Tag Archives: Witches

Slieve Gullion

Siabh gCuilinn (Mountains of the steep slope)
Slieve Gullion, County Armagh, Northern Ireland.
Article by Thomas Baurley and Leaf McGowan,
Technogypsie Productions: http://www.technogypsie.com/reviews/?p=4419 on March 27, 2014.

A mythical hotspot, “Siabh gCuilinn” or “Slieve Gullion” is a majestic burial cairn that rests atop a mountain known after the cairn itself. It sits atop the 573 meter tall mountain in the center of the area of natural beauty known as “The Ring of Gullion“. It is the highest mountain in County Armagh of Northern Ireland. It is also known archaeologically as the highest surviving passage tomb discovered in Ireland. It stands as a large Neolithic burial chamber located on the mountain’s southern summit. The mountain and its tombs are full of folklore and legend, the most notorious being that as “Calliagh Berra’s House” or the home to the wicked hag, Calliagh Berra who lived within this mound. The mountain is just over the border from Ireland in Northern Ireland, just a few miles west of the Cooley Mountains. All of these mountains were volcanic in origin. The hills in this area (Ring of Gullion) are remnant ruins of an ancient volcano dating to over 60 million years ago in age. (Around the time that Europe and North America were drifting apart) There is a lake atop the mountain called “The Lake of Sorrow” or “Calliagh Bheara’s lake”.


There are two cairns on either side of the lake. The Northern Cairn is a round circular mount of stones measuring approximately 40 feet in diameter, while the Southern Cairn (Slieve Gullion) is a large passage grave at 570 meters elevation. Evidence of habitation of the area date to over 6,000 years before the present with remnants of stone monuments, cairns, standing stones, megalithic tombs, and burial chambers. These tombs date to the Bronze Age and the Neolithic. There is also a stone feature called Calliagh Berra’s Chair lower down on a hillock called Spellick. It is a popular spot to visit during Lughnasadh to sit on this chair for various blessings. Evidence of early unsuccessful farming and quarrying can be found on the hill. The first recorded investigation of the tomb was done by locals in 1789 looking for the old lady Cailleach Berra and they only found a few human bones. The cairn was excavated in 1961 by archaeologists: The passage grave cairn was recorded at being 30 meters wide, 5 meters high, an interior chamber of 3.5 meters wide with a corbelled roof of 4.3 meters from the ground.The three large blocks within were believed to be used as basins. Artifacts found consisted of worked flint and a barbed-end arrowhead. It is believed all other artifacts was looted from tomb raiding through the ages. Entrance has been marked as being aligned with the setting sun on the winter solstice. Carbon dating states the cairn was built around 3500 BCE – 2900 BCE. The smaller cairn by the lake had a much later date, most likely Bronze Age. This other cairn consisted of two cist burials – one containing bits of burnt bone that was most likely that of a single adult. The cairns were disturbed during World War II by American soldiers training in the area.

The mountain is mentioned in many legends in Ireland’s history, especially withing the Mythological Cycle and telling of the Fae races of Eire. In the ancient battle epic “the Táin Bó Cuailnge”, the mountain was called “Sliabh Cuilinn”. The nearby gap here in the North is where Cú Chulainn single-handedly fended-off invading armies.

The legend of Calliagh Berra and Finn McCool
The Giant Finn McCool (Finn Mac Cumhaill) had encountered the wicked hag Calliagh Berra (or Miluchra) who was shape shifted into a beautiful enchantress. He found the beautiful maiden to be weeping in sorrow as she had lost her ring in the pool below. Touched by her sadness, he dove into the bottomless lake to retrieve the ring, only to surface with the ring and cursed by her to appear as an old man with hair white as snow. Some time later she did him a favor and removed the evil spell, returning him to his warrior-like physique, losing only his beautiful blonde hair. According to the legend, anyone who swims in this treacherous lake will have their hair turn permanently white. Calliag is Irish for “witch” or “hag” and Calliag Berra, a most notorious otherworldly witch, is attributed to this mountain as well as others, such as the hill of Loughcrew Passage Tomb and the hill of Bellewstown, all in County Meath.


Legend of Áine and Milucra
This tale states that Áine and her sister Milucra were obsessed with the hero “Fionn mac Cumhaill”. They competed for his attention and hand in marriage. Áine had once told her sister Milucra that she would never marry an old man, disturbed by the sight of grey hair. So Milucra cursed the lake atop the mountain that if anyone ever swam in it, their hair would turn white as snow, and their skin would wrinkle up in age. She tricked Fionn into swimming in it, causing him to gain age and white hair, hoping that Áine would no longer be interested in him. Fionn’s soldiers were quite disturbed with this act and forced her violently to restore his age – via a magic elixir from her cornucopia. His hair however never returned to his fairy blonde color he was famous for. Other versions state that Milucra is Cailleach Bhéirre, an ancient Goddess.

