Growing up on the farm was a magical time, in many, many ways; the seasons, the compass directions, the winds, the time by the sun (we even found an old sundial… but that’s another story) and much more were all taught to me by my beloved Grandfather.
Peewits and chicks; Lapwings and obfuscation…
One of the first signs of spring, besides the melting ice in the brook that ran through the farm, the snowdrops in the orchard or the rooks returning to the little wood, was the arrival of the Peewits. They liked to nest down in the bottom of the big field, where the cows had churned up the mud with their hooves in the winter, leaving little depressions into which the birds would lay four brown speckled eggs, the pointed tips facing inwards, on a bed, so meagre it was stark in comparison of the Robins nests, lined with soft feathers in the hedge.
This fascinated me.
Why the points were neatly turned inward though was a mystery to me; were they laid that way or did the birds turn them?
The turning of eggs was not unknown to me – the hens did it, and so did my Grandfather when he was hatching the eggs in the incubator; dipping his fingers in water, he turned each one twice a day till they cracked and started to jump about. Then he’d sit me on the little three legged stool from the cow shed, and tell me to sit still and watch… sometimes I got fed up and the chick would hatch out when I was playing with the kittens… but experience eventually taught me to be patient and watch… for that magical moment when the beak became the first thing to break the shell… it was awesome … that hook on the bill came from the distant ancestors of birds – the dinosaurs!
To see that, I knew even then, at a pre-school age (in those days children started school at 5 years old), I realised just how lucky I was to see it…. and well… dinosaurs… childhood glee at that!
The resulting ‘birth’ of the chick was still an amazing event to witness, but paled into comparison of seeing that bill hook bursting through the shell. The added mystery was, that at an hour or so old, the chick showed no sign of it! By then though, the weird little being had turned from an alien thing, into the familiar little cute chirping chick, all yellow and fluffy, with that new chick smell.
I secretly hoped I could witness the hatching of the Peewit eggs too…….
This, my Grandfather said, firmly with a chuckle, was not going to happen.
Why? I wanted to know, and with the patience and understanding that comes with Grandparent-hood, he showed me…
*The Lapwings or Peewits as us country folk called them, danced a very dance and sang a sad song of woe – all of which was pure show… They’d drag a wing and limp most convincingly while making sounds of stress, in their attempt to lead the us away from their eggs – pretending to be so badly injured… only to fly away at the last minute, thus keeping their nests secret… what clever birds they were!
I must have made him smile as I tried to sneak up on the poor unsuspecting things… I was a quick learner though, and soon gave up, only to sneak back down on my own to try and try again… I became quite good at finding the nests, using the antics of the worried parents to go in the opposite direction to them, and looking closer the louder the protests got! But I never did see any hatch – plenty of fluffy chicks though, that would drop as flat as they could to the ground as I approached, their parents dance of a broken wing and their song of present pain, lost on me… I never touched them though, no matter how much I wanted to feel those soft feathers… my scent, as my Grandfather had told me, would be smelt on the chicks by the parents, and they would abandon them because of it; that was the last thing I wanted.
My Grandfather told me how people copied the Peewits behaviour – I in my childhood could not quite grasp it – though I did see it once I’d gone to school, in my peers behaviour, but over time, the association with the Peewits diminished but what a wonderful lesson!
Fast forward many years later and I’d joined a Traditional Witchcraft mailing list, and saw the term ‘Lapwing’ bantered about – now allot of water had passed under the bridge since the farm, and at first I recognised the term, but knew not from where – it took some time before I remembered it fully, and this was the very first time I saw an association with the memories of the farm and my late Grandfather with what others were calling Traditional Witchcraft.
Over a period of time, other memories were jogged, leading me to see what he taught me, has more to do with the Old Ways of the Old Folk than anything else reconstructed in these modern times.
On these, I have built my own praxis, sifting and refining into something, which I hope is akin to what he really knew, but had not the time to teach me in it’s entirety.
*A Lapwing = a person who obfuscates the truth, who leads another off on a different track; a faker; a trickster. A term used by Cochrane and my Grandfather, and many a person who follows a traditional path.
A very important lesson to learn, from Mother Nature herself…