Posted tagged ‘weather lore’

Blog Post 171 – Magical Cakes

February 12, 2013

King Cake Bagel, via Wikimedia Commons

Laissez les bon temps rouler, y’all! It’s Mardi Gras, which means a last-minute pre-Lenten extravaganza of flesh, fun, and other words starting with the sixth letter of the alphabet. In honor of the Carnival spirit of feasting (another “f” word!), I thought I’d take  a brief look at one of the things I most associate with this holiday: cake.

Cake may not have the aesthetic magical impact of a cauldron bubbling over a fire or a bag full of bones scattered in the dirt, but this bakery standby (and some of its culinary cousins) manages to surface in a number of magical practices. Since this is Mardi Gras, let’s start with one of the most obvious, the King Cake. The King Cake originates in Epiphany and Old Christmas celebrations from Catholic countries, but has also become incredibly prominent in Carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations. The one you’re most likely to find in a local bakery (I have found Hispanic bakeries frequently are my best source) will be big, doughy cakes covered in icing and lots of colored sugar—usually gold, green, and purple. Somewhere inside, a small plastic or metal baby lurks, waiting to grant luck on the one fortunate enough to get a slice with the little token in it (or unfortunate enough, if you happen to bite into the baby and chip a tooth before you know what you’re doing). The lucky association of the baby in the King Cake resembles other traditions in which a bean is baked into a cake and the recipient receives blessings, money, or good luck upon finding it. Sometimes the “King” or “Queen” of the feast would be chosen by the finding of a bean or a pea:

Samuel Pepys (whose wife was French) recorded a party in London on Epiphany night, 6 January 1659/1660: “…to my cousin Stradwick, where, after a good supper, there being there my father, mothers, brothers, and sister, my cousin Scott and his wife, Mr. Drawwater and his wife, and her brother, Mr. Stradwick, we had a brave cake brought us, and in the choosing, Pall was Queen and Mr. Stradwick was King. After that my wife and I bid adieu and came home, it being still a great frost.”[1] The choosing of King and Queen from the pie, usually by the inclusion of a bean and a pea, was a traditional English Twelfth Night festivity. (via Wikipedia’s article on “King Cake”)

Most Westerners know about the significance of candles on birthday cakes, as well as the wishing tradition that comes with blowing them all out at once. Some of the other quirky and semi-magical rituals we perform in conjunction with cake:

  • “Portions of the wedding cake are often saved to eat at anniversary parties (and at christenings) to symbolize that the marriage has lasted and matured” (Brunvand 63).
  • Brides are not supposed to bake their own wedding cakes, for fear of bad luck.
  • A newly married couple frequently joins hands to cut the wedding cake and serve the first slice, which can symbolize their union and service to one another, their joint role in serving the community and their families (in some cases members of the family are served first by the bride and groom),  or their shared prosperity and a wish that they should never know hunger together.
  • “The wedding reception provides more folklore, mostly concerning the wedding cake. One popular belief says that if the bride cuts the cake first, with the groom placing his hand over hers, their marriage will be cooperative. This ritual also ensures fertility. Some traditions urge the couple to fast, while others insist that they eat their entire meal for good luck. Trinkets in the shape of rings, horseshoes, and cupids are often baked inside the cake” (Brunvand 1548).
  • “Let a bride on her wedding-night throw a piece of wedding-cake outdoors and next morning watch how many birds eat the cake; the number of birds will be the number of her children” (Hyatt 54).
  • “If a slice of the birthday cake tips over on the plate, that person will never marry” (Brunvand 170)
  • Over-the-Hill celebrations frequently involve black or coffin-shaped cakes to symbolize (humorously, we hope) the ever approaching death of the recipient.
  • Several cultures celebrate the Passover-and-Easter holidays with special cakes, including the Jewish use of unleavened cakes in Pesach meals, the Dutch use of Paas cakes in the Easter feast, fastnaacht cakes of the Pennsylvania Dutch, and other similar baked treats.
  • Also from the Germanic tradition: “Years ago it was almost a general custom among Germans in Quincy to bake a coffee-cake and eat it with the family who had a new baby so that the child would become wealthy” (Hyatt 73).
  • From the files of American History: “Although Election Day is not a legal holiday, the event  nonetheless is associated with folk customs. For example, in New England, there is a tradition of preparing Election Day cake. This yeast-raised cake, prepared with spices, raisins, and nuts, dates back to the 1700s in Connecticut. It is tied to an era in which the trip to cast one’s vote was a journey punctuated with visits to friends and family. By the 19th century, polling places were more accessible, and the customs of Election Day cake and callers waned” (Watts 125).

