Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Stang

A stang is a forked staff, of usually two or three tines, that can serve many purposes. It can act as a vertical altar, a bridge to the other world, a symbol of the world tree, a symbol of (or altar to) a Deity, a walking/traveling stick, or as a staff to raise/direct energy and to mark ritual space. It is usually used by hedgewitches and other traditional witches, but can be incorporated into numerous paths.

The historical origins of this tool are not clear. Some say Robert Cochrane invented the tool, but it seems more likely that he simply reintroduced the tool to modern day witchcraft, and perhaps gave new meanings to the tool. Old woodcuts of witches show them using a forked staff (sometimes riding it) along with other "traditional" witches items, such as the besom and cauldron. It is possible that the staff shown was related to a cooking stick, hay fork, distaff, or another common tool. One possible origin for the term stang comes from the Old Norse language, and can be roughly translated as "staff, pole, or rod." Others speculate that it comes from the Old English language, and shares a similar root with the word distaff.

In modern use the stang is often made of ash, or another wood symbolic of the world tree such as rowan, yew, or hawthorn. However, it is not uncommon to see other woods being used for their various properties - such as poplar for underworld work, or oak for protection. The wood used really depends on what the stang's primary use will be, and the personal preference of the witch making it. Some use fallen branches (and may not even know what wood the fallen branch is), seeing the fallen branch as a gift from nature. Others choose to connect with a tree and cut a branch from it, wishing the specific energies and bond with that tree. Again, it comes down to personal choice.

There is no set size for a stang. While they are usually staffs, some choose to make smaller, almost wand sized stangs. Some have shoulder height stangs, head height, or even giant six or seven foot stangs. The huge stangs are usually coven tools in traditional witchcraft. A solitary might instead like to use a small walking stick type, or even the wand type, depending on what they want to use their stang for, where they practice, and how portable they need their stang to be.

A stang often ends in a natural two pronged fork, although sometimes a three pronged fork is used. Larger stangs (shoulder height or higher) are sometimes topped with a skull with antlers or horns, or just the antlers or horns, to make the fork. Metal tines can also be added instead of the natural fork. The bottom of the stang can sometimes be covered with a metal point, or the wood slightly sharpened, to make it easier to drive into the ground during ritual.

Stangs can be decorated in various ways. Natural decorations, such as bone, beads, feathers, fur, leather, shells, cotton ribbon or string, are common. It can also be sanded, painted, stained, carved, or burned with symbols or patterns. Of course, it can also be free of any decoration. How it is decorated will depend on what it will be used for, the personal symbolism the witch chooses, and individual taste.

The stang is rich in many layers of symbolism. As a symbol for the World Tree, the top fork can represent the upper world, the middle staff section the middle world, and the end (which is driven into the earth) the lower world.

The two prongs can also represent feminine energies, the staff masculine energies, the whole the union between the two. It can also symbolize union between the sky and earth. Or, one prong of the fork can symbolize feminine energies, the second prong masculine, and the staff creation manifest. The two prongs can also represent duality... light/dark, sun/moon, sky/earth, seen/unseen, physical world/spiritual world, life/death etc. while the middle section of the staff can represent balance between the two. It is a symbol of union, cycles, and transformation.

Some see the stang as a totally masculine tool, especially when used as a symbol of/altar to a God. However, others see the stang as a relative of the distaff, a traditional women's tool used in spinning. (Especially true of three pronged stangs, but also in the two pronged ones as well). As a tool of feminine energies and spinning, it can represent creative energies and is sometimes used as a symbol of fate, or of a Goddess in this way.

The stang can also act as a portable altar, representing all the elements/common ritual tools in one object. The fork can be seen as the chalice (water), the middle section of the staff as athame (fire), the whole can be used as a wand (air), and when driven into the earth completes the connection between all elements (especially true with a metal tipped end).

As it has many symbolic meanings, so can it have many ritual uses. It can be used as a symbol of the world tree, an aid to creating a gap in the hedge (thinning of the veil), an assistant to shamanic journeying. When used in this way, it is generally struck into the middle of the ritual space.

The stang can be used in a similar way as a wand, to focus and direct energy. The stang can help pull up energy from the earth, or aid in grounding energy when ritual is over (or after otherworld work). As a staff, it can also be used to draw out the compass, or ritual space, on the ground.

A stang topped with a horned skull (or just the horns) can also be dressed up in a shirt or robe and act as a protector who watches over the ritual (sometimes called a scarecrow in this form). In a similar way it can act as a symbol, or altar, of a Horned Deity. In this form it is often placed in the North section of the ritual space, or, moved with the cycles of the sun (in a daily or yearly way. For example, in the south at noon, or at Litha). In this form, it can also be placed into a cauldron to represent the cycle of life, death, and rebirth - an especially popular symbol at Samhain, but also used at other times.

