Wiccan Wanderers – Del Hughes embarks on a wild night of widdershins and witchy woo
We’re one minute into the Witching Hour, the full moon is low in the sky and I’m on my hands and knees, panting heavily, as my ceremonial robe becomes further speckled with sheep shit.
All this rigmarole just to confirm that Tim (my other half), is indeed my ‘loyal, everlasting love’. Plus, I’m being closely observed by two local hedge witches – Janet & Angelfire – and an ageing druid called Colin, from Neath.
To say I’m regretting this is an enormous understatement.
The ground is sodden, the weather squally and, despite knee pads, my legs are taking a proper bashing from the boulders that mark the two-hundred foot circumference of the cairn.
What makes this endeavour even worse is that I’ve only got myself to blame. Actually, I’m blaming my parents too. Dad was the one who filled my head with Welsh myths and folklore and introduced me to Tolkien at an impressionable age. And Mum? Well, she’s the catalyst.
Anyway, back to my widdershins (anti-clockwise) crawling.
In addition to an audience of three complete strangers, my friend, Gaynor, has come along for moral support and expert guidance.
She’s a paganism aficionado (though not a practitioner) and I’m happy she’s here – even if she’s watching proceedings with conspicuous glee.
The bonus though is that she’s a physio so will provide the hands-on medical assistance I’m definitely going to require when I eventually attempt to stand up.
Wake up call
If you’re wondering why I’m putting myself through this, it started one evening last October, when Mum and I were watching the first Hobbit film.
Twenty minutes in, there’s an exchange between Bilbo and Gandalf; Bilbo says he needs to ‘. . . sit quietly for a while’ and Gandalf replies, ‘You’ve been sitting quietly for far too long.’
And Mum looked at me and said, ‘That’s you. You’re a Bilbo.’ We laughed, I said I’d be happy to live in a hobbit hole (who wouldn’t?), and that was that.
She died a few weeks later and that’s possibly why those words stayed with me. But she was right.
For the past eight years, my daily routine has been: get up – take pills – sit down – repeat.
I’ve justified this inaction to myself as a sad, but unsurprising, side effect of becoming disabled.
But though I’m, undeniably, limited in what I can physically do, that shouldn’t stop me attempting to improve my lot; and Mum’s aside was the wake-up call I needed to get off my arse and start engaging with life, not merely existing while it passes me by.
So, tonight’s ‘ceremony’ is to be my official starting point, where I shake off my passive past, look forward to a fabulous future and, just like Bilbo, prepare for adventures.
And the first adventure is here at Cefn Bryn. It’s an ancient, red-sandstone ridge in the heart of the Gower Peninsula and I’m crawling, sluggishly, around the ‘sacred’ capstone, Maen Cetti (aka Arthur’s Stone) with a vague idea of what’s supposed to happen – though I hadn’t factored in the, somewhat unsettling, throngs of baby toads.
There are many legends associated with this stone.
One is that the twenty-five-ton cromlech goes rollabout beneath a full moon, to drink at Broad Pool or the Loughor estuary. Hmm . . . That strikes me as pretty unlikely, and the stone’s certainly not off gallivanting now; no, it’s sitting solidly, in situ, at the centre of a sea of rocks, toads and gorse (or something equally sharp and spiky).
According to Colin, who’s a keen historian in addition to being an Ovate (‘Mid-level druid . . . nearly fully qualified mind.’), it used to weigh thirty-five tons until Saint David decided to end druidic pagan worship in Wales by cleaving it in two with his sword.
Though, the ten-ton bit that’s been chopped off does provide a nice seating area for my spectators.
Another is that at midnight, under a full moon, King Arthur appears, decked out in golden armour. Yeah, that King Arthur.
Well, it’s past midnight and there’s no sign of him yet.
Colin says to be patient because he ‘saw the old fella during the Wolf Moon of 2001.’
Uh-oh! Beardy Weirdy alert!
My head-torch spotlights Janet who’s rolling her eyes, Angelfire seems dubious, and Gaynor’s got her back to us, shoulders shaking with ill-concealed mirth.
