May 1st, Beltane (bright fire), is an ancient pagan festival marking the end of the winter half of the year in the Northern hemisphere. With the winter over, the lengthening of the days, and the first planting completed, farmers celebrated with great bonfires of purification and transition into the new growing season, all in hopes for a good harvest.
Beltane provides a gateway between our own Earth and the magical Earth of Faerie. The true inner powers of the Earth reveal themselves and the curtain between the worlds is especially thin during Beltane.
The pagan rites, led by druids, the priests for their time, centered on protecting people, livestock and the land from the spirit world which they felt was particularly close at hand during this season and encouraging fertility. It was a call to awaken the body from its winter hibernation.
The turning points of the Celtic year were marked by four great “fire festivals, Beltane, along with Samhain (Nov. 1), Imbolc (Feb. 1), and Lughnassadh (Aug. 1). Ancient records tell us that all hearth fires, throughout the country, would be put out on Beltane eve. One by one the druid would re-ignite them from the “need fire,” one of a pair of bonfires on top of a hill lit on Beltane eve. The villagers would drive their cattle between the fires to purify them and bring good luck. The villagers also passed between the two fires for purification and to ensure their own good fortune and fertility.
Another custom associated with Beltane is the “bringing in the May.” Here the young people would gather in the neighboring fields and forests Beltane eve and gather flowers to adorn themselves, their families and their houses. They would proceed through the village and stop at each house leaving flowers in exchange for the best food and wine. As they went along, they would bless the flocks and fields of those who were generous and wish ill on those who did not.
Later on, the May Pole was added to the bringing in the May. It was a phallic symbol that represented fertility. The village revelers who went out in the fields and forest would cut down a tree, bring it back into the village, decorate it with flowers, and dance around the May Pole.
Over time the holiday, first associated with the farm laborers, became synonymous with International Worker’s Day and took on a political meaning with demonstrations and celebration of union workers and other groups. The May 1st demonstrations in Australia led by the Stonemasons Society in 1856 and the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago in 1886, eventually led to the adoption of the 8 hour work day. In addition, May 1st has long been associated with various socialist, communist and anarchist groups. May Day celebrations in communist countries feature elaborate military parades.
Today, to Wiccans and those in other Pagan circles, Beltane is a happy time filled with laughter that includes the May Pole, bringing in the May, and other activities symbolic of fertility.
… Fire burn and brimstone bubble. Witches and witchcraft date back through the ages to when people worshiped the Mother Earth or nature goddess. It was a time before traditional religion when the unexplained was called magical and people with unique talents were special. The Old Religion which existed since the Stone Age was far from evil. These people were connected with the seasons, the plants, the animals and the planet and sought a balanced life. These special people were seers, knowers, healers, and averters of evil.
Over the centuries the nature goddess was replaced by more traditional religions and practices. The word witch only took on a negative meaning with the coming of Christianity, which taught that all the heathen gods were devils. And by association, anyone who clung to the old ways and the Old Religion was a devil worshiper.
The real roots of witchcraft and magic appear to come from the Celts, a diverse group of Iron Age tribal societies which flourished between about 700 BC and 100 AD in northern Europe. The Celts were a brilliant and dynamic people, gifted artists, musicians, storytellers, and metalworkers, as well as expert farmers and fierce warriors much feared by the Romans.
They were also a deeply spiritual people and believed in the many gods associated with Mother Earth, the Divine Creator. By about 350 BC, a priestly class known as the Druids had developed. They became the priests of the Celtic religion as well as teachers, judges, astrologers, healers, midwives and bards.
The religious beliefs and practices of the Celts, their love for the land, and their reverence of trees (the oak in particular) grew into what later became known as Paganism. Blended over several centuries with the beliefs and rituals of other societies, practices such as concocting potions and ointments, casting spells and performing works of magic, all of which (along with many of the nature-based beliefs held by the Celts and other groups) developed and became known as witchcraft in the Medieval Period.
There are many types of witches. The witchcraft of the Picts, the early inhabitants of what is now the Scottish Highlands, goes far back and differs from all the other types of witchcraft in Europe. This is Old Scotland and its history and legends are filled with stories of magickal workings, spells and charms. There are charms performed to increase farm production, to ensure a favorable wind for fishermen. Some seamen walked around a large monolith stone seven times to encourage a good trip/catch. Other people created charms such as the woodbine wreath. They would cut down woodbine (a form of honeysuckle) in March during the waxing moon (anytime between new moon and full moon) and twist the boughs into large wreaths. They kept the wreath for a year and a day. Young children suffering from a fever would be passed through the wreaths three times to be cured.
