The Egg of the New Year


Holly pricks and evergreen sticks, 
Mistletoe above, and fortunes of love; 
The short, sunless days-- a world without light.
We witches still play on Christmas Night.

          Winter comes and with it, the bite of the frost and the long nights.  The boughs of the trees will weigh heavy with snow, the rains will freeze in the sky and blister our skin.   We will wrap our homes in light and tell stories by the fireside; stories of nativities and saints and devils and gifts.  Winter is a story-telling time, especially in Indigenous cultures, including the in the Northwest; winter dances and potlatches used to be more common, because winter is a time for stories, for tales that thrill and teach us on the long nights.

         They used to say that cattle and horses kneel to Christ near Christmas.   They used to say that the winter was haunted by Hags.  They also used to say that fortunes and love divinations were just as useful at Midwinter as they are at Midsummer.  In the folklore of the New World, witches and portents of the future tend to ride on the days of Hallow's Eve, May's Eve, Midsummer and Midwinter, and today it is the latter we will honor.

        Midwinter, Winterstide or Christmastime is a peculiar season- from the end of Thanksgiving to the day of the New Year, our world becomes a festive, illuminated, highly spiritual time.  Whether secular or religious, whether Christian or pagan, the Yultide season is so deeply rooted in our traditions that we continue the magic of the season onward through the generations with joy.  Part of this time is spent in frantic materialism and commercialism, driving ourselves into debt over expectations unrelated to the history of the season, and the other part is spent in joy and revelry with family as we fatten on sweets the way "rabbits fatten on frost".I don't care for Christmas, at least, I used to truly dislike it until recently.  The more I started to separate my celebration of folk charms from the consumerism and obligations, the better I felt about the season as a whole. These days my "Christmas" is about divination, baking sweets, attending the ballet and waiting for my more favorite holiday, New Years.  This year, my New Years is for reading the future, looking ahead, seeing the way.

Little 
Sorceries in the Venus Glase
Egg divination is a very cute and underrated folk-magic.  The idea that there's an entire magical world surrounding eggs as portents of love or death, as talismans of luck or cursing, as vehicles that witches sail overseas in (according to the German American folklore of the Midwest),2 is just too cute to me.  In the part of Southern California we grew up in, it wasn't uncommon to hear of someone's granny or abuela rubbing them with eggs or cracking eggs over them for all kinds of purposes; to remove internal blockages, to tell fortunes, to absorb bad spirits and evil eyes, or to heal wounds and transfer pain- even to curse children or sick or elderly people.  Oomancy is part of many different healing traditions and their method for use in that regard isn't too dissimilar to the love divination games reported in folklore.  Witches seemed to love haunting eggs in the same way they loved haunting butter in folklore; witches were accused of rotting the hen's eggs or producing yokeless eggs much to the irritation of their neighbors according to Puckett’s Popular Beliefs and Superstitions.  Emrich had reported in The Folklore of Love and Courtship that a portent of someone's intended lover would themselves enter the home to turn an egg put into the coals of a hearthfire, an egg that legend says "sweats blood".   I've never seen the famed "egg-sweating" that's discussed in some of our folklore, but when candle wax or liquid mercury wasn't available, we would turn to egg-whites cracked into bowls.  As we move closer to the long night, the Winter Solstice, I've been dreaming of folk charms for the occasion...

“If an egg, placed in front of the fire by a young woman, be seen to sweat blood, it is a sign that she will succeed in winning the sweetheart she desires.”3

Every bit of lore regarding this divination varies; sometimes the egg-whites must be poured into the water and the bowl left unmolested overnight to be read in the morning (just as it is on May Day), other times you read the whites by candlelight straight-away.

"Drop an egg in water at midnight on New Year's Eve, and whatever it forms is what will happen to you during the year."4

One operation for this fortune given in the Journal of American Folklore tells a pretty fantastic tale, here it is not directly referenced as a Christmas or Halloween divination, but it can be if you want it to;

“One or more girls place some eggs to roast before an open fire, while they seat themselves in front of the fire on chairs. Each one who is trying her fortune rises to turn her egg when it begins to sweat ; it will sweat blood! As she is turning the egg the person she is to marry will enter through a door or window (all of which must be left open) and take her vacant chair. If she is to die before she marries, two black dogs will enter, bearing her coffin, which they will deposit on her chair. Mrs. Fanny D. Bergen.”

