The Hunting of the Hare

Betwixt two Ridges of Plowd-land, lay Wat
Pressing his Body close to Earth lay squat.
His Nose upon his two Fore-feet close lies
Glaring obliquely with his great gray Eyes.
His Head he alwaies sets against the Wind;
If turne his Taile, his Haires blow up behind:
Which he too cold will grow, but he is wise,
And keeps his Coat still downe, so warm he lies.
Thus resting all the day, till Sun doth set
Then riseth up, his Reliefe for to get.
Walking about untill the Sun doth rise
Then back returnes, down in his Forme he lyes.
At last, Poore Wat was found, as he there lay
By Hunts-men, with their Dogs which came that way.
Seeing, gets up, and fast begins to run,
Hoping some waies the Cruell Dogs to shun.
But they by Nature have so quick a Sent,
That by their Nose they race, what way he went.
And with their deep, wide Mouths set forth a Cry,
Which answer’d was by Ecchoes in the Skie.
Then Wat was struck with Terrour, and with Feare,
Thinkes every Shadow still the Dogs they were.
And running out some distance from the noise,
To hide himselfe, his Thoughts he new imploies.
Under a Clod of Earth in Sand-pit wide,
Poore Wat sat close, hoping himselfe to hide.
There long he had not sat, but strait his Eares
The Winding Hornes, and crying Dogs he heares:
Starting with Feare, up leapes, then doth he run,
And with such speed, the Ground scarce treades upon.
Into a great thick Wood he strait way gets,
Where underneath a broken Bough he sits.
At every Leafe that with the wind did shake,
Did bring such Terrour, made his Heart to ake.
That Place he left, to Champion Plaines he went,
Winding about, for to deceive their Sent.
And while they snuffling were, to find his Track,
Poore Wat, being weary, his swift pace did slack.
On his two hinder legs for ease did sit,
His Fore-feet rub’d his Face from Dust, and Sweat.
Licking his Feet, he wip’d his Eares so cleane,
That none could tell that Wat had hunted been.
But casting round about his faire great Eyes,
The Hounds in full Careere he neere him ‘pies:
To Wat it was so terrible a Sight,
Feare gave him Wings, and made his Body light.
Though weary was before, by running long,
Yet now his Breath he never felt more strong.
Like those that dying are, think Health returnes,
When tis but a faint Blast, which Life out burnes.
For Spirits seek to guard the Heart about,
Striving with Death, but Death doth quench them out.
Thus they so fast came on, with such loud Cries,
That he no hopes hath left, no help espies.
With that the Winds did pity poore Wats case,
And with their Breath the Sent blew from the Place.
Then every Nose is busily imployed,
And every Nostrill is set open, wide:
And every Head doth seek a severall way,
To find what Grasse, or Track, the Sent on lay.
Thus quick Industry, that is not slack,
Is like to Witchery, brings lost things back.
For though the Wind had tied the Sent up close,
A Busie Dog thrust in his Snuffling Nose:
And drew it out, with it did foremost run,
Then Hornes blew loud, for th’ rest to follow on.
The great slow-Hounds, their throats did set a Base,
The Fleet swift Hounds, as Tenours next in place;
The little Beagles they a Trebble sing,
And through the Aire their Voice a round did ring.
Which made a Consort, as they ran along;
If they but words could speak, might sing a Song,
The Hornes kept time, the Hunters shout for Joy,
And valiant seeme, poore Wat for to destroy:
Spurring their Horses to a full Careere,
Swim Rivers deep, leap Ditches without feare;
Indanger Life, and Limbes, so fast will ride,
Onely to see how patiently Wat died.
For why, the Dogs so neere his Heeles did get,
That they their sharp Teeth in his Breech did set.
Then tumbling downe, did fall with weeping Eyes,
Gives up his Ghost, and thus poore Wat he dies.
Men hooping loud, such Acclamations make,
As if the Devill they did Prisoner take.
When they do but a shiftlesse Creature kill;
To hunt, there need no Valiant Souldiers skill.
But Man doth think that Exercise, and Toile,
To keep their Health, is best, which makes most spoile.
Thinking that Food, and Nourishment so good,
And Appetite, that feeds on Flesh, and blood.
When they do Lions, Wolves, Beares, Tigers see,
To kill poore Sheep, strait say, they cruell be.
But for themselves all Creatures think too few,
For Luxury, with God would make them new.
As if that God made Creatures for Mans meat,
To give them Life, and Sense, for Man to eat;
Or else for Sport, or Recreations sake,
Destroy those Lives that God saw good to make:
Making their Stomacks, Graves, which full they fill
With Murther’d Bodies, that in sport they kill.
Yet Man doth think himselfe so gentle, mild,
When he of Creatures is most cruell wild.
And is so Proud, thinks onely he shall live,
That God a God-like Nature did him give.
And that all Creatures for his sake alone,
Was made for him, to Tyrannize upon.

