Story, art, magic and creative activities for families to share and do.
An Appointment with the Wicker Man...
His-story. It's dark, and the air is chill--Summer is a'comin in--but not quite yet. You're standing in a circle around a tall, dark object. You can just make out its narrow limbs; arms and legs formed by tightly tied bundles of twigs and straw. Suddenly, flames blaze up. In the crackling firelight you can see the figure at the center of the circle--the Wicker Man.
The lighting of the Wicker Man is a very old tradition that we know little about. Of course, there's the obvious: a Wicker Man is a human figure made out of wicker, straw or twigs, but he's built hollow so that things can be put inside him. But how this tradition started is a bit of a mystery. The ancient people who first built them--the Celts--didn't write about their practices. The first person to actually record anything about Wicker Men was Julius Caesar, and the picture he painted wasn't pretty. He wrote that the Celts created huge, human-shaped wicker figures, and inside they would put small animals, grains and slaves (yes, people), to be burned inside as an offering to the gods.
An engraving of a Wicker Man based on Julius Caesar's writings--but how accurate is it?
That sounds pretty gruesome--but is it true? It's important to remember that JC wrote this, but he didn't SEE it happen. His description was a part of his record of the Gallic Wars. He wrote down his own experiences, but also those of other people. Because this is not the account of an eye-witness, we aren't one hundred percent sure why Wicker Men were built, at what times of the year they were burned, or what was placed inside them. We might not know exactly what the ancient Celts were up to when it came to Wicker Men, but what we CAN do is look at this tradition and its elements, take what we know about them, and make them work for us in a positive way, today.
Special delivery. Fire, and a human shape--those are the two things we are certain about when it comes to the Wicker Man tradition. Let's think about those. The burning of effigies--a fancy word for a life-sized, human-shaped dummy--has been done for thousands of years and usually for the same purpose: to send a message (usually to the "person" being "burned") and so promote change.
Look at Julius Caesar's story: The Wicker Man was filled with offerings to the gods so that they would look favorably upon the folks that made the offering. Hopefully, the gods would be pleased and so give fair weather, good harvests, health--you get the idea. Could it be that the Celts were trying to send a message to the gods? And how would the gods know who the message was from? If the messenger was human-shaped, then the message must be from humans. And what about fire? Intentions, requests and offerings are placed inside the Wicker Man, and through the element of fire, they are transformed so that he can carry them to the God and Goddess, or folks who have passed from this life. There's no doubt that fire is a "changing" element. Look at anything that's been burned--it certainly doesn't look the same as it did before it went into the fire. When the Wicker man is lit, the intentions, requests and offerings inside him are literally put into the air (you can see it in the heat and smoke), and so are sent out of this world, and into the next.
We made a Wicker Man to celebrate the long overdue Goddess Season (we had a rough winter here in New Jersey). Any sabbat that involves fire (like Beltane or Imbolc) is a good for a Wicker Man build. Also, think of building a Wicker Man for Yule--a great way to welcome the return of the Sun! In our Wicker Man, we put bundles of herbs, and papers with intentions (things we wished to see grow in the coming year) and notes of thanks for those things we're grateful for (burn a Wicker Man at Samhain and include notes to loved ones--people and pets who have passed on). Those intentions and messages were "brought to light" through the Wicker Man, and hopefully received. Giving your thoughts a physical aspect will help you to concentrate and it make your intentions stronger.
Fire-man. Building a Wicker Man isn't hard to do (you don't have to make him 20 feet tall!). But before you break out the twigs and straw, think about the Wicker Man's purpose first. Make some lists in your Book of Shadows: First, write out some intentions--things you would like to see grow in the coming year. What are you thankful for--what good things happened to you over the last twelve months? Do you have loved ones--people and pets--who have passed on? Is there anything you'd like to say to them, any questions you'd like to ask? Write those down too. To make your Wicker Man, you'll need:
- Wicker basket with the handle removed--this will be the Wicker Man's body
- A twig or tree branch that is approximately three times the width of the bottom of your basket--this will form the Wicker Man's arms (hint--don't make it too thin as you'll be hanging things on it!)
- A recycled box--Wicker Man's head and feet will be cut from this
- Hot Glue Gun
- Small pieces of paper
- Ribbon or yarn
Center your twig or branch across the outside bottom of the basket (Wicker Man's back). You should have several inches of excess length on each side.
Use hot glue to secure the branch in place. Trim any excess branch as necessary for Wicker Man to maintain his balance when he stands up.
Cut three circles from your recycled box. Two of the circles will serve as Wicker Man's feet. Secure them to the bottom of the basket (not the Wicker Man's back!) with hot glue.
The third circle will be the Wicker Man's head. Stand the circle on end and wedge it in between the woven straw of the basket, then secure it to the top side of the basket. We used slices of a fallen tree trunk for our Wicker Man's feet and head, but cardboard is just as good! And of course, you can make your Wicker Man bigger or more elaborate--be creative!)
Go back to your Book of Shadows, and look at the lists you made. Now write your intentions and messages on small pieces of paper and place them inside the Wicker Man, or use your ribbon or yarn to tie them to the arms.
Burn your Wicker Man in a safe, well ventilated place (outside in a fire pit, or in a fire place). Keep a fire extinguisher and water close by in case it's needed. When the Wicker Man is lit, concentrate on those intentions and messages--you may even want to say them aloud as he burns.
Scatter the cooled ashes over your garden, or on your plants or in your favorite park--the ash is good for the soil, and it will put your good thoughts right to work in the earth!
After-words. We can hope that no one was harmed through the Wicker Men of long ago, but we can never know for sure. No matter what happened in ages past (there are hardly any cultures that didn't do things that we would consider horrible today) we can choose to do something positive. Julius Caesar was a great figure in history--but do a little better than him and be a real witness to the events, rituals and happenings in your life. Record your experiences with the Wicker Man in your Book of Shadows--and see if anything happens as a result. If you made an intention to develop a good habit or talent, did you make any progress? All that we do can have a positive effect on ourselves and the world around us--let your light shine and have a bright Summer!
by Natalie Zaman
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