Posted tagged ‘riddles’

Podcast 40 – Rhymes, Games, and Riddles

February 7, 2012

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 40

Summary
Today we look at a toychest full of children’s nursery rhymes, playground games, and riddles. We talk about how these sing-song verses can sometimes hide bits and pieces of valuable witch lore, as well as how they can be incorporated into one’s practice.

Play:

Download: New World Witchery – Episode 40

-Sources-

  • The book I used for many of the rhymes herein contained is my son’s copy of Mother Goose by Tomie dePaola (the illustrations are excellent and very folk-arty). Some of the rhymes you hear are “The Crooked Sixpence,” “Old Mother Goose,” “Rabbit and Crow,” “Jack and Jill,” and “Two Blackbirds”
  • I mention The White Goddess by Robert Graves as a source of witchy riddle lore.
  • I also pull several riddles from Buying the Wind by Richard Dorson.
  • We have several posts on our blog focused on these topics. Check out “Blog Post 53 – Riddle Me This,” “Blog Post 54 – The Devil’s Nine Questions,” and “Blog Post 55 – Games” for more info.
  • I also highly recommend checking out Peter Paddon’s Crooked Path site, as he frequently discusses riddles and rhymes as a part of witchcraft practice.
  • The excellent article that kicked off this whole topic was “Rhyming Witchcraft,” by Elizabeth Yetter, submitted by listener Anastasia. Thanks!

We’ve got a Spring Lore Contest going on until March 21, 2012! We’re looking for Springtime Lore this time around: seed planting rituals & customs, fertility charms, spring cleaning spells, etc. Anything and everything related to Easter eggs, baby animals, April showers, and (shudder) bunnies. Send your entries to compassandkey@gmail.com to enter, and be sure to put “Spring Lore” in your subject line.  Three participants will win one of three prizes: a copy of Etched Offerings: Voices from the Cauldron of Story from Misanthrope press (an anthology of pagan fiction featuring stories from several podcasters like Oraia Helene, Saturn Darkhope, & me!), an email card reading from Cory, and a goody box from Compass & Key Apothecary featuring several of our oils, curios, and mojo bags. More details coming soon!

You can now request Card Readings from Cory via email, if you are so inclined.

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter!

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.

Incidental songs and rhymes are from the Alan Lomax folk recording collection at the Library of Congress.

Promo 1 – Forest Grove Botanica
Promo 2 – The iPod Witch
Promo 3 – Druidcast

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Blog Post 144 – Walnuts

November 22, 2011

“As soft as silk,
As white as milk,
As bitter as gall,
A strong wall,
And a green coat covers me all”
Walnut riddle from H.M. Hyatt, Adams Co., Entry No. 14379

Continuing with the Thanksgiving ingredient theme (i.e. Apples), I thought today it would be good to look at a fairly common tree and nut that has been woven into magic for hundreds of years. I’m speaking of course of the unassuming but delicious walnut which tops brownies, finds its way into salads, and makes a delicious candied treat. Don’t worry, though, my next topic will not be mayonnaise and I am not subtly leading up to any kind of enchanted Waldorf salad.

I’d like to briefly start in the Old World and mention a legend which had some influence on 19th-century occult folklorist Charles Leland. In “Neopolitan Witchcraft” by J.B. Andrews and James Frazer, a rhyme appears which translates roughly:

Beneath the water and beneath the wind,
Beneath the walnut trees of Benevento,
Lucibello bring me where I need to go.

This charm would help a witch magically fly to her Sabbat, supposedly. The idea of witches gathering beneath a walnut tree in Benevento, Italy clearly impacted Leland, who includes a tale in his “witch gospel” Aradia called “The House of the Wind” (which is what Benevento means in English). [EDIT: See comments below for a correction on this translation] Myth Woodling, who runs a marvelous set of pages on Italian folk magic and witchcraft, has this to say about the walnut:

Walnut shells, in Italian fairy tales, were often used to contain something precious or magical. A walnut branch was said to protect one from lightening. There were stories of witches and spirits gathering under walnut trees”

In the New World, walnuts gained a number of powers and attributes, while the lore about walnuts and lightning becomes reversed, as found in Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore, where he tells how black walnuts are now thought to draw lightning and hillfolk refuse to plant these trees near their homes for that reason (72). Some of Randolph’s other interesting tidbits about walnuts are here:

