There Was an Old Woman

Casting circle for me is one of most integral parts of a Wiccan ritual. I love sweeping and I love the song we use to sweep, but the chant I was originally taught when I came into my tradition that I have been using for casting was just ho hum and I just don’t like casting a ho hum circle!

This chant was not the first circle casting used by my tradition and it certainly won’t be the last, but this particular one never sat right for me when I used it. There are several versions of it around and none of them felt right either.

And while it was suggested that I could write my own, I am a terrible poet and I have a love/hate relationship with Wiccan rhyming anyway.

So, I’ve been looking for something different for a while and I think that finally found the one that works for me!

This rhyme is an old Morris dance that was adopted in the 1700s as a Mother Goose rhyme. There are several versions of it around, but I like the old Morris one the best:

There was an old woman tossed up in a blanket
Ninety nine miles beyond the moon.
And under one arm she carried a basket
And under the other she carried a broom
Old Woman! Old Woman! Old Woman! cried I!
Oh wither! Oh wither! Oh wither so high!
I’m going to sweep cobwebs beyond the sky
And I’ll be back with you by and by.

Morris dance is a great tradition to draw on for folkloric practices anyway. While we can argue over how old the practice of modern Wicca is, I think that details like this prove the very long actual folkloric practices of particular rituals and actions in Britain. Morris dance is very good proof of just how long these practices and beliefs have existed.

I love the imagery of the old woman being tossed up with her broom into the sky to make sure there are no cobwebs. It works for new moons when the moon is unseen and for full moons when the moon is blazing. And what is more traditional in witchcraft than an old woman doing things that no one else will?

Plus it just makes me want to dance as it rolls off the tongue, and what could be better?

The energy of my circle has picked up quite a bit and it definitely took my coven a few circles to deal with the change in energy. It has been both uplifting and energizing!

This website traces a piece of artwork that is tied to the literary history of this poem and also introduces this other, similar yet much longer version:

THE OLD WOMAN AND HER CAT

There was an old woman, who rode on a broom,
With a high gee ho! gee humble;
And she took her Tom Cat behind for a groom
With a bimble, bamble, bumble.

They travelled along till they came to the sky,
With a high gee ho! gee humble;
But the journey so long made them very hungry,
With a bimble, bamble, bumble.

Says Tom, ‘I can find nothing here to eat,
With a high gee ho! gee humble;
So let us go back again, I entreat,
With a bimble, bamble, bumble.’

The old woman would not go back so soon,
With a high gee ho! gee humble;
For she wanted to visit the man in the moon,
With a bimble, bamble, bumble.

Says Tom, ‘I’ll go back by myself to our house,
With a high gee ho! gee humble;
For there I can catch a good rat or a mouse,
With a bimble, bamble, bumble.’

‘But,’ says the old woman, ‘how will you go?
With a high gee ho! gee humble.’
You shan’t have my nag, I protest and vow,
With a bimble, bamble, bumble.’

‘No, no,’ says old Tom, ‘I’ve a plan of my own,
With a high gee ho! gee humble;
So he slid down the rainbow, and left her alone,
With a bimble, bamble, bumble.

So now if you happen to visit the sky,
With a high gee ho! gee humble;
And want to come back, you Tom’s method may try,
With a bimble, bamble, bumble.

I love the rainbow bridge idea, which of course makes me think of the messenger Goddess Iris and the Norse Bifröst. The rainbow is good example of something that is a boundary between the worlds, which is exactly what one needs to think about while casting a circle. This old children’s rhyme also shows how much magical lore and theory can be found in the rhymes and fairy tales that we grew up with. I keep telling my students that you have to know your fairy tales and children’s rhymes for when you are practicing spell work.

One of my favorite fairy tales is “The Buried Moon.” In this strange story, the moon decides to investigate what sorts of evil creatures come out to haunt the bog when she isn’t shining in the sky and gets captured under a large rock! When the moon disappears, the villagers get worried and are frightened. Eventually a traveler hears her cries and seeks out the village wise women to figure out what the villagers should do to rescue her. The wise women tells the villagers: “Go all of ye, just afore the night gathers, put a stone in your mouth, and take a hazel-twig in your hands, and say never a word till you’re safe home again.” Hazel is a wood associated with knowledge and stones can both ground you and allow you to see the fairy world. Its these types of tidbits that we can certainly still learn from today! If you want to read the full story, it can be found here.

What circle castings do you use and why?

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