Samhain is a time to honor our ancestors.
Time to lay out a feast and invite them to dine, to share their presence with us while the veil is thin.
So, in respect for those who came before, I have made a small Ancestral Gallery of Witches. Give them a smile, tip your hat, light a candle and say thank you for blazing the trail and holding open the gates of Elfhame. It took a lot of courage, in those old days, to walk between the worlds.
My original plan was to give space to thirteen of our forebears in one blog post, but i realized, not everyone would know them, so I shall make a series of posts with three in each — a good magical number. It is amazing to discover these great teachers and mentors all over again and to remember how they kept magic alive for all of us, sometimes at great personal risk.
The Jackman’s Song
by Ben Jonson
The Faiery beame upon you,
The starres to glister on you;
A Moone of light
In the Noone of night,
Til the fire-Drake hath o’re-gone you.
The Wheele of fortune guide you,
the Boy with the Bow beside you,
Runne aye in the Way,
Till the Bird of day,
And the luckyer lot betide you.
The Faery Seers
Thomas Learmonth of Erceldoune:
Born 1643, Taken into Faery Dec. 13, 1713
True Thomas lay on Huntlie Bank
A furlie he spied with his e’e
And there he saw a Lady bright
Com riding along by the Eildon tree…
He has gotten a coat of the Elven cloth
And a pair of shoes of velvet green
And in seven years that have gone and passed
True Thomas on Earth was never seen…
From: The Ballad of Sir Thomas the Rhymer
True Thomas was a Faery Seer who was visited by the Queen of the Faeries and seduced away into Elfhame to live for 7 years. When he returned to the mortal world, he had the gift of prophecy. Many of his predictions have true.
We are very lucky that the ballad telling the tale of his adventure with the Queen of Elfhame has come down to us, over these 300 years, in an extremely intact form, for it is a most precise initiation into Faery, rivaled only by Tam Lin, a ballad of equal antiquity, that some scholars think is an extension of the tale of Thomas the Rhymer.
If you want the keys to Faery, the entire texts of Thomas the Rhymer, and Tam Lin, are here:
The page will come up. You just have to scroll down to find the ballads.
Reverend Robert Kirk: Born 1644/Taken into Faery 1697
OF THE SUBTERRANEAN INHABITANTS
1. These siths or Fairies, which they call sluaghmaith or the good people: it would seem, to prevent the dint of their ill attempts: for the Irish usually bless all they fear harm of, and are said to be of middle nature betwixt man and Angel, as were daemons thought to be of old: are intelligent Studious Spirits, and light changeable bodies, like those called Astral, somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud, and best seen in twilight. Their bodies are so pliable through the subtlety of the spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear and disappear at pleasure…
The usual method for a curious person to get a transient sight of this otherwise invisible crew of Subterraneans, if impotently and over-rashly sought, is to put his foot on the Seer’s foot and then the Seer’s hand is put on the inquirer’s head, who is then to look over the wizard’s (seer’s) right shoulder. [This method is one] which has an ill appearance [for it implies] as if by this ceremony an implicit surrender were made of all between the wizard;s foot and his hand before the person can be admitted to the art of Seership.
From: Robert Kirk: Walker Between the Worlds, edited by R.J.Stewart
Reverend Robert Kirk was 17th century clergyman who was always at the edge of controversy. His main task had been to translate the psalms and Bible into Gaelic. Besides that, as a seventh son of a seventh son, he had the Second Sight. He communed with the Faeries, wrote a book about them called The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Faeries. He talked about them openly from the pulpit of his church.
The people of hos parish thought he was taking chances, for he had broken a taboo of secrecy imposed by the faeries on those who witnessed their doings. When his body was discovered on the Fairy Knowe, or hill, the traditional dwelling of the faeries, it was rumored to be just a “stock”, a simulacrum left by the good people who had taken the real Robert Kirk to live with them under the hills.
We are being blessed, that a film about the life of Robert Kirk by Scottish director Michael Ferns, will be released around Yule.
You can see the trailers and read my interview with Michael here:
Isoble Gowdie: Tried for Witchcraft in 1662
- I shall go into a hare,
- With sorrow and sych and meickle care;
- And I shall go in the Devil’s name,
- Ay while I come home again.
- Hare, hare, God send thee care.
- I am in a hare’s likeness now,
- But I shall be in a woman’s likeness even now.
The year 1662 seems to have been a great year for Faery contact in Scotland, for all three of these Faery Seers, had their most intense experiences at that time. It coincided at a time when fairies were thought to be disappearing from the land a,nd that a vast and amazing store of cultural lore was threatened with extinction.
This process was being accelerated by the seizure of political control by Protestant extremists under Cromwell’s Commonwealth. Unlike the more tolerant Catholics, the Puritans, Presbyterians, and others, viewed anything that smacked of Paganism as idolatry and suppressed it. This included the Faery Faith, and it was said that the Methodists had driven the faeries out of Wales.
Isobel Gowdie was tried for witchcraft in 1662. Historian John Callow told her story to a rapt audience in London in 2005. As a poor woman, changing into the shape of a hare or a raven, gave her entry into the glamorous Faery Hall where she attended feasts and danced in elegant clothes. In her raven form, she stole food and trinkets. She left a broomstick beside her sleeping husband and flew up the chimney to attend the Sabbat. In the end, she had wagered with the Devil to destroy a man she didn’t like, and her magic was so effective that she turned herself in to the authorities as a way to make her stop.
She voluntarily gave detailed accounts of her experiences with her coven and her visits with the Faery Queen, whom she called the Queen of Elfhame. We are extremely fortunate that she did this, for otherwise her adventures would never have been written down for us to learn from, and be amazed at, three hundred years afterwards.
This interesting point of view comes from wikipedia:
It is unclear whether Gowdie’s confession is the result of psychosis, whether she had fallen under suspicion of witchcraft and sought leniency by confessing, or was she simply much smarter than her Christian inquisitors. It is also unclear whether there was some truth to her remarkable confessions. Her confession was not consistent with the folklore and records of the trials of witches, and it was more detailed than most. What draws attention to her remarkable case is the fact that her admission of witchcraft sounds very much like the actual shamanic practices that are still in use today. She did not pander to the distorted beliefs of the Christian church about witches and the worship of Satan. There is no record of her ever being executed.
John Callow suggested that guilt made Isobel confess. That she was, in a sense, addicted to magic, and it was going terribly wrong. I agree. There is a lot of psychological validity to this view as some if us have seen in our own lives. Faery Witchcraft is also a highly shamanic path. For want of a better word — if you don’t like the word “shaman” substitute “witch” and the picture comes clear.
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