Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Witches' Ride

Webster's New World Dictionary: Witch n. 1. a woman thought to have supernatural power as by a compact with evil spirits; 2 an ugly, old shrew 3 a fascinating woman or girl

Well, well, well. You know, I've never actually looked up the word before this moment. The picture above was what I grew up with seeing and as a child was exposed to. We didn't really believe that witches could fly on a broomstick. (And then along came "Harry Potter" and blew that out of the water.)

Furthermore, justification of witchcraft on biblical texts, written originally for a religion (Jewish/ Old Testament) which had no devil. We all know there are errors throughout the Bible where translations are changed to suit what they felt they wanted to convey. Many Catholics and Protestants quoted Exodus xxii. 18, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." But the Hebrew word kaskagh (occurring 12 times in the Old Testament with various meanings) here means, as Reginald Scot pointed out in 1584 "poisoner," and certainly had nothing to do with the Christian concept of "witches". This quote and other texts which some tried to use (or did so), in order to twist the truth in order to torture and put to death hundreds of thousands of people. It turned into a 300 year holocaust in whichever nations observed "witch hunting". I hope the world will never see again, for thousands of innocent people died at the hands of very sick, disturbed people under the guise of religion.

"Europe would not have suffered, for three centuries from 1450 to 1750, the shocking nightmare, the foulest crime and deepest shame of western civilization, the blackout of everything that homo sapiens, the reasoning man, has ever upheld... The record of witchcraft is horrible and brutal: degradation stifled decency, the filthiest passions masqueraded under the cover of religion and man's intellect was subverted to condone bestialities that even Swifts' Yahoos would blush to commit." from The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Demonology.
Execution of  alleged witches

And then we have the other side of the coin... Homer speaks of the witch Circe as a "goddess with lovely hair... radiant...beautiful goddess singing in a lovely voice..."  Medea, the witch in the Golden Fleece adventures, is describe as a beautiful young princess. And there are more examples of "beautiful" witches. But you know, as well as I (especially when there's an election), a good smear campaign is the best way to win everyone over to your side--Yay! Of course, if you had enemies, watch out, you'd be in the stocks waiting your fate at the stake.

Burning witches was only the final destination. There were as many devised tortures invented as there were men to use them.

The word witch is derived from wicce or wicca, meaning "wise one,"  witches being both female and male.
Meaning of the word Witch is linked to "wisdom," and is the same root as "to have wit" and "to know." It comes from the Anglo-Saxon.

Also, the word "Witchcraft" has been misused for hundreds of years. Christian missionaries, encountering native peoples in other lands whose beliefs differed from their own, automatically labeled those beliefs and practices as "witchcraft." It mattered not if it were African witchcraft, Native American witchcraft, or Australian aboriginal witchcraft, none of which have any relationship to the ancient pre-Christian nature religions of western Europe. In fact Witchcraft--Wiccacraeft (craft of the wise), dates back from long before Christian times. It is an ancient Pagan religion with a belief in both male and female deities, with a reverence for nature and all life, and recognition of a need for fertility among plants, animals, and humans.

So, where do we get this "crone" who rides the broomstick idea? Probably pulling from an old religion. The Celts believed in a goddess whose form changed with the seasons. The spring maiden turned into the life-giving mother of summer and then the wizened crone of fall. At Samhain, she would climb upon the tree of life--a broomstick--and ride across the sky to the spirit realm, and there rested for the winter.

And because black cats were believed to see spirits, one was her companion.

And a Greek earth goddess Hecate was associated with night and the moon, ghosts and spirits, magic, witches and sorcery. She was known as Prytania of the Dead, or the Invincible Queen, goddess of enchantments and magical charms.
"Lost Caprichos" by Goya

Transvection or levitation
"Witches" by Hans Baldung
Witches flying on brooms may have come from older religions, and beliefs, because, well, the old ways just would not go away. They could torture, burn, drown, but people would not give up their beliefs. And it's like the more wild the story the more it will be retold and retold again, down through the generations to come.
Did women ride brooms, or certain beasts to get to their Sabbat? Who knows. Possibly this was a combination of heavy drinking and consuming funny mushrooms that had people thinking they did this, when really they didn't. They just had one hell of a party in the woods. And artists certainly loved to portray them, especially when they added an erotic element, or some of the more grisly aspects of their most deranged imaginations. Goya, the Spanish artist, had many such paintings of hags, during his "Black" period.

A number of infamous old women who were considered "old crones", who lived in appauling squalor, were apparently gifted with the art of curing sickness, making prophecies and even raising the dead. One of such was Mother Red Cap, or also called "Mother Damnable."

But funny just how seriously these ideas took hold when something called Cannon Episcopi  of the tenth century defended as heretical superstition the belief in the claims of "wicked women... who profess that in the dead of night they ride upon certain beasts with the pagan goddess Dianna, and fly over vast tracts of country." Demonologists flat out denied the possibility of transvection by saying these people were delusional.

But, this is Halloween, and, well, I wouldn't want to spoil anyone's fun. The whole idea is to have fun, isn't it? As long as we all understand it's make believe.

Next up, I'll scare up some real ghosts stories! BOO!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

He Smiles In The Dark

Would you let this guy guard your front porch, or be anywhere near your wee ones without so much as a simple background check, or list of references? I thought not.

Well, if you haven't guessed, I've turned my attention to the Jack-o'-lantern in today's blog post. 

Pumpkins were not the first vegetable to be carved and disemboweled for use as a lantern. Potatoes, turnips and rutabagas were used to carry coals from house to house. It was probably used during the fires of Samhain, on All Saints Eve, in order to carry the hot coals back to a humble hut for the hearth. Oh, there's a bunch of nice people carrying their coals now...