         According to C.L Daniels' collection of occult lore, egg folklore among different cultures was not only common, it was fairly serious business much of the time.  But, like most divinations and fortunes, these magics were not always associated with witchery, mostly with 'little sorceries' and fortune-telling, and were usually practiced by younger people (girls in particular) in order to divine for luck in love and life, or to foresee theft and death.  One of the divinations given in reference to the holidays (we witches know as our flying-days), goes as such;

"To foretell coming events, break a new-laid egg, separate carefully the white from the yolk, drop the white into a large tumbler half full of water, place this uncovered in a  dry place, and let it remain untouched for twenty-four hours.  Then look again, and the figures which will have formed indicate the occupation of your future husband,--” the charm continues, "The more whites are dropped into the glass the more figures there will be.  This fortune-telling experiment is believed to be  particularly efficacious if undertaken between midnight and 1 am on May Day, or Midsummer morning, on Halloween, Christmas Eve or New Year’s.

An egg for luck, sugar for sweetness, milk for comfort, rice for wealth and an orange for beauty, may these New Year symbols bring their spirits into my path...

The same egg divinations practiced especially on May Day and Halloween are just as effective at Midsummer, Christmas and New Year’s, days associated with witch’s flight and so, if you’re feel the need to bring some folk magic into your Holiday season, you could turn to egg magic for New Year fortune-telling with friends and family, or make egg-magic part of your Christmas Eve activities with the kids.


Take an unblemished egg from the fridge or hen-house, one for each person involved, and some glass goblets or bowls.  Fill the bowls with water and by firelight, crack the eggs and separate the whites.  Pour the whites into the bowls and save the yellows for baking goods.  Tuck the bowls under your bed and in the morning, pull them out carefully and read the shapes within.  If you see images of wealth, your mate will be rich.  If you see boats and waves, he will be a traveler who breaks your heart.  If you see headphones and turn-tables, bet he’s gonna be a DJ.  Have fun with this little game, or take it as seriously as you please.  For some, egg-reading is their primary form of divination, for others it’s just a fun but of fortune-telling.  The choice is yours as always.

New Year’s divinations make a good deal of sense; why wouldn’t we read our futures when the year turns?  New Years is huge for us as a culture, maybe we should focus more on bringing divination into this time as New World Witches, make it about more than just first-kisses, fireworks and binge drinking (I mean we should keep all that, but we can add more), maybe we can bring back some of the old customs and superstitions of the past in a fun new way.

"A branch of holly with berries on it, brought into the house, will bring luck; but for every berry that falls before New Year's, a bit of the luck will go."
5

Duncan Emirch’s The Hodgepodge Book: An Almanac of American Folklore has some advice for ushering in a merry New Year, like making wishes on horseshoes kept under the pillow on the eve of the New Year, and leaving out symbols of the future you desire out on the tables; bread and salt and coins and the like in order to draw in health, wealth and prosperity, or, eating foods with symbolic meaning for good luck in the year to come.

"Lay a green ivy leaf in a dish on New Year's night, cover it with water and set it in a safe place until the fifth day of the year. If the leaf is then still green and fair, you will be safe from any sickness all the year; but if you find black spots on it, you may expect sickness."- CLD

This time around I will be leaving out bread and milk for the tricksters who visit and I will be eating an egg for luck, black-eyed-peas6 for prosperity, and peppers to make my love-life spicy.  I’ll also be doing holly, apple and egg-divinations to usher in the New Year with my mates.  I'm looking forward to a new kind of Yuletide set of traditions, ones that make the season truly feel magical to me.

