I studied in Edinburgh, Scotland, the so-called “Athens of the North”, also known as “Auld Reekie”. It is thought to be one of the most haunted cities in Europe. Perhaps. I generally find spirits wherever I go, so statistically my “hit rate” is a tad skewed.
In my first year at university I got involved with an older man. He had a face like a badger that had been shot against a brick wall. Sometimes he wore a beard. Sometimes he wore a kilt. Sometimes he wore fishnet stockings and evening gloves. But that’s another story. Before becoming a mature student he had worked as a ranger in the Highlands of Scotland. His best friend was a medium, an electrician, who went around his clients’ houses “releasing” trapped spirits while fixing the wiring. We’ll call my ex-boyfriend, Gordie.
Gordie lived in a fairly new block of student flats bordering on The Meadows region of Edinburgh. In the previous century (the 19th) this had been an old mill. As all mills around that time, conditions were dire and on-the-job fatalities were common. Gordie’s room was at the back of the block, on the ground floor. It was “L”-shaped, where the lower part of the “L” formed the entrance hallway and the longer part was the room itself. The room was messy. Black clothes lay on the floor amidst crumpled, semen-stained underwear. A fug hung in the room. It was male. Shrek meets Hugh Hefner. And in case you’re wondering, yes, at that stage (and for many years afterwards) I had stunningly low standards for the men I slept with!
I had been warned by the spirits to not get involved with him. In my late teens and early twenties, I was a keen bibliomancer, and I was very good at it (not so much these days). I had received information that had predicted the future accurately. I had also engaged with a mischievous spirit who claimed to be my brother, but he was a piss artist. He did however tell me some amazingly precise predictions. Anyway, I was wanting to show off one evening, so I grabbed a book and started “a conversation”. “The book” clearly described Gordie to a “T”, including mentioning the fact that he was sitting right next to me … just so there was no mistake who they meant. I was then told to leave him alone, that he “belonged” to a particular group of spirits and I wasn’t to get involved. I had been sharing this conversation with Gordie. He freaked. I felt embarrassed and played it down but over the next year it did pan out badly for me. However, my relationship mishaps are not relevant or interesting.
So eventually I started staying over at Gordie’s place. We slept on mattresses on the floor. I slept level with the hallway part of the room (also the darkest corner … it was a liminal space, a passing-through space – architecturally it was just awkward). Things were fine at first. Nothing to report here, gov’ner. But then the chills started. Later in life I realised that the main way that I sense spirits is on my skin. It’s a chill, sometimes down my back, or on my arms, or on the crown of my head. The first chills began as I lay there one night trying to sleep. The crown of my head began to chill, until it was very painful. The rest of me was warm so it was unusual. I wondered if there was a draft. I ignored it and eventually fell asleep.
I was young and inexperienced. These days I would know straightaway that something was up. My internal sensor recognises the Strange. My entire body is primed like a taught wire to vibrate in the presence of spirits. But not then. The chills continued at night, and I ignored them. Then during the day, (Gordie was at a lecture) I walked into the room and was rooted to the spot in that liminal hallway. It was like I had expected the room to be empty, and it wasn’t … I was used to seeing the Strange with my forehead and hearing it from the space at the back of my head. I tuned into these other sensory faculties and sent out a big question mark. What are you? I sensed and saw a young woman. She was wearing dark, long 19th century working clothes, with a grubby white apron. She looked miserable, and everything that came from her was resentful and unhappy. Then she was gone.
Next time that the chills came, I knew it was her. I spoke to her in my head, firmly. “Leave me alone. I’m trying to sleep!” I have found that speaking directly and decisively to spirits gets a response. If they are resistant, I remind them that I am alive, and this is the living world, ergo they are a visitor to MY world and I have the stronger presence and power. This works.
