Our Lady Mary, The White Lady, And Glimpses Of The Great Mother

Last evening I attended the local church for the Ash Wednesday Mass, as the penitential season of Lent has commenced. There are typically three focuses of this period of time; an increase in alms giving, fasting, and prayer.

After receiving the ceremonial mark of the ashes and the Eucharist, the small church slowly began to empty, with a few elderly ladies pausing for a time in front of the stand of votive candles and the large statue of Our Lady. The elderly lit candles and stood for a few moments, silently petitioning the Blessed Mother, before dropping a few coin into the offering tin and exiting. This was a practice I’ve done since I could remember. As a child, I can remember the excitement of going up to the rows of colorful glass jars shimmering with flame light with my grandmother. Watching her take the long wooden match stem and set it alight from an already burning candle and then carry the flame to another candle she had let me pick out was a magical experience. It’s one of my earliest memories of seeing fire, and above it all would be the kind face of Our Lady looking down, with hands open and arms extended as though She intended to pick us up.

Growing up, the focus of devotion was almost always to Our Lady. We would say the Rosary to Her, light candles as offerings to Her when someone was ill or in need, we’d visit Her outdoor shrine on the grounds of the nearby monastery. She was always the primary concept of the sacred if conversation ever turned towards those things, while Christ and even God seemed secondary. And why shouldn’t She be? Our Lady is the Mother of God and the Mother of Christ, so why waste time trying to sweeten those two up when She’s the one with the sway. Now as an adult, I can see that this devotion to Mary was based in the cultural echoes of pre-Christian goddess worship as much as it was based in Church teachings, perhaps even more so.

Evidence of this was in the attitudes of older family members, their siblings, and relatives towards matters of religion. Catholicism wasn’t a chosen religion for us, rather it was an inheritance of a far more cultural nature. While everyone would say we were Catholic and were known as such, opinions on religion varied greatly; most never thought of Christ as God or believed in, understood, or even feigned a superficial comprehension of the Trinity. Such doctrinal complexities were “for the clergy” who had “no work but praying”. Common people hadn’t the time for theological study, nor was there any value assigned to it – unless a person intended to become a priest, a nun, or monastic. The common people were satisfied with common social values and simple devotions; these were “useful” things that aided people in their daily lives by fulfilling their spiritual needs, whilst the abstract and nonsensical matters of doctrine weren’t relevant. It’s in this space of prioritizing the practical that allowed room and freedom for folk beliefs, superstitions, and the fairy faith to exist simultaneously alongside Catholicism without a hint of cognitive dissonance.

Statements of faith were always accompanied by variations of “that’s what they say”, “so they say”, and “that’s what’s been said anyway” and belief in Christ was equal with belief in reincarnation, not with skepticism, but with a level of humbleness. In this way, convictions weren’t linked to beliefs, rather, convictions were reserved for things that worked or didn’t work. The only exception to this was the devotion to Our Lady, but then, I suppose, you don’t need to have faith in your Mother’s care, help, and love, you just feel and know it. Beliefs aren’t required for what’s obvious.

Mary, for my family, is both the Biblical figure and the Divine Feminine of our culture. One apparition that we grew up with was known as the White Lady, who people would encounter, usually in some lonely crossroads, along the train track, or on the banks of the river. This is most likely a carry over from older traditions of the Banshee. She would come in different forms, sometimes as an Old Woman, sometimes as a Young Woman, and other times She’d be with child, but the White Lady’s appearances always inspired a level of awe, familiarity, and fear.

Our Lady and the White Lady were the two feminine beings that were associated with either the sacred or the unseen. In my own practice, I tend to understand them as manifestations of the same Divine Reality, which I understand to be the Great Mother, or Mór Muman, the Irish name for the Goddess of Munster, the region of Ireland from which the majority of my ancestors originated.

Much of my work is devoted to Her, whether it take the form of Marian devotions – such as the Rosary, votive offerings, visiting Shrines, of lighting candles after Mass – or some of the wilder versions my practice. I’ll finish for now with a short poem that comes from a time when Ireland was under the Penal Laws, when attending Mass was essentially a punishable offence. It expresses the desire to uplift and guard Our Lady from the intruders who meant to break our ties with Her, and, to me, its a glimpse of the meaning that She has for myself and my people that goes way deeper than religion;

“Oh, my Mary, long we wait here
While the hunter combs the mountains high,
And the soft wind whispers, ‘guard Her,’
Though as hunted we must die.
Oh, the dawn is longtime coming,
And the long night clings with care,
But they shall not find with their chains to bind
My Mary, pure and fair.”