Of course, Western culture hardly has a monopoly on cake-based traditions. Since we’re also entering the Chinese New Year, I can’t help but mention the delicious little mooncakes you can find in a number of Chinese bakeries at this time of year. In some cases, these sorts of little glutinous cakes might be offered to ancestors or deities (as with the tt’ok of Korean origin) or simply consumed as a symbol of prosperity and blessing during the celebrations.

According to American Folklore: An Encyclopedia, “Some American children enjoy baking a ‘thundercake’ when they first hear thunder and starting to eat it when the storm breaks (if the storm allows enough time for baking)” (Brunvand 1553). I’m not entirely sure what the significance of this weather-ritual might be, although I would speculate it brings some kind of protection or prosperity. Harry Hyatt recorded an interesting pregnancy divination based on a baking cake: “’ When I was young, whenever my bread or cake cracked open in the middle, I always was in a family way. It never failed.’ Some say the cracking open is not necessary; a raising-up more than usual in the center is sufficient”  (Hyatt 54). A variation on this technique says if the cake breaks open during baking, a baby girl is not far behind.

Cakes also can have a darker (“devil’s food?”) side. Some cakes can be used to cause harm or to undo hurtful magic by sending it back to its origins. The famous “witchcake” made from urine and grains which Tituba allegedly showed the Parris girls how to make in Salem, MA, was supposed to have caused tremendous suffering to whomever was attempting to curse the young ladies. Another rather evil-sounding cake was allegedly used to poison a child: “One instance is given [in an account from 1895] of ‘toad heads, scorpion heads, hair, nine pins and needles baked in a cake and given to a child who became deathly sick’” (“Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors in the Southern United States,” Journal of American Folklore, p. 143). Gruesome.

Still, all in all, cakes tend more towards the “angel food” side of things, and bring luck, prosperity, and joy along with other blessings. After all, it is cake, right?

So enjoy your Mardi Gras celebrations with whatever baked sweetmeat you find most appealing. I will be having pancakes with FROG jam (Fig-Raspberry-Orange-Ginger, made by our local Amish country market and SO delicious!) and hopefully laissez-ing the bon temps rouler all day long! Here’s wishing you a wonderful day!

Thanks for reading,

-Cory

Sources

  1. Brunvand, Jan. American Folklore: An Encyclopedia (1998).
  2. “Conjuring and Conjure-Doctors in the Southern United States,” Journal of American Folklore (1896).
  3. Hyatt, Harry M. Folklore of Adams Co., Illinois (1935, 1965).
  4. King Cake.” Wikipedia (2013).
  5. Milne, Gerald C. Signs, Cures, & Witchery (2007).
  6. “Tituba.” Famous American Trials: Salem Witchcraft Trials 1692. Univ. of Missouri (Kansas City, 2012).
  7. Watts, Linda S.The Encyclopedia of American Folklore (2006).
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Blog Post 164 – Superstitions and Omens, Redux

October 9, 2012

Hi everyone!

At the recent Pagan Podkin Super Moot, I had the privilege of teaching a class which I called “The Clear Moon Brings Rain,” focusing on living an “omen-ic” life. There’s a possibility that a recording of that class may surface at some point, and I really enjoyed getting to be a part of that experience, as it was mostly a directed conversation rather than a lecture-type of class, but I thought some of the notes and information I shared might be of interest to my readers.

