Wytch Hazel Cottage

Reclaiming Our Ancestral Folkways

Year: 2019

Rewriting The Past

Our past is being rewritten. This isn’t a recent phenomenon, but something that has been worming its way into every aspect of our culture for hundreds of years. Whether it is a new age author’s innovative interpretation of a certain spiritual tradition, an age old scholar under the patronage of a king or even a film portrayal of an historical event. Everyone has a bias and sometimes surprisingly an agenda too.

By reinventing our past to suit our needs we are not harmlessly changing a detail here or there for maximum effect in the retelling of an event or story. Whatever is changed, no matter how seemingly insignificant will eventually end up influencing our future. We are not playing an innocent game of Chinese Whispers. If one inaccuracy is placed on top of another inaccuracy then we will arrive at a point where we would have completely reshaped who we are: our traditions, our folklore, our mythology and our history; which in turn means everything that connects us to our ancestors.

Modern literature and films as well as television series that portray ancient history, mythology and spirituality are all gateways of inspiration for those of us who wish to return to a more meaningful life without the trappings of religion and consumerism. However, due to the fact that these gateways are so easily accessible and a huge part of today’s popular culture, many people accept these portrayals as fact, when sometimes this couldn’t be more further from the truth.

I fell into this trap myself in the beginning when I first began reading and researching European pre-Christian faiths and traditions. Thankfully, the phrase ‘Heathenry is the religion with homework’ saved me. By diligently doing my homework I began to realise that the more I was reading the more easily I was able to see discrepancies between different sources (dates, names and places for example) and this taught me very early on how to be more discerning when it came to the books I was choosing.

So how can we be sure that the sources we are using are the real deal? How can we sift through the lies to reach the truth? I am going to share with you some of the things I do to ensure, to the best of my knowledge, that I am reading facts not fiction when it comes to history, religion and mythology.

Firstly, I visit second hand shops and garage sales. These are excellent places to find old books especially published before 1945. After World War II particularly with the arrival of Wicca, it is important to understand that a lot more disingenuous information began being published. Of course I am not saying that everything you read before this date can be trusted either; just look at how Roman and Greek scholars portrayed the Germanic peoples or the Gauls for example. However, many authors before this date were not censored to the extent that we are today and I believe that they had an easier time as well when it came to finding original and authentic sources. So much material has been lost, destroyed or edited.

It is getting harder and harder to find old books, especially ones that are reasonably priced. So for those of us who are frugal I can assure you that you can continue saving your money. I rarely buy a book now unless I am one hundred percent sure of its integrity and instead I either borrow books from the library, many of which are very old or I make the most of public domain books online. These are the sites I use the most and that I recommend: gutenberg.org, sacred-texts.com, forgottenbooks.org and jstor.org. You will need to register for some of these, but it is free to do so. I guarantee that you will have several lifetimes of material to get stuck into with these websites. They are fantastic resources and I have read many great books.

I will add that when it comes to old history books be aware that some of them will have a heavy Christian bias and if you are reading books that have been translated, do your best to read the original translations. It has come to my attention that a certain modern translation of Eyrbyggja Saga has replaced the word ‘Yule’ with ‘Christmas’.

If you are wanting to buy a more recently published book then I would encourage you to lean more towards history rather than spirituality. You can learn so much about the spiritual practices of our ancestors from a history book based on facts with a decently sized bibliography rather than a neo pagan spiritual book which can be heavily biased towards the author’s own views and personal practice. Authors that I have recently read and respect are Kathleen Herbert, Stephen Pollington and Sinead Spearing. Also, don’t forget to support up and coming authors as well. Of course do your research, but in the meantime I highly recommend ‘Forgotten Roots’ by Karol Kolbusz whose writing is incredibly thought provoking and inspirational.

Also, I would just like to add that there is nothing overly wrong with using the internet for information, but only use it as a springboard for getting a broad overview of a topic before diving in deeper with other sources.

