Monthly Archives: March 2016

Witchcraft Rant

/begin rant

In my never-ending quest for information, I stumbled across a pdf of A Practical Guide to Witchcraft and Magic Spells by Cassandra Eason (Foulsom Press, 2001). I’m fairly certain it’s a pirated copy and for that, my apologies to Ms. Eason. However, had I purchased the book, it would have been returned.

The title of the book is really, really a misnomer. It should read, “A Practical Guide to Wicca…”.

Some errors from just the first chapter:

“Witchcraft is said to be the oldest religion in the world.” A quick Google search gives the following definition of religion: “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power [emphasis mine], especially a personal God or gods.” While some witches may choose to follow a particular religion and/or incorporate deities in their path, it’s a craft and is separate from religion. (IMNSHO, of course.)

“[…] basic rules of witchcraft […] An ye harm none, do what you will. […] other equally vital law of witchcraft, the Threefold Law.” These are laws of Wicca, not of witchcraft in general.

Of course, there’s the whole casting a circle, calling on the Guardians of the Watchtower, invoking deities, continual mention of “white magick” … Not all of us cast circles, much less the Watchtower stuff and many of us have absolutely no problem casting a hex or curse.

When will people stop conflating Wicca with all witchcraft?

//end rant

A Familiar’s Tale – Part XIV

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0Life returned to normal. That is to say, exacting tribute of cattle from lesser kings, attempting to exact tribute by force from those who did not wish to pay it, and the quarterly gatherings at Tara.

It was at one of these gatherings that Loégaire decided it was time Leinster came under his dominion once and for all. After the religious ceremonies and celebrations were over, he called his battle chiefs to his side and devised a plan he thought would finally bring that pesky place under control.

Aoife, who had become chief advisor after Tadhg’s death, quietly reminded the king of his oath never to bother Leinster again. “My lord, you told me you swore an oath, invoking the elements. Will you now violate something so sacred?”

“That oath was to another king. It does not hold with the new king.”

Aoife shrugged her shoulders. Invoking the elements bound him to the land, not a person. But she knew better than to argue.

The king led his troops down what is now called the River Boyne into the heart of Leinster territory. As we were marching along, a freak storm blew up. Normally gentle rain felt like arrows piercing the skin as it was blown sideways by the strong winds. Thunder crashed and lightning lit up the skies.

“It is a sign, my lord,” Aoife shouted to be heard through the tempest. “You must withdraw.”

“Nay, lass,” the king bellowed. “’Tis but a storm and shall pass.”

As soon as the final word left his mouth, a bolt of lightning struck the king on his horse. Aoife and I, along with several others, were thrown aside like rag dolls from the blast. With one last rumble of thunder, the wind died down, the rain subsided and off in the distance, one could see blue skies.

We picked ourselves up and assessed injuries. Everyone, including me, could hear nothing. Thankfully, I could hear Aoife’s thoughts as she passed from one man to another. This one has burns; that one has nerve damage in his arm; the other one she didn’t know but he was unconscious. Our hearing slowly returned and Aoife coordinated with the closest battle chief on which people needed to get to healers.

At the chief’s orders, several of the king’s men picked up his body and we started back it in the direction from which we had come. I heard mumblings of “Taranis” from several of them. Once we returned to the stone at Tara, the king’s body was cremated in a huge pyre and one of his sons was declared High King of Ireland.

Aoife did not like this particular son, so after conducting Loégaire’s funeral, we slipped away from the gathering. I asked her where we would go.

“At the moment, I am very tired of kings. I am also very tired of always moving from place to place. I have heard of a grove in the mountains to the southwest. Perhaps they will accept me. Maybe I could teach? I don’t know. But I’d like to stay in one place. Maybe even marry and have a family.”

I mentally snorted at this last. Who would want a woman with such a temper? However, because of that temper, I did not voice my opinion.

