witch’s house.

If she has me work

A year and a day

I may learn something.

I will risk her tricks

And her legendary rage

For a chance at life.

If she eats me,

I will not starve.

 

So be it.

This life leaves me hungry

And cold, and wanting.

I will go

To the witch’s house

And be turned into

Myself.


Witchy Granny Chakras

At what point do we say something has become a tradition in its own right?

The idea of chakras as drawn from eastern traditions first entered western awareness in 1927, according to wikipedia. My Gran was 7. Other people’s grannies had yet to be born. It means your modern witch could quite legitimately have learned about chakras from their witchy granny who learned about it from a book, that they might not have read themselves, but which may have been transmitted to them by other means.

How much eastern mysticism entered western thought in the 1960s when others of our witchy grannies learned it from someone who had met someone who had once sniffed a real guru?

Wikipedia also reckons that prana and Mesmer’s animal magnetism were pretty much the same thing. Not that wikipedia is an unassailable font of wisdom, but its a place to start. The west has been borrowing exotic things from the east for a long, long time. But it goes deeper, because if these things have some kind of reality, then anyone, in theory, can figure them out. If an energy system is real, you don’t need a witchy Granny or a guru to teach it to you, you can just find it. Possibly.

I’m a second generation modern Pagan. No doubt my son is picking things up from me that I’ve absorbed along the way. Some of them, like my pronunciation of Beltane, are not as they were in their original, authentic and proper context. Does that matter? Does it matter that there’s a western chakra tradition that might have very little to do with anything anywhere else in the world? If it works for people, is that more important?

I learned what I thought were traditional folk songs from my grandmother. They turned out to be songs by singer songwriters who were there at the start of the folk revival in the UK. They are still the traditional songs I learned from my granny. But that’s not the same as being part of one of those families that handed down songs through the generations. But what if my son learns those songs from me, and his children as well? At what point do we become tradition bearers? I offer it as a parallel, because while I have a lot of folk songs, I don’t have any chakras whatsoever. The issues still interest me.


Kitchen Witch

rachelI knew nothing about Rachel Patterson when I first started reading her books. The kitchen witchcraft aspect appealed to me greatly. It sounds earthy, pragmatic and suitable for everyday use. And indeed, her work is all of these things, with added charm and humour for good measure. Like me, she’s someone who believes in cake as an important part of life.

Her titles at present are as follows (but she’s uber-prolific, so if you’re reading this post a while after I blogged, there’s probably more…) and while I haven’t read all of them, her style and approach in what I have read incline me to say this is an author I trust. I think she’s also a good author for your younger witchy types, because she’s accessible and responsible in equal measure.

Pagan Portals Kitchen Witchcraft  

Grimoire of a Kitchen Witch

Pagan Portals Hoodoo

Pagan Portals Moon Magic

A Kitchen Witch’s World of Magical Herbs

A Kitchen Witch’s World of Magical Food

 

Here’s some samples of her work, to give you a bit of a flavour…

“A woman stands hunched over an old wooden table, pestle and mortar in her hands, grinding away at a mixture of ingredients.  A large white candle stands on the table beside her the flame flickering and spluttering.   Open in front of her lies a huge leather bound book, the pages well worn and filled with beautifully written spells.   Sounds like a scene from medieval times?  Actually it could be now; it could be me (or you) in a town house kitchen, or an apartment in the city.  This is a witch at work, same scene, same utensils, and same ingredients now as it was centuries ago.”

Pagan Portals Kitchen Witchcraft

“Food is magical, not just because of the amazing tastes, flavours and aromas but also for the magical properties it holds.   The magic starts with the choice of food to use and it can then be added in whilst you are preparing and cooking then the magic unfolds as people enjoy your food.   Dishes can be created for specific intents, moon phases, and rituals, to celebrate sabbats or just to bring the magic into your family meal. Many food ingredients can also be used very successfully in magical workings in the form of offerings, medicine pouches, witches bottles and poppets.”

A Kitchen Witch’s World of Magical Food

 

While I don’t self-identify with witchcraft at all, if I did, kitchen witchery would undoubtedly be part of my mix. As a Druid, I’m a maker of cakes and puddings to mark the seasons, festivals and rites of passage. I like the kind of medicinal herb that goes straight in the cooking (garlic!) and I like approaches to magic that are about our daily lives.


