Thursday, December 27, 2007

Giving Glastonbury a Run for its Money?

Jason at The Wild Hunt Blog (here) has posted a wonderful story about a rare strain of apples that are apparently indigenous to an island off Wales known as the possible location of the mystical Isle of Apples...

The apples and trees are free of disease, which is apparently rare for wild grown apples in Wales. The grower has started grafting from the mother tree. There is a 2-year wait for saplings in the UK, and apparently there will be grafted stock available in North America at some point! Oh, so exciting.

More information on the Bardsey apple website and a related news story.

I wonder if the claim Glastonbury holds upon magical apples will now be in question? I have visited there many times and the old apple orchards at the base of the Tor are, in my opinon, just about the most magical location in an area lousy with magical locations. But Glastonbury's hold on all legends Arthurian lacks the Welsh cache of Ynys Enlli.

We are planning to order two trees from Trees of Antiquity, an heirloom apple farm, for planting in spring. It would be lovely to be able to add this variety at some point, or maybe get some for the Brushwood Folklore Center which has its share of wild apple trees indigenous to western New York.

Image: Arthur Rackham's "Apple Maiden"

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


To all spending time with family and other loved ones during the December holidays, enjoy! I drink a toast to my friends and anyone who has found their way here in 2007 and hope you will come again in 2008. Wassail, Wassail!

I would like to share my favorite carol, which dates back to the Middle Ages and celebrates the tradition of wassailing. The names of cows (Dobbin, Cherry, Fillpail) and their body parts (eye, cheek, ear) refers to the custom of walking the animals in a ring or through two small bopnfires, and splashing cups of cider on their heads to bless them an thank them for providing milk. Likewise, people would bless their apple and fruit trees with a splash of cider, usually the morning of winter solstice.

Years ago I spent Yule with friends in the Berkshires who had an all-night candlelight vigil, with songs and stories, with a trip around the orchards in the morning to wassail the trees. I hope to reinvigorate this custom in coming years, as we're planting wo apple trees in our yard in the spring.

Gloucestershire Wassail

Wassail, Wassail, all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown,
Our boel it is made of the white maple tree
With the wassailing bowl we'll drink to thee.

So here is to Cherry and to his right cheek
Pray God send our master a good piece of beef
And a good piece of beef that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee

And here is to Dobbin and to his right eye
Pray God send our master a good Christmas pie
A good Christmas pie that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee

So here is to Broad Mary and to her broad horn
May God send our master a good crop of corn
And a good crop of corn that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee

And here is to Fillpail and to her left ear
Pray God send our master a happy New Year
And a happy New Year as e'er he did see
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee

And here is to Colly and to her long tail
Pray God send our master he never may fail
A bowl of strong beer! I pray you draw near
And our jolly wassail it's then you shall hear

Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best
Then we hope that your soul in heaven may rest
But if you do draw us a bowl of the small
Then down shall go butler, bowl and all

Then here's to the maid in the lily white smock
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin
For to let these jolly wassailers in.

And, from a recipe for you to try:

A Traditional Shropshire Wassail Recipe – for hardened Wassailers!

10 very small apples
1 large orange stuck with whole cloves
10 teaspoons brown sugar
2 bottles dry sherry or dry Madeira
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3 cloves
3 allspice berries
2 or 3 cinnamon sticks
2 cups castor sugar
12 to 20 pints of cider according to the number of guests
1 cup (or as much as you like) brandy

Core the apples and fill each with a teaspoon of brown sugar. Place in a baking pan and cover the bottom with 1/8-inch of water.

Insert cloves into the orange about 1/2" apart.
Bake the orange with the apples in a 350° oven.
After about 30 minutes, remove the orange and puncture it in several places with a fork or an ice pick.

Combine the sherry or Madeira, cider, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice berries, cinnamon, sugar, apple and orange juice and water in a large, heavy saucepan and heat slowly without letting the mixture come to a boil.
Leave on very low heat.
Strain the wine mixture and add the brandy.

Pour into a metal punch bowl, float the apples and orange on top and ladle hot into punch cups.

Makes enough for 15-20 people – but we always wish we had made more!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

I wrote this as a bit of spoken word fluff recited over the Abbotts Bromley Horn Dance melody, performed at the one and only concert ever given by the Celtic quartet Epona which I was a member of a few years ago. We did an early December concert with songs connecting Samhain to Yule. It was very well-received and a friend made a recording of it (a rough one but it's good to have it). We performed songs in Irish, Scots Gaelic, Breton, Cornish, Welsh and English.

Anyway I had forgotten about this piece and jotted it down as I listened. It goes well with this image I found the other day, so why not? It is not really a poem but I like its scenario and may try to turn it into one this Yule season.

The Stag at Solstice

Antlers shattering the new moonlight
He stamps and snorts and sniffs out the night's possibilities.
Stopped on the ancient path leading into deep green darkness
He asks the frozen wind "Which way now?"
The warmth of the herd, of the cold of the spear?
At the forest's edge he stands, paused between life and death,
and lifts his ight horned head
and looks upon the moon's empty face
and asks her silently "Which way now?"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Blessings of Yuletide

This lovely artwork depicts Rozhanitza, an Eastern Russian goddess of winter, often depicted in embroideries with stag horns, and she is standing with her daughter, a goddess who is sometimes human and sometimes a deer. Her feast day is December 26th, and is often celebrated by the baking and giving (and, presumably, eating) of iced reindeer cookies.

