dance, ecstasy, ecstatic ritual, flying ointment, flying ointments, Juniper, magic, magical herbs, pagan, paganism, Ritual, ritual dance, ritual magic, Sabbat, sabbatic witchcraft, spirituality, The Horned God, The Horned Lord, The Witches' Sabbat, traditional witchcraft, trancework, walking the hedge, witch, witchcraft
As the wheels rolled down the pavement, I was treated to a lazy ride with two fellow witches, from home to what would hopefully be Elsewhere. One napped, one drove, and I picked their brains for philosophical and magical silver threads that I could weave into my witchy web.
We arrived in the daylight with little time to spare. The clang of a bell called us all together around the camp’s hearth fire, and everything was underway.
We began by processing through the terrain, visiting the sacred sites and leaving offerings. Libations were poured, fruits and gifts laid out on the ground and voices cried out in praise and greeting:
“HAIL THE RIVER!”
“HAIL THE MOUNDS!”
“HAIL THE STONES! THE TREES! THE FIRES!”
“HAIL THE SPIRITS, THE CREATURES, THE ANCESTORS, AND THE KEEPERS OF THIS PLACE!”
All were thanked and honoured as we witches placed offerings in their homesteads. Even those without physical gifts offered a bowed head, a warm nod, and an open space amongst our group for the weekend.
At each sacred place, a gift was found in kind; some witches’ tool that cunning folk have built their crafts upon, and a secret held in each one that said to us “I am useful. I am part of a whole. I am more than a tool. By your hands I will be so much more. By my own power I am so much more.”
Following the processional, we regrouped briefly as a plan was laid. Then, dinner and the chance to mingle and enjoy our communal fire.
As darkness fell, and as bellies were filled, we gathered around the Hearth fire in the centre of our camp. Introductions were made in little groups, and drinks were shared. Soon we took to telling stories. The brave and bardic told classic stories, while some others traipsed round the circle, singing songs. Standing still, poems were shared. Our leaders for the weekend, Grey and Juniper, each taking a turn. Grey painted us verbal pictures of the Yukon, and Juniper told us a story of a naive young witch and her life changing folly, while her trusted canine followed her every step and turn around the flames.
Stories kept on and went, and as the night wore on some stayed, cradling our bodies closer to the fire as people gave in and left to sleep. Conversations evolved, and helpful tips exchanged; what to do with an odorous skull, or how to find a good book. Witchy and common subjects alike, as more silver threads were added to my web.
A witch, to some, is a nocturnal creature, so it was no surprise when sleeping in was permitted. A late start meant a late night, and so we gathered around the Hearth fire once more to really begin our weekend. Introductions were made, and what a motley crew we were; BritTrad Wiccans, and new agers, ecstatic witches, and theistic Pagans, Heathens, parents, children, young, old, new, and adepts. All there to experience something new. Something wild and maybe something a bit darker than we’d allow ourselves any other time.
We were also introduced to our herb for the weekend, Artemisia Absinthium. Wormwood. A classic witching herb found in Absinth, known for its sensual effects and its ability to push a person on and on.
We sat, following the shade, and discussed….everything. Wormwood. Witchcraft. Ecstasy. And, of course, the gods. Because as we sat, the gifts given to us during our opening procession were laid out and we began to piece them slowly together. A loose robe, a horned stag skull. A strong and impressive stang. Linseed oil. Sewing tools. Everything we needed to create a stunning and terrifying effigy of the Horned Lord. Each of us was able to contribute; embroidery, or a woven rope, a beaded string, or a braided garland of feathers and flowers. A powerful blend of classic cunningfolk herbs and ingredients were mixed together to form a red paste which we used to bless the skull, and give Him flesh once more.
I created kernips for myself at the Horned God altar, before my portrait of Dionysus, and cleansed myself of miasma before our ritual. After all the pieces were assembled on that strong and beautiful stang, we processed from our hearth fire to the Witches’ Circle; a spiraling path through the woods, ending in our open ritual space.
I was lucky enough to carry the stang, to carry the Horned Lord, high above my head at the front of the processional. Drums beating heavily and somberly, and a clanging tambourine tossing clattering noises from the back, we marched to the Witches’ Circle.
“HAIL THE HORNED LORD!”
“HAIL THE SPIRITS!”
When we arrived we were offered our choice of wormwood; a flying ointment, a powerful and bitter tincture, or a sachet of herbs to carry around with us. Each made their choice, considering their tolerances, experience, and how they wished to approach the sacred herb, and how that would affect this ecstatic ritual celebration of the Horned Lord. One by one we slipped into the spiral having been warned “This path is far longer than you anticipate. Keep walking. Keep silent. Keep going.”
This may have been truer for me than anyone.
As the stang-bearer, I entered last, and could not see the path before me. The Horned Lord’s robe hung before my face, and I simply walked forward in silence, eyes down and followed the sound of drumming and chanting as the sun set, safely guided by Juniper and Grey. The spiral went on and one. I could see the shapes of humans beside me, deeper into the path, but I could not tell each from another. I could hear their song, and the drums they chanted over, but every time I felt that I was closing in on them, the path stretched on and on ahead of me.
I finally arrived, and cries flew up into the darkening sky;
“HE HAS COME!”
“HE HAS ARRIVED!”
“THE HORNED LORD! HAIL!”
The ritual was started; a hedge raised, and bottles and bottles of offerings laid out before the Horned God’s feet. Gifts and tokens of appreciation placed in the sand.
And then the dancing.
Sometimes powerful experiences should be kept secret. This may be one of those times. But I can tell you that it was as if I had been caught in a river; dragging me forward, even when my mind knew I could have stopped. I didn’t want to though; I wanted to continue. Wormwood pushed me on. The Horned Lord pushed. Dionysus pushed me, as I swung my hair about and threw my head back, exposing my throat to the moon. Dancing and dancing, spinning and spinning. Round and round and round and thrumming and shaking and drumming and rattling and on and on and on…
“HAIL THE HORNED LORD!”
“HAIL OLD HORNY!”
“HAIL! PAN! DIONYSUS! CERNUNNOS! MASTER!”
“HAIL BAPHOMET, LIGHT BRINGER!”
“HAIL! HAIL! HAIL!”
Until we nearly all fell and the world was cold beneath our pulsing bodies.
Bread and drink were shared, and thanks given. The spiral unwound as we walked out of the Witches’ Circle.
We returned to our camp and hearth fire, our home base and community centre for the weekend to discuss what happened, but also to just coast on the body buzz of wormwood, ritual, ecstasy and shared experience. More discussions held; family, the internet, what “those young’ns” (of which I am one) are up to, knowing the gods, and making it work.
All weekend the conversation was fluid and open, despite the many backgrounds and paths represented amongst us. We shared a communal stone soup, and were treated with bannock bread by Grey. We joked, and shared more tricks or stories, and learned.
The weekend ended with a final procession, more offerings laid out and more shouts to the sky in honour of the spirits and sacred places that had housed us for the weekend, enriching our experiences. Then, a discussion of the coming year.
Wheels rolling down the pavement again, a napping witch in the back seat and two chatty ones up front, more threads weaving into my web, more tangles and snares. Some old ones coming undone. The Witches’ Sabbat behind us and home ahead, the experiences still flush in our faces.
Honour to the Horned God, and honour to the Knoll. Honour to the witches, and those tools that we use; the needle and thread, wormwood, mushrooms, bones, water, books, bells, and drums!
Many, many thanks to
the organizers at The Witches’ Sabbat
Juniper, and Grey!