Please be wary of new age books that are contributing to the rewriting of our past by completely innovating our ancient traditions. These books are guiding us along a disingenuous spiritual path that has no links to our heritage whatsoever. Be mindful of the bias, prejudice and assumptions that can be made and start making a conscious effort to be discerning with everything that you are reading and watching.

Lastly, when you come across someone on social media who is stating something as fact and you know that this isn’t the case; find the courage to speak up, kindly correct them and point them towards original authentic sources. These untruths worry me deeply and I hope that I have inspired you to think about how you search for and share information. It is our duty, as custodians of our heritage, to defend its integrity.

If you have any tips or tricks on how to be more discerning when it comes to choosing what you read then I would love for you to share them.

Reclaim Your Ancestral Roots

I believe that our DNA holds the key to our ancestral legacy. I say this because there is compelling evidence that memory is biologically transmitted. What this means is that the wisdom of our ancestors is somehow transferred from their memories to their genes allowing knowledge to be passed down from generation to generation.

However, these past few decades, British school children are being taught about the ancestors of other cultures; about the Egyptians and the Greeks or even the Japanese; all the while being under the impression that our “British” ancestral legacy begins with the arrival of the Normans; as apparently, Britain was a vacuum up until 1066.

I remember quite clearly learning about pre-historic Britain when I was at school in the seventies. Days that were barely holding on to our beautiful Isles’ incredible deep past. A school trip to the Iron Age fort of Maiden Castle was such an awe inspiring experience for me that it has stayed with me to this very day; thirty nine years later. Looking back with what I now know, I was truly blessed to have walked in the footsteps of my ancestors.

Heartbreaking as it is, how are we supposed to reconnect to our ancestral memories within us when the sound of our ancestors’ voices speaking their truth is being drowned out?

With the lack of knowledge of who we are and where we come from, is it any wonder that at their first opportunity young people are off backpacking across the world experiencing other people’s customs and faiths without even realising what beautiful cultures we have right here in Europe? We have our very own diverse heritage, we have our very own diverse indigenous spirituality and we have an identity that is ours despite being told otherwise. It is unrealistic to try and attempt to connect on a soul level to the folkways of other cultures because we do not share the same root systems; we do not share the same languages, we do not share the same histories nor do we share the same folkways; for all of these things are shaped by our landscape and our genealogy. Europe has become such a melting pot of cultural influences that we have completely lost sight of what is actually ours by birthright.

We have an incredible gift coursing through our veins. Everything that our souls are yearning for is embedded in our DNA. Our sense of place in the world, our identity, our home. If we don’t grasp the fact that what we need to do is to start looking inwards instead of outwards then that nagging feeling of something missing will never go away.

Many people find themselves yearning for another time or another place. At first there doesn’t appear to be any logical reason for this, but if they started chipping away at the surface they would soon discover that it is their blood calling them home. More and more people are hearing the voices of their ancestors, but they are finding it difficult to answer the calls because they cannot pinpoint the direction the voices are coming from. If only they could look a little closer for they would find that the voices are coming from the overgrown stones in the corner of a field, the remains of a windy hill fort or a cloutie tree that signposts a sacred place of pilgrimage. Honouring our ancestral past allows our children to have a future, but if we do not show a deep reverence towards our lands, our ancestors and our folkways, then how can we expect our children to care for these things and realise how greatly they matter.

In the distant past, our forebears through reciting their genealogies, telling tales of epic heroes and practising tradition, instilled in them the sense of being part of something larger than themselves. With the expansion of the Roman Empire, however, followed by the spread of Christianity and the forced migrations of thousands of Europeans, it didn’t take long for our ancestral roots to wither and almost die. The Industrial Revolution was the last nail in the coffin and today we are left with scores of people who don’t even know the names of their own grandparents. Even family heirlooms are a thing of the past as photos, personal items and the memories they once held are consigned to flea markets and car boot sales.

Do you feel spiritually lost with no traditions that ground you? Have you immersed yourself in other cultures, honoured their gods and practised their customs, but have never felt truly fulfilled or connected? I felt this way myself many years ago when I was cherry picking from different cultures from around the world. But little by little like Hansel and Gretel, I began following the breadcrumbs back to my ancestral spirituality and I have never felt more grounded.

