The beginning of February is marked by Imbolc, a traditional Celtic festival which heralds the start of spring. I swear winter gets later and later each year, and there are few signs of spring yet here in the UK. Personally I love the cold dark seasons, so this suits me fine, but I feel for my friends who find the dark days disheartening.
Back when I lived in Sussex as a teenager I’d go walking across the downs in February looking for Imbolc snowdrops, but now that I live in London it’s less easy to find time to head into the countryside, although I do live near several parks and a nature reserve on the river Thames. Read more
The Occult Tradition by David S. Katz is a book I read a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed, mainly because it didn’t just discuss dubious claims of current witches dating back their ancestry to ancient Egypt, but took an in-depth look at ‘occult’ concepts in a very literal sense – in the sense of discussing hidden or obscure material.
A lot of the book focused on Jewish and Christian mysticism, which was interesting because again this isn’t something that’s always heavily discussed in books on occult themes.
I read A History of Pagan Europe several years ago, while I was working on the research project. At the time, I made notes on the bits that I found particularly interesting, and now I’m going back through all my old notebooks to see what I’d written.
A witch is born when a candle is placed in a paper lantern and flown into the sky. Her first view of the world – not when she opens her eyes, for that happens much later, but when she becomes aware – is the knowledge of how it feels to float. Flying through the air on a candleholder, the witch feels the wind around her, and begins to understand.
It’s lying on the kitchen table still attached to your arm by bone, muscle and sinew that are visible in the open raw groove round your wrist. The skin that used to be there has formed lava-like rivulets, running down to your fingers as if it has melted and set again. Your whole hand is puffing up nicely and hurts like . . . well, like an acid burn. Your fingers twitch but your thumb is not working.
‘It might heal so that you can use your fingers again. Or it might not.’
She took the band off your wrist at the loch and sprayed the wound with a lotion that dulled the pain.
She was prepared. She’s always prepared.
And how did she get there so quick? Did she run? Fly on a bloody broomstick?
However she got to the loch you still had to walk back with her. That was a tough walk.
‘Why don’t you speak to me?’
She’s right in your face.
‘I’m here to teach you, Nathan. But you must stop trying to escape.’
She’s so ugly that you’ve got to turn away.
There’s an ironing board set up on the other side of the kitchen table.
She was ironing? Ironing her combat trousers?
‘Nathan. Look at me.’
You keep your eyes on the iron.
‘I want to help you, Nathan.’
You hawk up a huge gob, turn and spit. She’s quick, though, and snatches back so it lands on her shirt not on her face.
She doesn’t hit you. Which is new.
‘You need to eat. I’ll heat up some stew.’
That’s new too. Usually you have to cook and clean and sweep.
But you’ve never had to iron.
She goes to the pantry. There’s no fridge. No electricity. There’s a wood-burning range. Setting the fire up and cleaning it out are also your chores.
While she’s in the pantry you go to look at the iron. Your legs are weak, unsteady, but your head’s clear. Clear enough. A sip of water might help but you want to look at the iron. It’s just a piece of metal, iron-shaped, with a metal handle, old. It’s heavy and cold. It must be heated up on the range to do its job. Must take ages. She’s miles from anywhere and anything, and she irons her trousers and shirts!
When she comes back a few seconds later you’re round by the pantry door and you bring the iron down hard, pointed side against her head.
But she’s so bloody tall and so bloody fast. The iron catches the side of her scalp and sinks into her shoulder.