I began with a question about the movie Practical Magic, which I love. I used the line “Broom fell; company’s coming,” to start talking about the way we learn and adopt signs and omens into our lives. Some people had not heard that particular sign prior to the movie, and some grew up with it. On some level, it seems that many people—especially those involved in a magical lifestyle of some kind—recognize that the world is essentially ‘speaking’ to them, if they are willing to listen. A prime example of living by signs transcends the purely magical and veers into the realm of science, specifically meteorology. People frequently use idiomatic expressions or folk methodologies to detect patterns in the weather around them and predict potential changes that will personally impact them. In some cases, these changes are immediate: a greenish sky and hail preceding a tornado in some parts of the country; animals freaking out prior to an earthquake in another place (like San Francisco, where PPSM3 took place). There is a wonderful infographic which displays a lot of weather lore quite succinctly, and touches on some of the scientific reasons behind each phenomenon:

Source: http://dailyinfographic.com/how-to-forecast-weather-without-gadgets-infographic

From there, we looked at why we are able—as a whole—to accept signs related to imminent weather disasters, but we resist signs with more tenuous connections, like when wasps build their nests up high prior to a long, hard winter. Several people made excellent points about detachment from our surroundings, particularly nature, and I was very pleased to hear people making the point that when we don’t directly rely upon natural phenomena to feed us or make us comfortable (due to living someplace with regular access to food, climate control, and entertainment), we ‘unlearn’ the connective language of omens in the process. However, I then posited that we should develop a new set of omens in place of the old ones: predicting traffic based on certain sounds or sights, for example. Several folks attending said that they already did exactly that, which seems to me a prime example of being ‘tapped in’ to the world around you, no matter what environment you live in.

I asked if the signs and omens, then, were universal or personal, or some combination of the two. A marvelous array of answers suggested that for most folks, reading the world around you requires familiarity with it, with at least some aspect of personal interpretation involved. Likewise, it was pointed out that symbols register differently: an owl swooping across the road in front of your car may just be a raptor on the hunt. But a second owl doing the same thing may be a tap on the shoulder from the universe. We also brought up the point that ignoring a good omen frequently lands one in hot water in mythological circumstances, so paying attention can be more valuable than blissful ignorance.

Knowing how to discern signs is also important.  A song stuck in your head may just be an infectious earworm surfacing for no reason, but if you live an “omen-ic” life, then frequently those sorts of little details can alter your perception enough to add enchantment and significance to everything. Taken to an extreme, however, omens can become superstition. While I tend to embrace the latter term, I also recognize that for most people, superstition denotes custom or tradition without substance, or a fear-motivated lifestyle, and I would absolutely agree that spending seven years in fear after breaking a mirror is not a life really lived anymore.

Near the end, we played some games involving reading omens from other people’s experiences, and I shared this passage from Toni Morrison’s Sula:

“[E]vil must be avoided, they felt, and precautions must naturally be taken to protect themselves from it. But they let it run its course, fulfill itself, and never invented ways to either alter it, to annihilate it or to prevent its happening again. So also were they with people.

What was taken by outsiders to be a slackness, slovenliness or even generosity was in fact a full recognition of the legitimacy of forces other than good ones. They did not believe doctors could heal—for them, none ever had done so. They did not believe death was accidental—life might be, but death was deliberate. They did not believe Nature was ever askew—only inconvenient. Plague and drought were as “natural” as springtime. If milk could curdle, God knonws that robins could fall” (89-90).

