Village Witch Scenario B: Will-O’-the-Wisp Cottage

Ungh…so much reading.  And my back has been killing me these past couple weeks.  I actually went to the doctor two days ago.  Still hurts, even with the medication.  Bummer.

One fine late-autumn morning you are sitting outside your cottage door enjoying the sunshine when you see Jock, the smith’s apprentice, and Eileen making their way slowly down the path to your cottage.  They’ve been courting all spring and summer and it’s been fairly clear to all in the village that they will probably want to be wed soon.

As they approach Jock shyly greets you and the glances over at Eileen.  She hesitates briefly, then rushes to explain their problem.  It seems that they have in fact, decided to marry (a furious blush by Jock), but were facing a long wait before Jock would be able to provide for a wife and family.  He is only an apprentice smith after all, and is occupying living quarters in the smithy itself.  Clearly this is not suitable for a wife!  (Jock nodded most emphatically at this.)  Their dilemma had seemed insoluble until this morning, when Weyland (the smith) gave them some startling news.  His wife, Bridget, had heard just yesterday that her cousin Oswald (known to most of his family and the world as Oswald the Luckless) had finally died as a result of an unfortunate accident that had happened earlier this year.  Bridget, being his closest living kin, had inherited his worldly goods, including his cottage which had been standing empty since the accident which had ultimately claimed her cousin’s life.  She told Weyland that perhaps this might solve Eileen and Jock’s problem of suitable living space while at the same time providing her with caretakers for her cousin’s cottage (may he finally rest in peace, poor soul).  It was a shame her cousin hadn’t a family to leave his property to, but that of course was due to the curse.

The curse hadn’d been put directly on Oswald.  In fact, he had inherited it from his grandfather, Ulric.  The curse had resulted from Ulric’s unintentional disruption of the sidhe-folk’s Midsummer Revels, when he drove his ox-cart laden with ale barrels off the road and directly though the fairy ring itself!  Several of the ale barrels fell off the cart, and Ulric fell off with them (he being in a semi-drunken state at the time).  Some serious damage was done to several of the sidhe, notably to those who were later found underneath the barrels or the rather portly Ulric.  The offended sidhe laid a curse on Ulric (known henceforth as Ulric the Clumsy) that unfortunate ends would come to him and his children and grandchildren, and that his line would die out within three generations.  Oswald the Luckless had represented the last of the line, and had died after stepping on the tines of a hay rake that came up and smacked him on the nose, the pain of which caused him to recoil backward into the icy depths of the well.  He was rescued but lingered for several months until he finally expired of consumption brought on by the chill.  Thus the cottage had passed to Bridget.

A nervous glance passes between them.  Jock cleared his throat and continued.  Weyland had offered the cottage to him.  Both he and Eileen wanted the cottage, but there were several things about this matter that bothered them.  The cottage had what might be called a “sad history” (considering the curse), and had been standing empty for a while.  In that time, there had been rumors of will-o’-the-wisps and maybe other things that had been seen there.  Jock asks you if the cottage can be made safe for the two of them to live in.

It’s so good to see Eileen and Jock again, and I’m so pleased they’ve found each other.  Both are looking so handsome and happy, and they complement each other well.  Maybe even too well, since Eileen tends to jump right into an explication rather than letting Jock practice his speech and confidence among others.  I make a mental note to talk to them about this in the future before turning to the task at hand.

The couple certainly have heard a lot about Ulric’s line, and the town gossip probably hasn’t helped matters either.  I didn’t really know Oswald well since the crusty old bachelor largely kept to himself, so I’d never been to his home.  I asked Eileen and Jock if they would mind taking me on a tour of the property, and they happily agree.

I discover that Oswald had a surprisingly varied amount of acreage.  It’s settled at the southernmost part of our village valley, and the house faces north toward the village itself.  I discover the house is actually situated at the highest point on the plot, which is almost at the edge of the northwest border of the property.  It has a serviceable orchard roughly fenced in that extends from the house’s west all the way to the property border and south for quite some way.  To the house’s immediate east lies its garden plots, and to the east and immediate south run several acres of pasture and grain land.  The property’s eastern most portion catches a corner of low wetlands that flank the river beyond, and the property’s south kisses the edge of the forest that extends out of our village valley.

