Posted tagged ‘Nova Scotia’

Blog Post 10 – Weather Work

February 3, 2010

We recently received a nice blanketing of snow here (which is somewhat rare for our area), and it got me to thinking about weather magic.   When I was little, before we moved to the farm, I used to go out to the dirt hill near our house with a big staff in my hands and shout at the wind, seeing if I could get it to gust up or gentle down.  I remember feeling like I always had a strong connection to weather, particularly those winds.  When we moved out to the farm, my understanding of weather changed dramatically.  Our house was on a hill at the top of our acreage, and we were exposed to a number of tempests, some of which were quite severe.  When we had snow, 4-foot drifts piled up off of our back porch, deep enough that when I jumped into them I was buried up to my chest.  And  I still remember waking up one morning and looking out the window only to see a tornado receding back into the clouds after having passed but a quarter-of-a-mile or so from the house and uprooting a number of trees.  Being a teenager, I had slept through it, of course.

What I learned on that farm was that weather was wild, and would always be wild.  It’s something we can react to, prepare for, run from, or attempt to block out, but we can never really control it the way we like to think we control so many other things—the cleanliness of our water or where our next meal comes from, for example.  Magic seems to have the advantage over empirical science here, as many magicians swear by inherited techniques that allow them to control or predict the weather to one degree or another.

Today I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at a few techniques, charms, and proverbs regarding the weather from various North American sources.

From Nova Scotia (in Folklore of Nova Scotia, by Mary L. Fraser):

“An Acadian boy would not dare to kill a toad or a spider, for his outdoor pleasure would then be spoiled by the downpour of rain that was sure to follow. A boy of Scotch or Irish descent would be deterred from doing so because it would bring him bad luck.

‘If you wish to live, not die,

Let the spider go alive.’”

I’ve heard this before as an admonition not to harm toads (and for some reason, I always assumed lizards) when out of doors, for fear of bringing on bad weather.  The spider is a new twist for me, but I generally try not to disturb any of the bite-ier creatures out in the wild world.

Mary Fraser also reports a weather-predicting system I’ve seen in a couple of places.  She mentions that the twelve nights between Christmas and Epiphany represent the coming twelve months of the year.  In other words, if you have cold, wet weather on the third day after Christmas, you can expect a rather clammy and dismal March.

From the Pennsylvania Dutch (in The Long-Lost Friend, by J. G. Hohman):

For protection of one’s home against storms, say “Beneath thy guardianship I am safe against all tempests and all enemies, J. J. J.”  (These three Js signify Jesus three times.)

Chris Bilardi, in his excellent book on PA-Dutch braucherei, The Red Church, suggests the following Psalms for weather-work:

  • Psalm 2 – For danger at sea (storms); also for headache
  • Psalm 21 – For dangerous storms at sea
  • Psalms 24 and 25 – For dangers of nature—especially the danger of floods
  • Psalm 76 – For averting danger from water

From the Appalachians (in the Foxfire series of books):

It will be a bad winter if –

  • Squirrels’ tails grow bushier
  • Crows gather together
  • The wooly worm has a heavy coat
  • Onions grow more layers
  • Blackberry blooms are especially heavy

It will rain –

  • Within three days if the horns of the moon point down
  • If  leaves show their backs
  • If cows are lying down in the pasture
  • If there is a ring around the moon (count the stars in the ring and it will rain within that many days)

The weather will be fair if –

  • You hear a screech owl
  • Smoke rises
  • Crickets holler (the temperature will rise)

Additionally, here are some bits of lore from the Appalachians:

  • If it’s cloudy and smoke rises, there’s a chance of snow
  • The number of days old the moon is at the first snow tells how many snows there will be that winter
  • For every frost or fog in August, there will be a snowy day in winter
  • A late frost means a bad winter
  • The darker green the grass is during the summer, the harder the winter
  • If it rains on Easter Sunday, it will rain every Sunday for seven weeks
  • If it rains on ‘Blasting Days’ (the three longest days of the year, there won’t be any ‘mast’ (acorns, chestnuts, etc.) for animals like hogs to feed on

