Climbing Trees

One of the things on my wish list for this year was to climb a tree – after having had a wonderful experience last year of sitting on a branch that made a natural seat. It reminded me of great tree climbs I did as a child. A pine tree in a friend’s garden with branches like a step ladder. A U-tree in a park with every branch forming a U-shape and many perfect sitting places. (Possibly a Chamaecyparis species.) An oak with a great hollow in the side of the trunk, five feet off the ground, that we would be lifted into.

There is a lovely guardian oak a few fields from me that I have almost climbed a couple of times, balancing precariously on the top of the fence next to its crown, but not quite getting the courage up to take the leap into the tree itself, knowing that I would have to reverse the leap out again with no one to guide me. I have seen a few trees for my daughter to climb, but they haven’t appealed to me being either too low, or too spindly for an adult.

Oak tree near Skyreholme, Yorkshire

Finally in Yorkshire last week I found an oak that actually invited me to climb it, complete with dimples for feet on the way up. Oak is such a wonderful tree to climb, lending its solidity and presence to all endeavours which is very much apparent in the climbing and sitting, and with craggy bark to hold onto and very often soft moss to sit on. This one had a surprise for me as I peeked around the corner of the trunk – a split in a side branch had become home to a rowan tree.

Rowan growing out of a crack in an oak branch.
(Click to enlarge.)

It also reminded me that sitting in a tree is quite a different experience to sitting on the ground leaning against a tree, no matter how good the connection to the tree is.

This week I paid a visit to Stanton Moor (of which more next time) and wondered if I might climb the ‘climbing tree’ near the ‘cave’. Possibly fortunately, given it is not a very large tree, I took a different route that led me nowhere near that corner of the moor. However, leaving myself open to whatever experiences should come my way, I found this beauty of an oak instead. Another tree which invited me to climb, and was fairly easy even encumbered with camera and rucksack.

As I sat in the tree, I became aware of just how bizarre and atypical its shape was. Long spindly branches going off in all directions, with many small twigs growing out randomly. It covered a large area but was not particularly tall. I wondered whether another shape might be more suited to fitting in with the trees around it, that this seemed impossibly long and spindly in places. However I had the prompt answer come back at me that if it was meant to be another shape, it would have been. This is the right shape for this tree, right here, and nothing else would be as good. There was such a certainty and trust that the tree seemed completely peaceful as a result.

Oak tree on Stanton Moor


It was then pointed out to me that I generally had certainty in my own life as well, in my path, my situation, my doings. Just trust in it.

This was a good message for me right now.
I see all the things in the world that bother me where harmony with the Earth has been lost, and wonder repeatedly what more I could or should be doing. I do what small things are possible right where I am to improve my area, while always wondering if they are enough. Every so often this inner conflict leads to confusion and frustration or depression in me – and I am aware that this is exactly what makes necessary change in the world. Yet regularly I am reminded that large scale campaigning or hands-on activism are not my parts to play right now, nor is it my path to live in some sort of sustainable woodland permaculture, traffic-free utopia I might dream of for the world. Like the tree says, if I am meant to be doing those things right now, then I would be. One day this might change, but just trust in myself to know.

The other message I brought home from the moor, filled as it was with many different people each experiencing it in their own way and not all leaving it as they found it or making it easy for others, was to observe difference with love instead of criticism, and to keep celebrating the positive in order that the love may grow, on all sides. Maybe these things are needed just as much.

I now think of this as the ‘Certainty Tree’. I will try and remember its message – and continue to climb trees.

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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

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.

Imbolc Flowers

Snowdrop flowering at Imbolc

I have been enjoying the flowers of early Spring, which being generally very small, decided it was a good opportunity to experiment taking some ‘close-up’ pictures. I love seeing macro shots, probably because I have poor eyesight and pictures can often show more detail than I can see with my eyes. Taking them is a different matter however – my poor eyesight makes it difficult for me to focus accurately, and it has been very windy all week, adding an additional element of luck to whether the flower stays where I have focused. A tripod wouldn’t necessarily help!

Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis

Snowdrops seem to have become very closely associated with Imbolc, and Brigid in particular. They are green and white – the freshness of Spring combined with the purity of the Goddess, and of course the colour of milk which this festival celebrates. (After the lambs or calves are born, there is milk to drink again.)

Rosemary flower

While watching for snowdrops, I found many Viburnum flowers as well as Hazel catkins swinging in the wind. More surprising however were a few purple Anemone blanda just opening up, as well as Rosemary in flower.

Anemone blanda flower just opening for Imbolc

I also found a lone cyclamen flower, which was fun to take from almost underneath, and an Iris reticulata being battered by the wind.

Iris reticulata flower


Cyclamen flower

Finally, I noticed some teasels which are long past their flowers but were backlit by the sun and I couldn’t resist.

Iris reticulata being blown by the wind.

Teasel, Dispsacus fullonum seedhead.

The pictures were all taken with the same Pentax DSLR camera body but two different lenses – a Sigma 70-300mm telephoto on macro setting, giving me a working distance of 1-2m, and a 50-year-old Pentax 50mm lens with a reversing ring and converter ring giving me a working distance of 10cm and almost no depth of field. I’m still exploring its potential now that digital gives me instant results.

Imbolc Quilt

Quilt for Imbolc

Here is my quilt for Imbolc, season of Winter thawing to Spring. It is always a special festival to me, celebrating Brigid, the one Goddess I have had a really long term relationship with, and I wanted to reflect the square shape of her cross in the quilt. So this has a more organised colour pattern than the previous seasonal quilts I have made.

I’m still managing to use up scraps, although a certain amount of trust is now being called for that I won’t run out before I finish the series. Having enough backing fabric is also starting to get tricky – for this one I used white as without wadding any other colour showed through the white squares on the front, but I had to make it in three pieces.

The colours of Imbolc always make me think of snowdrops, which are often associated with Brigid and the festival itself – despite having only been introduced to Britain in the 1500s. It is true that they often flower at the right time of year, although this year one clump of mine were showing white just a day or two after the winter solstice.

This quilt has again raised the question of when to create a display for each Sabbat. Mostly I change things a few days or a week before, except the Yule display was started at the beginning of December. However, there seems to be a strong tradition around here of removing all Christmas things on or by the 5th January, which leaves a surprisingly long time for an empty display! So I waited a few days and then put out the new Imbolc quilt, but found I was then ready to clean the house and bring the freshness in! Did Spring arrive early this year? I now understand why Steiner schools sometimes have the addition of ‘Mrs Thaw’ to fill this gap, although she could come any time up until May depending on the weather!

Wombling

Before my daughter was born, I used to go Wombling regularly in the winter months, collecting rubbish along the local footpaths I walked, targeting a different area each time. Now she is at school, and I am able to walk a little easier, I have been at it again.

For those not familiar, the Wombles were furry little creatures who lived on Wimbledon Common, created by Elizabeth Beresford in the late 1960s in a series of six books and later turned into children’s television episodes. They collected all the rubbish they could find, then carefully sorted it for reuse, having great stores of everything from usable paper to string to building materials. In those days there was not much plastic, and rubbish was collected every day before it got rained on. Today paper usually biodegrades by the time I am collecting, but plastic, glass, aluminium and steel can remain in place under plants forever if it is not removed. I collect in winter when the plant growth has died down, and often at the new moon as it feels like a good time for renewal.

It is a satisfying activity from the point of view of seeing the massive difference it makes to clean up an area, and I can almost feel the land sigh with relief when I have removed all the waste that should never have been left. I always feel the energy itself change as well; I have noticed that when I have started to clean a bad area but run out of time or bags (which of course are not given out free by every shop as they were 6-7 years ago!) as if by magic someone else comes along and finishes the job. Council, scouts, community payback, whatever. If this continues, then I will try doing small amounts by roads I want to see cleaned up and hope those better equipped and better protected from traffic can finish.

