Returning

I’ve been AWOL for a couple of months, because I’ve had a lot going on.  Hopefully I’ll be able to update here more now.

The good news is that the doctor’s FINALLY found a painkiller regimen which actually means I can *walk* again, and *do things*.  I’ve even got some paid employment as a groom; I don’t know if my health’s going to hold up for it, because it’s only been a week and I’m already struggling, but I’m really hoping it will.  There are a lot of negative side effects to the regimen, both healthwise and in terms of impact on my other medication, but I’m just so relieved to have some mobility back after so long.

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A good horse of a bad colour: the stang, Cain’s Horse and horse colour lore

Yesterday, working with the heavy horses and discussing the belief – still very much current – that chesnuts are a “bad colour” and chesnut mares in particular are mardy cows, I was thinking about horse colour lore in general, and then of the famous (to some of us) quote from the Horsemen:

‘Here’s to the horse with the four white feet,
the chestnut tail and mane;
a star on his face and a spot on his breast,
and his master’s name was Cain.’

This suddenly struck me pretty hard. Obviously the saying has more obvious esoteric meanings, but in light of its origins, I found myself considering in terms of the horseman’s lore that is still current and stretches back, consistently, for centuries (we can find it well-established in William Gibson’s writing in the 1700s, for example).

Like I say, chesnut (as it’s traditionally spelled by horsemen and -women) is pretty universally considered to be a “bad colour”, along with colours like roan (superstitiously considered neurotic and flighty and “unlucky”, though often considered to be good doers) – though of course, as the saying goes, “a good horse is never a bad colour” – and the lore of markings, again still very much active, comes in here too. I was very much brought up with the old saying about white socks – “One buy him, two try him, three suspect him, four reject him”*

So Cain’s Horse is of an unlucky, ill-natured colour, and with one of the most universally despised markings, the unlucky four white feet! (The only thing that could be more ill-favoured would be if the saying was “legs” and not feet, because that might imply that the legs showed the hated “high white” markings, extending above the knee/hock.)

Now, leaving aside its mystical meanings, a facial star is generally considered a positive thing, a beautiful and “lucky” marking, so long as it’s not too large.

The spot on the chest carries less lore, besides the fact that white body markings are generally viewed with suspicion by the upper classes as being too close to ‘coloured horses’ (skewbalds and piebalds) with their working class and “gypsy horse” connotations.**

Something worth noting here is that white markings on the body are particularly common in Clydesdales, one of the main working/draught breeds here in the UK – particularly in Scotland – and Clydesdales are also known for having white socks. And horses can end up with white marks from pressure – something I’ve particularly observed in working/draught horses.

Since Cain is the First Farmer, it makes sense that his Horse (whatever else it is in occult terms) is a working horse, the plough horse whose draught-pole is the stang. Note that this is one of the literal meanings of “stang” in Scots: it’s a generic term for a wooden bar or pole, but one of the specific meanings is just that, the shaft or draught-pole of a cart. And if the stang is the draught-pole, and the stang of the Craft is double-ended, then we are reminded of the Chariot of the tarot, the two horses of will and passion, divine and animal nature, morality and appetite, dating back to Plato’s chariot allegory.

And so Cain’s Horse, with its lucky star and unlucky white feet, its “bad colour” that is none the less toasted by the company, and its white mark of work, embodies in itself the stang, the Chariot and the double-natured Craft: lucky and unlucky, straight and twisted, as divine and devilish as the Witch Himself.

plough horses

Ploughing, William Crawford

* another familiar form of this saying, which shows up in various forms, is:

If you have a horse with four white feet, keep him not a day
If you have a horse with three white feet, send him far away
If you have a horse with two white feet, give him to a friend
If you have a horse with one white foot, keep him to the end.

** Modern chesnuts may show what are known as “birdcatcher marks” if they’re descended from the TB of that name, but this is unlikely to have affected the relevant lore, since he lived in the 1800s and Cain’s Horse is, given the context of the Horsemen, unlikely to have been a TB! – though you never know. Other causes of white spotting in chesnuts can be a copper deficiency (possible in working horses) and equine vitiligo, the so-called “arab fading syndrome” (since it shows up in that breed a lot).