But my planned regime is about meeting new and interesting people – eccentrics included – so I just nod enthusiastically and shout ‘Fingers crossed.’
And to be fair, as I continue my ponderous, orbital progress, red, towelling beach-poncho dragging, damply, behind me, right now, I might just be the most eccentric person here.
This custom is part of a pagan liturgy that tests relationships. Once you’ve done three circuits, you should ‘see’ the face of the person who is destined to be your eternal lover.
But after one and a quarter, I gave it up as a bad job! It was knackering, my back was screaming, I was worried about crushing toads and I already knew Tim’s my true love . . . probably.
Another legend relates to the ‘healing spring’ which runs beneath the capstone and I’m deffo up for this one. Plus, it’s hell of a lot easier than the last – simply pop a few pins in the water and declare your health-related wish. Simple.
However, getting close enough to deposit my pins was treacherous underfoot so Janet suggested poking them in with my walking stick, and Gaynor thought it’d be fine to ‘just launch them’.
Neither option appealed as precision was essential. So, to give my back the best chance of getting fixed, I got as near as dammit, steadied myself, readied the pins and pointed my torch on the water.
It wasn’t the still, tranquil pool I’d imagined; in fact, it was rippling, teeming with wriggling bodies. Not more toads? Nope.
Rats. Lots of rats. Lots and lots of very large rats. Basically, it was Rat London down there.
Sod the pins! I never believed it was really going to work anyway.
I scrambled onto the flat stone where I explained the reason for my aborted attempt; the witches abruptly decided they’d had enough ‘moon bathing’, and even Colin made his excuses and ambled away to ‘commune with the ancients’ at a different burial site.
Guess he’d given up on Arthur making an appearance then?
Gaynor, as you’d expect by now, found it all hugely entertaining, and informed me that the ‘universe has a sense of humour.’
Yeah, after the fiasco thus far, I didn’t doubt it.
But I was glad that the others had pushed off because it was time for the Main Event and I really didn’t want additional witnesses for my first foray into witchcraft.
For this, I’d sought advice from an experienced Wiccan elder who heads up her own coven – on Facebook. Yeah, I know . . . but ‘Lady Nightshade’ has been a practising for over thirty years, has garnered a lot of great comments online and seemed to be the real deal.
I’d explained what I wanted, and she came up trumps.
She determined that ‘as a child of the Waxing Crescent’ I needed to be more courageous, take risks and ‘embrace discomfort, awkwardness, and struggle.’
She’s kidding right? So just a normal day then.
But she did explain that 15th May was the most propitious time to for me to kickstart my new life-enrichment plan; the full moon’s in Scorpio (my birth sign) and there’s a lunar eclipse so excellent for ‘banishing bad and wishing good’.
She gave me detailed directions, a short incantation and an extensive list of essentials, stressing that they must be ‘gathered with an open heart’, so I shelved any innate scepticism, was scrupulous in my preparations and followed her instructions, almost, to the letter.
I also needed to ‘meditate for a Wiccan name’, to be used when practising ‘the craft.’ I tried some deep breathing and a few minutes of self-conscious ‘Ommmmming’, but inspiration didn’t strike so I googled ‘Wiccan Name Generator’ and, for tonight only, I am ‘Raincloud Sea-Hag’! Sigh.
Then I gathered. Red robes to harmonise with the fire rite – Tick.
Offerings for the stone, ideally ‘homemade barley-meal and honey cake.’ Okay, I’m certainly not invested enough to attempt baking so I cheated and bought some Mr Kiplings; honestly, I don’t think that the Goddess, or King Arthur himself, would turn their noses up at a French Fancy – Tick.
Anointing Fluid. Hmm . . . sounded ominous and I had visions of loitering in the local churches, snaffling holy water and consecrated oil. But after I’d sent Nightingale a rather panicked email, it transpired that milk would work too. Phew – Tick.
Red candles, no problemo. I’ve got a cupboard full of cranberry tea lights left over from Christmas – Tick.