Most of what I collect is rubbish that should have been recycled a long time ago. Sadly I do not have the capacity to sort the rubbish, nor can I take it all home and put it in the correct bins – I usually find the nearest bin with space to leave that day’s bag in. But just occasionally real treasures get found and given a new home. Over the past 10 years these have included:

  • A complete set of plastic picnic gear, beach towel and bag, only slightly eaten by small creatures. (The bag proved essential for carrying the rest out, including the food rubbish.)
  • 6 Hammers of different types, found by roadsides.
  • Lenco Turntable, excellent condition and still in use by us after a decent base was built for it. Better sound quality than the one we had, after a quick arm and stylus swap, although we disposed of the cabinet.
  • Glass Marbles.
  • Money – usually given to charity if found in this way. Now that notes are being made of plastic, I wonder if there will be an increase in the number found at the bottom of hedges?
  • Moles … Again!

    There are grass verges in front of most houses at the outskirts of our village, a legacy of Edwardian planning, setting the houses back from the road. Most of the verges are neat, mown regularly by the council, though occasionally covered in wheel tracks or removed altogether where space is needed for parking. Ours currently is not neat or tidy. Ours is completely covered in little brown molehills, where a small, black creature has evidently been digging in circles.

    When I started this blog, I asked which animals would like to help me and offer their support. The result is the sketch I made at the top of the page. One of these animals was the mole, who made himself known to me in the same way as he is now, by making molehills all over the place. And then disappeared as silently and completely as he had appeared.

    So now he is back, I felt he had a message for me.

    Unfortunately with the holidays my meditation time was massively reduced, my focus has been elsewhere, and I never made the time to simply ask Mole what he had to say. Instead I spent three weeks being puzzled. Not annoyed with the destruction of the otherwise perfect lawn – it is winter and no one is harmed by a few molehills, but it is so extreme as to be very odd. And then suddenly the penny dropped.

    Molehills on the grass verge.

    I have been working with the elements individually, something I do every so often in a cyclical way, deepening my connections each time, and this time started with Earth knowing I find that element hardest. It is also the element of the North, and of Winter. A good time of year for working with rocks, crystals and other gemstones indoors, and going for (short) walks on Derbyshire gritstone, but not for gardening and connecting directly to soil with my hands. The ground in my garden has alternated between frozen or waterlogged for the past three weeks and certainly wouldn’t be helped by digging or compacting right now. But then I looked again at the molehills. Perfect soil, not frozen, not waterlogged, already loosened for me. Created by an animal of the Earth. So obvious in retrospect.

    My original intention had been to try meditating with some soil indoors, just as I had done with different types of rock – one from my pond, another I brought back from Wales last summer, etc. Soil is after all the basis for trees, which I have never had a problem connecting with! But when I got outside I realised I had already done all the indoor work I needed to, exploring loam, sand, silt, clay etc. and how they relate to different types of trees growing, and if I did any more was in danger of becoming so Earthed that all would reach a standstill. I needed to be active, practical. So instead I had a really enjoyable time raking all the little heaps level, seeing the various qualities and ingredients in the soil that help plants to grow and moles to feed, and marveling at how much the soil can vary in colour and texture even over quite a small area. Not only that, but I managed to do it in the only hour of sunshine for about three days. A really lovely working meditation. So thank you mole, and I expect it is goodbye again for now.

    Reflections

    Janus looks both ways, forwards and backwards, reminding me that both matter. So as the new year begins, I am reflecting back on how much is different to what I had imagined. I have written already about my tendon injury. While it continues to heal, I have changed. I am no longer dreaming of all the physical things I hope to achieve; instead I am grateful for each thing or outdoor experience that does happen. Possibly this is self-defence, in that I don’t want to get my hopes up again. Yet I have found an inner peace and happiness in just being. I no longer feel there is always more I could or should be doing.

    My rhythms are constantly changing, dictated to me by outside forces. A year ago I promised to meditate more; had I not managed this I would be lost. Yet within that there are times when I have plenty of meditation space, and other days or weeks that feel crowded by activity. Somehow everything gets done, even if never in the way I plan it.

    Writing is something I have long dreamed of spending more time doing, and yet when I had three weeks of enforced hip rest and no interruptions I quickly ran out of things to say. Staring at a blank page of fiction suddenly felt self-indulgent and I realised my family needed me. I no longer need to prove to myself that I am ‘somebody’ because I write; I have a job as a homemaker, decorator, gardener, seamstress, cook, mother, lover … and am loved and valued for it. Even my blog has taken second place at times – if I didn’t have something to say that fits the very broad definition of either pagan or crafting, then I decided to ease up on myself. Once or twice a month is sometimes what I can manage, if I am concentrating on other things.