The stang also makes a fine walking stick for the wandering witch. A small bundle of ritual items can be hung from the fork (or just below it) to be carried to the working site - or if one is out foraging, to carry things back home. During a night ritual, when a fire is not wanted, a small lantern can be hung from the stang to allow for a bit of working light. I have also seen a few uses that are more obscure, such as being used as a sighting pole (it was recommended to mark 1/16th of the horizon in this form).

Usually the stang is decorated for times of celebration, especially when it is serving as an altar or representation of the World Tree or of a Deity. For example, after erecting the stang in the ritual space on Beltaine, it could be decorated with garlands of flowers and ribbons. Or, a wreath and other evergreens at Yule. Libations or other offerings can be left at the base of the stang. When used as an altar for ritual focus, it can be stuck into the middle of the ritual space, or at the north of the compass, or on Sabbats with the corresponding direction (north-east on Imbolc, east on Ostara, etc.)

Like many ritual objects, different individuals and traditions often put their own meaning to the stang. While I've tried to bring information from many sources, it is sure that the stang has more uses and layers of symbolism to it. Like many things in witchcraft, some of which can only be discovered personally through its use.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Home Again

I got back from a week long camping trip yesterday. A group of my friends go every year, and this is my first time joining them since moving back to New Hampshire. We camp out up north, and take trips to places like White Lake and the Swift River. The White Mountains are filled with beautiful places to visit, and I love going there. It's amazingly relaxing to lay back against a smooth rock in a shallow section of river, and just let the water flow past you.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Four Thieves Vinegar

Four Thieves Vinegar is a blend of vinegar and herbs that is used to protect against disease (traditionally the plague, but other epidemics as well). It can also be used to ward off the spells of other witches, for general protection, repulsion and reversal, and to drive back or control your enemies.

Four Thieves Vinegar is said to have originated during the Black Plague. The four thieves robbed from the homes of the sick and dying (or sometimes from graves), without falling sick. They were eventually caught, and as a bargain to escape punishment they shared their secret for saying healthy.

Another version of this story has the thieves stealing from healthy people, being caught, and were sentenced to bury plague victims. They created this blend to survive their punishment. Some say these thieves were from a family of perfume makers, and would have had knowledge of herbs and which had antiseptic properties.

It is made by placing equal parts of sage, lavender, rosemary and thyme (one herb for each thief) into a glass bottle or jar. Then fill the jar with red wine vinegar (or a vinegar of your choice), and seal it well. The jar should be allowed to sit for at least a week, but it is ideal to make this blend on the night of the full moon, and allow it to charge until the new moon. Once each day the jar should be gently tipped upside down a few times, then left to sit again. After the herbs have steeped in the vinegar for the desired length of time, strain the herbs out of the vinegar, and again seal the vinegar into a bottle or jar.

The vinegar can be used to anoint the body, candles, or ritual items/tools. It can be added into a bath, or as a wash for the body in a shower. The blend can also be taken internally (wash fresh herbs well and pat dry if you are going to be using it in this way - research and follow food safety guidelines for making a flavored vinegar!), some say it makes a wonderful salad dressing when mixed with a bit of olive oil.

Sometimes other herbs are used in this blend. In later times lemon balm and mint were added to make the vinegar more sweet smelling and tasting. Garlic is another late addition, and on occasion is the only herb used. Wormwood and rue are also sometimes seen in recipes.

As the herbs may vary, so even the number of thieves can vary from location to location. Some places know this blend as Seven Thieves Vinegar, others Three Thieves. It can also be simply known as Thieves Vinegar, or Grave Robbers Blend.

Monday, July 11, 2011


I spent some time digging through my notes, books, and researching online about beech trees today.

One site listed it as the feminine counterpart to the oak. While the birch is the maiden or Lady of the Wood, beech is the Queen.

Beech was used to make early writing tablets, thin slices were bound into books, and later beech was used to make paper. The beech tree made the first writing tablets for the runes, and is associated with the God Ogmah (creator of the ogham). It is a symbol for the written word, and the wisdom within ancient teachings. Beech teaches us to write, and preserve knowledge for future generations. For these reasons it is a tree of wisdom, lore, understanding, and knowledge - especially old, hidden, or forgotten knowledge.

Beech also aids in the retrieval and rediscovery of these ancient secrets and lost bits of wisdom, allowing the practitioner to cross the threshold into the otherworld and bring back the wisdom there. It is the tree for one who thirsts for knowledge, who has a questioning spirit.

Because of it's association with ancient knowledge and secrets, it is used to help commune with ancestors and ancient spirits and guardians.

The beech is rooted in the knowledge of the past, sustained by ideas of the present, and always continued to grow into the future.

Beech is a tree that doesn't get talked about a lot. After all this, I truly have no idea why, it carries some very powerful symbolism.