The Checkett’s Wood Chronicles

Hi there book readers of historical fantasy novels with a pagan twist. To celebrate 2022 I’m now selling all of my self-published novels on my new Etsy shop. My first novel “Checkett’s Wood” has already gained a firm fan base and has left many eager to read the following novels (Henry of White Shires and Divided by Fate). The latest novel “The Checkland Legacy” brings together all of the elements of the previous books with a modern twist.

WitchermansBooks on Etsy

Click on the book cover to be taken to the relevant page.

Blessings
W.

Checkett’s Wood
The Checkland Legacy

Checkett’s Wood is here

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The past year of various lockdowns here in the UK has allowed some of us the opportunity to catch up on projects that had been ‘on the shelf’ for a number of years. When I first created Ogham Divination back in 2014 I wrote on my Witcherman profile page “Rick has penned numerous, so-far unpublished, novels; all working with historical, magical and spiritual themes and combining thirty years of knowledge and experience into the narrative. He hopes to publish his first novel within the next year or so.”

Well folks – that time has come and since Imbolg (Feb 1st) this year I have been working hard on realising that dream. The end result is the self-published “Checkett’s Wood” – a 344 page paperback historical fantasy novel.

The world of Checkett’s Wood is one where myth and mystery, folklore and magic, reverence for nature, and love all unite. It is a world which takes the reader on a journey to a fictitious rural Warwickshire during to the late 17th/early 18th Century, and events experienced by Robert Cleaver, whose family legacy is lost in the mists of time. However, time itself has no boundary, especially when Robert encounters such entities as The Green Lady and The Hunter. For the young Robert then discovers his real journey is only just beginning.

Reviews

we all need a Checkett’s Wood in our lives.” ~ Owain R

“An old family cottage at the far side of ‘Checketts Wood’ reveals memories and feelings of déjà vu. Deep inside the Wood are places where the veil of past and present are so thin that our main character Robert Cleaver finds himself on a trail of astounding discovery. Richard has created a wonderful easy to read novel full of surprise, action, duty and romance. I felt immersed from beginning to end. A perfect book to pass the time whilst traveling or simply to escape the ache of modernity.” ~ Chris S

I have currently 20 copies available for sale in the UK only (unless of course the potential buyer is willing to pay the extra International shipping costs) but if demand is high I can easily have more copies printed. Official release date is March 21st 2021 – the Spring Equinox!

Available to buy through ebay

UK delivery only but if you if you are outside UK I’m quite happy to calculate shipping charges for you. Please don’t hesitate to email me at the address below.

Please do visit my other website Witcherman Publications or email witcherman_books@hotmail.com for more information.

Many thanks and Blessings

W.

(Please note this book is not available through Amazon or any other online retailer.)

The Blackthorn Beast

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Taking my own advice on catching up on those creative projects that I’ve been putting off for too long (see previous blog on creative lock-down projects) I decided a few days ago to take out of storage a beautiful piece of Blackthorn that I cut back in September 2015. My intention then was to create an authentic Irish shillelagh – a wooden walking stick and club or cudgel, typically made from a stout knotty blackthorn stick with a large knob at the top.  The knob normally is made from the root end of the length as it is harder and less prone to cracking once adequately seasoned.

After over 4 and half years my blackthorn was certainly seasoned – so much so that my usual method of stripping back the bark with a sharp knife was now impossible. Extra hand-tools became necessary and a small work bench to help keep the wood firmly in place as I worked on it. A small hand rasp plane did the arduous job of removing the, by now, extremely hard and dry bark. It was also used to help shape the root end of the length. A good wood saw cut away the old rough, dry and cracked ends, and a heavy file to help smooth away any protruding bits. Finally everything, heartwood, shaped root end, and the black bark where I had let it remain, was sanded down until a smooth finish all over was achieved.

It was while I was sanding down the handle that I became away that a face was making its presence known. An eye appeared then a mouth, a snout, an elongated head – indeed a beast of mythical appearance had somehow miraculously come into being. How fitting that, arguably, the most powerfully magical ogham wood had somehow been endowed with a spirit of its own.

Whether one wants to refer to the finished item as a shillelagh, a cudgel, a walking stick, or a magical blasting stick, this particular creation has its own unique personality.

Blessings
W.

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A Creative Lock-down Project?

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As I write this blog entry the UK is currently still at the height of the Covid-19 lock-down crisis. Most families are forced to stay at home with many work places and schools closed. Social distancing regulations and self-isolation are now influencing what we do with our free time at home. That could mean more time for people to spend more time on the Internet or watching  a myriad TV channels available, skyping, zooming, whats-apping, or any other communications app they favour to keep in touch with friends and family around the globe.

