The first ones ‘hatched’ after 2 weeks, with more emerging each day over the next week and creating a very dark mass of wrigglers in the centre of the two clumps of frogspawn. Finally they seem to have eaten the remains of their ‘egg sacks’ and the first ones broke free to pastures new, being seen around the plants and nibbling algae of rocks – particularly later in the day as the sun warms them. I may have a cleaner, clearer pond very soon!
This year I have been asked to write a series of articles about the various Pagan festivals for a non-pagan audience, so I have been looking at the ‘basics’ of what is common to each festival rather than just relying on my own personal eclectic practices. Needless to say my online searches have turned up many short introductory articles, most of which repeat the same information, most of which is totally familiar. But just a few give me something that I didn’t know before, and in the case of the Spring Equinox, some of what I thought I ‘knew’ has proved to be just a little different.
1. I always had the impression that this festival and its September equivalent were less celebrated and therefore less important than the other sabbats.
However, several stone circles including Stonehenge and various circles in Derbyshire where I am getting to know them have alignments to the sunrise or sunset on this day. They wouldn’t have bothered if they weren’t interested!
I also suspect that the majority of celebrations were related to the farming year – it is always the time when I start my seed sowing, and it always feels entirely appropriate to start it with a ceremony.
2. It comes in the middle of the Pagan year.
Well it does if the year starts at the Autumn Equinox or at Samhain, but actually the spring equinox comes at the start of the modern Persian year, the old European year (on March 25th), the astrological year… The Romans also celebrated new year in March before they created January and February. Of those who didn’t, the Greeks celebrated at the winter solstice, and the Egyptians and Phoenicians started their year at the Autumn Equinox.
3. The name Ostara is used for this festival, the German equivalent of Eostre.
First there is the confusing claim that Eostre was only mentioned by Bede and nowhere else so he probably made her up… Given that Bede was pretty good on his knowledge on every other subject, I don’t see why he shouldn’t have known about the local Goddess where he lived! Evidence on many Celtic and Anglo-Saxon deities is pretty scanty at times, but there are always clues for those that wish to see them.
But, and this is a big but for me, I then read that Eostre’s day was the first full moon after the equinox, not the equinox itself. Given that Eostre is concerned with hares and eggs, this makes perfect sense that the full moon would be relevant, and also explains why Easter is the first Sunday after Eostre’s day. The only trouble is I shall no longer feel right celebrating eggs at the equinox, I will want to wait for the full moon. And it also means that Eostre (and if they are equivalent Goddesses, Ostara) had nothing to do with the Equinox – giving me a whole new set of challenges, and hopefully journeys of discovery, for next year.
Just to confuse things further, there are also those who claim Easter was named for Ishtar who, while still being a Spring Goddess, has a whole different mythology associated with her…
4. Egg hunts are just a fun thing for children to do.
Eggs have been apparently been decorated on every continent, the oldest yet discovered being South African and 60,000 years old. The ancient Egyptians decorated eggs. Almost every European country as well as several Asian and American ones have their own special egg traditions. Eggs can be cooked or blown, scratched, carved, coloured in many different ways, and then displayed in some form (often hung in a tree or by a well) or offered to another. They are not restricted to a particular day either; any time from early spring to the summer solstice seems to have been recognised in this way. But in Britain, eggs were apparently buried by Celtic Druids after being dyed red in order to encourage the life force to return to the Earth for new planting. More sinisterly if true, during difficult times in Europe eggs were hidden to avoid it being known that offerings were being made to the Goddess and children were apparently paid on finding and reporting these eggs. Hiding eggs so that they may be hunted for ‘fun’ seems to have started in England by the 1800s.
Oddly I found an egg buried nearly a foot deep in my garden a month or so ago when planting a small tree. Probably a duck egg, white and quite large, and heavy as if there was an egg inside it. Having absolutely no idea where it came from or what to do with it (we have lived here for 19 years and have never kept ducks) I just left it on the surface of the soil to see what would happen. A week later it was still there, but after another week I saw its broken shell, and it was now definitely empty. Who or what ate it, and what condition or age it was, I have no idea.
Frog spawn apparently ‘appears’ between January and February or March, in any pond where there are frogs. I have had various people asking if we had any over the past few weeks, but had to keep saying no, the pond was less than a year old and I didn’t know if we would this first year.And then to our great excitement a large clump of spawn appeared last Sunday.
