Friday, 21 December 2018

How leeches fortell the weather...

I have just been reading the most delightful book
'Sweet Thames Run Softly' by Robert Gibbings first published in 1940.
It's an account of his journey down the Thames in a punt in 1939 armed with a 
sketchpad and microscope.
It's within these beautifully written pages that I found this little gem regarding 
how leeches are used to foretell the weather...

" Mr Taylor writing in 1813 suggests that we should put a leech into a large phial 
three parts full of rainwater, regularly change thrice a week and let it stand on a window frame fronting the north. In fair and frosty weather it will be motionless and rolled onto a spiral at the bottom of the glass; but prior to  rain or snow it will creep to the top where, if the rain be heavy, and of some continuance,it will remain some considerable time; if trifling it will descend.
Should the rain or snow be accompanied with the wind, it will dart about its habitation with amazing celerity and seldom ceases until it begins to blow hard. If a storm of thunder or lightning be approaching, it will become exceedingly agitated and express its feelings in violent convulsive starts at the top of the glass."

So I have a suggestion to the Met Office that they purchase some leeches and try this method of weather forecasting, it sounds that it would be more accurate than theirs!

Monday, 19 November 2018

Witches Salt

I am constantly being asked about  the Witches Salt mentioned in my recent book 
The Haunting of Stoke Water. (Queenie uses it repel the evil spirits in 
Rosemarys flat.) 
So I thought I would just quickly explain how to make and use it.

    “Queenie suddenly smiled with relief as she pulled a small glass phial from 
a piece of silk cloth. ‘There it is! I was worried I had left it at home.’ 
She looked at their anxious faces. ‘Shall we get started?’ Clutching the phial 
in one hand and a bundle of sage in the other Queenie headed out into the hall. 
 ‘What is that?’ Joseph whispered to Sybil.She pointed to the jar in Queenie’s hand.
 ‘That’s Witches Salt and we are going to use the sage to smudge the flat and 
drive out this evil spirit.’They gathered around the waiting woman and watched 
as she pulled the stopper from the jar and opened the front door. As she poured a t
hin line of black salt across the threshold she muttered quietly, ‘I seal this place 
with a shield of protection and so we are safe within this home.”

Although I am sure knowing Queenie as well as I do she has tweeked the original 
recipe handed down by her witchy ancestor Hannah, she just can’t resist meddling
 as Sybil would point out.

Witches salt or black salt is used as a protection against evil and negative entities, it 
can even be used in the footprints of some one who you dislike to make them leave
 you alone.
There are of course many ways of making black salt but here is a basic 

Two parts of sea salt mixed with one part of the scrapings from the bottom of your 
cast iron cauldron or if you do not use a cauldron ( shame on you what would 
Queenie say!) one part fine ash from your fire pit.
You can also add the burnt ashes of some protective herbs to add to efficacy of
 the salt such as Lavender, Rosemary, Cinnamon, Clove, Caraway, Mug-wort, Sage
 and a touch of Verbena to bring success in your spell.

Just the thing to do on a dark winters night with friends!

Saturday, 17 November 2018

The faeries of Lincolnshire

The tiny faeries of Lincolnshire are referred to as ‘Strangers’, small 
creatures with arms and legs that are as thin as threads, and on the ends of these,
enormous hands and feet.
They can be seen scampering about the flat lands of the Fens wearing their 
distinctive yellow hats in the shape of toadstools, the rest of their clothing
is just the normal green jacket and breeches. Apart from this, their appearance is 
quite odd; they have long noses, great wide mouths out of which their tongues 
have a tendency to loll.
Up until quite recently, offerings were left for these people on flat stones around 
the Fens, usually the first ears of corn and the first new potatoes of the crop.
Bread and milk and also Beer  would be left upon the fireplaces of the locals' homes
 to ensure a good harvest for the following year, for the ‘Strangers’ were believed to
 help the corn ripen and all things to grow.

