Episode 101 – Ghost Stories Live!

NWWPatreonLogo

Summary:

This is the downloadable podcast version of our recent MIxlr broadcast, which featured listener ghost stories for the spooky Hallows/late Autumn season.

 

Please check out our Patreon page! You can help support the show for as little as a dollar a month, and get some awesome rewards at the same time.  Even if you can’t give, spread the word and let others know, and maybe we can make New World Witchery even better than it is now.

 

Producers for this show: Corvus, Diana Garino, Renee Odders, Ye Olde Magic Shoppe, Raven Dark Moon, The Witches View Podcast,  Sarah, Molly, Corvus, Catherine, AthenaBeth, Jen Rue of Rue & Hyssop, Shannon, Little Wren, Michael M. and Jessica (if we missed you this episode, we’ll make sure you’re in the next one!). Big thanks to everyone supporting us!

 

Play:

Download: Episode 101 – Ghost Stories Live!

 

 -Sources-

Almost all of our stories come from YOU, our amazing listeners. Special thanks to A. Claire, Dee, Morgan, Raschelle, James A., and our anonymous listener with the Pennsylvanian story. You are all the reason we had good stories to share! Also thanks to Ivy, who let us share her poem via the live chat, and to Victoria and HeathenLurker, who both shared their thoughts and stories via chat. Follow our Mixlr channel for future broadcasts!

Also, Cory mentions a story of “Bloody Mary” found in Pennsylvania, and some of the weird spooky roads that are targets for legend trips in the Pennsylvania area. You can find more about those in the books Spooky Pennsylvania, by S.E. Schlosser, and Weird Pennsylvania, by Matt Lake and Mark Moran.

Check out our latest podcast effort, Chasing Foxfire, which just launched in early October. If you like folklore, this show will be connecting the dots between folk tales, science, nature, pop culture, literature, and more.

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter! And check out our Facebook page! For those who are interested, we also now have a page on Pinterest you might like, called “The Olde Broom.” Have something you want to say? Leave us a voice mail on our official NWW hotline: (442) 999-4824 (that’s 442-99-WITCH, if it helps).

 

 Promos & Music

Title and closing music is “Homebound,” by Bluesboy Jag, and is used under license from Magnatune.

Quick Update – Live Broadcast on 10/30/16

By Dennis Hill from The OC, So. Cal. (via Wikimedia Commons)
By Dennis Hill from The OC, So. Cal. (via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Hello everyone!

We have another live broadcast coming up, and we’d love for YOU to be a part of it!

We’ll be doing our live broadcast on Sunday evening (October 30th), and we’ll be starting around 9pm or so Central Time. The theme this time around is “Ghost Stories.” Share your personal ghostly encounters and spooky goings-on with us via chat, email, or even call in! We will be talking to both Patreon supporters and all other listeners for this one, so don’t be shy!

Make sure you go to our Mixlr site page to listen and chat with us. You can download the Mixlr app on your phone or tablet, too, if that’s easier for you.

If the whole thing goes according to plan, we’ll also try to release the conversation and stories as a podcast, too.

Looking forward to talking to you all soon!

Best witches 😉

-Cory & Laine

Podcast Special – Pushed

SHOWNOTES FOR PODCAST SPECIAL – PUSHED

Summary
We begin our 2014 All Hallows Read scary story fest with this tale of bullying and revenge. Our focus this month is on urban legends, and be warned, things might get pretty scary.

Sources

I found versions of this urban legend here and here. The actual version I tell on the show is my own rendition of this story.

Play
Special Episode – Pushed

Music
“Grifos Muertos” by Jeffery Luck Lucas, from his album What We Whisper, on Magnatune.com

Podcast Special – A Hearse of Verse

SHOWNOTES FOR PODCAST SPECIAL – A HEARSE OF VERSE

Summary
In this episode we have a selection of ghastly and witchy music and poetry.

Sources

Play
Special Episode – A Hearse of Verse

Music
Title & end music: “Grifos Muertos” by Jeffery Luck Lucas, from his album What We Whisper, on Magnatune.com

Playlist:

Podcast Special – From Beyond the Grave

Podcast Special – From Beyond the Grave

SHOWNOTES FOR PODCAST SPECIAL – FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE

Summary
Tonight we feature four short stories of the dead affecting the living from the otherworld.

