Rhubarb

Rhubarb in flower, seen in the evening sunlight

I have had a wonderful rhubarb plant for almost twenty years. It was an offshoot from the rhubarb which grows in my mother’s allotment, which in turn came from my father’s father’s garden. I have no idea what variety it is, but it can usually be picked in early March through to July, has red stems and tastes delicious. Every so often I try to make it a bit smaller by shopping some off, but I haven’t done this for a few years so it has grown huge.

Normally I do what everyone tells me to and remove any flower shoots as soon as they are seen. However, given the size of the plant, I couldn’t see why I needed to do that – there were plenty of stalks the other side, and if that bit did die off for any reason it would save me the trouble of dividing the plant next winter. So I decided that it didn’t matter. I let the flowers come – and now they are an absolute delight. Over five foot high and fluffy creamy-white. Rhubarb in its fullest glory.

It feels like the whole front garden is celebrating in response.

Rhubarb flowers

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Wands and Weather

Back in February when I was redesigning and simplifying my altar, I learned that I ‘had’ an apple wand. This made very little sense to me at the time for two reasons. First, that I have never used a wand finding my finger a pretty good tool for most things, and second because I had very little connection to apple as a wood. Since then I have made some progress in understanding these two difficulties, so am now ready to write a bit more.

A wand is always associated with witches and other magic workers in fiction, but in modern witchcraft rarely gets more than a passing mention. For those in a coven it may be obvious as to when a wand is employed, but for those like myself who read, experiment, meditate, and talk to dragons or other spirits, it seems of much less concern. Most books seem to promote the athame as the primary tool for casting a circle and directing energy, and for the great rite (although this has less relevance for a solitary witch!) But a wand is frequently the subject of a single paragraph, saying that it can be used to direct energy, without explaining how or when; and that it is usually associated with Fire as it represents Will, while the athame is Air and connects more to the mind. (Some say the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deliberately reversed these in order to keep occult practices secret. There is logic both ways, since a blade is forged by Fire while a tree branch grows through the Air, but I know it is my Will I am directing through my finger or a wand and not just my thoughts!)

However there were also good reasons for not using an athame as my primary tool: the intention of a blade is usually to cut, whereas my aim is usually to direct energy; elementals don’t like blades being used, iron or other materials, so if outside I would need an alternative; and finally, laws in this country make it very difficult to legally carry a knife anywhere outside the home. I couldn’t help wondering if witches did use knives for casting their circles in days gone by, whether this was for protection against being seen before the circle was complete, that the knife was then in heir hand ready for use. I also find it very hard to believe that the average witch could afford a knife that was used purely for witchcraft or circle casting; I think most were practical people who took whatever household items were most suited to their purpose and sometimes a knife was appropriate to have at hand.

So having accepted a wand as my tool, I realised that the wood Apple is generally associated with Air, the fey, and music. Now I was getting a hint of why Apple might be right for me! I have recently been trying to sing the songs suggested to me by stones or water, and finding each to have its own character and be unique. Different types of stones, soil, sand, pure water or polluted water, each expressed its character through the song I sang with it, and area I have been developing and want to do more with. But was that the only reason? I decided to ask Oak about it, and have now had several discussions with him and various other allies.

The first discussion – I already have apple trees in my garden who would like to be used, I don’t have my own oak tree! And apple will lend its gentle aid, being strong and unweilding but also add a loving, peaceful, sharing influence.

The second discussion, after more reading and still feeling very little connection with Apple – yes other woods will do, but get to know apple! Apple brings calm and peace to its work, along with maturity. Not fast like Rowan, or straight like hazel, but loving and giving. Different doorways to Oak. Female. Time to set the Eve story in its proper place.
I then cut a short length and whittled the corners off while fresh from the tree, and was overwhelmed by the amount of love coming from the tree. It now takes its place on my altar until I have finished making my wand.

