I recently closed down my sacred landscape blog, The Faery Fort, and moved its contents to the CauldronFire Witchcraft site. Let’s face it–it’s easier to manage a single resource, and I find that too much social media drains me. In honor of fairy forts, here’s a podcast on this fascinating topic by one of my favorite podcasting teams @ Blúiriní Béaloidis, with Claire and Jonny from the National Folklore Collection at University College, Dublin.
Claire and Jonny have their own wonderful patter, and this episode is particularly interesting. If you’d like to know more about the intersection between modern life in Ireland and old faery traditions and prohibitions, give this a listen.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I returned from Pantheacon, that enormous pagan conference in San Jose, CA. I had a reservation this year at the Doubletree, and arrived
fresh from the airport on Friday evening to a scene of complete mayhem. Three or four suited-up firefighters stood about, axes in hand, adjacent to the registration desk, and fire trucks with flashing lights were visible through the side entrance. Crowds of Con attendees swarmed the desk, either trying to check in, or trying to find out why they couldn’t get on the elevators to get upstairs to the hospitality suites. When I arrived at the desk, I gave my name to the clerk, and was horrified to hear that she had no room available for me–in spite of a long-standing reservation. Whaaaat? I stayed very calm, and watched while an angry guest cut in front of me and promptly cancelled his room reservation because he couldn’t get on the elevator. Nice timing. So, a moment later, unruffled, I had a room after all. I was glad I had stuck to my mindfulness practice.
My room was on the 9th floor, diagonally across from the Coru Cathubodua hospitality suite. My first thought about the 9th floor was, “oh, great…I won’t get any sleep due to the parties.” It turned out to be a fun experience, and not as loud as I’d expected. I unpacked,
settled in, set up my altar, and set wards on the entrances to help keep the environment calm. Then I went out to the suites to browse and meet people.
If you’ve been following the controversy swirling around Pantheacon this year, with a few presenters becoming uninvited for reasons that some found spurious, you’ll know that some people were worried about the feel of this year’s event. I think the numbers were actually down, with about 2000 registered on Saturday morning. It didn’t feel particularly fractious this year, and I had a lot of conversations over the course of the four days. Here are a few highlights of the Con.
I attended a session on “How to Start and Run (not Ruin) a Group.” It was held by Thorn Mooney, the Gardnerian priestess from North Carolina whose book, Traditional Wicca: A Seeker’s Guide, was just published. I read it a few months ago, and thought that she had abundant good sense. She had with her a friend from Maine, Julia, who organizes The Witches of Downeast group. Their presentation, held in the Northwest Circles Association hospitality suite down the hall from my room, pulled in about a dozen participants. While there was the inevitable guest who tried to back seat drive the presentation, the discussion and presentation were useful and highly relevant to the group formation work I’m currently doing. We’ve all had groups that simmered and fizzled, and some that just imploded. I particularly liked what they had to say about the utility of Meetup groups, and how they have worked with them successfully.
Selena Fox, the warm, wise elder of Circle Sanctuary, led a midday workshop in the Amici Mortem hospitality suite. For those who aren’t sure, Amici Mortem means “Friends of Death,” and those friends turned out to be a great deal younger than I expected. I was older than most of them, and was impressed to hear several people express interest in training as death doulas. Fox described the establishment of a green pagan burial cemetery at their sanctuary. She spoke with knowledge, curiosity, an open mind, and a great deal of experience in coordinating the ceremonial elements of death rituals. If you haven’t met her, Selena Fox is one of the community’s great treasures, and is welcoming and kind to everyone. I have a particularly fond feeling for her, as my mother used to subscribe to the old Circle Network News back in the 1980s, when witchy publications were scarce indeed!
I’ll start this post with the disclaimer that I have travelled a number of times to Cornwall, but am very far from having a comprehensive knowledge of the region’s sacred sites. There are so many things to see. Here are some of my favorites.
St. Nectan’s Glen is located in the village of Trethevy, north of Tintagel, and south ofBoscastle. There is a small parking lot on the west side of the road where you may leave a car. I passed the glen on an earlier trip in 2005, but in the summer of 2016, while staying in Devon, we made a special day trip.
