Crafting Ceremonial Tools

Every witch or book on witchcraft will tell you that tools are not needed to direct energies or to do magic – it comes from within, and a finger can work just fine. (Is seven years as an active, circle-casting witch a record for still using a finger most of the time?)

The other great wisdom often quoted is that you can find tools anywhere, and they will feel right to you. Well I have looked many times, but none of the huge number of ‘witches tools’ offered for sale have ever felt right to me.

Tools I have looked for include a wand, a chalice, and an athame. I have acquired various knives for ceremonial cutting of plants or for whittling, dedicated several household objects I already had and loved for use in ceremony, such as a suitable bowl for water, plate for offerings, and candle holders, and even created an altar cloth, clothes and jewellery to wear. It was only in the last month or two however that I realised the best person to make the tools I want to use is me – so that they may be crafted in harmony with the natural materials around me, and full of the intentions of the use to which I wish to put them.

As with previous craftings, I am not going to show photographs of any finished items I use in ceremony. However here is my mostly finished athame I have been whittling out of a Prunus Pandora tree that is very special to me, and which had to be pruned this month. There were really too many side shoots for a perfect blade, but that is the way cherry grows. My first attempt was actually in Holly which was much smoother and more even, but just too hard for my knife to work. I may have kept it too long before starting, or it may simply not have been the right wood for me for this purpose. One day I may find something even better, but until then I am really enjoying using the cherry and it fits nicely in my hand.

Athame made from Cherry

Athame (not finished) made from Cherry

One of the side shoots left a hole in the handle, which I turned into the centre of a triple moon symbol; there will be some carving on the other side as well. I found it was an interesting wood to whittle, being a novice at this type of woodworking, quite hard but straight grained and with thicker bark than I anticipated. When freshly cut the bark was very pale and green inside, but on exposure to the air turned this richer brown colour. It is not the black of traditional athames, but is dark enough for me. I originally started making it as a single bladed knife, changing my mind as I realised a dagger shape would make better use of the hardest wood down the centre of the knife; the point is surprisingly hard and capable of cutting a candle should I wish. Also being symmetrical it has the advantage of directing energy straight down the centre line of the branch. However the blade will need some protection, such as oiling it, if I wish to dip it into liquids regularly. (I anticipate doing a bit more smoothing too, before it is declared finished and ready for consecrating!)

It occurs to me that a boline would be great fun to whittle, if I found a suitably curved branch of light-skinned ash or similar! Meanwhile I may look out for some wand material, and I’ve always wanted to carve a bowl in the shape of a leaf… The tool I use all the time though is a staff, which I really should complete one day! I have used a particular staff when journeying in the lower worlds ever since I found a hazel pole about five years ago. When I journey it is always complete, in ordinary reality it isn’t. And recently I have acquired a second staff for mainly upperworld journeys – which I am told I should use for ceremony as well. So I have two to make now! Watch this space, as they say…

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Early Fruit Harvests

The standard pagan calendar of eight sabbats sets out two of them for harvest – the grain at Lammas / Lughnasa at the beginning of August, and the tree fruit at the Autumn Equinox. I have particularly noticed this year how by August most of my soft fruit picking will be finished, that which started in June shortly before the summer solstice.

Right now I am spending a good hour of every day picking fruit – strawberries, alpine strawberries, loganberries, raspberries, black, red and white currants, gooseberries, morello cherries… Not all get done every day, and luckily the blackcurrants finish before the gooseberries start, but I am still picking around four or five types of berries a day for several weeks, on top of any vegetables. I then spend more time in the evening ensuring that those we don’t eat or cook immediately get stored in the freezer whole or as purée to be turned into ice-cream, or as jam or jelly.

Apart from strawberries, few of these fruits get a mention in any book of festivals, pagan or otherwise such as the many Steiner-Waldorf books for celebrating with children. So why is this amazing bounty almost completely overlooked in the yearly cycle?

