Crone in Corrogue: Wild Wisdom of the Elder Years

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Lighting Winter Solstice Sympathetic Magic

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

I live well out in the rural hinterlands of Ireland. Folk memory is long lived and some traditional farming practices tend to border on folk magic. One such custom that can still be found is to put an predator's carcass on display to warn off other of its species not to prey on herd animals - sheep and chickens. I have known pine martin to be nailed up on chicken coops as a warning. Walking our dogs down our lane I saw a road kill fox draped over the pasture's fence post.  It's a form of sympathetic magic. And it is deep, deep in our cellular memory. Sympathetic magic is imitative magic or correspondences according to anthropologists. You don't have to be identified as pagan to practice it.



Winter in the hungry time. Our favourite chicken, Boudicea, was carried off one Christmas Eve by a fox. Her white feathers littered the lane as I walked the dogs on Christmas morning. As much as I loved the hen and mourned her passing, I did not hate the fox. At winter solstice, when the light is permanantly low beam, it can be melancholy. As rich and creative as is the womb time of darkness, our ancestors living in the far north or short daylight knew that  it spelled danger - danger to livestock, danger to livelihood and food security, danger to the diminishing of hope and peace of mind.

We know all this in our bones, even those who live in a blaze of urban street lighting. It is the atavism of the wolf in the woods waiting for Little Red Riding Hood. Stay away from the shadows.  Or when you must go into the dark take all the magic tools you have in your power and possesion.

The German poet Goethe's last words on his deathbed are alleged to have been, "More Light!" This may have been literal or metaphorical or even a metaphysical statement. But at winter solstice that is the exact sort of sympathetic magic we practice as we string up fairy lights on evergreen trees. Light up the dark shadows of the dangerous woods of our deep subconscious. Feast in a blaze of heat and stories of glory and amazement. Celebrate the rebirth of the light and build monuments to capture that first slant  illuminating the chamber in Newgrange.

We gestate in darkness. First light is shocking, often confusing and may not be fully focused. But it warms us and grows us. The seed pops from the cold soil and begins its life cycle of bud, bloom, and re-seeding as the light recedes towards this winter solstice day.

This Midwinter Eve I string up fairy lights around my home. I have candles galore. My altar is spare but it celebrates my 2017 Word of the Year - Hope. For Love may warm us and Peace may soothe us, but the light of Hope keeps us putting one foot in front of the other as the light is reborn each and every day. Hope is the energy that pushes the seed against the resisting earth as it seeks the light for rebirth.

May the rebirth of the Light this Winter Solstice illuminate your path forward into 2018. May Hope companion your every day and inform each act you perform. Keep the sympathetic magic happening. Light a candle. Bless its light. Keep on shining.


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Bee Smith has enjoyed a long relationship with SageWoman as a contributor, columnist and blogger. She lives in the Republic of Ireland, teaches creative writing and is a member of the Irish Art Council's Writers in Prisons panel. She is the author of "Brigid's Way: Celtic Reflections on the Divine Feminine."    


  • Solitarieone
    Solitarieone Wednesday, 20 December 2017

    Thank you, Bee! For more than 40 years, I’ve wondered about that magic that I saw at my landlord’s farm. I was a military dependent in England, and my husband and I were invited to our landlord’s home to visit. As they gave us a tour of their land, I noticed a number of carcasses/pelts of predators (foxes, etc.) on fences. I should have asked about them, but I was young and shy, and the landlord’s family didn’t offer any explanation. Maybe they didn’t think it was unusual, but for a early 20-something American girl, it was. I’ve randomly thought about the reason for the carcasses over the years — and you just solved my puzzle. Blessings be to you and yours during this Solstice season. And again, thank you.

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