Posts Tagged ‘Pagan’


Episode five of a thirty-part series made in collaboration with the British Library Sound Archive.

Around the world charismatic individuals claim the ability to change the weather, heal illness and help crops grow. Professor David Hendy explains how sound – and its manipulation – is central to the shaman’s power.

David introduces the eerie rituals of Siberian reindeer herders as they summon spirits, before coming closer to home to hear a mysterious singing angel high in the facade of Wells Cathedral.


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This weekend I attended an excellent multi-disciplinary symposium on Charms and Magic in Medieval and Modern Ireland, organized by the Department of Early Irish at the National University of Ireland Maynooth.  Scholars from so diverse backgrounds as religious studies and archeology, linguistics and philology, and from applied disciplines likes herbal healing and veterinary medicine presented enlightening glimpses into their own work, as it related to the topic.  I hope to share what I took away from these talks.


Worm and Snake Charms

The first speaker of the morning was Jacqueline Borsje (University of Amsterdam and University of Ulster), who delved into Irish snake and worm charms as export products.  She outlined the importance of charms as words of power, and how important context is when seeking to understand them.  Cultural, textual, and situational context is everything; in other words, don’t necessarily take them at face value.

Professor Borsje has written extensively about the evil eye in Ireland, and she brought this connection with “supernatural theft” into her discussion of snake and ‘wyrm’ charms.    Her reference to Professor Kelly’s work on medieval Irish Law tracts dealing with the stealing away ‘through envy,” with such concerns of butter and milk, was the thrust of her argument here.  A Babylonian incantation from the 2nd millennium BCE, in which women, babies, storage rooms, the god of the house, were all mentioned in their need for protection against this ‘supernatural theft.’

An interesting point connected ‘evil eye cultures’ — those cultures expressing a concept such as the evil eye or supernatural theft — with unstable ecological environments dependent on crop or cattle economies, with a concern over scarcity of resource.

Another non-Irish source mentioning supernatural theft are the 12 Roman Tables.  These tables talk of bewitched crops, evil spells, and the removal of crops by incantation.  In medieval Ireland, a particular concern was ‘stealing through the evil eye on the corriguinech (on May Day) — which seemed connected to milk theft.

Anglo-Saxon MS have references to Irish snake and wyrm charms that focus on remedies for swallowing a ‘wyrm’ and for ‘penetrating wyrm.’  These charms normally entailed singing the charm in various ways, and using saliva.  For example:

Wyrm Charm (MS  remedies)

Sing the charm 9 times, in either the right or left ear

Penetrating Wyrm

Sing the charm directly on the wound, then anoint with saliva. 

The charms are ‘aggressive’ in imagery, using the language of battle.  During this time, worms were seen as the cause of ailments as diverse as toothache and migraine, to pregnancy and actual disease.  An example of some of this language can be found in Lady Wylde’s writing, which, though not scholarly, does offer a glimpse into modern usage:

 for the Great Worm

 I kill a hound….

I kill a worm…..

for Pains:

evil worm

venomous charm….

rub with butter, etc.

The tendency of these charms is to treat like with like, similar to homeopathy.  The idea of a ‘snake charm’ was to use something venomous (the word of power) to treat a venomous disease (caused by a worm).  Another very interesting thing was the use of singing.  These charms, by and large, were sung, and often over the wound or over the water / liquid which held the charm and was then drunk.  If the patient could not drink, then the incantation of the charm was sung into the patients mouth.

Snake charms were used against illnesses associated with poison.  The absence of snakes on the island of Ireland was seen as a special property of this island.  This is why most of the snake charms found in continental Europe contain a portion written in Old Irish.  The really interesting thing to note here, is that the Irish found written in these charms was so garbled, it’s almost unintelligible.  Why?  Because it had been told to an original scribe by an Irish speaker, but had been handed down to non-speakers who were simply trying to copy, from memory, a phonetic representation.  They didn’t understand the Irish they were saying, but it was a Word of Power that held the protection of the ‘land without snakes.’  A potent charm against poison diseases!