If you are wanting to mend the broken threads that tie your ancestors and their folkways to yourself, but don’t know how to go about it because it just seems too overwhelming a task, then you can follow the easy steps that I am going to share with you and I promise that they will help you find the way back to where you belong.

I had wanted to take an Ancestry DNA test for a very long time because I felt that it would open up a doorway to my past and my roots. When I finally did and the results came back it was like a veil had been lifted from my eyes and I could see how everything made so much sense especially when it came to what I was instinctively drawn to. Folk memory dies hard and with a little nudge our amnesia can be lifted.

For the first time since leaving Christianity behind I could at last immerse myself in a meaningful spiritual practice that was rooted in my genetic makeup. I decided to explore my largest DNA percentage first because logically more of my ancestors from these regions had contributed to who I was. Therefore, I believed that this would make it easier for me to reconnect with them and I totally immersed myself in this branch of my tree.

If you choose to use a DNA test to help you gain insight and direction for your spiritual as well as your everyday life, then I would strongly suggest that you only work with one branch at a time. It just isn’t possible to connect meaningfully to every single branch of your family tree at once and in any great depth.

Reconnecting to our lost heritage reawakens our kinship to the lands, rituals and traditions of our people. The threads are terribly worn, but with patience and time we can weave new life back into our ancestral tapestry. It will never be the same as before, but if our hearts and minds are in the right place we can again become one with those who came before us.

However, we do need to put the work in to rediscover our ancestral folkways: the songs, the music, the dances, the myths and legends, the nursery rhymes and the fairy tales, as well as regional cuisine, art, literature and festivals. If you are able to, then visit and explore the regions or countries where your ancestors come from. You could decorate your home with items from that region or with family heirlooms, as well as visit museums, galleries and libraries. You will learn so much about yourself in the process as this whole new world opens up to you.

I have found the pre-Christian worldview and spiritual practices of my ancestors to be the most compelling aspect of my research and with so many passionate revivalists starting up groups in real life, as well as online, it has never been easier to find out about your ancestral folkways and connect with your tribe. For example, if you have French ancestry then you could find other people who practice Gaulish Polytheism or Frankish Heathenry. Or you could go even further back in time and dive deeper into the bear cult for instance or into the shamanistic practices represented in the prehistoric art of France’s infamous caves.

A huge component of reclaiming your ancestral roots has to be language. Linguistic diversity has been on the decline for hundreds of years and of the seven thousand languages spoken around the world today, half of them are endangered. Language is the greatest defining aspect of any culture and Wales is an example of a declining cultural identity due to English being more widely spoken now. Cornish and Manx are two examples of dozens of European languages that are critically or severely in danger of disappearing forever.

Some languages, however, are being thrown a lifeline with many groups pushing revitalising efforts. Scotland now has three Gaelic schools all at full capacity and in Sweden the ancient forest language of Elfdalian is being fought for with the help of schools and other language projects too (only sixty children actually speak it). Learning an ancestral language can be a wonderful way to meet like minded people and a fun project to do as a family. Learning the language of your ancestors makes it so much more easier to understand their beliefs, values and worldview. This way nothing can be lost in translation.

In 2015, The Heritage Crafts Association published ‘The Red List Of Endangered Crafts’ which highlights the plight of traditional craftsmanship. Two hundred and twelve crafts are currently on this list from broom making to arrowsmithing and oak bark tanning to slating. Every year sees more crafts being added or becoming extinct altogether because craftsmen and women are taking their skills to the grave.

The reasons for this are many fold. Firstly, the education system puts a greater emphasis on ‘intellectual’ subjects rather than life skills such as learning a traditional craft. Secondly, an interest in learning a craft is falling due to young people spending much of their down time online or trying to keep up with their heavy study workloads. Thirdly, families no longer have several generations living together anymore so older generations are just not passing their knowledge on to their children and grandchildren. Even if parents have ‘hands on skills’ they are too busy or too tired to even think about teaching their children. Traditional crafts were at one time deeply embedded in our culture due to these generational connections.

