We mentioned in our last show that we would be launching a new podcast soon, and today we’re getting the first episode out there! It’s called Myth Taken: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Podcast, and you can probably guess what our main subject will be. This really is just an introduction to us, but we also talk about how we’ll be approaching the series, so if the Buffyverse interests you, check it out and see if you want to tag along with us as we delve into Buffy, bad puns, good stories, weird monsters, folklore, mythology, mixed metaphors, and wild tangents.
Also, don’t feel any obligation to subscribe to the new show if Buffy isn’t your thing. We totally get that, and we won’t be sharing all that much about it on the New World Witchery site. So if you’re here for the folk magic and the Buffy stuff is not your cup of blood-and-Wheetabix, no worries!
Okay, on to the show notes for this one!
This is our first episode, so we introduce ourselves and let you know a little bit about us and about where we’ll be coming from in terms of the show.
Download: Episode 0-0 – Introductions
This is where we’ll usually share any relevant links for the episode. This time around, we’d recommend you check out:
- New World Witchery – Our other podcast on folk magic in North America
- Buffy on Hulu – In case you need to watch the episodes (we don’t get anything from recommending Hulu, they just tend to have good versions of the episodes)
- Still Pretty – One of our other favorite Buffy shows
- Buffering the Vampire Slayer – One of our other OTHER favorite Buffy shows
You can also always email us with your thoughts, questions, and ideas! We love hearing from you!
With the solar eclipse coming up, we look at eclipse folklore and magic, then expand into the heavens to discuss other solar and stellar lore and enchantments.
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, Khristopher, J.C., Josette, Renee Odders, Ye Olde Magic Shoppe, Raven Dark Moon, Sarah, Catherine, AthenaBeth, Jen Rue of Rue & Hyssop, Little Wren, Jessica, Victoria, Johnathan at the ModernSouthernPolytheist, Montine, Achija of Spellbound Bookbinding, Mandy, Regina, and Hazel (if we missed you this episode, we’ll make sure you’re in the next one!). Big thanks to everyone supporting us!
Download: Episode 114 – Of Suns, Stars, and Magic
We mention that we’re not talking much about lunar magic, since we’ve covered that in both Episode 75 – Moon Magic and Episode 97 – A Lunar Wheel of the Year. You may also hear some of the lore associated with the sun and stars in Episode 5 – Signs and Omens and Episode 7 – Weather Magic and Lore. You might also be interested in our article on Comets as well.
We mention several books that might be of interest to our listeners who like to look up into the sky, whether day or night:
- Stellar Magic, by Payam Nabarz
- Planets for Pagans, by Renna Shesso
- The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs, by Tristan Gooley
And Cory highly recommends Bri Saussy’s Star Magic course, which he’s taken before and loved!
We’ve got a contest going on, but only for another few weeks! Check out the rules and get your entries to us by September 1st! You can win one of two prize packs.
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
Podcast Special – From Beyond the Grave
SHOWNOTES FOR PODCAST SPECIAL – FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE
Tonight we feature four short stories of the dead affecting the living from the otherworld.
- “Fear,” by Achmed Abdullah
- “The Dead Encampment,” a Russian Gypsy folktale from the collection Russian Gypsy Tales
- “The Dead Man’s Accusation,” a German Jewish folktale from the collection Lilith’s Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural
- “A Journey to the Skeleton House,” a Hopi legend from the collection American Indian Myths & Legends
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of tricksters in folklore and fairy tales. I know it’s fairly well-trod ground to start looking at the mythical value of tricksters like Coyote and Loki and Hermes and all the other devious deities and demigods who so love to upend the orderly world in favor of a little creative chaos. I’m not going to dive into specific tricksters here (though I do intend to do some exploring of North American tricksters in the not too distant future), but I wanted to look instead at the folkloric need for these figures. After all, they’re not exactly protagonists, and they’re not exactly antagonists, but they are something else entirely. Their very identification and definition is tricky. So what is the trickster’s role in the tales we tell? According to Jane Yolen, author/editor of Favorite Folktales from Around the World:
“The figure of the trickster can be found in every folklore tradition. The trickster as hero or as god plays an important role: Anansi in Africa is sometimes heroic, sometimes foolish, with definite supernatural powers. LIkewise his famous Native American counterparts, Coyote and Rabbit, act as both fooler and fooled….The German Tyll Ulenspiegel, a popular peasant jester, actually lived in the fourteenth century, but within another two centuries had become a legend around whose names volumes of anecdotes and jests had accumulated…Whether the trickster is an animal such as Brer Rabbit or Raven or the wily fox, or supremely human like the German master thief, he plays his tricks out to the end. And sometimes it is a bloody and awful ending” (From section “Tricksters, Rogues, & Cheats,” 127).
