Mabon Quilt

Quilt for the Autumn Equinox / Mabon.

Here is my quilt for Mabon, or the Autumn Equinox. This quilt is about harvest, not just in its ripe fruit colours but in the fabrics themselves, for which I think I counted 19 in total. Some are from previous quilting projects, such as the three tree series I made, giving a nice link to the harvest of tree fruits (apples and plums in particular). Several squares were cut from scraps leftover from dressmaking, some of them clothes I made for M which are now too small for her but also one of mine which I still wear. And finally the music fabric, leftover from a ‘baby quilt’ and saved for quite a long time because these small pieces were all that was left. It represents another joy in my life right now, to play with the morris dancing group. Again, nothing has been bought new. So to look at this quilt brings happy memories. (To me, it is all the more remarkable because the difficulties I had actually sewing it were beyond anything I have done recently, as since August I have been suffering from a very sore hip and leg and at times can barely sit or stand. Sewing was done in very short bursts, left-footed. But that is a story for another time.)

Since both equinoxes are all about balance, I have also been testing an urban myth that has been puzzling me since I discovered it last Spring. There is a much repeated story on the internet that it is possible to balance an egg on its end at the equinox. I tried this, and failed. Then I read it was at the moment of equinox. I have no idea if the Earth is acutely aware of the moment of equinox or not, as with the moment of solstices. There is however a moment when the tides turn, which are of course affected by sun and moon so I didn’t just dismiss it out of hand. So since I missed the right time last time, and it was quite a convenient time this time, I thought I would have a go in the spirit of scientific enquiry. This time I also invited company.

What we proved is: some people can balance eggs. Duck eggs, chicken eggs, they will apparently all stand on their ends for as long as is required of them. The equinox makes no difference to those capable of balancing an egg, as the trick was quite happily repeated the next day. I, however, am still incapable of balancing an egg on a smooth, hard surface, no matter what time of day. Although I can have fairly good results if I use a non-flat surface…

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Pebbles on the Beach

I can never resist picking up pebbles that catch my eye on a beach. It is a strange thing however, that once removed from the beach the majority loose their charm. I try to find pebbles that represent the place where I am, that capture the beauty of the place. But it is impossible to do this with one pebble, because each pebble is made up of just one type of rock, whereas a beach is normally made up of several kinds of rock, each a different colour and texture. Nature blends them together in a perfect harmonious picture.

Instead I look for ‘favourites’. But it is not the individual charm that I then notice, but the extraordinary. The ones that are different in some interesting way. Like a grey pebble with a perfect band of white quartz running around it, or a pebble with a hole through it. Sometimes I like the colour of a particular pebble, but often when it is by itself it no longer has the same brightness, for the contrast with the other pebbles has been lost.

And yet, I have become aware recently of how the concept of favourites creates a duality that wasn’t there before.

We are said to live in a world of duality. Dark and Light, male and female, wrong or right, loves and hates. Best friends or other friends. Favourite toys. I realised recently how I am becoming conditioned to ask M ‘which is her favourite?’ or ‘what did she like best?’ in any given situation. Questionnaires getting to know your child, or activity sheets and books have a little box to write in a single answer. It can be a way for strangers to try and understand her likes and dislikes a bit better, but I am sometimes forcing her into judging. Of creating a hierarchy. Luckily she appears not at all susceptible to judgment in this way as she rarely gives me a straight answer – and if I am attentive I can work out for myself what the important things in her life currently are. I can also ask much more open questions, and get more considered responses as a result.

Yes there are times when it is important to choose only one of something, and that can be a useful skill in itself, but I have found myself going too far in the other direction and trying to narrow down every selection unnecessarily. A garden of flowers for example, and I find myself asking which I like best. Or a collage of butterflies. It is meaningless; they are all beautiful. So as we approach the equinox, I am seeking balance over when I do need to be selective, and when I should just enjoy the full diversity of this bountiful Earth. Here is my colourful selection of pebbles from the beach this summer.

Beach Pebbles

Dragon Hill

I found it. Next to the White Horse at Uffington is a small, flat-topped hill, supposedly where the dragon was slain by St George. Or St Michael. Nothing will grow there now; the dragon’s blood has apparently spilt everywhere and poisoned it.