And lastly, in a day and age when most people want convenience, uniformity and cheapness over quality, authenticity and uniqueness, traditional craftsmen and women are fighting against the globalist beast. Do you honestly want the exact same item that a million other people own? Every piece an artisan creates has a little part of themselves crafted into it; their love, their passion and their determination to keep traditional crafts alive. Each and everyone of them is promoting a set of values that corporations will never have. Traditional crafts are another thread that connect us to our heritage and by not only buying from these artisans, but also learning a traditional craft, we can be proud of ourselves for preserving our heritage for future generations to enjoy. If you actually have a skill, then it is your responsibility to pass it on. Let us be creators not consumers.

Before I finish, I just wanted to say that if you are able to then please reach out to your living relatives and rebuild family bonds. Spend as much time with them as you can and get to know them on a deeper level. As for older members of your family, find out what you can about your heritage and don’t just ask for photos or dates, but also about your ancestors’ life stories, their heartbreaks and successes. I regret not having been interested in my family history when I was younger and had the opportunity to ask questions to my great grand mother and grandparents. Time is the essence.

The path back to our roots is not a simple straight one. It twists and turns leading us from one place to another with no rhyme or reason. Our roots are part of a complex knotted system which requires patience to unravel, so take your time and enjoy the journey all the way back to your beginning. And if you have children, please involve them as much as you can. Bushcraft, bake, sew, sing them nursery rhymes, tell them about your life and the life of your parents or grand parents if you can, for it is our duty as ancestors in training to pass on this sacred knowledge.

I hope that what I have written has given you some food for thought and has inspired you today to find out more about your heritage and what you can do to preserve your birthright.

Old English Spring Traditions

Humans have revered the hare for thousands of years and early hunters believed that the hare was a worthy kill due to the challenge of catching such an agile and swift creature. As centuries passed, a belief that the mysterious hare was from the Otherworld grew strong and as a result it was treated with such caution that it was taboo to eat hare in many parts of Europe including Wales, Germany, Breton, Switzerland and Denmark. Even Julius Caesar observed this behaviour among the Celtic people of Britain. In some regions just saying the word ‘hare’ was not tolerated and this went on right up until the 19th century. There is even a story of a Germanic tribe that once descended upon Rome at the very same moment a hare was seen dashing towards the city walls. On seeing the Teutons running behind the hare, the Roman soldiers immediately abandoned their positions.

The most well known story, however, which portrays the otherworldly attributes of the hare comes from the Iceni tribe and their goddess Andraste. Whether this goddess took the actual form of a hare is not known, but the Greek historian Dio Cassius, recorded that this war goddess was invoked by their queen Boudica before they revolted against Roman occupation.

“Let us, therefore, go against [the Romans], trusting boldly to good fortune. Let us show them that they are hares and foxes trying to rule over dogs and wolves.” When she [Boudica] had finished speaking, she employed a species of divination, letting a hare escape from the fold of her dress; and since it ran on what they considered the auspicious side, the whole multitude shouted with pleasure, and Boudica, raising her hand toward heaven, said: “I thank you, Andraste, and call upon you as woman speaking to woman … I beg you for victory and preservation of liberty.”

It appears in this case, that the hare was divine and possibly even revered by the Iceni tribe.

To understand the reasons behind why an animal is reviled we need to go back to the time of the Christian conversion and more often than not the trail leads back to a deity. With the arrival of Christianity, layer upon layer of superstition and fear were applied to these primal gods in an attempt to erase them from history, especially if they could not be moulded into the Christian mythos. An example of this comes from Germany with many tales of ghostly hares causing mischief particularly three legged ones. Yet, despite attempts to erase this sacred creature, the symbol of the hare has endured across the centuries hidden within the arts of folk medicine and magic.

Further evidence of the hidden symbolism of the hare can be found in Leicestershire. For there was once a tradition called ‘Hunting the Easter Hare” which took place on Easter Monday. A hare would be hunted then chased towards the Mayor’s house, after which a fine banquet was enjoyed with the hare being the main dish .

