Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Blackberries and Holy Rood Day

 Now is the time to pick blackberries before the Devil fouls them. 
In Scotland it is on the Old Style Holy Rood Day that he poisons the 
brambles by 
either spitting  or urinating on them.

'Oh Weans! Oh Weans! the morn's the Fair
Ye may na eat the berries mair
This nicht the Devil gangs ower them a'
To touch them with his pooshioned paw'

In England he does not foul the berries until Old Michaelmas ( 10th Oct)

Holy Rood Day which is known as Mid Autumn in the Highlands of Scotland
 is traditionally the beginning of the mating season for deer.
 It is also traditional at this time for young women to gather St Michaels wild
 carrot; forked roots were especially lucky, tied into bunches they were
 presented to male visitors on Michaelmas Day.
The carrots had to be gathered in a certain way, first by digging a triangular 
hole around the plant, signifying St Michael's shield, using a three pronged
 mattock which signified St Michael's trident.

'Cleft, fruitful, fruitful, fruitful,
Joy of carrots surpassing upon me,
Michael the brave endowing me
Bride the fair be aiding me'

Friday, 22 September 2017

Witch Balls

The term 'scrying' comes from the English word descry which means to make out 
dimly or to reveal. A typical scryer was a wise woman, gifted with second sight, and 
often referred to as a witch. This ability is not limited to using crystal balls, any
 reflective surface will do. The favoured speculum is the magic mirror, preferably 
one with a concave side painted black.
Few witches throughout the ages would have used crystal balls for scrying, being too
 heavy and expensive, instead the more easily available glass fishing floats 
were commonly used, especially in England. 

Perhaps this is why sailors have such a 
strong belief in the power of witches, believing them to have power over men’s 
fate out at sea, referring to them specifically as sea witches. These sea witches were 
believed to haunt the coast lines around the country, cursing the sailors and willing 
the ships to wreck upon the rocks. Some believe that these particular creatures are 
the ghosts of dead witches and it was one of these ghostly sea witches that was, 
according to legend, sent by the Devil to assist Sir Francis Drake in his battle 
against the Spanish Armada This phantom  helped him raise a storm at sea and 
defeat the fleet. In return for this it was said that Drake bartered his soul
 to Old Nick.

Coloured glass balls often referred to as Witch Balls had another use, they were 
hung in windows of dwellings and intended to keep out witches and the evil eye.
These ,made from the 17th century onwards, would hopefully deflect curses 
and ill wishing. The bright colours of the glass was supposed to entice the evil 
spirits into the ball and then trap it forever in the salt or Holy water that had 
been placed inside. And by keeping one of these balls in your home it would 
prevent a witch from entering as traditionally witches supposedly do not have a 
reflection or can not bear to see their own reflection.

This tradition  travelled across the pond to America in the 19th century.
Although in other parts of America especially the Ozarks a witch ball had 
another form and use. It would be made from black hair rolled in beeswax to form a hard 
marble shaped lump. This is not for protection this would be used by somebody, 
presumably a witch ,to harm or curse a victim. It is said in this area that  
one of these witch balls would always be found near the body of somebody
 killed by  this curse.

The hanging of the protective witch balls in our homes continues today, the glass baubles on the Christmas tree originate from this practice. The use of these are supposed to deflect any envious thoughts when seeing the huge stacks of pressies under the tree!

Thursday, 21 September 2017

St Mathews Day

Darker evenings and cooler weather now beginning...

"St Mathew, get candle new
St Mathew
Brings the cold rain and dew
Mathew's Day bright and clear
Brings good wine in next year"

Monday, 18 September 2017

Toad Doctor

The name Toad Doctor summons up the image of an expert in amphibian diseases
 but in earlier years it would have meant something completely different. 

While wise women and pellars would have utilised the so called magical 
properties of the toad it was only the Toad Doctor who  exclusively used 
this amphibian for cures.

