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.

Suck it Up Princess

There are three things that I feel are vital to being a tree hugging dirt worshipper. Or Green Witch, Wild Witch, whatever title you’ve chosen to go by, if you’ve chosen one.

A Nature Witch needs to know the land, to understand Nature. Not necessarily in an esoteric magickal sense but certainly from a practical perspective.
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What the Fuck is a Hedgewitch?

Hedgewitchery, or Hedgecraft, is a kind of combination of Witchcraft and Shamanism. For the most part, this path comes from the Traditional Witchcraft and Cunning Folk traditions of Europe from ancient to modern times. It is something of an eclectic tradition, but just how much so depends on each individual practitioner.

The basic modern definition of Hedgewitch is comparable to older definitions of wisewoman, cunning man, medicine man, shaman, herb healer or folk healer. It is loosely based on the old wise wo/men, cunning folk, herbalists, faith healers and actual witches throughout history. Hedgewitches are involved with herbalism and healing, along with a deep love for and understanding of Nature added to the mix. If you think “Hedgewitch” and picture the strange old lady who sold herbs and magickal charms, acted as midwife and healer in the ancient times, you are not far off. Nor are you far off if you picture the wise sage who would cast bones to divine the future or journey in the Otherworlds to heal members of his community.

Throughout history, shamanic, wise-woman and cunning-man traditions have risen and fallen all over the world. These kinds of traditions have never truly died out. In recent years, more and more people within the Western world are turning to them and adapting them to modern times. Modern Hedgecraft is the study, adaptation and practice of these ancient nature-based, spiritual, shamanic and healing traditions in our modern lives.

Hedgewitches can come from any cultural background, but the majority of Hedgewitches seem to come from European ancestry. This means that most Hedgewitches will practice based on the folklore and traditions of the ancient Celts, Vikings, Romans, Greeks, Slavs, Anglo-Saxons and so forth.

Most Hedgewitches look to their own heritage to find inspiration and lore. Yet some are drawn to the traditions of other cultures. Some may seek to learn from other cultures to gain a better understanding of their own heritage, as well as a greater respect for others. Hedgewitches are not opposed to the study of modern tradition as well, for they strive to bridge the gap between old and new. To blend old traditions with a modern lifestyle in a workable and practical manner is a hallmark of Hedgecraft.

The shamanic aspect is the most important of all in Hedgecraft, for to call oneself a Hedgewitch is to call oneself a shaman. A shaman is a person who traverses the axis mundi and who enters the Otherworlds to commune with ancestors, gods and spirits for many purposes and using many different techniques. The word “shaman” comes originally from the Turkic word “šamán” and translates as “one who knows”. This word has been used by peoples of the Turkic-Mongol and Tungus cultures of Siberia for many centuries. It was introduced to Europe from Siberia to Russia and then into Germany.

Later, white colonists coming to the New World and Africa applied the words “medicine man” and “witch doctor” to the healers and holy people of tribal cultures. These titles were eventually replaced by “shaman”. This is why people of European decent are often told by “shamans” of other races and cultures they should not call themselves “medicine men” or “shamans”. Those of us who have white skin need not borrow words from other cultures for such practices. For we do have our own traditions and words, and names, for such people, and we can (and should) use them with pride.

“Hedgewitch” comes from the Saxon word “haegtessa” and the Old English “hægtesse”, which can roughly translate to “hedge-rider”, with “haeg” meaning a “hedge”, “fence” or “enclosure”. However “hægtesse”, and the shortened “haeg”, not only translates to “hedge-rider” and “hedge” but can also be translated as “hag”, “witch” and “fury”. From this we have the modern English word “Hedgewitch”. Since we take the name for this form of Witchcraft from the word “hedge”, let us take a look at what a hedge means to the Hedgewitch.

The concept of a boundary hedge in a spiritual and magickal sense stems from the tradition of hedgelaying, or growing hedgerows. Hedgerows are carefully landscaped intricate layers of plant-life. The European landscape has been crisscrossed by hedgerows since the time of the Roman occupations and possibly before. The Anglo-Saxons also used hedgerows extensively, and many of these ancient hedgerows still exist today. The early European colonists in the New World put up hedgerows, though often with different species of plants. In Europe the most common species growing in hedgerows are the hawthorn and blackthorn, whereas in North America cedar and juniper hedges are more common.

These often-large rows of shrub, herb and tree are boundaries for farmsteads, pastures, villages, ditches and roads. In ancient times, at the very edge of a human settlement, there was a sturdy hedgerow keeping the wilderness and wildlife out of field, pasture and garden. Crossing a hedge means crossing a boundary of some sort, such as walking into the wild, going from wheat field to cow pasture, or entering another person’s property.

A hedgerow is not just a boundary, but is also a protective home and shelter to all kinds of wildlife, such as rabbits and birds. They provide shade and act as a windbreak. The hedgerow is also a place where foxes and hares being hunted may hide and where hunters will send their hounds to flush game. Hedgerows were also very important in keeping the herds in and the predators out.

Berry and fruit bearing trees and shrubs are grown in hedgerows, making them a source of food for both animals and humans alike. They may also have both healing as well as baneful herbs and plants growing within them. While beautiful, these hedgerows will typically sport thorn bushes and other plant life that can be hazardous if you are not respectful of the hedge and what grows and lives within.

For the Hedgewitch, “the Hedge” is not just a physical boundary but also a metaphor for the line drawn between this world and the next, between reality and dreamscape. It represents the threshold between the many Worlds. In short, the Hedge is what many Pagans refer to as the Veil. It is also the boundary between civilization and the wild, the place where the wildwoods and the urban jungle meet.

The more one learns of the tradition of laying hedgerows, as well as about hedges themselves, the more the use of “hedge” for this Craft becomes clearly appropriate.

In a 13th century Icelandic text called the Poetic Edda, we find a long poem called Hávamál, and in that poem the god Odin recites a list of Rune-spells he has learned while hanging upon the World Tree (axis mundi). This part of the Hávamál has come to be called the Song of Spells. The tenth of these spells particularly interests and inspires Hedgewitches. There are many translations of this verse; here are four of them.

For the tenth I know,
if I see troll-wives
sporting in air,
I can so operate
that they will forsake
their own forms,
and their own minds.
~ Benjamin Thorpe

A tenth I know: when at night the witches
ride and sport in the air,
such spells I weave that they wander home
out of skins and wits bewildered.
~ Olive Bray

If I see the hedge-riders magically flying high,
I can make it so they go astray
Of their own skins, and of their own souls.
~ Nigel Pennick

A tenth I know, what time I see
House-riders* flying on high;
So can I work, that wildly they go,
Showing their true shapes,
Hence to their own homes.
~ Henry Adams Bellows
* House-riders: witches, who ride by night on the roofs of houses, generally in the form of wild beasts.

A Hedgewitch is thus a person with some shamanic qualities. They can ‘ride’, as in travel through and over, the boundary of this world and into the Otherworld. They can leave the “enclosure” or “hedge” of their own body, experience soul-flight and send their spirits to wander in the night. It also appears that at least one god knows how to confuse their shamanic travels and send them packing back home!
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