the legend of Cú Chulainn
Slieve Gullion in this legend was named after Culann the metalsmith. Originally called “Sétanta”, this young metalsmith spent his childhood here growing up and eventually was called “Cú Chulainn”. While living here, Culann invited Conchobar mac Neasa, the king of Ulster to a feast at his house along these slopes. During the King’s journey, he stopped at the playing field to watch the hurlers play a match. He was so impressed by Sétanta’s performance, he asked him to join him at the feast, and the boy promised to come along after the game. Conchobhar went ahead to the feast and forgot about Sétanta, and Culann had released his ferocious hound to guard the house during the feast, unknown to Sétanta who while approaching the house was attacked. Sétanta killed the hound by either smashing it against a standing stone or driving a sliotar (hurling ball) down its throat with his hurley. Culann was devastated by the loss of his hound so Sétanta promised to replace it and until he could find one old enough to do the job, he himself would guard Culann’s house and thereby was renamed Cú Chulainn, “Culann’s Hound” by the Druid Cathbhadh.


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06.28.10: CSTL: WPP: Day 24 – Kissing the Blarney, The Rock of Cashel

The Blarney Castle

Early to rise in the Cork youth hostel, the adventurers began to prepare for their quest to seek out the Blarney Stone for a kiss to endow the gift of gab and luck, as well as to petition to the Blarney Witch blessings for Sir Thomas Leaf’s next life adventure. The balefire is to be lit. The delvers went down to the self-make kitchen and prepared breakfast together then off to the Blarney Castle in Blarney, Ireland. A short jaunt in their carriage, they were soon on their quest. They crawled through the caves of the dungeon, up the tower, where Sir Thomas Leaf kissed the Blarney stone, there in effect kissing millions of other people by proxy, including Princess Diana, Winston Churchill, Madonna, and a host of others. Lady Vanessa and Sir Sven of the Rhine would not kiss the stone. Rumor has it locals do nasty things to the stone. Sir Thomas Leaf begged to differ for anyone who has ever been to the Blarney Castle would know immediately upon the trecherous climb up many stories through the narrow tower, fighting off guards, jumping security fences, and risking entrapment – there is no possible way for such an urban legend to be true unless it be the guards. Sir Thomas even googled the urban legend beforehand as Lady Bonefinder strongly advised against it. Upon the mythical kiss, Sir Thomas Leaf felt endowed. The explorers then ventured down to the poison garden, usurping knowledge of potents, potions, poisons, cures, and curses. Some of the world’s most vile poisons growing in the gardens. Then Lady Vanessa and Sir Thomas ventured off into the Badger Caves, and on to the Rock Close garden to visit the Druid Circle, to prepare an offering for the Blarney Witch, to walk backwards with eyes closed up the Wishing Steps for the granting of her wish. Venturing into the Witches Kitchen and adding offering to the wishing well. A tromp through the Faerie Garden and a brief hangout in the Druids Cave. A venture past the dolmen and onwards towards the Blarney house. After meeting back up with Sir Sven of the Rhine, the adventurers got back into the carriage and headed off for Dublin. The adventurers stopped off at the Hore Abbey ruins and to visit the sacred Rock of Cashel. Took the tour and did another charm as they hugged Christ so that toothaches begone for good. A brief lunch at the pub and a drive back to Dublin to check back into the Dublin Hostel. The evening was capped with a night on the town with dinner and Irish music and lots of Cider while sharing travelling pictures.

Hanging upside down kissing the Blarney stone

Continue reading 06.28.10: CSTL: WPP: Day 24 – Kissing the Blarney, The Rock of Cashel


The Blarney Castle


Blarney Castle
* http://www.blarneycastle.ie * Blarney, Ireland * 021-438 5252 *

The Blarney Castle and its estate is an amazing magical playground of myths and legends, faeries, and fantastical beliefs. It is one of Ireland’s most infamous hot spots and tourist locations which is most notorious for The Blarney Stone. Even the grounds in its gardens have their attractions and history, as small caves and structures in the Rock Close garden may have neolithic habitation possibilities, and potentially the home to a mythical witch that was trapped in a rock. The Blarney Witch is said to have servitude to the Castle to grant wishes for those walking up and down the Wishing Steps backwards with their eyes closed focusing on only their wish. The Close also has a Dolmen, Fairy Circle, as well as a Druid’s cave and ceremonial circle. The Martin River that runs through the estate is believed to be possessed by ghosts of salmons leaping for ghosts of flies. Enchanted cows walk from the depths of the lake to graze on the meadows below the castle. There is also a glade where Faeries are believed to be at play. The famous castle itself was built in 1446 and has ever since become one of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations and is located in Blarney Village, just 8 kilometers from Cork City in Southern Ireland. The castle stands at around 90 feet high boldly overlooking the castle estate, grounds, and gardens. Of course the biggest draw for tourists to the castle is the magical act of hanging upside down and kissing the Blarney Stone … the action of which will endow the kisser with the gift of gab according to the legend. It is documented that more than 300,000 visitors come to kiss the stone every year. It is recorded that Queen Elizabeth I required the Irish chiefs to agree to occupy their own lands under her title. The current castle’s builder, Cormac Teige MacCarthy, the Lord of Blarneys, built this third castle incarnation in 1446 C.E. (common era) he abided by Queen Elizabeth I’s request without actually “giving in” by promising loyalty to her and handling every royal request with subtle diplomacy, just as kissing the Blarney Stone afforded him. The Queen was said to remark on McCarthy that he was giving her “a lot of Blarney” which gave rise to the saying.

