The Way it Goes

Off and on I have delved deep into practice, into doing … no more than that, into really living my practice. By that I mean hardcore. I was living on many acres of land, living a fairly simple lifestyle and also living off the land to a certain extent. I was also having a go at traditional lifestyles as well, doing it the old way.<!–more–>

I carried water up a mountain side everyday (sometimes twice or thrice) so I could cook, clean and drink. I learned the value, the sacredness, of every single drop. There are few things in the world that can teach you to truly understand that water is indeed the lifeblood of the Earth (and everything that lives on and within Her) than being a small, barefoot woman, thirsty to the point of parched, dragging 30 pounds of water up a rocky mountain side under a blazing summer Sun.

I dragged (and later carried as I grew stronger) hay bales about the place to feed horses and livestock. I wishpered prayers to Epona everyday … and more as I tried to tend a wound on a half-gentled young filly.

I spent many long nights up to my elbows in blood and birthing fluid, being a midwife to animals. I welcomed life with prayers, recited charms as I tied and cut umbilical cords, pored offerings as I buried placentas, and fought death with tears running down my face.

I had wood heat and dogs to keep me warm. Tending a fireplace or woodstove became much more than some quaint old tradition I had read about in a book of Celtic Paganism. Making sure the thing was properly cleaned and tended before Brighid came ‘round on Imbolg was suddenly very important. February is often very cold at night. I came to understand the important of the hearth in old folk customs and lore. I saw my ancestors in the ash and smoke, gods in the flickering flames.

I re-learned to crochet so I could make garments to help me stay warm, weaving magick into them as I went. I patched tears and whispered spells of strength and protection into clothing, rather than simply toss them out and go buy something new.

I walked through woods at night guided by nothing but the Moon, and perhaps also the reflection off the snow.

I have made friends with trees, worked out deals with land spirits and stumbled into gods in isolated places.

I have done all this and more, now and again. It seems as though the cycle of my twentieth decade in this incarnation has had a pattern, a spiral dance, of finding myself out in cabins and shacks and trailer out in the woods often for years at a time, often hungry and lonely for the love of other human beings but at one with the land around me.

Then someday I move away, in search of companionship, work, civilisation and community. Before I know it I am back in the city again. At my fingertips are libraries and a whole community of fellow Pagans and Witches. Open rituals, book clubs, women’s circles, workshops and more.

I curse the crowded streets but praise the museums. I hate the streetlights glaring into my windows late at night but love the local occult bookshop. I pick up trash in city parks and give offerings to polluted water courses. I throw native wildflower seeds into vacant lots. I find myself pulled to volunteer at local animal shelters and rescues. I whisper charms of protection for the urban coyotes as they stalk the dangerous city. I visit famous haunted buildings and leave coins at the feet of statues.

Then someday I grow tired of the bustle of the city, the politics of community. I yearn for the slower pace of the country life. I begin to dream of a cottage in the woods again.

Such is the way it goes.

Some Notes on the Stang

It is a staff or wand terminating in a fork at the top traditionally made of rowan, hawthorn, yew or some tree that signifies the World Tree to the Witch using it. It is usually placed in the center or north of a ritual area.  The stang has a lot of symbolism and many uses.

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1) Used as a kind of altar. Stuck standing into the ground and then ritual tools, ribbons, garlands, and many adornments hung from it. This can be useful in a walking-stick size, making it a portable altar and ritual tool.
2) Used as a symbol of the World Tree, often used to help create a gap in the Hedge  and in meditations. In this usage, it is often placed in the center of a ritual area.
3) Having antlers, horns, or possibly an animal skull placed upon it, this stang (which may also be known in this form as a scarecrow) represents the Horned God. In this form, the stang is typically placed in the north (though Wiccan inspired groups may choose the south) watching over and protecting the ritual area. In some traditions, the god stang or scarecrow will be moved about the witchring  or garden according to the movement of the Sun and the turning of the seasons. The stang may be also decorated with clothing (a white linen shirt or robe is common), garlands, wreaths and seasonal symbols.
4) The stang may be used to represent the Goddess (the fork having a yoni shape) and the shaft of the stang symbolizing the God (phallus).

You can live for years next door to a big pine tree, honored to have so venerable a neighbor, even when it sheds needles all over your flowers or wakes you, dropping big cones onto your deck at still of night.  ~Denise Levertov

Stang is Old Norse for “pole”, but is more generally used to refer to a bifurcated pole, i.e. a forked stick, usually of ash or hazel, but may be constructed of any wood. It is usually made of a tree branch that ends in a fork (either two or three prongs) but sometimes metal tines are attached, or antlers or horns, or even arrows can also be used for the fork.

Apparently it’s featured in old Germanic mythology, and some say that Robert Cochrane introduced it into Witchcraft by ‘inventing’ it, from which other traditions followed suit.