You’ll cross the street and walk down a path adjacent to a tiny stone church, and from there, into the woods. This is pilgrimage at its best on a small scale. The approach to the glen takes some time, and involves liminal crossings of a gushing stream, and walking on soft duff, muddy lowland paths, and a bit of climbing into the hills. I savored the walk, and used it as a meditation in preparation for some spiritual work I needed to do. Upon arriving at the building perched atop the stone cliffs, we paid our admission fee, and were offered some musty wellies from a nearby shed. (Bring your own if you’re sensitive to mildew!) We slowly descended the stairways, stopping on the viewing platforms to gaze down at the loud, rushing falls. It is a faery glen, with mosses, ferns, and life sprouting everywhere. At the bottom, the glen opens out, and the waters are shallow.
Let your instincts guide where you walk, and what you do next. People have filled the glen with an abundance of clouties and other offerings. I took a long time just standing in front of the spectacular round opening in the stone at the base of the falls, my glasses fogging from the spray. Something in me cracked wide open, and I enjoyed a mystical unbinding of some energies that had been very stuck before. This moment set the tone for the next three weeks of our
pilgrimage. When we were ready, we made our way back to the entrance, returned our musty boots, and walked back along the stream, down through the woods. On the return visit I felt so light and full of joy. It was indescribable.
I live in Oregon, and there are dozens of spectacular waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. This was a different experience entirely, with the spirits of the place speaking very strongly and benevolently.
I’ll add a great deal more to the Cornwall page over the coming weeks. This is just the beginning. Next up: The Rocky Valley, the labyrinths, and that wild saddle of rock, Tintagel.
Back in the 1990s I participated in mummers groups at Reclaiming Tradition witchcamps in British Columbia. Combining my fascinations with folklore and ritual, mummers plays and costumed evocations were sometimes remarkably potent, memorable events. For this reason, I love to see folkloric celebrations taking place during the dark times of the year. Here are a few videos worth a look.
The Mari Lwyd is a tradition seen in South Wales around Christmas and the twelve days of Christmas. Featuring a decorated horse skull, often with a mobile, clacking jaw, with the “horse” clad in white, and accompanied by a costumed retinue, the Mari Lwyd makes house visitations, with the retinue striving to be invited in. Sometimes there are traditional songs, an offer of hospitality by the people at home, or a rhyming contest. See for yourself how this tradition has recently been revived in a local school in Wales.
A spookier and more disturbing tradition comes from the Alpine regions of Germany and Austria. Perchta (plural: Perchten) is a folkloric woman, possibly related to the Goddess Holda, who visits homes between Christmas and Twelfth Night. She knows, like Santa, whether you’ve been naughty or nice. This crew of antlered Perchten is from the Tirol region of Austria, and is creepy, wonderful, loud, and decidedly ancient AND postmodern. Take a look.
Today I celebrated Winter Solstice in ritual with a close friend and long-time priestess. We worked with the Dagda, Brigid, and a number of the land spirits at Bru na Boinne, where the most exquisite thing happens at every winter solstice. A shaft of winter sunrise sunlight makes its way down the narrow stone passageway to Newgrange and floods the chamber with light. It happens only for a few days on either side of Winter Solstice each year, making it a rare and special event.
And so we traveled there to work magic for personal and political ends. It is the house of the Dagda, so we sought his permission for our visit, as well as consulting the land spirits. It was a potent ritual for both of us, and has left us with a number of ideas, visions, and further ritual work to explore.
If you’d like to learn more about the Winter Solstice alignment at Bru na Boinne, this video provides further information.
It is a few weeks since the Presidential election in the US, and I have determined not to recede into silence. While many in the mainstream media are saying, “give Trump time to make his political appointments,” and “wait and see,” I have seen plenty. The country is weeks away from passing into the hands of a narcissistic, ill-prepared, surly-tempered demagogue, and we are in serious trouble. So many of us are equating this election result with the rise of Hitler in Weimar Germany in the early 1930s. Our eyes are open, and we have the benefit of historical awareness, so we cannot be silent.
I’ve been thinking about the role of ritualists and magic workers in acting out, speaking up, and choosing to focus our will decisively. Let’s stand together for social justice and political sanity in the face of hateful and destructive rhetoric and actions. Street protests, calls to legislators, and keeping up pressure on the parts of government we can reach all have an important role. But we are ritualists–witches, seers, magicians and druids, to name but a few. Now is the time to draw on those skills to make social change and work the channels that we know how to work.