Stories of dragons being killed are not likely to induce me to visit a place by themselves; given that Fireball had said he would meet me there (see previous two posts) my immediate reaction was to try and investigate the truth of the hill. It turns out to be quite interesting. The hill is entirely natural, but its top was quarried off in the bronze age or earlier to leave a flattish wide area a little larger than the average stone circle. The reason nothing grows is because there are very high levels of potash in the soil, indicating that huge numbers of fires have been laid there over a long period of time. So I was quite looking forward to what I might find there.

A visit was planned (it wasn’t too far from where I grew up), the day booked, the forecast was good. Then as the day approached, the forecast got worse and worse – I had no walking boots or waterproof trousers with me having traveled light on the train with M, and while a small amount of dampness could be coped with, the promised day-long deluge could not. So the evening before, when everything looked impossible, I said to Fireball that if he wanted to meet me on Dragon Hill then he would have to do something about the rain!

Luckily he did. The morning started badly with one delay after another, but then I decided to trust that there was a reason for all the delays, the weather was checked again and lo and behold the front had moved much faster than previously expected and should be clearing around lunchtime. We took a dry diversion to look at some medieval stained glass on the way, and did indeed arrive exactly as the rain eased, giving us a dry picnic and afternoon. Thanks Fireball!

I visited the horse first, which having just had its annual ‘chalking’ completed the day before was looking stunning. It is amazing to think that if just ten years went by with no one rechalking the horse, it would be lost, probably forever. The horse has now been shown to be over 3,000 years old, thanks to methods of dating the soil in the bottom of the pits containing the chalk. In that time the horse has gradually worked its way UP the hill, so is now more easily seen from the sky than by people in the area – there are suggestions it once acted as a ‘flag’ for the tribe who lived there. Maybe there were once many more such pictures on the hillsides, such as the Cerne Abbas Giant and the Long Man of Wilmington, but they simply weren’t cared for over the centuries.

Next I walked down to Dragon Hill, a large zig zag of a path at present to reduce the damage of walking down the steep spur of the hill. The alternative route is less steep, but doesn’t connect the two. I mention this, because once I was at the top of Dragon Hill, what really made an impression on me was the way in which each part connected. The fires of the hill, huge, held at times of passing or special ceremonies, had most of the watchers down below on a flatter area. Then the procession up, along the line of the horse, to the fort beyond. However, after sitting a bit longer I felt that for a small number of people the journey would be in the other direction. Possibly their last journey on this Earth. Most people would not have walked the line of the horse however; unless they or the event was special in some way, they probably would have taken a route nearer to the zig zag one I took, part of which was worn deep into the ground. Finally I looked down to the area called The Manger, where the horse is said to descend to graze on moonlit nights, and realised how green it was there compared to the dry chalkiness of the ridgeway. It would have been an excellent place for animals to graze, as it still is now.

I returned to the area later in a meditation journey, and realised I had already received one of the most important ‘lessons’ for me at this special place: to look at the relationships between different aspects of places, seeing a more holistic view of the landscape rather than just one key point. The shape of the land, to really feel it and connect with it, how it was formed, how the different aspects relate to each other and why this site possesses such innate power. This power was of course recognised by the bronze age tribe who lived there, and I started to see glimpses of what might have been.

Some distance away is a long barrow known as Wayland’s Smithy, or on older maps as Wayland’s Smith Cave. Legends also connect this to the white horse, who is said to go there every hundred years to be shod. (The last time he went was apparently in 1920, so a visit is almost due…) However I was surprised to feel little connection between the two sites, and unlike the similar, larger barrow at West Kennet, did not feel any strong energy flows here. My feeling was that it was used at a different time period to the fire hill, possibly also by people who lived in the fort and deliberately planned it some distance away in order that it may be quiet there. Separated by space. It does however have a magic of its own due to the trees that surround it. Beech and not particularly old, they provide shelter and protection, preventing the energies of the place just rushing out along the much used track which is the ridgeway. It is static, feminine, and a good place to connect with the Earth since the chambers are so low that it is necessary to crouch down very small.

Rowan Trees

Rowan Tree growing in the mountains near Beddgelert. (Click to enlarge.)

Rowan has long been known as a witches tree and for protection. Amusingly, it is used both by witches, and also to protect from witches; this often took the form of two sticks joined together with a red ribbon and hung over a doorway, or a branch with berries laid over the mantlepiece. Rowan was often used to protect animals; cows in their stable, or sheep jumping through a hoop at the beginning of May. Its energy qualities are light and air, and these are so strong that they can transform any darkness around them, hence the protection that follows. It certainly grows well in light and airy places, such as the sides of mountains, needing no shelter for itself but looking after other trees until they may stand alone.

