Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The 20th November is the Feast of St Edmund of East Anglia

Edmund, King of East Anglia was born of Saxon stock and brought up as a Christian. He became King before 855 until his death in 869. An army of vikings, led by Ingwar, invaded East Anglia  and he led his army out to meet them but was defeated and captured. He refused to renounce the Christian faith and was killed, some believe he was shot with arrows then beheaded. His body was buried in a small wooden chapel near where he died. Around 915 his body was discovered to be incorrupt and so was taken to Bedricsworth later called Bury St Edmunds where a community was founded in 925 to take care of the shrine. His body was later relocated to a large new Norman church and re-enshrined in 1198.
Folklore relates that his head fell into a thron bush and was hidden and when his followers sought it, the head itself called out to them crying 'here, here.' It was found being guarded between the paws of a giant  white wolf.
A miraculous freshwater spring  broke through the soil where the head had lain. Near the site of a Benedictine Monastery near Hoxne is a deep moat enclosing a small island where the spring is said to be located. The ill and infirm visited the spot during the middle ages believing the waters were healing.

Just south of the village of Hoxne which is believed to be the spot where he was killed is a stone cross that marks the spot of the oak to which Edmund was tied, The memorial reads...'St Edmund the Martyr, Ad 870 Oak tree fell August 1848 by its own weight.'
Near Hoxne lies the Goldbrook Bridge where Edmund is said to have hidden from the Danes. According to legend a pair of newly weds  spotted his spurs glistening in the sunlight and as the Danes dragged him away Edmund put a curse on all bridal couples who ever crossed the bridge. Up until the 19th century many wedding parties refused to cross the bridge and took the long way round rather than chance the curse.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Martinmas, Halloween Old Style

Martinmas is also known as Saint Martin's Day, Feast of Saint Martin, Martinstag as well as Old Halloween. It is the feast day of St Martin of Tours and is the time of year when Autumn seeding was completed and the annual slaughter of fattened cattle was performed. Hiring fairs where farm labourers historically looked for new positions were held at this time of year.
Martin of Tours was a soldier in the Roman army, when he decided to convert to Christianity he was later imprisoned for his refusal to fight. Becoming a monk he founded the monastery in Gaul and became the Bishop of Tours. 
Famous for his generosity towards a drunken beggar to whom he gave his cloak St Martin is now the patron saint of beggars, drunks and the poor. As his feast day falls during the wine harvest in Europe he is also the patron saint of wine growers and innkeepers. (bit of a conflict of interests there I think)

The 11th November is also a second chance to look into the future, so if you wish to
 do so try this, as performed in Scotland!
Take three dishes, fill one with clean water and another with dirty water, the third leave empty. The person wishing to know their future is blindfolded and is directed to choose a dish with their left hand. If they choose the clean dish then their future partner will be a maid or a bachelor, if they choose the dirty water then their partner will be a widow or widower but if they choose the empty one then they will never marry. And if they don't like the results let them try again but remember to move the dishes.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Elizabeth I, and her cure for wind!

A cure for wind prescribed by the Tudor monarch Elizabeth I

Take ginger, cinnamon, galingale ( a plant in the ginger family) of each 
one ounce; aniseeds, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, of each half an ounce; mace 
and nutmegs two dram each; pound together and add one pound of white sugar.
Use this powder after or before meat at any time.
 It comforteth the stomach, helpeth digestion and expels wind greatly.

From the Fairfax Household Book 17th/ 18th century

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

October is the month for making potions...

The month of harvest and falling leaves is the ideal time to make 
sympathetic and magical potions for the treatment of wounds; these 
as tradition dictates are applied to the weapon that makes the wound 
instead of the wound itself.