Hedgecrossing as an act of resistance

Much has been made, in forms of traditional Craft and associated magicks, of the image of the hedge as that which surrounds the “civilised” world and separates it from the wild beyond.

However, in most of England, hedges haven’t been this for a long time. Yes, our Neolithic ancestors enclosed their land with hedges; yes, some of the hedges across Europe date back to the Middle Ages (mostly those on the boundaries of owned pieces of land rather than dividing fields within those owned pieces – though many ancient hedges were also removed during this period) – but many of the hedges that remain in many areas today are the legacy of enclosure.

Most UK readers are probably familiar with the enclosure movement and the associated Inclosure Acts; for those readers who aren’t, this is going to be an extremely simplified and potted history. For your convenience I shall be lazy and link to wikipedia. While, as it says in that wiki article, some historians are now questioning the actual impact of the Acts (and it was linked with other agricultural reforms in the Agricultural Revolution of these islands, which both allowed more efficient production and reduced the need for agricultural labour, with the pros and cons of that), what I’m interested in here is the hedge as a symbol – in the fact that, in the popular imagination, enclosure continues to be remembered as a vast, class-based injustice, in which access to common land was removed from the working class en masse.

Under the previous manorial system, with its large open fields cultivated by tenant farmers, some land remained for untenured for the use of excluded and impoverished populations, who relied upon rights of use of such land, enshrined in law. But with mass enclosure, enforced by Acts of Parliament, this previously common land was now being ditched, fenced and reserved to the profit of its owners.(1)

They hang the man and flog the woman,
Who steals the goose from off the common,
Yet let the greater villain loose,
That steals the common from the goose.

— Seventeenth-century English protest rhyme

Many of the hedges that haven’t been grubbed out to make way for large-scale monoculture arable farming are in fact the legacy of this movement, remembered as one intended to retain land for the private ownership and benefit of the monied classes. Riots and rebellions took place across the country, involving the destruction of boundaries, from the 1500s to the 1800s (often tied into agricultural labourers’ revolts against mechanisation and the ensuing loss or rural jobs).

The men of property they came
They dug the fence and they built the drain
By methods that were underhand
They stole our livelihood and land
The men of Otmoor we fought back
With shovels and picks, our faces black…

– Otmoor Forever, Telling the Bees (referencing the Otmoor Riots)

And issues around land use and public rights continue into the present day, with “squatters’ rights”, changes of law around rights derived through adverse possession, trespass and the “right to roam” having been at issue in England and Wales throughout the past century and into this one.

In the light of this, the hedge is not only an ancient symbol of the boundary between wild and “civilised” spaces – it’s also a modern symbol of a barrier to access, of the restriction of common people’s rights, of the boundary between rich and poor, the literally entitled and the marginalised and displaced.

Georgii Quinti Anno Sexto, I, who own the River-field,
Am fortified with title-deeds, attested, signed and sealed,
Guaranteeing me, my assigns, my executors and heirs
All sorts of powers and profits which — are neither mine nor theirs.

I have rights of chase and warren, as my dignity requires.
I can fish — but Hobden tickles — I can shoot — but Hobden wires.
I repair, but he reopens, certain gaps which, men allege,
Have been used by every Hobden since a Hobden swapped a hedge.
– “The Land”, Kipling

This, then, is part of our work as witches of this land: to traverse those boundaries as well, to slip through (and perhaps ultimately break down?) the barriers that keep us from our natural right and heritage as humans: equality, dignity, livelihood. In our hedge-crossing magic, those of us who are disempowered and disenfranchised – those of us who are poor, disabled, working class, LGBT+, women, of colour, on the wrong side of all the axes of power – can create sorcerous gaps in those social structures of power, and in doing so acknowledge one of the older implications of “hedge-witchery”:

Prefixed to any word, [hedge] “notes something mean, vile, of the lowest class” [Johnson], from contemptuous attributive sense of “plying one’s trade under a hedge” (hedge-priest, hedge-lawyer, hedge-wench, etc.), a usage attested from 1530s.
– etymonline.com

Yes, we ply our trade under the hedge, we who are considered beyond the pale (itself another boundary, and which term has its roots(!) in another history of oppression) – and that is part of our power. We the outcast, we the condemned, the cast out, the unwanted – we the weird, the odd, the bent, the queer – we the makers of small and strange magicks, unnoticed in the cracks – we can worm our way through the hedge and show that all its divisions are fake, false, illusory, constructed to keep us out. We shine a light (a small light, a poacher’s lamp on a half-moon night) on the holes in those immutable binaries of gender, race, class, ability, worthiness, the human and the less-than, and in doing so shift whole worlds.

