Tales from the Gathering: The Witches’ Sabbat

Mist over the lake

Sometimes at such a gathering the unscheduled events that happen naturally hold more power and draw us together more closely than we could ever have imagined.  It was a Sunday under a dark moon and we had just finished storytelling by the hearth. The rain was falling hard outside the lodge and we continued to huddle close to the fire as the sun set. Those who attended my altered states workshop that morning, and those who’d heard tell about it after, came to me and asked to try the flying ointments I’d brought now that the activities were done for the night. I brought out two crafted with mandrake root – one made with oil and one made with duck fat. I taught them how to apply it to their pulse points and over their hearts and they all sat close to the fire warming their skin so the ointments could better soak in with the heat. They didn’t know what to expect, but I watched and I saw it happen. They started talking louder than before. Their eyes became bright and their cheeks red with laughter and smiles upon their lips.

The musicians picked up their fiddles, violins, and bodhrans and began to play. The women started dancing in a Celtic fashion, bouncing up and down, legs and feet quick and nimble. The children went to bed and the dancing became wilder and I could feel everyone’s energies blending into the same direction, building to the same intent with the willing surrender and suspension of disbelief. I listened to the trickster’s whispers in my ear and went to fetch the mead and filled the shaman’s giant horn full and it was passed around and around until it and the gallon jugs were empty. More and more came to me for the ointments, old and young, elders and new seekers, the brave and the timid. It was amazing to see so many brave their fear and simply try mandrake and when they realized it wouldn’t harm them they were less timid and tried even more. Mandrake and mead go well together my friends. The mead makes one bold and the mandrake gives boundless energy to work one’s will.

The mad fiddler

The rain poured hard and heavy and wet. Frogs croaked loudly, their song carrying through the forest and up to the lodge. An elder of Gardnerian and Kingstone lineage who had come up from California whispered to me to gather the women and to hush the drummers. She taught us the har hou chant and the women held hands and circled, singing along to her strong voice, which the drummers followed to the beat at first softly and then stronger and stronger the more loudly we women sang and howled: “har har har har, hou hou hou hou, danse ici, danse la! Sabbat, sabbat, sabbat, Oooo!” Around and around we went, weaving in and out, slow and sensual, making eyes at each other and at the men drumming around us. Around and around, howling like wolves and singing like sirens. Faster and faster the women sang and danced, faster and harder the men drummed until the energy built and surged like an orgasm, breaking and washing over all of us like a tidal wave. The men had such looks of satyrish amazed glee on their flushed red faces and, I’m certain, were grateful they were hiding behind their drums after such an arousing display. Some people felt overpowered and went out into the rain to cool off, lovers ran off to Aphrodite’s temple and any private corner they could find, and others doused themselves with water.

The Czech seeress and I weren’t done with them yet. We looked knowingly at each other and snuck outside to the porch and smoked my seer’s herbs in front of the wood fire to prepare ourselves. We’d sent out whispers earlier after dinner that there would be divination later. Back into the lodge her and I went and called the witches and pagans from their rest to gather around the fire for the seers would be reading the cards for them all. We sang them to the fire with a chant from her dream summoning the Mighty Dead, the ancestors of our magical art. She and I sat in chairs in front of the hearth and two lines formed in front of us in a procession. Those who waited chanted to soft drumming while those in front sat before us and each drew one card. I held everyone’s hands as they cupped the cards and many touched their forehead to mine. I had each person hold the deck in their palms and either think of a question or leave it open for what they needed to know, then to cut the deck and I drew the card revealed and whispered its meaning to them, heads bowed together in private council. I was so very happy that the majority of those there received cards of blessing and joy. It was good practice to read for so many people and to keep it short and simple, but still deep and meaningful with so many to read for.

