Happy Beltane!

Fairy Maypole

I have had a bit of fun realising I could put some of my recently edged grass (see Edges, April) in a pot and make a ‘fairy garden’ for May Day. This was the widest, shallow pot I could find and is a lovely old terracotta one, but I may look out for something larger if I do this again. It is a little dwarfed by the maypole and the ribbons – I am trusting fairies can fly to weave them in and out, they don’t need a huge garden!

I had the idea about a week after finishing the edging, so there wasn’t that much grass left from my weeding and tidying efforts, and the violets have now finished flowering, but the forgetmenots are doing brilliantly and it has been a very cheerful indoor arrangement for about three weeks. I notice some aquilegia seedlings have appeared as well. The grass has had to be cut every few days…

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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.

The Land of Dragons

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

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

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

Glass Dragon

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

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

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

Dinas Emrys – waterfall that is passed on the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pewter Dragon

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

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

Table Dragon

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

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

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

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

Ne’er Cast A Clout ’till May Be Out

This is an old saying that will no doubt be familiar to many. It refers to the May flowers, Hawthorn, rather than the month although it is generally May before the hedgerows are laden with their scented coverings; Beltane rarely has a good showing this far north, and certainly not this year!

I have written already about the strange winter we have had; Spring has been equally odd! After a warm week or two in early April, I noticed buds on the hawthorn hedges near me that were almost ready to pop open. Then it got cold again, and colder, and for three days in a row it snowed. The buds stayed exactly as they were. Swollen, almost open in places with hints of white petals showing, but frozen in time. Meanwhile the Blackthorn has been putting on a wonderful display with its flowers that come on bare branches and last for weeks if not months, from March to May, to get all the flowers pollinated.

Then the sun finally came out, the days warmed up to Summer temperatures rather than just Spring, and I thought that would be it. But no, there was another week to wait before the hawthorn finally revealed its flowers, and in that time a further couple of hard frosts. I have learned to trust. So I waited, and only now have I started my Spring sowing of tender vegetable seeds and the planting out of the many seedlings crowding my windowsills. I trust they will now be safe and happy in the garden.

Conscious Participation

I have been exploring the idea of conscious participation over the past few weeks, inspired by a comment I read from Laurie Cabot (Salem, Massachusetts witch and writer) suggesting there is no such thing as a passive observer; you are always a participant.

This makes a lot of sense to me, as the human influence can be seen working at every level: in quantum physics where light can behave as particles or as waves depending on which you are looking for; in mind experiments controlling where a ball falls; in dowsing where clear results come for anyone openminded enough to believe in the possibility – and frequently not working at all for people convinced it won’t.

At a group M and I enjoy, the person who runs it thanks everyone for being there at the end of each session. Not for coming, for being there. I found this odd the first time, that she should be thanking us rather than the other way around, but now recognise that she is acknowledging how each person’s presence influences the group and is welcome. I notice how I learn different things and have different experiences depending on who is there and how they are being, and it is frequently precisely whatever I am needing at the time.

In canoeing there is an often repeated phrase for swimmers (ie those who are unintentionally parted from their boat in whitewater) that they are not a victim, they are an active participant in whatever rescue is needed. I have been on both sides of this, rescuer and swimmer, many times, and know there is nothing to be gained except a feeling of helplessness if I don’t take an active part when needed. Sometimes that job is to observe, especially in a group situation, as signals might need to be passed up or down river. But passive observation it is not! Alternatively, even at the distance of a few years since I was last in a boat, for any rescue I can remember (and there are a few!) I can still picture every person who was there, even if they were merely passing along the footpath. Sometimes I made use of complete strangers, having to use intuition for who I could trust to help.

Similarly, in any situation of performing in front of an audience: musicians, actors, dancers, speech givers, and in every situation from concert halls and theatres to office boardrooms to the street, every person present or passing by is a participant if only they knew it! The most uninterested or bored observers will have an effect on the performance just as much as those clapping or cheering.

This is also true in witchcraft. I would never invite anyone to ‘observe’ a spell or healing I was doing, but if I felt their energies were positive might ask them to participate – the intentions of each person present and assisting will influence the outcome. After all, we ask the stars and planets to aid us in our magic, just as I am discovering many do in biodynamic gardening, which is a pretty subtle influence – as are other correspondences such as crystals or herbs used. But they can all add up to a very powerful whole.

So as this weekend was Beltane, I have of course been celebrating. Some folk might talk of ‘observing’ a festival – but this is not the pagan way. For several years now I have actively created a ritual at each Sabbat so that I may learn something from it. These are generally solo and thus fairly simple meditations and activities that I have used to give my life greater depth and meaning, connecting to the Earth as the seasons progress. However this weekend I have finally understood why many pagans talk (or write) of helping to keep the wheel of the year turning. It is not that it would stop without our efforts, (actually it might if Earth enters a higher state of consciousness, but that is a different story!) it is more that by actively participating in the celebration of the seasons, I become part of it too. By showing my love to each sign of Spring I add my consciousness. I am not a mere ‘audience’, I add my appreciation and encourage the flowers, the birds, the sheep and other field animals, the bees, the ladybirds, to greater efforts. I have become a co-creator with nature: an active participant, part of the turning wheel. That to me is something worthwhile.

Maypole Dancing

This week I have been maypole dancing – for the first time in 30 years! Mayday, or Beltane as some prefer, was always my favourite festival of the year ever since I was a small child. It celebrates what is good right now, as opposed to the promise of things to come, or things past.

I was lucky enough to be brought up in a village that still had regular community events throughout the year, Mayday being the first followed by Whitsun and Harvest, a summer fete, and some years a play or a pantomime, written and performed by people who lived in the village. Even before Mayday the ritual started with us each being given a poster to colour in at school, always the same picture of a garland of flowers but sufficiently interesting that it didn’t seem to matter, and then we would each find somewhere to display our poster to advertise the event. There would also be several practises for the dancing in school lunchbreaks, with a small pole which we tried not to pull over or tangle up, and tape recorded music.

Mayday Garlands, 1984

Mayday Garlands, 1984

Finally the day dawned. It started with making a flower garland – which in my case was usually made of freshly cut forsythia branches with a garden cane across the middle, since we never possessed any plastic hoops. We then added to the acid yellow flowers with whatever else we could find in the garden: daffodils, forget me nots, ivy and aubretia. Judging by old photos, Spring must have come later then! Dressed up in our finery (and usually raincoats!) we carried the garland to the far end of the village for the start of the procession. Around a hundred children plus parents would walk through the village to the recreation ground, before abandoning the garlands for the maypole dancing.

Gypsy's Tent Dance

Gypsy’s Tent Dance

On the day there was always a huge white painted pole erected in the rec, which always took me by surprise just how big it was. Somehow with the live music playing (thanks to the Morris dancers who followed us) and the extra space, we always managed to get it right when it mattered.

Coaching Horses Dance

Coaching Horses Dance

While I have made flower garlands of varying sizes over the years, and danced to many Morris or ceilidh bands, I had never had a chance to dance around that wonderful phallic symbol that is the maypole, until this year. We were dancing with a five foot pole specially made for us by one of the mothers at the Steiner Waldorf toddler group M and I go to. She did a beautiful job, carving flower patterns into the bark and attaching long, brightly-coloured satin ribbons to the top of the pole. There were exactly the right number of ribbons for the dancers present, never a very predictable number, so that felt good too. The lovely woman who runs the group held the pole upright with one hand as we danced, and we sang to provide our own music, going first one direction around and then the other just as we always had.

So different, and yet exactly the same; spiralling patterns encouraging and celebrating Spring in its full glory.