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Samhain

The weak sun sets upon the landscape, the working day has been done. All the last crops have been gathered, ready for the coming winter. The animals are moving up from the pastures to the sheds and stables for warmth and security as Jack Frost begins to reclaim the landscape.
Samhain is seen by many as the beginning of winter, a theory which is said to originate in the Celtic times when it would symbolise the end of the harvest where you would reap what you have sown throughout the year, and bring the animals in for over the winter time.

Going back to when the locals relied on the agricultural landscape, there were many folklore tales of what could happen to the wheat or crops if they weren’t gathered before Samhain eve on the 31st October. Some say that the harvest which was left after this time would be ruined by the faeries’ destructive nature- blasting every growing plant with their breath, blighting any nuts and berries which remain on the hedgerows. So anything that was not gathered by this time was deemed lost to that year and not to be used for any purpose.

Samhain is seen as one of the ancient fire festivals, and a bonfire would be lit to celebrate the turning of the wheel toward winter. The reasoning behind burning the bonfire goes back in part to the original meaning of the word ‘bonfire’ which is ‘Bone-fire’ or a fire where bones are burned. The local community would gather at the local bonfire area to burn crops and animals as part of a ritual to honour the lives of the animals and the bounty of the harvest, but also to give to their gods and goddesses as thanks for a great harvest season, or perhaps as a payment for a better harvest the next year.

The celebrations of this time of year were great, the people who attended would wear fantastic costumes and dance around the fire, telling stories and honouring the cycle of life through their stories or small plays. Honouring the dead at this time was, and still is, a great part of the celebrations. The costumes which were worn could have been in order to honour these spirits in their passing on to the next place, but also worn to scare off any malevolent spirits who may choose to interfere with the next year’s crops or the goings-on of the community.

The veil between the living and the otherworld is seen as particularly thin during the weeks before and after Samhain, but specifically on the night itself. This veil thinning can help diviners see the future in the tools they used. Many would ‘read the bones’ which means exactly what it says- the diviner would have a set of bones which they would use for divination purposes to help people with questions about their futures. As well as divination, there was also a chance with the local shaman or druids that they could commune with the spirits which were passing over from this world to the next over the seasonal celebration.

The essence of Samhain is remembrance, unity and the passing of the dead into the otherworld. It’s a great time to look back over the year at things we’ve done, said or started, and see if the next year can be any better. This ‘moving on’ from issues or situations could be the original inspiration behind the New Year resolutions- unfortunately, many people don’t end up keeping their New Year resolutions from January, but perhaps people may be able to keep them if combined with a ceremony like Samhain.

It’s the time to start settling down ready for the winter- make sure the heating works, or that you have enough logs for the fire over the winter. To ensure no drafts will disturb you over the next few months. It’s also about getting used to a new routine, as in many parts of the world the clocks will change by going back one hour near to the end of October- so the nights will be darker earlier. This also means that if children go trick or treating, it would be going dark (if not completely dark) by 4pm in the UK- so they need not go out so late doing this.

The origins of Trick or Treating are said to be ancient- going back to the Celtic times. Many would dress up for Samhain celebrations and festivities, but the act of trick or treating is to welcome whoever comes to your door, no matter how they look, as they may be a God in disguise. It’s said to date back to the Middle-Ages when children and poor adults would dress up and do a dance or perform a song in exchange for food or money. Nowadays, it is heavily commercialised and though some may make their own costumes, many can be bought cheaply from shops. The expected treat wouldn’t be a pastry or something wholesome either anymore, it’s expected that trick or treaters would get a bucket full of sweets and chocolate by the end of the night.

Any homes that do not have sweets or treats to give will still give a silver coin too, just to stave off the threat of a trick. This could also be tied into the tradition later in the year of wassailing or singing Christmas carols around a town or village in exchange for donations. Previously, it may have been for the community, but now it commonly goes to charities. The dressing up is not just a guise, but is also seen as dressing as a ghoul or ghost- the chances of meeting a ‘real’ spirit or ghost during Samhain is increased compared to the rest of the year, so being a convincing ghoul could help if coming across a particularly evil spirit.

The songs and prayers were often in exchange for something called a ‘Soul cake’. These would often contain spices associated with the season, including nutmeg and cinnamon, and would be decorated however the individual wished. The most common representation of a soul cake now is one that’s sectioned off into four quarters with raisins over the top. A light, spiced treat for people at this time of year to enjoy on their walk around the community.

It is souling that is thought to have given rise to guising, or trick-or-treating as we know it by now, and it may have travelled to America in the late 19th or early 20th century by Irish and British travellers. It is said that the version of trick or treating we have today was a skew on the original form of guising, where you would perform songs or prayers on behalf of the dead in exchange for treats, and has been replaced by the more consumer-led version coming over from the United States in response to a different culture- it’s said that the practice of trick or treating didn’t become popular or heard of until the 1980s in the UK.