This comes after the return of the titular character in the novel to her hometown, where she is regarded as something of a wonder, something of a witch, and definitely not a welcome presence. So unwelcome is she, that the town endures a “plague of robins,” with hundreds of the birds roosting and dying all around the townsfolk after Sula arrives. My point in bringing up this passage was to focus on the cosmology implicit in it: Nature never askew, only problematic, and always offering hints as to what comes next; deciding when it is better to fight against Fate, and when stepping out of her way as she passes is best; and seeing great moments as personally symbolic in life. I think that Morrison’s words capture a bit of the sense of what I mean when I speak of the “omen-ic” life. It is a life lived fatefully, purposefully, and with a tremendous awareness of the vast interconnection of all the moving parts of existence. It is also a life in which fear becomes secondary to strength and wisdom—fear may be present, but it does not dominate.

All of this hardly captures the gorgeous conversation that those attending the class provided. They were deeply engaged and we had some incredibly sharp minds present. What I present here reflects more of my opinion than it does the dynamics of the group, but I hope that perhaps the conversation can continue. What are your thoughts on omens, signs, and fate? I’ve asked about such things before, of course, but it’s been a while, and perhaps you differently about them now, or perhaps not. Either way, feel free to leave comments below, or to email me and tell me about your interpretations of an “omen-ic” life.

Finally, I can’t resist the opportunity to share some more signs and omens from other sources. Here are some of the more common, and some of the most unusual, examples I’ve found (these were included in the class handout):

A Short List of Typical Signs & Omens of the Americas

1.  If you cut your nails on a Saturday, you’ll see your sweetheart on Sunday.

2. The accidental crossing as four people shake hands together means that one of them will soon marry.

3. A baby smiling in its sleep has an angel speaking to it.

4. When passing a wagon-load of hay, you should grab a handful—it will bring good luck if you do, and bad luck if you don’t.

5. If the stars are thick, it is a sign of rain.

6. Lightning in the south means dry weather.

7. If you find an inch-worm on your clothes, you will soon have new garments.

8. You should never watch a friend walk out of sight, or you will never see him/her again.

9. If two persons say the same thing at the same time, they must lock their little fingers without saying a word and make a wish.

10. Dream of a funeral and attend a wedding.

11. It is bad luck to tell a dream before breakfast.

12. Cutting a baby’s hair before it is a year old will give it bad luck (also said of letting a baby look in a mirror).

13. A baby born with a caul over its face will be a prophet or a seer.

14. A whippoorwill which alights on a house and calls is announcing a death to come.

15. Misfortunes always come in threes.

16. A bride should not look at her complete wedding attire in the mirror until after she is married, or else the marriage will end badly.

17. If sparks from a fire favor someone (move towards him/her in unnatural ways or numbers) he/she has significant magical powers.

18. Hearing raps, knocks, bells, chimes, or ticking with no apparent cause announces a death in the near future.

19. The seventh son of a seventh son will be a naturally gifted healer, seer, or witch.

20. A cat, coiled up with its head and stomach showing, means bad weather is coming; if it yawns and stretches, good weather is not far behind.

21. A rooster crowing at night brings rain in the morning.

22. Seeing a “sundog” (a halo around the sun) indicates either a drought or a radical change in weather soon.

23. Fogs in August are snows in winter.

24. If you are walking or riding at night and feel a sudden warmth or chill, it is a spirit, and you should turn your pockets inside out to keep it from doing you harm.

25. Stepping over a broom forwards is bad luck, but you can reverse it by stepping over the broom backwards.

 

Some Unusual Signs, Omens, & Superstitons

1.  People with short fingernails are tale-bearers.

2. If the first snake you see in spring is already dead, you will conquer your enemies.

3.  For hot-peppers to prosper, they must be planted by a red-headed or hot-tempered person.

4. You shouldn’t cut a baby’s nails in the first year of life; you should bite them off.

5. If you catch a butterfly and bite off its head, you will soon have a dress the same color as the butterfly.

6. If a bird builds a nest in your shoe or pocket, you will die within a year.

7. If you find a hairpin in the road, you shall soon have a new friend. If the pin’s tines are of equal length, the friend will be a girl; unequal means a boy.

