Shadows

Just sneaking in under the wire for this week’s One-a-week Photo Challenge!

The week’s prompt has been Shadow. Of course, I couldn’t take that literally, so here’s my interpretation based on a Book of Shadows. This one happens to be a chapter heading from the wonderful Solitary Witch: The Ultimate Book of Shadows for the New Generation by Silver RavenWolf, whose many talents include a blog here on WordPress.

Many of the objects in my photo have appeared in previous posts, particularly those of October 2016, so this image also represents shadows of things past!

Thanks to nanacathydotcom and Wild Daffodil for this challenge. I’m looking forward to the next prompt, Rust!

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Mabon Mysteries

Yesterday marked the autumnal equinox, also known as Mabon, when night and day are of the same duration – a time of equality and balance. At Mabon, the second of three harvest festivals, we honour the waning sun and growing dark and give thanks for the abundance of crops and other gifts with which we’ve been blessed. We seek to find balance: to stop, relax and enjoy the fruits of our labours – to reap what we have sown. It’s a good time to complete projects that have been left undone, and to begin to prepare for the winter to come.

In the fall, when nature appears to be winding down, I feel more connected to it than at any other time of the year, even more so than spring and all its burgeoning life. Perhaps it’s because the culmination of the growing season is so colourful, so fragrant: honey-brown hay bales and golden corn resting in the fields, glossy red apples, the deep purple of grapes and wild asters, the sugar maples’ amber, green and russet riot. I find the scent of fallen leaves and the smoke of hearth and bonfires intoxicating, and the cooler, crisp air, after the humidity of summer, makes me breathe more deeply and feel more alive. I never take walks in the brutal heat of July or August, so I look forward to getting out more, enjoying the flight of monarchs, the low chucking of robins, and the soft October mist on my skin.

In summer at the cottage, Faeries are in full fancy. But in autumn, there is a shift to darker, more mysterious things than even the Fae. Call it a time of introspection, nesting, or the art of Hygge; knowing that, of a nippy evening there’s a cozy blanket to curl up in and a good book to lose myself in is delicious. That’s when my thoughts turn in earnest to beeswax candles, incense from ancient lands, medieval Tarot, the rustle of parchment, old grimoires, and the secrets held by mirrors and crystal spheres.

My own Mabon ritual – during two rare and blessed consecutive days off – includes wearing an incense-y perfume oil (purchased from a fellow Etsian) called Mabon, relaxing with my feet up, and finishing a few pieces of gemstone jewellery for myself and my shop, a task I’ve been putting off for a while now. As a treat, I’ve enjoyed some delicious baklava, honey- and rosewater-redolent, with my tea. Later, I’ll continue working on a new, just-for-fun craft that I’ll write about soon! How will you celebrate this new season?

Harvest Symbols of Mabon

Symbols: acorns • apples • corn • gourds • horn of plenty • pine cones • wheat sheaves

Colours: brown • burgundy • gold • orange • red

Food & Drink: apples • bread • cider • grapes • nuts • onions • pumpkin • root vegetables • squash • wine

Gemstones: agate • amber • aventurine • citrine • peridot • sapphire • topaz

Herbs & Plants: aster • calendula • ivy • marigold • milkweed • rose hips • sage • sunflower

Incense & Oils: frankincense • myrrh • pine • sage • sweetgrass

Rituals: take a walk in the woods • offer a libation of thanks to the trees • harvest herbs and vegetables from your garden • adorn your home with autumn bounty: wheat sheaves, bowl of rosy apples, grapevine wreath, scattering of acorns and cones, colourful gourds or leaves • buy or make a new broom, either full-sized or symbolic • make spiced hot apple cider • make a protection charm using hazelnuts tied onto red string • volunteer at a food kitchen or donate to a food or clothing bank

Ill Humours & Old Medicine

dsc_3166-6In medieval Europe, herbalism and medicine were practiced chiefly by monks, barber surgeons and village wise women. These healers would base their treatments on what they saw in nature; they’d note the plants that animals ate and the effects the plants had, and would then use the same ones on their patients. Sometimes plants would be used to treat the body part they resembled, or would be chosen for the warming or cooling effect they were thought to have on the body’s constitution. Charms, curses and counter-curses were also important tools of the trade! Monasteries maintained charitable healing centres where folk could come for their cures; herbs commonly found in infirmary gardens included betony, chamomile, comfrey, dill, hyssop, lavender, rue and sage.

If you were living in, say, 12th century England, you would most likely be familiar with the following ailments, as well as their remedies and the people who administered them. (Hark! If squoodgy things make your tum-tums go weak as water, read no further.)

Ague:  Fever and chills

Barber Surgeon:  Trained in monasteries, barber surgeons looked after soldiers during and after battle, and were expected to do everything from cutting hair, giving enemas and pulling teeth to bloodletting, setting broken bones, amputating limbs and other surgeries. Talk about multitasking!