Rowan is also known as the ‘quickening’ tree or Quickbeam, as its energy gives life to projects encouraging them on their way. Without a burst of energy, such as the rowan can provide, creative ideas are lost and do not manifest in the physical world, or projects are started but abandoned before being completed. I suspect I have Rowan to thank for the many things I actually manage to get finished and then write about here!

Rowan appears in many old myths and legends, being considered sacred in many different European cultures. This may have something to do with its colours, as red berries were powerful symbols of life and death. It may be because of this, or it may be its lightening and quickening properties, or it may be the flowers that were sometimes used for a visionary aid that have led it to be planted around ancient sites – such as the thickets that grow in Iceland. Rowan trees were sometimes planted in Britain on energy points instead of standing stones and in churchyards in Wales in place of yew.

Rowan trunk

So now I will return to the story I began last time, about meeting the dragon Fireball at a rather special rowan tree in Wales. This tree is growing half way up, or rather down (the direction we were walking) a mountain valley near Beddgelert. The first thing that struck me was its size; the trunk is beyond what I could get my arms around, which makes it the largest rowan tree I can remember seeing. So I stopped to spend a few minutes with it.

Rowan branch

Around the back was a branch that had been cut off at some point several years ago, and the tree had almost grown around the stump of the branch, another thing I don’t usually associate with rowan. And the third thing was a pool by the side of the tree, showing how it had grown so strongly, and also giving it a connection with other worlds in a way I might usually associate with willow or alder or occasionally oak but not rowan.

So I walked around the whole tree, stopping at a low branch to admire the bark, and who do I see but Fireball playing around the spaces between its branches. He didn’t seem to want to talk, just play, but told me I could travel here from my own rowan tree at home any time I wanted to. I suddenly understood what the concept ‘group soul’ means in practice: all rowan trees have the same basic core, which comes through in their teachings and wisdom, in their energies, but all are also connected at another level. While it is easier (for me at least) to connect with and talk to older trees, a young tree is still part of that bond and can link to the others if I make use of that link. The fact that I travel between oak trees regularly serves to emphasise to me at least how this applies to all tree species.

Rowan tree where I met Fireball, with pool to the left.

The second thing I learned while at the tree was the particular ‘feel’ of Rowan energy. I have sensed it through smelling the flowers, but since I have never come across a Rowan tree of this size before, I have never truly experienced its unique qualities. I would know it again anywhere now, even from a small tree, just like I can recognise the energy signature of oak when I can’t see one along with a few others I know fairly well (eg beech, hazel, apple, birch, willow, heather) when I make the effort to connect to them.

Later, I managed to ask Fireball about the tree, and the legends of Rowan trees and earth dragons, one supposedly marking or guarding the other. (I have read of the relationship both ways around, but I like having things confirmed for myself and explained in a way I can understand them.) However, I learned nothing about the legends on this occasion! (Well he is a fire dragon not an earth dragon…) But what I did learn was that he just loved the energies of the tree and loved playing in it, in the same way elementals played in trees or other places sometimes. He reminded me about the joy of playing, of feeling, of exchanging energies, and of a story I read long ago of a very psychic person ‘visiting’ some distant ancestors at a remote spot playing in the sea, who just liked playing and took energy from the waves, the sun. Being at one with them. Fireball has a relationship with Rowan, especially when in berry, while other elementals have relationships with different trees; each type of tree has its own friends who associate with it, like attracting like. He reminded me of the particular elementals of hazels, of birch and of oak that I have seen on rare occasions. They all work together and are happy to do so.

Yet Fireball is not an elemental. He has nothing to do with the growth or development of the tree. His only reason for being there, as far as I can tell, was in his role as teacher. To show me the place, and to help me become more aware, and to enjoy Just Being as well.

The Land of Dragons

Last week I was in the Land of Dragons, otherwise known as Wales, for a family holiday. I hadn’t made the connection before going, despite having briefly visited Wales in early June, but then it has been a few years since my last proper visit and nationalism seems to have grown in recent years with Welsh flags on display most places we went. So to see a lot of dragons in a country for which they are a national symbol of pride shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, this went a step further, starting before I even left home.