The third discussion – following on from learning about trees dying, (see ‘When is a plant dead?’) a certain consciousness exists in any piece of wood, and how it works will depend on the original tree, where it is cut from the tree, what is carved in it, how I add to it and add my consciousness to it. (This is why no one should borrow a wand!) I should use it for sun circles, sabbat celebrations, casting circles, love, friendship, for myself spiritually eg gaining wisdom, knowledge, singing, meeting goddesses. One day I’ll want a moon wand for working outside at night, hazel, and a yew wand for different work. But Apple first and for now. (A few weeks later I realise that the three woods are all female to me, and represent maiden, mother and crone. I discover unexpectedly that I have recently fully embraced motherhood; not by having a daughter who I am slowly teaching independence to, but by taking in houseplants that will need nurturing care for their whole lives (see ‘Bringing Plants Indoors’) so this shift in me is why I must make the Apple wand first; then go back and make Hazel. I’m not quite a Crone yet, so Yew could be a few years off.)

There was nothing suitable I wanted to prune from any of my apple trees, so I investigated my collection of stored wood – and found four pieces of apple from our garden already cut and seasoned from previous prunings. However, none seemed ideal for a wand being either too small once the bark was removed, or too large.

Then finally, I use my wand, under the guidance of Dragon. Some weather working is needed, and I am told to use my wand to call a wind and shift the clouds that have brought persistent fog for days now. I try holding it, knowing by now how it needs to be carved, and feel its energy through my arm and hand. I direct energy with it, and feel how much more effective it is than just me. Later I go back to my pieces of wood and can feel exactly which one it is carved from. The clouds start to clear; the next day is bright sunshine. The weather forecast has apparently ‘changed’.

I use my wand again a week later, first holding it too tight, then realise my mistake. This wand is very exacting! I finally understand that I am needed for weatherworking because I am not attached to any particular weather; I am actually happiest with the variety England normally gets. In early March I had asked if I should shift the snow, but was told it was necessary to rebalance the world and for humans to start to become aware of how they are affecting their environment, and there would be another 3 weeks of cold. There was. This time I was told it was right to shift the fog, and later to rebalance again, and therefore felt confident in doing so. Ultimately I need to keep balance, because humans are out of balance with themselves, and with the weather, wanting only sunshine. The problem is a result of humans, therefore humans must be involved in its solution, if we want to continue to work with the Earth. I have worked locally for several years, (see previous posts) but now also sometimes nationally when my awareness is capable. I share because more people around the world are needed to do this work. I didn’t choose it or ask for it, but seem to have been given the responsibility for it.

I was reminded by Dragon to say again that it is not me changing the weather, I am simply doing the asking and providing the energy for it to happen. I need to be in tune with what is happening, and to always ask as I have done so far, and to find ways of directing and raising energy that suit me and are appropriate to the level needed. It can be ritual, or singing when I need more energy than is easy for me, but I also need to learn more about the various winds and which one to call up, as well as the trade winds. Apple is keen to help with this and to bring more abundance of fruits to the land.

And finally, I find myself working on a writing project with the fey. I can’t help wondering if Apple has provided the link!

Beltane Quilt

Beltane Quilt

Here is the last of my Sabbat quilts, made during the last Spring Snowstorm in early April.

It has the largest number of fabrics of all the quilts, 24 I think, helped by some of the leftovers from recent dressmaking and bunting projects, as well as the donation of some scraps left over from a quilt my grandmother made me when I was little. So this quilt has real family history in it! The design is inspired by the flowers and colours of May, and by the whirling patterns of Maypole dancing. It started off very regular and formal in its arrangement but I was a row short; it ended up much more freeform in its twirling, swirling around, but I’m quite pleased with the way it has come out. The only thing I might have changed is that on three of the corners a diagonal seam runs into the corner, which was hard to trim or turn properly. This would not have been a problem on a normal quilt with a wadding layer and bound edges, but these are unfilled, just turned like a bag with one colour being chosen in each quilt for outlining to join the two layers. Unlike the other quilts I had no choice of which colour to outline on this one, green being the only plain colour used across the quilt!

It has been an interesting project to make all eight – and challenging at times when I was struggling to sew! I deliberately made each one unique, not comparing them as I went, so here is the first time I have put them all together. To me they make an interesting impression of how colours change over the year. I might have exaggerated this more if I had made them all at the same time, and had the fabrics I now have, but that is the beauty of making one at a time. The design changes had a logic, which isn’t so apparent here, but this may be the only time they are all seen together.

Eight Sabbat Display Quilts, arranged from top left:
Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Spring Equinox, Beltane, Summer Solstice, Lughnasadh, Autumn Equinox.