Sources

Play
Special Episode – From Beyond the Grave

Music
“Grifos Muertos” by Jeffery Luck Lucas, from his album What We Whisper, on Magnatune.com

Podcast Special – The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

SHOWNOTES FOR PODCAST SPECIAL – THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW

Summary
In our first 2013 All Hallows Read episode, we hear the classic tale, ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’ by Washington Irving.

Play
Special Episode – The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
https://newworldwitchery.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/special-episode-the-legend-of-sleepy-hollow.mp3

Music
“Grifos Muertos” by Jeffery Luck Lucas, from his album What We Whisper, on Magnatune.com

Blog Post 177 – Treasure Hunting

“Jim Hawkins & the Treasure of Treasure Island,” illustration by Georges Roux (via Wikimedia Commons)

A number of modern spells are designed to bring “prosperity” into an individual’s life.  In some cases, Wiccan and Wiccan-influenced spellbooks contain workings that either target specific needs and cash amounts, or which seek to generally enhance the financial stability of the magician or his/her designated target (most Wiccan spellbooks also require that the magician have permission from the target even in beneficial magical workings like this). Certainly, magical practices designed to bring a sense of bounty and abundance into one’s life go back quite far—the cults of Fortuna and Tyche in the ancient world appeal to good luck, and the Roman cult of Pomona pursued the ideal of a fruitful life. Folk magic, however, has generally focused less on meeting a generalized prosperity and has drilled down to specific financial problems and advantages. The Wiccan spells which seek a specific sum of money to cope with a specific issue—a medical bill, a broken radiator, etc.—very much mirror the sorts of spells done by people across multiple times and places as they tried to cope with uncertain finances.

Another brand of folk magic, however, did not work towards a specific sum, nor did it seek to bring a vaguely defined sense of wealth into someone’s life. Instead, many spells targeted getting rich—quick! In some cases, the spell’s target would be a gambler who worked to gain the advantage in games of chance (more on that another day, hopefully). A few stories talk of acts of magical extortion, wherein a magician would either try to low-ball the purchase of land/livestock with the threat that failure to accept a paltry offer would result in the destruction of the commodity in question OR a witch might place a curse on a neighbor and only remove the curse for a fee (you can find several examples of such stories in The Silver Bullet, and Other American Witch Stories by Hubert J. Davis).

If someone wanted to get rich really quickly, however, he or she would turn to magical treasure hunting. Plenty of European grimoires had methods for finding lost treasures, usually with the help of spirits. Some grimoire texts which influenced American practices, such as The Black Pullet, spelled out in detail how to summon treasure-seeking daemons to work on one’s behalf:

Seal4BlackPullet

“This talisman and this ring are not less valuable. They will enable you to discover all the treasures which exist and to ensure you the possession of them. Place the ring on the second finger of your right hand, enclose the talisman with the thumb and little finger of your left hand, and say, Onaim, Perantes, Rasonastos.” I repeated these three words, and seven spirits of a bronze colour appeared, each carrying a large hide bag which they emptied at my feet. They contained gold coins which rolled in the middle of the hail where we were. I had not noticed that one of the spirits had on his shoulder a black bird, its head covered with a kind of hood. “It is this bird,” the old man said to me, “who has made them find all this treasure. Do not think that these are some of what you have seen here. You can assure yourself of this.” I replied, “You are for me the truth itself. My father! Do you believe that I would insult you by doubting?”

He made a sign, and the spirits replaced the gold in the bags and disappeared. “You see, my son, what the virtues of these talismans and rings are. When you know them all, you will be able, without my aid, to perform such miracles as you judge proper” (The Black Pullet, 20-21).

Seals and incantations like these made it into later magical practices, especially in places where grimoire languages like German, Spanish, or French were spoken (to be clear, many grimoires were written in languages like Latin with commentaries in European languages, and these three tongues were hardly the only ones in which grimoires appeared).