If neglected, these faeries can be vindictive, affecting harvests, and even the birth rate!

 from Faeries and Folklore of the British Isles

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Thomas Hardy and Puddletown Forest

Thomas Hardy, English novelist and poet, born 2nd June 1840,  near Dorchester, Dorset. Hardy set all of his major works in the southwest of England, known in his novels as 'Wessex' after the medieval kingdom of the Anglo Saxons. Many of the places that he used in his novels do exist but in many cases gave the places fictional names, such as Casterbridge in 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' is the county town of Dorset, Dorchester. And the infamous Mixen Lane of that novel was Mill Lane, according to Hardy where all the lowlifes and scoundrels of Dorchester lived.
I have to say I take exception to that as my grandparents and great grandparents lived there for many a year and good church going folk they were! 

Hardy was born in a small cottage at Higher Bockhampton which lies at the edge of Puddletown Forest.
The cob and thatch cottage was built by Hardys’ great grandfather and has been little altered since the family left.

Hardy, despite training as an architect returned to his first love of writing and it was here in his birthplace that he wrote many of his earlier works including ‘Under the Greenwood tree’ and Far from the Madding Crowd.

This is one of several conifer plantations which consumed much of Dorset's heathland just after the war. There are still fragments of heath to be seen and some broad leaf trees, such as chestnut, oak and birch so it is a pleasant walk along the many paths threading through the forest.

Thomas Hardy's birthplace.

 This part of Dorset was mainly heath land in the time that Hardy lived  there and inspired the references to the ‘Egdon Heath’  of The Return of the Native. 

Today the area is planted with mainly conifers and would be unrecognisable to Hardy.

Within a mile of the cottage is the area known as Rainbarrows, a cluster of ancient bowl barrows on the edge of the steep escarpment fringing Duddle Heath.
Bowl barrows are the most numerous form of round barrows and are believed to be funerary monuments dating from the late Neolithic period to the late Bronze Age. Constructed as earthen or rubble mounds and are sometimes ditched. They would have covered single or multiple burials. The three bucket urns containing cremated remains which were found at the site are now held in the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.

Hardy lived at Max Gate, Stinsford near Dorchester. His first wife Emma died in 1912 and was buried in Stinsford churchyard. Hardy later married his secretary Florence in 1914.
Hardy died 11th January 1928 at Max Gate.

A local girl was delivering laundry to the house that morning and was refused entry by her older sister who worked for the Hardys. She told the young girl that the 'old man' had died and that he had been taken down to the kitchen. The local Doctor removed Hardy's heart and it was placed inside an Oxo tin. From there it was to be transferred to a casket supplied by the local undertaker and taken to Stinsford Vicarage until it was placed into his first wife's grave.
His ashes were interred at Poets Corner.

This is a gruesome anecdote told by some... that the heart was removed, wrapped in a tea towel and placed in a biscuit tin which was then lodged in a meat safe awaiting the arrival of the undertaker.
When he arrived some time later he found the open tin, the remnants of the tea towel and a very satisfied looking cat. The undertaker grabbed the cat, wrung its neck and put the remains of Hardy's heart back into the tin with the cat saying, 'Mr 'Ardy wanted his 'eart buried at Stinsford and buried at Stinsford Mr 'Ardy's 'eart shall be!'
And so the remains of the heart plus the cat are supposed to have been interred together.

But according to the memoirs of the young laundry girl the cat never ate the heart and that it was all a fallacy!
So I guess nobody will ever know!

Thursday, 16 August 2018

New Forest Fairy Festival 2018

Well, it wasn't the weather we would have liked but it didn't dampen anybody's enthusiasm at the Fairy Festival!
Here are a few quick snaps of our Gazebo:

The Shelf Faeries seem to have taken over this year, but I do sell cards of my artwork and my books such as The Faeries and Folklore of the British Isles, Faerie Flora and The Psychic Sisters series.

Sharing the Gazebo this year was 'The Ivory Dolls of Glastonbury' with an array of beautiful clothes and accessories.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Cauldrons; every witch should have one!