“By giving to a number of mistletoe leaves the names of her several suitors, and ranging them in line before the fire, she can test the affection of each sweetheart. The leaf which the heat causes to pop over nearest to where she is standing will indicate which lover is most sincere in his professions, and in the same way will be shown the relative ardor of the others.”7


1. Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore, Vol VII
2. Wayland D. Hand, Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina. 4874-8569, Volume 4874, Issue 8569
3. Journal of American Folklore
4. Newbell Niles Puckett, Wayland Debs Hand, Anna Casetta, Sondra B. Thiederman, Popular Beliefs and Superstitions: A Compendium of American folklore: from the Ohio Collection of Newbell Niles Puckett, Volume 1
5. Cora Linn Morrison Daniels, ‎Charles McClellan Steven, Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World, Volume 2
6. Thomas G. Burton, Ambrose N. Manning, A Collection of folklore by Undergraduate Students of East Tennessee State University
7. Journal of American Folklore

The Modern Witch Tarot Review

The Modern Witch Tarot

...An exploration of femininity, body positivity, divine sexuality, diversity and queerness in tarot.

What a phenomenon this particular tarot deck has been; truly an incredibly unifying experience for young witches all over the world, but especially for us brown and queer femme folk.  Almost every one of my femme P.O.C friends pre-ordered this deck with me- including members of my BGMN coven.

The Modern Witch Tarot has taken the world by storm with bursts of delicious color, contemporary themes, diversity in representation and quality manufacturing.  While the cards are a tad stiff and glossy for the traditional shuffle, they are the highest quality you'll see in tarot, and they are masterpieces that hearken to graphic novel detail while in-keeping with Rider Waite tradition.  The pre-order edition came in a decorated golden tin with moths and moons printed along the sides.  Inside was a broach featuring the favored 10 of Swords Card with its popular meme-line, "Everything is Fine".  Next, a decorative patch as well as a black and gold reading cloth.  The deck comes in a stiff, high quality box and features stiff gold edges.


The illustrations themselves are a treat; headphones and cellphones, print dresses and braids, women with black and dark brown and pale cream skin, people with thick curves and waves and afros... what a wonderful experience to see myself reflected in witchy artwork.

Lisa, you are a wonderful artist and ally, supporting your work has been a pleasure and I cannot wait to see how your work impacts the tarot world in the coming months.


I'm stunned and I highly recommend getting your hands on a deck when it becomes available!

10/10 Via Hedera Tarot Rating.

The Evening Sun


I spent Halloween on a farm with the pumpkins and corn and gourds and cabbages, under an orange sun, in the cold crisp evening light.  We ate candy, made mischief, got drunk on tequila and honored the dead.  It was both familiar and cathartic.


"To see their future husband, the young women used to take one teaspoonful of flour, one of the salt, and one of the water, and mix them together, forming dough.  This they made into a little cake, which they baked in the ashes of the stone grate. While eating this, they walked backwards toward their beds, laid themselves down across them, and went to sleep lying in this position.  If they dreamed of their future husband as bringing a glass cup containing water, he was wealthy; if a tin cup, he was in good circumstances; and if he had ragged clothes and a rusty tin cup, he was very poor."  -The Journal of American Folklore (p. 49)



A bowl of water, a bowl of earth, a bowl of rings- fortunes for the future on All Hallows Eve.  Halloween Tables are a tradition, and I hope to get more creative with each passing year.


Baking for the home and the spirits; a lot of the time, we express our devotion through simple domestic arts and crafts which connect us to our ancestors and the wisdom they've passed on to us.  This recipe that came to be from the ether is cocoa blueberry and it turned out heavenly!


I hope your final harvest was full of treats and traditions.

Rat Letters


"In New England, as well as in other parts of the United States, it is still believed, by certain persons, that if a house is infested with rats, these can be exiled by the simple process of writing them a letter, in which they are recommended to depart, and make their abode in another locality."
- Journal of American Folklore: Vol V (p.23)


There’s a bit of a rat problem over at the Family House.  We’ve got deterrents but I think we’d all like to avoid traps or exterminators (we don’t need to collect any more spirits in that house), so I’ve decided to have a little fun with the folklore regarding my dear ally, the rat.  Rats and mice resonate with me as a mole-person. All the mammals low to the ground who scurry in dark places and master the world by their wits are my kind of beast. Rabbits, raccoons, mice, moles and rats, they all have a phenomenal amount of magical folklore behind them; there’s even a set of divination and omens regarding rats and mice (myomancy), but one bit that goes overlooked today is the method of rat and mice removal by way of a politely written and concise letter, given to the rats to read.  

