Hag Schools the Inquisitive Witch
by Gillian Green
For Samhain I was sent on assignment to interview...The Hag!
Kinda scary, huh? Well, I volunteered to do these interviews so I guess it's all in a day's--or night's--work for this inquisitive Witch. I patted my pocket to be sure I had my trusty notebook and pen, put on my traveling boots and grabbed my favorite black hoodie, the one with the skulls and roses down the front (sure to impress the Hag!) and off I went.
Over the past several years, I have made friends with the Hag, or at least gotten to know her better--it happens to us when we get older--so I had a pretty good idea of where she might be found. I hiked up the hill towards the graveyard. A cold wind suddenly chilled me and I put my hood up. A flurry of dry leaves swirled around my feet. I needed to gather some courage; sometimes the Hag can be fearsome and wicked. Along the fence of the graveyard, clusters of nightshade berries sparkled like dark beads strung on the dying vines. I stopped to admire them and to take a few deep breaths before I went on.
"Mine! Don't touch!"
The raspy voice nearly made me jump out of my skin. I turned around and found myself face to face with what I thought at first was an old Halloween mask. It looked so funny, I almost burst out laughing. Green face, wart on the nose, another one on the chin (with a single whisker growing out of it) stringy black hair, snaggly fangs, and to top it all off a black pointed hat, slightly crinkled.
She cackled and pointed a bony, crooked green finger at me, while she croaked, "Yes, all mine! The poison berries!"
"Yours?" I repeated, trying not to giggle. Was this a joke? It looked like a bad Halloween costume. This year Michael Jackson costumes and zombies are in, or so I've been told. Isn't it a little old-school to dress up as a witch? Then it dawned on me. I stood up straight and looked her in the eyes. "You're not--"
"I am," she said before I finished asking. Her long black cape billowed in another cold gust of wind. I shivered as I thought maybe this wasn't a joke after all.
|Crone Mask by Gaea McGlothlin via Flikr Creative Commons|
"And I have some questions for YOU," she added, tapping me with one of her claws.
"But... but... I'm the one who's supposed to ask the questions!" I blurted out.
She shushed me. "Don't talk back! Respect your Elders. Now, first of all, what's my name?"
I stuttered through all the names I knew that belonged to the Hag. "Banshee? Cailleach? Old Woman? Hel? Nightmare? Black Annie? Grandmother Winter? Crone?"
The Hag nodded and showed all three of her crusty teeth. "Keep going."
"Darkness? Nightshade? Midnight? Frost?" I guessed, and finally whispered, "Death?"
She frowned and shrugged. "Those are some of my names, yes. Does my disguise frighten you?"
"Disguise? It's a disguise? To be quite honest, I didn't expect you to look like this," I admitted.
The Hag was amused. "This is how most people think of me," she chuckled. "I suppose they have to make a joke out of what scares them the most. So you think you know what I really look like?"
I stepped back. For a minute, I thought she was going to take off the mask and show me her true form. Instead, she just waited for me to answer. Carefully, I said, "Well, I always thought you would look like a very, very old woman and not at all beautiful. You would look like the ugliest gray day of winter. Or a pile of bones. Your face would look like an ancient stone, all craggy and mysterious. Your hands would be colder than ice and your skin as wrinkled as a thousand year old mummy."
Her laugh was an owl-hoot. "Why do you think that?"
"The poison berries are yours," I remind her. "Everything about you is dark and shadowy."
This made her smile. "Trust my darkness! In darkness, everything rests," the Hag told me. "The trees and animals hibernate. Seeds sleep deep in the earth. Without the dark, there'd be no bright. Without the night, you'd know no light. Think about that!"
And I did. Silence wrapped around us like a cloak. I looked down at my notebook and realized I was looking at a blank page, but it was too late to ask any questions now. The Hag had vanished without a sound, leaving me with her mysterious words of wisdom, and my interview that had been turned upside-down, topsy-turvy. She had asked all the questions and somehow gave me answers too. I'd been tricked! It was a good trick, though, because before the Hag vanished, her mask slipped a little and I caught a glimpse of the beautiful face of Lady Springtime hiding underneath.