A fun side note mentioned the old Irish hex of placing 13 eggs in someone’s haystack on Bealtaine.

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The stories you read of Ireland far away; long away, ago, in mist of time forgotten.  Of gleaming paths, crystal jeweled, that stream into the night.  Those nights.  Oh, those nights….that illumine a ribbon winding.  Yes, those nights…they are real!  Those stories are of sight gifted, not by chance or luck or magic, but by birth.  Luck of birth upon these isles where light angles, and mist falls, and some uncanny turn of our starship planet home, gifts this place.

It’s sight.

For stories long forgotten, yet heard upon the winds, tell of this land of shining ways; and of people fair.  Through time was it carried, first by mother, then by child.  

But do not weep, or feel neglected.  Your Place is waiting. For she has magic, too.  Her story is yet written, or was written, yet told many long years…

so long. Ago.  it was forgotten.  In that world of type,print, eye –  knowledge.  

Remember your heart.  It speaks a primal language.  

Let me tell you, as a Witch: those stories we read of this land of mist and Shining Ones….we thought it was some dream land.  Some, myth or story of a trance induced slight of hand.  No, not so crass….but, we read the stories and thought them Other….. Oh, we were Wrong!! It is no more Other than walking out your door!!!  

Oh, if I could bring you here.  To sit in my windowsill, and see the road below agleam with light – and hear the voice of the Wind call…..”come, walk with me.”

It is a natural phenomena as physical as my own lips: my own heart beat.  Maybe it is the tilt of the earth, and the way the sun and moonlight enter the atmosphere on this island.  Maybe it is some chemical component of the soil.  But tonight, as I looked out of my window, I saw a land awake – alive – glowing….. shining like the myths of old.  I walked out into it – because how can a human-person resist that call? 

and to the Ring it took me…where I wept.  This land…. Oh, Gods…… we humans have destroyed so much.  My heart broke.  

But this story must be told, and it is not of me or my pain or my sentimentality.  No….this small ridge on an island in the north Atlantic wants to say…….

The mystery you read in the myths of Ireland: Hibernia of the Trees, Cold land of Mist – the stories you read were of people like you…people who wrote of their experience.  What their eyes saw, their hearts felt, their ears heard.  They met the Living Land of Eire.  

Meet your land.  For she is Sister, Lover, Brother, Mother, Son…..and she has hir mystery, too.  

Perhaps she does not glow in the night of a mist covered Moon, because the light from our brother Sun shines on her more direct.  But, what IS her secret heart and her untold myth?  

Can You tell it?

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Incredible North Atlantic storm spans Atlantic Ocean, coast to coast

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…maybe it’s not even pagan theology that annoys me.  Maybe it’s just pagans in general, or perhaps human-persons, full-stop.

I don’t read ‘pagan’ blogs, which seems silly since I have one — duh.  But, I don’t, and the reason is because of the name-dropping, circular dialogue, fantasy-role-play feel of so much that I find when I do venture out.

I am an animist.  I don’t do the spirits-flying-about, patron-deity-from-Greece-of-someone-living-in-California, thing.  Or heaven forbid, take one of the many feminine aspects of sovereignty acknowledged by one of the over 300 túath in Ireland, single that principle out (the Morrigan) as a battle queen, ‘The’ soverignty goddess,etc, and then transport her to North America and imagine she has any interest there.

I realize that may sound dismissive to someone who does believe those things: especially to someone who grew-up in a christian home, disillusioned with religion and culture–with modernity in general– and sought something different….

For that person, what they saw, heard, or felt in the discovery of the Old Religion, no matter where that religion originated or the culture informing it, had a significant impact on their life.

It still annoys me.  The reason it annoys me is the lack of cultural understanding of the religion being resurrected, and a lack of current world view examination on the part of the practitioner.

If current world view were taken into account, most North American pagans (and good lord, what other title can I use? that’s another type of crazy making – this dissecting of terms – pagan, polytheist, monist, blah) would find that they carry within them the basic premise taught within christianity: that god(s) are disembodied entities that exist in a plane of reality so expansive from our own, that they are omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.