The history of the land and place stretches back over two centuries before the current castle’s construction. There are remains of prehistoric sites and Druid ceremonial remains. No one knows for sure when the Blarney Stone came to the grounds, but it was believed to have arrived sometime around 1602 C.E. It is believed that the Blarney Stone, was a magical stone that was the rock that Moses struck with his staff to create the water for the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt. Another myth states it was part of Jacob’s pillow and that the prophet Jeremiah brought it to Ireland on this very plot of land. Others say its the stone of Ezel behind which David hid when fleeing from King Saul and was brought to Ireland during the Crusades. The most popular myth was it being a portion of the Stone of Scone which was used by St. Columba as a traveling altar during his missionary quests in Scotland. Upon his death it was believed to have returned to this place in Ireland to serve as the Lia Fail or Stone of Destiny atop Tara.

The first castle to be built on the land was a wooden one manifested around 950 C.E. This was replaced by a stone construction in 1210 C.E. but was torn down because of foundation problems.

The current castle is the third structure to be built on site built by Dermot McCarthy in 1446 C.E. The castle was then occupied by Cormac McCarthy, the King of Munster, who sent 4,000 men to hold Robert the Bruce at the battle of Bannockburn – and it was there that he a legend rumors that he received half of the stone of Scone from Robert the Bruce in gratitude and was then incorporated into the Castle as the “Blarney Stone“. Queen Elizabeth the I in 1586 C.E. began confiscating land in Ireland. She wanted the Blarney Castle and its ground thereby commanding the Earl of Leicester to take the Castle as she was tired of all the Blarney, and these attempts were always defeated by Cormac’s gift of gab, distracting the take-over with a feast or party, never successfully taken. A reputed treasure of a golden plate was believed to be held within the castle. The castle was besieged during the Irish Confederate Wars. In 1646 C.E. Cromwell’s General Lord Broghill broke into the Blarney Castle’s walls by placing a large gun atop Card Hill opposite and above the lake below the current castle. When they attacked and entered the keep, they discovered the main garrison had fled through the three passages known as the Badger’s Caves – one passage led to Cork, the other to the lake, and the third to Kerry. His men were not able to retrieve the legendary treasures such as the golden plate. A later landowner drained the lake thinking it was sunk within. It was not found. The Estate was then forfeited by Donogh Mccarthy, the 4th Earl of Clancarthy and the McCarthy’s reinhabited the castle in 1661 C.E. The Property was then passed to the Hollow Sword Blade Company who eventually sold it in 1688 C.E. to Sir James St. John Jefferyes, the Governor of Cork and by the 1690’s the MacCarthy’s left the castle for good.

Near the Castle is the Georgian Gothic styled Blarney House and the Rock Close was built at the beginning of the 18th century by St. James St. John Jefferyes in 1703 C.E. The court was built by 1739 C.E. and the model estate village of Blarney in 1765 C.E. The Rock Close was landscaped around the ancient Druid remains in 1767 C.E. The house was destroyed by fire in 1820. In 1825 Sir Walter Scott came to kiss the blarney stone. Father Prout in 1837 spread word of the wonders of the Blarney Stone making it even more of an attraction amongst the nobility and curious. The Irish Famine took place from 1845 and 1852. In 1846 the Jefferyes family married into the Colthurst family. The house was rebuilt in Scottish baronial style in 1874 and is still occupied by the family lineage, though through the inter-married line of the Colthurst family. In 1883 the future President William H. Taft of the United States came to kiss the Blarney Stone. By 1887 the new railway into Blarney afforded many travelers the opportunity to kiss the stone, including boxing legend John L Sullivan, at that time the reigning heavyweight champion of the world. In 1893 during the World’s Fair in Chicago the Blarney Castle and stone was mimicked with the promoters billing that it was the real stone people were kissing, this of course was false. In 1912 Winston Churchill came to kiss the stone. In 1938 American businessmen offered the Colthurst family a million dollars to allow the stone to go on tour in the U.S. but the offer was rejected. The House’s wings were reformed in the 1980’s for a better view of the castle and grounds. In 1984 Ronald Reagan claimed to have kissed the stone.