The property’s proximity to the wetlands explains the will-o-the-wisp; it’s probably just being seen more since more people are coming by the house now than did when Oswald was alive. He had the oddest knack of repelling people, after all.  I explain how the marsh gas can sometimes light up and tell the couple to just ignore it; they’ll be perfectly fine so long as they don’t go into the night marsh and drown or get bitten by snakes.

After a slight recovery after my mention of snakes, Jock tells me (good for him!) that the property hasn’t really been touched since Oswald died, other than for collecting his body.  If this is true, than I can see why Oswald and his forebears may have been so unlucky:  they were slobs!  There are so many things lying about and half-repaired that is was only a matter of time before some incident happened.  The house is in need of several small repairs and a thorough cleaning in addition to a solid purging of all the broken, trashed materials.  I notice that when breezes from across the marsh enter the house, it feels dank and smells poorly even though the house itself is dry and sound.

As I reach the wooded areas of the property, I do notice a section that is heavily covered with hawthorn trees in its understory, surrounded by many ferns.  As I come closer, I notice that a lilac ring of wood blewit mushrooms has popped out in stark contrast with the yellow and brown decaying leaves.  It does seem very ‘fairy’, and the area has a different energy to it than the surrounding forest—more potent, perhaps.

There may well sidhe energy on the property.  If Ulric’s story had a kernel of truth, the surviving sidhe may well have established themselves near him to keep exacting the curse and contributing to those mishaps.  Operating under the assumption that sidhe may be at the heart of this problem then, I decide on a workable plan.

If the sidhe are fond of making mischief, then one way of minimizing this would be to minimize the tools with which they can make this mischief.  This means keeping the property neat and tidy—after all, the sidhe can’t make you step on a rake if the rake has been safely put away.  Moreover, if things are kept in repair (such as cover doors over the well), the sidhe will have less opportunity to cause injury through that route, too.  To this end, Jock and I take a tour of the place and make a comprehensive list of all the repairs and clear up that needs to be done to the property.

After this is finished, I turn my attention to the house itself.  It feels stagnant and sad when I enter, and should be made fresh and receptive for a new couple starting out.  It definitely requires purification and blessing.

I think purification should start physically, so I ask Jock and Eileen to take a few weeks to remove all items from the house and evaluate them; they are to repair what is useful and burn what is not, and they are to thoroughly wash all that they keep and fix with a solution of vinegar and hot water, in which has been steeped quantities of wild mint and some rosemary, which will help purify.  While they do this, I ask them to envision that old Oswald’s misfortune washes off and that the pieces become fit to a new beginning.  I also ask them to wash the house inside and out from top to bottom with the vinegar and water with the same visualization in mind, and to repair any broken or crumbling things they find.  When they are done, I ask them to give the cottage a fresh coat or two of new whitewash.

Now, it looks like Oswald had been using a milkwash, which makes sense given the size of his goatshed—plenty of raw material right at hand.  However, I know the sidhe have a fondness for milk, and I would like to encourage the use of items that would discourage the sidhe from messing with the places on the property that need to be useful to people.  So I ask Jock if he would use a whitewash formula that relies upon a flour paste as it’s ‘glue.’  Salt has to be added to this in order to keep mold from growing, but this is great since salt is such a good purifier.  Better yet, Jock and Eileen can grind the flour at her father’s mill themselves, and focus on it bringing their own energy to the house in the void left from expelling Oswald’s.  Therefore, I ask them to stir up the salt water component what envisioning purifying the house from all Oswald’s problems, and envision the good they hope to bring the property when they prepare the flour mixture, then combining all their wishes when they make the whitewash base.  I ask them to add linseed oil at the end to help improve the durability of the paint (which is less durable than milk whitewash without the addition) and to help bring flax’s energies of healing, prosperity, and good fortune to the home.

Finally, as the smith’s apprentice, Jock has access to a lot of iron and a talent to work it well.  I ask him to make iron pieces to put on or in the windows and doors of the home and outbuildings to help prevent the sidhe from entering, since they cannot abide iron.