This time could also be utilised to work on any of those creative projects you have been thinking about pursuing but have been putting off for too long. Write that poem or story that’s been germinating in your mind, on good days take a walk in the local park or woodland and see if you can identify trees, birds, and butterflies. As a photographer the wonderful April weather this year has provided me with unlimited subjects to capture on camera during early morning walks or daily exercise routines.

Alternatively, what could be a better project to work on during the current situation that working on that length of oak, ash or hazel you’ve been planning on turning into a staff or wand since you cut it during the winter months? Most small lengths for wands would now be adequately seasoned by now. And if you’ve got nicely seasoned length for a staff that’s been sitting in your shed since last autumn all but the thickest lengths should also be ready for working on.

For more information on how to make your wand or staff please visit my How to make staffs and wands page.

However you get through lock-down, wherever you are in the World, stay safe.

Blessings
W.

The Golden Sickle

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The Druids, that is what the Gauls call their magicians, hold nothing more sacred than mistletoe and the tree on which it is growing, provided that it is an oak. Groves of oaks are chosen even for their own sake and the magicians perform no rites without using the foliage of these trees…Anything growing on oak trees they think to have been sent down from heaven, and to be a signal that that particular tree has been chosen by a god. Mistletoe is, however, rather seldom found on an oak, and when it is discovered it is gathered with great ceremony, particularly on the ninth day of the moon…because it is then rising in strength and not yet half its full size. Hailing the moon in a native word that means “healing all things”, they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree and bring up two white bulls, whose horns are bound for the first time on this occasion. A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and with a golden sickle cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak. Then finally they kill the victims, praying to the god to render his gift propitious to those on whom he has bestowed it.
Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD)

Much of the historical information we have about the Celts and Druids and their practices comes from Classical Roman writers such as Pliny the Elder and Julius Caesar. The ancient Celts, named Keltoi by the Greeks, and Gauls by the Romans, it is historically said passed on their traditions and beliefs orally and the written accounts were left for outsiders to record until Christianity arrived in the Early Middle Ages. Also we have to remember that Caesar and Pliny were most likely not eye-witnesses to many of the things they wrote about, and so cannot be regarded as conclusive evidence to what they were recording.

As new interest in Druidry grew in more recent centuries, started by British antiquarians, such as William Stukeley (1687 – 1765), those people who required information only had the Classical sources to rely upon – which were not always the most accurate of written accounts. Pliny’s description of the Golden Sickle is one such account which bears closer examination, to either confirm or dispel the Classical image of Druid practices. The Druid; dressed in white robes, cutting down mistletoe with his golden sickle and then performing a ritual sacrifice of the white bulls. Let us start with the sickle itself.

Sickles are an ancient cutting tool used for harvesting cereals and other vegetation such as herbs and heather. The sickle is small enough to be held in one hand unlike the larger scythe with its long handle and larger blade, which was also used for harvesting crops. The blades were usually curved in a slight crescent shape. Sickles were probably one of the first agricultural tools ever made by man. Originally they were made of flint but with the discovery of metallurgy they were then manufactured using bronze and then later with iron. Even today, sickles and scythes are used in many countries which do not yet rely on mechanics for harvesting crops such as rural areas in India where they are still in use every day.

The sickles in use during Pliny’s time would have been made of either bronze or iron. When the Druids cut the mistletoe from the oak trees they would have used these small hand-sized tools, reaching up and pulling the curved blade towards them, severing the parasitic mistletoe from the branches. It is highly unlikely they would have actually used a sickle made from gold as that metal is too soft to carry a cutting edge. Bronze, in its highly polished state, not only is more practical and of a harder metal, able to sustain a cutting edge for a long time, but flashing in the light of the sun it would have seemed like it was made of gold from a distance. It is also possible that some bronze or iron sickles would have been gold-plated although there is no archaeological evidence to support this theory.

A highly polished bronze sickle would seem to have been the tool used by Druids, which Pliny talks about. Archaeologists have uncovered many bronze sickles, mostly carbon-dated between 700 BCE and 100 ACE all over Europe. Britain is no exception. Bronze sickles have been found at Flag Fen in Suffolk, Blackburn Hill, and Anglesey (Ynys Mon, the Druid’s Isle). There is much evidence to suggest that such highly prized bronze sickles were ritually deposited in marshes and areas of sacred significance, some still preserved with their wooden handles or with handles incorporated into the casting. Stone casts used to make sickle blades have also been discovered.