May Our Lord and Our Lady bless you.

A Charm Against Poverty, Striking The Hunger, And Psalm 72

The following symbol should be drawn on a square piece of paper or parchment and kept upon the person, either in the pocket or in the purse. This is said to be very effective in guarding against sudden poverty and loss.

Traditional charm against poverty

One may also scribe this on the door frame of the house to act as a ward against the spirit of poverty from entering and settling in the home.

Another tradition that may be employed in this regard is called Striking The Hunger; it was a tradition of the older generation to take a bundle of cut oats, wheat, or barley on the stalks and hit it against the corners of the house or, at least, the door frame of the house while saying something like “hunger away and come again no more.” This was also done whenever a loaf of bread was brought into the home; it would be lightly struck against the frame of the door, symbolically striking away the spirit of hunger.

Another effective charm against poverty is writing Psalm 72 along with the holy name אה on a piece of paper or other material and keeping this on ones person;

“Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son. He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment. The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him. For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight. And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; anddaily shall he be praised. There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth. His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed. Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen. The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.”

Lord and Lady bless you all.

— photo of charm taken from The Cornish Book of Ways, Gemma Gary

A Charm Against Illness And For Health, And Psalm 41

In order to ward off the spirit of illness and attract the spirit of health, draw the following symbol on a piece of paper or parchment;

On the reverse side of the same piece of paper or parchment, draw the following symbol;

“By this charm be all illness exorcised and good health to its bearer restored. So shall it be!”

Fold this and put it into a small pouch along with dried cedar needles and a few leaves of dried sage. Sew this pouch closed and, while holding it in your left hand, bless it with the sign of the Cross. Then recite the Our Father once, the Hail Mary thrice, and the Glory Be once. Keep this charm on your person.

For the same purpose of warding off the spirit of illness and attracting the spirit of health, one should make it a regular practice to recite Psalm 41;

“Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. The LORD will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. The LORD will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness. I said, LORD, be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee. Mine enemies speak evil of me, When shall he die, and his name perish? And if he come to see me, he speaketh vanity: his heart gathereth iniquity to itself; when he goeth abroad, he telleth it. All that hate me whisper together against me: against me do they devise my hurt. An evil disease, say they, cleaveth fast unto him: and now that he lieth he shall rise up no more. Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me. But thou, O LORD, be merciful unto me, and raise me up, that I may requite them. By this I know that thou favourest me, because mine enemy doth not triumph over me. And as for me, thou upholdest me in mine integrity, and settest me before thy face for ever. Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen.”

Lord and Lady bless you all.

— photos of charm taken from The Cornish Book of Ways, Gemma Gary

Hereditary Witches, Handed Down Craft, And A Little About Me

There’s nothing more cringe inducing than hearing the words “I’m a hereditary witch”. It’s right up there with claims of being the reincarnation of Cleopatra, having picnics and tea parties with tinker-bell fairies, and seeing spirits or spirit energy in every single photograph that one comes across, ever. “Why so much scorn? Don’t you believe in the possibility of hereditary witches? Who are you anyway?” I’m not totally against the concept, and it may well occur that some people come from a witch lineage, but I do have what I’d like to think is a certain amount of healthy skepticism for valid reasons, which I’ll share.

First, I want to make the context from which I complain clear. I live in Canada, and the only people I’ve come in contact with who have claimed to be the inheritors of a long line of witches with an unbroken chain totally preserved from Christian influences that, in some cases, goes right back to “the goddess” are people who also come from somewhere in North America. They’re generally white, totally rejecting of anything Christian, and are really into being a witch. Being a witch is their full identity, it’s who they are regardless of what they do. They’re the “we are the granddaughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn” type people, who appropriate the suffering experienced by historical persons condemned for witchcraft as their own suffering. Full of pathos for the wrongs vicariously done to themselves by the evil Christians, yet they simultaneously say being a witch is about “light” and that there’s no connection whatsoever between witchcraft and… the devil! (He’s bad). That’s the cringeworthy crew I’m speaking of when I moan about hereditary witches. In other parts of the world, in traditions and cultures I know nothing about, what I say here doesn’t necessarily apply.

My problem with claims of being a hereditary witch in this context is that they can never be taken seriously past anything more than claims. Typically, the story goes that there was a line of witches in the claimant’s family, a secret line, and that this line had survived covertly throughout the generations. Telepathy, psychic powers, intuitive divination abilities, etc run in the claimant’s blood. Ok, maybe it’s every second generation because their mother just doesn’t understand their abilities, but grandma did, and grandma’s really old and the older it is the more true it is. Or, if it isn’t through a blood lineage, it will be that they were initiated into a line or into a coven that goes back to pre-Christian times. Is any of this possible? Do I totally reject the idea of inherited capabilities and powers, or of ancient initiatory chains of witchcraft transmission being done covertly for generations? No, I don’t. What I do reject, with discernment, are the power games behind many of these claims.