Bloodletting:  3,000-year-old medical procedure still in use today. In the past, patients would be bled from various parts of the body to regulate the humours [See Humours] and “cure” their disease. Unfortunately, this procedure weakened the patient and encouraged infection, and patients sometimes died not from their malady but from the therapy itself. (Charles II and George Washington are famous victims; Washington, suffering from a throat infection, was drained of 3 litres of blood in less than 10 hours and died the next day.) Modern bloodletting is known as therapeutic phlebotomy and is used in western medicine to treat conditions requiring the reduction of the number of blood cells. See Scarification.

Botch:  A bump or sore on the body

Bubo(e):  Also known as gavocciolo, a swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin, armpits or neck, usually oozing pus or blood; the most common symptom of (but not limited to) bubonic plague

Catarrh:  Acute influenza; inflammation of the mucous membranes

Chilblains:  Painful, itchy red or purple swelling on the hands or feet from prolonged exposure to cold

Dead Man’s Tooth:  Application of the tooth of a deceased person to heal an open wound

Fat of a Hanged Man:  After a hanging, the body was left to dangle for days, probably as a cautionary example to the public. As putrefaction progressed, greasy excretions would drip and form a puddle under the deceased. Gross, but, hey, it is almost Hallowe’en! This fat (and other body parts) would be collected by the executioner, who did things like set broken bones and sell herbal medicine on the side; it was rendered and made into a salve thought to benefit a number of ailments, including arthritis, lameness and broken bones. Shakespeare refers to this practice in Macbeth: The three witches add “grease that’s sweaten / From the murderer’s gibbet” to their bubbling potion.

Flux:  Excessive discharge or hemorrhage of bodily fluids, especially diarrhea; also a women’s menses

Humours:  It was believed that all diseases were caused by the imbalance of the body’s four “humours” (blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile, which correspond to the elements of earth, air, fire and water). Bloodletting and purging were the chief methods of ridding the body of ill humours.

Gout:  Known since antiquity as “the king of diseases and the disease of kings”, this is the red, tender, hot swelling of a joint (inflammatory arthritis) usually caused by genetics, obesity and a diet high in rich meats and alcohol.

Gripes:  Digestive upset or food poisoning, usually caused by eating unrefrigerated or improperly cured meat

Headache:  A mixture of goat’s cheese and bull’s blood was drunk to cure an aching head. No guarantees as to what it did to the stomach.

Herbarium:  A room housing a collection of preserved plant specimens and their associated data

King’s Evil:  Scrofula or tuberculosis of the neck and lymph glands; so-called from the time of Edward the Confessor because it was believed disease could be cured by the king of England’s touch.

Leeches and Maggots:  Introduced to a wound to help prevent blood poisoning and infection. By sucking blood, leeches draw away toxins, and maggots consume decaying flesh, thus cleaning the wound.dsc_3194-4

Lepers:  Known to the ancient Greeks as elephantiasis, and today as Hansen’s disease, leprosy is a not-very-contagious bacterial infection thought to be caused by respiratory droplets. An effective cure, discovered in the 1940s, involves using antibiotics for several months. Before this, however, leprosy was thought to be highly contagious, spread simply by being near an infected person, and there was no cure. (The other common belief, that leprosy causes toes and other appendages to rot and fall off, is a myth; nerve and tissue damage and secondary infection are the real culprits.) Lepers caused fear and panic wherever they went, and as a result became social outcasts, relying on religious houses for charity and medical assistance. In the Middle Ages, they were required to carry a bell to announce their presence; this also served to attract attention for charity. Leprosy features prominently in two excellent books:  The Leper of St. Giles, a Brother Cadfael mystery by Ellis Peters, and The Island by Victoria Hislop.

Mandrake:  Perhaps because of its resemblance to the human body and the fact that it’s hallucinogenic – as well as extremely poisonous and potentially deadly – Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), a member of the nightshade family, has a long history of use in magic ritual and medicine. It’s mentioned in the Bible as an aphrodisiac/fertility aid and appears many times in literature (Shakespeare, Donne, Beckett, Steinbeck, Conan Doyle, Rowling) and on screen (Excalibur, Robin of Sherwood, Harry Potter), particularly as protection against the devil.

Mould Poultice:  Bread or yeast soaked in honey and applied to an open wound to halt infection

Officina:  The storeroom in a monastery where herbs and medicines were kept. The species names officinale or officinalis (eg. lemon balm, Melissa officinalis) are a clue that the plant was used by monastic healers.

Physician:  Not the neighourhood GP, but medieval academics who worked in universities as medical observers and consultants. Although they often took up residence in castles to tend their wealthy patrons, physicians considered surgery beneath them, and rarely performed it.

Purge:  An emetic to rid the body of poisons; purging often made the condition worse, not better, as it tended to dehydrate the body

Rale:  Wheezy, congestive rattle in the lungs, and the “death rattle” often heard just before the patient shuffled off this mortal coil

Scarification:  One of several types of bloodletting, in which a scarificator, a small box containing multiple sharp blades, was used to scrape open the skin. Other methods of bloodletting included arteriotomy (puncturing a vein at the temple), venesection (at the elbow), cupping (placing a heated glass dome over broken skin to remove air and blood by suction) and the application of leeches.