Beneath the castle lies the Badger Cave and dungeons, in its courtyard is the infamous The Blarney Poison Garden, and within the grounds are the magical fantasy land known as The Rock Close. The castle is open daily except Christmas Day and Eve. Adults are €10.00; Child €3.50; Student/OAP €8.00; Family €23.50; and newly weds wanting pictures at the Castle are admitted free. Rating: 5 stars out of 5.


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The Rock Close:

Rock Close

Rock Close
* Blarney Castle, Blarney, Ireland * www.blarneycastle.ie *

A mystical portal in the heart of the castle grounds of Blarney Castle is Rock Close, a place where faeries dance, Witches’ bless and answer wishes, Druids weave magic, stone monuments made, and magic is alive. The Rock Close garden is not only a site of myths and legends, but of romance and art. A dolmen greets you as you walk along the river after walking through a weaved willow tunnel, with misty meadows, moss covered rocks, and waterfalls. As you walk up the Witches Wishing steps to the Witches Kitchen and where the Witch is trapped in the stone, overlooked by the Druid Cave and by the Druid Ceremonial circle where you can walk around where the faeries play. This is one of the most fun and condensed folklore heavy sites I’ve encountered in Ireland – of course its history is a mystery in of itself. It is also a great romantic getaway from the tourist heavy section of Blarney Castle. Prehistoric dwellings adapted by 10th, 13th, and 19th century adaptations lead a lot to the imagination in this garden. In 1824, Croften Croker wrote in his “Researches in the South of Ireland” about the mysteries of this spot.

    “In this romantic spot nature and art (a combination rather uncommon in pleasure grounds) have gone hand in hand. Advantage has been taken of accidental circumstances to form tasteful and characteristic combinations; and it is really a matter of difficulty at first to determine what is primitive, and what the produce of design. The delusion is even heightened by the present total neglect. You come most unexpectedly into this little shaded nook, and stand upon a natural terrace above the river, which glides as calmly as possible beneath. Here, if you feel inclined for contemplation, a rustic couch of rock, all festooned with moss and ivy, is at your service; but if adventurous feelings urge you to explore farther, a discovery is made of an almost concealed, irregularly excavated passage through the solid rock, which is descended by a rude flight of stone steps, called the “Wishing Steps,” and you emerge sul margine d’un rio, over which depend some light and graceful trees. It is indeed a fairy scene, and I know of no place where I could sooner imagine these little elves holding their moon-light revelry. ~ Croften Croker, 1824


It was a highly popular in the early 19th century with antiquarians. The mysteries of the Blarney Witch, the Fairies, the Druids, and the Dolmen are sure to enchant you. Blarney Castle does document that this was a place for Druidic worship. The sacrificial altar of course is hearsay, the Druid’s circle is probably, the hermit’s cave or Druid’s cave is a mystery as is the Witches’ kitchen and wishing steps. It has been documented that in the late 1700’s C.E. (Common Era) that the Rock Close was made into the garden area upon which foundations are walked upon today. Apparently the castle owners landscaped around already existing prehistoric dwellings, stone monuments, and Druid circles to make the magical faerie glen it is today.


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Rock Close: The Witches’ Kitchen and Stone

The Witches’ Kitchen

Witches Kitchen
* The Rock Close * Blarney Castle, Blarney, Ireland * http://www.blarneycastle.ie *

In the enchanted grounds of Rock Close in the fabled lands of Blarney Castle is the infamous Kitchen of the Blarney Witch. Archaeologically it is believed to have been a prehistoric dwelling potentially as old as the Neolithic (3,000-5,000 years old) if there is any connection of it to the The Rock Close Dolmen (Blarney Castle) or the Druid’s Cave and Circle. Atop her wishing steps is her kitchen. It has a chimney and fireplace within.

The Witches’ Kitchen

Offset from the kitchen is her stone. Apparently by legend she is bound and entrapped in the rock in servitude to bestow wishes upon those who walk up and down backwards the wishing steps while thinking only of their wishes and not letting any other thoughts drift in. In exchange, the Blarney guardians provide her firewood for this very kitchen so she can continue her spell craft and crazy brews while staying warm at night for when darkness falls she is magically released from the stone she is trapped within. Some say if you arrive early enough you can still see the dying embers of the fire as she lights a fire every night. Many believe that it was the Blarney Witch who really told McCarthy about the power of the Blarney Stone while others claim it was her who enchanted the stone as a “thank you” to McCarthy for saving her from drowning in the river. No one seems to know how she was entrapped into her rock. The Echoe Ghost Hunters investigated this area in 2010-2011 and claimed very strong EMP’s were recorded in the area of the Witches’ Kitchen. Most of the lore in this area is centered around the Witch of Blarney.