Aside from their unverifiable nature, the main issue I take is that these aren’t really claims at all much of the time; often they’re simply boasts designed to lend the claimant authority, since, for some reason, being connected to a lineage of witches, whether by blood or by formal association, gives the claimant’s words and opinions more weight. Such claims increase the level of ones social status and give the claimant social currency in certain circles. This desire or need for authority is, as I see it, a psycho-sociological disfigurement inherited from the seeds of individualism that were sewn during the Protestant Reformation -— as opposed to the collective and communal “flock” mentality of Catholicism that prioritized the group over the individual — which now unconsciously colors our understanding of concepts like community, meaning, belonging, and authenticity (topics I’ll explore as time goes on).

Another problem with our modern day social scene is our empowerment culture, which is practically synonymous with authority seeking. This I would again argue goes back to the Reformation, and these are all topics of concern that have occupied my thoughts for several years now, which I hope to explore in greater detail and clarity here as time goes on. Putting those away for now, it suffices to say that I have some serious reservations about any claims to authority, no matter how innocuous they may appear, and claims of being a hereditary witch are one form I’ve encountered again and again.

I would here contrast the notion of hereditary witch with hereditary witchcraft or, what I call, handed down witchcraft. This form of inheritance tends to focus on practices rather than abilities; a charm or blessing that grandmother used to make, family rituals or traditions at special events like weddings or funerals, or oral traditions in the form of stories. Practices rather than powers.

A second distinction is that, in handed down witchcraft, no one person inherits and so no one person possesses. This form of craft belongs to whoever picks it up.

Which leads to the third distinction between hereditary witches vs. hereditary witchcraft: the focus is efficacy, not authority. The words we use matter a great deal, as one of the most powerful forms of spell work is the casting of words. Again, another topic for another time.

Grannie Ann Connors

The woman in the above photograph is my great, great, great grandmother, Ann Connors, who settled in my area of Eastern Canada with her husband after immigrating from Co. Cork, Ireland. Grannie Connors raised my grandmother, and several other of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She was considered, according to my elderly family members, to be a wise woman, a healer, a charmer, and talented in divination, specifically tea leaf reading, a skill that she passed on to my grandmother and a few of her cousins.

Grannie Connors was, by all accounts, a devout Catholic woman, regularly attended Mass and said the rosary. People respected her and also feared to cross her lest she give them the Eye. While I’ve not heard anyone in my family call Grannie Connors a “witch”, since such things are not said, it’s clear that her life, reputation, and practices would have placed her among those the late Cecil Williamson, founder of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic and cunning man, would have called wayside witches; solitary practitioners of witchcraft and folk magic.

Certain of Grannie Connors’ craft practices were handed down to various elders of my family, specifically my maternal grandmother, and my own practice is informed primarily by these practices. Many of these craft practices are fairly well known, such as using the Book of Psalms for various ends, wax poppets for curing and cursing, and certain charms. Others I’ve found are, at least to my limited knowledge, only known within the family, and others I don’t practice because either I’ve no clue how to practice them or they’re no longer practical (such as divination through tea leaves, which more or less died out when tea began being sold in bags). These aren’t any great secrets I’ve inherited, nor do they give me any special authority to speak about witchcraft. I’m simply the one who picked them up and feel they’re precious enough to hold on to.

Grannie Connors with two granddaughters

To sum up, as I continue to write here, I hope to explore these topics of efficacy vs. authority, authenticity, individual paths and what it means to belong to a community or tradition. I also intend to share more of my own practice, and document the lore I’ve collected from family, relatives, and people in my region. Lord and Lady bless you all and may you find good wherever you go.