    Looking back, there are two things that have changed me. One was realising my happiness depended on what stories I told myself. I had the power to be happy or not in any situation, depending on how I interpreted it for my conscious self. (See my comments about happiness under Samhain Quilt in October 2017.) The second was some recent journeying experiences of being some kind of woodland elf. Most people have had past lives, to which windows are sometimes opened, usually revealing a previous human existence or series of existences. Mine, so far, are not. They are of living as an advanced elemental in freshwater, or in woodland, the two environments I am most at home in, that give healing to me just by being there. (Unlike the ‘seaside / blue skies’ pictures or holiday places generally recommended to get healing and calm.) I do not fully understand these memories / experiences yet so haven’t written much about them (the first was 2-3 years ago, most were 2-3 months ago), but I am wondering if this life I am now in is about learning to be a human being. I often feel myself in this life as a hazel tree going off in all directions with no strong central trunk, but all weaving together to build a strong support. I would often prefer to be single minded, an expert at something, yet this is never the way things work out and it doesn’t seem to matter. Believing what I now do it makes some kind of sense and also deepens my love and respect for the Great Spirit that is in everything and knows all.

    So looking forwards, I have no plans, and no strong desires. I will simply trust that everything comes in its own time, and that there is more to come.
    If there is one challenge to set myself this year, it is to love more, to see the good in everyone and every situation, even when I am not feeling calm inside. In other words, be a good human being.

    Happy Solstice!

    Winter Solstice Greetings

    May light fill your hearts and your lives as the sun returns, bringing inspiration and happiness.

    I have seen various images of winter trees in lino printing, all snowy white silhouetted against a dark sky. However I needed the sun in my sky, not the moon and stars, so after a lot of thought and several sketches, I came up with this design.

    This is a tree I see to the East every morning, growing in a garden a short distance away and now tall enough to show over the rooftops. It always intrigues me to look at things in mirror image when creating lino prints, so I took that idea further by drawing the tree the right way and its mirror – knowing that once printed I would still have the right way and the mirror. For once I drew straight onto the lino, knowing that any copying and image reversing was superfluous.

    Last summer I was able to acquire a small roller press, and this was its first use which was a joy. I can still improve my inking, but the ‘misty effect’ improved some of the images for me on this occasion. All a learning process which takes a long time when I seem to do only one a year!

    Evergreen plants have long been a symbol of life and fertility for the middle of winter. Many ancient cultures used to bring sprigs of greenery into homes or temples for decoration at this time of year, and that has never stopped. A wreath, to me, symbolises the cyclical wheel of the year, always turning through each season, while trees are life themselves as well as representative of the World Tree from which all life grows. This particular tree is probably an overgrown Christmas tree planted out several years ago…

    Sewing in Circles

    Knotted Button

    A winter coat … and an opportunity to try out some different knots. These (there are three, but it didn’t feel right to photograph the whole thing) were fun to make, although a little tricky. I like to use knots to bind good emotions for the wearer, and it felt good to have three circles in each.

    Three is an important number in Neolithic and Celtic art – I think of the triskele with its three spirals, or the triquetra of three interlocked semi-circles. There are three realms to our world: Earth, Sea and Sky, and within these we live through three stages of life: maiden, mother, crone. Our health is often seen in terms of Body, Mind and Spirit. When we journey, we choose Upper, Middle or Lower Worlds to explore.

    Goddess Brigid has three aspects, as does The Cailleach. Badb, Macha and Morrigan work together and are collectively known as The Morrigan.

    Three makes me think of a tripod, or a milking stool, perfectly balanced no matter what the terrain, each leg supporting the others. It is the potential of two parents with a child. A triad in music is a perfectly balanced chord, major or minor, that forms the root of Western harmony.