Given it was full moon that day, I spent some time in the garden in the evening and for the first time in my life had the joy of listening to the gentle sound of frogs croaking. After about 20 minutes there was a splash, then silence. A second clump of frogspawn had appeared – so close to the first I almost missed it in the dark.So now I am keeping an eye for changes, and making sure nothing damages the spawn. However, I was fascinated one morning to discover just how well it looks after itself. Some beech leaves had blown in from the nearby hedge, which I remove most days at this time of year, and one had landed on the spawn. I was surprised to find it was slightly stuck to the spawn and then worried about damaging them as I pulled it off – until I realised that it had a series of circular holes and arcs cut into it. (Afterwards I wished I had kept hold of the leaf, as I couldn’t find it again later to take a photograph.) I can only assume that the coating on the spawn had dissolved the leaf wherever it touched, so that it was no longer blocking the light. This seems to me some feat to achieve in less than a day on a crispy tough beech leaf! Meanwhile my photography took a new turn as I began writing this post, as I managed to find the waterproof case we used to use with our old camera when canoeing. I have a lot to learn still about lighting and focal distances underwater – I obviously cannot see what is in the viewfinder, nor can I check the resulting images very well while they are in the waterproof case, and it needs to dry before I can open it giving little chance for a repeat attempt.
Surprisingly for a camera that is rubbish at macro, it was the closest pictures that came out most in focus, just showing the start of tails developing. Hopefully with this knowledge and a bit more time to experiment, I will improve before the tadpoles emerge!
The sun come out, the soil warms up, and every year I am surprised by how the weeds always seem to launch into growth ahead of my preferred flowering plants…
I have spent the past three weeks weeding, whenever I have half an hour or an hour and it isn’t actually raining. Mainly just four perennial plants (it being too cold for the annuals to get going) – grass, dandelions, American willowherb and avens. Avens I unfortunately allowed to seed itself thinking it might be geum, and which now infiltrates from its base in the hawthorn hedge to wherever it can hide. The geums meanwhile seem to have given up the ghost; there were none last summer. Creeping buttercup used to be a problem, but I have only found a couple of areas this year that it has tried to cover pretending to be hardy geraniums. I am growing wise to the subtle differences there too.
I think only one plant was inadvertently weeded out this year, a phlox paniculata just emerging that looked like a Rosebay willowherb. (Had I realised immediately it could have been replanted, but unfortunately it had to wait for me to flick through a plant catalogue that arrived a week later.) I have never managed to grow tall phloxes, them being rather prone to mildew and other fungi, but like everything, try occasionally when I find a cheap plant that looks pretty in the hopes it will do better this time. Clearly it is partly my own fault I don’t have phlox!
But now I am left wondering what plants resemble grass that I need to be careful of? Dierama seedlings? Crocosmia? Hemerocallis? Luckily I don’t think the dandelions are in danger of confusion with anything else so at least I know I am safe weeding them out before they flower! However, dandelions are one plant I might just allow to grow – were it not for the fact there is usually a field full of them just over my back wall where they look stunning both in flower and later with their silvery seed clocks.
So I now have the near impossible task of filling the gaps (before they fill themselves) with other native wildflowers. Near impossible, because while I think plants such as Helleborus foetidus or Geranium robertianum or Silene dioica should be easy to obtain, they are generally eschewed at the garden centres in favour of new introductions that pay plant breeders rights and will ideally live for only a season or two, ensuring the purchaser returns to buy more plants next year. I’m sure the cottage gardeners of yesterday would have simply dug a bit up and transferred plants to their garden, or hedgewitches would simply have known where to find them locally when they were wanted. Today I must create my own garden, and that may even include importing the ‘weeds’ I want!
Finally. The first circle in my quest to visit, meditate at, and photograph all the stone circles in Derbyshire…Froggatt Edge circle, also known as the Stoke Flat circle, is one I must have unknowingly walked past twenty years ago, yet never saw on the ground. Only a short way off the path, it is easily missed even in Winter unless you were deliberately looking for it. In Summer bracken would surround it and make it harder to spot. In my defence, at that time the circles I was most familiar with were Stonehenge and Avebury in Wiltshire, and possibly Castlerigg in Cumbria. I had no idea that such small, indistinct circles even existed. So when looking at options for a family walk, with requests for some rocks to climb and somewhere not too wet after a week of rain, I was keen to return to the area and see if there was anything there.
My former ignorance is fortunately not shared by others, and besides photographs and maps for most Derbyshire circles being available online, there is also an excellent book ‘Stone Circles of the Peak: A Search For Natural Harmony’ by John Barnatt, published 1978 with detailed drawings and alignments of each circle he surveyed. However, I made a decision not to research this circle in any way beforehand, reckoning that I should be able to find it with some fairly simple navigation from the map, so that I could have my own impressions uncoloured by others. I have instead used the information available to fill in the gaps afterwards.
I took a few photographs as I approached the circle, then I put the camera away and entered by the tall stone as that felt like the ‘way in’. It had a deep hollow in its top, filled with water. After feeling my way to being at home in the circle, I then chose a rock to sit on – in this case a ‘smiling’ rock called to me and proved incredibly comfortable, the perfect height, size and flatness for sitting. I felt very welcome, and even loved as I sat there.