An Interview with Queen Mab
by Gillian Green
On Midsummer's Eve, I happened to come face to face with Queen Mab in my garden at midnight while I was sprinkling the remains of our sabbat cake and a few drops of honey as an offering to the faeries. She first appeared as a tiny orb of misty light fluttering from one moon-flower to another, then changed shapes as we spoke. It was a surprising and very strange interview.
Me: *gasp* Queen Mab! Is that really you? I am blessed to be in your presence on this special night.
Q.M. Bzzzzzt! Buzz off, I'm busy! She perches on the edge of the moon-flower, then notices the honey I dropped on the ground nearby. She grows a little larger and becomes more friendly as she flutters down to take a sip. Yes, I am the one they call Queen Mab, what of it?
Me: If you please, I have some questions for you. I would really like to know if it's true that you have a chariot drawn by a small gray-coated gnats, and that you run over peoples' faces while they're sleeping, drive the chariot up their noses and give them weird dreams.
Q.M. *giggling* That was what William Shakespeare thought of me. He wrote it into a play and you mortals actually believed it! Silly humans. She stands up and grows taller, now about the size of a robin, and glares at me.
Me: Oh, I don't believe everything I read on the internet, don't worry. I know you're the Queen of the Faeries!
Q.M. She slurps up the last of the honey and grows larger still, up to my knee now. Queen of the Faeries indeed! I think you must be one of the fools who have been wrapped in a veil of sweet dreams by some of Tatiania's folk, and tricked into seeing us all as harmless little creatures who go around throwing pixie dust on people and flying around on gossamer wings! She snorts and stamps her foot--the ground shakes!
Me: Well, I am not belittling you, Queen Mab. I know that one of the moons of the planet Uranus is named after you! That's no small honor.
|Click HERE to print out a Queen Mab coloring page! Queen Mab from A Treasury of Verse for Little Children, made available on fromoldbooks.org|
Q.M. Tosses back her golden hair and now stands eye to eye with me. So what? Do you know who I really am? Or rather who I really was before Shakespeare and others started all those rumors about me?
Me: A little confused, especially now that she's speaking with a thick Irish brogue. Aren't you the mischievous imp who sneaks around plaiting the manes of horses in the night? Sometimes you appear as a hag on a broom. Other times you are a happy little winged sylph.
Q.M. Now towers over me, a beautiful giantess with a mocking grin on her face. Her voice is like thunder. My real name, thousands of years ago, was not Mab but Medbh! I was the queen of Connacht and daughter of Eochaid, High King of Ireland.
Q.M. I was the most beautiful, generous and gracious of Eochaid's daughters. I was also the strongest, bravest and smartest of them all, equal to any man. When I married Ailill, I added up all my belongings and added up his, and found that he had one bull more than I did. So I wanted the best bull in Ireland, the brown bull of Cooley. We went to war over that!
Me: I know that story. You were a powerful, brilliant woman who inspired so many people that some even thought you were a goddess.
Q.M. *nods rather sadly* And that's why they tried to shrink me down into a faery. I was a giant for the deeds I did! Contrary to popular belief, I am not at all like Shakespeare's fairy queen Titiana, even though she copied me by going to war with Oberon, the faery king, over who was more powerful--just as I did with my husband Ailill back in the days of ancient Ireland.
Me: It happened to a lot of goddesses and strong women of ancient times, yes. They were turned into saints, at best, or at worst made into fairies, if they were allowed to survive at all. But I promise to remember this, Queen Medbh. And I will never underestimate you. Indeed you are much more than most people think you are.
Q.M. When you see a fairy, think of what she may have been once upon a time. An ancient, powerful queen. A wise and forgotten goddess. A brilliant, gifted woman. She smiles and fades into the moonlight, leaving the golden glow of her presence to bless my garden.
Interview with the Witch Hare
by Gillian Green, Photos by Steven Ward Nature Photography via Flickr Creative Commons
There is a poem that was written a long time ago by Walter de la Mare that goes like this:
In the black furrow of a field
I saw an old witch-hare this night;
She cocked a lissome ear,
And she eyed the moon so bright,
And she nibbled of the green;
And I whispered "Whsst! witch-hare!"
Away like a ghostie o'er the field
She fled, and left the moonlight there.