Over the next year I hope to make items to go in the displays, since some sabbats definitely do better than others at the moment! Each sabbat has seen something being made and something stored from previous years, but like our special tree decorations that come out December after December and are passed on through the family, and inspired by the nature displays in the Steiner School we used to visit, I would like to create more ‘special’ things for the rest of the year as well.

Pansies … and Pigeons!

Pansy

I’ve never grown pansies in my garden before, except occasionally the wild Johnny Jump Up from seed, but my daughter is fascinated by them. The rich depth of colours, the softness, the fact they flower when little else does. So over the holidays I took her with me to buy some plants and allowed her to choose which ones she liked. I ended up buying twenty four mixed pansy plants covering just about every shade between them – which earned me some very strange looks from my prize-winning horticulturalist neighbour, and also ex-boss, that I happened to meet with my trolley-full! (His garden is a little different to mine…)

Actually there was some logic in my apparent madness. The unpredictable winter with its late snows (by local standards) has left many gaps in my borders, and as I haven’t been growing so many flowers from seed over the past few years, I do not have a ready supply of new stock with which to fill the gaps. I figured the pansies would bring happiness, especially to M, and would hopefully last all summer. If most are gone by next year then at least I will have more time to plan something else new!

But as I started to get them out of their pots for planting, I had a revelation. I realised that if regrouped them into their approximate colours, I could reduce the crazy mixture to approximately four colours: dark red, mostly yellow, purple-blue, and white with a bit of dark purple.

I have a vague colour theme going on, inspired by John Fothergill and his writings about his pub garden in the 1920s, (An Innkeeper’s Diary, published 1931), placing hotter colours near the house and fading out to white at the furthest distance to make it look further away. It works well in my small garden, as there are fields beyond, and helps me decide where to put a plant – although some seeds don’t read their labels like ‘yellow’ hollyhocks turning out to be pink, or Welsh poppies seeding everywhere they can, so I’m not too strict about it! So I mostly followed my usual scheme with the pansies, M helping me to place them around the garden in colour groups, mostly three or four at a time with me helping to show where geraniums or campanulas or giant scabious were about to be, and suddenly they looked amazing. Blending in tastefully, yet full of cheer. I really enjoyed the sight.

However, trying to take photos of them to go with this post revealed another problem that I hadn’t considered: several of the flowers were being eaten. Being edible to humans, and also freshly grown, they must have appeared to be a new delicacy in my garden compared to all the hardy plants that had survived outside all winter. I have never liked to use poisons in the garden, preferring to find natural solutions and letting the garden balance itself over time; copper rings made out of an old hot water tank are one of my best against slugs, but I didn’t think that was the problem here, since it was the flowers being eaten rather than the stalks. A few days observation finally revealed the truth. Pigeons.

Immediately another incident in the holidays with M came to mind, when I had to wait at a zebra crossing because a pigeon was using it. I had watched as the bird looked both ways at the side of the road, in the way pigeons do, then walked very fast all the way across, exactly in the middle of the crossing. I didn’t want to run it over, so I ended up having to stop while it completed its journey to the other side and then over to investigate the gutter. My daughter of course found all this hilarious. Given the Highway Code says drivers must stop when a ‘pedestrian’ is on the crossing, rather than specifying a ‘person’, I presume this was what I was required to do. I now wonder whether I should have reduced the pigeon count slightly, as I am getting a little fed up with them.

Cock pheasant seen from my window. (There is a layer of ice below the surface.)

One more possibility springs to mind however, before I curse the fat grey birds, as we had an even more unexpected garden visitor recently that makes a pigeon look tiny…

Bringing Plants Indoors

I was given a very lovely, anonymous gift of flowers from a local florist at the end of last term. Pink Stargazer lilies, dark pink miniature roses, grey-blue sea holly, dark purple alstroemerias, light purple crysanthemums, rosemary, pussy willows, fatsia and wide green flax leaves, and the whole thing was beautiful. Over two weeks later, many of them are still looking good. So a huge thank you to whoever gave them to me for making me smile and brightening my days, when I was having a particularly hard time!