But she never went permanently, and I felt disturbed by her unhappiness. I told Gordie about her and he was not as comfortable as I was with her presence. He began to blame all sorts of his own neurotic behaviour and emotions on her. He wanted her gone. He said he was going to contact his medium friend and ask his advice. I said that I could sort it. Gordie went off to find a phone box (that’s right children, no mobile phones back then!) and I sat down and “listened” to what the ghost girl wanted. I wrote it down: a red candle, a piece of yellow cloth, incense (something flowery). Gordie returned. “Right!” he said. “I spoke to my mate and he said we need a yellow scarf, a red candle and some lavender incense.” Well hey-ho. Even I was quite impressed with myself. So I went shopping and while Gordie was out I went to work in the room. I shifted all that funky maleness out and I “worked” for the ghost-girl. And she went.
Not long afterwards, Gordie and I moved out into a basement flat that was part of a large old house, surrounded by a small garden. One fond memory is that Gordie taught me to call Robins to my hand where they would feed on cheese, fluttering over my fingers.
It was a damp and cold basement flat. In fact it was so damp that I found a frog in my bed one day! The heating was old. Basically they were metal boxes attached to the wall with bricks inside. You’d turn the heating on (gas-fired) and the fire would heat up the bricks. It cost a fortune because it was so ineffective, so we did without heating most of the time.
My spider senses had begun to pick up on stuff again in this new place. I kept seeing a cat, or having thoughts about “my cat” even though I didn’t have one. And I saw flashes of a couple in their late 50s/early 60s. They just stood there together and watched. They were not sad like the ghost-girl, nor were they malevolent. They were just curious.
One day I was sitting in the living room, freezing my arse off, trying to study. Then suddenly the chills started up and down my back. I “looked” with my forehead and saw the couple standing behind me. I lost it. “For fuck’s sake! It’s fucking cold enough in this place without you going all woo-woo-wah-wah on my ass. Cut that shit out!” And they stopped. Like I said, if you are firm and clear, the spirits listen. They stayed as a presence in the house, and I remained on “hello” terms with them. Unlike Gordie’s medium friend I don’t find it necessary to “move on” every spirit I encounter. I find that is a busybody attitude and some things are just not my business!
As an aside, the floor above us was an empty flat and yet at night we would hear the sound of a child running back and forth across the floor (our ceiling).
So those were the *human* spirits I encountered in Edinburgh. Stay tuned folks for the spirits of the extinct Scottish volcano and how Gordie was spurned by spirits for his disrespectful attitude; a lesson to us all.
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The Pagan Calendar is divided into eight ritual and celebratory events: four major and four minor celebrations that mark the passing of the year and celebrate a phase in the relationship between God and Goddess. This is sometimes referred to as the Wiccan Ritual Year or the Wheel of the Year. Since many pagans who celebrate these festivals are not Wiccan, we shall refer to it as the Wheel of the Year. Why a wheel? This is because the symbol that illustrates the sequence of the year is usually drawn in a circle, representing the continuous coming and going of the seasons and the years. A line has a beginning and an end, but a circle has always represented The Infinite.
[Image courtesy of Golden Valley Art]
[Copyright ©Golden Valley Art]
The four major festivals are called the “Greater Sabbats”, whereas the remaining four are “Minor Sabbats” and fall on the solstices and equinoxes.
These eight festivals of the Pagan Year are distinct from the “esbats” or monthly marking of the new moon and full moon.
Some pagans celebrate the festivals on the dates as dictated by the Gregorian Calendar, other pagans will celebrate the festival at the closest full moon, and others will look to the specific astrological conjunctions that mark the beginning of a festival.
According to Ronald Hutton (seminal historian on paganism), there is no evidence that pre-Christian people celebrated the eight festivals of the year. Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh were originally Gaelic quarter days. The concept of adding the equinoxes and solstices was adopted by modern Gardnerian Wicca in the 20th Century which also brought it more into line with Neo-Druidry. Many native peoples will have marked the equinoxes and solstices, which are observable in nature, but the actual eight-part Wheel of the Year is a more modern creation.