Toad cures first made an appearance during Roman times and were given 
cooked in salt and oil as an antidote for snake bite. Toads were also used 
 as a cure for bed wetting; the amphibian would be tied between the legs of 
the child just before going to bed. If they started to urinate it was thought 
that the toad would start to croak and so wake the sleeper.
 It continued to be an important ingredient in folk magic for many centuries,
 and it was during the 17th and 18th century that saw a marked growth in the 
 popularity of this folk medicine.  
A ritual known as the toad bone rite became popular, particularly in East 
Anglia but also in other areas of the country, amongst both cunning folk 
and members of magical organizations such as the Scottish Society of the 
Horseman's Word and East Anglian Society of Horsemen. Although there 
were many variations, the ritual typically involved the killing of a toad or 
frog, having its flesh stripped from the bones by ants, and then throwing
 the bone into a stream at night. It was believed that this would grant the
 practitioner, who was known as a Toad Man, the ability to perform certain 
magical tasks.
Toad Doctors were found mainly in the south west of England and they would
 travel from town to town peddling their cures. The most common ailment that 
they treated  was scrofula, otherwise known as the kings evil. 

This is an infection 
of the lymph nodes, resulting in large swellings on the face and neck. A bag 
containing  toad legs would be placed around the patients neck which they would 
have to wear until the legs decayed by which time it was believed that the cure 
would have been effective.

The most well documented Toad Doctor was John Buckland of Dorset who 
described himself as a surgeon in the 1841 census. With his family he would 
hold an annual Toad Fair at the beginning of May at Stalbridge in Dorset. 
Crowds of people would travel to see him, all carrying their toads. He would 
then rip the legs off of the creatures and place them still twitching in bags, and 
put them around the patients neck. The reported price for this treatment was 
the exorbitant  seven shillings per bag.

Toad powder was prescribed for urinary problems as it was believed to be a 
diuretic, and for any complaints that  caused swellings, inflammations or growths. 
Toad bones and toad skins were also given to prevent plague and small pox.

 Thankfully these traditional remedies are a thing of the past. 

Friday, 15 September 2017

Blackberry Harvest

It's the season to be think about picking blackberries for jam and also I'm 
going to make some blackberry wine this year
I made elderflower champagne in the spring and that was success, even 
though one of the bottles did explode!

The Blackberry bush is an amazing plant and has many uses apart from 
making jam and of course wine.
It's a common native shrub found throughout  Britain.
  Can climb up to 15ft- 5m,  the stems will root where they
 touch the ground.  There are  hundreds of micro species
  in the bramble family.
                     Flowers vary from white to cerise appearing from May to September. 
The fruit is a cluster of segments called dropelets and appear in the autumn months 
and may be seen at the same time as the flowers.

My Jam!
Apart from making jam and wine the plant has a few other uses as well.

Bramble leaves can be used with a healing spell for the treatment of burns: dip 
nine leaves in running water and lay them on the affected area, say to each leaf as you 
apply it ‘Three ladies came from the east, one with fire and two with frost, out with fire 
and in with frost’
Or alternatively bruise a handful of fresh leaves and apply to the burn. This can be used 
for piles, skin ulcers and eczema as well.
A decoction of the leaves can be used for sore throats and if you would like a natural
 mouth wash it can also be used for this.
The juice of the berries mixed with the juice of mulberries binds the stomach in cases 
of diarrhoea, helps sores and ulcers and is good for piles.
The leaves boiled in lye and used to wash the scalp relieves an itchy scalp and makes the
 hair black.

Bramble Leaf Tea
The shoots and young leaves are packed with vitamins and minerals and are ideal  for use in a tea, either fresh or dried can be used. Place three or four leaves in a teapot and pour on boiling water, leave to steep for about 15 minutes. Strain then drink. This can be taken as needed; if using to treat diarrhoea make the tea twice the strength and take one cup every hour.
Good for mouth ulcers and gum disease, also helpful if you have a cold.

Chewing the leaves will help headaches while crushed leaves can be used to treat 
small wounds and sores.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Wild Dartmoor

Dartmoor, a place of mystery, made famous by Arthur Conan Doyle's
'Hound of the Baskervilles', said to have been inspired by the local legends
of the Yeth Hounds that hunted across these windswept moors.

Wistmans Wood on Dartmoor is the last remains of an ancient woodland and is the 
home of these hounds. They are a fiercesome sight, jet black, with smoke and flames snorting
 from their nostrils.
From the centre of the woods they start their wild hunt along with a demonic huntsman
 called Dewer, they race across the wild moorland looking for lost souls.
They head for Dewer Stone near Bickleigh where they disappear.
If any mortal is unlucky enough to see them it means banishment to a distant land, and 
speech with the Huntsman means death.