I now see it as a once in a lifetime gift that I shall probably pass on one day. But trying to figure out who they were from made me think first about my friends (who all denied any knowledge) and then about the various plant-related things I do for which I expect nothing in return, which might have somehow ‘earned’ me some flowers. Rubbish collecting around the village. Giving plants or fruit away from my garden. Secretly sowing appropriate wildflower seeds in barren places. Shifting energies or sending healing – to the Earth or its inhabitants. I rarely see the full effects of my actions, just like the kind donor of these flowers will never see how they brightened my kitchen and left the house smelling amazing, or how they made me feel loved and wanting to do more.

There has been one immediate impact on me however: they have helped me to understand that I need greenery inside the house again, and to do something about it. I used to have a few houseplants, ones I had been given that didn’t really like the conditions in our house, and that mostly felt stiff and spiky to me. Eventually I got fed up with them always looking slightly ill, and wanted the limited windowsill space for seedlings of perennial flowers or vegetable plants each Spring.

So now I am trying to be more creative about where I put plants, considering Winter (near window) and Summer (eg in front of fireplace) positions. I look at a book from the library and see what might be suitable, but dowsing comes up with very little that looks like a guaranteed success.

Then I visit my nearest garden centre. Outside first, I can’t resist a look, and in the back corner find some wildflower plants that are being sold off at rock bottom price, just in perfect condition with the roots starting to show through the bottom. I choose several, two of which I have been looking for for some time – Herb Robert and Red Campion, each nicely labelled with their history and planting requirements. We also choose some pansies in flower, of which more later.

Back inside, near the tills I find the houseplants. Lots of showy orchids in flower, along with a few large foliage plants. Too big for what I want at the moment. Small Dragon trees, with a picture of a dragon and basic care instructions but no clue that they will reach 5′. Then almost hidden away, small plants of the size and price I thought might be reasonable – but labelled mostly as ‘fern’, or ‘foliage plant’ with no care instructions at all. I choose four plants whose shapes combine well, and which intuition and basic plant knowledge suggest may survive where I want to put them. Even looking later, I cannot positively identify three of them from the library book I have; my list of questions fails to get much shorter.

I could just hope for the best, but being a witch I am now asking the plants what they need. So far they seem happy, and have brightened up my shady kitchen windowsill brilliantly giving me something green to look at when I wash-up instead of tiles, cleaning products and the temporarily bare brick wall opposite. It may be possible to live a fulfilling life without plants and greenery around me, but I’m glad I don’t have to.

When is a plant dead?

This is a question that I have pondered more than once over the past few years, and finally have some answers. First I will explain the question.

1. Some shamans claim it is possible to talk to a tree before cutting it so that the ‘dryad’ divides in two, and lives on in the piece that has been cut off.
2. Some wandmakers claim it is possible to ‘wake’ the ‘dryad’ after creating a wand.
3. A cut branch will frequently root or graft successfully, whether or not the gardener talks to it first.

Given that I am currently in the process of finding wood for and designing a wand from one of my apple trees (see Candles for Rituals, Feb 2018) these questions have a particular relevance to me right now. So having failed to find definitive answers in any of my books, I did what I usually do in such circumstances: ask the trees.

My usual tree to talk to is a hollow oak, about half a mile from me, that I have a good relationship with. It is my guardian for journeys, and if he cannot answer my question himself, will usually know where I should go or who I should talk to. On this occasion Oak had most of the answers that I didn’t find within myself. (Some people use the term ‘dryad’ for the Spirit of a tree; this Greek word seems to me to both personify the Spirit and separate it from the tree in a way that seems more human than tree-like. Also, a dryad was an oak tree spirit, Meliae lived in ash trees, Epemeliad in apple trees, Caryatids in walnut trees … etc. etc. I prefer to just use the English tree names; in this case the tree is known to me as Hollow Oak.)

A tree is dead when there is no more ‘green’ remaining. That does not necessarily mean the colour green showing, such as in the leaves or inner bark, but that the plant still has the ability to transport water and nutrients, and therefore can grow. A section of stem, or root, can live a surprisingly long time after being cut, and regrow given the right circumstances. The Glastonbury Thorn, grown from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea is a case in point. (And in rare circumstances of complete human and elemental cooperation magic can happen, eg in the case of Machaelle Small-Wright, Dancing in the Shadows of the Moon.) However, by the time the cut wood is considered dried enough for woodcarving or furniture making, it can generally be considered dead. This is like a human slowly dying of old age – over the last few weeks of their life, the elements will withdraw one at a time. First Earth, as the person ceases to feel hunger, then usually Water as they cease to thirst. Fire, they become cold, Air, they stop breathing, and finally Spirit in the form of Soul leaves and the person is considered dead. (Actually sometimes a person is declared dead before Soul Spirit has left; they can usually be revived when this is the case.)