The Witches Stone

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The Wishing Steps of Rock Close

Wishing Steps

Wishing Steps
* The Rock Close * Blarney Castle, Blarney, Ireland * http://www.blarneycastle.ie *

Onwards with the quest for charms and blessings, just after kissing the legendary Blarney Stone for the gift of gab we wandered into The Rock Close of Blarney Castle. It was time to visit the wiley old witch of Blarney for a endowment of wishes. The witch requires the wisher to walk backwards up and down the steps with their eyes closed without stopping for a moment or thinking of anything other than the wish – then that wish will come true within a year. Of course I did it, and those who know me can only guess what my wish was … The roughly hewn 21-24 limestone steps climb up through an archway of limestone rocks. The steps can be wet and very slippery. Legend states that the witch was forced to do these blessings on the steps as a way for her to pack for her firewood she uses in the Witches kitchen located at the top of the steps. It is believed that if you go up the stairs early in the morning you will see dying embers in the fire pit of the Witches’ Kitchen and Stone which is supposedly lit every night by the Blarney Castle Witch.

The witch supposedly grants the wish within a year’s time. Others say a “year and a day”. My wish came true in precisely a year and 2 months. On June 28, 2010 I wished to be united with my soul mate and twin flame that previous prophecies said I’d meet. I also always had dreams as a child I’d marry an Irish woman. A year later in 2011 I was supposed to go to Ireland but while in Scotland ran out of money and called to tell my Irish friends I wasn’t able to come for a visit. They asked if I was going to Burning Man to which I replied, “I couldn’t afford it”. They had a position open for me as staff in helping build the Celtic dragon effigy for Ireland at Burning Man, so I went. I had a theme camp set up called “Tir na nOg” and was a base camp for the Irish crew. The night of the Effigy burn, I was a fire guardian and while watching the perimeter, had a friend from Colorado come fire spin for the event and she needed a safety person – unable to assist as I was already tied up with the boundary, I looked around the audience and saw a woman dressed like a leprechaun who was sober – I asked her to assist and she did. Afterwards I invited her back to our Tir na nOg camp, fed her fairy food and drink, and we fell in love. It turned out she was from Ireland, via the Pacific Northwest after working a summer on Vancouver Island, and lived in Cork – a stone’s throw from the Blarney Witch. She was looking for other Irish to hang out with. I moved to Dublin with her, two months later at the Stone of Destiny was inspired to propose to her, and we soon after married and gave birth to a beautiful son. So every year we return to the Blarney Witch to thank her for playing cupid. In our experience, we believe the wishing steps work.


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Common Rue: Ruta Graveolens

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Ruta Graveolens / RUE
The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland

Rue: Ruta Graveolens
Ruta Graveolens [ Plantae: Angiosperms: Eudicots: Rosids: Sapindales: Rutaceae: Rutoideae: Ruteae: Ruta: Ruta Graveolens ]

Common Names:

Commonly found throughout the Mediterranean, Southern Europe, Macaronesia, and southwest Asia.

Rue is a hardy evergreen shrubby plant that is highly scented disagreeble odor, ranging from 20-60 cm tall, with upwards of 8-40 species. The most popular “Rue” is “Common Rue”. Stems are woody in the lower part, Its leaves are alternate tripinnate or bipinnate with feathery appearance, green to blue green in color hosting yellow flowers with 4-5 petals that are approximately 1 cm in diameter usually from June to September, eventually forming 4-5 lobed capsulated fruit that hosts numerous sees.

Ruta angustifolia – Egyptian Rue; Ruta chalepensis – Fringed Rue; Ruta corsica – Corsican Rue; Ruta graveolens – Common Rue; Ruta montana – Mountain Rue

Grows anywhere, but thrives best in partially sheltered and dry areas. It can be propogated by seeds sown outside and scattered in spring, raking and beds kept free of weeds so that the seedlings when 2 inches high can be transplanted into fresh beds. Best to allow 18 inch spacing. With cuttings done in the spring, insert in soil until well rooted in shady borders or by rooted slips taken in spring until readily grown. Poor, dry, rubbishy soil is very good.

Common Uses:
Often used to ward off fleas and other biting insects and a common herbal insect repellent.

Culinary Uses:
Rue is very bitter with a nauseous taste, but utilized in many Middle Eastern cuisines, especially as an additive to grappa in Italy. It was a common element to ancient Roman recipes. Often added to salads.