From the Ozarks (in Ozark Superstitions and Ozark Magic and Folklore, by Vance Randolph):

Rain will come –

  • If the tall grass is bone dry in the morning, or if there is heavy dew
  • If rabbits play in a dusty road
  • If dogs start eating grass
  • If sheep turn their backs to the wind
  • If cats sneeze, wash behind their ears, or lick their fur against the grain

Signs of dry weather –

  • A red sunset promises at least twenty-four hours of dry weather
  • A rainbow in the evening means clear weather (but a rainbow at morning tells of a storm in the next twenty-four hours)
  • A ‘sundog,’ or a circle around the sun, indicates prolonged dry weather, or at least a radical change in weather soon
  • When the crescent moon travels ‘horns up,’ there will be no rain for some time

And finally, one of the most interesting weather-predictors around, also from the Ozarks:

“The blood of a murdered man—bloodstains on a floor or garments—will liquefy on even dry sunshiny days, as a sign that a big rain is coming”

This is only a small sampling of everything out there.  I’ve used many of these predictors (leaves turning their backs or cattle lying in a pasture) to prepare for bad weather, and there are many I’ve never even thought to pay mind to (rabbits in a dusty road, for example).  So what about you, dear readers?  Do you have any family or local lore regarding the weather you’d like to share?  If so, please post a comment or send us an email, and indicate roughly what part of the world you’re in and what your weather charm or proverb is.  We may do a show on these if we get enough interest!

I’d also like to issue a friendly challenge to you:  make mental note of a few of these and start paying attention to them.  See if they actually do predict or cause weather patterns for you in your area.  Report your findings back here and share your observations with the rest of us.  Who knows, we may read your results on the podcast, or something better (he said slyly).

I hope wherever you are, the weather’s treating you fair.  If it’s not, you can always contact your neighborhood witch.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

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Blog Post 8 – Seaside Sorcery

January 28, 2010

De Windstoot, by Willem van de Velde II (from Wikimedia Commons)

Hello!  Today I’m going to take a look at some of the coastal magic found in Northeastern America and Canada (Southern coastal magic will be in a later post, I hope).  In the early days, American colonies and states depended greatly on foreign trade for supplies.  The wealth of natural resources here were valuable to people across the sea as well, and so much of the commercial backbone of North America during those years depended on seaports and sailing vessels and all those men and women who operated them.

I’ve always found that folks involved in seafaring business are a superstitious lot (and I mean that as a compliment, as I find superstition fascinating and useful in many cases).  At the very least, the vast ocean inspires people to consider their own smallness and to take precautions against their mortal end at the sea’s merciless whim.  With that said, let’s look at some stories, anecdotes, and practices from the Northeastern coasts of North America.

Some stories from Maine:

“The Cursing of Colonel Buck”, as retold by S. E. Schlosser.  In this story, an unscrupulous colonel takes advantage of one of his maids, then turns her out when she bears his sadly misshapen child.  In order to prevent any claims on his name, he accuses her of witchcraft and has her burned at the stake.  She curses him (perhaps his claims of witchcraft were not so unfounded) as she dies, and her leg falls from the pyre, where her son gathers the leg and runs away.  After the colonel dies, his tombstone develops a funny leg-shaped mark on it, which embarrasses the townsfolk.  They toss it in the ocean, but it comes back ashore.  Then they smash it and put up a new stone, but the leg-mark comes back.

So where’s the New World Witchery in this story?  Well, this tale is probably extremely exaggerated.  The main clue is that the witch is burned at the stake, a holdover from European witch-lore, but not a punishment found in the New World.  However, there’s one small fragment of worthwhile witchery in this tale:  the first reaction of the townspeople is to throw the stone into the sea.  The idea that natural water sources, especially moving ones like oceans and rivers, can cleanse cursed objects is solidly founded in other magical lore (see Albertus Magnus or hoodoo trick deployment practices).