The Hallaton ‘Hare Pie Scramble’ has unknown origins, but a piece of land was once left to the rector of Hallaton village in order for him to be able to provide two hare pies and twenty four loaves for the local community on Easter Monday. Hares are not in season after March so mutton, steak and veal would have been used instead. Straight after morning mass the pies were blessed and all the food was shared among the local folk. In the afternoon a procession led by a man with a hare topped staff made its way to a place called Hare Pie Bank, that was situated on the south side of the village (in ancient times this would have been perceived as a sacred boundary). Once there a game of bottle kicking began.

The bottles were actually not bottles at all, but wooden casks two of which were filled with ale and the other which was left empty. Two teams of men, one from Hallaton and the other from the nearby village of Medbourne had to kick the casks over a water boundary of two streams. A full cask was thrown up in the air first and then fought for, followed by the empty one and lastly the remaining full one. The winners shared the ale between them which they received at a ceremony at the market cross. This tradition survives today and still takes place on Easter Monday. It is believed that the hare pie tradition goes back as far as Anglo Saxon times as part of a spring ritual sacrifice to a deity for a successful springtime sowing and autumn harvest. The bottle kicking tradition may go back even further than that, possibly  representing the symbolic struggle between winter and spring.

The name Simnel was applied to all cakes that were baked throughout the duration of Lent. Early Christians decorated these cakes with a figurine of Jesus or the Virgin Mary which gave them religious significance. On Simnel Sunday, young people would visit their parents with gifts of cakes and trinkets especially for the mother. Called ‘going a mothering’, this tradition eventually became Mothering Sunday. The word simnel which can also be spelt symel, simnell and simbling is very closely related to the Old Saxon ‘symbel’ meaning feast or banquet. These richly decorated cakes are very likely remnants of cakes eaten by the pre-Christian Anglo Saxons during celebrations, such as festivals that took place during the month of Solmonath. The Venerable Bede wrote that, ‘Solmonath can be called the month of cakes, which they offered to their gods in that month’. Simnel cakes made from fruit, spices and marzipan could at one time only be found in Lancashire.  Geoffroi Gaimer’s Anglo Norman story ‘Lay of Havelock the Dane’, written in the late 13th century, even mentions Simnel cakes.

The same can be said about hot cross buns (from the word bous meaning sacred ox) which some say are also likely to be a remnant of a much earlier pre-Christian observance. No doubt the church realised that they couldn’t stop people from offering cakes to their gods, so they absorbed this tradition into the Christian faith by adding a cross on top of them.

The symbol of the cross is much older than Christianity and Germanic people carved crosses onto ancient bridal and boundary oak trees (boundary oaks were a Saxon institution). An oak tree that grew near Dahl in Germany was at one time visited by newly wed couples who danced around it three times before carving a cross onto its trunk. Dr Thomas Kuhn, an American physicist, philosopher and historian believed that the cross was the original symbol of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, which was used at one time to bless marriage unions. In the Poetic Edda’s Thrymskvitha, Thor dressed in a wedding gown has his stolen hammer placed on his lap.

Whether the cross symbolised Mjolnir or not we just don’t know, but we do know for sure that the oak tree was sacred to Thor and that hammers were used to consecrate weddings and also births for example. Interestingly, there is a Thor’s hammer pendant that was discovered in Iceland dated to the 10th century and it is in the form of a cross melding the pagan and Christian faiths together. Perhaps hiding the pre-Christian faith in plain sight?

For ease of conversion during Europe’s Christianisation, the early Church incorporated many of our pre-Christian customs and traditions into its own. The Church realised it could not stamp out the folkways of our ancestors entirely and conversion by sword and fire could only go so far. So despite their Christian veneer, the Old Ways are still with us today; if you know where to look.

Sources:

A Dictionary of Superstition, 1989, Oxford University Press

The Moon Myth and Image, 2003, Jules Cashford

The Easter Hare, 1892, Charles Bilson

Origins of English History, 1890, Charles Isaac Elton