Medicinal Uses:
Used for much medicine in England, it is a main ingredient for poison antidotes. Piperno the physician in 1625 recommended Rue to combat epilepsy, vertigo, and malady – often to be worn around the neck of the sufferer. Pliny claimed it was good to improve eyesight and focus. Believed by Italian artists to make eyesight sharp and clear aiding in detailed drawings. Juice of Rue is often utilized to fend off ear aches. It was seen early to ward off contagion, attacks of fleas, and other insects. Culpepper recommends it for sciatica and pains in the joints, also for shaking fits of agues, etc. Volatile oil made from rue contains caprinic, plagonic, caprylic, and oenanthylic acids as well as rutin. Often distilled from the fresh herb used as a wine, decoctions and infusions for medicinal usage or tea as an emmenogogue. In large quantities it is an acro-narcotic poison. Used sometimes to address hysterical affections, coughs, croup, colic, and flatulence as it is a mild stomachic. On the skin its an active irritant and sometimes used as a rubefacient, helping ease the severe pains of sciatica. it can risk dermatitis on the skin and cause rashes, especially if under the hot sun when oils are rich on the outside, it can blister skin like a poison ivy rash. Taken as a tea often used to combat nervous nightmares and leaves rubbed to the temples are said to relieve headaches. However, taking the plant intself internally has been known to produce vomiting, convulsions, and stomach pains. The compresses of the leaves applied to chests can combat chronic bronchitis. Leaves chewed are believed to calm nervous headaches, giddiness, hysterical spasms, and palpitations.

Magical Uses:
The Ancient Greeks see it as a “anti-magical herb” because it served as remedies to nervous indigestion they suffered when eating before strangers which was blamed on witchcraft. Throughout the Middle Ages it was seen as a powerful defense against witches and a main ingredient in many spells. Crushed herb is known to ward off evil spirits and witches. Rue is also believed to summon second sight. Holy water was sprinkled with rue brushes at ceremonies preceding Sunday celebrations of high mass, giving it the name Herb of Repentance or Herb of Grace. Often boiled together with treacle, conserving the rue, and used to cure croup in poultry or to fend off diseases in cattle.

Folklore and History:
The name comes from “Ruta” (Greek ‘reuo’) meaning “to set free” as the herb is known to be very good at affecting various diseases. Used by many ancient cultures, it was written about by Hippocrates who commended it as a chief ingredient for combating poisons in antidotes. Said by Gerard that “If a man be anointed with the juice of rue, the poison of wolf’s bane, mushrooms, or toadstooles, the biting of serpents, stinging of scorpions, spiders, bees, hornets and wasps will not hurt him.”, it was commonly sprinkled in houses to kill all the feas and as an insecticide. It is one of the ingredients in the “Vinegar of the Four Thieves”. It is the floral symbol of repentance, sorrow, and of regret.

The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland

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Saveok Water Archaeological Site (Cornwall, England)

Saveok Mill Archaeological Site

Saveok Mill Site
Greenbottom, Cornwall, England * http://www.archaeologyonline.org/index.html *

A small local farm in Greenbottom, Saveok Mill has placed itself on the archaeological map when resident Jacqui Wood discovered very curious archaeological features in her backyard when clearing the ground for a metal-work furnace on her land as one of her experimental archaeology projects. The current property, as “Saveok Mill” or now “Saveok Water”, is in its current evolution from the 17th century as a standing farm or community of 5 houses that once housed occupants who had worked at the local mill. When Jacqui Woods moved onto the property as her new home, little did she know what laid beneath her feet but none-other but an Archaeologist’s fantasy. Jacqui Woods, one of the world’s authorities on Prehistoric Cooking as well as Experimental Archaeology, who was also the consultant on the 1991 world famous discovery of the “Ice Man” could not believe her eyes with what she was uncovering. Since discovery, she has been excavating the finds at Saveok for at least the last 8 years. Jacqui has turned Saveok Mill into a Center for Experimental Archaeology, as well as home to archaeological field school sessions run and operated by herself. I first heard about the site in Archaeological Institute of America’s “Archaeology Magazine” article on the Cornwall Witches. Having been a subject of speciality for my graduate work research on the study of modern day Witches – this article struck a cord of harmonization within me as a means of continuing my research. I was extremely excited to visit this site that was revealing amongst the world’s first evidence of ritualistic practices of this nature all in one place. I made arrangements to visit with Jacqui in June of 2010.