Sometimes sitting on the edge of a circle makes me feel slightly uncomfortable, being aware of the boundary energy-wise. I didn’t feel that here – possibly because the boundary was further out, at the outer edge of the bank – but neither did I feel so energised that I couldn’t stay for very long within the circle as I have felt elsewhere. Instead I had a real sense of the circle as as a stable and complete form and me as part of that. This is a rare true circle, not egg-shaped as is common, and I could really feel that as a stillness and strength. (According to John Barnatt’s plan and geometry, I was also sitting along the side of a square within the circle; the entrance being through the point of the square. A perfect square would likely increase the solidity and stability of a circle form.)
Although the circle did not feel particularly powerful when I visited, as if the new moon was its weak time, I felt strong within myself by sitting there and feeling its energies. Like I could achieve anything I wanted to. A feeling of empowerment. That was something I carried with me for several days afterwards.
Two days later I was able to do a journey back to the circle. I wanted to ask if there was anything I had missed, or should have done, whilst there.The first seemed frustratingly obvious in retrospect – I should have taken some of the gift of water at the entrance that was there for me! I find it hard now to believe that I didn’t and am really puzzled by why I didn’t, but it serves as a reminder for next time. Recognise and accept gifts offered, and connect with all four elements when there is an opportunity to do so.
Beyond that, I’m glad to say I learned new information. I discovered that the circle was anchored through all worlds on Earth, and is a place where it is possible to move easily between the worlds, and the worlds come together. By this I am including lower and middle worlds, and worlds of the fae (another lower world but, to me, in a different place than that of animals). I didn’t specifically explore any world of ancestors (I haven’t tried that before) but I did have a strong sense that the circle was built by and used by people. More specifically, I seemed to see two rings of stones, with the inner ring being used to sit on as I had done, and the centre of the circle for dancing. This is different to Stanton Nine Ladies circle, where I have sensed any ‘audience’ would stay outside the circle while not taking part, whereas here some, or even all if only a small group was present, would be inside. I had an impression of the circle belonging to a family or clan or tribe who loved and looked after the circle. They lived some distance away on the moor where there was water, not by the river although they could see it and used it for a trading or travelling route. It was safer up on the moor.
Within the circle itself, I sensed that an energy vortex could form at the centre when at its peak time, that is when the sun or moon was fuller, and also dancing was used to raise the energy. I couldn’t get any idea of how this energy was used however – beyond it being slightly different to an experience I had regarding Wet Withens circle a couple of years ago. (Saved for when I revisit.) Clearly each circle type, and possibly each circle, has its own distinctive character.
Alignments made by John Barnatt show that the circle has been built to line up with the midsummer full moon over Arbor Low and midwinter full moon at Win Hill – a very distinctive, pointy hilltop which rises abruptly out of flattish moorland. While his sunset positions seem a bit non-specific to the horizons, he then points out that when sitting the midwinter sunset is in the centre of the tallest stone. Additionally, Imbolc / Samhain sunset is at the stone next to this, and midsummer sunset one further along. It is possible that missing stones once marked the other key sunsets through the year.
As the project continues, and I find out more information, it grows… Within the boundaries of Derbyshire, I am now aware of:
5 possible Henge sites, all on ‘White Peak’ or Limestone, of which only Arbor Low has any stones and is sufficiently intact to see the whole ring.
33 probable stone circle sites, all on ‘Dark Peak’ or Gritstone – of which 23 are known to have stones remaining.
4 sites which may be stone circles but are more likely ring or kerbed cairns – 1 of which has stones.
9-10 destroyed circle sites. (Debateable if the village of Ringstones had a stone circle, but it seems to be generally assumed that there was one once. Nine other circles have been recorded at some point since 1800, but are now lost.)
3 modern circles.
And a lot of confused grid references, or multiple names for the same circles… I can see why a GPS might come in handy!
Storm ‘Doris’ blew through here this week with gale force winds at times – unusual for Derbyshire as we are about as far from the sea as you can get. It is not often a county known for severe weather! What really surprised me though was the strong reactions of various people towards the wind. Several described it as horrible weather, with a shudder – when I was thinking how mild it was as the rain eased to some bright sunshine. Cats often become skittish and unsettled in high winds, as do children, but some people are enlivened by it. A kite flier, windsurfer or sailor will delight in its power – although knowing their limits of what they can actually sail in. So it got me thinking about Wind, and the Air element.
I have written before here about working with the weather, in particular rain, but I have noticed how it is very difficult to change the weather if there is no wind to move clouds. A slight breeze, and much is possible, but on a still day you are generally stuck with what you have.
Above all, I believe wind brings change. Air is the element of ideas – which some suggest are floating around the ether ready for anyone to pluck out and make use of. Wind blows the ether around and helps to spread ideas across the globe. Wind is or was used for divination in many cultures around the world, watching for the direction it blows in for what it may bring, positive or negative.