Dancing my heart out

After the last handful received their fortunes, we continued chanting and drumming. Now that the readings were over, the drumming became louder again with three talented lead drummers hammering out a rhythm and the women started to dance once more. Eyes and cheeks were still bright from the mead and mandrake. The dancing became more sensual, more seductive. The men who had been facing the fire were suddenly circled around facing the women with their drums once more (for a better view) – djembes and bodhrans and a great booming barrel drum. It was such a balance of masculine and feminine, the energy was the perfect reflection of all the old European folk songs of shapeshifting chases between a man and a woman. The men’s drumming fuelled the women’s dancing and the women’s sensual dancing fuelled the men’s drumming and made them never want to stop. The women danced until we could no longer stand and the men drummed until they could no longer feel their hands.

Five hours had gone by in the blink of an eye. The old tales of mandragora giving one supernatural stamina were proven true my friends as were the tales of no ill after effects from such wild over-exertion. We finally stopped, we wound down, we rested, we feasted on cheese and olives, wild boar prosciutto, and elk and venison sausages. With thanks to the mandrake and mead, along with the drumming and dancing, many reached states of ecstatic trance receiving visions or having their spirits soaring from their bodies into the heavens above.  We went outside to cool down and talked softly around the wood fire under the sound of rain drops beating on the porch roof and one by one let the call of sleep take us over. In the morning we recounted our dark moon dreams of magic and spirits.

It was the closest to a witches’ sabbat as I have ever seen or experienced outside of my ritual group’s Beltuin – the deities drawn down, the spirits raised up, the power built, the same energy and intent flowing through everyone’s blood. It didn’t matter that we were all from differing paths, there was perfect trust and comfort and love among all present and it allowed each of us to let go of our fears and our grasp of control and truly be free and wild giving ourselves up to ecstatic trance. What an offering we made to the gods and ancestors that night! “More, more, more” was the reaction – the hunger for more such powerful magic. It seems I need to make more ointments and rack and filter my meads so they are ready for bottling and drinking sooner rather than later. Perhaps under a summer’s full moon deep in the forest…

Author Sarah

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Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • I wish I’d been there with you!

  • Nikkie says:

    I now find my heart racing and my head spinning and a feeling of ‘connection’ is pulsing through my veins and no, it’s not the glass of strong mulled wine I had just consumed…..thank you for bringing this to me and for allowing me into the circle!

  • Syne says:

    Sarah that’s wonderful, it just carries me over the world as if I had tried your ointments too… Do you know that indirectly you have put a bit of that kind of magic into my own group ? We’ll try the hyoscyamus at Samhain… (do you have some personnal advices or informations about it ?)
    Thanks for letting us touch a bit the incredible magic you’re living day by day =)

  • That night! How can one ever forget that night. True power was conjured that night and the cunning flame grew bright!

  • SilverShadow says:

    Amazing as always. Some day I will have to make that trip to par take in such an amazing event and magic. Your stories give me true hope that the old ways are still alive and viable. I wish everyone could have such experiences. Thank you deeply for sharing with us.

  • ellenwaff says:

    Curious…..do you use the traditional, European mandragora, or the American mandrake/Mayapple root? Have you compared the two?

    • I use true mandrake, mandragora officinarum/ atropa mandragora. I don’t consider them comparable. Mayapple may make you feel dizzy, confused, and giggly before poisoning you, but it doesn’t have the same properties, alkaloids, or power as mandragora. I only use mayapple as a substitute when making love, fertility, or prosperity amulets not in concoctions.

  • Soli says:

    Ah to have been even a fly on the wall for that…

  • Dver says:

    I am starting to get interested in mandrake. If you end up having some more mandrake salve for sale, please do let us know!

  • db says:

    this made me tear up, with hope, happiness and a longing i can only describe as the desire to one day partake in something as beautiful as this. i have enjoyed all of your posts on the gathering thus far. it has also piqued my interest in mandrake. thank you!

  • Caralyn says:

    It was an amazing night – one that I will never (could never!) forget! Watching you and the other women circle around and around chanting that intoxicating chant was … hot. 🙂