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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Hwicce

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Witch Money

The little silver coin, 2000 years old, is tiny, barely the size of my little fingernail.

It is a coin of the Dobunni: the original (so say some) Tribe of Witches.

 

The People of the Two Bands

At the beginning of the first millennium, the Dobunni—the People of the Two Bands—lived in the Cotswolds and Severn Basin of what is now southwestern England.

Like the other Celtic-speaking peoples of southern Britain, they Romanized early; even before the Roman conquest of Britain, they were minting their own coinage. We can gain some sense of the extent of their tribal territory from the distribution of these coins.

600 years later, this same territory was inhabited by an Anglo-Saxon-speaking people called the Hwicce (HWITCH-eh). Archaeological and genetic finds make clear the area's cultural and demographic continuity from the Celtic to the Saxon periods.

Interestingly, the same territory is also characterized by a distinctive kind of Neolithic burial mound. In the tribal hunting-runs of the Hwicce, it would seem, roots both cultural and genetic run deep.

What if Gardner was right after all?

What if the Craft really does reach back into the Stone Age?

 

Heads and Tails

I hold the coin, a miniature Moon in black and silver, on the pad of my index finger.

On one side, barely legible through centuries of wear, a lunar profile looks to the left. On the other, a three-tailed stallion rushes to the right.

Face and horse: who these may have been to the Dobunni, the Elder Witchery, we cannot know.

I read the two sides of the coin together: she looks toward him, he rushes to her.

Who they may be to the Younger Witchery, though: well, now, that would be very clear indeed.

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Dear Boss Warlock,

Just out of curiosity: Is there such a thing as a half-witch?

All-Witch in Albuquerque

 

Dear Al:

No.

Oh, the word halwich—pronounced HAL-itch—exists, and has existed for a long time (it comes from the Old Hwiccan healf-Hwicce), but it exists as a term of schoolyard invective only. Witch kids, alas, can be just as nasty as any other kind.

If you have one witch parent, you're a member of the tribe. That's Witch Law. “The Old Blood will out,” the old ones used to say, sometimes adding: “One drop is all it takes.”

Usually, of course, they would cackle as they said this.

Oh, you can opt out, of course; or you can try to pass.

(Cartoon: Boss Warlock Tries to Pass. Scene: Boss Warlock standing in convenience store, surrounded by puzzled-looking crowd. Boss Warlock: “Blessed be, my fellow cowans.”)

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 Fossil Fly (Diptera) With Eggs In Baltic Amber (#207478) For Sale -  FossilEra.com

Litha or Lithe?

 

Back in the 80s, many Wiccans started calling the Summer Sunstead Litha. In a sense, they've got history on their side.

(That's LEE-thuh, with the “soft” th of leather, not the “hard” th of think, though I've also heard LITH-uh, with a "short" i and "hard" th.)*

In the old Anglo-Saxon calendar, June was known as ærra Líða, “before Litha” and July aeftera Líða, “after Litha”. (J. R. R. Tolkien, a proud Hwiccan** lad himself, modernizes these as Forelithe and Aerlithe, but I'll get back to that.) What comes between June and July? Well, given a little wiggle room, and the fact that the Anglo-Saxons reckoned by moons, not by calendar months, it seems fair to assign the word Litha to the summer solstice.

(In the same calendar, December and January were aerra Geol—Foreyule—and aeftera Geol—Aeryule—respectively.)

What the word originally meant, and why it should be assigned to this particular season of the year, is another matter altogether.

 

Unclear Origins

 

As an adjective, OE líðe meant “gentle, soft, calm, mild.” I suppose one could read this meteorologically, though personally, I find this (if you'll pardon my earthiness) a pretty limpdick explanation. As a verb—líðan—it means “to go, travel, sail.” Bede of Jarrow mocks up a reading here, claiming that the calm seas of solstice-tide usher in the sailing season. Sorry, sounds contrived to me.

I think that the most solid conclusion to draw here—considering the fact that, folk derivations aside, we don't know where the word “Yule” came from either—would be that Litha's etymology remains unclear.

Still, considering that Midwinter has a folksy by-name of its own—Yule—it's somehow satisfying that Midsummer should have one as well.

(For what it's worth, my own linguist's intuition here is that both Yule and Lithe derive from some solstice-celebrating pre-Germanic cultural substratum, and that neither word has a convincing Germanic derivation precisely because they're non-Germanic in origin. Perhaps time and future research will tell.)

 

The Lure of the Exotic

 

It certainly wouldn't be the first Old English word to be adopted lock, stock, and barrel into the Modern Witch vocabulary, Wicca and Eostre being two other prime examples. I strongly suspect that many Wiccans actually like the sense of mystery and exoticism that such archaic forms impart. Still, to my ear, there's something affected, something inauthentic, about using such words in everyday speech.

As a name for the Summer Yule, Líða didn't survive into modern times. If it had, though, and had undergone all the usual sound-changes through the course of the last 1000 years, we can say exactly what it would have sounded like today: Lithe (rhymes with blithe).

 

Shire-Reckoning

 

In fact, that's exactly what J. R. R. Tolkien does call it in Lord of the Rings.

The Shire-year of the hobbits features two extended periods of celebration: Yule and Lithe, with the (summer) sunstead itself being known specifically as Midyear's Day. Both holidays are characterized by extended festal periods, known respectively as the Yuledays and the Lithedays.

Though Tolkien himself doesn't use it, I think we can feel justified in coining, by analogy with Yuletide, the term Lithetide: the period of extended celebration between the astronomical solstice and Old Midsummer's Day, what we now celebrate as the Fourth of July. Lithe's thirteen days thus parallel those of Yule.