The day before going, I was having trouble in my meditation with a lack of concentration for various reasons. I persevered, and then suddenly a small fire dragon bounded in. I haven’t met any dragon like this one before, dark orange, flames everywhere, very small (only waist high and four foot wingspan) and behaving like a small puppy bouncing about, chasing its tail, and utterly full of life. We agreed I could call him Fireball. Exactly what I needed personally at that moment.

He then said it was good to see me again!!! Apparently I have known fire dragons before, although this is definitely the first time I have seen one in this lifetime. Meanwhile, I was told he would be coming on holiday with us, and was really looking forwards to it. Fireball looks a little like a Welsh dragon, but there are some differences; he is more like the colour of ripe Rowan berries and his wings are smaller in proportion.

Glass Dragon

So day one, we set off heading for the far side of Wales, and the first place we stopped was a craft shop I have been past many times in canoeing days when it was closed – known as the Glassblobbery. As an occasional glass artist I was intrigued. So in I went, and was confronted with a glass dragon. And another, and tens if not hundreds of them in the shop, amongst various other glass animals and flowers. And the demonstration the man was about to do was a dragon. I found this delightful little chap there. (He is actually a pale blue-green colour.)

Day two, Dinas Emrys seemed to be the place we had to go to. Despite visiting Beddgelert many times in the past, I hadn’t been there – and it seemed a good size for M’s first Welsh hill. And of course it is entirely bound up with the legends of dragons.

Dinas Emrys as seen from above Sygyn Copper Mine. It is the small hill on bottom right.

Dinas Emrys – waterfall that is passed on the way.

The first part of the legend comes from The Mabinogi(on), a collection of ancient Welsh tales written down in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. After Beli Mawr died, his eldest son Lludd became king. He was wise and generous, but after many years of peace he was hit by three curses – gossip, shrieks on Beltane that terrified the people and withered everything, and vanishing of food that was stored, turning the country into a wasteland. Luckily his younger brother Llyfelys, now king of France thanks to marriage, knew the remedies to the curses. While the first was caused by the race of Coranians, who Llyfelys had the way of removing from the land, and the third was caused by a giant who became loyal to Lludd after being beaten by him in a fight, the second was caused by two dragons residing in the centre of his land who each year fought for supremacy. One was their own dragon, the other that of a foreign race, trying to overcome it, causing the native dragon to cry out. The centre was traced to Oxford, where they found a stone circle and a murky lake. Placing a cauldron filled with mead next to the lake, covering it with a cloth and disguising it with the mud, Lludd then placed wax in his ears and retreated to the stone circle for safety. As it grew dark, he felt an awesome shudder from the earth and knew the screams had begun. From the lake, two serpents, one red, one white, rose up from the deep, water dripping off their scales. The battle continued as they shape shifted many times until they resumed their true forms, fire and ice breathing dragons. Up in the air they fought, snapping and snarling, until finally exhausted they transformed into two piglets and fell back to earth, through the cloth and into the cauldron. There they drank the mead and fell into a deep sleep. Lludd quickly put each piglet into a stone jar, placed them on his cart and drove non-stop to the most secure part of his kingdom, Eryri (the mountains of Snowdonia). Finally he came to a hill called Dinas Ffaron Dandde (Hill of the Fiery Pharoah), just below the highest mountain of all, Yr Wyddfa. There in the hollow summit he found a pool, into which he hurled the two stone jars with all his strength. As they splashed into the water, the lake was swallowed by the hill, now renamed Dinas Emrys, leaving nothing but grass and stones.

Dinas Emrys, slow growing woodland and optical illusion of a tree ‘gateway’.