It took us two years to find the grove. Christianity may have been making good headway throughout the country but there were still plenty of people who held to the old ways. Aoife’s garb was, as was every Druid’s, distinctive and she was asked for readings all along our path. That meant we almost always had a roof over our heads at night, a hot meal for her, and as much meat as I could eat with my choice of bones to chew on.

We did eventually come to a grove similar to the one Aoife came of age in. It was situated in the heart of mountains on the southwest coast of the country. Her reputation had spread and Aednat, the leader of the grove, welcomed her with open arms. Apparently, they did not have someone as well-versed in divination as Aoife and she was indeed given the position of teaching that art.

And much to my surprise, she met a man who could handle her temper! Ardan was a Druid, what you would call a bard. He played a stringed instrument and sang ballads, telling the history of man in general and Ireland in particular. He did not teach but sang to the grove in the evenings. He also was generally the person who spoke with travelers, getting any news and eventually setting it to song to be memorized by the next generation of bards.

Ardan started pursuing Aoife almost as soon as we had settled into our new life. She, on the other hand, at slightly over one hundred years old, wanted little to do with the “young” man (he was only around seventy). Ardan did not give up his quest and Aoife finally gave in after a couple of years. I do not believe she loved him but it was a comfortable relationship that gave her the stability she craved.

Life was not without difficulty. The growing movement of Christianity had penetrated even our little corner of the world. The magical children who were once easily swayed to become Druids were now the “property of the Church” and we saw fewer and fewer come to live with us each year. This broke Aoife’s heart. Although she had wanted children, she was unable to conceive and looked upon the youngsters as her surrogate family.

We also had our share of priests and others come to the grove in an attempt to convert those who lived there. While they were not actively discouraged, it was made plain that the inhabitants did not intend to change their ways. Our grove became more and more isolated as the years went by; those seeking the Druids’ assistance visited less and less.

Overall, however, it was peaceful and Aoife lived with Ardan, teaching various forms of divination to whoever was interested, and giving readings to those who asked for them, for almost one hundred years. Only at the last did she decide she needed to “move on” and see something more of the mountains than just the view from the grove. After explaining her reasoning to Ardan, we left the grove and hiked farther up into the mountains. Several weeks later, she took her last breath sitting on the ground with her hand on my back, leaning against a rock where she had a clear view of the infiniteness of the ocean.

To be continued…

A Familiar’s Tale – Part XIII

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0At the age of thirty, Aoife was declared a fully-trained seeress and given her choice of life: either travel, as did Dalaigh, to find the exceptional children; or be assigned to a nobleman as his personal diviner. She chose the latter, for which I was glad. Wolfhounds may be able to run fast but we are sprinters, not marathoners.

Aoife found a place with Tierney, a Brehon, or judge. Unfortunately, he was the traveling sort, unattached to any king or tribal chieftain. Some forty years older than Aoife, he was a wizard, which explained his longevity in an era when achieving the age of seventy was considered a rare feat. The vast majority of people saw a man in the prime of his life, meaning around the age of thirty.

Tierney was pleased to have found a seeress to accompany him on his rounds. He may have known the Fénechas, or Laws, backward and forward, but to have someone able to divine whether a petitioner was telling the whole truth was a bonus.

So, for the next twenty-plus years, we traveled a prescribed route through the countryside, staying first at this chieftain’s house, then that minor king’s. Tierney would arbitrate arguments the chieftain either couldn’t decide or didn’t want to get involved with. Aoife would use her divination to aid in the decision and once in a while, do a reading for the chieftain or a member of his tribe. It wasn’t a bad life.

On occasion, Tierney was called to be a part of an appellate court. One such court was convened at Tara. It was the court of the Ard Rí or High King of Ireland. Tierney joined two others of his stature to determine if the judgement of the king’s brithem, or counselor, was correct.