The stang can be used to invoke or to symbolise deity, mark out the witchring and as a focal point in rites. In some traditions after the witchring has been marked out the staff is stood upright at its centre where it represents the cosmic axis, centre of the crossroads or World Tree. With its branches or fork leading to the Upperworld, its pint dug into the ground leading to the underworld and its stale existing in the Middleworld. By using the pillar or pole the worshipper can commune with gods from the realms above or the underworld below.
Some traditions interpret the horns and stale to represent the union that resolves of all dualities, Female/Male, Death/Life, Tomb/Womb, Dark/Fair and so forth.

The stang is one of the many enchanted vehicles popularly believed to have been flown by witches to the sabbat, along with besoms, distaffs, and goats. When looking at old woodcuts of witches one can often find a stang, hayfork, or pitchfork amongst the tools being used.
I used to have one made of oak when I lived in Alberta that I tied a bag to, like a hobo, and went into the woods with, I was often told it was funny looking but it worked wonderfully as a Witch’s Swiss army knife.
I have spent the last six years slowly creating a most wonderful and beautiful stang. Made of juniper wood from an uncles back yard and seasoned for three years. It has been carefully laid in the sunlight and moonlight, placed in the winds of the great Canadian Rockies, the Kootenays, the wind off the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Carefully carved, each stroke with the knife researched, planned and mediated upon.

Lovingly hand sanded over an entire winter until my hand ached. I have loved this piece of wood for the better part of a decade now; I know every millimetre of it better than I know my own body. All I have to do it touch it to enter into a light trance state and it has not yet been blessed.

This stang is nearing completion and will be finished in its seventh year of creation; it will be one of my proudest achievements as a Witch. And it will be a tool far more potent and powerful than anything even an Elder could whip up in only a week’s time. I know all this work and worry, waiting, plotting, planning and research is worth it. I know that when I come into the presence of the gods with this tool in my hand, they will see plainly my dedication to the Craft and approve.

You however need not spend seven years creating a stang, especially your very first one!

So it is time to cut you stang so that it was some time to dry and be personalized before it is hallowed.  I prefer to cut in Fall and Winter simply out of practicality – no leaves to strip. Summer is also a good time to gather wood as it dries much faster in the warm dry weather. In Winter it can be harder to identify a tree species but the weight of snow often bring nice branches down, meaning we don’t even have to cut! I like to take from fallen trees rather than live ones if I can.

I would suggest finding good books at the library on woodworking as well as on the trees in your local area. If you’re lucky your city, state or country may have an website on the native trees. Also looking up the magical properties of trees may help you decide on the kind of wood you want for your stang. Doing research before going out and collecting a piece of wood just shows added respect for your intentions and for the tree.

You will want to give offerings to the tree that you take your stang from, ven if it is a fallen tree, as well as giving something to the genus loci or spirits of the Land in that area.  You can bury the coins or stones deep at the roots. The only thing finding them is a squirrel and they know better than to eat a rock or a piece of metal. Liquid libations leave no trace, water, cider and mead can be considered, I also find apple juice works well.

Many trees in winter will thank you fro bringing a bit of light and warmth in the Winter. Do not place those little tea lights and them leave them there; the metal bottoms do not decompose and look terrible, as they are nothing more than litter. Not to mention the fire hazard! Its better to bring a candle in a glass container and take it away with you after you are done.

Don’t forget to ask the tree if you can take from it. Some people recite a poem to ask, others just touch the tree and speak to it in their minds and silently look into the tree to see if it wants to be the tool you desire it for. If the tree agrees then cut off the choice piece of wood preferably as quickly and painlessly as possible. Leave the tree the gifts or water you have brought, thank it, and bow before it, whatever feels right. Then take the wood home to work on it.

If you want a large stang (4-6 feet) find a large tree such as a cedar, maple, alder, poplar, elm, walnut, willow, I don’t recommend a fir tree due to sap, tough bark and year-long drying time.

Some live wood cracks if you peel the bark off right away , two really cranky trees being holly and blackthorn (wait a month before peeling the bark off of these too, it’ll be tough, but better than having useless cracked wood). However some folks might like the looks and style of a cracked stang, it can be very old tree-ish. Most other trees are fine if you take the bark off right away. Take a penknife or Swiss army knife and peel the bark off as soon as you can, it should come off very easily and in long strips. The bark and wood should smell very green and be free of black water damage.

It is easiest to carve wood when green, so if you want to carve your stang do it after you’ve peeled the bark. It’s also easier to drill into green wood, so if you want to attach antlers, or anything else, I’d recommend doing this right away as well. You will have to wait 1-3 weeks for the wood to dry completely (once debarked) before you can sand it or woodburn it. Decorate however you please and sand it well. I’d also recommend varnish or shellac if you’re going to be using the stang outdoors, I like a few thin layers of linseed oil myself.

Books Suggestions for the Nature Based Hedgewitch 2013

Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy by Mircea Eliade

Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic: Ecstasy and Neo-Shamanism in North European Paganism by Jenny Blain

Shamans by Ronald Hutton

Crossing the Borderlines: Guising, Masking, and Ritual Animal Disguises in the European Tradition by Nigel Pennick

The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety by Simon Mills
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