Nestled in a sheltered river valley in Mid Cornwall England appears to be a ritualistic site that has been utilized as such for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The site dates from the Mesolithic (7,000-3,500 BCE) upwards to the 17th century of the Common Era (C.E.). Exposed in a trench along the south facing peak pank on the bend of the river between two shallow lakes were revealed Mesolithic remains ranging from evidence of dwellings, stone tools, and lithics. There are also well-preserved Animal Hoof prints along what was once the river or lake bed shoreline. Through time, this entire site was purposely covered over with various clays to make the river bank a suitable place for dwellings through the years. In an area that Jacqui Wood (excavation director and site manager) has labelled “A/2” there has been found the first phase of the site that is believed to be the Mesolithic dwelling platform (approximately 8,500 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era)) which is covered by a dense green clay floor surrounded by stony yellow clay in which stake holes were found to support the dwellings were driven. The next site phase determined appears to be a Neolithic ritual area was a series of Spring pools that may have been utilized as ‘purification pools’ or ‘sacred wells/springs’ through the ages. This natural spring line were large rectangular pools stone-lined with white quartz cores. As of this writing, there are at least two such pools on the site. Patterns of the stone lining, pool contents, and the seasonal filling of the second pool appears to have religious or ritualistic usage. Both of these features are very unique in Cornish archaeology – the only other such find was under the Maeshowe monument in Orkney that had a similar stone lined drain. The next phase of the site appears to have had ritualistic use by means of offering pits (upward of 35) primarily swan-feather lined with imported pebbles or additional elements in them that date from the late 1500’s to the 1640’s onward. Use of such offering pits during a period of turmoil in England when Cromwellian Puritans destroyed much of pre-Christian Pagan England along the countryside would not only have been extremely dangerous to practice, but simply unheard of for the time period as the practice of witchcraft often led to a death sentence. These offering pits are believed to be evidence of Cornwall Witchcraft practice throughout the ages. While lineage or written evidence for the site is lacking, the remains are vast and tie into much of the lore, practices, and belief systems utilized by Paganism in the area – standing as the most common-sense theory at this point in the investigations. These practices may or may not have been done by the former 17th century residents who built the dwellings that currently exist on the site. But some of the offering pits were certainly dug during their occupation. Ethnographic discussions with locals suggests that some of the land’s residents, the Burnett’s, were reputedly witches. Since anti-witchcraft laws were in place since 1541, their participation in these activities would have definitely remained hidden, for at this time the King James version of the Bible at the time declared into law that “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live“. [Exodus 22:17] The stone-line spring may have been utilized as a ‘holy well’ by these residents as well as its prehistoric use as such. The spring was packed full of ‘offerings’ dating to at least the 17th century including 125 strips of cloth from dresses and clothing, as well as pins, remains of a cauldron, cherry stones, human hair, shoe parts, imported heather branches, and nail clippings – all very commonly used offerings to sacred springs and wells. Modern day applications of these elements can be found existing in sacred wells and springs throughout the Cornish landscape today. Pins and cloth are common offerings to wells. Heather branches are associated with luck. The scraps of clothing could potentially have been remnants of ‘clotiers’ that are found around most of the wells throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland perhaps from a tree that was alongside the spring or just offered into the pool directly. (see modern example in article on “St Madron’s Well” located 25 miles from this site) This Well and/or Spring had sometime after the time of Cromwell had been filled in and destroyed in order to hide the practices that were taking place on this site since at least Neolithic times. The death penalty for the practice of Witchcraft officially ended in 1735 and by that time, evidence of this ritual site was covered over, and later residents of the site would have not been aware of what lie beneath.

The presumed ritualistic “offering pits” are generally 40 cm sq. x 17 cm depth earthen dug pits that were primarily carefully lined with the intact pelts of a swan and other bird remains such as claws and beaks from different species. Some of the pits had other animal elements including pigs, dogs, and cats. One was lined with the skin of a black cat and contained 22 eggs – all with chicks close to hatching, as well as cat claws, teeth, and whiskers. Another had a dog skin, dog teeth, and a baked pig jaw. Another pit had a mysterious 7 inch iron disk with a swan skin on one side and animal fur on the other. Based on ritualistic comparisons from Celtic Paganism, Witchcraft, Santeria, and Voodoo – such offering pits are common practice for fertility spells, sacrifice, and magical intentions. The abundant use of swan feathers, suggest fertility in this case, and based on local folklore could have been offering pits to the Goddess Brigid (now the Catholic St. Brigid) as per interviews with local witches and folklorists determined due to Brigid’s association with swans and fertility magic. According to local folklore and beliefs – the swan feathers associated with fertility were possibly offered her to promote conception. If conception took place – then 9 months later the person would return to empty the pit. This is the current explanation for some of the empty pits that were found. Some of the pits also contained leaf parcels of imported stones that have been traced to Swanpool Beach which is approximately 15 miles away from the site – a area famous for its population of swans. Not only were these practices at this time dangerous because of Cromwell, but the act of killing a swan would have been risky throughout English history as swans belong directly to the Crown. In addition within these feather pits were found over 57 unhatched eggs ranging in size from bantams to ducks that were flanked by the bodies of two magpies. Magpies are birds very tied to Cornish folklore and also seen as taboo to be utilized in such a way. These organic remains had incredible preservation on this site due to the Spring’s water-logged ground and mineral content. Radiocarbon dates of some of the swan feather fits date to 1640. The cat pit dates to the 18th century and the dog pit dates to the 1950’s. The combination of the holy well/spring, remains of the cauldron, ritual offerings to the well, swan feather lined offering pits, and other ritualistic evidence strongly suggested that this site was a ritual place for Cornish Witches. If this is the case, then Saveok Mill serves as one of the world’s best examples of sites of this kind since much of Witchcraft practice through the ages prior existed only in witches bottles and remains found in Salem, Massachussetts in the New World. Much of this fabled history, ressurrected by modern day Witches or continued by family tradition witches in the local area, has been buried in secrecy and buried underneath intentional cloaks of mystery. Until the modern era of the practice, written records of this religious movement and/or practice was next to non-existent.