The Spirit of the tree does not go to the Summerlands, Annwn, Heaven, etc as we do, as because trees do not have free will, there is no need to learn the lessons from the life just lived and plan the next life or experiences to come. Their consciousness is already merged with the All and our planet Earth continues to grow in experience and love.

After our Soul Spirit has departed, our body elemental continues with our bodies until it is no longer recognisable as a body. Then the elemental passes over to other more simple elementals, while it goes on to help us form the next physical body we inhabit. The same with trees, after the Spirit of the tree withdraws. Fire elementals are generally involved in the making of compost, then compost becomes Earth, or dissolves in Water, so new elementals take over.

But if a piece of wood is stored carefully, it does not decay. The way I understand it is this: if a bicycle can be conscious and talk to me, or a rock or crystal, so can a piece of wood from a tree. It doesn’t have exactly the same consciousness, it is no longer alive, but it has a consciousness all the same which is related to the tree it once was. In my desk the wood comes from more than one tree, so the consciousness becomes more complex, and possibly deeper. In a wand, there may be different elements which combine – including the consciousness of the person using the wand. I understand now why a wand has to be a very personal tool, and why they are usually broken on the death of the witch or magician who used it. I also see a parallel here with bones. Just as a specific branch can help the user connect to the original tree, so could a specific bone could help a person connect to a specific ancestor – many barrows when opened up were found to have skulls neatly arranged inside them. But after time, when the original link is lost, there may not be a connection to a specific person any more – but a human bone will still have a different consciousness than a cow bone, or a sea shell just like a malachite is different to a moss agate or an amazonite stone.

One further thought was offered to me by Oak: trees are very aware of being cut and of the consciousness and intentions of the person doing the cutting. Oak gave me two examples of when this really matters. First, a branch cut specifically for propagating will take better than one pruned off and then grafted or rooted as an after-thought. Second, flowers are the peak of a tree’s energy and beauty; cutting it off in its prime is very confusing and distressing for the tree and the flower elementals. If flowers are cut for enjoyment as cut flowers, then please share your love of them with the tree and explain why you are cutting some of its flowers off (never cut all the flowers off a plant!) and leave the plant something in return like a drink or some food.

Spring Equinox Quilt

Spring Equinox Quilt

This display quilt just got made in time! Mainly due to the fact that Winter returned with snow in early March closing all the schools… Instead of daffodils, often flowering here by the end of January, snowdrops are entering their fourth month of continuous flowering.

As this festival is about balance, I wanted to do a very square design. Most of the colours I had that were suitable were not patterned either, restricting my options. However I found that this added to the calm, balanced feel, even if the weather is being wild. Like at Imbolc and Yule, there is a more definite pattern to this quilt than some of the earlier ones, which I find I prefer.

The colours were based around what I normally see at this time of year, so lots of new fresh greens, daffodils, pink blossom, blue skies. At the moment, the purple crocuses are doing well, usually much earlier, and the only pink I have seen is my winter flowering Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’. Just before the equinox we had a very deliberate removal of anything ‘Wintery’ and changing to Spring, hoping to help draw it forth. So the display includes a woolly lamb we made in the Lake District (I’ll have to do some more for Imbolc next year so it doesn’t get lonely!) hares, flowers, fairies, and lots of eggs.

Water Unfrozen

Through the centre of Ambleside, like many Lake District towns and villages, runs a stream. When wet, it can be quite a torrent as it runs over a series of ledges; Stock Ghyll once powered so many mills in the town that it had the nickname of Rattle Ghyll. However, it took me several years to realise that just a short walk upstream is something far more dramatic.

Stock Ghyll tributary running under the footpath.
(Click to enlarge)

Just outside the town there is a rather lovely circular path through woodland alongside the stream that was engineered by the Victorians. The first photo shows where a small tributary stream is crossed early on in the walk. The bridge is almost invisible from the main path, most people seeing it only on the return journey if the arrows are followed. (I prefer going sunwise as I am perverse, and also it is prettier if I am not planning to return directly to Ambleside.) Below the bridge are some stepping stones, from where you get a wonderful view of this beautifully built gateway into another realm – as well as the easiest place to dip a hand in the water.