I tell Jock and Eileen that when they have done all physical cleansing and preparation to call on me before they move in so that we can do a spiritual cleansing and blessing of the home and its contents.

After about a month, Jock and Eileen call me back.  Between help from her family and the smith and his wife, they’ve completely transformed the property into a neat little homestead.  Fences have been repaired, roofs have been patched and thatched, all the worn and broken items have been replaced, and every care has been taken to ensuring at all parts of the house and outbuildings have been made as safe as they can be.  Jock and the smith have certainly surprised me:  they’ve made iron cage window boxes to go under all the windows, and Briget and Eileen have lined them with pads of peat and moss, ready for planting.  Iron fixtures and kickplates trim out the doors, and the whole place looks wonderful.

I make up a “spirits depart” incense of dried fennel, rue, and dill along with some precious frankincense and myrrh resins.  I throw open all the windows and doors and smudge the place, envisioning all entities with malevolent intent to be pushed out and blocked from the home and all other domestic space on the property.  When that is done, I sprinkle a powder made of salt, lavender, lemon verbena, peppermint, and rosemary all over the house, envisioning that it brings safety, light, and levity to the new couple.  I sweep up this powder once it’s been fully scattered and strew it over the walkway leading up to their home to guide this energy in later (and to help keep the weeds out of the path, too!).  Then I throw some bread in Eileen’s oven to bake:  the smell of the baking bread will help make this space her own and none other’s.

After Eileen and Jock move in, we discuss ongoing maintenance. To further delineate domestic space from fairy space, Jock and Eileen will collect holly shrubs as they find them and plant them around the base of their home.  Holly is a masculine counterpoint to hawthorn’s feminine and is a protective plant, and it’s red berries will provide a lot of cheer next to the whitewashed walls and black iron accents.  Those iron accents, also require some maintenance to keep from rusting.  Therefore, every month or so, Eileen and Jock must rub these pieces down with linseed oil and take the opportunity to envision good fortune and prosperity entering their home when they do so.  I also suggest sweet-smelling rose geraniums for Eileen’s new window boxes, and suggest that the pair try to cultivate sweet-smelling protective and purifying herbs near their home—culinary ones like rosemary, mint, thyme, basil, and bay.  I also suggest that they bring the milkweed and clover they weed out of their gardens down to the hawthorn stand.  Overtime, these sidhe-friendly plants will make their grove even more attractive to them, which means less interference as a whole.  I also suggest that they keep the sidhe appeased by bringing them some milk every once in awhile.  Hopefully with all this work, the new couple will have a wonderful new and safe beginning to their lives together.

The Cottage’s Whitewash
Adapted (largely in measuring everything in pounds) from a 1912 US Department of Agriculture Farmer’s Bulletin.  The original makes no mention of linseed oil and recommends the formulation for interior use.  However, a 1901 New York State Department of Agriculture Annual Report notes that 1 quart of linseed oil added to 1 gallon of whitewash greatly improved the lasting quality of whitewash on living trees.  A 1909 text from the International Correspondence Schools suggest 1 pint of oil to 2 gallons whitewash to help increase exterior durability.  My ratio of 1 pint oil to 1 gallon whitewash averages these two sources.

Yield Whitewash:  about 25 gallons

62 pounds (1 bushel) quicklime
120 pounds (15 gallons) boiling fresh water.
2.5 pounds rye flour
4 pounds (1/2 gallon) cold fresh water
16 pounds (2 gallons) boiling fresh water
2.5 pounds salt
20 pounds (2.5 gallons) boiling fresh water
Boiled Linseed oil:  Stir in 1 pint for every gallon basic whitewash

In a large barrel, slake the quicklime in the first portion of water.  Keep the barrel covered until steam ceases to rise.  Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.  Meanwhile, beat up the rye flour in 4 pounds of cold fresh water, then add 16 pounds boiling water and beat until the consistency is even and sticky.  Dissolve the salt into 20 pounds of boiling water.  Mix the salt water into the flour mixture, then stir into the barrel of slaked lime and stir until all is well mixed.  Stir in 1 pint of linseed oil to each gallon of finished wash before applying the whitewash.

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