That's all there is to it really: Write a letter kindly explaining that they are no longer wanted, where they may relocate, what may await them there and a proper thank you for their acquiescence. James George Frazer's Golden Bough was my first exposure to the idea of Greek and New English "rat letters"; like most sources on this lore, Frazer's came from the same vein of sources- Greek agricultural treatise, French and Scottish anti-mice letters and lastly, the oral accounts of American farmers throughout the 19th century. These letters and their accompanying incantations are not always threats or demands, they are more like instructions; a proposition for the rats and mice that direct them to a specific place away from your stores and larders. 


"Some years ago an American farmer was reported to have written a civil letter to the rats, telling then that his crops were short, that he could not afford to keep them through winter that he had been very kind to them, and that for their own good he thought they had better leave him and go to some of his neighbors who had more grain.  This document he pinned to a post in his bard for the rats to read."
James George Frazer Macmillan, 1912, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, Part 5, Volume 2 (p. 277)


It was particularly important that you state the place they are to go quite clearly in your missive- it can be a neighbors house or a barren patch in your own keeping. Point was, the mice and rats didn’t need to go home, they just needed to get the hell up outta here. The simplest charm of Rat Letters involved only a few simple steps; write a small letter to the rats (or mice, or moles) and (according to some sources) smear it with butter or grease before folding or balling it up and placing in their hole of a rat's nest- or, write the letter and place it in clear view on the wall near their entryway that they may see it on their way to and from. 


Having taken a leaf of paper, write on it the following words: “I conjure you, O mice who inhabit here, not to injure me yourselves, nor to allow any other mouse to do so; and I give you this field *(mention which one it is).  But if I find you residing here in the future with the aid of the mother of the gods, I will cut you up into seven pieces.” having written this, paste-up the paper at the spot where the mice are against a natural stone, taking care to keep the letters on the outside.  I have written this, in order not to leave out anything; but I o not believe all such things, heaven forbid! And I counsel every one not to pay any attention to such rubbish.”
- Cornelius Bassus, Geoponika


Charms and incantations to lead rats away by way of persuasion rather than extermination go far back in Western folklore- through Greece, France, Ireland, Scotland, and Americas, there are charms to dismiss rats and mice to another place; by music or note, by threat or citation. Rat-letters appear to be one of the rare regional folklore in the New World but do appear in a number of publications outside of the collections including popular women's magazines and Christian life publications of the 19th century.

In the new world, there was a good deal of humor behind the whole idea of writing a letter to the rats and it was a folklore found throughout New England, but the original sources were pretty serious about trying to get the rats to leave through peaceful-yet-dire methods, fearful of invoking their numbers in vengeance and weary of trying to annihilate the evil rather than transfer it elsewhere.  Hell, according to the Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World it was recommended in New England once to simply carry a rat and let it loose in a neighbors home, the rest would follow and settle there; delivering a message (one way or another) was a crucial point. 

While pest exorcism charms are a dime-a-dozen in folklore, the specific writing of a letter seems to be a rare and regional bit of folklore, and very cute. Scottish ejection charms were to be written legibly and in full view for the rats to see (and often accompanied by a rhyming charm) and we see this mentioned in the Journal of American Folklore, while those of the Geoponika and France were meant to be plugged into rat-holes and entryways (similarly, soap ((the enchanted kind is always best)) could be plugged in rat-holes with a small incantation spoken).  Those found in American folklore are primarily French, Scottish and English in origin and those charms were inspired in no small part by Roman agricultural lore collections of the 10th century and I'd wager that the transmission of this charm came to America by French and Scottish settlers familiar with this old world charm and its contemporary uses

As Hallows Eve approaches and the fruits drop and the corn withers, like our ancestors before us we turn to the simple agricultural rites of old, even the silly superstitions, just to feel a little bit better about the winter to come. I wondered what I could do with such a fun bit of folklore to help my family house… I settled on trying out a polite letter asking for our dear rats to depart the premises before we adopt the new house cat; except this is no simple letter, this one will be inked in banishment and censed in exorcism, and ultimately charmed for the purpose of magical persuasion.