Lest I come across overly curmudgeonly, or dogmatic, I want to be clear that it’s not personal. I have no issue with the human-persons involved.  It does concern me a little that in a modern capitalist culture, where alienation and anomie reign supreme and our REAL connection with the natural world — of which we are an intimate part — has been divided by a scientific worldview, that pagans engage in more intellectualizing and writing about gods/religion/spiritual practice/pantheons than living a pagan life.  It is dangerously close to being just another escapist occupation for a species cut-off from the ecstatic merger with nature that we are biologically designed for.

For myself, I view the world around me as living – genuinely living.  Not metaphorically, or on some simpler level than myself. That type of thinking smacks of human centrism  and has been the cause of much environmental harm.  No…the trees that are my friends (and not all trees are) don’t need dyads or gossamer spirits inhabiting them anymore than I do.  They are living creatures with their own language, world view, and culture.  Same goes for …. the various Winds, or Hurricanes, or the Robin that eats peanuts in my garden.  They are alive.  Their experience of the world is so alien to my own that I may never understand or really Know them, but by the gods, I respect them.

I have found in my searching that if you go far enough back, all our ancestors were animists. And that is good enough for me!

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Completely unrelated to Irish mythology or pre-christian indigenous Irish religious practice, but maybe of interest for those on the continent:

Eostre: The Making of a Myth

“…if the concocted Eostre story proves anything, it proves that neopagans are just as capable of disseminating lies and propaganda about other religions as the Christians ever were. “

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[excerpt from Folklore Research list]
*Bonnag Recipes*


Whenever a recipe for some ‘Manx’ foodstuff is required, Bonnag is usually offered. Originally I think this was just a large flat unleavened loaf cooked on the griddle (rather like oatcake) but over the years it appears to have become a much richer cake-like fruit bread or in later recipes a fairly rich fruit cake. The word does not occur in Cregeen’s Max dictionary of 1835 – in Clague’s *Manx Reminiscences* (1911) it is given as the ‘English’ for *Soddag Verreen* (defined by Cregeen as a thick clapped cake ; generally understood as the last of a baking and left longer on the griddle to harden (ref to 1 Kings xvii. 13) which ties in with its colloquial use in Anglo Manx  – “He’s like barley bonnag =E2=80=94 hard in the cruss”). Though Kelly’s dictionary (Manx Soc vol 13) gives ‘bonnag’ as a translation of cake, the word is not included in the Manx-English section. Roeder quotes O’Reilly’s Irish Dictionary simply giving bonnag as “cake”; the Scotch ‘bannock’ is probably from the same root. Elizabeth David in her section on Bakestone Cakes or Breads indicates that the words ‘Bread’ and ‘Cake’ could be used interchangeably in this context and that cake did not have today’s meaning of something sweet – Marie Antoinette’s misquote ‘Let them eat cake’ likewise refers to the use of a different grain than wheat.

Barley Bonnag

Hall Caine describes his Manx Grandmother in the 1860’s, as laying out on the kitchen table “a crock of fresh water, with perhaps a bowl of new milk, and a plate of ‘bonnag,’ which was barley bread. – no mention of dried fruit etc. in the bonnag.

Bonnag made to a late 19th century recipe originating from an isolated farm, produces a breakfast plate sized, about an inch or slightly more tall, bonnag. It has some fruit in it, but it needs to be spread with butter.

Wheat was not the common grain on the Island – these were usually Oats and
Barley. Oats do not contain gluten which is needed to give bread,
especially leavened bread, its characteristic texture – oatcakes were long
noted as the staple diet of the Manx and probably differed little from the
surrounding lands where a wide variety of such cakes were also made.
Elizabeth David quotes a 1629 recipe for paper thin Kendal Oatcakes as well
as the more common Scots variety which add a little fat to what is
basically a flour and water mix. Skim (or whey) milk could be used instead
of water. Roeder who spent much time with the older families in the south of the Island in the 1890’s pines for the loss of “the crisp, thin-leaved, tasty bonnags=E2=80=94where are *they ? *Banished, too, from the Isle?”.