There are at least a dozen different variations on how, what and who began the tradition of carrying these lit faces, and why. The story of Jack (Jack-o'lantern) are as varied as the pumpkin faces you carve on this large gourd. The story is of a thief that tricks Satan into agreeing to never take his soul. But as it turned out, Jack was too sinful for heaven, and so he was also barred from Hell, and had nowhere to go. He had no light to see, and wondered how he'd find his way. The Devil mockingly gave Jack an ember from the fires of Hell, and tossed it to him. Jack carved a turnip and used it to carry the coal around. 

But it wasn't until the Irish settlers came to America and found the plumpness of the native American pumpkin was easily adapted to a perfectly carved face, and carrying coals.

Now, the lowly, gruesome-faced orange gourds have been elevated to something more than just a glowing, weird face to ward off evil. In many a village, and humble lawns, we find the art of pumpkin carving and decorating more than just something to admire. Heck, Halloween has become more on the level with Halloween costume contests. In a nearby town dressed up, painted and carved pumpkins are brought to the courthouse lawn and put into categories and earn prizes and this has been done every Halloween, along with a fare, parade and lots of vendors for at least 50 years. Anything like that around your area? I'd love to hear about it.

The only question left is...
Will you carve a friendly face?...

Or one that really makes you shiver?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bits and pieces...

Just a few things today...

I wanted to write something else today, but I'm going to stay with my Halloween theme for the duration of the month.

That being said, here are a few places to check out.

First Penelope Crow talks about Death, here.

Oh, and Krisztina Williams has the corner on anything you need for holiday fixin's as well as fun things for party games and crafts for kids. She has a Halloween chocolate marshmallow pops tutorial right now. These look too good to pass up!

Another place to check on, even after holidays is Vintage Halloween Collector. I love the skeleton wreath, she shows you how to make (no not with real bones, silly!) here.

And another one to check on is Halloween Night. You see? I've got the goods all under one roof. You'll have to look at your own pace, of course. And @ Justine's Halloween... she had a nice delivery of some spooky goods!

I'm up to my knees in my work...

Work on #5 Sabrina Strong book is coming along. 

Oh, but meanwhile, some other ideas for Halloween spring to mind, and they are quite simple really...

Cheese cloth could make a great spook in your yard! Ooooo! It's better than a sheet because it looks tattered! (love the added skull at bottom. Very cool. (You get that I'm deranged, right?)

You could also make some tattered curtains if you really want to spook people out. Die the ends of tattered cheese cloth with tea or coffee to make them look old. Then add spiders or creepy crawlers and hang somewhere for display. That would be an easy thing to do.

Make cre-eee-py ice cubes by adding gummy worms, or such. I'll try and come up with some recipies, too.

Come on by mid-week when I talk about that orange vegetable we all like to cut up or decorate for the season as continuation on my theme for Halloween. I'll be doing these all throughout the month of October. So fly in on your broom!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hallowe'en, A History

Hey, kids, as many of you know this is MY time of year! Yup.
We don't often think about how Halloween got started. A number of people just think people carved pumpkins and dressed up like zombies, ghosts, vampires, and the mummy, and kids go trick-or-treating begging for candy because of that cute Peanuts cartoon.
Charles Schultz' Peanuts Halloween cartoon

Many think the creation of the night is purely evil and will have nothing to do with it. 

Some think begging for candy by the little tykes is really obnoxious.

I hate miss-informed people, don't you?

This is the first installment of the history of Halloween, (mainly because I've got things to do), but don't miss any because I'm going to do these at least once or twice a week as time allows.

The word "Halloween" is a contraction of of "All Allow Even", an English way of saying the night before All Saints' Day. Sometimes it's even written Hallowe'en. They also called it "Snap Apple Night". It was a festive evening of games, dancing, and storytelling.
From what I could gather the celebrations are a mish-mash of different customs and religious celebrations.
The Celts
The Celts were the native people of the British Isles, and like most people of that time worshiped  their own solar deity. Samhain, or summer's end, was celebrated near the Roman date of October 31st. It probably coincided with the full moon, so the celebration was twofold--one of honoring the sun, thanking it for the harvest and strengthening it for its coming battle with winter. In each village, all house of fires were extinguished and everyone gathered around the sacred center altar to watch as Druid priests put out that fire as well. After a new fire was kindled on the altar, coals were carried to light fires on the hillsides in the sun's honor. More coals from the altar were used to relight household fires for protection against bad luck for the coming year.
The Celts also believed that at year's end, departing souls returned to earth to share a few moments with loved ones. Since not all the dead were nice people in life, the living huddled around those hilltop bonfires seeking shelter from the mean-spirited ghosts.

The Roman Contribution:
And then some of our Halloween customs can also be dated back to the Roman Empire's festival honoring the goddess of fruit, Pamona, and was around November 1st. 

You can see how these two festivals intermingled especially after Romans conquered Britain.

Now, let us quickly look at how the Christains contributed:

By the fourth century, when Constantine legalized (yes, legalized) Christianity in the Roman Empire, there were more martyres than there were days of the year. Because they died for their faith, they were considered saints.
You with me so far?
The whole idea of venerating all of these people on a common day caught on in many localities, but the celebrations took place in springtime. At some point "All Saints' Day" was moved to fall for two reasons. Enormous crowds thronged to Rome for the celebration, demanding food. They figured out that they could better feed so many people after the harvest. And It might have also been an attempt to counteract the influence of Druidic practices taking root throughout Christendom. (Yeah, the pagans lost this one, folks.) So, in 835 Pope Gregory IV made the date for All Saints' Day on November 1, and thus its vigil--All Hallow Even--on OCTOBER 31.

I sure hope you enjoyed this first part in my "Hallowe'en, A History". Come back next week when I get into the really scary stuff like Goblins, Ghosts, Witches. . .
and Pumpkins!