Tales of the Witchy Granny

Back when I was working on Druidry and the Ancestors, I was thinking as much about the stories we tell as I was about factual history. One of the great stories of modern Paganism, is the witchy Granny. I had one. You probably do too. And if you don’t, you’ve probably got a mad old uncle, or a semi-mythic great grandmother, or a more archetypal image to fill the gap. We need the witchy grannies, they fulfil a really important role.

The witchy granny stands between us (as disconnected moderns) and an ancient world of mystery. She has knowledge that evokes the Pagan past, and is closer to the land than us. Life has taught her compassion, but she probably won’t be too fluffy or nice. Hers is the compassion that can put a suffering animal out of its misery or can tell someone they’re on a hiding to nothing. She does not tolerate fools lightly, speaks her mind, knows her heart. Of course she isn’t perfect and the odds are she isn’t popular because she scares people. The witchy granny connects us to the past, roots us in our ancestry and tells us that nature worship isn’t some distant idea, but recent, alive and available.

Considering all of that, it doesn’t matter whether or not she was real in any literal sense, if she was your biological ancestor, or even if any of them ever existed. Witchy grannies are a modern myth of great value, so let’s embrace them as that.

Last week I read a wonderful ‘witchy granny’ story – Hexe, by Skadi Winter. It’s set in Germany after the second world war, so the granny of this tale is much more rooted in the Heathen tradition. Given how the Nazis tried to appropriate Heathenry (and still try) this book has a lot of layers, levels and implications in it. How do we reclaim a past that another group of people have approached in sacrilegious ways? How do we make connections with our ancestors when some of the more immediate ones are a real problem? How does identity connect to ancestry, and what happens when ideas around that become dogmatic and toxic?

Writing stories that help us explore the past is a really important process. The more difficult the history, the more important it is to get in there and try to make sense of it. All kudos to Skadi for taking on this period and these issues, and for sharing her insights.

If you’d like to check out Hexe, it’s here, while Druidry and the Ancestors is here.


Culture and fiction

I’ve been pondering this on the Steampunk side for a few days now, and have started playing compare and contrast with Paganism. What is the relationship between a culture and the fiction about it? The vast majority of fiction featuring Pagans is written by non-pagans and owes more to Buffy the Vampire Slayer than to Gerald Gardner.

Fiction written from within a culture can tend to want to affirm it, highlight its good points, celebrate and promote. This is natural. Whatever cultures we feel kinship with – be they spiritual, social or political, we want to portray in a good light. I’ve been round this one, writing about Paganism. The way we are, the way I want us to be, the way that makes for a good story – they don’t overlap as much as they might. The essence of story, is conflict. In a lovely world where everything is splendid, there aren’t as many tales to tell. Give me corruption and evil deeds, villains to fight, trials to overcome and I can make a more engaging sort of tale. The land of loveliness is not a land of stories. Perfection is an awful lot like stasis.

On the Pagan front, issues like the predators who want to sexually initiate pretty young witches, the swindlers, the power crazed, self important and the downright loopy – a tiny minority, but so laden with plot potential. But if I write about them, will people who read it take that as a representation of the Pagan community as a whole? Would that be responsible? I suspect if we did a count up, I’d turn out to have given more page time to Christian characters than Druids. There’s an odd irony there. But if we don’t write from the inside, the only story representations of Druids, or Pagans are going to be the startling things that show up in paranormal romances.

On the Steampunk side, I’m drawn to all the things I perhaps shouldn’t be. It’s not the splendid innovation and lovely manners that draw me, it’s the places of dysfunction, the historical colonialism, sexism, class prejudice and widespread oppression in many forms. I’m not so much on the inside of Steampunk as a community, which may make it easier to play with the dark stuff, but at the same time, is this what Steampunks want to read? The social culture of Steampunk is inherently celebratory, playful and quite upbeat.  There is an inevitable clash between the culture, and the fiction. Do Pagans want to read about how actual modern Pagan life really is? At a guess, no. I suspect most Pagans would prefer something a tad escapist, whilst wanting something a bit more realistic than Sabrina the teenage witch.