Druids would certainly have used sickles to cut mistletoe. Mistletoe is a sacred plant and it would have been used for many purposes. Folklore refers to mistletoe as ‘all heal’ because of its miraculous healing properties. It could be used as an antidote against poisons, ensure fertility, be an aphrodisiac, and used to prevent epilepsy. Sprigs of mistletoe were hung over doorways as protection against evil and the white berries when crushed become a milky white fluid. The Druids, it is said, believed this fluid to be a representation of the ‘sperm of the gods’. It may be true that the mistletoe from oak trees was the most highly prized and sacred as (especially in Britain and Gaul) as it seldom grows on that particular tree. However, mistletoe grows quite readily on apple, hawthorn and alder.

Pliny’s account of the two white bulls being used as a sacrifice during the mistletoe-cutting ritual also appears to be a misconception. There is no real evidence that the animals were sacrificed as part of this ritual although bulls have been slaughtered in connection with other festivals, such as Samhain. Whether the animals were indeed killed as part of the mistletoe ritual during the midwinter solstice celebration is probably unlikely. Pliny hints to us that the white bulls were sacrificed immediately afterwards, possibly using the sickle to slaughter them. This is also unlikely as sickles are not designed for butchery but for harvesting. The most likely conclusion was that after the ritual professional butchers would have killed the bulls and their meat and then used for the following midwinter feast.

Another possible misrepresentation is of the white robes worn by the Druids. We do not know exactly what they were wearing during such rituals, except for Pliny’s account. Emma Restall Orr, of The Druid Network, writes in her commentary on the classical image of a Druid: “in white robes, bearded, with ornate staff and golden sickle tucked into the belt… In fact, this image of the Druid in white is little more than two hundred years old, created during a period of revived interest in the tradition when one picture from the classical literature of two millennia ago was chosen from many: Pliny’s image of the Druid cutting mistletoe from the sacred oak. If Strabo had been used, the stereotype might be rather different, but his Druids – in red, adorned with gold – had not perhaps the dignity and nobility that was needed.”

Pliny’s account of the ‘golden sickle’ has led later Druid romanticists to develop sickle designs and images at odds with the archaeological finds and practicality. The shape became more like a crescent moon; more curved, more ornate, and less practical for the purpose it was originally designed for. Even so golden sickles are still inextricably associated with modern-day Druids and Pagans and they often form as much a part of their attire as the white robes do.

Copyright © Witcherman 2002/2019

First Published in Echoed Voices 2002

Autumn Wild Fruit – Friend or Foe

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The small edible plum-like fruits of the Blackthorn tree, a member of the rose family, are known as sloes and are often used to make sloe gin; a sweet, intoxicating drink that it is said to be associated with knowledge and power. When drinking sloe gin one is easily taken back to a time when our pagan ancestors lived off the land and enjoyed the fruits of their harvest.

However, when picked and eaten straight from the tree one can be forgiven for instantly spitting it out – unlike its larger cousins, the plum and damson, sloes are too bitter and sour to eat raw.

 

Yew

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Just about every aspect of the Yew tree, except for its sticky red berries, known as arils, is highly toxic. Birds are able to eat the berries but they do not digest the poisonous black seed within the red flesh. However, modern medicine has been able to harness the potency of the bark of the Yew tree and it has been successfully implemented, in small doses, upon people with heart conditions.

The red flesh of the Yew berries can be used to make rather gooey jam but it’s a long and tedious process removing the highly toxic black seeds, and it always needs to be remembered that even small quantities of the seed toxins can induce a serious heart attack. The Yew tree is not known as the “Tree of Death” without reason!

Witcherman
Oct 2019

 

The Magician

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Recently I was able to combine my interest in Ogham with my other pastimes of photography, creating digital art, and divination of another type – that of tarot. The occasion was to be a collaborative project between me and a young model who goes by the name of Scarlet. She had in mind to produce some images based on the Magician tarot card, using various props that she had brought along herself and some that I was able to provide. Although Mrs Witcherman (my other half) has had many years of experience with Tarot reading and Astrology I’m a complete novice on this type of divination. However a casual search for the meaning of the Magician reveals –

willpower, desire, creation, manifestation

The magician wields all the suits of the tarot. This symbolizes the four elements being connected by this magician – the four elements being earth, water, air, and fire. The infinity sign on his head indicates the infinite possibilities of creation with the will.
Labyrinthos

When choosing our props Scarlet herself provided the Cup and the coins (Pentacles) with me choosing a dagger (for Swords) and one of my hand-made Birch staffs to represent Wands. Birch itself in my Ogham pages represents – Beginnings, purity, cleansing

On the day of the shoot the timing could not have been any better really – there was a New Moon in the night sky, we were fast approaching the season of Imbolg (which represents the arrival of Springtime in the Pagan calendar) and the model herself was going through a number of changes in her personal life. I believe that in many ways Scarlet was using our photo-shoot as a cathartic opportunity!