    There is a lot of energy stored in three-ness, as there are always forces acting together. It is not a stable energy like four is, there is constant change, growth, development. Things can happen. The triskele has three legs going out from the centre, balancing yet full of movement, looking outwards. The child will pull forwards. Triple Goddesses include Creativity. Triads can become counterpoint and fugues as well as chorales. Yet there is perfection and completeness within that three-ness.

    Sewing these knots on took longer than making them, and needed me to turn the coat on each stitch. Definitely sewing in circles.

    Yule Quilt

    Yule Quilt

    This is now the fifth quilt I have made in the series of 8 for each sabbat display, and the first where the colours had a small amount of planning in their arrangement – rather than just the total random, ‘scrappy quilt’ look. I did not have many suitable fabrics for Yule, 3 golds, 3 greens, and 4 reds although one was in very short supply. Had I started with this quilt, I would have probably made it far more definite in its design by using some colours for the stars and different colours for the borders, yet this interests me precisely because it wasn’t done that way. It draws me in more.

    The stars made me think of spiky holly with its bright berries, as well as poinsettia plants sold everywhere but needing more warmth than our house generally offers on a winter’s night. There is also the coming of the light, directly from the sun as we celebrate its return – and for two months of the year I have an unobstructed view of the sunrise through trees from my bedroom window. Most years (but no longer guaranteed) there is also light reflected by snow, bringing a wonderfully uplifting feel at what is generally a dark time.

    Making a series of quilts that are supposed to be an exact size has also been a learning experience. My sewing accuracy wasn’t bad before, but sew each 1/4inch seam just 1/2mm out, and over 25 seams you have gained or lost a whole inch, 25mm. That is assuming my cutting was accurate to within the same tolerances! So it took me to quilt 4 to get almost the right finished size, and this one is just slightly long. Given they are all made slightly wide, long looks good. The other good thing I have finally learned is how to work methodically when picking up each pair of pieces to sew, in order to keep them in the same position and rotation. It has taken me a long time to master this basic skill!

    Normally I change the display about a week before a sabbat, but it felt appropriate to get this out last weekend. Not because lights and decorations are up everywhere else and M enjoys them being up in our house as well, but because winter arrived with the last leaves falling off the trees, two dustings of snow and ice on the pond. Autumn has passed, it is dark outside, and I feel ready to close the curtains and be looking within. Enjoying candlelight, being cosy in the long dark evenings, and preparing for what is to come. In my case, a completely crazy, exciting, holiday season with so much packed into about 3 weeks that I have had to write down what I need to do when.

    Black Bryony

    Black Bryony berries garlanding its way through the ivy.

    All autumn I have been enjoying the sight of black bryony berries garlanding the hedgerows. They are of course a fairly common plant in most of England, but one I only tend to see once the bright red berries have ripened. The flowers are fairly small and insignificant.

    Black Bryony in Hawthorn hedge.

    I have wanted to take a picture of the berries before, but mostly I see them while cycling, along roadside hedges that are not always good places to walk with a camera. They also drape themselves so sparsely that they don’t frame well. Then this year a new cycle route was opened up to me (see earlier post, Cycle Roads) and it grew in these traffic free hedges in such profusion that I wanted to have a go. A month ago the leaves were still yellowing and showing their bindweedy shape, but now they hang brown or have dispersed into the hedge bottom to be recycled into next year’s crop. Getting camera, weather, time and leg that can be walked on all together has taken some time… (These were taken with our old compact camera – the DSLR camera I got this year would have done a better job at putting the background out of focus and letting the berries shine, but would have added an extra weight / balancing challenge I wasn’t ready for. Work in progress!)

    There are two bryonies, named white and black after the colour of their roots, both looking very similar for most of the year since they each have mid-green ivy-like leaves, small insignificant greenish white male and female flowers followed by red berries, and they climb up hawthorn with abandon. However they are completely unrelated to each other. White bryony, Bryonia dioica, is a member of the curcurbitae family (ie courgettes and melons) so climbs with tendrils, and is dioecious, while Black Bryony, Tamus communis, belongs to the Dioscoreaceae family (ie yams), climbs by twining, and is monoecious. Both are poisonous in all parts.

    Black Bryony berries and ivy.