A little later in history, after the Romans left, King Constantine had two sons, Ambrosius and Uther. Unfortunately he also had a ‘Prime Minister’ Vortigern who coveted the crown, and who arranged Constantine’s death by a band of Picts. (Constantine’s young sons where whisked off to Brittany for safety.) Vortigern then invited the Saxons to get rid of the Picts – and gave them Kent in return, which worked fine until the Saxons wanted to take over Vortigern’s land as well. Barely escaping from a ‘parley’ with his life when the Saxons drew knives, Vortigern fled to Dinas Emrys and attempted to build a fortress there. However, while his men worked hard at the building work each day, every night their efforts were undone and they had to start all over again. In frustration, Vortigern consulted his wise men, who said he must find a ‘fatherless boy’ and sacrifice him over the hill to appease the spirits. The child found was Myrddin Emrys, whose mother had apparently become pregnant by an incubus spirit, so was still a virgin and the boy was baptised to remove the spirit from influencing him. However it seems most likely his mother was a priestess of the ‘old faith’ and took part in a pagan Great Rite with a masked stranger intended to create a child of destiny who would become a teacher and saviour of his age – and then adopted the Christian story as times changed. The child, later known as Merlin, escaped from his captors and persuaded the men to dig into the hill – where they found a lake as he predicted. Then he said in the pool there were two stone jars, each of which contained a sleeping dragon. These were found, the dragons were released and fought, the red dragon killing the white dragon, and peace was allowed to return. Vortigern’s castle was then completed and named Dinas Emrys in honour of Myrddin Emrys, (yes the second time it was apparently renamed Emrys; there is a suggestion it was actually Emyr meaning Emperor, Lord or King, possibly relating to the Emyr Llydaw, which was the Welsh name for Brittany but I digress) and the red dragon has been celebrated in Wales ever since. Meanwhile the young Merlin gave a prophecy and a warning about the Saxons, and Vortigern took his advice to flee for his life. Ambrosius and Uther had now come of age, returned from Brittany, and hunted Vortigern until he jumped off a cliff to his death.

Dinas Emrys and the rock remains. There is also some natural rock to walk up just above this.

Dinas Emrys was a gathering place for tribes in North Wales for at least 1500 years. Whenever danger threatened, they retreated to this heartland to take council with each other; I have seen it suggested it was an Omphalos, or Sacred Centre. The Slovenian artist and Earth healer Marko Pogacnik would probably call it part of a ‘nature temple’, somewhere that acts as a focal point for all the elemental kingdoms and has a far reaching energetic influence on the surrounding lands. Part, because it is also feels connected to Llyn Dinas in one direction, and the confluence of the Glaslyn and Colwyn rivers at Beddgelert in the other.

It is quite a special hill to walk up, with three ‘gateways’: first a water crossing (stepping stones optional, there is a stone bridge), then a tree gap and then a narrow rock gap that was once part of a Norman fort to the hill above. There is also a rather fine, carved, wooden dragon bench we found on the return route.

Pewter Dragon

Day three: after the first two days, I was excited to find out what the dragon connection would be next. It was wet, so we headed to Llanberis – where I found this tiny fella made of pewter.

Day four brought a totally unexpected connection – I met Fireball by a very fine Rowan tree when coming down a mountain path. (Since I have more to say on rowan trees, I’ll continue this story next time.)

Table Dragon

Day five saw red dragons following us along the Welsh Highland Railway, where they have a really beautiful symbol on the end of their station benches – everywhere except at Porthmadog that is, so I wasn’t expecting to see it (and didn’t get a photograph – it was raining at some of the other stations.) Some of the carriage tables also have a nicely drawn dragon next to a map of the line.

Day six was all about fabric dragons, in a wonderful exhibition of Josie Russell’s framed fabric pictures and in 3D toy dragons. Fireball suggested (or I interpreted) before I left I could look for a soft toy dragon and he would like that, but when it came to it none were accepted by the family for various reasons. So I have another sewing project, to create one that is ‘right’. So far, however, it is proving hard to visualise what it should look like as Fireball never sits still! Watch this space…

Finally day seven and eight both saw rather fine metal dragon sculptures, both painted red and both totally unique.

On my return I asked Fireball for some more details about some of these, included here, and then was told he would meet me on Dragon Hill in a week or so’s time. I can’t think where Dragon Hill is at the moment, but I’m looking forward to it already.

Dragons and Trees

Thanks to the changes I made to the shape of my garden last year, it turns out that I now have a place where I can contact or meet with dragons easily. It is my circular grass lawn with paths in from each of the cardinal directions. The first time I tried meeting a dragon there (at their suggestion) it was very easy and felt positive. However for various other reasons, a lot of trees have been arriving in and around my garden over the past month or so, also making the circular lawn their central focus point. This has made it much more difficult for the dragons who, although they are not solid matter and can therefore ignore many material obstructions like walls and trees, found it more difficult against the trees in my own mind! But it worked okay, the trees stepped back and let my normal companion through. But the next time I went out there in a journey, it wasn’t my usual companion who arrived (who is small and bright blue) but a huge, dark green, forest dragon. And I mean huge. I had met him once before over a year ago, and now he was arriving to assist me with a project concerning tree planting.