So then the trickster can be both a guide for overcoming adversity and self-empowerment, and he can be a sacrificial victim to fate—sometimes illustrating the tragically comic cycle of life and death we all must go through. In this latter capacity, the trickster attempts to operate outside the web of Fate (or natural order, if you prefer), and becomes deeply entangled in the threads he or she tried to avoid. I think here of Anansi, the spider, who in one tale learns of a magic spell which causes anyone who says the word “five” to drop dead on the spot and thus begins tricking various creatures to say that word so that he may eat them. Of course, the trick gets turned around on him, and he accidentally says “five” when a clever bird refuses to play by his rules, thus ending his own life. It is a storytelling picture of a spider weaving one web inside of another, only to be caught by the bigger web he didn’t see.
Why then do we need to have clever characters that can be so easily duped or destroyed? Do they play a similar role to folkloric devils, existing simultaneously as a threat and a challenge (and thus also functioning as teachers in some ways)? I would assert here that when a trickster is overcome by his own tricks, it is because his deceit has crossed a line. Knowing how and when to play a trick is deeply important. Teachers understand that the process of discovery is very important to really gaining understanding as opposed to simply forcing short-term rote memorization (a topic we discussed in our recent podcast on riddles). I’ll get to the role of deceit a bit more in depth in a moment, but first let me briefly detour back to the ide of a trickster as an empowering figure.
Without diving too deeply into the sticky issues of what is “moral” in fairy and folk tales, I think it’s relevant to point out that concepts of “good” and “bad” or “right” and “wrong” form central pillars around which many stories are built. At the same time, there remains an intense ambiguity about just about every “moral” decision in a fairy tale—the witch in “Hansel and Gretel” does seem to deserve to die, as she wants to kill and eat children, but is it a particularly happy ending for the children to return to a father who willingly (if reluctantly) abandoned them to that horrible ordeal? Bruno Bettelheim, in his controversial and classic fairy tale exegesis The Uses of Enchantment has this to say:
“Amoral fairy tales show no polarization or juxtaposition of good and bad persons; that is because these amoral stories serve an entirely different purpose. Such tales or type figures as ‘Puss in Boots,’ who arranges for the hero’s success through trickery, and Jack, who steals the giant’s treasure, build character not by promoting choices between good and bad, but by giving the child the hope that even the meekest can succeed in life” (10).
So then, the child, who knows intuitively that he or she is not as strong and capable in many ways as the adults around him or her, needs to understand that strength and physical skill are not the only methods for overcoming adversity. Brains count for something, too. For those of us who have outgrown the age of childhood (though you’ll be hard-pressed to convince me I’ve outgrown it in any way but the number of years shown on my driver’s license), that lesson can still be immensely invaluable. When we are faced with an ogrish boss or a monstrous task or a devilish choice, we need to believe that we have a tool in our arsenal that can beat the odds—and that’s where the trickster becomes more than a comical prop or sacrificial victim. As Bettelheim says, “Children know that, short of doing adults’ bidding, they have only one way to be safe from adult wrath: through outwitting them” (28). We, too, as adults and as magical folk, deal with a number of dangerous situations all the time, and we must adopt the trickster’s cleverness if we hope to overcome the challenges we face in one piece. To illustrate this point, Bettelheim relates the tale of the “Fisherman and the Jinny” (one we’ve mentioned a lot), in which a fisherman is threatened by a genie that he releases and must trick him back into the bottle or be killed by him. The genie is clearly bigger and more powerful, and only by means of deviousness can the fisherman preserve his life. If you want to lend a magical quality to your life, think about how often you bottle the genie of a ferocious argument with a lover or friend by a few carefully placed words or a well-timed gesture.