~ Margaret Cavendish, 1653

Copyright Lauren DeVoe

Photo Copyright Lauren DeVoe

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Handfasting Blessings, Brooms and Poppets, Oh My!

This is a column I wrote for the Pagan Household back in March, right before all hell broke loose. A little out of season, but oh well…

 

Tomorrow I’m Priestessing a handfasting for two dear friends.

Handfastings are a type of wedding ceremony that come to us from the British Isles when the clergy were few and far between. Couples would get hand fasted while they waited for a clergy member to come and perform the official ceremony. Many modern Pagans have adopted the practice, not wanting to have a more traditional (Christian) type of ceremony.

During many traditional handfastings, the couple’s arms are bound (fastened) and they are asked to jump over a broom, a cauldron and a fire. Being tied together makes them work together, symbolizing the relationship they will have as a married couple. The broom, cauldron and fire represent fertility, health and well being. Depending on the tradition, the couple will remain bound until night falls or until the marriage is consummated. (You can find these traditions all over the world, Ireland to Africa to Asia…)

The broom itself is a powerful symbol of male and female fertility bound together, which is why it’s such an important part of the handfasting ceremony. It is also an important tool to take together into your new marriage.

The broom is hung over the bed if the couple wants to have children. If the couple doesn’t want children, the broom is placed underneath the bed!

I’ve also heard it said that you should always treat your broom as a member of your family, and when you’re having marriage difficulties, talking to your broom can help sort them out. Another tradition is that when you and your spouse are fighting, sweeping your house out with your broom can help clear the air.

Treating your broom well and taking care of it is symbolic of taking care of your marriage, and ensures that  you and your spouse are healthy and happy as a couple. Mistreating your broom can have ill effects on your marriage!

(There are also superstitions that if you step over a fallen broom before your wedding, you’ll never get married! So watch out!)

The ritual itself is of course the important part of the handfasting, but guests who come to the wedding can contribute more than their energy during the ritual.

The handfasting basket is fairly traditional, and many people will tell you to put thirteen specific blessings symbolized by certain items into a basket for a new couple. But I like to make mine up a little differently.

In a basket I like to put a fresh loaf of bread, a bag of sea salt, and a bottle of wine or ale for a house warming gift. Casting salt through your house, while carrying fresh bread and wine blesses your home with abundance and captures any “leftovers” from whoever was there before. If you are moving in with your spouse for the first time, it helps to get rid of your habits as a single person. If you already lived with your partner, it helps cast out any distance that might remain between you. Of course you sweep the salt up with your broom and cast it out your front door.

I also like to include a Bridget’s Cross. A Bridget’s Cross hung in a house prevents fire.

A piece of iron for protection.

A horseshoe to hang over the couple’s door for luck.

A tin can with a bright shiny penny in it. (If a couple sets this somewhere in the house and continues to add loose change to it, it will help attract financial success to the household).

Lavender sachets to set near the bed for peaceful dreaming.

And finally I like to create a poppet that gives all the blessings, hope and love I have for the couple in their new marriage.

If you’ve never created a poppet before, it’s a very personal type of magic. I always make mine to look like small stuffed animals that can be placed on an altar, a shrine or a mantel.

How to create a poppet:

First, choose an animal that symbolizes whatever you’re creating the poppet for.

For a marriage I would create one that looks like a hare.

Taking two pieces of fabric (in a fabric that seems appropriate to you),  cut out the shape you’re going to sew.

I hand sew it together, thinking about all the things I will to give to the new couple. This takes a lot of your energy and focus, so be prepared to be pretty wrung out after you’ve completed your sewing!  If you need a way to help you focus on the task at hand, you can always choose a traditional song or rhyme to sing or speak while you’re working. For a wedding I would pull out “Hares on the Mountain” or the “Bonny Black Hare.”

Before closing the poppet up, stuff it with a mixture of herbs, a stone or two and regular stuffing to fill it out. For a marriage I would consider using woodruff, rosemary, marjorum, mint, marigold, ivy and maybe a hint of cinnamon. I would also add rose quartz (it’s usually better to place the stone near the bottom of the poppet to help it stand up!).