It can be difficult for children nowadays to go trick or treating safely- many of the older children will skip the whole process and instead start vandalising areas, using ‘silly string’ on windows and also throwing eggs and flour at windows, cars and even passers-by. This can make it scary for the younger children, who in the UK seem to prefer going out when it’s still slightly light outside. Another issue is the vast size of some estates and areas to walk around. You will end up with a full bag of treats, but it may take you a good few hours to get around the whole area!

However you wish to spend your Samhain, Hallowe’en, or whatever you wish to call it, do it safely and keep it fun!

~ Lotte

Midsummer

A time of long days and short nights, balancing the darker half of the year with illumination. Although many may celebrate this just at the very date of the solstice itself, the time leading up to it and leading away from it is also very potent for magic and general celebrations of the summer sun.

In times gone past, fires were it high up on hills to celebrate the midsummer time. Some of these survived until the 1800s, and antiquarians may also re-enact these celebrations to keep the old ways alive. Another aspect of the fires was the blessing of domestic and farmyard animals through the fire. It was thought that the fire would cleanse and bless the animals for the coming year and guard them against ailments which may hinder the production of milk and other useful items to small-town folk from the time.

Although the old celebrations seem to have been distilled into quaint occurrences to modern man who has moved out of the villages in the UK, in many European countries the celebrations still go on.

For example, in Sweden, the schools are out mid-June and many begin their five-week holiday. Midsummer’s Eve is celebrated in the countryside, as it always has been, and the towns and cities are suddenly left deserted.

However, the main roads out of the built-up areas are another story- packed full of people desperately trying to get to their celebrations in time, friends and family waiting among the natural landscape for them to join in the annual celebrations. The date for the midsummer celebrations is usually a Friday between the 19th and 25th June, and people begin the day by picking flowers and making wreaths to place on the maypole. Whereas we here in the UK associate the maypole with May Day, it is a fertility symbol very much used within the midsummer celebrations in Sweden.

This maypole is raised in an open spot, and the traditional ring-dances begin to the delight of the children and some of the adults. The teenagers nowadays stay out of it and instead wait for the evening’s more riotous entertainment. The traditional activities revolve around the old Pagan rituals and games of strength, fun and fitness. These include many events you may see at your school’s sports day like the tug of war, and for the younger children the egg and spoon race, and of course the sack racing!
The menu includes different kinds of pickled herring, boiled new potatoes with fresh dill, soured cream and chives, which is often followed by a grilled dish of some kind like spare rib or salmon and the first strawberries of summer would be served for the dessert, usually in a cake or simply with cream.

Although such a tradition is not generally celebrated in many countries now, the Swedish midsummer celebrations are ancient and have been handed down from generation to generation for many years and it is such an important part of the Swedish culture. It brings great nostalgia to the young and the old, and many want to go dancing after all of the celebrations as their ancestors have before them. Legend has it that midsummer is a popular time for romance and for love- it is said that if seven different species of plants are picked and placed under their pillows.

At night, their future husbands will appear to them in a dream.
Regarding the origins of the festivities as they are today, it’s said the celebrations were to welcome the high point of summer and fertility into the communities who lived off the land. Although it was mainly celebrated in the countryside, the industrial workers of central Sweden were given a feast of pickled herring, beer and schnapps to celebrate. It wasn’t until the 1900s that the festival became one of the most important festivals in the Swedish year.

Since approximately 6 CE, bonfires have been lit around Europe. In Sweden, this was mostly in the southern part of the country. It is said that midsummer as the longest night is the best time to tell people’s futures. There was also a tradition for girls to eat salted porridge so their future husbands would bring them water in their dreams.

~Lotte

Chaos Magic – A Brief Look

Chaos magic is something you may or may not have heard about. Although not directly related to witchcraft, it is something that many witches are starting to look into and dabble with.

Chaos Star

It is a difficult beast to describe, as it is more of an idea than an established set of rules and directions. Other practices like the religion of Wicca have a set framework where you are expected to do X and Y to attain Z. Chaos magic at its core is individual and allows the practitioner to choose what works best for them.

Therefore, a chaos practitioner may use aspects of Wicca, Thelemic rituals and a sprinkling of voodoo practices to achieve what they want to. This blending of traditions may seem ‘inappropriate’ to those not practising chaos magic, but it is really common to do so. Blending influences gives more of a power to what you are doing – and the majority of belief systems at their core, do things the same way.

As there is no framework, no guidebook, no ‘bible’ if you will, many who do not understand chaos magic have dubbed it left-hand path and moved on. If you wish to carry on being just a Wiccan, just a High Magician, just into witchcraft, then that is fair enough. But shouting about chaos magic being a left-hand path is nonsense, just because it doesn’t come with rules or ethics.