Barley contains gluten though not as much as wheat – it could be used in
place of the oats – as Elizabeth David says Oats and Barley produce the
tastiest cakes but because of the gluten it can produce breads with a
lighter aerated texture.

She dates the introduction of bicarbonate of soda and tartaric acid (cream
of tartar) to the late 1840’s and 1850’s though only reaching popularity in
the 1860’s. This mixture of an acid acting on a the alkali liberates carbon
dioxide, CO2 which aerates the bread during its baking – the gluten
allowing the trapped bubbles to expand and then, as baking alters the
gluten, to lock in the texture – a ratio of 3:2 soda:acid is recommended by
Ms. David (Self-raising flour already contains these ingredients – baking
power is also the same but with the addition of rice-flour to absorb
moisture during storage). Buttermilk (soured milk) can replace the tartaric
acid as well as adding extra taste. One key requirement is to evenly
distribute the soda throughout the mixture otherwise a bitter taste can

It is possible that buttermilk on its own can provide a wild yeast that can
effectively leaven the bread – when used as an acid to liberate the CO2 it
must be added immediately before baking – as a source of yeast it of course
needs considerable ‘proving’ time to allow the yeast to grow.

The ready availability of dried fruit again dates from the mid 19th
century, Kelly’s dictionary gives the ‘englished’ Manx for currant as
‘french berry’, the adjective French usually meaning exotic, unusual or
outlandish. Thus all the ‘classic’ Manx Bonnag’ recipes are probably no
more than 150 years old (and probably younger) though the use of flat
griddle cakes probably dates back millennia.

In all the modern Bonnag recipes white wheat flour is used.


Elizabeth David *English Bread and Yeast Cookery* London: Allen Lane 1977
(ISBN 0-7139-1026-7)


For all these recipes I am thankful to Suzanne Daugherty for extracting
them from her collection.

Measures or equivalents

– 1 tsp =3D 5g or 1/8 oz;
– 1 tbsp =3D 15g or =C2=BDoz
– 4oz =3D 100g =3D =C2=BDcup (flour)

*’Basic’ Bonnag*

– 1 lb flour
– 1 oz fat (or 2 oz)
– pinch salt
– 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
– fruit and sugar if liked
– 1 tsp cream of tartar rubbed in with flour and fat

Dissolve soda in sour milk Then mix and bake in moderate oven.

*’Fruit’ Bonnag*

– 2 1/2 cups flour
– 1 cup sugar
– 1 cup currants
– 1 tbsp margarine
– 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
– 1 large tsp mixed spice
– few drops vanilla essence
– cup or more buttermilk

Rub butter into flour. Add other dry ingredients. When will mixed, mix with

Bake about 1 hour in moderate oven.

A common recipe is

– 1 lb plain flour
– 4 oz margarine
– 1 tsp salt
– 1 tsp baking soda
– 1 tsp cream of tartar
– 4 oz sugar
– 4 oz currants

Bake in moderate oven 3/4 hour

A much richer cake-like recipe is ‘Mrs. Kerruish’s Manx Bunloaf’ – note the
addition of eggs which is not mentioned in any earlier recipe.

– 18 oz plain flour
– 2 oz margarine
– 2 oz lard
– 2 oz brown sugar
– 2 oz white sugar
– 2 eggs
– 18 oz currants
– 5 oz sultanas
– 2=C2=BD oz peel
– =C2=BD level tsp Cream of Tartar
– =C2=BD level tsp Carbonate of Soda
– 1 teaspoon spice
– Buttermilk to mix

No method given but judging from the ingredients rather like a rich fruit
cake :beat fats and sugar, add eggs; sift flour spice and raising
ingredients, then add with fruit and cook in a slow oven (150C – probably
around 2 hours but needs experimentation). Alternatively possibly rub fats
into sifted flour/spice mix and then add eggs, fruit and buttermilk to
produce the required dropping consistency


– 1 lb Plain Flour
– 8 oz lard
– 8 oz brown sugar
– 8 oz currants
– 8 oz sultanas
– 4 oz mixed peel
– 8 oz raisins
– 1 teaspoon mixed spice
– 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
– 2 cups of milk
– 2 tablespoons of black treacle

Method: Sieve dry ingredients, rub fat into flour, add fruit, mix treacle
with milk, mix to a soft consistency. Turn into greased tin, bake in
moderate oven.