  • “A big crop of walnuts indicates cold weather to come” (26)
  • A good season for tomatoes is a bad season for walnuts (39)
  • Fresh walnut leaves scattered about the house can deter insects (68)
  • Walnut shells must not be burned, or bad luck will come (71)
  • The juice of a green walnut can help cure ringworm (110)
  • “The shell of a black walnut is supposed to represent the human skull, and the meat is said to resemble  the brain, therefore people who show signs of mental aberration are encouraged to eat walnuts. I know of one case in which an entire family devoted most of the winter to cracking walnuts for a feebleminded boy. They kept it up for years, and I believe the poor fellow ate literally bushels of walnut goodies” (114)
  • “A mountain girl of my acquaintance placed a lock of her hair under a stone in a running stream,  believing that the water would make her hair glossy and attractive. Another way to promote the growth of hair is to bury a “twist” of it under the roots of a white walnut tree, in the light of the moon” (165)

Similar lore exists in the Bluegrass State of Kentucky, with the addition of magical wart charming ascribed to the humble walnut. Daniel & Lucy Thomas, in their Kentucky Superstitions, say that green walnuts can be rubbed on warts, then buried to charm the wart away. This makes for an interesting variant on the standard wart-charming method of cutting a fruit or vegetable in half before using it to cure the wart (but I’ll address those ideas in a different post entirely). Heading into Illinois, Henry Hyatt reports a mix of magical and medical uses for walnuts:

  • Thin walnut shells mean a light winter, while thick shells mean a heavy one
  • A black walnut carried at all times prevents headaches
  • A mixture of boiled walnut leaves, water, and sulphur makes a powerful anti-itch wash
  • Dreaming of opening or eating walnuts means money is coming soon

In this latter example, we can see the walnut being used as a divinatory aid, which makes sense when we think of the strong ‘brain’ association with the little wrinkled nut (since it has a brain, it must know something, so why not the future, right?). Hyatt also shares a lovely little love divination with walnuts:

9033. Her future husband’s occupation can be learned by a girl who grates three nuts — a hazelnut, nutmeg and walnut — mixes these grated nuts with butter and sugar, makes pills of this paste, and swallows nine of them on going to bed: if she dreams of wealth, she will marry a gentleman; of white linen, a clergyman; of darkness, a lawyer; of noises, a tradesman or laborer; of thunder and lightning, a soldier or sailor; and of rain, a servant

This sense of a walnut as a ‘knowing’ curio seems to be tied again to its brain-like appearance, but also with the idea of the little nut containing some special knowledge the way it contained magical charms in an Old World context. The tree even seems to know what is growing around it in some cases. Patrick Gainer says that the presence of a white walnut tree indicates ginseng growing underneath it (120).

Another key use of the walnut in magic has to do—or at least I think it does—with its bitterness and perhaps the deep blackness of the flesh surrounding the nut. Walnuts can strip away negativity nearly as well as eggs, lemons, salt, or any of the other major magical cleansing agents. Draja Mickaharic includes a cleansing bath which uses walnuts in order to sever ties with an unwanted person or influence. He warns that it can only be used once, and that going back to the person after ties are severed will have dire results. The basic formula involves boiling six unshelled walnuts in a pot for three hours, adding water if needed. After that time, there will be a black broth that should be added to a bathtub, and the person using the bath should immerse themselves seven times in it, saying prayers as appropriate (Spiritual Cleansing 58).The dark color absorbs all negativity, and the galling nature of the fruit works the way a lemon does to sever evil from one’s person. Cat Yronwode suggests a similar bath to Mickaharic, adding the important step of disposing of the used bathwater at a crossroads. She also indicates that walnut leaves can be used in a spell to hurt an enemy’s luck (Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic 205).

One use for a walnut I’ve never seen but which I really think would be interesting to try would be as a head for a doll baby working. Considering the brain associations and the fleshiness of the fruit, I’m not sure why this is not a common-place use of the walnut, but c’est la vie. If you happen to know why they’re not used in doll magic, I’d love to hear it! Or if you have any other uses of walnuts in New World folk magic, please feel free to share!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast Special – The Devil’s Marriage

October 15, 2010

-SHOWNOTES FOR PODCAST SPECIAL-


Summary
The story of a brother, a sister, the devil, and a helpful witch.  From the folklore of North Carolina.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery Special – The Devils Marriage

-Sources-
Tales from Guilford County, North Carolina,” by Elsie Clews Parsons.  In The Journal of American Folklore, v. 30, no. 116, 1917.
“The Devil’s Marriage,” retold by S.E. Schlosser, in her collection Spooky South.