May the power of Brigid’s forge inspire us to action,
I’m just back from 3 1/2 weeks in England and Ireland. As is our tradition, we’ve built our trip around visits to long barrows, passage tombs, dolmens, cists, stone rows, and caves. Which brings me to my topic: How to Visit a Sacred Site.
Doesn’t everybody know how it’s done? The sad truth is that I’ve seen some shocking behavior to avoid. But if you, like me, are a seasoned veteran at visiting important pagan places, there is always more to learn–especially about yourself–when preparing for a visit. Here is a brief summary of what I have found helpful.
Plan, plan, plan before you go!
Some sites simply require that you walk up to the location and do what you want. Many of the bigger sites are now tourist attractions, and that means a trip to a ticket booth and a visitor center. It’s also fairly challenging to attempt to do ritual work while on a, say, 15 minute “in and out” tour of Brú na Bóinne. You might amaze the little kids with your invocations, but will likely rattle the adults around you. A wise soul will know, however, that there are plenty of quiet and important places within a short meander from the front door of the Newgrange burial chamber where you could engage in some full-on ritual without being distracted or causing a disruption.I recommend a short walk or trip down the road to the third of the three sites, Dowth. While access to Knowth and Newgrange is all managed by tour buses and visitor center access, you can walk or drive right up to Dowth, and while you cannot climb into the tombs, you can walk the mound’s perimeter, boldly priestess from the top of it (as I did just last week), and have a full ritual experience.
Read widely and esoterically, so you know about the less touristed sites. Did you know that with some planning, you can (and I did) visit FourKnocks tomb by knowing where to go, and by phoning ahead to the elderly gentleman, Finton White, who holds the key at his home? We called Mr. White, had a visit, left our 20 euro key deposit, and walked away with the key to the great iron door of the richly decorated burial chamber. We had this glorious place all to ourselves, and enjoyed the zigzag patterns on the stones both outside and inside. Information like this tends not to be found in Lonely Planet or Rick Steve’s travel books. Do your homework, and you will yield rich rewards.
(inside FourKnocks tomb, where we were the only living guests)
Bring a flashlight / torch It’s good to carry a small torch/flashlight with rechargeable batteries when you make these visits. Even in broad daylight, it can be helpful to shine a light down a passageway to see what’s what.
Bring an Ordnance Survey map It’s a huge help to carry (and know how to navigate with) an OS map. For Ireland and the UK, we like both the LandRanger maps, which have a 1:50,000 scale, and the more detailed Explorer maps with the 1:25,000 scale. These can be massively valuable in helping you to locate hard to find sites in the countryside. They also carry markers for tiny, locals-only stone circles, tumuli, hut circles, Ogam stones, and other beautiful surprises you’d never know to watch out for. Here’s a snippet from a map of Dartmoor in S. Devon, England. Bet you didn’t know there was a ‘Crock of Gold,’ did you? Which leads me to my next bit of advice…
Please don’t make a mess
I wish I didn’t have to write this. While visiting Loughcrew’s famous Cairn T this summer, a woman brushed past us in the tomb, pulled out art supplies, and began to do a stone rubbing of one of the beautiful, fragile, and highly decorated stones! I alerted the OPW staff, but should have called her on it directly. I’ve seen this sort of behavior before; about 20 years ago we visited West Kennet Long Barrow and witnessed the remnants of a bonfire inside the tomb. By all means, make offerings, but please ensure that they are small, biodegradable, and respectful of the site’s energies, and of its future visitors. I like to pour out some cider, sing or chant, trance or go into a deep grounding and listening place, or leave a tiny local flower from the field. Resist the urge to shove a piece of pink quartz from your altar into a crevice. It might feel meaningful to you, but you’re messing with the energies. For a little bit of information on offerings, check out Dvor’s recent post on the subject. Make your offering intangible.
Photography and ritual are a bad match
When you arrive, why not put the camera away and take a moment to ground, focus, and tune in to the energies of the site? I have learned not to photograph a site until I have done the work that needs to be done, and then I consult how I’m feeling, and decide whether, when and how to take any pictures. Photography can be a distraction and a barrier between you and the direct experience of a place and its powers. See what you think when you tuck the camera / phone / device away, and let yourself be led by the power of a place.
That’s it. Enjoy your sacred site visiting.