"Take the moss on the skull of a strangled man two ounces; of the
 mummia of man's blood an ounce and a half; of earthworms
 washed in wine or water an ounce and a half; of the hemetitis two 
ounces; of the fat of a boar and a boar pig, two drams each; oil of 
turpentine two drams. Pound them and keep them in a narrow pot 
and make this cure when the sun is in Libra. Dip into the ointment 
the iron or wood of the weapon, or if the weapon cannot be had a
 sallow stick made wet with blood in opening the wound. And let the
 patient wash his wound in the morning with his own urine and 
bind it with a clean cloth, always wiping away the matter."

Excerpt from the Fairfax Household Book, 17th/18th century.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Blackberries and Holy Rood Day

 Now is the time to pick blackberries before the Devil fouls them. 
In Scotland it is on the Old Style Holy Rood Day that he poisons the 
brambles by 
either spitting  or urinating on them.

'Oh Weans! Oh Weans! the morn's the Fair
Ye may na eat the berries mair
This nicht the Devil gangs ower them a'
To touch them with his pooshioned paw'

In England he does not foul the berries until Old Michaelmas ( 10th Oct)

Holy Rood Day which is known as Mid Autumn in the Highlands of Scotland
 is traditionally the beginning of the mating season for deer.
 It is also traditional at this time for young women to gather St Michaels wild
 carrot; forked roots were especially lucky, tied into bunches they were
 presented to male visitors on Michaelmas Day.
The carrots had to be gathered in a certain way, first by digging a triangular 
hole around the plant, signifying St Michael's shield, using a three pronged
 mattock which signified St Michael's trident.

'Cleft, fruitful, fruitful, fruitful,
Joy of carrots surpassing upon me,
Michael the brave endowing me
Bride the fair be aiding me'

Friday, 22 September 2017

Witch Balls

The term 'scrying' comes from the English word descry which means to make out 
dimly or to reveal. A typical scryer was a wise woman, gifted with second sight, and 
often referred to as a witch. This ability is not limited to using crystal balls, any
 reflective surface will do. The favoured speculum is the magic mirror, preferably 
one with a concave side painted black.
Few witches throughout the ages would have used crystal balls for scrying, being too
 heavy and expensive, instead the more easily available glass fishing floats 
were commonly used, especially in England. 

Perhaps this is why sailors have such a 
strong belief in the power of witches, believing them to have power over men’s 
fate out at sea, referring to them specifically as sea witches. These sea witches were 
believed to haunt the coast lines around the country, cursing the sailors and willing 
the ships to wreck upon the rocks. Some believe that these particular creatures are 
the ghosts of dead witches and it was one of these ghostly sea witches that was, 
according to legend, sent by the Devil to assist Sir Francis Drake in his battle 
against the Spanish Armada This phantom  helped him raise a storm at sea and 
defeat the fleet. In return for this it was said that Drake bartered his soul
 to Old Nick.

Coloured glass balls often referred to as Witch Balls had another use, they were 
hung in windows of dwellings and intended to keep out witches and the evil eye.
These ,made from the 17th century onwards, would hopefully deflect curses 
and ill wishing. The bright colours of the glass was supposed to entice the evil 
spirits into the ball and then trap it forever in the salt or Holy water that had 
been placed inside. And by keeping one of these balls in your home it would 
prevent a witch from entering as traditionally witches supposedly do not have a 
reflection or can not bear to see their own reflection.

This tradition  travelled across the pond to America in the 19th century.
Although in other parts of America especially the Ozarks a witch ball had 
another form and use. It would be made from black hair rolled in beeswax to form a hard 
marble shaped lump. This is not for protection this would be used by somebody, 
presumably a witch ,to harm or curse a victim. It is said in this area that  
one of these witch balls would always be found near the body of somebody
 killed by  this curse.

The hanging of the protective witch balls in our homes continues today, the glass baubles on the Christmas tree originate from this practice. The use of these are supposed to deflect any envious thoughts when seeing the huge stacks of pressies under the tree!

Thursday, 21 September 2017

St Mathews Day

Darker evenings and cooler weather now beginning...

"St Mathew, get candle new
St Mathew
Brings the cold rain and dew
Mathew's Day bright and clear
Brings good wine in next year"