Continuing upwards, whichever side of the river you walk there are several different viewpoints from where you can see the main waterfall, the 70 foot high Stock Ghyll Force. Some of these still have the Victorian ironwork in place; others are very muddy and are less protected.

Stock Ghyll Force
(Click to enlarge)


I have seen the falls at lower water levels, when most of the water falls river left (ie the right hand side as in the photo), but what I liked on this occasion was the near perfect balance of the two falls, which then come together to make one. It always feels a good place for me to connect with falling water, especially going sunwise so crossing above the falls (the wooden bridge is just visible) before following with the water in the direction it is flowing in order to see them in their entirety.

These pictures were actually taken in February, when the previous snowmelt was underway. I had every intention of posting them on our return – and then the snow arrived. I just couldn’t connect with running water! Now the snow has melted again here, I finally felt ready to edit the photos (as the colours didn’t come out the way I saw them) and to write about the waterfall, however briefly. So I learned something about myself at the same time, and how I live in ‘now’, at least as far as weather is concerned!

Bunting

Bunting

A simple sewing project to bring happiness and cheer!

At the end of last year we redecorated a room in a hurry that really needs a proper replastering and rewiring. Since that isn’t possible right now, we removed old wallpaper and patched the walls as best we could, covered them with thick lining paper, and painted over it. Given it is in an Edwardian house, the ceilings are high and elsewhere there is (or was) a cornice as well as a picture rail. In an ideal world, we would put these back in. In reality the ceiling is still scratchy artex and painted a greyish white. While the new paint looked great, something was lacking at ceiling level. In addition the room was now echoey, and the newly pale peachy-pink walls too intense with no contrast colour to balance them. (I haven’t painted the skirtings or architraves yet.)

So after much thought, (and rejecting various ideas such as stencilling the walls or using decals which might not stick, and wouldn’t solve the echo problem) I came up with a plan. Create bunting in the colours I wanted to introduce, to act as a cornice and a sound baffle and decoration all in one. Amazingly it has worked on all three counts. It fades from view when the lights are off, and brings happiness and wakefulness in the mornings without being overwhelming. Magic.

For those wanting to do something similar, we made paper templates first cut from magazines to check the size, and the finished triangles are a little over 5” long. I used a plain white backing fabric to bring the colours out. Ready made 1/2” bias binding seemed the simplest option to join them, nearly 18m of it! (Which took 112 triangles…) To hang it, we cut up some old plastic paper binders and used ‘permanent’ glue dots to stick the hooks to the wall – sticking the fabric to the wall lasted a few days, the hooks have now been there successfully for over a month.

Candles for Rituals

Candles have apparently formed a part of ceremony and ritual for around 5000 years. A ritual without a candle (or a fire) burning, no matter what other offerings or symbols are on an altar or equivalent, to me is just a meditation. It might be very meaningful in itself, but there is no uplift. No Fire in its pure elemental form to create a transformation in my subconscious.

Now that M is at school, I find I have time and space to do more full rituals again – and having not managed much for a few years it is a good opportunity for me to re-examine what I do and why. (Oh the joy, and effort, of being a solitary!) However, I have been encountering two problems. Paraffin wax, which the majority of candles are made from, smells awful to me and gives me breathing difficulties even without any scents being added. Alternatively beeswax candles, a beautiful smelling natural product, are expensive especially as easily available nightlights don’t burn properly in the time a solo ritual generally takes. Unless a candle burns to its edges before being blown out, it will form a hole in the centre, making it difficult to relight. So for my typical 30 minute or so burn time, 2cm is probably the largest candle size to use. (Several years ago I bought some beeswax “birthday candles” for which I was kindly made a wooden pentacle holder, but these only burn 10-15 minutes each. Great for a spell or focused meditation, but simply too short for a ritual.)

Pagans luckily have an answer to this problem, I have recently discovered, in the form of Spell Candles. Usually around 1-1.5cm across and 10cm tall, many are made of beeswax and come in a variety of colours. Burn time varies from an hour to 90 minutes, depending on size and if they are rolled or solid. Prices vary with some people charging a premium, while others charge in proportion to the amount of wax required to make each candle. (Yes there are now many electronic effect nightlight candles around, and yes it does take fire elementals to create electricity so they would be present, but this isn’t my first choice if there is a natural and sustainable alternative available.)