Simpling; Simples:  Distilling and brewing herbs; the resulting medicinal brews and distillationsdsc_3227-8

Stillroom:  The distilling room in a great house or castle where herbs and flowers were hung to dry, and medicines, preserves, cosmetics, alcoholic beverages, cleaning products and soaps were made. The final products would be stored and dispensed here as well, making the stillroom part laboratory, part brew house, and part infirmary. Think:  Claire’s work- and storeroom at Castle Leoch in Outlander.

Tetter:  Sore, pimple, mark or scar; the scab of a healing wound

The English Sweate:  Sweating sickness was a baffling and highly contagious disease which ravaged England and Europe in a series of epidemics during the 15th and 16th centuries. The cause is still unknown, but a form of hantavirus has been suggested as the culprit. The onset and progression of the Sweate was sudden and dramatic; one could wake up in the morning feeling perfectly fine and be dead before nightfall. Symptoms included an immense sense of dread followed by chills, then the “hot” (sweating) stage, followed by extreme exhaustion, collapse and, finally, death. Some people did manage to recover from the earlier stages, but that didn’t guarantee immunity; many suffered multiple relapses before finally succumbing. It was believed at the time that bloodletting and working up a “natural sweat” by vigorous exercise could ward off the disease. The outbreaks stopped as quickly as they had come, and by 1578 had completed disappeared from England.

Wale, weal, welt:  Ridge or line on the skin

Wen:  Benign boil or cyst, usually on the scalp or face

Whelk:  Raised lesion on the skin; acne

Wine & Egg Whites:  After a patient had been bled, the incision would be dressed with a mixture of strong wine and egg whites. This isn’t as odd as it seems:  the alcohol’s anaesthetizing and sterilizing properties as well as the astringency and binding qualities of egg whites may actually have helped.

Worms:  Were thought to cause cavities

Reading the Runes

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Terracotta rune set with hessian bag and guide book by Horik Svensson.

The Elder Futhark, the oldest known runic alphabet, is of Germanic origin dating from the 1st or 2nd century CE. Similar to the Greek alphabet, which is named for its first two letters, the Futhark takes its name from the first initial or phoneme of the first six runes: F, U, Th, A, R and K. Each rune corresponds to a letter or sound (transliteration).

There are many theories as to why this system was invented and what it means, but no one knows for sure. Was it an attempt by northern Europeans to imitate Roman script? Did the runes have a practical purpose, such as recording ideas or events? Or perhaps the characters had mystical or shamanistic properties.

The runes are usually referred to in either ancient Proto-Germanic or 8th century Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons. (For the runic items I make for my shop, I use the latter.) The words are from nature — usually animals, trees or weather — or are the names of gods. For example, the first rune, shown in the centre foreground of the photo above, is known as either Fehu (P-G), or Feoh (OE). Feoh transliterates as the letter f, means “wealth” or “cattle”, and is generally accepted today as symbolizing wealth, power and success.

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The runes, woodburned onto a cedar plank, with their names in Old English.

Here are the 24 Elder Futhark runes, their ancient meanings and modern symbolism:

Feoh  •  wealth, cattle  •  Wealth, power, success
Ur  •  aurochs  •  Risk, rapid change, stamina, determination
Thorn  •  the god Thor  •  Protection, luck, inner growth
Ansur  •  mouth  •  Advice, deliberation
Rad  •  wheel, ride •   Journey (literal or toward enlightenment)
Ken  •  torch •   New life, fertility, knowledge, the arts
Geofu  •  gift  •  Union, harmony, love, peace
Wynn  •  joy  •  Happiness, success, fulfillment through hard work
Hagall  •  hail  •  Unpredictability, sudden setback
Nied  •  need  •  Restriction, patience, spiritual growth through hardship
Is  •  ice  •  Caution, put plans on hold, waiting
Jara  •  year, harvest  •  Cycles, birth, time of reckoning
Yr  •  yew  •  Positive outcome after delay, inner strength
Peorth  •  pear tree  •  Unexpected inheritance, recovery of what was lost
Eolh  •  elk  •  Protection, beneficial influence
Sigel  •  sun •  Life force, guiding light
Tir  •  the god Tiwaz  •  Battles, competition, vigorous energy, being prepared
Beorc  •  birch  •  Fertility, inception of idea or project, family
Eoh  •  horse  •  Travel, change (made carefully, not abruptly)
Mann  •  Man, humans  •  Separate but not alone, relationships, inner wisdom
Lagu  •  water, lake  •  Intuition, flexibility, receptivity, creativity
Ing  •  the god Ingwaz  •  Completion, good omen, relief is near
Othel  •  heritage, estate  •  Ancestry, the home, land, obligations, karma
Daeg  •  day  •  New beginnings, growth, inner acceptance, security

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Rune necklaces I made recently for a customer in California, of reclaimed Muskoka white pine. I pyrographed the freehand designs and bark-like edging and finished the pendants with linseed oil and beeswax.

Similar to Tarot cards, runes can be cast for divination, or can be worn or carried as an amulet. I wear Tir as my personal talisman because it is the rune of archers.

Works in Progress

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A quiet corner of my worktable, where items for my shop and blog wait patiently for completion by the World’s #1 Procrastinator!