Of course, being able to find treasure only helps if treasure is already buried in the earth waiting to be found. In the maritime culture of early New England (as well as the maritimes of other parts of the New World), a widespread belief in hidden golden caches secreted beneath the soil became the basis for a number of magical spells. A Maine man named Daniel Lambert, suddenly flush with money, faced suspicion, for:

Lacking any other apparent explanation, his neighbors attributed Daniel Lambert’s sudden wealth to the discovery of buried pirate treasure. Despite Canaan’s location dozens of miles from navigation, the inhabitants readily believed that Lambert had found a treasure chest because, as Kendall explained, “The settlers of Maine, like all the other settlers in New England indulge an unconquerable expectation of finding money buried in the earth.” Indeed, backcountry folk insisted that troves of pirate treasure guarded by evil spirits pockmarked the New England countryside even in locales far from the coast (Taylor 7).

Since the New World was vast and dangerous, people turned to magic to help find these copious buried (and frequently ‘cursed’) treasures, and to remove any dangers that might arise during the expedition to unearth them. A number of ‘rules’ for enchanted bounty-seeking developed, including:

  • Treasure hunting teams needed at least three members, as that number ensured magical success
  • Magical circles should be inscribed around the digging site to prevent any malevolent spirits from attacking the diggers
  • Implements of silver, such as silver spoons or spades, should be used to dig at least part of the earth to ensure luck in the hunt and to protect the diggers from harm
  • Blood offerings (animals usually) had to be made to quell the guardian spirits protecting the treasure—a belief related to the idea that a guardian spirit was usually a person who was killed and his blood spilled over the burial ground

In addition to maritime treasures, the idea of “Indian” gold became very popular. Some European colonists and conquerors were sure that entire cities of gold were just waiting to be found in the dense, mysterious interiors of North and South America. Gonzalo Pizzaro and Sir Walter Raleigh both mounted expeditions to find such legendary places, frequently referred to as “El Dorado,” or “the golden one.”  In almost every case, however, the site was protected by evil spirits, a curse, ghosts, or some other malevolent force. In some situations, however, the spirit might actually help a seeker find his or her treasure:  “There are many tales about ghosts who speak to people, telling them to dig at such-and-such a place to find a buried treasure. The ghost is usually that of some fellow who died without being able to tell anybody where his treasure was concealed, and who cannot rest quietly until someone gets the money and enjoys it” (Randolph 219). How one ensures that the ghost is not simply walking the magician into a trap is anyone’s guess.

One of the best examples of magical treasure hunting led to an entire religious movement in the New World. While the time has not yet come to explore the full magical heritage of the Latter Day Saints, I would be remiss to omit them here.  Joseph Smith, prophet and founder of the Mormon faith, used to hunt for treasure using methods derived from alchemy and hermetic science/magic. He followed the rules laid out above, frequently offering “sacrificed either pure white or jet black sheep or dogs to lay out magic circles of blood” prior to discovering his golden plates and having his angelic vision (Taylor 12). Smith’s methods were not deviant or unusual. He used seer or peep stones to help find his hidden treasures, and his activity in the highly spiritually active area of New York known as the Burned-Over District was imitative of earlier seekers and followed by those who did the same. In fact, Smith was following very much in his own father’s footsteps, as Joseph Smith, Sr. was an active treasure seeker in Palmyra, New York. He is recorded to have once described his methods to a neighbor, saying “the best time for digging money was in the heat of the summer, when the heat of the sun caused the chests of money to rise to the top of the ground” (Brooke 31). The tradition the Smiths followed required—like many grimoire traditions do—that the seeker be spiritually pure or else he will fail in his pursuits, a concept brought in from hermetics and alchemy. The fervent spirituality and insistence on saintly behavior left a strong mark on the junior Smith, and helped him feel prepared for his prophetic role in revealing the Book of Mormon (which was inscribed on golden plates).

In some cases, treasures of golden pieces and precious gems are not the target of the magic. I have written previously on the phenomenon of dowsing, which allows a person to magically search for substances like water and oil beneath the earth. In some cases, the dowser might also search for veins of gold or silver or other valuable ores like iron. The method for making such a dowsing tool appears in Hohman’s early nineteenth century text, The Long-Lost Friend:

TO MAKE A WAND FOR SEARCHING FOR IRON, ORE OR WATER.