Old superstitions have a strong hold on people. There are hints of the ‘old ways’ even today. Some in Scotland carry a lucky penny or ‘peighinn pisich’ that they turn over three times at the first glimpse of a full moon.
There are many cases of Witchcraft throughout Scottish history, demonstrating the zeal of the Protestants and Catholics alike, in their paranoia over possible “servants of the devil.” The vast majority of Scottish Witches practiced as Solitaries (alone without a coven), only occasionally coming together for special celebrations.
Witchcraft was first made legally punishable, in Scotland, by an Act passed by the Scottish Parliament, in 1563 during the reign of Mary. Witch hunts swept through Northern Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and were fed by a mixture of superstition, religious fever, political motivation and general suspicion. No one was safe, not the peasant not the nobleman. Storms, diseases, and misfortunes had to be blamed on something or someone—witches were an easy target.
Types of witches
Kitchen Witch: Practices by home and hearth, mainly dealing with practical sides of the religion, magick, the elements, and the earth.
Ceremonial Witchcraft: Mainly use ceremonial magick in their practices such as Kabbalistic magick or Egyptian magick.
Satanic Witch: This doesn’t exist. Why? Contrary to the witch hunts of Europe and America, witches don’t believe in Satan.
Celtic Wicca: Believe in the elements, the Ancient Ones, and nature. They are usually healers. They work with plants, stones, flowers, trees, the elemental people, the gnomes, and the fairies.
Eclectic Witch: These witches don’t follow a particular religion or tradition. They study and learn from many different systems and use what works best for them.
British Traditional Witch: A mix of Celtic and Gardenarian beliefs. They train through a degree process and the covens are usually co-ed.
Alexandrian Tradition: They are said to be modified Gardenarian.
Gardenarian Tradition: Follow a structure rooted in ceremony and practice. They aren’t as vocal as others and have a fairly foundational set of customs.
Dianic Tradition: A compilation of many different traditions rolled into one. Their prime focus is the Goddess. It is the more feminist side of ‘The Craft’.
Pictish Witchcraft: It’s originally from Scotland and is a solitary form of The Craft. It is more magickal in nature than it is in religion.
Hereditary Witch: Someone who has been taught the ‘Old Religion’ through the generations of their family.
Caledonii Tradition: Also known as the Hecatine Tradition, it has its roots in Scotland.
Pow-Wow: Comes from South Central Pennsylvania and is a system based on a 400 year old Elite German magick. They concentrate on simple faith healing.
Solitary Witch: Any witch who practices alone, without a coven.
Strega Witches: Originally from Italy this group is known to be the smallest group in the US. It is said their craft is wise and beautiful.
By Anna Kathryn Lanier
Jacques de Molay
When I had to choose a day to do my monthly blog on Seduced by History, I choice the 19th, because March 19th is my birthday…so in honor of that, I’m going to give away a prize to one lucky commenter, an ebook copy of one my books (winner’s choice and format). So, please leave a comment and your email so you can win!
On March 19, 1314 Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Templars was executed. Now, I do not proclaim to be an expert on the Templars…I know just little enough to get myself in trouble, so I’m relying on 365: GREAT STORIES FROM HISTORY by W.B. Marsh and Bruce Carrick and what I found on the internet. Feel free to add more details or corrections if you know better than me. But here’s the low down – by the late 1200’s, the Templars had become too powerful and too rich for their own good and the King of France wanted the booty for himself. (more…)
So what do you do if you’re a Medieval lord with twelve children and not enough land to divide between them all? You give your kids away, of course. And who do you give them to? The Church.
One of the areas of medieval history that we in the modern world might find it the hardest to identify with – particularly as romance novelists and enthusiasts – is that of the life of the Church. How could people stand to live cloistered lives, praying all day and at the mercy of a Pope you would probably never see? Chances are it was a life that wasn’t chosen freely either. About 80% of the monks and nuns of the Middle Ages had been given to the Church as children. These children, also known as oblates, had no say in the life they were given to.
But before you are tempted to think that this was horrible and cruel of Medieval parents, let’s take a look at exactly what these lucky few could expect from their lives. (more…)
Nicholas of Myra (circa 270 – 343 AD) was a Greek bishop hailing from an ancient province in what is modern-day Turkey. The acts attributed to him are so random and secretive, he has bedeviled many a hagiographer.
St. Nicholas Smiting the Heretic
He attended the Council of Nicaea and punched a heretic, only to be recorded as absent and without his mitre.
The people were starving from famine yet he resurrected three children who had been butchered and pickled to be sold as ham.
He was the patron saint of pawnbrokers–always showing up to make good on the debts of others.
Thieves were in his special care, not because he would aid them in their endeavors, but because he kept appearing at the most inopportune times, foiling their heists and cajoling them to repent. (more…)