I enjoy fictional witches, but I try to remember that there are real people reconstructing and practicing many of these “old ways”. With Christmas approaching, I grew curious about the winter holidays celebrated by modern witches and Wiccan. Their holidays are based on the seasons, not famous people or infamous events.
Yule is the most popular winter holiday, and its festivities are often combined with winter solstice revelry. Some groups meet for potluck feasts where coven members exchange handmade gifts, give handmade ritual tools, or give fellow practitioner a prized book from the giver’s own bookshelves. Beverages can include home-brewed mead and traditional or non-alcoholic Wassail. A formal ritual often follows, at midnight. While the preferred ritual setting is outdoors, cold weather means casting the circle inside, where the chances for frostbite are much lower.
Apparently Wicca, like Christianity, is divided into different sects or traditions. Someone following a Celtic tradition will have different ritual tools and practices from someone following a Norse tradition. Each pantheon has different names for their gods and goddesses, with each deity having his or her own characteristics and skills, but the seasonal celebrations are common to all.
What is your image of a witch? Is she a crone with a big nose and warts or pretty and sparkly? The cinema has a lot to answer for in terms of how we visualize witches. Ok most are for children and clear definitions of good and evil are characterized by how they look or are dressed. Simplistic but true. It will be interesting next year to see how they are depicted in the new film for grown ups, The Last Witch Hunter – already know they are evil! Mind you books use the same interpretation! I have been reading a Roald Dahl classic to the library’s Saturday children’s club, no matter your age you can always enjoy a Roald Dahl book. I know I do The Witches is a tale, where a boy and his grandmother are attempting to find the Grand High Witch; now these witches look normal until they take off their masks and become the ugly warty stereotypes of an evil witch, which is what they are after all in the book. Thank goodness for Harry potter books and a slightly different perspective on witches. How do you imagine them? All said witches get a pretty raw deal, hunted and immolated from the first law passed in 1541 to 1951; the practice of witchcraft illegal in Britain. After the repeal of the law witches and wiccans became more open. What is the difference between the two? Simple, Wiccan is a belief system and witchcraft is a practice. I thought it might be interesting to know more about this so look out for my next post…
This posts book recommendation:, The Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchet another perspective on witches. Disc World books are a passion with me so watch for more recommendations from this excellent author
I love my job and have certainly enjoyed this placement in the Northwest of England, in Lancashire. There is quite a documented history here of the Pendle Witches in Lancashire. In 1612 ten people were executed as witches. Their story is one of politics, fear and how story telling could at that time change or even take someone’s life. There were actually laws at that time that accepted witches existed, so these poor people where put on trial at Lancaster. You can actually go and visit the castle where the trial was held.
This excellent BBC production can take you on the journey from your armchair. It is well worth watching Tells you all about this event, taking you along the paths walked by the witches and their accusers.
Lancashire has embraced its history and there are lots of activities surrounding the Pendle Witches, children are encouraged to learn their history in various ways. One of the competition entries wrote about how she was part of a project in 2012 discovering the story of the witches, and over Halloween attended a residential weekend where they all told spooky stories; hers was about the child of one of the witches who turned on her mother.
16 century England was not a place to be old or ugly and have a cat, apparently those are the most obvious signs of being a witch, I guess being old and cantankerous wouldn’t help either. If combined with the above you happened to have a wart or mole then it was obvious you had signed a pact with the devil.
Book suggestions: ‘Sweep ‘by Cate Tiernan. YA fantasy novel about a young witch and the adventures she has with her friends and you must try “ Mist over Pendle” by Robert Neill
All Hallows Eve or All saints Night is celebrated on the 31st October. Some say it has roots back to pagan beliefs and the Samhain festival or autumn festival others that is solely a Christian festival. Whatever its background it remains for many today a holiday that is focused on witches and potions and the dead, there is a suggestion that some of the activities we conduct over Halloween is to use humour and ridicule to confront the power of death.
I spent one year in New Orleans at Halloween, what a night that was. I was staying with friends and we hired costumes and had freaky makeup done. In the evening we went to Mollys at the Market and joined in a parade, people really enjoy the spooky and macabre in New Orleans!! We then went on to party down Frenchmen Street in Marigny.I was told many ghost stories while I was there, well it claimed is the most haunted city in America..
One Halloween tradition we have taken from America to here is pumpkin decorating – my dad is very keen on this , so I challenged him to come to the library and do an demonstration I could not believe it but he did and the kids and some adults loved it. I have been told they will keep it as part of their Halloween activities from now on. Have a look at some amazing Jack O Lanterns pumpkin carvings.
Book suggestions: For this post I want to mention of “A fortnight of Fright” although from 2013 the book suggestions are sound and the excellent presentation, i.e. the quiz is a fantastic idea, I might just pinch the format for my next library project on travel.