In a July post I was saying good bye to a large part of my life (Leaving, 14 July) and suggested I would soon be looking forward again. Just two days later a chance conversation has led to a project of trying to get permission to plant a small woodland in a field near me. Spirit moves fast sometimes! It is a bit of a sad field at the moment; a football pitch that is never used, some swings that were taken out last winter when the land they were sited on was sold for a car park, and a footpath that cuts across the middle leaving the bottom end unused by almost anyone. (I say almost, as it is my best picking place locally for hazelnuts and blackberries, but I find so many that I may be alone in doing this.)

At the moment I have just the seed of an idea and a willingness from a parish council member to support my ideas if properly funded and thought through – one of my seeds mentioned in my Lughnasadh post. So I have been spending every spare minute reading up on woodland planting and management, surveying the field for tree species already present around the margins, and drawing plans with the help of Google mapping (although unfortunately the new car park is not shown, involving much pacing and measuring.)

It may all end in nothing. But very fact that a forest dragon showed up gives me hope that a woodland has already been created on the etheric level; I just need to sort the physical out. Flying from my house to the field showed woodland growing strongly, with a tree circle at the centre connected to the grass circle in my garden. There seems to be a common energy line connecting the two. And on the return, the space in between (currently farmland) was also filled with trees. Wishful thinking, or can I make this a reality one day? Meanwhile any pagans locally who can help support this project in any way now or in the future, please get in touch. A tree is for life, not just for Yule…

Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh was on Tuesday this week, a festival I realise I tend to be slightly ambivalent about compared to the other fire festivals of the year. A fairly important family anniversary the day after Lughnasadh may have something to do with that, as well as the fact it normally features the grain harvest as its central message (thanks to its connection and confusion with Lammas, the Christian Loaf Mass) and I am allergic to wheat! However, this year Lughnasadh marked some major unexpected events for me that make me really look forward to the next year (more of which to follow) – so I was feeling puzzled as to why seeds are being madly sown in my life while the rest of the world is apparently at harvest, and wanted to explore some of the meanings of the festival a little deeper.

Lughnasadh, also spelt Lughnasa, Lughnasad, Lunasa etc, is an old Irish festival, named for the Celtic sun-God Lugh, and Nasadh meaning an assembly. It didn’t actually celebrate the harvest, which is frequently a little later in August; however, Lughnasadh was started as a result of the start of growing and harvesting crops. Besides, if the assembly was held at harvest time most able-bodied people would have been too busy to compete in any games!

When the Tuatha de Danaan invaded Ireland, the High King of the Fir Bolg, Eochaidh mac Eirc was killed in battle. His wife, Tailtiu, was then given a high-born son of the Danaan to raise as her own, as a mark of trust. Fostering children was a common way of creating peace between kingdoms, in the same way as marriage was used. The son she was entrusted with was Lugh.

Clearly as a way of inspiring loyalty, this was an inspired choice. Lugh flourished and developed incredible skills and talents, winning the titles Lamfhada, ‘of the long arm’ for his prowess with spear casting, and Samildanach, ‘master of all arts’. He went on to become High King, and was a Druid and a Warrior.

He remained very close to his foster mother, despite leaving to seek his fortune, and was devastated when Tailtiu died of exhaustion on 1st August after clearing a great forest on the plains of Brega in readiness for farming. (The Bronze Age had arrived in Ireland.) When the men gathered at her death-bed, she told them to hold funeral games and celebrations in her honour. As long as they were held, she prophesied Ireland would not be without song. This is of course what Lugh did.

The first games were held at the town now known as Teltown in County Meath, where they continued to be held until the Norman invasion – and informally in rural areas until the eighteenth century. They were known to include sporting contests in hurling, spear throwing, sword fighting, handball, running, wrestling, boxing, horse and chariot racing, staged battles and displays of Irish martial arts, as well as music, poetry, story-telling, singing and dancing, and competitions amongst craftsmen, such as goldsmiths, jewellers, spinners, weavers, and the forging of weaponry and armour. It was also the time that laws were made and announced to the people by bards, and contracts, politics and alliances were agreed between families. Even weddings or handfastings took place by linking hands through a hole in a stone, which could be dissolved the next year by walking away from each other if it didn’t work out. August remains one of the most popular times of year for weddings. Violence was not tolerated for the period of the festival, all those who came had to agree to a truce.