On the first night of Christmas, between 11 and 12 o’clock, break off from any tree a young twig of one year’s growth, in the three highest names (Father, Son and Holy Ghost), at the same time facing toward sunrise. Whenever you apply this wand in searching for anything, apply it three times. The twig must be forked, and each end of the fork must be held in one hand, so that the third and thickest part of it stands up, but do not hold it too tight. Strike the ground with the thickest end, and that which you desire will appear immediately, if there is any in the ground where you strike. The words to be spoken when the wand is thus applied are as follows: Archangel Gabriel, I conjure thee in the name of God, the Almighty, to tell me, is there any water here or not? do tell me! + + +

If you are searching for Iron or Ore, you have to say the same, only mention the name of what you are searching for.

This version of magical dowsing incorporates high magical elements (such as the invocation of Gabriel) and strong folk magical ones (the clipping of the tree twig at sunrise and the simple dowsing methodology).  On the simpler end of the spectrum, one could simply put a bit of whatever was being sought into the tip of the dowsing rod, as in this example from the Ozarks: “Many hillfolk are interested in the search for lost mines and buried treasure, and some of these people have tried to use the witch stick in their quests. If a man is looking for buried gold, he fastens a gold ring to the end of his stick ; if it  is silver that he expects to find, he splits the end of the wand and inserts a silver coin. Rayburn says that to locate mixed ores one uses two different metals usually a dime and a penny” (Randolph 88).

The practice of hunting for buried wealth and riches spanned cultural and geographic boundaries. In many cases, very strict rules were followed, regarding purification and protection as well as actual seeking magic. Spirits would guide a magician to the site of a treasure, and in some cases might even be employed to raise it from the earth. In other cases, the spirits associated with the treasure were deeply malevolent and most of the magic employed was to placate or dis-empower any evil that might be lingering about the dig site. The payoff for an effective treasure hunter could be a sack of coins, a buried chest, or even a new branch of a religion, but the work required up front was heavy and intense. While gambling charms might take longer, the success rate was better overall. In the end, getting rich quick via magical means, it seems, has always been a labor-intensive and time-consuming effort, just like any other job.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

SOURCES

  1. Anonymous. The Black Pullet (Red Wheel/Weiser, 2007).
  2. Brooke, John L. The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (Cambridge UP, 1996).
  3. Davies, Owen. Grimoires: A History of Magic Books (Oxford UP, 2010).
  4. Davis, Hubert J. The Silver Bullet, and Other American Witch Stories (Jonathan David Pub., 1975).
  5. El Dorado,” Wikipedia (2013).
  6. Gainer, Patrick W. Witches, Ghosts, & Signs: Folklore of the Southern Appalachians (Vandalia Press, 2008).
  7. Hohman, John George. The Long-Lost Friend: A 19th Century American Grimoire, ed. Daniel Harms (Llewellyn, 2012).
  8. Horowitz, Mitch. Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, & the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation (Bantam, 2010 reprint).
  9. Hutcheson, Cory. “Blog Post 146 – Dowsing,” New World Witchery, 2011.
  10. Milnes, Gerald C. Signs, Cures, & Witchery (Univ. of Tenn. Press, 2009).
  11. Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic & Folklore (Dover, 1964).

Taylor, Alan. “The Early Republic’s Supernatural Economy: Treasure Seeking in the American Northeast, 1780-1830.” American Quarterly (Spring, 1986).

Podcast Special – All Hallows Read

-SHOWNOTES FOR PODCAST SPECIAL-

Summary
In our very special and rather remarkable Halloween episode, we have original works of short fiction from six talented horror writers. Special thanks to our guests and our listeners!