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

Blog Post 54 – The Devil’s Nine Questions

April 28, 2010

Today’s post is going to focus on one very specific set of riddles:  The Devil’s Nine Questions.  This is a series of riddles which has been set down in the form of a folk song, and which has come over from English traditional music by way of the Appalachians and mid-Atlantic colonies.  The theme of the piece involves the Devil asking a series of nine riddles, which the song’s protagonist (“the weaver’s bonny”) must solve or be taken off to Hell.  There are numerous variants on this motif, and on this specific song.  It is recorded as one of the famous Child Ballads (#1), and you can hear a version of it here.

The version I’m posting here is not necessarily the most “authentic” or “original” version (as this song may have grown out of Elizabethan folk music and is rather hard to pin down as far as origins go).  But it is a version that I think bears examination by the inquisitive witch.

THE DEVIL’S NINE QUESTIONS

If you don’t answer my questions nine
Sing ninety-nine and ninety,
I’ll take you off to hell alive,
And you are the weaver’s bonny.

What is whiter than milk?
Sing ninety-nine and ninety;
What is softer than silk?
Say you’re the weaver’s bonny.”

Snow is whiter than milk,
Sing ninety-nine and ninety;
Down is softer than silk,
And I’m the weaver’s bonny.”

What is louder than a horn?
Sing ninety-nine and ninety;
What is sharper than a thorn?
Sing I am the weaver’s bonny.

Thunder’s louder than a horn,
Sing ninety-nine and ninety ;
Death is sharper than a thorn,
Sing I’m the weaver’s bonny.

What is higher than a tree?
Sing ninety-nine and ninety;
What is deeper than the sea?
Sing I’m the weaver’s bonny.

Heaven’s higher than a tree,
Sing ninety-nine and ninety;
And hell is deeper than the sea,
Sing I’m the weaver’s bonny.

What is innocenter than a lamb?
Sing ninety-nine and ninety;
What is worse than womankind?
Say I’m the weaver’s bonny.

A babe is innocenter than a lamb,
Sing ninety-nine and ninety ;
The devil’s worse than womankind,
Sing I’m the weaver’s bonny.”

You have answered me questions nine,
Sing ninety-nine and ninety;
You are God’s, you’re not my own,
And you’re the weaver’s bonny.”

From Bronson, Singing Traditions of Child’s Popular Ballads
Collected Mrs. Rill Martin, Virginia, 1922

Looking at this from an occult perspective, I see several things which stand out.  For instance:

  • The repetition about being “the weaver’s bonny,” which in my opinion may relate to being one of those who can change (or at least manipulate) Fate, the great weaver.
  • The efforts of the Devil to claim the “bonny” for his own reminds me a bit of the practice of initiation, which I covered recently (though in this case the person responding remains unmoved by the Devil’s efforts)
  • There’s an interesting bit of business in the part about trees, seas, Heaven, and Hell.  It’s almost a “Land, Sea, and Sky” image, but it also seems to be referencing the celestial, earthly, and underworldly realms.  Those are the realms a witch must go between, so I like to think there’s something to that part.

Of course, there are lots of other images in here which come out of Christian folklore, such as innocent lambs, the wickedness of womankind, etc.  In some of the variants, these change a bit (though usually the reference to Eve’s “original sin” remains in some form).  Some of the other variations include naming Love as softer than silk, rather than Down, and making Death “colder than the clay” instead of “sharper than the thorn.”   What I love about all of this imagery is that it relates one thing to another, connecting the senses to specific images in a very evocative way.  Associating Death with Thorns makes me think of going into the Underworld via the Hedge; Milk and Snow make me think of Mother images, like Mother Holle, who shook her downy blankets to stir up snow on earth; and thinking of Thunder as a Horn, summoning me out into a wild storm…well, let’s just say it makes my pointy hat dance on my head.

With songs like this, it’s often hard to know just what changed and when, and what the original meaning of certain parts are.  What I like about it, though, is the folkloric elements of being able to outwit the Devil and get one’s way, bending Fate to one’s will.  I would think this kind of a tune might be an excellent song for singing when gathering together with other witches, as a sort of  call-and-response as each witch is welcomed among the company (solving a riddle could serve as a “password” in effect).  Or, it could just be a good fun song to sing one night while passing a bottle around and telling jokes, stories, and riddles.  But what do you think?  Do you see anything witchy I missed?  Or do you think that dwelling on a song like this is wasting valuable time that could be devoted to a new root work herb of the week?  Is it all just a big stretch for something purely designed for entertainment?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 53 – Riddle Me This

April 27, 2010

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,

-Cory


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