Buying the Wind, by Richard M. Dorson, contains several excellent bits of Maine magical lore.  For example, in the title passage, the practice of “buying wind” is discussed.  Captains and crewmembers on becalmed ships would often be tempted to throw money overboard in order to purchase a quantity of wind from God/nature/the sea/etc.  The problem arises in that the quantity purchased is always vastly more than one expected to buy.  As one of Dorson’s informants puts it:

“Never buy wind when you’re on a boat.  You’re daring God Almighty, and he won’t stand for that.  You’ll get all the wind you want.”

In one tale, a captain tosses a quarter overboard, and immediately such a gale rises that it tears off the sails and mast from the ship and pushes it into shore, where it barely holds together as the crew disembarks.  The captain remarks that if he’d known God sold wind so cheaply he’d only have got a nickel’s worth.

Is this witchcraft?  Well, no, not exactly.  But the practice of buying something to control the weather is fairly common witch-lore.  Many tales exist of sailors buying cauls (the membrane which sometimes covers a newborn’s head after emerging from the womb) from dockside witches to prevent drowning at sea.  And those same dockside sorceresses sometimes sold knotted cords to help sailors call up wind as needed—each knot, when undone, would release an increasing amount of wind.  So buying the wind is certainly a magical maritime practice, if not outright witchery.

Magic and Witchcraft in Nova Scotia:

An interesting tale regarding a hidden treasure is recorded in Folklore of Nova Scotia, by Mary L. Fraser.  She writes:

“An old sailor who spent his life as a deep-sea fisherman around the coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland told of a great iron chest that was buried just beneath the water, so that its outline could be seen very distinctly. Every time the crew tried to work around it and, raise it up, thousands of crows, one of which was headless, would swarm around them, so that it was impossible for them to get at it. These crows they believed to be helpers of the decapitated guarding spirit.”

This tale is interesting, to me, because of the clear association of spirit allies with a sacred duty (such as guarding a treasure).   I can’t think of many witchier images than a murder of crows—including a headless one—swarming all over treasure-grabbers.

The same volume has several good bits of weather-lore, too:

  1. “If Candlemas day be fine and fair, The half of the winter’s to come an’ mair.”
  2. “Mackerel skies and mare’s tails, Make lofty ships carry low sails.”
  3. “A rainbow in the morning the sailor’s warning, A rainbow at night is the sailor’s delight.”
  4. “Heavy winds kick up a rain.”

The first of these is an old tradition which most people now know as a component of Groundhog Day.  I plan to do a post specifically on some of the traditions associated with early February sometime soon, so I’ll save further exposition on it here.  The second proverb refers to cloud patterns in the skies.  If high wispy clouds (“mare’s tails”) were seen along with clumpy scale-like cloud patterns (“mackerel skies”), then it was a good indication a storm would be coming soon and the sails should be lowered.  The third bit of wisdom is fairly common, though sometimes in different iterations (I know it as “red skies at morning, sailor take warning; red skies at night, sailor’s delight”).   Basically it just means that the weather conditions at dawn or dusk foretell the weather to come.  And the fourth quote is a logical enough assertion that where high winds blow at sea, rain is sure to follow.

Again, are these witchy?  Only insofar as the astute witch would know such proverbs and make use of them in his or her daily practice.  Reading the signs Nature provides has a lot to do with the mentality of witchcraft, which is constantly looking to the natural-and-other-worlds for guidance, instruction, and wisdom.

A Sailor’s Treasury, by Frank Shay, also supposedly provides a good many of early American sailors’ tales and charms (I cannot give a full recommendation as I have only been able to view snippets online, and no nearby library seems to have a copy of this out-of-print text).

Whew!  I’ve only presented a fragment of the nautical witchcraft out there, and already it’s a lot.  So I’ll save more seaside witchery for another day.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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