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery Special – All Hallows Read

-Sources-

I mention the concept of All Hallows Read early on, which is an idea from author Neil Gaiman. All works herein are original and retain the copyright of their authors. They are used with authorial permission on this episode. For your convenience, here’s a rough index of where the different stories and promos are in the show:
0 – Intro
7:40 – “Midnight,” by Saturn Darkhope
25:02 – “A Flash of Red,” by Inanna Gabriel
35:40 – Pennies in the Well promo
36:20 – Children of the Moon (Misanthrope Press) promo
37:53 – “The Crystal Well,” by Oraia Helene
51:10 – The Demon’s Apprentice, “Chapter 2,” by Ben Reeder (read by Peter Paddon)
1:09:52 – “They Dance at the Full Moon,” by Cory Thomas Hutcheson (that’s me!)
1:35:05 – Media Astra ac Terra promo
1:35:40 – Uneasy Lies the Head (Pendraig Publishing) promo
1:36:45 – Lakefront Pagan Voice promo
1:37:34 – “Rushing Water,” by Scarlet Page
2:00:55 – Closing notes/Credits/Outro

Promos & Music
“Grifos Muertos” by Jeffery Luck Lucas, from his album What We Whisper, on Magnatune.com

All incidental music comes from the Apple GarageBand program and Archive.org

Podcast 29 – An American Shaman

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 29-

Summary
Today we talk with author and American folk magician/shaman Jack Montgomery.  Then we have some listener feedback and a few announcements.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 29

-Sources-
American Shamans, by Jack Montgomery
Strange Experience: The Autobiography of a Hexenmeister, by Lee Gandee
Fifty Years as a Low Country Witch Doctor, by Sheriff J. E. McTeer
High Sheriff of the Low Country, by Sheriff J. E. McTeer

If you would like to donate to the Japanese relief effort, here is the Peter Dybing page we mentioned in the show.
Please also consider donating to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which is currently helping victims of the Alabama Tornado.

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1 – Irish & Celtic Music Podcast
Promo 2 – Dr. E’s Conjure Doctor Products
Promo 3 – Magick & Mundane
Promo 4 – Forest Grove Botanica

Blog Post 99 – Halloween

Ghostly greetings, everyone!

As I near one hundred blog posts on this site, I thought I’d share something special for Halloween.  It’s an article I’ve been working on for a while now, part of a series I’m writing on the various holidays that make up my personal “ritual year.”  It’s long, though not as long as it will eventually be, and lacks annotation (likewise it does not contain links like my usual posts, other than in its Works Consulted at the end), but hopefully you will find it useful.

Please enjoy, and I wish you the very best Halloween (or Hallows, as I call it) you can have!

—           —           —

Children run from door to door, dressed in costumes and begging for candy.  As each door opens, there are monsters on the front porch, ghosts and ghouls waiting at the threshold with outstretched hands.  The familiar shout of “trick-or-treat!” fills the early autumn air.  Chocolate, sweets, money, and toys all get doled out to the eager masked masses (along with the occasional toothbrush from well-meaning but uninspired do-gooders).  It is Halloween, and all is well.

By now, most everyone knows that Halloween has its origins in pre-Christian festivals mostly stemming from the British Isles and honoring the dead.  Fires are lit, those who have passed on in the previous year wander the earth, and all manner of eerie activity takes place.  For a New World witch, however, the nature of this evening (or set of evenings, depending on how an individual witch practices the tradition) is more than what commonly gets called “Celtic” nostalgia.  Instead, there are a number of powerful forces at work on this night.  Some are easy to understand, and some are harder to wrap one’s head around.  But first things first, let’s get the obvious out of the way.

Halloween (or Hallows, as I call this series of days), is spooky.  It is eerie.  It is morbid, macabre, and a little bit twisted.  It’s also funny, sometimes sexy, a good bit bittersweet, and no small amount of weird.  It is supposed to be all of these things.  Others may disagree and require absolute solemnity as they honor their dearly departed, and there are probably some who would like to exorcise the entire bone-chilling side of the holiday.  But for me, and I think for most witches who do the work that has been done since the 18th century (and before) on this soil, there’s something in this time of year that requires skeletons and jack-o-lanterns, ghosts and goblins, and a good hard look at all the creepy-ookie-spooky parts of life we tend to ignore otherwise.  And then, a good laugh to shake the willies away.  This is the time of year where ghost stories, murder tales, and recounts of run-ins with the devil beg to be told.

Why do we dance with devils and the dead in tale and practice during Hallows, though?