I imagine this little folk charm could be easily adapted for hex-craft; sending away your rats to pester the home of your enemy... but I wouldn't recommend that, not unless you want that enemy sending an even more politely written letter to the rats directing them back to you.... I hope they receive my letter in good humor… but if they don’t? Cats. Always bet on cats.



Resources:

  • Geoponika by Various; Anatolius, Pliny, Brassus et al
  • Journal of American Folklore, Volume V by American Folk-lore Society, 1892
  • Charms, Charmers and Charming: International Research on Verbal Magic by J. Roper Springer, Nov 19, 2008
  • The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, Part 5, Volume 2 by James George Frazer, Macmillan, 1912
  • Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World: A Comprehensive Library of Human Belief and Practice in the Mysteries of Life by Mrs. Cora Linn (Morrison) Daniels, Charles McClellan Stevans, J. H. Yewdale & sons Company, 1903
  • Folklore From the Working Folk of America by Tristram Potter Coffin, Hennig Cohen, Anchor Press, 1973 
  • Arthur's Lady's Home Magazine, Volumes 37-39 by T. S. Arthur & Sons, 1871
  • The Congregationalist and Christian World; The Conversation Corner: Rats (p. 130)

An All Hallows Party



Hey-ho for Halloween! 
All the witches to be seen, 
Some in black, and some in green, 
Hey-ho for Halloween


The Hallows Folklore Herbal...


Apples
Most of the Halloween love charms in our folkloric collections like that of the Journal of American Folklore, Memoirs of the American Folklore Society, Green Collection, Frank C. Brown Collection, Duncan Emrich, Ruth E. Kelly, C. L Daniels Collection and B.A Botkin Collection reference apples as the core fortune-game of the season (the same being true for May's Eve, and to a lesser extent, Midsummer and New Years).  Apples were split, bobbed for, counted, hung from doors, skinned and sectioned all for the chance to see a future, see a spirit, see a lover...


Pumpkin
The great Hallows fruit of the new world, pumpkins are the customary symbol of America's Halloween and its primary function for the day is decoration (jack-o-lanterns), food (flesh and seeds) and storage (of nuts, apples, candies, and brews).  A tasty dish and a fun bit of decor; these can be used for several different divination games.


Turnip
Traditionally, jack-o-lanterns had been carved from turnips in Ireland, however, when the custom came to America, pumpkins would quickly replace turnips as a staple symbol of the season as they were far easier to carve, decorate with scary faces and illuminate. 


Cabbage
In the folklore of the South, especially in places like Missouri and Tennessee, there are Halloween charms pertaining to the obtaining of a cabbage, taken especially on Halloween from a nearby garden, in stealth and either blindfolded or walking backward or both.  The stock would determine, by its length and shape, the qualities of one's future mate. In other folklore of Western European origin, is the cooking of the cabbage which has charms hidden within for partiers to foretell their future-- this was also done with mashed potatoes.


Nuts
Nut charms accompany apple games at Hallows eve; inscribed nuts would be cast in the fire, and the first to pop would tell the future.  These nuts are referenced as hazelnuts and chestnuts most often.


Evening Hymnal...


There Was An Old Witch
*Traditional Halloween Folk  Song*


There was an old witch 
Believe it if you can
She tapped on the windows 
And she ran, ran, ran
She ran helter-skelter 
With her toes in the air,
Cornstalks were flying 
From the old witch's hair.


Swish goes the broomstick
Meow goes the cat,
Plop goes the hop-toad
Sitting on her hat.


"Whee!" chuckled I,
What fun, what fun!
Halloween night 
When the old witch runs.


Opener: Dumb Supper



Set the table with the materials all backward (forks and spoons and glassware on opposite sides, courses served in reverse, etc); let there be chairs and settings left for the spirits and black candles.  The supper doesn't have to be an entire meal, it can be a small portion of it or a single dish (we're only eating a slice of pie, eating the actual dinner food later). This year, our menu is apple pie (apples, an Old World fruit, being the traditional symbolic Halloween food along with pumpkins- the New World's Halloween contribution), pumpkin pie (featured above), cooked cabbage (stolen at midnight from the garden), mashed potatoes (mashed potatoes and peas are each utilized for divinations and fortunes at Allhallows) and cider.  