I thought I would start this blurb about the origins of the name but even this 
seems open to question... 
On one hand it is believed that the word ‘cauldron ‘comes from the 
Latin ‘caldaria' meaning cooking pot while some experts say that  word cauldron 
was first recorded in the middle ages as ‘caudroun' (13th century) and 
originally came from the Norman ‘caudron.’
Whatever the origins of the name the cauldron is often made of cast iron 
bronze or silver.
In domestic history they were used  as a cooking vessel but they are most commonly 
associated with witchcraft; a cliche popularized by works of fiction such 
as Macbeth where the three witches used a cauldron to prepare their potions.

A cauldron according to legend was the most important tool in a witches house and 
would be used to brew up vile potions using such ingredients as bats blood, decapitated 
and flayed toads, snakes and baby fat. 
Before every Sabbat the witch would prepare their flying ointment using the cauldron
 and  for the feast broiled children were the preferred snack!
If that wasn’t enough fun after the sabbat they would ride on their brooms out 
over the ocean and  dump the contents of their cauldrons in to the seas so causing
 storms across the ocean or by throwing locks of their hair into the water.

Some more bizarre cauldrons were used such as the one belonging to Lady 
Alice Kyteler. This Irish witch used the skull of a beheaded robber for mixing up 
her potions and poisons.
She was the first recorded person condemned to death in Ireland, however she did escape. But her servant was caught, flogged and burnt to death.

The Gundestrop Cauldron from Denmark
This cauldron was fashioned out of silver in about 100 BC and 
found in a peat bog in Gundestrop, Denmark. The decorations depict victims 
being plunged headfirst into a sacrificial cauldron.

The cauldron is a symbol of rebirth, the hearth and of abundance and well being. There are many stories from the Ancient Celts that tell of cauldrons from which endless food would pour and nobody would ever go hungry, and the dead if thrown in would return to life albeit  without the ability to speak. Some say that they also lacked their soul.
In Wicca the cauldron is associated with the goddess, Cerridwen, it not only symbolises the goddess but also the womb. She was an enchantress in Welsh medieval legends and she possessed a cauldron of poetic inspiration in which she made a magical brew of herbs, roots and the foam of the ocean, prepared according to the movements of the heavenly bodies. This potion brewed for a year and a day to yield three drops which bestowed knowledge, inspiration and science.
She is regarded by many modern Pagans as the goddess of rebirth, transformation and inspiration.
She possessed the gifts of prophecy and shape shifting and is associated with water and the Moon which represents the emotions, the unconscious and intuition. 

The Lisdrumturk Cauldron
Found in 1854 Co Monaghan by turf cutters.
Dated late Bronze Age

Among the Celts, the priestess of the moon goddess was required to sacrifice human
victims by cutting off their heads over a silver cauldron. The blood was then boiled
 to produce a magical drink of inspiration.

Example of a bronze ritual tripod cauldron with cover
from the 5th to 4th century BC, China.

A 14th century Wizard Lord William Soulis was executed using a cauldron. He was described as being a pernicious wizard and perpetrator of the most foul sorceries. According to legend he was capable of summoning demons, the most prominent was Robin Redcap with which he engaged in so many acts of evil depravity that his own castle began to sink into the earth to 'hide its sin from God'
Complaints about Soulis's behaviour reached the King, Robert the Bruce, and 
he cried out " Soules! Soules! Go boil him brew!"
Soulis was so unpopular by then that the locals took the King at his word and caught and bound him, using a specially forged chain to bind him as no ordinary rope could contain his evil powers. They took him to the summit of Nine Stang Rig and put him a cauldron of molten lead and suspended it over a large fire.

These days cauldrons are not used for such violent acts, I hope,. They represent the female aspect of divinity, the womb and are used in conjunction with wands, swords, athames in symbolic representation of The Great Rite  which is the ritualised sexual connection between god and goddess)

Interestingly enough many of the cauldrons used through out southern England from 1650 onwards were made in Somerset. The villages of South Petherton and Montacute were major centres of production. And the Museum of Somerset holds the largest collection of English cauldrons in existence.

Bronze cauldron from a foundry in South Petherton with the makers name of William Sturton II.
This foundry was producing goods from 1630's to 1690's.

Oh and an interesting snippet to finish with.... 
Leprechauns hide their gold inside cauldrons, so check yours before use!