And here is the Holly King, who probably needs no introduction...he and twin brother the Oak King, British vegetation gods equivalent to the Green Man, battle at the winter and summer solstices for the right to rule that half of the year. Traditionally, the Holly King wins at Yule and reigns until summer...or is it the other way round? (I have seen it written both ways)

These images were found here and there are some more great solstice images by this artist, with prints available for reasonable prices. I think this art would make a great tarot deck, maybe with seasons representing the four elemental suits. Yes?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Coming of Winter

A poem by Canadian poet Archibald Lampman


Out of the Northland sombre weirds are calling;
A shadow falleth southward day by day;
Sad summer's arms grow cold; his fire is falling;
His feet draw back to give the stern one way.

It is the voice and shadow of the slayer,
Slayer of loves, sweet world, slayer of dreams;
Make sad thy voice with sober plaint and prayer;
Make gray thy woods, and darken all thy streams.

Black grows the river, blacker drifts the eddy;
The sky is gray; the woods are cold below:
O make thy bosom and thy sad lips ready
For the cold kisses of the folding snow.


Got this from another pagan blogger: The Pagan Hierarchy.

Hilarious and probably more accurate than anyone might care to admit.

Where do I fit into the diagram? I'm not tellin'...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Must share...a poem for Yule.

(Painting: "End of Winter" by Andrew Wyeth)

I saw this poem today on the Expulsion of the Blatant Beast blog. I hope Bo does not mind my sharing it here! It is so evocative of the season.

I will be posting others this week, so watch for Archibald Lampman, Robert Frost, and others...perhaps I will pen one, too. But for now, enjoy the morbid but enlightening musings of a master.

A Nocturnall Upon St. Lucies Day, Being The Shortest Day

’Tis the yeares midnight, and it is the dayes,
Lucies, who scarce seaven houres herself unmaskes,
The Sunne is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rayes;
The worlds whole sap is sunke:
The generall balme th’ hydroptique earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the beds-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with mee, who am their Epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers bee
At the next world, that is, at the next Spring:
For I am every dead thing,
In whom love wrought new Alchimie.
For his art did expresse
A quintessence even from nothingnesse,
From dull privations, and leane emptinesse:
He ruin’d mee, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darknesse, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soule, forme, spirit, whence they beeing have;
I, by loves limbecke, am the grave
Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have wee two wept, and so
Drownd the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two Chaosses, when we did show
Care to ought else; and often absences
Withdrew our soules, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing, the Elixer grown;
Were I a man, that I were one,
I needs must know; I should preferre,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; Yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; All, all some properties invest;
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am None; nor will my Sunne renew.
You lovers, for whose sake, the lesser Sunne
At this time to the Goat is runne
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all;
Since shee enjoyes her long nights festivall,
Let mee prepare towards her, and let mee call
This houre her Vigill, and her Eve, since this
Bothe the yeares, and the dayes deep midnight is.

John Donne

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

You Call it Christmas, We Call it Yule

Wow, there are so many people writing articles for Witchvox these days, the ones I have written over the years for holidays are barely visible anymore (though if you go to the holiday pages, they are among the most-viewed pages over the years).

It's nice to see so many people eager to contribute. We started out with only a handful of writers back in the late 1990s (Wren, Fritz, myself, Mike Nichols, Christina, and gradually folks like Dio and Waterhawk and others joined in). Now there are hundreds if not thousands of people posting new stuff, with lots of new articles every week.

I do sometimes think a lot of the articles are retreads of stuff that has already been written about, and once in a while I read something that makes me scratch my head, like this quote which seems to be to somewhat dubious scholarship: "On All Hallows' Eve, as it was called back then, the Druids would go from door to door holding an empty basket asking for fruit and whatever treats the residents would give them. Later in the evening, everyone would gather together in a festival, dancing, singing, playing, and enjoying the foods they were given." Um...did you have a historical citation for that?

I recall a whacko fundie Christian appearing on Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" years ago saying pretty much the same thing about Hallowe'en, except her version was that "the Druids would go door to door, looking for a human sacrfiice." At least her crazy version has some basis in reality, even it is only a fantastical pre-Raphaelite painting by William Holman Hunt entitled "A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids". See those bloodthirsty Druids? Outside the door...why, it's almost as if they are going door to door!

Anyway, I digress. In the spirit of Yuletide nostalgia and plain old self-aggrandizement, here is my own Witchvox Yule article written all those years ago...Read and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Green Fairy; now stuffing stockings?

Yes, friends, you may now purchase absinthe legally!

You may slobber over her (or, more likely, keel over onto the table after several hours in her presence) to your heart's content...

The New York Times has the latest...

I also found this lovely website, home of that gorgeous vintage poster image...if you have a few thousand dollars to spare, you can get a nice antique advertising poster for your wall.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sacred Green Manhattan

Here, some images from the Cloisters at Fort Tryon Park, also taken Samhain weekend. There's me at a fountain in the courtyard, an espaliered pear tree in the medieval herb garden, and one of the four quince trees in the garden. Our favorite spot was the herb garden, if the time spent there is any indication.
I highly recommend a visit here, better in warmer weather so you can see the lovely gardens and have a coffee at the outdoor cafe.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Wild Manhattan

These are three of many photos I took on my Samhain weekend visit to New York. My friend who lives in the Inwood neighborhood has this wonderful natural escape practically next door; almost 200 acres of woodland, most of it the last pristine forest left in Manhattan. The New York Times approves.

So you New Yorkers who want to get away from the crowds in Central Park for a more wild experience, get thee to the A train and ride it all the way to 207th Street...oh, and if you go on Saturday you can hit the farmer's Market!

You're welcome.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Golden Compass and other movie news

I saw it. And I do not feel compelled to become an atheist. So there.

Tomorrow I will attend a press screening of Sweeney Todd. Yay.


In honor of the final month of the year, I have posted a photo of the full moon taken in the penultimate month of the year. I believe November's full moon is called the Snow Moon. December will bring the Oak Moon.

Is that named for the Oak King?

This was the view through my kitchen window on November 24th.

The darkness lowers.