Blow out the black candles to end the Supper-- one is supposed to use this moment of darkness to divine the face of a spirit in the empty chairs at the table, or in the reflection of the plates on the table.  Turn on the lights and music!


First Game: Pumpkin-Water Divination



Gather round a bowl of water (traditionally a pure white one but I find a hollowed pumpkin more fun) and fill it with the letters of the Alphabet.  Each take a turn, blindfolded, pulling out the first letter of their future lover's name saying an old charm:


"Kind fortune tell me where he is,
who my future lord shall be;
from this bowl all that I claim
is to know my lover's name.”


Alternately, you could forego the water and carve the letters on the flesh of the pumpkin as detailed by Ruth Edna Kelly in The Book of Halloween published in the early 20th century.  A blind-folded participant would use a pin to locate the initial of her love-to-be in a sort of Pin the Tail on the Donkey style game. 


Second: Apple Fortune



Gather your party around the table set with apples at every seat (apples that have been bobbed for are best).  Spear the apples with silver forks or prongs and dip in caramel! The seeds collected during the slicing process can be used in counting-out charms.


"One, I Love; two, I love; three, I love, I say,
Four, I love with all my heart; five, I cast away.
Six, he loves; seven, she loves,
Eight, they both love.
Nine, he comes; ten, he tarries,
Eleven, he courts; twelve, he marries.
Thirteen, honor, fourteen, riches;
All the rest are little witches!"


Third Game: Twelve Candle Leap



Light twelve candles and place a safe distance apart on a hard floor (this is probably best done outside but with the right sized candle (tealight, votive) and proper holders (as well as no loose clothing) it can be done indoors on hardwood or cement flooring.  In the old days, this charm was used to foretell the wedding month of the participant depending on whether or not the candle blew out or remained lit. I've adapted the charm for my own purposes; each participant stands before a tealight candle on the floor and jumps over a candle asking a yes/no question; everyone jumps at the same time and whoever's candle blows out will indicate a no.


Closer: Mirrors in the Dark



Darken the room and perform any number of mirror charms; this must specifically be done at midnight and preferably during a full moon.  Friends can sit around and in silence, count out a rhyme (this used to be done with apple slices, or with comb-strokes through the hair) to the number nine, or, to when the clock strikes midnight and, just as in the Bloody Mary games of our childhood parties, a spirit is supposed to appear in the mirror-- only not an entity, but a portent of one's future lover.


Additional Traditional Activities: scary stories, seances, shadow puppetry, candy devouring, mischief of all kinds!

Party Packs: Candy, pumpkin seeds, apple seeds (for counting), nuts for fire fortune-games, orange, black, yellow and/or white candles, placed inside a small pumpkin, hollowed out and ready for decorating! Also, you could bake some small cakes with a single charm inside for partiers to fortune game with, or, bake little soul-cakes for family and friends who come to visit.
This year, our party packs are pumpkin seeds, rock candy sugar, and acorns for fire-fortunes in a take-home mini-pumpkin.

 Witchy Movie Playlist for Hallows Eve:

The Witch
The Witches
The Love Witch
The Craft
Hocus Pocus
Suspiria (2018)
Sleepy Hollow
Death Becomes Her
Adam's Family Values

Music Playlist for Hallows Eve:

Season of the Witch- Donovan
Black Magic Woman- Santana
Sick Child- Siouxsie and the Banshees
You're A Wolf- Seawolf
Under Your Spell- Timber Timbre
Toes- Glass Animals
Get Ur Freak On- Missy Elliot
Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See- Busta Rhymes
Luv 2 Luv U- Timbaland & Magoo
Feed My Frankenstein- Alice Cooper
Devil Inside- INXS
I Put a Spell on You- Screamin' Jay Hawkins
The Monster Mash- Bobby Pickett

Fill one bowl with water, one with dirt and one with rings.  Blindfold your party guest and shuffle the bowls.  let them, choose their bowl.  A person who chooses water will marry a traveler, a person who picks dirt will be dirt-poor when wed (or be first in the marriage to their grave), and a person who picks the ring bowl will be rich when wed.
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