Which is the Maid without a Tress?
Which is the Tower without a Crest?
Which is the Water without any Sand?
And which is the King without any Land?
Where is no Dust in all the Road?
Where is no Leaf in all the Wood?
Which is the Fire that never Burnt?
And which is the Sword without any Point?
-Riddles from Dawn Jackson’s (sadly defunct) Hedgewytchery site (a version still exists at Archive.org, however)
I love riddles. I’ve always enjoyed letting them roll around in my brain until I can figure them out. I’m that way with many brain-teasers, but there’s something very special about riddles, I think. As a witch, I value riddling because riddles have had a place in mystical practice for a long time now (just think about Oedipus facing off with the Sphinx’s riddle). I think they have the potential to help move one into an altered state of consciousness, and to force the brain to stop thinking in a simply linear, rational fashion. The mindset which comes after a little riddling is an ideal one for magic, because connections that aren’t immediately obvious suddenly become apparent. Or such is my opinion on the subject.
Today I’m going to look at a few riddles from American folklore (though some of them may be older in origin). I’ll post a response in the comments section with the answers in case you don’t want to see those right away. I’ll also try to point out anything that might have magical significance as I go along. Without further ado, the riddles (from Richard Dorson’s Buying the Wind):
From the South:
The ole man shook it an’ shook it;
The ole woman pulled up her dress an’ took it.
(The solution to this one is simple, but I like the sexual connotations to the riddle itself.)
About six inches long, an’ a mighty pretty size;
Not a lady in the country but what will take it between her thighs.
(Again with the sexual innuendo…apparently we Southerners are a dirty-minded lot. The solution to this one, though, is interesting because of the idea of “riding” to the witches’ Sabbat—in may folkloric versions, there is a sexual side to this riding).
From the Pennsylvania Dutch:
What goes and goes,
And yet stands and stands?
(Solve this one and you’ve got an interesting way to look at one version of a witch’s magical circle).
What poor fellow passes up and down the steps on his head?
(No witchy significance I can see; I just like this one)
What has its heart in its whole body?
(The answer to this one is worth remembering, for naturally-inclined folk)
What resembles half a chicken?
(A simple answer, but exactly the kind of riddling answer that I like, because it is both slightly funny and a little weird—it does a nice job of making the brain shut out its over-analytical side, for me at least)
From the Louisiana Cajuns:
If a man can lift two hundred and fifty barrels of rice when it is not raining, what can he lift during the rain?
(Again, this one isn’t really magical, but helps to get that child-like mindset which can be very useful in witchcraft)
What goes to the bayou laughing and returns crying?
(This one has more to do with sound than anything else, and getting the guesser to use his or her imagination a little)
What was it that was given to you that belongs to you only but that your friends use more than you?
(This one has particular significance for a witch, I think—if you think of “friends” in this context as covenmates, gods, spirits, etc., it makes sense, at least to me)
So what about you all out there? Do you have any favorite riddles? Do you ever use riddles as a way to get yourself into a magical mindset? I’d love to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to leave a comment!
Thanks for reading,