 

A Craft of Now

 

Well, lots of Wiccans apparently like feeling exotic. (Who doesn't like to feel special?) If you want to live in a museum—or, worse, on Renn Fest grounds—year-round, that's up to you.

Me, though, I'm with the hobbits here. I'm all for a Craft that we live and do everyday, not just when we're in circle.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 WINTER SUN AND SUMMER FLOWERS – Orkney International Science Festival

 

A Tale of the Latter-Day Hwicce

 

Why the young warrior was out that night, the stories don't say, but there he was, on his own, when a fierce great blizzard blew up. After a time, he couldn't see a spear's throw before him, so hard was the snow driving, but he pushed on into the fury, looking for shelter. You do that, or you die.

Well, out of the driving white comes looming a great mound, all white with snow, and in it a door, and before the door, four young men standing.

“Come in to our fire,” they tell him.

So he goes into the mound with them, having little choice in the matter, and isn't there a fine hall there, with a great fire blazing on the hearth. The four young warriors take his clothes to dry them, and feed him well, and for four nights he sleeps warm and dry with those men in their hall, while that great storm blows itself out.

On the fifth morning, the Sun is shining, and when the young warrior wakes he sees with him in the mound not four young warriors, but four young wolves, but he knows that they're the same.

“Remember what we have given you,” they tell him, and they teach him a dance.

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A Tale of the Latter-Day Hwicce

 

They say there was once a woman who went to live with the wolves.

I don't why she did that. Maybe things were bad at home. Maybe it was a time of hunger. Maybe she fell in love.

Here's what I know. Some time after, a hunter comes across a she-wolf laying in the sun outside a wolves' den, and she's suckling two bairns: twin boys, they were. So he kills the she-wolf and takes the boys home.

(No, I don't think it was the mother that he killed, shape-shifted. I think she was probably kin to the boys' father, a sister, maybe: wolves do that, you know, take care of one another's young. Maybe the mother was dead. Leastways, she didn't come after them, as you might have expected.)

Well, he raises those boys himself, that hunter, and don't they grow up to be fine hunters too, men of meat, the both of them.

That's where Wolf Clan comes from, of course.

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I never had a son or a daughter; gay men of my generation mostly didn't. (Talk about a failure of imagination.) But if I had, I have a pretty good idea what I would have wanted to name them, assuming it had been up to me to do so.

What do you want from a good name? Well, you want 1) something unique, but not weird enough to encourage teasing. You want 2) something with some history, some myth, to it: an old name in modern form. And you want 3) something that gives the kid a context, a sense of the culture that he or she is born into.

So, unsurprisingly, I would have wanted to give them names from the old dialect spoken by the Hwicce, the original Tribe of Witches. (Ah, the down-side of having a linguist parent.) This would have been by way of saying to them: Your life is your own, to do with as you wish, but you have a culture that's yours by right of inheritance, and always will be, whatever you may or may not choose to do with it.

 

Frytha. My daughter I would have wanted to name Frytha ("soft" -th, as in “breathe”): “peace.” Unlike speakers of modern English, who make do (or, just as often, don't make do) with only one kind of peace, the ancestors had different names for different kinds of peace; frith (“hard” -th, as in “breath”), the base-word from which the name derives, means “peace within a given community.”

Girls were still named Frith in East Anglia well into the early “20th” century. Frytha is a variant used—perhaps created—by one of my favorite (and formative) writers, novelist Rosemary Sutcliff; it's the name given to the bow-maid viewpoint character of her 1956 teen novel The Shield Ring. It's not a form that would have made sense to the Anglian-speaking ancestors, for whom -a was a masculine ending, but that's surely acceptable. As Mordechai Kaplan says, the ancestors get a vote, but not a veto.

So, welcome Frytha.

 

Siffrith. My son, I would name for a hero: a dragon-slaying hero, in fact.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 How and Why You Should Add a Hedgerow to Your Farm

On this Midsummer's Day

 

If, 1400 years ago, you had asked a woman of the Anglo-Saxon Hwicce tribe—what maverick archaeologist Stephen J. Yeates calls the original Tribe of Witches—what was her léafa (roughly, “religion”), had she deigned to answer such an absurd question (what else could it possibly be?) her answer would likely have been: þéodisc léafa: “my people's religion.”

1400 years later, some of us would still say the same. We're Theedish: tribal witches. Our Craft is a tribal Craft, a People's Witchery.

The Old English noun þéod, “tribe, people,” along with its adjectival form þéodisc, “tribal,” didn't survive into Modern English. (Tolkien's King Theoden comes from the same root: "lord of the tribe.") The word fell out of use because, with the rise of the centralized state, tribal identity was no longer a going concern. When scholars latterly needed a name for the concept, they borrowed the Latin word “tribe” instead.

But if the word had indeed survived in current use to the present, we would today say thede (or theed: personally, I prefer the former spelling because it looks less like an escapee from a Dr. Seuss book) and thedish (or theedish).

In Contemporary Heathenry, Theodism is the movement which seeks to reconstitute the tribes of the Germanic past, complete with culture and religion. In the end, all paganism is tribal, a people's religion: all realized paganism, anyway.

But here's the difference between Theodish and Theedish. The Old Ways did not survive, but—rather than reconstituting them as they were, the latter asks the question: If they had survived into modern times, what would they now have become? To answer such a question (not to mention to actualize it) requires a pretty audacious act of imagination.

You could even call it a spell.

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