So it was Tailtiu who made the sacrifice so that man could plant corn, offering herself as the divine feminine. She was not afraid to work hard, and was an excellent mother in all senses of the word. Her festival reminds us to look at all our talents, use them, and as well as reaping our harvest, see what we can give back to others, and to the Earth. In that sense I now understand where my new seeds have come from, and what responsibility I have to nurture them and help them grow.

Lughnasadh Quilt

Continuing my series of quilted display cloths I have been making, here is my finished quilt for the beginning of August and the colours of the grain harvest.

Lughnasadh Quilt


The design is still based on squares, as I did for Litha, but this time I did not have so many suitable fabrics available to me so decided to make some of the shapes bigger. This made it quite entertaining to sew together, since I could never follow any regular pattern!

I have deliberately used some of the same fabrics as for Litha, and would like to make that a passing theme through the year: that each quilt has a relationship to the ones either side through sharing some colours, as well as having some that are unique to only that quilt. In this case I am unlikely to use the brightest yellows for anything other than Lughnasadh, but I used the gold prints for the Litha quilt, and will use the darkest red / orange fabric for Mabon and also for Samhain if I get stuck with a lack of other suitable fabrics.

It is now forming part of my display as we prepare for the coming festival, and has been adorned with candles, flowers, and some corn dollies we made last year. For the first time we have some wheat in the garden, sown by M at school as part of her ‘Spring Garden’ and transplanted here in April. We will be able to ceremonially cut it on the day and place it centre stage.

Fleeting Beauty

I enjoy the changing of the seasons, and with each season its special flowers. I have very few evergreen plants in my garden, even flowering types, because I find them stiff and dull for so much of the year – with never that promise of a fine show when it is their turn. Roses are great for flowering from June to November, but even they would be too familiar if they didn’t take a break from time to time between each flush of new flowers. However, there is one flower which the books don’t tell you about, which I am finding is testing my patience in the opposite direction: the waterlily.

Until digging the pond last year, I had little experience of any water plants, and relied on best advice from the books I found. It has mostly been a wonderful journey of discovery and excitement, with a whole range of different shaped leaves and flowers and some interesting growth habits, and I enjoy discovering which wildlife can be found on which plants. Most have grown well, and flowered well, except for the waterlily. Last year it produced a few leaves and one flower bud, which as far as I could tell, sat sticking just out of the water for days and days, then fell over and died. I was disappointed, but as a new water gardener, not too worried as I thought it just hadn’t established yet and the weather conditions were wrong and the balance in the pond hadn’t quite sorted itself out yet. After all, not all peony buds make flowers if the weather is wrong, but there are always enough giant blooms to give a good show for a few weeks.

Waterlily 4, barely open

This year I have therefore been pleased to see a succession of buds come to the surface on my waterlily, approximately one a week. This is the fourth in the photograph. You will however see it is only half open. And there lies the problem. After spending well over a week as a bud, the waterlily finally decides it is time for the flower to open. If it is a warm sunny day, the flower opens up like the pictures in the book and looks beautiful. Truly stunning. I saw one. But if the weather is miserable and cloudy, or worse actually raining, then it half opens for two days, like this, before giving up and falling over sideways for a few days before disappearing back into the depths. I really wanted to take some pictures of a beautiful open flower; I didn’t realise that first one was going to be the only one to fully open!

Waterlily 5, mostly open

Luckily for my peace of mind, flower number five followed just a day later and did finally get three-quarters of the way open briefly this afternoon. Even more luckily I was here to photograph it at the right moment. Normally it is earlier or later in the day that I am outside, not 3pm on a week day.

The waterlily is not, of course, the only flower to spend most of its life half-open, and only open fully when the sun is shining. Tulips do this all the time. Some even look quite odd on a sunny day, with their petals wide; they were clearly bred for a Northern European climate. The little species tulips that grow naturally further south look great opened out, because the interest is on the inside of their petals, but most hybrids are bred to look good and be photographed half closed. But my fluted tulips often last 5 weeks for each flower, and even the fussy ones and the species last 2-3 weeks, with sometimes more than one flower per stem. Tulips would never have become a garden classic if they lasted a mere day or two!