Rome never looks where she treads.
Always her heavy hooves fall
On our stomachs, our hearts or our heads;
And Rome never heeds when we bawl.
Her sentries pass on—that is all,
And we gather behind them in hordes,
And plot to reconquer the Wall,
With only our tongues for our swords.

We are the Little Folk—we!
Too little to love or to hate.
Leave us alone and you’ll see
How we can drag down the State!
We are the worm in the wood!
We are the rot at the root!
We are the taint in the blood!
We are the thorn in the foot!

Mistletoe killing an oak—
Rats gnawing cables in two—
Moths making holes in a cloak—
How they must love what they do!
Yes—and we Little Folk too,
We are busy as they—
Working our works out of view—
Watch, and you’ll see it some day!

– Song of the Picts, Kipling

(1) As a side note, around here this was less of an issue – Kent had been enclosed far more anciently and practised different farming systems and systems of land tenure dating from pre-Roman times, including the practice of of gavelkind, which allowed for more equitable distribution of property.

Mist in the Golden Valley

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Hedgeriding versus crossing the hedge

Pondering today on how many Crafters don’t distinguish between these two things: hedgeriding/hedgesitting (as the original Germanic terms have it) and crossing the hedge.  One is actively occupying and working in liminal space, space between the worlds; the other is crossing the borders into otherspace, actively moving into other worlds and returning – yet they get used synonymously.

There’s a place on my family land where one of the ancient hedgerows runs – sadly neglected the past few years, as the fields it divides have been let go into one for the cows to wander between, but this means that you can get into it and climb astride a branch of ash or hawthorn bent so long ago as a sucker that now it’s broad enough around to straddle like a horse.

There you can feel the linear surge of energy that runs along the hedge, and experience it as a very different thing from a barrier to be traversed at right angles.  Like the animals who travel along the hedgerows (hedges function as wildlife corridors between fields, or between fields and roads, etc), you can feel your spirit move along the hedge, along the boundaryline, the hidden path that can’t be walked in flesh.  Spirits travel there too, betwixt and between, along these old secret roads that have been protected from human feet in some cases for hundreds of years (and who knows how long the Way ran there before?).

And as I realised some years ago, I have reasons for using imagery of riding and sitting rather than walking, and that comes to mind as well.

Does anyone out there work the magic of the hedgerow itself, rather than or as well as crossing and returning?

Autumn treasure

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old man of the woods

Moving into autumn…the Old Man of the Woods approaches…

Tuesday, moor-day.

I need to get back to Dartmoor soon…

Coyopa : words by Tom Hirons

Out onto the moor today. In the midst of all the busy-ness, the prospect of putting miles of moorland under my feet and acres of clear sky in my eyes gladdens my heart like the homecoming that it is, ‘though greater, when I’m out with the skylarks, the buzzards and the long grass. I’ll sing and talk to myself and remember all manner of forgotten things, be dazzled and devastated in turn by the world and the twists and turns of this story. And then I’ll come back to this house and the wind’ll echo in my head and my spirit and soul will be singing with lark-song and hawk-cry and I’ll begin the busy-ness again, renewed, recollected, my intent honed to a fine edge and my body alive with the wild.

Merrivale

Photos are not mine – you can find them here, and here, and here.

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A Typology of Spirits

A useful categorization from A Forest Door!

Halfway through making recaning bundles – these ones from healthful herbs (thus the hawthorn pins), though I plan to do a post on this blog soon about the use of “keep-away” bundles made from baneful herbs.

These ones are garden-and-hedge bundles: rosemary, thyme, lavender and elder, hawthorn and hazel.

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