So having finally established that there are suitable candles for me to buy, I then start considering candle holders. Not many are this small, and they will need to be sized fairly specifically to which candles I choose to buy. Sticking one in melted wax on a plate is basic but tempting! But there is also the question of how many candles to have, given candle holders often come in pairs.

One candle seems to me to be adequate for a ceremony, to be lit at the start, before any circle is cast, and extinguished at the end. It can represent anything and everything, and ultimately symbolises that all is one. Connected through the centre which is everywhere. However, many witches have candles for the God and Goddess, possibly in addition to a central or carried candle (which may also be used represent Fire on the altar), making two or three candles per ceremony. Some witches also like to light candles in each quarter, coloured for each element, giving a possibility of seven candles. (I am assuming any candles lit as part of a spell or a working are extras.)

At this point I spent some time in meditation. I asked, what does my ideal altar look like for use indoors?

The picture that came into my mind was this one:

Two candles at the back. That was a surprise because it isn’t what I usually do. They are equal, yet apart. Goddess and God, Mother Earth and Father Sky, female and male, dark and light, above and below, within and without, manifested and unmanifested. I realised we live in a world of duality and what I seek is balance. Then on the right side of my altar, an apple Wand (I wonder why apple? I’ll come back to this when I know… ), ready to pick up and use, while on the left, a silver (pewter) cup bearing water. In the centre at the front, my working area where I can place anything specific to that ritual, ideally on a pentagram disk of some kind, completing the five-pointed arrangement. Underneath is my portable table covered by a bright green cotton cloth. Behind on the wall is a beautiful fabric picture of a tree.

I share this because it is considerably more basic and simple than most witches use – and in fact than I normally use! Yet although I was then shown how it could be added to, the athame next to the wand, a bowl for salt next to the cup, Goddess and God statues behind the two candles, other items specific to the ritual such as gemstones, flowers, amulets, pictures, carvings etc, I realised it is perfection in its simplicity, with each item being hand made and beautiful in itself. Both male and female are present, as are all four elements, as is an ancestor connection. If my altar represents me in the higher planes, then I seem to be calm, peaceful, simple and uncluttered inside.

A permanent altar with lots of things on it is not something that feels right to me because I live with non-Pagans who would have no use for such a thing and not treat my tools as sacred; when I am not using them, they (bell, athame, swan feather, cups, offering plates, etc) are safe inside my desk, along with all the other sacred objects, talismans, divination aids, space clearing tools etc that I possess. Our ‘seasonal displays’ on the mantleshelf act as a permanent focus with the various quilt tops I have made changing for each sabbat – they are based around the pagan year, which is of course the solar year so easily understood by all including visitors to the house. Our two dining candles live there when not in use, creating a parallel with my altar. I also have various locations in the house where there are power items that are left out all the time, and a place where I leave offerings in the garden. So after a bit of thought and experimentation, I find a really simple altar inside gives me the freedom to set it up quickly and easily when I want it (and dismantle it again before collecting M from school), and I have the flexibility to add any statues or symbols or flowers etc that are befitting to the ritual.

The loss of some tools does, however, feel like I am breaking a lot of rules! I clear space before casting a circle, so these tools are kept nearby, but I won’t now be putting them on my alter after use. My wooden athame I made has not seen much use, and it was interesting while exploring altars and candles to read other people’s comments that they don’t use an athame outside for fear of upsetting elementals – any blade is objectionable, not just an iron one. (I wondered if some witches used knives originally so that they had one to hand in case protection is needed. Also I suspect only rich witches in times past would have had a spare knife for magical purposes! Another area to come back to…) Incense I don’t use because I can’t cope with smoke – but I do sometimes use natural sprays while cleansing the space so I’ll have to find a way to work these in. Also my apple wand will need consecrating when I have made it, so I’ll have to find a way of doing this that doesn’t involve smoke!

I am amused that I started out just trying to work out what candles to buy, and have ended up redesigning my altar, and probably the whole way I celebrate. Sometimes all it takes is a small thing for us to make the big changes that we simply couldn’t see before.