One well known local legend illustrates the
danger of encountering the hounds and huntsman 
known as Dewer.
A local farmer had been visiting the fair at 
Widecombe and after spending a few hours in
the local tavern decided it was time to set off for home.
Staggering along the lonely road across the
moor he came across the Hounds and Huntsman.
Too drunk to feel afraid he demanded some game 
from  the shadowy figure.
With a cold laugh the Huntsman tossed to the
man’s feet a bulging sack.
It was too dark a night to examine  the contents, so he swung it to his 
shoulder and carried it home.
When he got inside he started to open the sack
on the kitchen table as he told his wife of his 
encounter with the dreaded Huntsman.
She was just marveling on his lucky escape when
the dead body of his eldest son fell out of the sack.

Crocken Moor, a rocky granite outcrop which is believed to be the 
centre of Dartmoor.
The guardian spirit of the moor, Old Crocken, rides out from here on a
 skeleton horse. On dark and stormy nights he rides to Wistmans Wood and
 releases the hounds and Dewer to hunt lonely travelers.
Any meeting with him forebodes bad luck.

‘The gurt old spirit of the moors, Old Crocken himself, grey as granite,
 and his eyebrows hanging down over his glimmering eyes like sedge, 
and his eyes as deep as peat water pools.’
Sabine Baring Gould 1899

Dartmoor is supposed to have a temperate climate but having visited this area 
many times once you step onto the moor you enter a different world; not just at 
risk from the weather but also from the danger of being pixy led.
The moor takes its name from the River Dart which starts at East Dart and West Dart then becomes a single river at Dartmeet. 
It leaves the moor at Buckfastleigh then reaches the sea at Dartmouth

This area has the largest concentration of early Bronze age remains in Britain. 
During this period the weather was warmer and the moor heavily wooded so it would not
 seem as inhospitable as it does today.
The trees were cleared by the early settlers who established the first farming settlements.
There is still evidence of their occupation near Haytor.
The fields that these early settlers cultivated covered an area of approx 39 sq miles, 
the division of the fields called 'reaves' ( banks of earth and stone) are still clearly 
visible in some areas.

Down into the woods where pixies and headless horsemen 
and the wish hounds roam...

Put your ear to the sides of Tors and you will hear the pixies knocking deep 
within the rock, or if you are really lucky you will be able to hear the bells being rung in their underground villages.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Autumn Harvests


     The apple symbolises fruitfulness, prosperity, and rejuvenation and the
 wood is still seen as a symbol of security. 
Beware of entering an apple orchard as the trees are inhabited by faeries and pixies, 
so do not sit beneath a tree and fall asleep or you will fall under a 
faerie enchantment. 
If you wish to call upon the faeries summon them with a apple wood wand; and 
eating an enchanted apple will allow you to enter the faerie realm.

The oldest tree in the orchard is inhabited by the Apple Tree Man, who is the 
guardian of the orchard. 
To honour him the last few apples must be left for him and the pixies; this custom 
is called griggling, pixy hoarding and cullpixying. 

The apple symbolises fruitfulness so barren women would roll on the ground in 
orchards in an effort to conceive, they also believed that wearing pieces 
of bark pinned to their clothes would bring them a child, and if it 
was good year for apples then they could expect to have twins.

The main tradition of the orchard is the custom of wassailing the apple trees 
during the winter months. This is still prevalent today and has been revived in 
many country areas.

The owner of the orchard, along with friends,  gather in the orchard singing, firing 
shotguns into the branches and beating the trunks with sticks to drive out the evil
 spirits to ensure a good crop for the coming year.
Cider is drunk from the wassailing bowl which contains hot spiced cider, lumps 
of apple and pieces of toast.
The remains from the bowl is poured over the roots as an offering to the 
Apple Tree Man, and the cider soaked toast is placed in the forks of the trees.

‘Old Apple Tree we wassail thee, and happily thou wilt bear,
For the Lord knows where we shall be,
Till apples another year’