While there, Aoife had a vision that involved the king in a nasty battle. As was right, she reported it to Tierney. In today’s parlance, his reaction was, “And your point was…?” Fighting between tribes was almost an everyday occurrence. When Aoife told him the battle was for the king’s soul, Tierney felt this was something the king should probably know. Aoife was called to the throne, which was not a big chair in a castle but a smaller chair in a small enclosure around a large stone.

Lóegaire mac Néill stood and looked down from his height to Aoife. “So, you have had a vision about a battle for my soul. Tell me about it.”

She related her vision once again, explaining the allegorical meanings behind objects and actions in the waking dream. The battle would take place sometime in the not-too-distant future and his adversary, who followed a different god, would attempt to sway him from his belief in Crom, Lugh, Morrígan, and others.

Lóegaire’s eyes narrowed. He admitted that he had heard of a new religion making its way into Britain and knew it was a matter of time before adherents of that faith made their way to Eire. Calling an old man to his side, he quietly conferred with him.

Tadhg spoke to Aoife. “I am an old man even by our standards and I do not see as well as I once did. The Ard Rí needs a seer at his side, especially if even more troubled times are ahead. Would you consent to join us?”

And so it was that Aoife became the personal seeress of the High King of Ireland. You must remember at that time, there were no castles such as Buckingham Palace. The king, his personal retinue and army traveled around the country, mostly fighting against other kings in an attempt to conquer and then hold lands. It was a brutal life.

Aoife and I were kept busy, looking for the most appropriate place to invade, which day would be good to start a skirmish, whether his next child would be a boy or girl… As her reputation for knowing trees spread, Aoife also oversaw the gathering of hazel nuts (which Tadhg swore were the reason for his longevity), the cutting of rowan branches for a new set of ogham staves, and even the archers came to her for advice on which yew tree would be best for a new bow.

Although Tadhg continued to counsel Lóegaire until his death almost ten years later, for the most part, he left the seeing to Aoife. Many times Aoife and Tadhg would argue over the signs’ meanings and there were instances where I had to put a clamp on Aoife’s temper. It was either that or she would have probably strangled Tadhg with tree roots.

True to Aoife’s vision, a traveler visited the king about five years later, attempting to convince him to renounce his multiple gods and convert to his faith, which recognized only one. The king laughed and vowed never to leave the gods who had given him his kingship. He offered the traveler food and a bed for the night, provided the man said nothing to anyone else about this new faith. The traveler declined and left the king’s presence.

There was one interesting series of battles. Although there were several kings who did not recognize Lóegaire’s authority over them, the most troublesome one held sway over Leinster. As always with the Irish, cattle were involved. Lóegaire wanted a tribute and Leinster refused to pay, so they fought.

One day, Leinster’s troops managed to break through Lóegaire’s lines and capture the king. Like most humans, when it came right down to it, he didn’t want to die. Leinster had become quite tired of Lóegaire’s attempts to collect tribute so after several heated exchanges between the two, Lóegaire vowed never to invade Leinster again, swearing the standard oath calling on all elements to witness. He was released back to his men who seemed pleased he was essentially unharmed.

A year or two after that, the traveler found the king again and again asked him to convert to Christianity which, according to him, was the one true faith. This time, though, many of the king’s followers (especially the wives of those followers) had converted and he was pressured by them to accept the teachings of this Patrick fellow.

Aoife was called to the king’s side and asked what the signs had to say about this Christianity. Aoife did not have to look to know the answer. “This is a decision you must make for yourself, my lord.”

Although I still do not understand it, I had come to realize that humans have a need to believe in something greater than themselves. So, Lóegaire’s decision wasn’t whether to believe at all but what or who to believe in. Once again, the king refused to consider any god but those he had been raised with, and sent Mr. Patrick away.

This caused some consternation in his court and more than a few of his knights and such left because of it. The king took no action against them, as he felt everyone had a right to believe however they wished, despite the fact he thought they were wrong. Everyone else kept their opinions to themselves. The king’s temper was legendary.

To be continued…