The Witch Dances, by author unknown to me
These dances are many and varied, differing from coven to coven and allowing for considerable invention and renovation.
The two main witch dances are the Spiral Dance, known otherwise as the Maze, Meeting Dance, Wheel, or Round Dance; and the Chain Dance.
The first, or Meeting Dance, is related to the concept of death as symbolized by a north ways movement, widdershins, leading to the still centre, and then returning on its tracks south ways. The magister stands at the centre of the circle, beside the balefire, facing north. His arms are crossed and he represents death.
The coven, beginning at the northern periphery of the circle, makes a widdershins spiral chain to the centre, consisting of three circuits, each member similarly turning widdershins on his individual axis, and on reaching the still figure of the magister at the centre, one by one light the tapers they carry in their hands. They then double back on their tracks and, spiralling clockwise, return the way they came, again on a triple circuit. The Spiral, as well as signifying the interaction of the dark and bright tides, is also said to represent the labyrinth, dolman, or House of Death and Initiation.
Witch symbolism refers it to the Glass Castle of the North, Caer Arrianrhod, and the Corona Borealis.
Accompanying the music of the Meeting Dance, which may be recorded or played on a variety of instruments to be discussed later, wild cries of “EEE-OOO AAH VOH AIEE” are often given by the members of the coven as they whirl ecstatically, usually after the words of a chant such as one adapted from the Invocation of Hertha , or if the coven be a solely goddess-oriented variety, the following traditional one:
Queen of the Moon, Queen of the Sun,
Queen of the Heavens, Queen of the Stars,
Queen of the Waters, Queen of the Earth,
bring to us the Child of Promise!
It is the Great Mother who giveth birth to him;
It is the Lord of Life who is born again.
Darkness and tears are set aside
when the sun shall come up early!
Golden Sun of the mountains,
illumine the land, light up the world.
Illumine the seas and the rivers,
Sorrows be laid, joy to the world!
Blessed by the Great Goddess,
without beginning, without end,
everlasting in eternity!
IO EVOKE, blessed be!
However, the latter chant is used only at Halloween or Yule, as it refers specifically to the coming of winter and the rebirth of the sun at Shamain (Hallaws) or midwinter.
The Meeting Dance often leads directly into the Chain Dance. This is traditionally led by a female member or the high priestess herself, the magister bringing up the rear. Hence the old saying, “May the Devil take the hindmost!” The dance is performed with the rod used as a riding-stick or hobby-horse placed between the legs, and the lighted taper borne aloft. On stormy Sabbats the tapers were and are still sometimes replaced by oil lamps or lanterns.
The Chain Dance itself probably celebrates the transformation of the seasons, and its device is that of the pursuit of an animal by a predator.
The season, represented by either the god or goddess, changes shape repeatedly in an attempt to avoid capture. This magical shape-shifting theme is a very ancient
one, and it turns up in innumerable traditions – Celtic, Norse, Greek, and even creeps into the Arabian Nights. Sometimes the male is the pursuer, other times the female. The coven god or goddess orientation generally indicates whether the magister or the high priestess leads the dance. The traditional style seems to be the high priestess in the lead, with the summoner next followed by the coven and the magister bringing up the rear. The dance itself begins with a south ways circuit of the circle before leaving it through the gateway at the north. In the old days the dance would wind all over the surrounding territory, through churchyard and barnyard, over hill and dale.
The leader must imitate the movements of the animal he or she represents. The rest of the coven must in turn imitate those of the predator that they are identifying with in their verse. All the powers of the witchy imagination must be brought to bear here. You must feel yourself actually becoming the animal!
The animals themselves differ from coven to coven, largely depending on which totems the group possesses. The rhyme also changes accordingly, but the sense always remains the same.
Here is the Chain Dance verse designed for one set of totem animals, each pair representing one of the four seasons
I shall go as a wren in spring with sorrow and sighing on silent wing, and I shall go in Our Lady’s name, Aye, till I come home again!
We shall follow as falcons grey, and hunt thee cruelly as our prey, but we shall go in Our Master’s name, Aye, to fetch thee home again!
Then I shall go as a mouse in May, in fields by night, in cellars by day, and I shall go in Our Lady’s name, Aye, till I come home again!
And we shall follow as black tom cats, and chase thee through the corn and vats, but we shall go in Our Master’s name, Aye, to fetch thee home again!
Then I shall go as an autumn hare, with sorrow and sighing and mickle care, and I shall go in Our Lady’s name, Aye, till I come home again!
But we shall follow as swift grey hounds, and dog thy tracks by leaps and bounds, and we shall go in Our Master’s name, Aye, to fetch thee home again!
Then I shall go as a winter trout with sorrow and sighing and mickle doubt, and I shall go in Our Lady’s name, Aye, till I come home again!
