Monthly Archives: December 2010

So You’re Wiccan, huh?

You have no idea how tired I am of that question after people find out I am a witch. Then, when I answer, “no, I am what is generally referred to as a ‘traditional’ witch”, I usually get a blank stare.  So, below is an edited version of a short essay I wrote for a forum I belong to. I hope it will answer someone’s question, somewhere.

What is Traditional Witchcraft?

Who are you asking? Ask 100 different ‘traditional’ witches and you’ll probably get 98 different answers. It is not Wicca. Although Wicca is now old enough to have been ‘passed down’ and as such, making it a traditional practice, it has morphed from an occult practice invented by Gerald B Gardner in the 1950’s to the religion it is today. Within Wicca you will find aspects of Italian Witchcraft as defined by Charles Leland in his Aradia or the Gospel of the Witches; the Order of the Golden Dawn; Rosicrucianism; and even some things we know about how the ancient Egyptians worked with their gods. Wicca is not ‘old’.

The practice of magic can be traced to ancient times. From stone tablet fragments, papyri and fragments of original scrolls that still survive, we know it was practiced by the ancient Egyptians, Chaldeans, Greeks, Romans and others. I’m sure it existed prior to the invention of the written word. We just don’t have any existing proof. According to Bronislaw Malinowski, a noted anthropologist, “Magic never originated, it was never made or invented”. I interpret that as meaning that magic has always been in the world.

Roman authors and priests included magic formulae in their writings … for beneficial workings. Harmful spells were illegal. Diviners (fortune-tellers, augurers, and astrologers) were actually supported by the state. Both Greek and Roman gods were not only invoked by magicians but were said to have magical abilities themselves. From the Eddas and other writings, we know that the Norse gods practiced magic.

Unless there’s someone who hasn’t yet come out of the broom closet, none of us can trace our magical origins back to the beginning of time. I only know two witches who can definitively trace their heritage back several centuries, although I have read of others. Christianity, in its efforts to become the ‘big dog religion’ on the planet, killed many magical practitioners; forced others to renounce their practice and convert; or simply abandon their ways for fear of retribution. We are probably lucky in that at least some chose to pay lip service to Christianity and still retain their abilities, albeit in a much more secretive environment.

Therefore, our practices must originate with something more recent. Recent can be as early as a 16th century ancestor passing down what he or she discovered or as late as someone today thinking, ‘I can do this’ and it works. It can be a centuries-old family tradition or a ‘tradition of one’.

Many of today’s practices, whether it’s admitted or not, are reconstructions of what is believed to have been done in times past. For religions with a magical aspect, mythology such as the Eddas, The Mabinogion, and the writings of the Greeks and Romans, is available to be read and interpreted. And just as in the major religions of the world, interpretations vary and there are sects of virtually any ‘pagan’ religion.

For the non-religious witches, take your pick of kitchen witchery, folk magic, Hoodoo, chaos magic, and a score of other methods of practice. Or don’t pick, but incorporate whatever aspects of one or more interest you.

Because most of us are ‘making it up as we go along’, it is by definition something that suits us on a personal level. Even the truly hereditary witches I know are taught the basics and then modify what they’ve been taught to suit themselves. For some, it is a spiritual practice, others incorporate deities into their work (worship may or may not be a part of that work), and yet others consider it a craft with no more connection to religion or spirituality than woodworking, pottery-making and the like.

I fall into the latter category: I do not consider magic a religious (or spiritual) practice. Julio Caro Baroja said in his The World of the Witches, “… in general, magic is connected with man’s desire and will, and religion with feelings of respect, gratefulness and submission” (his emphasis). That about sums it up for me.

In Memoriam

Our cat, Nick, passed away this morning. I am now berating myself for not taking more photographs. This is one of him and his brother, Ivan, taken when they were kittens nearly 9 years ago. Nick is on the right.

I’ve lit a candle for you, my snuggle bunny & metaphysical supervisor. You will be sorely missed around here. Say hi to all the others who have passed for me. Boomer will show you the ropes.

Top 10 Witches, Wizards, whatever

I forget which channel, but one of ’em was running The Wizard of Oz this weekend. That got me to thinking about the witches I liked in films and books versus the ones I found rather cheesy.  Bear in mind, I have never seen Buffy, Charmed, or any of the series so popular with folks these days.

In no real particular order:

10.  The Wizard of Oz. While I’ll admit Margaret Hamilton did a tremendous job of scaring the crap out of me when I was young, the older me thinks the Wicked Witch of the West got a really bad rap. I’m not that big on ‘stuff’ but if some kid had just killed my sister and then gotten my inheritance (from a woman who had no right to give it to her), I think I’d be more than a little peeved, too.