As a personal dabbler into chaos theory myself, I have zero belief in the ‘threefold law’ or other limiting aspects of the various spiritualities out there. If I wanted my practice limited, I would go to church and do what the priest tells me. My introduction to all this was through witchcraft, however, the pomp and circumstance of the traditional ceremonies and rituals just really put me off. The drawing of the circle, the calling of the quarters, etc etc. The whole setup would, at times, take longer than the ritual I wanted to perform. That’s when I started looking at different methods of thinking and doing.

Chaos magic gives you the freedom to explore. There are so many rules set into the majority of the religions and beliefs in the world that it can be very worrying to start doing something with no rules, no limits and no ethics. Of course, people will have their own set of ethics (which is why the majority of us are not in prison for murder, etc) and as long as you follow those ethics, you should be ok. If something feels wrong, generally for you it is wrong. Chaos magic is more about taking a view or an idea that you want to be manifest and believing in it until it happens.

It also means that you can use any tools you like to achieve your goals. Who says you need to use a specific athame to open and close a circle – if you have a circle that is? Why not use a wooden kitchen spoon? Or even the bone from the chicken leg you just ate? Sure, you may feel like you want or need a specific, sacred set of tools. When it comes down to it, you really don’t.

The witches of old, before Sephora wanted to stock starter-witch kits, would use all kinds of home stuff for rituals. Cauldron? Check, cast iron cooking pot used for everything. Wand? Check, you have fingers, right? These things have been over complicated by the elitists in the established systems we have today.
Just because you have the most expensive athame, Karen, it doesn’t mean your spell will work better.

So how do I even begin?

So, you are either a newbie in the world of magic, or you want to try something a little different. Personally, I started with the Psychonaut Field Manual by bluefluke. This helped me to get a visual understanding of how chaos magic could work. I learn best with visual representation, so this worked for me compared to reading a book filled with just words and zero images.

Image of the Psychonaut Field Manual
© bluefluke

Others may prefer the word-heavy version of learning, so another good source for getting your teeth into it is Liber Null & Psychonaut by Peter J. Carroll. Many places now you can get those two as a single volume, other places you may need to get them separately.

Of course, in a world of self-publishing, there are endless volumes of chaos theory and practice manuals. I would personally find a review before obtaining, in case you waste hours of your life on something that doesn’t work for you. This is the beauty of chaos magic. No one can look down on what you do and call it ‘wrong’, because what works for you may not work for someone else.

Sigils

The basics of chaos magic tend to include working with sigils. Usually, the practitioner will get into a mental state in which they are controlling their subconscious to do their bidding. Anyone who has achieved this state will know how it feels. For some, this state is reached whilst writing, drawing, making or playing music…many endeavours can kick you into that state.

Shoal of Chaos sigils by
Rune370

A sigil is then created from the intent of what you wish to do. You may use the word for what you want, or alter an image a certain way to show or get what you want to happen.

Again, this is completely personal to you as to how you do this. You may feel more comfortable using technology, or drawing things out the traditional pen and paper way. You may not even create anything physically – some people work best in their heads.

To get a greater effect, you may use a so-called Linking Sigil or LS. This takes two aspects and combines them to achieve a greater effect or to empower something more effectively or quicker. Of course, there is nothing wrong with using sigils or seals which are historical – this belief is open-minded and allows you to experiment with whatever you wish to. If you want to use some good old high magic seals and sigils, go for it. If you want to create your own, there is nothing wrong with that either. The key part of all this is belief. If you believe in something, you can use that to shape your view of reality.

Servitors

This is something which is used a lot in many forms of magic, perhaps in the form of an external being or item which is imbued with power or thought to carry out some task. However, in Chaos magic, servitors are an extension of the practitioner themselves as part of their consciousness. Essentially, you are engaging part of your own mind to carry out and influence events and tasks. Sometimes the servitor will be given a physical form, which the practitioner will carry with them. However, it is always connected to the practitioner with a kind of mind link.


Buer seal, THE BOOK OF THE GOETIA OF SOLOMON THE KING (1904)

These servitors have many names in many beliefs, including elementals, familiars, incubi, succubi, bud-wills, demons, atavisms, wraiths, spirits, and so on. Usually, they are seen as demons – perhaps because they have a free will – but they are the servitors or denizens of the one who is controlling them. Again, the key part of this is in the belief. The belief that these exist, and that these will do your bidding. Within Chaos magic, it is very important to keep this belief active, otherwise, the whole thing is lost. As soon as the belief is gone, the magic is gone. A lot like Father Christmas or the tooth fairy.

Of course, there is a lot more than just sigils and servitors when it comes to Chaos magic, but it would be an entire book’s worth to explain the rest! Unlike many other systems of belief and magic, in the case of Chaos theory the internet is – mostly – your friend. You will find a lot of interesting subjects and talking points which will then enable you to build upon your own beliefs and the directions you want to take it. There are communities of like-minded people on places like Facebook and Reddit, and I’m sure there are specific Chaos magic forums out there somewhere.

The main thing to remember is to have fun, and don’t take yourself too seriously. You are not the next messiah, you are likely just a very naughty boy.

– Lotte

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