Using my personal meditation room as a make-shift studio we spent a pleasant hour working with various presentations of the Magician and after our session it was left to me to work on any post-processing to complete a finished Tarot Card over the following weeks. As Imbolg arrived and the moon waxed I created a number of images and presented copies to the model, who was very pleased with the results of our collaboration.

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For me it was a challenge to produce a semi-commissioned item but especially pleasing to put one of my staffs to a different and yet productive use. It was a new experience for me to work with both Ogham and Tarot together and also to indulge my love of photography and art. It’s quite possibly I may even create another Tarot card in the future. After all – I am actually featured on one of Anna Franklin’s own commercially-produced tarot cards – but that’s another story!

Blessings
W.

The Death of a Holly King

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Back in the springtime of 2008 I discovered a most amazing holly tree that lived in the midst of Charnwood Forest. I was out exploring during one of my regular visits while searching for potential holly wands (honeysuckle-twisted holly wands are scarce and difficult to source). At that time that particular area of woodland was dense with thickets of holly and hazel, low ground-hugging brambles, and rotting leaves and ferns – all under a canopy of many mature oak trees. Suddenly a high curtain of thin hanging holly branches blocked my passage and as I peered inside I saw the large trunk of a beautiful holly tree.

I passed through the curtain of holly to discover a circular area of about 10 metres diameter carpeted with old oak leaves and with the tall 3-4 meter bole of the holly tree almost central. The higher branches of the holly had spread out so much and had grown in such a way that they drooped down again to the woodland floor. The whole feeling of the area was that of being encased in a huge protective bubble of holly leaves!

The Holly tree itself was amazing – gnarled and twisted with smooth skin, limbs that grew from the trunk so random and yet so alive with almost unbelievable angles and growth forms. This was a strong tree, a vibrant tree, an old tree that had stood proud and untouched by many generations of the lives of Man. I estimated it was at least 200 years-old. What really made this tree so special was the energy it exuded; palpable and potent – I felt it that first time I was there and during subsequent later visits. In conversation with a fellow druid, who had discovered the tree on a separate occasion, it appears he had also felt that same energy and had on occasion sat against the tree in quiet meditation and for spiritual journeying.

On the trunk of the tree itself there was evidence of previous visitors – a few carved initials and hearts cut by lovers during secret trysts. No doubt visitors had previously picnicked under its boughs, got drunk, made love, danced, climbed its branches, or just silently enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of the place. Indeed this holly tree had witnessed much during its long healthy existence.

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That was then!

On New Year’s Day paid one of my now rare visits to the woodland where the holly tree dwells. During my visit I had the urge to say hello to my ancient companion but as I approached the vicinity of the woods where I knew it to be I discovered that the foresters who maintained the woodland had been cutting back much of the undergrowth – coppicing the young groves of holly and hazel, taking away the brambles and removing the intruding rhododendrons. Even some of the tall mature oak trees (although relatively young at 100 years-old) had been removed. This was tree management at its harshest and in time such actions will encourage new growth on the woodland floor and no doubt bluebells will re-appear and turn the whole area a brilliant blue. I understand the necessity for such actions although aesthetically I prefer the foresters had left things well alone. The magnificent holly tree would was then left standing alone like an island – proud but now vulnerable.

And then the autumn storms of 2018 hit the UK wrecking their devastation in town, city and country, which is when I believe the once proud and stoic holly tree met its doom. With no other surrounding growth it to help buffer from winds of up to 80 mph, and with the massive natural dome of upper branches acting like a parachute, the high winds tore the holly tree’s roots from their shallow clutch on the woodland floor and felled it without remorse. And this is how I found my beloved Holly King – prostrate, lonesome, and roots now exposed to the open sky. True that there is still much life remaining within the body of the tree, and all of its spiky leaves still green and healthy, but now with its attachment to the ground severed it will enter into a slow decomposition.