9.  The Witches of Eastwick. Rather cheesy (both the film and the short-lived series) but on the whole, rather enjoyable.  My one carp with the women is that they allowed themselves to be taken in the first place. I’d have punched him out after the first few sentences (or maybe in the case of Paul Gross, the first kiss-and-grope). At least they figured out the devil’s influence at the end and got even.

8.  Excalibur I love almost anything related to Merlin and Nicol Williamson does a marvelous job of making Merlin human, as well as a wizard. I must admit, though, that I would like to see someone put Stephen Lawhead’s The Pendragon Cycle to film (or disc as it probably is nowadays) and then once again cast Nicol Williamson as Merlin – at least the older one.

7. Lord of the Rings I’m not a fan of Saruman but Gandalf can duck his head into my hobbit hole any time. The movies did a fair job of staying true to the books and I love that Gandalf can be a lovable old man yet when you get his dander up – watch out!

6.  Bewitched. Everyone seems to mention Samantha … putting up with her bumbling, non-magical husband and a variety of interesting relatives. My favorite character was always Endora. She had magic, used it when it pleased her to do so, (dressed in really cool outfits) and basically didn’t give a damn about anyone but herself – unless it was her daughter and grandchildren. I always wanted to have that much chutzpah.

5.  Mary Poppins How can people forget the marvelous nanny that made chalk sidewalk drawings spring to life? Not to mention that she was able to calm bratty kids right down.  What I wouldn’t give to be able to do that while shopping at the mall.

4. Practical Magic One of the first books & films to combine the hazards of modern everyday living with witchcraft. However, I really disagree with killing someone and burying them on you own property. If you’ve gotta kill, geez, get completely rid of the evidence. They could have called up a nice bonfire!

3. Harry Potter No list could be complete without the students & graduates of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Even the ‘bad’ ones.  But Dumbledore has to be a hands-down favorite for being a powerful wizard with a tender heart. If we didn’t have cats, I’d want a Fawkes.

2.  The Good Witch and its sequels. No overt magic is shown, yet you know there are subtle forces at work. Roses in snowy February? I wish. But at least its shown that love can grow on its own without any magical pushing. This is about as close to living a real witch’s life as you can get in the entertainment industry.

1.  Last but not least The Harry Dresden Files. And by this I mean the books, not the television series.  The series was OK but just didn’t show all the stuff in the books or really show Harry as the overworked, underpaid, grumpy but kind-hearted wizard he is. And Bob is always supposed to be a spirit of air, not something that coalesces into a human. You’d thing with all the CGI available today they’d have gotten it right. Nonetheless the reading is so fun … vampires, werewolves, fairies, monsters and gangsters abound. Not to mention his really cool dog.

The 12 Days of Christmas

Things have been entirely too crazy around here!  First, I caught that friend’s cold but good. It put me down again for several days. Apparently, I’m still not quite up to snuff on my immune system.  Gotta work on that. Then, I spent a good portion of last week pacing. You see, my daughter’s due date was the 5th but as we all know, the first child can come anytime. My beautiful granddaughter, Lyra, finally greeted the world last Friday night.

Also on Friday, my mother decided to ignore the temperature gauge in her car (which indicated a coolant leak) and ran it dry. Killed the aluminum head for starters. So I’m back to playing chauffeur again.

Saturday was hubby’s company holiday party. They changed the venue and we had a difficult time finding the new place … posting street numbers on buildings in Murphy, North Carolina is apparently an option. The weatherman had already alerted us that a winter storm was on the way and it did start raining on the way home while the temperature continued to plummet.

By Monday afternoon we had a little over 4″ of the white stuff piled up. Not that I mind it much here in Georgia – it doesn’t have to be shoveled, you just wait for it to melt. But our roads are not only curvy, they are hilly so driving is a dangerous proposition. The main roads are now clear but we’re getting a cold rain today which is turning the snow pack on the shaded back roads into sheets of ice – I should have saved my ice skates.

Top that off with my mother-in-law having to move from her one bedroom to a studio in her retirement community now. Hubby and his brother are going to have to make a special trip there this weekend, throwing stuff into boxes without really sorting, just to get it moved. With him gone, it will be up to me to finish getting the house ready for the holidays.

So, I’ve decided this year I’m going to celebrate not the usual 12 Days of Christmas, but the 12 Jamaican Days of Christmas. It seems appropriate for the craziness going on around here.  (Thanks to my friend, Elgin Wells. You can buy the entire CD here.)