Witchcraft, Catholicism, and Dual-Faith

“Despite a belief in and working relationship with the spirit world, otherworldly forces, and the old pacts with the ‘Old One’, folk-magical practitioners are traditionally dual-observers and have long professed a faith in Christianity, though not necessarily in its Church, and employed its magic alongside that of their Old Ways and Fairy Faith.” — Gemma Gary, The Black Toad

Irishwoman saying the rosary, Inis Meáin

One of the unfortunate realities that exists in much of modern Witchcraft and the various embodiments of Neo-Paganism is the tension between the aforementioned popular movements and the Christian faith. While I have a certain sympathy for those frustrated and irritated by the doctrines, dogmas and depraved historical and current scandals of the Church, the basis for much of the hostility that one encounters in Witch and Pagan circles towards anything Christian stems largely from immaturity and superficial understandings as opposed to any actual grievance. Such rejecting attitudes were fairly absent amongst historical practitioners of the craft. Nigel G. Pearson writes in his book The Devil’s Plantation;

“For a long period of time, Christianity and folk magic / witchcraft existed alongside each other without causing any friction; it was only after the Reformation that serious problems for magical practitioners arose. Before this time, ‘magic’ was used by the Church itself under many guises…. Coming forward in time, just post-Reformation, we can see that, although rooted in Catholic Christian theology, such [magical] practices had become most suspect.”

Pearson alludes to an important point here regarding the changing social and religious attitudes pre-Reformation and post-Reformation. Though the tension is currently (and mistakenly) framed as Christian oppression of Pagans and Witches during the Burning Times, such an understanding fails to account for the anti-Catholic bigotry that fueled much of the hysteria and subsequent violence of the historical period. The Witch Hunts, tortures, trials, and executions are more well understood to be very much a result of sectarian violence within Western Christianity. Post-Reformation, evidence of witchcraft was often synonymous with evidence of one being Catholic.

Consider the following from the 1562 book titled Defence Against All Sickness, written by a Protestant clergyman and surgeon, Dr. William Bullein, wherein he describes a certain woman he calls a witch;

“I did know within these few years a witch called Mother Line, in a town of Suffolk called Parham, which with a pair of ebony beads and certain charms, had no small resort of foolish women when their children were sick. To this lame witch they resorted to have the fairy charmed and the spirits conjured away; through the prayers and the ebony beads which she said came from the Holy Land and were sanctified at Rome. Through whom many goodly cures have been done, but had I the chance to burn said beads. Oh! That damnable witches be suffered yet left unpunished and so many blessed men burned: witches be more hurtful in this realm than either quarter, pox or pestilence!”

In the mind of this Protestant clergyman, this woman is considered a “damnable witch” for having an ebony rosary, some “charms” (quite possibly holy medals), and praying over sick children and curing them of ailment and demonic possession.

The same Dr. Bullein goes on to write of another witch known as Mother Didge, who would cure the sick with Ave Marias, a rosary, and other common place Catholic devotional items, for which he claims her to be an enemy of God and worthy of hell;

“I knew in a town called Kelsale, in Suffolk, a witch whose name was Mother Didge, who with certain Ave Marias upon her ebony beads and a wax candle, used this charm following for St. Anthony’s fire, having the sick body before her, holding up her hand saying, ‘there came two Angels out of the Northeast, one brought fire, the other brought frost, out fire and in frost. In nomine patris, etc.’ The fire take them all, for they be God’s enemies!”

Anti-Catholic sentiment also played a major role in the infamous Salem Witch Trials, specifically in the case of Mary Ann Glover, an impoverished Irishwoman accused of witchcraft and there after executed by hanging. When reading the actual “evidence” of witchcraft used to condemn the woman, its found again that this was largely to do with Catholic devotional practices. Cotton Mather, the Puritan clergyman presiding over the trial, said of Glover, “a scandalous old Irishwoman, very poor, a Roman Catholic and obstinate in idolatry” and that the images she had in her possession “were her spirits, or her saints, for they say that the same word in Irish signifies both.” Sufficed to say that the persecution witches have faced throughout history was largely based in their practice of Catholicism and various folk and cultural practices.

Wise women gathered at St. Declan’s Well, County Waterford, Ireland

Which brings me back to the main point: most traditional practitioners of witchcraft and folk magic wouldn’t have been adverse to Christianity; conversely, their Christianity would have been ubiquitous in their practice. The concept arises of dual-faith, mentioned briefly in the open passage above from Gemma Gary. This synthesis of both pre-Christian practices and elements of Christianity was most likely a result of the practicality of practitioners of folk magic; the priority was effectiveness, not the source. Nigel G. Pearson also writes of this concept, saying;

“To the magical practitioner, it did not matter where it came from, it only mattered that it worked. If a piece of old heathen lore that had come from Saxon or Danish wise men or women still worked, then it was used. If a piece of consecrated host from Mass cured the gout, then it was used. Indeed it could easily be seen by anybody that cared to look, that the saints and prayers, the rites, relics, and rituals of the Catholic Church could cause miracles to happen, so these were incorporated into magical practice also.”

Lord and Lady bless you all.