There is, of course, the old saw that on this night “the veil between the worlds is thin.”  There are many nights throughout the year, however, when the door between this world and the next swings open and intercourse between spirits and mortals is easy.  The uniquely macabre tone of Hallows, in my opinion, has a lot more to do with its position between summer and winter, and more importantly, its position as a fulcrum between light and darkness, work and pleasure, comfort and danger.

The months preceding Halloween have been full of long days, often full of activity and work (during the previous centuries, farm work would have been going on right up to around the time of Halloween).  Suddenly, everything around us starts dying, the days become noticeably shorter, and our hard work comes to an end, more or less.  From a modern context, we don’t always understand this idea, because we aren’t working with agriculture directly for the most part, but think even of all the things that get done in summer after the work day is done:  gardens dug, lawns mowed, children taken to parks after school.  Now that the light is gone early, we—like our ancestors—have to find ways to occupy those dark evenings.

Enter the Hallows.  Most of what a New World witch can do on Halloween reflects inherited practices from the British Isles.  Because the Separatists (aka Puritans) were fiercely anti-holiday for religious reasons, the phenomenon of autumnal trick-or-treating and masked mischief didn’t really arrive in America until during the mid-19th century.  Certain pockets of Appalachian settlers—due to their Scots-Irish heritage—began holding “snap-apple” or “nutcrack” nights.  When the wave of Irish immigrants made their way to America following the potato famine in the mid-1800’s, this set of practices expanded to become a widespread phenomenon.

At this time of year, all sorts of mischief is afoot.  And all sorts of merrymaking accompanies it.  Some of the age-old practices (or at least centuries-old practices) associated with October 31st are:

Nutcrack Night – There are several divinatory rituals performed with nuts kept in the shell and placed in a fireplace which foretell of love, loss, and survival into the next year.

Snap-Apple Night – Games involving apples, such as bobbing for them or “snapping” after an apple dangled from a string using only one’s teeth, are very popular.  In some of these games, objects are hidden inside apples in order to bestow blessings on the one who manages to catch the elusive fruit.  Providing, of course, that the one catching the apple doesn’t break his or her teeth.

Guising – The practice of going out dressed in various fiendish costumes is one that shows up in many cultures.  In Halloween celebrations, the reason usually given for this is that the frightening devils, ghosts, and goblins will either be frightened by mortals dressed like them, or mistake those mortals for their own and leave them be.  This clearly taps into a major theme for the Hallows holidays:  the roving spirits, sometimes seen as the Wild Hunt (see “Roving Spirits” below)

A-Souling – The origin of trick-or-treating, going a-souling (or just souling in some places) meant traveling from house to house, singing songs or repeating rhymes in hopes of getting some sort of reward.  The most common reward was a little cake called a “soul cake.”  There is a famous song which encapsulates the practice nicely.  This practice also became part of the Christmastide celebration, in the form of caroling (see “Into the Dark” below)

Mischief-making – A nearly universal phenomenon, the idea of a holiday where good people do naughty things is quite cathartic.  Witches should understand that there is something subtler going on when the world is turned upside down and people begin acting “devilish.”  In America, we seem to appreciate this sort of phenomenon on April Fool’s Day, but less so on Halloween.  This may be because in recent years the nature of the pranks has gone from soaping shop windows and throwing streamers of paper (or toilet tissue) over trees and houses to the infamous arson found in Detroit on “Devil’s Night,” or Oct. 30th.  However, a witch playing at devilish tricks is less likely to be doing harm to his or her neighbors at this time of year, and more likely to be playing “tricks” on the natural order of things.

Ghost Stories – What would Halloween be without a good scare, right?  Ghost stories told at this time of year can be spooky, terrifying, or even rather funny.  Stories about devils, goblins, and other hellish creatures are also appropriate, as are tales of witches and witchcraft.  Telling stories about famous witches, in fact, can be a great way to combine the ancestral aspect of the holiday (as the witches of the past are spiritual ancestors if not genetic ones) and the more evocative and spooky side of Halloween.

Roving Spirits

The restless dead are fairly universal.  Many cultures have tales of vampire-or-zombie-like creatures which return from beyond the grave to wreak havoc on the living.  Still more common is the recognition that the dead come back in a less menacing form:  as ghosts or spirits to visit the living.  The living, however, often fear the dead who belong to a world that terrifies us (if only because we don’t know of many who come back from it…or so we think, more on that later).

