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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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ysabetwordsmith
Wicker Man 6-22-19
Yesterday we made a Wicker Man for Litha.  A challenge was that it has been raining for weeks.  On previous occasions we made a stick frame and covered it with bunches of dry grass.  This time, we just used sticks.


As you can see, our wicker man has a frame made from a large X with a crossbar for arms.  He also has a leafy green head and nipples woven from fresh honeysuckle, and some anatomically correct features below, which are hard to see in this picture.  Behind him, another big stick props him up.  A bonfire is already laid in the firepit.  We had to build him to one side for easy access, then move him, and he barely fit into the 9' wide firepit.
This is a full front view of the Wicker Man.

This angled view gives a better look at his head and the triangular torso filled with twigs.
This angled view makes his head more visible.

Here is a side view of his manhood.  We made a priapic Wicker Man.
This closeup side view shows his manhood.

The front view shows more of his dangles.  I was very pleased that when people proposed making him anatomically correct, I happened to have glitter-covered pinecones lying around the house for this purpose.  When we lit the bonfire, it took a while for the Wicker Man to catch.  One of his pinecones fell off fairly soon.  But the one on the right burned in a blaze of glory -- and then glowed as coals for several minutes more.  It was very beautiful.
This closeup front view shows his manhood.


To make a Wicker Man:

You will need several big branches.  Two should be thick and straight for the X, about 6-7 feet long.  One should be similar but can be a little thinner, for the arms.  The propping branch should be sturdy and of a length to connect with some part of the frame, but you can attach it to either the crux or the arm bar.  It is okay if these start out with some forks and twigs; you can trim those off.

The body can be covered with twigs, grass, or other natural flammables.

You will need loppers to trim branches, string to bind things together, and scissors to cut the string.  Use natural cotton string.

It takes several people to do a good job of this, and takes at least an hour.  Teamwork is important, and indeed, this is a fun project to teach teamwork.  It is easier if at least one person has done it before -- I learned from a group this way, and we teach our folks the same -- but you can start from scratch with a good set of instructions.  I thought I had written this up before with step-by-step photos but couldn't find such a post.

Begin by cleaning your branches until they are straight.  If they start out with offshoots, examine the structure closely to determine where to make the cuts.  They should be of similar length; you will typically want to trim the narrow end rather than the wide end.  Watch for forks in convenient places.  We were fortunate that the crux and part of the arms had places we could rest the trimmed forks together for greater stability.

Decide whether you want to build in horizontal or vertical format.  Previously we've done it horizontally but this time we did it vertically.  Both work; each has its own pros and cons.  It's easier to keep the bundles in place while fleshing out the frame in horizontal mode, but easier to tie things in vertical mode.

Form the X creating the legs and body by crossing two sturdy branches near the midpoint.  Lash them together securely with cotton string.  This page illustrates and describes several methods of lashing.  It helps to know a bit of actual ropework, but this is not essential; just wrap string around the sticks until they stay put.

Form the arms by placing a third branch across the top of the X.  If you have forks in the right places, it may wind up on top of the ends.  If not, hold the arm branch just below the upper ends of the X.  Lash them together where they meet.

A head is not required but we typically make one.  You will need long, flexible twigs or vines that are NONTOXIC.  Honeysuckle, willow, and wild grape are among the best woody options.  Grass and wildflowers also work.  Be very careful not to mix in things like poison ivy or herbs that you don't know what they do when burned.  Ideally, have an experienced person do the gathering or at least supervise it.

You need two people to make the head, one to hold it and one to weave in new twigs.  Bend one twig into a loose hoop and twist the ends together.  It should form a hoop about 1 foot wide.  Wrap another twig so its middle goes across the ends of the first twig.  Keep adding twigs by wrapping them around the others until you have a circle that holds its shape when you let go.  This set of instructions uses flexible twigs and wire.  (Don't use wire for a bonfire Wicker Man; substitute string or just tuck in the ends.)  This version soaks stiffer twigs overnight.  (For a bonfire, do this kind a week in advance so it has time to dry.)  Here you can make an herb wreath.  (Again, omit the nonburnable materials.)  This one shows how to braid a lemongrass wreath.  This method of making wildflower wreaths uses all natural ingredients.

There are various ways to attach the head.  We fastened the base directly to the arm bar.  On a previous occasion, we lashed a short stick to the arm bar to serve as a neck, then tied the head to the neck.

There are also different ways to fill in the body.  In this case, we bound bundles of twigs parallel to the branches forming the torso.  When those were thick enough, one member made a triangular bundle of brush when we bound in place to fill the hole -- that was a new technique for me, fast and effective, so I'll definitely remember it.  On previous occasions, we made bundles of dry grass and bound them to all of the branches in the frame.

To affix the bundles, have one person hold and one person tie.  First  tie a loop around the base of the bundle holding it to the branch.  Tightly wrap the string around the bundle in a spiral until you reach the top, then tie it off.  You can tie knots in the middle too but that takes more string and more time.  It's possible to work with a whole ball of string, but I often cut pieces 4-5 feet long for this type of binding.  You can always add more if you need it.

If you want an anatomically correct Wicker Man, you will need to fashion his manly whatnots.  Generally a stick works best for the phallus.  In this case, you want one with a fork cut with one long end and one short end, like a checkmark.  For a priapic Wicker Man, the long end should point up; for a flaccid one, it should point down.  Fasten the short end to the crux.  To make the balls, you can use two round pinecones, or any other similar-shaped flammable objects.  I tied them to the crux one at a time, then used more string to fasten them to each other, below the phallus.
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