By Don Jackson, October 2011
Former host of one of Canada's most popular radio shows spanning three decades.
Author, broadcaster, storyteller.
What beckoning ghost, along the moonlight shade Invites my steps, and points to yonder glade?
Moonlight sifts through bare branches as a young woman carefully approaches a door shrouded in darkness. A soft rap on the weather-beaten wood and noises can be heard on the other side. The door is opened no more than a crack at first. Rheumy eyes struggle to focus on the young woman standing in the shadows. She pulls back the kerchief on her head that partially obscures her features and a faint hint of recognition passes over the face of the old woman in the room. The heavy door is pulled all the way in, but no invitation to enter is offered. A flickering candle on a wooden table offers faint illumination to the interior of this small cottage. By a small fireplace, an emaciated cat basks in the warmth of the few remaining glowing embers. The animal has locked its intense, green eyes on the visitor, its suspicion clearly evident. The elderly woman limps across the earthen floor to retrieve a small muslin bag sitting near the edge of the table. Her arthritic hands struggle to pick up the bag of herbs as she turns to face the young woman.
Did you bring what I asked for?
The young woman nods and retrieves a small bundle from inside her heavy coat. The elderly woman hobbles back and opens her gnarled fingers. A small, cotton parcel containing a few coins is placed on her moist palm. She hefts its weight and smiles. The bag of herbs is given to the young woman who begins to open the tie. Before she can examine the bag's contents, the door is closed and she is left standing on the dark doorstep. She turns and carefully makes her way back through the pines onto the moonlit road and begins the long walk home.
There was a time in our youth when we believed all witches were ugly old crones. Our stories about them spoke of their 'familiars' in animal form, usually a stray black cat that carefully observed the preparations of unguents and herbs. When their neighbors were not conspiring to have these women burned at the stake for conspiring with the devil, they might show up at a door late in the night looking for medication for a feverish child or sick farm animal. They might even be looking for help in the matters of the heart. One of these charms was detailed in 'The Avon Calendar of Roses 1984' published in 1983 by The Ariel Press.
Charms that require unaesthetic ingredients such as hearts of bat and dried toad blood seem impractical for most of us to manage, but the following unwarranted procedure is offered for those willing to experiment.
'While thinking constantly about the desired person, make a small bag from material that he or she has worn or slept on (a thoughtful witch will pick an old inconspicuous garment rather than a new sheet, but make sure whatever you use has not been washed since it was worn). Into the bag put three rosebuds you have carried next to your heart for a day, a lock of your hair and one of your lover's, and then, tie the bag shut by wrapping it seven times with a red ribbon consecrated to Aphrodite. Clean the house, prepare dinner, and follow your own beauty rituals still thinking of your lover. When the object of all this attention crosses the threshold, bury the bag under the doorsill. He or she will never want to leave you.'
Even a man who's pure in heart
And says his prayers at night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.
Excerpt from the 1941 film script of 'The Wolfman' by Curt Siodmak (1902-2000)
Just the other night, I was out late on a dark residential street. I saw something in the gutter by the side of the road and slowed my approach. I knew it was some kind of animal because I could see its eyes gleaming in the moonlight. It was a black cat whose back went up as I drove slowly into a driveway across the street. It turned to flee and I lost sight of it as it ran up onto one of the lawns and disappeared. It actually seemed to blend into the darkness. It's presence unnerved me for a moment as I thought about the superstitions that accompanied its presence in our ancestral past. Happening upon these animals by chance would have been enough to stir the imagination to all kinds of beliefs about these creatures that prowl by night.
Being out late at night, I have seen quite a few coyotes, raccoons and even something that resembled a possum. I've now seen my first black cat of the year. And, no, even if the wolfbane blooms, I don't feel the urge to howl at the moon...
Don Jackson, October 2011