It’s much easier to write stories about a group of people, than for them. Celebrating something in fiction, can make for rather bland, insipid tales. The best way to celebrate is by throwing the good stuff into relief against a backdrop of terrible darkness. Sure, you can have ‘all the nasty people who disagree with us’ as your backdrop of darkness, but that gets tired really quickly and the ‘we’re so lovely and oppressed’ stories can get samey. Black and white tones do not make for a good story. Shades of grey are where it’s at, full of complexity and uncertainty.

I don’t have a clever punch line, or a cunning plan. To be honest, I’m scratching my head over this one. I’ve never read a contemporary fiction that seemed like real life Paganism to me. (Any suggestions?) I dislike fiction written by non-pagans about Pagans, for the greater part. There are a few Pagan authors whose fiction I like, but they aren’t doing contemporary Pagan life. Steampunk, I am getting my toes in the water, trying to see what comes from the inside, and what comes from the outside, what is good, what is liked, how it works.

Is there something about the nature of story that makes it far more comfortable to have them be about some other people, somewhere else, another time? Do we read to escape, or are we looking for reflections?


Almost a teen witch

On with the tale of how I got to where I am currently…

Aged about, 12 I read The Way of Weird, and purloined the rune set and instruction book my father had. It was the Ralph Blume book, which I later heard bad things about, but by then I’d got so used to, and adept at doing it that way, I couldn’t face trying to relearn. Through school fetes I discovered a knack for fortune telling.

In my early teens, I also started having premonitions. This did not come as a total surprise. Mother, grandmother and great grandmother all have their uncanny moments, with intuition being a big part of it. Nevertheless, it did scare me and took some adapting to.

Having had the wiccan influence in my childhood and not knowing about any other kinds of paganism, I assumed I was a witch. I had enough sense not to go round announcing this, however. During my teens I explored other forms of divination, including scrying. I had a few days of automatic writing, and then whatever had wanted to use me, moved on. I was grateful. I think her name was Harriet, and she’d been through some stuff. She taught me that interacting with the spirit world is hard, draining, mind bending and I never deliberately sought it as a consequence. No Ouija boards for me!

At fourteen, I started sitting out overnight in the hills with other less than perfectly sober teenagers. I discovered the joys of wild fire making, of nights under the stars, storytelling, waking up covered in dew, seeing the sunrise. I also learned that sleep deprivation causes me to hallucinate. Why buy drugs when your brain chemistry will get there all by itself? So while others did drop acid, I didn’t, and I still saw things. Although I wasn’t entirely conscious of it at the time, those hilltop nights went on to become part of my druidry. I think I was reaching for it even then, I just didn’t know what it was called.

In just the same way, I started exploring the trance potential of dance and drumming. Things that from the outside probably looked like normal teen excess, were taking me on spiritual journeys and opening my mind.

My father introduced me to the idea of astral projection, so I spent a lot of nights trying to do it, and getting nowhere. I had no formal teaching, and not much access to books. A school friend developed an enthusiasm for hypnotism. I learned that I could shape my voice in ways that encourage people into different levels of consciousness. A tool I later learned to use for guided meditation work. I also discovered that I’m really good at entering trance states. I could go quickly and easily. The problem has always been in finding someone calm and together enough to lead and guide me, and bring me back. The teenage explorers around me baulked at the heavier stuff, and I was on my own again.

My early teens also brought me into contact with ideas about lucid dreaming, and dream interpretation. I kept dream diaries, and tried to get a bit of control over my dreaming mind. I had a lot of very dark nightmares during several intense periods, and a desire to not be at the mercy of those. I still haven’t got that entirely sussed.

It was a strange time for me. Outside of school I devoted a lot of time to bands, boys, and general teen stuff. I knew I wanted more, and different. ‘Witch’ was the best word I had, and even then I knew it didn’t fit. At 18, I came into contact with some wiccans, went to a couple of their workshops – tarot, meditation, Quabala, and on some day trips. They put me in touch with The Pagan Federation and for the first time I started to realise how little I knew and how much there was to learn. It all seemed big, impressive and intimidating, but I read my Pagan Dawns each quarter, and became more conscious within my own life. College loomed, and with it the first hints of druidry crept into my life.