Daylily

Daylilies (Hemerocallis) illustrate the other side of the picture – they do just last a day. But then they get out of the way so as not to spoil the show for tomorrow’s flower. My plants may be more leaf than flower, but there are always several flowers to be seen each day in the summer.

In Lisa Beskow’s ‘The Flowers’ Festival‘ the Rose and the Waterlily are both queens of equal rank; all the other flowers are below them. But while the rose presides over the festival, the waterlily is fussy and does not leave the water. Everyone else comes: other water flowers such as reeds, rushes, Miss Calla, Yellow Flag and the yellow water lily; even the hothouse flowers like the Miss Pelargoniums, Mrs Myrtle and the grand Lady Fuchsia, once their fears about cold have been allayed. Says it all really!

I think I have a choice. I can enjoy the challenge of growing something so fussy, doing my best to contact its Deva and find out what it wants and then struggle to meet its needs in my windswept Derbyshire garden, or when I next rearrange plants in the pond, I can reconsider whether it is happy here. And yet I can’t help but feel disappointed. If it was something really rare, I would be proud of my occasional flowers. Instead it is like a Camellia plant I removed a year ago because every year it was full of promise, covered with buds, and then every year it got frost on it at some point so the flowers went brown and I would have to go round pulling them off because I hate the sight of a plant smothered in dead flowers. I replaced it with Camellia ‘Debbie’, which has been far more successful – the flower shape is slightly unusual with larger petals around the outside and smaller in the centre, so the centre never gets frosted because it is protected. And when each flower is finished it falls off by itself. Add to that it is a stunning rich pink.

Meanwhile I planted another rose last month, completely the wrong time for rose planting, just because I found a gap in a flower border and it looked pretty. (I also had a voucher to use up at the garden centre near the school M has just left and it was my favourite of everything they had in stock.) I’m glad to say it seems very happy and has sent out new leaves.

Leaving

Yesterday was the last day of term for us, which has meant saying goodbye to a place of unconditional love and spiritual learning, and where M and I have been going for four years. I always imagined we would be there ‘forever’, becoming part of the school and the community, but I had a shock just over a year ago to realise that we wouldn’t be.

There are times when I just seem to ‘know’ things, which defy logical explanations. It usually happens when I just can’t ‘see’ the future of something, for example when pregnant with M and considering car seats, I realised we wouldn’t have the same car – and a different one may have different fixings. I assumed we would sell it since it was over ten years old; however its end was rather more dramatic in a high speed motorway collision in which no one was hurt but the car was written off, three months before M was born. Similarly, there was no reason for me to think we should leave this school, yet I trusted my instinct from a year ago that we might not still be there when M reached school age and made plans in case that proved to be true – I didn’t want to end in a crash again. Because over the past fifteen months, starting before I was even properly aware of it, there have been many small signs that it would be time to leave at the end of this summer term. Both pushes and pulls.

It has been a hard journey at times, and involved much frustration, sadness and soul searching. I haven’t always felt ready to be ‘moved on’, to leave the cosy duvet of love and protection (which I am told is common to all Steiner schools) and take what I have learned out into the ‘real’ world. The last few weeks have seen me being tested in unexpected ways, such as many friends expressing fear about us leaving, and an expectation that we will be back. I don’t know if this is to test my resolve, or is a reflection of my own inner worries; or whether it is more about them and my confidence about leaving is what they themselves need. (Or the reality that sometimes people do come back…) There is also much I shall miss including the other parents and some teachers who have become friends.

Luckily we have been able to make a really positive choice to a wonderful little school in the village that we can walk to, and it just feels right as the next step forwards – although I suspect ‘luck’ doesn’t actually come into it. The universe is giving us what we need next. I keep reminding myself that as with everything in the wheel of the year, there cannot be new beginnings without there being endings, which is what I am acknowledging this week. Soon I will be looking forwards again.

Amidst feeling sad however, I was incredibly touched by a teacher-friend lending me two books to read that she had just been given because she knew I would enjoy them and also would read them before she got to them. How or when I will be able to return them to her I have no idea; for various reasons it will probably be months before I see her again, yet she has trusted me with her own gift. Blessings indeed, and possibly a sign that it won’t be the end but a transmutation into something different and new.