Some names for the God: Sun King, Green Man, Horned God, Father Nature
Some names for the Goddess: Mother, Maiden, Crone, Wise Woman, Mother Nature, Lady of the Wild Things
Samhain (31 October – 2 Nov)
Samhain (pronounced Sow-en) is considered the Pagan New Year. This is a time of celebrating the lives of those who have passed on and is a festival of the Dead. There is a general belief that the veils between this world and the afterlife are thinnest at this time of year, and as such it is a perfect time to welcome back the Dead, to remember them and hold feasts and celebrations in their honour. In paganism, death is very much a part of life, and is not seen as something morbid; it is a time to contemplate life and death as a sacred whole.
The old year dies and dissolves for the new year to begin. Death is merely a reminder of rebirth and how the Wheel of the Year keeps turning, even beyond the grave.
Other names: Halloween, All Hallows Eve, Feast of the Dead, Ancestor Night, Festival of the Returning Dead
Yule (19 – 23 December)
Yule, which is also known as the Winter Solstice, marks the longest night of the year when the sun is at its lowest point. Between Samhain and Yule, the Lord of the Night (symbol of death) has ruled and the Goddess in her Crone aspect has given us wisdom. Now it is the time when Light returns and the Great God/Sun or divine male is reborn. It is one of the four solar festivals.
Other names: Winter Night, Winter Solstice
Imbolc (1 – 2 February)
Imbolc (pronounced Im-olc with a silent “b”) celebrates the land awakening and the growing strength of the Sun/God deity following his rebirth at Yule. The Goddess is venerated in her maiden aspect (her three aspects being: mother, maiden and crone/old woman). It is a time of cleansing, purification and dedication. The young god approaches the maiden goddess with desire; their love igniting the creative energy we see in spring.
Other names; Candlemas, Brigid’s Day, Bride’s Day
Ostara (19 – 23 March)
An equinox is when the sun crosses the celestial equator – day and night are of equal length: for pagans this is a solar festival when the powers of winter and darkness are equal to the powers rising to bring summer and light. The Horned God rides forth on the hunt and heralds in a time of celebration. Winter is behind us and the potential for life and growth abounds.
Other names: Lady Day, Festival of Trees, Spring Equinox
Beltane (1 May)
Beltane is a time when the Great God and Goddess are united in sexual union: the mystery of the Sacred Marriage of God and Goddess, the Hieros Gamos/”greenwood marriage” that is often replicated within ritual through the year. Hence this is seen as a fertility festival, represented by such rituals as dancing around a phallic maypole. The God impregnates the Goddess creating the potential for life, the harvest of the land later in the year.
Other names: May Day
Midsummer (19 – 23 June)
The summer solstice marks the midsummer point of the year when the sun is at its highest point: the longest day in the year. One of the solar festivals; this is when the God is crowned Lord of Light and is at the height of his power. Having known complete love with the Goddess, he now turns and sets sail for the Land of Rebirth. From this point his powers start to wane and the days become shorter. The Goddess prepares to give birth to the fruits of the land, the annual harvest.
Other names: Litha, Summer Solstice
Lughnasadh (1 – 2 August)
Lughnasadh (pronounced loo-na-sah) is a grain/corn festival or festival of the first fruits when pagans give thanks not only for food, but for all gifts and blessings, granted by the bounty of the fertile Goddess of the Land.
Other names: Lammas, Festival of the First Fruits
Mabon (20 – 24 September)
Mabon is an equinox, which is when the sun crosses the celestial equator – day and night are of equal length: for pagans this is a solar festival. As the days lengthen, pagans once again consider the darker faces of God and Goddess. It can also be a time to honour old age and the coming winter. This is a second harvest celebration, giving thanks for and sharing the fruits of the earth to ensure the blessings of God and Goddess through the winter.
Other names: Autumn Equinox, Second Harvest, Wine Harvest
Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, by Scott Cunningham
Hedge Witch: Guide to Solitary Witchcraft, by Rae Beth