In addition today for Saveok being a Archaeological Center and Site, as well as a training ground for future archaeologists, the location also serves for the groundbreaking launch ground for a number of Experimental Archaeology projects. Jacqui Wood through the last several years has been working on developing a re-created Iron Age village with roundhouses, kilns, and structures to explore into the lifeways of past. During my visit in June of 2010, I participated in their current project in Construction of an Iron Age Round House.

More photos and parts of the site:

More Pictures and Story to come …

remnants of cloth from the Spring/well

Continue reading Saveok Water Archaeological Site (Cornwall, England)


The Amsterdam Waag

The Amsterdam Waag
Amsterdam, the Netherlands

In the heart of Amsterdam lies a remnant of the former city walls known as the “Amsterdam Waag”. The walls were constructed here between 1481 and 1494. The Waag was constructed in 1488 and originally housed one of the city gates known as the “Sint Anthoniespoort”. The lower part of another gate also exists here called the Regulierspoort (“Munttoren”) and a defense tower known as the Schreierstoren. As the city wall disappeared, the New Market (Nieuwmarkt) began and the building housed the weighing scales. It became the predominant weigh house in Amsterdam. Weigh houses are buildings where scales are set up to weigh goods and levy taxes on goods transported through the area. From 1550-1690 those accused of witchcraft were sometimes brought here to be subjected to a “witch test” where if the person was found to be lighter than a set weight, s/he was deemed guilty. During the Spanish Inquisition, public executions took place here and to the left of this building you can find an inclined alleyway called the “Bloedstraat” (Blood street) where the blood from executions drained down. “Waag” means “scale” and his how the place got its name. In the late 16th century, as the city expanded, the wall was torn down and the gate lost its function. The defensive canal and palissade was turned into the market square, raising the ground, and filling in the canal. The upper floors housed four guilds – the smiths, the painters, the masons, and the surgeons. Each had its own entrance tower. This is the famous spot where in 1632 Rembrandt van Rijn was commissioned to paint the surgeons at work which is how the Anatomical Lesson of Dr. Tulp made his name. They added a theatrum anatomicum in 1691 so that paying members of the public could witness human dissections. the guilds were dissolved in 1795 leading to many different uses of the building, including a fire brigade and two museums before being taken over by a foundation in 1990. This foundation originally planned to partly destroy the building and build an addition designed by Philippe Starck but because the foundation went bankrupt they were unable to accomplish this feat. The local neighbourhood, historians, and the Amsterdam city council worked to restore it keeping its medieval background. In 1996 the Waag Society became the principal tenant. The Waag Society is the ICT research foundation that is working in the social and cultural domain of Amsterdam, and is a responsible group, according to locals, for its part in shutting down the Red Light district and cafes. The building also houses a very expensive cafe/restaurant on the ground floor that most locals recommend to avoid.

Amsterdam Waag



Lichtenau, Germany

On Palm Sunday, April 5th, while walking through the village of Lichtenau and the city of Ansbach, we noticed spread across the threshholds to a cafe/restaurant (Lichtenau) and a dining hall of a Protestant parish courtyard (Ansbach) (both primarily Protestant communities) from afar looked like fresh cut flower greens (not the flower heads/petals) or fern branches, but a closer inspection hints more as fresh tree sapling sprouts or branches, some evergreen; making a pathway into the establishment. Google searches provided no suggestions. Communitie discussion on networks and folklore boards came up with the following: (1) The Troll: foliage representing palm fronds for “Palm Sunday” (Catholic tradition on this April 5th; possibly Byzantine roots before spread to Catholicism in 5th century); (2) The Troll: (alternate) if Willow branches: Russian Orthodox, Polish and Bavarian Roman Catholics, and various other East European peoples carry pussy willows on Palm Sunday instead of palm branches (which do not grow that far north). This custom has continued to this day among Romanian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Polish Catholic, and Ukrainian Catholic emigrees in North America. (3) Bonefinder: Palmbosch’n’ – the Berchtesgadeners still believe in the ‘magic powers’ of the Palmbosch’n (literally ‘palm bushes’): According to the web site, there is no farm in the area that isn’t decorated each spring with so-called palm bushes that ornament the entire house from bedrooms to stables; they are not palm leaves (too hard to come by in the areas) but rather most often tree branches such as the willow branch (most measuring between 60 and 140 cm (two to five feet) in length). A ritual is conducted before they are used, as they have the uppermost twigs of the willow branch slit open with a small switch of beech or cedar inserted to bring blessings upon the house. The Palmbosch’n are also decorated with ‘Gschabertbandl’. These multicolored ribbon ornaments are made from long wood shavings that have been dyed and ironed. A final touch is given to the ‘willow palms’: two tiny slits are cut into the stem under the bark. This is said to ‘release the witches and druids’ who are believed to hibernate in there. Continue reading Palmbosch’n’