    Black bryony berries and juice or pulp from the root have been applied directly to the skin for bruises, strains, gout, rheumatism and hair loss because the calcium oxalate it contains as crystals irritate (or stimulate?) the skin. It has also been used to cause vomiting in careful doses, and when mixed with wine or honey, black bryony has been used for gravel or asthma. An overdose is likely to cause a painful death however. All parts also contain saponins, another poison, although one which is normally deactivated by cooking – but the young shoots are cooked and eaten like asparagus in southern France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Croatia and Greece.

    I managed to meet Black Bryony in meditation, and found a very interesting energy which was willing to communicate with me, appearing briefly in a dark female form and very beautiful. Its element is fire, and its focus is transformation – hence is medical uses. But transformation can be destructive to some if they are not willing to change, to let some parts die down. It was used in alchemy for this purpose. [I cannot find any evidence for this as yet, although I’m not an alchemist so it may turn up…] It has been particularly active along the lane to create the transformation that I have seen this year. It has developed strong roots in the course of this work so will continue to grow well there, but doesn’t need to spread further. It also brings harmony, creating links between species. It does not help the fiery aspects of will, or of strong focus and intention.

    Black Bryony makes a garland under a hawthorn branch.

    Samhain Quilt

    As the pagan New Year approaches, I have been making preparations by completing the next quilt (or altar cloth or display cloth depending on who I am talking to) for my display, and also buying a pumpkin and deciding what to carve into it.

    The quilt design is still based on 2” squares, but this time there are many triangles incorporated – which sometimes combine to make diamonds. I wanted a lot more movement in this quilt than the one for the equinox, reflecting the flames of this fire festival. Change can happen. New seeds can be sown in the Earth to put down roots through the winter. Ancestors can peek through the cracks and offer their advice and support. My colours are perhaps a little clichéd, but they are what felt right from my scraps pile – which may even fit in its cupboard again by the time I finish all 8 quilts… Now I just have the enjoyable task of creating my display on top, which like all of our displays will find ways of connecting to the seasons as well as the Sabbat, in this case Samhain and our ancestors being remembered.

    Samhain Display Quilt


    The vibrant orange in the quilt is almost identical in colour to the pumpkin I have found for this year. Pumpkins are a vegetable I have been carving for over 40 years now; I can remember primary school days when other children brought in carved turnips and swedes, and thinking what hard work it looked and why didn’t they just use a pumpkin? The bits we cut out of pumpkins tasted good in pies as well, mixed with enough sugar, eggs, cream and spices, whereas I don’t think we even ate turnips in our house. However as a child I just carved a face each year, whereas as an adult I like to carve more meaningful designs. One side to represent what has been important to me in the past year, the other to sow my seeds, hopes and dreams for the next year. I usually start thinking about what I will carve a week or so before the day, when I see what size pumpkin I have.

    While planning a design always involves a period of reflection for me, as all spiritual art must come from within, this autumn it has been particularly intense.

    I mentioned when writing about my Mabon quilt that I had hurt my hip and leg. I have no idea what I did, or exactly what is wrong, but walking and sewing are still very tricky for me, and as for any of the plans I had for when M was in school full time, my leg is clearly telling me they were the wrong plans. Luckily I have found cycling is even better than the physio exercises and really enjoyable in this mild autumn weather. Meanwhile I have had a lot of meditation time to think about what direction I should be going in.

    The strange thing is that at the end of all this, I realised there is nothing I need to be doing right now except what I have been able to do – which is to look after my family and myself. Except now I have a very small difference in my approach. I value each person equally, including myself as an equal. I am ignoring messages from the media of what I should be doing to value or look after or pamper myself, because I don’t need it. I have no lack, and I have nothing to prove. As a result I am happier than I have ever been before as an adult. I know that even though I cannot do much right now, I should just enjoy the resting period. The future might suddenly be a lot busier.

    So after all this thought, I plan to make this year’s pumpkin a joint family carve, using cookie cutters to make pictures since the first two requests of fairy and frog should be easier cut that way than freehand. I did a frog last year as well; it must have worked since our tadpoles have been hopping around the garden for the last two months. This year it might go on the thank you side.

    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…

    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.