Posted tagged ‘songs’

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 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 46 – Magic and Mother Goose

April 15, 2010

I received a comment from reader Chet the other day which inspired this particular blog post.  So, many thanks, Chet!  He mentioned that he’s been listening to his daughter’s music, which includes many nursery rhymes, and hearing not-so-subtle references to fairly adult topics (such as the sexual undercurrents in a song like “There’s a Hole in My Bucket”).  This idea may be old hat to some, but I thought it might be worth taking a few nursery rhymes and dropping them into the cauldron to see what bubbled up.  Please note that my witchy exegesis here may be entirely wrong, but it may also provide some new perspectives on old songs and rhymes.  I welcome all comments on these interpretations (well, all civil comments, that is).

You can find a great list of Mother Goose rhymes here, along with some brief explanations of each one.

Now, onto the rhymes!

Jack-be-Nimble
Jack be nimble
Jack be quick
Jack jump over
The candlestick.

This little rhyme was first published in the 18th century, according to one source.  It may have referred to a clever and quick pirate called “Black Jack,” but  it also likely has something to do with the practice of jumping over fires, as is sometimes done at May Day (or Beltane) celebrations.  In these instances, the leaper jumps over a bonfire in order to gain blessings—like fertility and an easy birth for women—or protection, or to purify one ritually.  Afterwards, the ashes would be scattered over the fields to ensure a fertile crop.  In its diminished form with a candle-stick, a person could leap the candle forwards and backwards three times (or nine times in some cases) while asking for such blessings, and if the candle remained lit, the wish would be granted.  This might make for an interesting spell, though I cannot recommend it for safety reasons—if you choose to do it, you do so at your own risk and would be well advised not to wear loose-fitting or flowing clothes.

Peter Pumpkin Eater
Peter Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife and couldn’t keep her!
He put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her very well!

This rhyme fits in very well at New World Witchery, because it originates in North America.  While many nursery rhymes came from the UK, the mention of the pumpkin in this one tells of its roots (pumpkins are a New World fruit unknown in Europe prior to the colonial era).  But what is it all about?  Well, if a man has a wife he can’t “keep,” it means that she is being generally unfaithful to him, and turning him into a cuckold.  My take on this particular rhyme is that our good fellow Peter knows of his wife’s infidelity and decides to put a stop to it.  He does this by putting something of hers—likely something very intimate like used underclothes—into a pumpkin shell, which as it rots, prevents her from being able to dally with other men.  This sort of spell is common enough in hoodoo, and is generally referred to as binding someone’s “nature” so they cannot sexually perform with another partner.   This is my take only, of course, and your mileage may vary.

For Want of a Nail
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

This rhyme is used, according to some, as a way of chastising children who do not see the consequences of their actions.  I certainly agree that in that light, this rhyme is a wonderful didactic tool.  However, I also like to think there’s something a little more magical that can be gleaned from this little bit of lore.  For example, there is a great deal of sympathetic magic which focuses on using something small, like a poppet, to affect something bigger, like a person.  Examined thusly, this chant might be a great way to amplify magical activity.  For example, if you were trying to banish something—like a disease—you could take something from the ill party (hair, fingernails, or clothing worn while sick) and bind it into a charm which might be buried, burned, or otherwise permanently disposed of while chanting this rhyme.  In this way, you’d be telling the disease that it no longer has the power to ravage the entire body, because you’ve taken away a part of the “body” from it.  The disease would then give up, having lost its “kingdom.”  The healing example may be a bit of a stretch, though, as the primary way I can see this little spell being used is to banish unwanted persons from your life.

Pat-a-Cake
Pat a cake, Pat a cake, baker’s man
Bake me a cake as fast as you can;
Pat it and prick it and mark it with a ‘B’,
And put it in the oven for Baby and me.

I see two ways that this lovely little rhyme might be given a magical connotation:  1) By baking food and marking it with someone’s initial, you’re essentially creating a poppet of that person, which can be used in many kinds of spells, or 2) This could be a lovely way to help someone with fertility or family blessings, as having a “bun in the oven” is a common euphemism for pregnancy.  In this latter case, when the mother-to-be devours the cake marked with an initial (perhaps the future baby’s, or her own if she hasn’t picked a name yet), she would be putting the “baby” in her belly.  A newly pregnant mother might also do a spell based on this to ensure a healthy baby, and a new mother might then play this game with her child as a way of continuing the blessing for her child (as well as endlessly amusing the little one, which is really what I think this rhyme is all about in the end).

Crooked Man
There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse.
And they all lived together in a little crooked house

Finally, we come to one of my personal favorites.  I know that some interpretations put a meaning on this rhyme referring to the unification of Scotland and English under a single ruler, but I tend to think of the rhyme in more esoteric terms.  The repetition of the word “crooked” seems to be almost a mantra, or a chant for moving into another state of mind.  And I think that the “crooked mile” could well be the “crooked path” of witchcraft.  The “crooked stile” is likely the gateway between worlds, too.  So my best use of this charm is to act as a “road opener” between the mundane world and the world of spirits.  There are also plenty of stories about paying a “tithe to hell” before crossing over (see Tam Lin or Thomas the Rhymer), and it’s usually something nominal (or at least, something that seems nominal at the time), so a sixpence would fit the bill. I also wonder if the crooked house is the proverbial witch’s cottage, or something a little more significant. Perhaps the “house” is the line down which a tradition is passed? And because that line sometimes veers out of strict blood ties and into adoptive relationships, it could be seen as a “crooked house.”  Of course, these are all just my speculations, but I like them.

I could go on and on with these rhymes, looking at them through the lens of witchcraft, and probably find something of value in most any nursery rhyme I read.  However, it’s probably best to say here that just because I interpret something with a witchy twist doesn’t mean that historically it has any such meaning.  In many cases, these rhymes are just entertainments for the very young, and a bit of whimsy for the slightly less young.  I like to think that magic and childhood go together, though, so I will happily continue scouring these rhymes for a bit of hidden wonder.  If you do the same, I’d love to hear what you come up with!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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