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Maybe the foresters will now leave it where it lies to decompose and thus nourish the rest of the woodland naturally, or maybe they will carve it up to be eventually used for firewood, or woodchips, or whatever. It does not alter the fact that a proud and beautiful tree no longer graces ancient woodland with its beauty and character. I walked away from my old friend with sadness in my heart knowing that I would never see its like again.

W.

Midwinter Greetings

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Dear Visitors,

In less than one week from now as I write the Midwinter Solstice will be upon us. At this festive time of the year I would like to sincerely thank everyone for taking the time to visit Ogham Divination and view the many pages that I created a little over four years ago. When I conceived O.D. during a blog course in the early autumn of 2014 it was initially going to be a small resource site with a series of pages I had put together while creating a set of ogham divination cards. It was also to be a small platform for people to purchase one my own hand-made ogham wands, and for those of you who did so I hope they provided useful tools in your own magical journey. Some of my wands have now traveled to various parts of the U.S.A. and Canada, to Europe, as well as to my native U.K. (My wand store is currently unavailable but I may re-start it next year.)

What has truly amazed me is the amount of interest O.D. has elicited from around the World these past two years (2017/2018), especially when one considers I have not actually posted anything on my blog since July 2016. From 517 visitors during 2015 the stats have jumped up to almost 3000 during this year alone, and with viewers hailing from 53 different countries from around the World. If you have previously visited and found my information useful then I am indeed happy to have provided a useful service. If you have created your own wands after reading my “How to Make” pages then I am also very pleased to have passed on those skills to another generation of people.

2018 was a very busy year for me as not only did I become handfasted at Beltane to my long-term partner we had to do the necessary preparations running up the the event. It almost goes without saying that we made our own broom/besom, which was put together using materials sourced from the very same sacred woodland from where many of my wands have been sourced over the years. If anyone who plans to become handfasted in the future also wishes to know how I made the broom then I’m happy to share that information by creating a new page for this site, or to share some images of it.

So, what does the year 2019 hold for Ogham Divination? So far I have no exact plans but hopefully I’ll add a few new pages, re-start my wand shop, and generally let inspiration guide me.

Once again thank you to all past, present and to future visitors. May your Yule season be happy and festive, may the mead flow freely and let the spirit of the trees guide you to better and deeper knowledge of youself and your magical journey.

Midwinter Blessings
Wicherman

Museum of Magic and Witchcraft

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Cecil Williamson

Quite recently I was fortunate to travel down to Cornwall and visited the Museum of magic and Witchcraft in the small coastal town of Boscastle.For those of you unfamiliar with the museum below is what is written on its official website.

The Museum of Witchcraft was the creation of Cecil Williamson, whose interest in witchcraft and magic began in childhood. Cecil initially founded a Museum of Witchcraft in Stratford-upon-Avon but after local opposition, moved to the Isle of Man and in 1951 opened The Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft. Gerald Gardner, the founder of modern Wicca, was featured as the ‘resident witch.’ As time went on, the two men’s interests became increasingly divergent and Cecil returned to the mainland to set up a succession of witchcraft museums.
http://museumofwitchcraftandmagic.co.uk/history/

These days the Museum is a pilgrimage for witches, Wiccans, pagans and generally anyone who is interested in the occult or just curious to view the thousands of items currently on display. The use of many of those items are very familiar to me and some are totally obscure and serendipitous. However the items that I would like to focus on here concern the use of wands, rods, staffs and blasting sticks – all of which form an essential tool in magic and the Craft. As can be seen in the drawing at the top of the even Cecil Williamson, the founder of the Witch Museum, had in his possession a honeysuckle-twisted walking stick with a silver handle. The original is on display for people to view.

Below is a display of athames and wands, including a pair of hand-carved twisted items.

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Athames and Wands – tools of the trade

No doubt the users of such magical instruments would have either made or constructed their own tools, or had them made for them by someone in their close circle of contacts, or by someone who makes items for magical purpose, either bespoke or for general purchase within the Community. Such wands and sticks most often would incorporate natural honeysuckle-twists or they might be hand-carved. Either  method produces a beautiful working tool for any practitioner of magic and/or divination. The type of tree the item was made from would also been of utmost importance.

Like my predecessors and my contemporaries the wands I produce incorporate many of the same methods as those that have been used by witches, druids, and practitioners of natural magic for many decades. With the added spirit of the ancient Irish Ogham alphabet incorporated in their making I believe this makes them something special to own and use. I hope that one day you may discover that for yourself.

Blessings
W.

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Cecil Williamson Display