Ever since Puca talked about bunnies, I've always wanted to ask the witch-hare some questions. I thought it would be hard to find her because hares are rarely seen in the wintertime. Luckily, the first Spring thaw washed away most of the huge piles of ugly gray snow that have been hanging around for weeks now, so I was able to make my way to a field near the woods where I knew hares lived. And there she was, waiting for me, a little nervously, by an old stump at the edge of the clearing.
The pretty witch-hare, at the edge of the woods...
"Ah, I'm glad you didn't bring your dog this time!" she greeted me, her nose twitching and her ears laid back. She was trembling with the strangeness of being so close to a human, yet she sensed that I was not going to harm her.
"Do you mind if I ask you some questions?" I inquired politely, taking my notebook and pen from my pocket. "I always wondered--"
"Make it fast!" the Hare snapped. "Springtime is a busy season for me."
"Oh, yes, you are busy coloring eggs and delivering baskets to children," I nodded and scribbled a few lines.
"Oh, no!" She shook her sleek brown head so hard that her ears flapped. "You must be thinking of my cousin, the Easter Bunny--Puca can tell you all about him. I am the witch-hare," she proclaimed proudly. "I am one of the first creatures to announce that Spring is here. Do you know Eostre? The goddess of Spring? Sometimes she is called Ostara. If you find an old statue of her, you'll see there's a white hare beside her. That was my great great great great great great great great grandmother! Cerridwen and Freya both have hares for their attendants. We also run with Artemis and sit beside Aphrodite. I even heard somewhere that the goddess Holda had several hares that carried her torches for her."
I smiled and wrote it down. Then, when I looked back at the hare, her dark eyes were twinkling as if she was playing a joke on me. I blinked and Eostre Herself was standing there where the hare had been! A beautiful young girl with a smile like the sunrise and the pink blush of an April dawn on her cheeks. I blinked again and it was just the witch-hare, winking. "Trickster and shapeshifter," I wrote carefully on my notepad.
"Besides," the hare went on, "there is a big difference between rabbits and hares. Rabbits are smaller. Hares have longer back legs and bigger ears. We can change colors from winter to spring, rabbits cannot! Baby rabbits are called kittens. Newborn hares are leverets. When rabbits are born, they are naked and blind. We hares come into the world fully clothed with our fur, able to see, and we are ready to leave our mothers within just one cycle of the moon."
"Speaking of the moon," I spoke up, scribbling madly, "I sometimes see a hare in the moon, especially right after it rises in the sky. How do you explain that?"
The witch-hare laughed. It sounded like tiny bells ringing. "That's one thing I can't explain except to say that we are children of the moon, like all witches are. People all over the world see a hare in the moon because of that. Some even see the moon-hare holding an egg, because we hares are so fertile. Female hares can birth up to 42 babies in one year, you know!"
"No wonder you survive so well," I marveled in awe. "I can't think of any other animal that has so many predators, yet--"
At the mention of predators, the hare became nervous again. "It helps to be able to run really really fast and go zig zag over the fields!" She added suddenly, "Now I have to go!"
With a skip and hop, the witch-hare was gone before I could say thank-you. She vanished without a sound. Slowly I put my notebook and pen back into my pocket. As I turned to go, something caught my eye, way across the field. It was a male hare dancing in high, joyous leaps, mad with spring fever.
Everything You Need In One Tiny Seed
by Katharine Clark and Natalie Zaman,Goddess art by Thalia Took, Marigold photo by KaCey97007 via Flickr Creative Commons
What do you think of when you hear the word "Goddess?"
The Goddess is all of these things. She lives in each and every one of us, and through her many faces, we witness the cycle of life. Some folks are so grateful for Winter to be over, that they aren't aware of the subtle and speedy changes that are happening around them. It's a very powerful time of the year, and all that energy can be a bit overwhelming--especially when it sneaks up on you!
A good way to ground (re-balance, refocus, get your bearings) throughout the warm weather months is to step back and think about where all this life comes from. When things aren't so big, they're easier to understand. How can we shrink nature? By looking at its beginnings--the seed.
Plant a marigold seed. It's sunny color represents the energy that's picking up speed (Plus they're good flowers for so many things--more on that later!) As you place the seed in the soil, think about what it will take to make it grow into a plant. The elements must combine in harmony to sustain life; water, earth, air and fire (heat/the sun). And yet, at the heart of it all is the seed itself.
Repeat this grounding as often as you need to. You'll be well balanced--and have a bright and beautiful garden!