White candles, crucial, as they are the ‘first be lit, last to be extinguished’, and provide a ‘protective barrier within the boundaries of light.’
Why I needed protecting is anyone’s guess and Nightshade hadn’t elaborated, but Colin and Janet had nodded sagely when I’d asked them about it earlier, both murmuring something about ‘evil energies’ and ‘harmful spirits’, so I was pleased I’d brought a 16-pack of vanilla tea lights – Tick.
I borrowed the head-torch (1000 lumens), leather gloves and heavy-duty knee pads from my second Dad, who’s a biker and has all the best gear.
I had my lighter, backup matches and a disposable foil roasting tin to ensure our mini bonfire was kept contained (and we didn’t accidentally set the Common ablaze).
I wrote out my ‘Release/Forgive & Manifest/Affirm’ lists, brewed up a flask of special coffee (use Baileys instead of milk), loaded up my beloved Renault Kangoo, Geoff, and then headed off for some full-on hubble-bubble action.
First, we prepared the ‘altar’, pouring milk over the flattest part of the stone, before placing a French Fancy at each cardinal point – I’d downloaded a compass app so I know my positioning was spot on.
Next, I arranged my capacious cowl carefully over my head, filled the roasting tin with candles of both colours, and with suitable solemnity, lit the wicks . . . or at least, attempted to.
FFS! After all that sodding prep, you still couldn’t legislate for the weather, which was becoming more turbulent and storm-tossed by the second.
Given that my main reference for witches was Macbeth at ‘O’ Level, it seemed perfect conditions for witchy practises, but, ironically, it also meant that we couldn’t burn sod all.
And we tried – a lot! Eventually my LED lighter, ‘guaranteed to work in any weather’, ran out of charge, my spare was in the car, the matches were saturated, and the moon had disappeared beneath the horizon.
All in all, it was a complete and utter farce.
Despondently, we packed up our supplies and slogged the third of a mile back to the car park, taking care to avoid the toadlets.
We were on the point of leaving when Gaynor suggested doing the ritual here. Meh. But after some gentle coercion, of course we did, setting up our foil altar in the back of Geoff’s spacious, van-esque interior.
To be honest, it didn’t have the same gravitas as a sacred stone, but we lit the candles, invoked the Goddess and muttered the ‘spell’:
I turn my back on bad things past and banish all that held me fast. This fire sets me free at last,
An it harm none, do what ye will.
Finally we burned our lists. Blessed-bloody-be!
Full moon madness
And my takeaways from the night’s debacle? Clearly, I’m no witch, and I won’t be studying ‘the craft’ any time soon. But though it was farcical, it was also fun and was the latest I’d been up and out out for years, so just that was a positive for me.
The rituals themselves haven’t, as yet, wrought any major changes, though my calendar is beginning to look fairly full – I’m giving the WI a whirl, booked a murder mystery evening, doing seated yoga next week and, at Cousin Jen’s request, we’re going pottery painting.
And another positive was that, even when you’re windswept, wet through and covered in, actual, crap, special coffee makes the world a much better place.
Back home, I looked up the folklore for toads and found that, strangely enough, they signify ‘transformation and positive change’.
Hmm . . . interesting. I also discovered that May’s full moon is often titled the ‘Frog Moon’ so, I dunno, there might be something in this ‘witchy woo woo’ stuff after all.
But I have sent a strongly worded email to Lady Nightingale, who really should have known that my crawling had to be deosil (clockwise).
If, for some bizarre reason, you’re actually looking to attract ‘ill-luck, ill-fate and ill-fortune’, then widdershins is the direction you need. Sigh.
And maybe it was foolish fancy, full moon madness or, most likely, an over-active imagination fuelled by hefty slugs of Baileys, but I’m almost sure I heard Mum laughingly say ‘Del, you bloody fool, just get out there and make some noise.’
Oh, I intend to.
So mote it be!
 According to Tawny Clark, my expert, ecologist pal, and Nation.Cymru nature writer, the correct term for baby toads is Toadlets. But, more thrillingly, they are also known as Metamorphs, which seems much more appropriate in this instance.
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