In terms of witchcraft, however, the dead are our friends.  They are our ancestors, teachers, progenitors, and constant companions.  Any witch worth his or her blessed salt has communion with the dead—or at least spirits of some kind.

One particular group of spirits out and about on this night goes by the name of the Wild Hunt.   Fundamentally, this is the fairy court (also sometimes called the Unseelie Court or any number of other epithets) riding out into the mortal world.  The souls of the dead are being led by this party’s ride through the darkness to the point where they may cross over into the Underworld.  The problem is that the Wild Hunt isn’t exactly concerned if it gathers the souls of the dead or the souls of the living, and thus a mortal caught out by the Hunt can be in dire straits.  The tale of Tam Lin is an excellent point of reference:  the mortal Tam Lin was abducted by the Wild Hunt and must remain with them for seven years.  After that, he is to be offered up as a “tithe to Hell” by the Fairy Queen.  His lover (and the mother of his child yet unborn) saves him in a sort of reversal of the Wild Hunt, winning him back to the mortal realm

Other roving spirits may need guidance from the living on the nights of Hallows.  One of the primary traditions associated with these nights is the lighting of candles in windows to call the souls of dead ancestors home to rest and visit.  It is presumed that if they can at least get home for a while and share a little meal (see “The Dumb Supper”) they will be refreshed and able to find their way to the Underworld again.

Or so we hope…

The Dumb Supper

The famous Dumb Supper has been added to the ritual observance of many groups during the Hallows.  I attended a Wiccan-style Samhain event which featured a very moving Dumb Supper once, and the appeal was not lost on me.  The point of the Dumb Supper, at least superficially, is an act of communion with the deceased and other spirits.  This is not exactly different than a Red Meal, save that during the Dumb Supper, silence is required while the meal is served and consumed.  I’ve always understood the silence to be a method for tuning into the spiritual world around us, especially since our minds are focused on that world when we consume a communal meal.

The experience can be deeply emotional for some, as the beloved ancestors and friends who have passed on return to us and manifest themselves in order to share in our world once more.  Some people are able to hold silent conversations with the dead during this meal, and some find that the meal acts more as a prelude to spirit communication.  Either way, the Dumb Supper held at Hallows is particularly significant because beyond being a communal meal with particular ancestral spirits, the shades of all the dead are able to join in the feast.  This leads some to set apart a portion of the meal in advance for those less-than-savory ghosts and goblins that might seek to do harm to the witch or her company.  This portion is then offered as far away from the main table as possible—off her property if feasible.

There are other aspects of the Dumb Supper which are not as simple as a plate of food and a brimming cup of cider passed around in silence.  One ritual for this meal involves setting the table backwards, as well, and leaving an empty seat.  If a girl were to do this, during the course of the meal, the shade of her future husband would appear in the empty chair while they dined.  One folktale about this practice recalls how a girl performed this rite and saw her future husband, though he seemed to be in tremendous pain.  When she later met him, she knew him instantly but said nothing of the ritual.  They were married, and soon after she made a casual comment about the Dumb Supper rite she’d performed when a young girl.  The husband grew purple with rage and told her “So it was you!  I went through hell that night and back again, you foul witch!” and promptly stabbed her in the heart.   Above all things, such stories are fables about the consequences of being frivolous with magic.

Into the Dark

While the New World Witch may not find himself tied to the common “wheel of the year” associated with other denominations of magical religion, there is definitely something about Hallows that has to do with darkness and light.  The shifting tides of these forces becomes more and more apparent the further into autumn we journey each year, until it seems our whole day is but a breath between nights.  For a witch, this is a blessing in many ways:  we seem to have more liberty to be ‘oot and aboot’ in the dark of night, the moon with all its power is most easily viewed in a night sky, and it seems as though the mysterious and unknown are everywhere in the darkness.