Other variations are

*Bunloaf (Special)*

– 1 lb flour,
– 4 oz margarine
– 2 lb mixed fruit
– 8 oz sugar
– 2 tablespoons syrup
– 2 teaspoons spice
– candied peel or marmalade
– 1 dessert bicarbonate of soda

mix with sour milk or buttermilk (dissolve bicarbonate of soda in milk and
add to dry ingredients)

Bake 2 hours in slow oven

These last two have a different method, and are good and moist. They were
attributed to May Green, who used to demonstrate cookery, and s connected
to Creer and Creer Ltd.,the Grocers of Buck’s Road, Douglas.

*Bunloaf (I)*

– 4 oz margarine
– 4 cups fruit
– 2 cups sugar
– 2 cups water

Put in pan and boil for 3 minutes. Allow to go cold and add:

– 4 cups SR flour
– 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
– 2 teaspoons vinegar

Dissolve bicarbonate in the vinegar . Stir together

Bake at 300 deg F for 10 minutes then reduce to 275 deg F for 50 minutes.

Variation: As I, but add 2 tsp treacle and 2 tsp mixed spice in flour

*BONAG (The Sunrise Way)*

– 12 oz Plain Flour
– 4 oz Sugar
– 4 oz Butter or Margarine
– 1 teaspoonful Bi-Carb. Of Soda
– About 4 oz Dried Fruit
– Sour Milk to mix to fairly soft dough (about a good teacupful)

Method. Rub fat into flour, add the sugar, then the fruit, add some of the
milk in which the Bi-Carbonate of Soda has been mixed. Then add the rest
until required consistency is obtained. Put in greased Baking tin and
sprinkle sugar on top. Bake in a moderate oven about 45 minutes.

* Rich bonnag*

Here is a recipe for Manx Bunloaf, which incidentally came from the 1971
Kathie Webber’s International Star Cook Book (TV Times Extra) 1971. It
measures up to the hand-down recipes which I have.

– 8 oz plain flour
– pinch of salt
– pinch of mixed spice
– pinch of nutmeg
– 3/4 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
– 4 oz butter
– 4 oz soft brown sugar
– 1/2 lb sultanas
– 1/2 lb currants
– 1/4 lb stoned raisins
– 1 oz chopped mixed peel
– 1/2 level tablespoon black treacle
– buttermilk or milk to mix

Method: Sift the flour, salt, mixed spice, nutmeg and bicarbonate of soda
into a bowl. Rub in the butter until mixture looks like fine bread crumbs.
Stir in the sugar, fruit and peel. Add the treacle and mix to a fairly
stiff dropping consistency with buttermilk or milk.

Turn mixture into a well greased 1 lb loaf tin and bake for 2 1/2 hours in
centre of oven, pre-heated to 325 deg.F or Mark 3. Test with a skewer to
see if cooked.

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[youtube http://youtu.be/sniM8XIqWIg]

Cummer, go ye before, cummer go ye
If ye willna go before, cummer, let me
Linkin lithely widdershins
Cummer, carlin, crone and queen
Roun go we

Cummer, go ye before, cummer, go ye
If ye willna go before, cummer, let me
Loupin lightly widdershins
Kilted coats and fleein hair
Three times three

Cummer go ye before, cummer, go ye
If ye willna go before, cummer, let me
Whirlin skirlin widdershins
De’il tak the hindmost
Wha e’er she be


Translation using the Dictionary of the Scottish Language:

Witch go you fast, witch go you
If you will not go fast, witch let me
Circling a circle widdershins (counter-clockwise)
Linking hands quickly and merrily widdershins,
Wives, crones, mothers and young lasses

Round go we!