Our resistance to wind may symbolise how we feel about change in general. Young trees are flexible, they bend and allow the wind to shape them, and grow stronger as a result. Old trees, especially those hollow with age, may stand firm, withstanding whatever comes. Those constantly buffeted and battered are shaped by the wind, and develop their own unique form which has its own grace and beauty. But those that have been spared the lighter winds may be knocked flat as soon as they feel the effects of a gale. They have no ability to grow into it, no experience of change and growing new ways of being.
I chose to walk in an exposed place two days after the storm. Still windy, it felt like ‘blowing the cobwebs away’. I felt energised, clear headed, laughing to be blown sideways at times. The power of nature stronger than me.
And finally when the winds have blown through, all becomes calm again. We have a chance to take stock of what has happened around us, clear up the mess, breathe, and set out on a new path, strengthened by what has just been.
Luckily there is also a thicket on the ground, so I shouldn’t be short of corn cockles (Agrostemma githago) this summer.
I have had an interesting and unexpected lesson in intuitive sewing over the past few days – which follows on from my year’s aim of being more connected to what I am doing. It started with a piece of fabric, as most sewing projects do, but unlike most projects, no plan.
The fabric was dark red with a pattern of roses made by varying lengths of pile – a fluffy, warm, knitted fabric, that looked tricky to sew and with such a large pattern, not ideal for a small child. I didn’t buy any. A couple of weeks later, with a combination of a change in the weather and a growth spurt, something warm was really needed and M still wanted this fabric. I bought a metre, thinking it would be about right for a jumper or jacket, or possibly a cape. She told me it needed to be a long cloak not short… and with a hood!
I look in my pattern collection: nothing. I look online: a few superhero style patterns, or circular cloaks, but nothing that will work for her or the fabric I have available. Just a photo from a long-out-of-date and no longer available pattern.So I take a couple of measurements, width across shoulders and length, and start sketching. Half an hour later I have a pattern with several lines drawn at different angles to see what looks right, and lay it on the fabric to see what will fit. The front and back will have to lie in opposite directions, but luckily the roses don’t show this up too much. It is my best guess at the size; I look again at the pattern after a break seeing if anything needs changing. I don’t seem to be able to improve it, so I cut it out, leaving fluffy bits of dark red everywhere that need cleaning up.
Finally I sew. The whole thing takes about an hour, and just needs a button on the front out of my box to complete it. I guess on the loop length.
M tries it on. It fits, she loves it. I am amazed.
The 1st/2nd February may be the start of Spring, but Imbolc was not a sunny day here this year!
Maybe I should be glad – it is said in Scottish folklore, that if the Cailleach wishes to make Winter last longer, she will ensure Imbolc is bright and sunny so she may gather lots of firewood. If the weather is foul that day, the Cailleach is fast asleep and Winter is nearly over. It was so windy that I had trouble taking any photographs at all, although at least our everlasting fog has been blown away. The poor snowdrops in my garden, pictured in snow at the start of February two years ago, have not had enough warmth or sun to open properly yet this year and are now looking ragged.But an unexpected find: Rosemary just coming into flower. It is a wonderful Winter herb, full of flavour through the darkest months when nearly all the softer herbs have lost their leaves or disappeared below ground, as well as giving shape to the garden. Then just when I start thinking the ‘evergreen’ plants are looking stiff and tired they spring into new growth, or bring out these wonderful blue flowers. It makes a great herbal tea, full of robust energies – as well as being anti-bacterial anti-septic, and an antioxidant. I also like it mixed with my other winter herb, Thyme, which is great for coughs.
Botanically known as Valerianella locusta, it is also commonly known as Corn Salad thanks to its propensity to grow as an edible weed in wheat (corn) fields, and as Mache or Rapunzel in Europe, although this last name is also applied to Campanula rapunculus.
I like the idea of Lamb’s Lettuce being the plant referred to in the Rapunzel story, and it makes perfect sense to me that a pregnant woman would be desperate to eat some in the middle of winter. I can imagine her sitting at her window, in a barren, cold and frosty land, desperate for something nice and fresh to eat that won’t make her stomach turn. There is nothing to eat in her garden and just stodgy old root vegetables left in store, but next door, where the witch lives, there is a carpet of edible green that no one is touching. Oh how that would make her pine for it each day! And yes, the first time she persuades her husband to go, it is even better than she had hoped, for she sends him again…
So there you have it – Rapunzel’s mother was pregnant in winter, and desperate for something crisp and fresh, and packed with nutrients (Vitamins A, B6 and C, plus iron and potassium) that would help her through. Pretty and edible as the Campanula is, I can’t see it inducing any kind of desperation in late spring when so many other plants are also abundant.