But we shall follow as otters swift, and snare thee fast ere thou canst shift, and we shall go in Our Master’s name, Aye, to fetch thee home again!
The chant is repeated as long as necessary, and by the end of the final repetition of the last verse, the entire coven should have re-entered the circle at the north and be back at their places, with the magister in the east, the high priestess in the west.
In medieval days, the finale of the Chain Dance usually culminated in the “marriage of heaven and Earth,” as symbolized by the ceremonial coupling of the magister and the high priestess.
The entire female membership of the coven was sometimes also mounted, sometimes being penetrated by means of an artificial phallus wielded by the magister, or simply by the other male participants. However, in most modern covens, the actual marriage rite seems to have been replaced generally by the cakes and wine ceremony which, then leads into the feast. The chalice held by the high priestess is raised high over the balefire, and Sabbat wine poured in. The magister then lowers his ceremonial rod, wand, or Athame into the cup briefly, and then removes it. Both he and the priestess then hand it on to the coven, who drink from it. Similarly, the Sabbat cake is presented on the paten pentacle by the priestess, divided up by the magister with his Athame, and then distributed like wise. On handing the chalice or pentacle to one’s neighbour, the words “Blessed be” are often uttered.
The initial ceremony of the cakes and wine leads on to the actual feast, which is usually contributed to by all the coven members, each bringing some particular delicacy.
The food, far from being the eye of newt and toe of frog variety, is the type you would expect to find at any buffet supper.
The meal itself does not have to be eaten within the circle, the only ritual proviso being that if the company actually sit down at table, the magister be seated at the head. After the meal is concluded, the Sabbat may continue as a regular party with dancing and singing usually of the folk rock variety being performed by more exuberant members within the circle, often jumping hand in hand over the flames of the balefire.
At last, when all is said and done and the party draws to a close, often approaching dawn, traditional farewells of “Merry part” and “Blessed be” are exchanged between departing members, who after exchanging their ritual garments for everyday clothes, hurry off into the chill morning air. The Sabbat is over, the old gods have been reinvoked, and a new season begun.
The basic Sabbat rites should remain the same throughout the year, differing only in small details appropriate to the season. For instance, many covens will divide the year in two and give the magister presidency of the circle during the winter months, the Lady in those of summer.
The Midwinter Festival of Yule, Christmastide, celebrates the sun’s rebirth with all the customary decorations and festivity later borrowed by the Church Fathers, the indoor balefire or yule log, evergreen decorations, holly and ivy tied with scarlet ribbon, and of course the Christmas tree. Father Christmas and Mother Holly are but two Christianized images of the Lord and Lady; the Christ child legend is built upon that of the rebirth of the sun, the light of the world.
Candlemas (February 2) is the Feast of St. Bride or Brigid, a Celtic name for the goddess, and corresponds to the Roman yearly inauguration of the vestal fire. It is a celebration of the waxing light, and the high priestess, or indeed, all the coven, may each don a candle-crown for the ritual dances.
The vernal equinox, or Lady Day, again a reference to the goddess has all the trappings of traditional Easter. (The word “Easter” in fact is but a modernization of Bostra, the name of an Anglo-Saxon dawn goddess cognate with the classical Eos.)
Beltane, Cetshamain, or Roodmas, as it was Christianized has as its theme the May day ceremonies still practised throughout rural England and Europe with stave dancing and flower garlands tied with white ribbons.
Midsummer, or St. John’s Eve, marks the nearest point of the sun’s approach to Earth.
The Catherine Wheel, or blazing cartwheel rolled from the summit of a hill to plunge into the cold waters of a lake or river below, is yet another expression of the wedding of heaven and Earth.
Lugnassad, or Lammas, celebrates the coming of the harvest-tide, the decorations of corn sheaves, berries, and fruits, while the autumnal equinox, or Michaelmas, marks its zenith with the eating of the customary goose. Samhain, or Hallows, ends the tide of reaping and the witches’ year. The winter presided over by the Lord of Misrule begins. The festival is celebrated with the customary sword dances, the sword here being associated with the chthonic spade and ploughshare, symbols of the God of Death.
The Dumb Supper may be performed in honour of the beloved dead, and wine and bread be ceremonially offered to them, the latter in the shape of a cake made in nine segments similar to the square of Earth. Candlelit turnip or pumpkin-heads and the last remnants of harvest-fare often provide decoration.
As always, it is a matter of personal preference as to exactly how a Sabbat is to be celebrated, always bearing in mind you’re few basic fundamentals, namely, the “drawing down” of the sun and moon, the ceremonial dances, the symbolic marriage of heaven and Earth, and the communal feast.
So there you are.