Close your poppet up and then have fun decorating it! I usually use buttons for eyes and paint to place any other symbols that I think are appropriate for the occasion.

If you work in a group, you can also have anyone help with the creation of the poppet or do a group blessing when it’s finished.

Finally, gift the poppet to whoever you made it for!

 (Photo taken by me at Griffiths Park in L.A.)

(Photo taken by me at Griffiths Park in L.A.)

 

Compair Lapin at the Laura Plantation

My mother is visiting me and so of course, we went out to tour the plantations. While we roamed about my favorite, the Laura Plantation, our very colorful guide regaled us with several Br’er Rabbit stories.

The Laura Plantation

The Laura Plantation

As a very little girl, my grandmother used to let me go to my grandfather’s book cabinet and bring out  her antique book of children’s stories. We read these stories again and again. Somewhere, that book still lurks in my grandfather’s book cabinet at my parent’s house, even though both of my grandparents are long gone.  One of my favorite memories remains that of my grandmother reading “Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby” to me from that book.

My grandmother was one of those teeny tiny old ladies with perfectly coiffed hair who always wore a fifties style house dress. She went to church twice a week, wore her high heels to do the housework and when she died, she was the oldest living Avon Lady in Ohio. I was the only grandbaby that lived nearby and was spoiled rotten accordingly.

Looking back on it, picturing my grandmother acting out Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox is more than a little bit hilarious, but at the time I was simply delighted and would help her act the story out.

Fritz-Eichenberg Uncle Remus Illustration of the Tar Baby from The Wren's Nest

Fritz-Eichenberg Uncle Remus Illustration of the Tar Baby from The Wren’s Nest

If you don’t know the story, Br’er Rabbit is a Trickster and he manages to annoy Br’er Fox to no end.

Br’er Fox comes up with a way to get back at him though. Fox mixes some tar and turpentine and makes a tar baby that he leaves in the road where Br’er Rabbit will find it. He then hides in the bushes to see what will happen.

Sure enough, Br’er Rabbit comes along and greets the Tar Baby. When the Tar Baby doesn’t answer him, Br’er Rabbit threatens bodily harm if the Tar Baby isn’t going to be polite. When the Tar Baby still doesn’t answer, Br’er Rabbit hits the Tar Baby and gets his hand stuck deep in the Tar.

Br’er Rabbit demands that the Tar Baby let go of his hand and when he doesn’t, hits him again with his other hand. This goes on until Br’er Rabbit is entirely stuck in the Tar Baby.

At this point, Br’er Fox pops out of the bushes:

“I’ve got you this time, Brer Rabbit,” said Brer Fox, jumping up and shaking off the dust. “You’ve sassed me for the very last time. Now I wonder what I should do with you?”

Brer Rabbit’s eyes got very large. “Oh please Brer Fox, whatever you do, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

“Maybe I should roast you over a fire and eat you,” mused Brer Fox. “No, that’s too much trouble. Maybe I’ll hang you instead.”

“Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please,” said Brer Rabbit. “Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

“If I’m going to hang you, I’ll need some string,” said Brer Fox. “And I don’t have any string handy. But the stream’s not far away, so maybe I’ll drown you instead.”

“Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please,” said Brer Rabbit. “Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

“The briar patch, eh?” said Brer Fox. “What a wonderful idea! You’ll be torn into little pieces!”

Grabbing up the tar-covered rabbit, Brer Fox swung him around and around and then flung him head over heels into the briar patch. Brer Rabbit let out such a scream as he fell that all of Brer Fox’s fur stood straight up. Brer Rabbit fell into the briar bushes with a crash and a mighty thump. Then there was silence.

Of course old Br’er Rabbit was thinking on his feet and escapes, “Then Brer Fox heard someone calling his name. He turned around and looked up the hill. Brer Rabbit was sitting on a log combing the tar out of his fur with a wood chip and looking smug. ‘I was bred and born in the briar patch, Brer Fox,’ he called. ‘Born and bred in the briar patch.’” (To read the full story, go here).

Br’er Rabbit is a character from Joel Chandler Harris’ collection of stories that were gathered from slaves at the Turnwold Plantation near Atlanta right before the Civil War. While Harris himself supported slavery (and in fact interpreted Uncle Tom’s Cabin to be a “wonderful defense of slavery”), the stories themselves are an interesting collection of a mix of Yoruba and Native American folklore and myth. I love the Br’er Rabbit stories because they show how much the many different cultures mixed down here in the South (which of course also resulted in things like Spiritualism, Hoodoo and Voodoo).