Still, one moral lesson that we so often teach our children (and one which we repeat to ourselves ad nauseum) is: don’t lie. Lies are bad. Always tell the truth. Except, of course, when you shouldn’t. And here we come to my last point of examination in the role of the trickster. In The Witch Must Die, scholar Sheldon Cashdan looks at lies and deceit by examining three fairy tales: “The Goose Girl,” in which lying is punished brutally when it is found out; “Rumpelstiltskin,” in which lies are accommodated and made true by the intervention of magic and/or fate; and “Puss in Boots,” in which trickery is rewarded because it is cleverly executed. What Cashdan uncovers by contrasting these stories is that trickery when performed for the sake of trickery is ambivalent, and when done in the service of another person (or a righteous cause) is praiseworthy, but deceit performed for the sake of harm to another must bring judgement or punishment down on the deceiver/trickster. As he puts it:
“[I]t is the intent behind the lie that counts rather than the lie itself. In other words, there may be instances in which telling lies is justified…These contrasting approaches to deception reflect the ambivalence people harbor about telling the truth. On the one hand, we know that lying is wrong. At the same time, it is hard, as Diogenes discovered, to find an honest man…In some fairy tales, lying is not merely treated with ambivalence but is actually rewarded” (140).
For an a magical practitioner, then, the power of the trickster is power that can be used reactively (to combat an attack or overcome an obstacle) or chaotic (to inspire the topsy-turvy energy that seems to surge up periodically in Nature), but if it is used offensively it must be justified. Willfully entrapping someone by magical means—and here I’d venture away from magic and say this principle extends to social behavior, too—has to have some solid reasoning behind it, or else the universe has a way of bringing its own justice down on the tricksy person who did the ensnaring.
What the trickster seems to say to me, then, is this: If you are a spider, spin for the beauty of your web; spin that you may catch the food you need; spin to keep your enemies away. But beware weaving the web of greed and harm, because there’s likely a bigger web you do not see, and a bigger spider who is very hungry dangling not far overhead.
Whew, enough philosophy, right? What are your thoughts on tricksters, especially as teachers? Do you agree about the idea of justification? Have you ever experienced a trickster in your own life or practice? Let us know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading!
Today we’ll be looking at birds and their place as divinatory aids in the New World, something we touched on briefly in the second post on Magical Animals. Birds have historically been turned to by humans for secret knowledge, largely owing to their unfettered freedom to fly from place to place. Virtually all mythologies have some tale of a great mythic bird: the Roc in the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, Zeus’s swan-form, the Thunderbird of some Native American stories, and the haunting Crane Dance of Japan are some of the better-known examples. A creation myth of the Haida people of the Queen Charlotte Islands says that a raven, lonely in his long flight, spit upon a clam and opened it up, freeing the first humans (see Magical Creatures by E. Pepper & B. Stacy for more on this). What have birds to do with divination, though? Many readers probably already know about the branch of fortune-telling known as augury, but for those who haven’t heard of it, it simply means predicting fate by observing the flights of birds.
So how does one go about performing augury? Here things get a bit fuzzy—in some cases, the future comes as a vision released by a relaxed mind observing with detachment the loops and turns of soaring birds. Portuguese writer Paulo Coelho incorporates this type of augury into his novella, The Alchemist when he has a young shepherd accidentally catch a glimpse of coming war while he watches two hawks diving over desert sands. The other method, and the one which makes up a good bit of North American lore, simply involves noting the behavior of birds and interpreting it by means of known connotations. This sort of augury has numerous manifestations, and is especially prominent in Appalachian lore. Folklorist W. L. McAtee recorded a number of bird-related divinations in an essay from 1955:
From “Odds & Ends on North American Folklore on Birds,” by W. L. McAtee:
- “[I]f ever a bird builds in your shoe or pocket, or any of your clothes, you may prepare to die within the year.”
- “The loon, a favorite with folklorists, is called ‘Bad Luck Bird’ by the natives [of the Sea Islands of Georgia], who will not speak of it, or if possible even look at it when they meet it in a journey by water.”
- “While recording the common beliefs as to the storm petrels, that ‘Their appearance portends bad weather,’ Mrs. Simcoe [McAtee’s informant] adds: ‘To kill them is unlucky. Each bird is supposed . . . to contain the soul of a dead sailor.’
- “The Reverend J. H. Linsley in his Birds of Connecticut (1843) noted that the cry of the bittern is a cause of superstitious fear and recorded that one man hearing it ran a mile, saying, that the Devil was after him.”
- “’A token,’ said Archibald Rutledge [another informant], writing of the Santee Country, South Carolina, ‘is an apparition foretelling death,’ and cites as examples an eagle feeding with black vultures, a wild turkey standing alone under a certain great oak tree, and an albino robin.”
- “[An] Abundance of people here look upon [whip-poor-wills] . . . as birds of ill omen, and they are very melancholy if one of them happens to light upon their house, or near their door, and set up his cry (as they will sometimes upon the very threshold) for they firmly believe one of the family will die very soon after.”