This dark time of year is full of rituals and mischief.   From innocently childish pranks like soaping windows to the destructive fires of Detroit’s Devil’s Night, there seems to be a sense of Merry Misrule which kicks in as the daylight shrinks away from us.  The nights of Hallows are potent for this sort of behavior, not least because we also add the additional tool of disguise.  Between night and the masks, it’s no wonder a number of people simply lock their doors and don’t come out until morning during this holiday.  Which is their loss, of course.

Guising—going door to door in costume begging treats or money—has been around since at least the middle ages, and may have antecedents in ancient practices.  In Britain and parts of the American South, the practice of guising during festivals happens not just at Hallows, but Christmas as well.  Seeing as how Christmas is a fulfillment of darkness and misrule which begins at Hallows, that makes a good deal of sense to me.  Sadly, society does not like us to dress up and go door to door at Christmastime unless it’s in the form of Santa or carolers (though both are clearly connected to this practice, too).

Experiencing the dark of the year in conjunction with the rising of the dead lends a spooky air to this holiday, but inside that spookiness is a winking jester.  This is supposed to be fun, an inversion of the normal way of things where we teach our children to share and be cautious.  On Hallows, we want them dressed as monsters and ghouls, begging for candy from our neighbors, though.  And that is just as it should be.  Yes, there is certainly a place for solemnity in the darkness, but there is also a place for mirth.

Hailing the Hallows

So what might a New World witch do on Hallows that is so different from everyone else?  Quite simply, not much.  Take the kiddies trick-or-treating, indulge your sweet-tooth, attend a masked ball or party, give someone a friendly fright, and do whatever all of your non-witchy neighbors are doing.  If you wish, have a Dumb Supper and leave a candle in the window for the dead.  Go spend some time in a graveyard, leaving offerings for the dead and asking them to help you.  Do divinations with cards, shells, or whatever you like.  See if you can get your friends into it—even if you camp it up a bit, that’s okay.  It is that Merry Misrule I spoke of earlier coming out.  The dead can appreciate a good laugh, and you may be surprised how accurate your readings are if you let down the guard of seriousness which we so often keep up when working with the spirits.  Do keep some magical protection about, as some boogers are like people and have no sense of humor; it’s best to leave them be, but a little cross or star worn about the neck or a good bag of salt tied to your clothes wouldn’t hurt either.

If you absolutely must make this holiday something more dramatic than it is, I recommend looking to stories for your answers.  Read tales like “Godfather Death” or “Jack and the Devil,” and see what you can make of them.  You may come up with something worth trying, or you may just learn a new yarn to spin sometime in the future.  Share your meals and stories with the dead as best you can—leave seats and plates empty but set apart for your invisible guests, and invite them to participate in the festivities.  Play games of divination with nuts and apples, and mirrors and Ouija boards if you dare.  Sneak off to a dark corner with someone and have a little extra fun if you can, and if not, just revel in the madness of the nights of Hallows.

As a final note, Hallows is also a good time of the year for finding lost things, ferreting out thieves, and hex work, should you be so inclined to do such workings.  It is also a nice time to think about just what it means to be a witch, because you are surrounded by both the living and the dead in a very tangible way on these nights.  And a witch, above all, is someone who is of both worlds: living and dead at the same time.   What better time than Halloween to show that off?

Works Consulted (and generally just good reading):

Belk, Russell W.  “HALLOWEEN: AN EVOLVING AMERICAN CONSUMPTION RITUAL”, in Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, pp. 508-517.

Burns, Robert.  “Halloween.”  Available online at http://www.robertburns.org/works/74.shtml.

Clar, Mimi.  “Negro Beliefs.”  Western Folklore, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Oct., 1959), pp. 332-334.

Gainer, Patrick W.  Witches, Ghosts, & Signs.  West Virginia Univ. Press, 2008.

Grimm, Jacob & Wilhelm.  The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Bantam, 2003.

Hendricks, George D. “Superstitions Collected in Denton, Texas.” Western Folklore, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Jan., 1956), pp. 1-18.

Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford Paperbacks, 2001.

Milnes, Gerald C.  Signs, Cures, & Witchery. University of Tennessee Press, 2007.

Santino, Jack.  All Around the Year: Holidays & Celebrations in American Life. Univ. of Illinois Press, 1995.

—.  Halloween & Other Festivals: Life & Death. University of Tennessee Press, 1994.

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