8. It is very bad luck to be photographed with a cat.

9. If you kiss a witch, all the silver in your pockets will turn black.

10. You can’t swear and catch fish.

References:

That’s it for today! Thanks so much for reading!

-Cory

Quick Update! – Spring Lore Contest Reminder

March 16, 2012

Hi folks!

This is just a reminder that if you want to get into the drawing for our Spring Lore Contest, there’s never been a better time than now!  You’ve only got five days left—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. We’re trying to put together an episode featuring folklore, ritual, and practice from all over the country and the world relating to rebirth, green grass, renewal, etc. and we need your help to do it! So if you’ve been hanging on to a killer magical gardening tip, a clever and enchanted use for chocolate rabbits, or a story about dancing naked around a maypole, fire up your email and send it in!

So what’s in it for you if you send us lore? Prizes!

The 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, with a 1-2 page card report featuring a 2-card split and 7-card layout, plus interpretations and a fairy-tale recommendation to connect your reading to a story you can turn to for more inspiration.
  • A goody box from Compass & Key Apothecary featuring several of our oils, curios, and mojo bags. While actual contents of the box are subject to change, they will likely have at least 2 oils, 2 mojo bags, 1-2 curios (like rabbits’ feet, gator paws, or Mercury dimes), and 3-4 herbal samples.

How to Enter

Send your entries to compassandkey@gmail.com to enter, and be sure to put “Spring Lore” in your subject line.

We hope to hear from you soon! Remember, the deadline is midnight on March 21st, 2012, so get those entries in before then!

All the best, and thanks for everything you do!

-Cory

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

Quick Update – Spring Lore Contest!

January 20, 2012

Howdy everyone!

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. We’re trying to put together an episode featuring folklore, ritual, and practice from all over the country and the world relating to rebirth, green grass, renewal, etc. and we need your help to do it! But because we like you an awful lot, we also want to give you the chance to win shiny and wonderful things from us when you send us your lore!

The 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, with a 1-2 page card report featuring a 2-card split and 7-card layout, plus interpretations and a fairy-tale recommendation to connect your reading to a story you can turn to for more inspiration.
  • A goody box from Compass & Key Apothecary featuring several of our oils, curios, and mojo bags. While actual contents of the box are subject to change, they will likely have at least 2 oils, 2 mojo bags, 1-2 curios (like rabbits’ feet, gator paws, or Mercury dimes), and 3-4 herbal samples.

How to Enter

Send your entries to compassandkey@gmail.com to enter, and be sure to put “Spring Lore” in your subject line.

We hope to hear from you soon! Remember, the deadline is midnight on March 21st, 2012, so get those entries in before then!

All the best, and thanks for everything you do!

-Cory

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

Blog Post 109 – Holidays in the Mountains

December 23, 2010

Hi there, everyone!

Today, I’m going to be sharing a little bit of holiday lore from the mountains, both the Ozarks and the Appalachians (to those readers wondering when I’ll start including the Rockies, I promise I’ll get there one day!  I’m just woefully ignorant of the traditions from that area).  There are a number of pieces of folklore associated with the winter holidays in the mountains.  Often, storytelling and family visits were the primary entertainment in the financially poor but folklore-and-culturally-rich mountains once the cold weather set in.  Christmas was not always celebrated, especially during the early years of settling, largely because many Protestants settling in the Appalachians viewed the holiday with suspicion and regarded it as a Catholic celebration.  One source records that the penalty for observing Christmas during the Puritan era was a “fine of five shillings” (WG&S, p.28).  Over time, however, as more people of mixed backgrounds settled the area, Christmas became a social holiday.  Patrick Gainer records that holidays in the mountains included:

  • Fireworks and noisemaking
  • Very little decorating prior to the widespread introduction of electricity (most homes didn’t have a Christmas tree)
  • School Christmas parties
  • Costumed visits to friends and neighbors (called “Belsnickling”—more on that in a minute)
  • Toys for children, though almost entirely homemade ones