Most people are familiar with the Trickster Coyote, but Coyote belongs to the Western side of the United States. In the East, the Trickster is usually regarded as the Hare. The lessons that Br’er Rabbit teaches are about thinking on your feet and using cunning over strength. He doesn’t fight fair and he usually gets away with it.

While Harris himself strongly believed in slavery, Br’er Rabbit is usually seen as a character of defiance against slavery. Br’er Rabbit challenged the social order and stood up to authority. It’s more than slightly ironic that Br’er Rabbit is probably the most remembered character from Harris’s Uncle Remus stories.

Harris’ early folklore is well known; what is less well known is that he was not the first person to translate these stories in the U.S.

That person was Alcée Fortier right here in Southern Louisiana. His Br’er Rabbit character was called Compair Lapin and was written down in the patois of Creole French on the Laura Plantation.

As I’ve said, the Laura plantation is one of my favorites to visit. Not only is it beautiful, but it is an excellent example of the differences between American plantations and Creole plantations. It was also run by several generations of wealthy, successful women.

Fortier

Fortier

Fortier himself was the grandson of Valcour Aime, who was the richest man in the South at that time and grew up near the Laura Plantation. While I’m sure that Br’er Rabbit stories were told all over the South, it’s fascinating to be able to the visit the place where they were first written down and translated.  Sometimes I get so focused on European mythology and folklore, that I forget that I’m sitting the middle of some of the most fascinating bits of our very own American mythology and folklore. Compair Lapin is certainly a character you won’t find anywhere else.

Slavery itself was a terrible institution and the working conditions in the sugar cane fields were inhuman, but Br’er Rabbit is an example of a people that refused to be broken. There is a great deal to be learned from Br’er Rabbit and it is important to remember these stories as a part of our American heritage. Not just for their morals, but for the culture they came from. I’m glad that my grandmother took the time to read those stories to me. When times are hard, it’s good to remember that even the thorniest spots can be places of hope and that there is always a way out. And that it is possible for you to take a bad situation and turn it into one that is advantageous for you.

Br’er Rabbit certainly gets in the last laugh at Br’er Fox, and even though we still suffer from issues of racism and hatred, the plantations are a standing testament to the courage of those that abolished slavery and assured freedom for those of all races.

 

* I realized after writing this yesterday that today (9/17) was my grandmother’s birthday as well as the day that she died. She would have been 102 today.

Cunt: The Reason for the Season

Cunt. C-U-N-T. CUNT! CUNT! CUNT!

Cunt, the forbidden word.

I love this word.

The other day, this word came up in a coven class and no one wanted to say it.

I, however, really wanted to break into this:

Since I have no acting talent, I was gracious enough not to hurt everyone’s ears, but…as someone in the third wave of feminism, I consider cunt to be more than simply a “reclaimed” word. It is a powerfully evocative word that just makes me shiver with glee.

As a witch, it has even more importance to me, and it all centers around Ostara.

You can track down various meanings and etymologies of the word cunt, but in this case, I like to look at it’s progression from the word ‘coney’ or hare.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says, “Alternative form cunny is attested from c.1720 but is certainly much earlier and forced a change in the pronunciation of coney (q.v.), but it was good for a pun while coney was still the common word for “rabbit”: “A pox upon your Christian cockatrices! They cry, like poulterers’ wives, ‘No money, no coney.’ ” [Philip Massinger: “The Virgin-Martyr,” Act I, Scene 1, 1622]”

Of course, if you weren’t familiar with coneys before, you were after this scene from the Lord of the Rings trilogy:

Hares are one of the first animals to poke their noses out and start procreating during the earliest days of spring. Not only do they, well, “fuck like rabbits”, but if you look at a hare’s tail, it looks like a woman’s pubic hair.

This has been used as a symbol of the goddess Eostre to represent both the birth canal and her reproductive abilities. For centuries, many British folk customs have centered around the hare during the month of April. Many academics also tie the hare to Freya, who didn’t have hares pulling her chariot, but a pair of cats. What do we call our cats these days? Pussies of course! So…coney – cunny – cunt – pussy…!

And there you have it. CUNT! The reason for the season.

Now say it with me kids, “CUNT!”

And remember, the next time you call a woman a cunt, you’re calling her a queen. So maybe she does deserve it after all.