12  Calypso drummers

11  Reggae strummers

Ziggy Marley leaping

9  Limbo Ladies

8  Mambo Mammas

7   Sandy Seagulls

6  Waiters Serving

Bacardi drinks (hic)

4  Mockingbirds

3  French Bikinis

2 Coconuts

and a Mynah bird in a palm tree

I think I’ve posted this before but my favorite winter drink is my grandmother’s recipe for Wassail. I plan on starting my 12 days early & indulging in those 5 Bacardi drinks with it:

2 quarts apple cider (you can use apple juice but it won’t be as flavorful)

1 pint cranberry juice

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 sticks cinnamon

1 teaspoon whole allspice

1 small orange studded with cloves

This works best in a crock pot on low heat but you can do it stove-top if you keep the heat very low and don’t mind watching it. Combine all ingredients & cover. You’ll want to stir a couple of times during the first hour or so to ensure all the sugar dissolves and is distributed throughout the liquid. Best served after warming 6 hours or so. Spike with one cup rum (spiced rum works very well).  Makes about 12 cups.

After it’s simmered long enough, remove the spices from the liquid. Peel & eat the orange … you’ll get a lot of healthful benefits from it and the clove oil which has soaked into the fruit.

I’ll be offline again next week getting ready for the Christmas holiday with family (mine comes earlier in the week). However and whatever you celebrate … Happy Holidays!

Garlic Gives You a Boost

I had to avoid a friend during my weekly trip to Atlanta on Tuesday … he had either an awful cold or a strain of the flu that this year’s vaccine doesn’t cover. Either way, he was in bad shape and, although I’m paying attention to keeping my immune system healthy, I prefer not to take any chances.

One of the ways I stay healthy is garlic. Allium sativum has been used for centuries to fight various ailments. Garlic recipes have been found in Pliny the Elder’s writings (first century CE) and in Chinese herbals as early as 500 CE. As with most herbal medicine, science is catching up to history.

A well-known ethnobotanist (someone who studies the relationships between plants and the human body), James Duke, believes that all of the chemical compounds found in garlic have the potential to help more than 200 conditions. Dr. Duke thinks it’s the best plant stimulant for the immune system, the best anti-clotting herb, one of the best antifungal herbs and may help prevent heart disease and cancer.

Admittedly, garlic is really pungent and some people don’t like the taste. Others, like me, love it but it doesn’t love us back. I get horrible gastric upset when eating fresh garlic. Thankfully, in the last several years garlic capsules have come on the market which keep the good stuff and take out that which causes the upset. (Be sure to read the label to ensure you’re getting a good product.) However, as with all herbs, it’s best if you eat it fresh – at least one raw or only slightly cooked clove a day. If you’re concerned about garlic breath, eat a sprig of fresh parsley immediately afterward. The parsley will kill the bad breath. (This was the original reason for a parsley garnish on dinner plates. I miss it when dining out.)

A caution: garlic is a powerful anticoagulant so if you’re on blood-thinning medication or any other anticoagulant, please check with your healthcare professional before eating a lot of garlic. You also want to stop eating it about two weeks before any surgery.

If you don’t like (or can’t tolerate) garlic, try onions Allium cepa. They’re very closely related and share many of the same qualities, just not as strong in any of them.

Garlic and onions are really easy to grow. Heck, I had some wild garlic growing in my yard in Atlanta (used it, too). If you buy a bulb from the grocery store, separate the cloves and bury each individually – they’ll produce one bulb apiece. There are specialty garlics, too. Check the Internet for ‘seed’ stock. Garlic and onion like to be in a sunny location, and somewhat moist but not muddy. If you do harvest your own, be sure to cure and store them in a cool but not cold, well-ventilated place. Don’t put ’em in the fridge – they’ll sprout.

If you choose to use raw garlic or onions in cooking, either finely chopping or crushing the clove will release the most flavor. If you don’t like raw garlic, roasting it will make it a tad sweeter.

Although most cooks today will hang bunches of garlic and/or onions from the kitchen ceiling or keep them in baskets to ‘have them at hand’, the origination of that practice was a magical one: to prevent illness from starting in that room. You can also cut two onions in half, or crush four cloves of garlic and place them in the four corners of your house, or in the four corners of a room to absorb negative energy (great in sickrooms). Dispose of them outside either by burying them in your yard or deep into your compost pile after a day or so.

Indulge in your favorite Mediterranean dishes frequently and be sure to keep garlic and onions on hand in your kitchen to do so!