- “Canada Jays are supposed to embody the souls of hunters or lumbermen who die in the north woods and it, therefore, brings bad luck to kill them.”
- “In western North Carolina, it means seven years of bad luck to kill a raven.”
- “To end this section on a more cheerful note, we cite the Ozark fancy that ‘If a redbird flies across a girl’s path . . . she will be kissed before night.’”
Other mountain lore about birds tends to focus on weather prediction (a subject we’ve covered in our posts on Signs & Omens to some extent, but you can never have enough weather-prediction lore). Patrick Gainer observes: “When the geese wander on the hills and fly homeward squawking, there will be a storm within twenty-four hours,” and “When the red birds call in the morning, it will rain before night.” Vance Randolph records some Ozark lore along the same lines:
- Chickens or turkeys standing with their backs to the wind and with ruffled feathers mean a storm’s coming.
- A rooster crowing at nightfall portends rain through the dark hours.
- A sudden burst of robin-song foretells of bad weather.
- Kingfishers nesting near the water mean a dry season to come.
Birds seem indelibly linked with concepts of luck and death, too. Anyone who’s seen the 90’s cult film The Crow probably remembers the voice-over at the movie’s opening telling a pseudomyth about how people once believed that a crow ferried souls between the land of the living and the land of the dead, and occasionally allowed one to come back for vengeance (I call this a pseudomyth not because there’s no truth in it, but rather that I’ve never been able to find exactly that myth borne out in folklore, though there are certainly close correlatives to it—corvids are often associated with death). There are many other pieces of Appalachian lore in this vein:
- Barn swallows bring good luck where they nest, and it is bad luck to shoot one. (Randolph, OM&F)
- Redbirds or roosters lingering near one’s doors or windows tend to mean tragedy will come soon after. (Randolph, OM&F)
- Whippoorwills nesting at a home mean death will soon come to it. (Randolph, OM&F)
- If a bird flies in the window, someone in the family will die. (Gainer, WG&S)
- It is bad luck for a hen to crow. (Gainer, WG&S)
- “Owls are omens of great ill. If you spot one nearby while you are inside your home, the direction in which it flies away is an indication of the fate of your household. If it flies off to the left of the cabin, very bad luck can be expected, but if it flies off to the right, it indicates an evil influence has chosen to pass you by.”(Edain McCoy, In a Graveyard at Midnight)
- “Many western occult traditions regard peacocks as omens of ill fortune and their feathers as tokens of bad luck.” (Pepper & Stacy, MC)
Finally, in the category of “Odds & Ends,” there are some really spectacularly unique bits of North American folklore about birds which come from all over:
- Buzzards will vomit upon anyone guilty of incest. (Randolph, OM&F)
- “When you hear the first robin sing in the spring, sit down on a rock and take off your left stocking. If there is a hair in it, your sweetheart will call on you soon.” (Gainer, WG&S)
- “If a bird flies down and gets tangled in your hair, it is an indication that the bird has linked itself with your soul, and whatever befalls the bird is likely to befall you also.” (McCoy, IaGaM)
- Richard Dorson records a legend in Buying the Wind found amongst Illinois “Egyptians” (or what many would call “Gypsies”) about a mouse, a bird, and a sausage who all keep house together until the sausage is eaten and the mouse accidentally kills himself that feels like it must have some embedded magical meaning, though I’ve yet to figure it out.
That’s it for our bird-watching entry. If you’ve got lore you’d like to share about birds, we’d love to hear it! It certainly gives me a good reason to keep watching the skies, so please feel free to comment with any augury methods you’ve got.
As always, thanks so much for reading!
I’d like to take just a minute to heartily recommend a new podcast which has just put forth its first episode. Hedgefolk Tales is the latest endeavor by the very busy and very informative Sarah, the Witch of Forest Grove. In her show, Sarah will be presenting stories and tales from history, mythology, and folklore, and then sharing some witchcraft-related exegeses with us. From listening to the first show alone I can already tell this is going to be one of my new favorite podcasts.
Some out there may know Sarah from her appearances on The Wigglian Way as The Pagan Bookworm. She has a great sense of style and a fantastic voice for this kind of work, so please do go check out Hedgefolk Tales.
Oh, and in the interest of fair disclosure, I should say that we’re planning to have Sarah as a guest on an upcoming episode of New World Witchery, too. How we lucked out lining her up as a guest, I’ll never know. Maybe a candle or two was burned just to help things along…but I’ll never tell.