Hob & Broom: Household Lore & Traditions

An exploration of the old spirits, symbols, customs, and crafts of the home.

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The Cunning Wife

The Cunning Wife

The Cunning Wife is an animist, writer, diviner, crafter, witch, spirit worker and traveler, guided by both philosophical Taoism and Germanic and Slavic folk traditions. Her written work has been published in a number of online and print magazines, including Witches & Pagans. She gets excited about scholarly essays and books on folklore, magical tales, and ancient spiritual practices, and is passionate about sharing that information in ways that are accessible and relevant. She is also an avid crafter of magical and mundane items. She believes that there is magic in the mundane, just waiting to be remembered.  
Kitchen Witch Dolls: Modern Household Icons

My great-grandmother, whose father immigrated from Norway when he was around nine years old and whose mother was a third-generation German American, had a kitchen witch that was passed down to my mom, her granddaughter. Unfortunately, it was lost over time, but my mom remembers that it wore a long, red dress and perched on a straw broom. This is the traditional form of the kitchen witch: a long dress, usually a kerchief tied around its head rather than a witch hat, often a characteristic long nose on a friendly face, riding upon a miniature broom (or a wooden spoon!)

Over time, craftspeople have branched away from this traditional form, creating kitchen witches that reflect the various interests and needs of contemporary cooks. This is typical for folk traditions: to remain relevant, they transform over time, taking on new elements and meanings. One thing has remained the same, however: they are always friendly, always helpful, always good luck.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I remember a little kitchen witch over the sink in my parents house. I think one of my sisters got it after my mother died, but I
Alfablot: Honoring the Spirits of the Earth and the Dead

“‘Do not come any farther in, wretched fellow’, said the woman; ‘I fear the wrath of Óðinn; we are heathen.’ The disagreeable female, who drove me away like a wolf without hesitation, said they were holding a sacrifice to the elves inside her farmhouse.” (“Austrfararvísur”)

Feast of Spirits

The Alfablot is an ancient Norse holiday celebrated around this time of year, the end of the harvest and the start of the winter season. As for many other peoples across the world, offerings to the spirits were in order during seasonal shifts, especially when advancing into the most challenging season.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Having read Journey to Ixilan by Castaneda and Supernatural by Graham Hancock I am inclined to view the Elves as primarily the spi

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Storm-Warding Charms and Rituals

Florence is pounding at the coastline of the Carolinas as I write. If you’ve been watching meteorologists’ predictions this past week, you’ll have noticed how frequently and wildly projections of her path have changed. She is a massive, powerful, and unpredictable force. Storms like Florence remind us of Mother Nature’s terrible power and that, in spite of all our cunning and advanced technology, we cannot control her; we remain subject to her, a small part of the greater tapestry of teeming, whirling life.

My neighbors’ parents live in Charleston and have come to stay with them to escape the worst of the storm. But even here, some 300 miles from the Virginia coast and buffeted by the ancient Appalachian peaks, we’re still anticipating winds up to 35 miles per hour and three to five inches of rain – nothing compared to our easterly neighbors, but a shock nonetheless for a region that doesn’t often see hurricanes. And, considering how our valley is predisposed to flooding and has already received quite a bit of rain in the past week, we’re all more than a little nervous, wondering how Florence will treat us when she arrives at our doorstep. It’s the subject of every half-overheard conversation I pass by. I can feel it coming – the sky is a mass of mottled gray; the winds are cooler and more persistent; there’s a tension in the air itself, as if every tree and bird and beast is bracing itself for the impact.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I live in Colonial Heights a town south of Richmond. Florence turned south and will miss most of Virginia. I did no storm wardin
  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife says #
    That's great! I love hearing about others' rituals and traditions. At the time I was writing this post, it did look like Florence
Frau Harke, Goddess of the First Harvest

Around Lughnasadh or soon after, I saw my first mourning dove at our Appalachian farmhouse. We’ve lived here since March, and while I’ve seen blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, falcons, crows, and more, mourning doves were conspicuously absent. And then there it was on our white post-and-rail fence. The next day, I saw another, and then more appeared in the bushes and trees over the next weeks. This morning, there were five perched on the fence, observing me as I let out our dog.

I think of Frau Harke when I see them, thanks to Jacob Grimm, who wrote in Teutonic Mythology that "Harke flies through the air in the shape of a dove, making the fields fruitful” (Vol. 4, p.1364). Harke is a giantess of German folklore in the Brandenburg and Thuringia regions. Her name means “to rake,” calling to mind the harvest and care of the earth. While usually a dweller of wild mountain forests, she does travel about during her holy days, like other goddesses of her type. Folklorist Benjamin Thorpe wrote that "At Heteborn, when the flax was not housed at Bartholomew-tide [August 24], it was formerly the saying, 'Frau Harke will come'” (142).

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Monsters in the Closet: Echoes of Household Spirits

For about a year, my son had a mild fear of goblins, ever since he saw the kidnapping scene at the beginning of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth – nothing that kept him up at night, but something he mentioned frequently and required reassurance about.

What I find particularly interesting was his belief that goblins reside in and enter from his closet. His belief was so strong that, for a few months, my husband and I had to tie his closet doors shut with ribbons every night to reassure him that the goblins couldn’t come in. The closet seems a natural residence for fearsome things -- it is the darkest place in a room, especially at night, and we fear what we can't see. Yet this belief about spirits in storage places isn't new.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I remember reading about old stone axe heads being regarded as thunderstones. Those definitely qualify as ancient artifacts. Th
  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife says #
    I love Natsume Yuujinchou! I know he'd be a big fan of Nyanko-sensei (but who isn't?), but some of the more aggressive yokai would

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Birch: The Tree of Midsummer

 

 

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Snake Spirits: Health and Wealth

"Snake, snake, come swiftly 
Hither come, thou tiny thing,
Thou shalt have thy crumbs of bread,
Thou shalt refresh thyself with milk."

-The Brothers Grimm, “Stories About Snakes: First Story”

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