Witch go you fast, witch go you
If you will not go fast, witch let me
Circling a circle widdershins
Looping (or weaving) easily and swiftly
Tucked up skirts and flying hair
Three times three!

Witch go you fast, witch go you
If you will not go fast, witch let me
Circling a circle widdershins
Whirling (rotating) screaming louder, widdershins
Devil take the last one (furthest behind)
Whoever she be!

[Background: excerpt from  Sangstories – Stories of Scottish Songs]

Carlin: old woman, witch
Cummer: woman friend, witch
Deil: devil
Fleein: flying
Hindmost: last, furthest behind
Kilted: tucked up
Loupin: jumping, leaping
Queen: quean or quine, girl, woman
Skirlin: screeching
Widdershins: anti-clockwise; opposite to the sun’s movement; against nature,  so used by witches

Christine Kydd brought this song to Sangschule. She recorded it along with Corrina Hewat and Elspeth Cowie as Chantan on their CD Primary Colours. Their notes say: “A song from 1591 and the witch trials of King James 6th of Scotland. A time when any woman could be accused of being a witch on a whim. The words come from the transcripts of one of the trials in connection with a plot, by Francis Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, and others to kill the king. It is the first written record of a reel in Scotland.”

Witches were supposed to meet and dance in a circle going “widdershins”, against the sun, as part of reversing what was natural or holy.  They were naked or immodestly dressed  – Burns’ “cutty sark” is like the “kilted coats” – revealing a lot of leg. “Three times three” was a magic number. And the devil would sometimes join the dance, though here the old saying “Deil tak the hindmost” suggests fear of this event rather than a welcome for the master.

A ‘thread’ of entries on www.mudcat.org attempts to pin down more of the sources and Jack Campin’s entries say that the first two lines do appear in the transcript of the witch trials, but “ the rest was obviously made up in the 20th century”.

James 6th himself was present at the North Berwick witch trials where the accusations against his cousin, Bothwell and the “other witches” were dealt with, and he took part in interrogations. Two of the accused women were Geillis Duncan and Agnes Sampson. They did not survive, but Bothwell escaped.  Excerpts from trial papers are available on…


…a website belonging to Dr E H Thompson of the University of Dundee e.g.:

Agnes Sampson “admitted healing the sick by natural remedies and prayer, helping people who had been bewitched and having dealings with the devil in the form of a dog.”

She confessed to the King that she had been moved to serve the devil by poverty after the death of her husband and had received the devil’s mark. (This mark hidden on the body was said to be impervious to pain, and led to ‘witches’ being pierced all over with a pin by accusers trying to find it.)

Reading between the lines from our present-day standpoint, it is easy to see how superstitious fears led to ordeal and death for many poor and helpless women, but James 6th pursued the prosecution of witches with determination and wrote his own book on the subject, Demonologie, published in 1597.

 [The Music]
 X: 1
T: The Witches
R: reel

M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Edor
gfeg Bgeg|fdad bdaf|gfeg Bgeg|fdaf fee2|
gfeg Bgeg|fdad bdaf|gaeg deBd|ABFA BEE2||
The Witches (reel) on The Session

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I hadn’t, but I got my hands on their Issue #2 last night .  Oh…the pictures!! Shiny!

I know nothing about the people who publish, or write for, this magazine, other than their focus on “artistic and intellectual output” with an esoteric and philosophical bent.

So, there is some gnosis…discussions about the magic of art…some magician type stuff….interviews with artists…and ART.

It’s the latter, the images produced in magical settings or as an extension of the artists magical practice, that is really juicy.  Check it out, if you haven’t already.


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Giorria skull peers out from the talamh 

under the Hedge;

the only part left by the sionnach.

An equinox gift of the gloamingImage

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