Belsnickling

The tradition of Belsnickling is particularly interesting.  It seems to be a mumming tradition in the vein of similar British activities, but is really practiced by only the Germanic settlers in the Appalachians.  It relates to the Belsnickle (whose name may come from pelz Nicholas, or “furry Nick”), a devilish traveling companion to good St. Nick during his holiday visits who would punish the wicked children in the same way that the saint rewarded the good ones.  In some variations, it was not St. Nick who traveled with Belsnickle, but Kriss Kringle (likely a derivation from the Germanic kriskindl, or “Christ-child”).   Gerald Milnes describes the practice thusly:

“To people in the Potomac Highlands, belsnickling is the action of going from house to house in masquerade, with residents guessing the belsnicklers’ identities…Sometimes treats were offered to the belsnicklers, and sometimes belsnicklers offered treats to the household” (SC&W, p.186)

Milnes also offers a variety of pranks and tricks related to this practice:

  • Candy would be thrown on the floor, and when children dove for it, they would have their fingers switched by the belsnicklers
  • Bands of belsnicklers would wander through the countryside hooting and yelling all through the night
  • People in costume would tap on the windows of houses and scare the children inside
  • Firecrackers would be lit and thrown into people’s homes

He also relates this practice back to something deeply witchy—the Wild Hunt:

“Belsnickling and similar activities, as group practices, have obscure beginnings, but they may well go back to the old Teutonic concept of the wild hunt.  In Scandinavian and German versions of this myth, a huntsman with dogs, accompanied by spirits, hunts the wild woman.  In some versions, the huntsman, a lost soul, leads a band of wild spirits to overrun farms at Christmas time (the winter solstice)” (SC&W, p. 186).

Christmas Dinner in the Mountains

Of course, no Christmas would be complete without a feast in modern minds, but the table offerings were not quite the same for every family.  Often, up in the mountains in the early-to-midwinter, the meal would consist on the wild meat that was available rather than anything domestically raised.  In Foxfire 12, informant John Huron describes a most particular holiday meal:

“Groundhogs aren’t bad eatin’ either if you cook them right…baked and layered with onions and sweet potatoes.  That was what Charlie’s daughter, Margaret, would fix him for Christmas dinner every year.  They invited me and my wife, Sandy, and my son, Jay, over for Christmas dinner one time, and that’s what we had.  A groundhog is a lot cleaner animal than a chicken.  When you get right down to it, a chicken is a nasty critter” (FF12, p.248)

Signs and Omens on Christmas

There are a number of superstitions which have sprung up around the holiday season, too.  Often, weather and luck are intimately tied to Christmas, though sometimes the date shifts a little between December 25th (“New” Christmas) and January 6th (“Old” Christmas).  Some of the signs and omens from the Appalachians and Ozarks include:

  • It will be a fruitful year if the eaves of the house drip on Christmas (SC&W)
  • Children born on Christmas Day can understand the speech of animals (WG&S and OM&F)
  • Being the first to say “Christmas Gift” to another on Christmas Day yielded good luck (WG&S)
  • On Christmas Eve at midnight, all farm animals will bow down and speak to acknowledge Christ’s birth (SC&W and OM&F)
  • Those with the “second sight” make predictions most accurately on Christmas Eve (IaGaM)
  • “A green Christmas makes a fat graveyard” – warm weather at Christmas will lead to many deaths over the coming year (OM&F)
  • On Old Christmas, the sun actually rises twice instead of just once (OM&F)
  • Bees buzz so loudly on Old Christmas they can be heard for miles away (OM&F)
  • Elderberries always sprout on Old Christmas, no matter what the weather (OM&F)

Even with its rather slow, Puritanical start, Christmas in the mountains has become one of the most magically charged times of the year.  From eating groundhogs to playing rowdy pranks to witnessing the miraculous behavior of animals, this is certainly one of the most interesting times of the year.  And, in my humble opinion, one of the most magical.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory


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