Two reasons I suspect currants in particular have failed to gain much popularity is that first they don’t really grow wild, and second you wouldn’t want to eat many raw berries. They are much better cooked! They are also small and insubstantial individually; it takes a lot of berries to make even a sauce or condiment for a meal. This is quite unlike pome and larger stone fruit where one fruit is satisfying by itself, picked and eaten raw off the bush. Neither do currants travel well; a handful of berries is never going to be as sustaining as a pocket full of apples over a few days of walking. So they have never entered our folklore. However I do not see these as reasons to ignore them. Their flavour and colour is so much more intense than most other fruit that a little goes a long way. They crop better than imported ‘superfoods’, contain at least an equal amount of antioxidants, and blackcurrants contain a very high amount of vitamin C; during the 1940s blackcurrant syrup was distributed free to young children when oranges became unavailable. Even today 95% of blackcurrants in England get turned into Ribena apparently.

So this weekend I am celebrating the fruits of the harvest by coming up with as many new ways to use the berries as possible. Whitecurrant jelly goes well with pork, as redcurrant jelly or fresh sauce (redcurrants, balsamic vinegar, honey, heat gently 10 mins) does with lamb. Blackcurrants need something robust, but work well with red cabbage. Blackcurrant ice cream seems to be a favourite here, almost replacing the previous favourite of whitecurrant and Drambuie ice cream that we invented a few years ago. (Whitecurrant purée, sugar to taste, double cream, Drambuie. Churn until frozen.) Redcurrants are traditionally used in Linzertorte and summer pudding, but I am seeing what other cakes or tarts I can come up with. And blackcurrant cheesecake always works well. I might be in danger of turning into a kitchen witch at this rate…

Flowers and Weeds – Part 1

My garden has, like any garden, evolved over the years as it has developed and I have learned what suits the conditions. The basic layout I created soon after we moved here (sixteen years ago) remains in place today, a semi-wild cottage style garden, with flowers, vegetables and fruit, surrounded by hedgerows. However my plant choices have changed to being mostly native and mostly edible, and preferably able to look after themselves. Overall the garden is not very large, but remains open to the views (and the weather!) to the North giving an airy, spacious feel.

Cherry tree 'Stella'

Cherry tree ‘Stella’

In recent years for various reasons my time and energies have been rather unpredictable, leading to much relaxation of my gardening expectations and working with nature as far as possible. M has now reached the stage of being able to walk with shoes on, so this year I am making a special effort to do child-friendly gardening. Little bits at a time, with relatively instant and reliable results, in gardening terms anyway.

Flowers have been my focus this week. After having spent three weeks semi-weeding*, clearing and composting, a plant catalogue arrived serendipitously in the post, its pages filled with tempting colourful perennials all ready to plant out and provide instant beauty. In previous years I have grown flowers from seed, but windowsill peppers and tomatoes are enough of a challenge for M to keep intact, so this looked a great idea to me. However, past experience also suggests that many of the glossy photos feature plants designed for the warmer climes Down South, preferably with well-drained, humus-rich soil, and regular feeding and watering. They are the sort of plants that are easy to propagate and grow really well in potting compost, flowering all summer in sheltered conditions, but tend to fare very badly in my exposed, heavy clay garden, rarely surviving their first winter. So I decided to make a list of all the plants I thought I might like in the garden and didn’t already have, and then get out my trusty pendulum (a haematite necklace being my favourite for this purpose) to dowse for which plants would actually enjoy growing here. Out went the penstemons, fuchsias, osteospermums, coreopsis, pinks, lobelias, day lilies, echinaceas and verbenas. It is a great way to save money! My list was rapidly reduced to one of more manageable proportions, and I have now put my order in for some hardy geraniums, campanulas, platycodons, papavers and anemones with every expectation of them being a success.

Corner of garden

Corner of garden

Knowing what plants already grow well here, and what doesn’t, I will admit that I didn’t get many surprises with my dowsing on this occasion. However, I will also receive some free pelargoniums with my order, not a plant I have been particularly inspired by before, but which my dowsing suggests will do better than any other bedding plant in the dry and sun-baked pots directly outside my South-facing front door. (Diascias are the only thing I have had any great success with so far.) I look forward to them flowering and welcoming visitors all summer long as promised…

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*Semi-weeding is a term I have created to cover what I do in my garden, keeping a balance between it looking ‘weedy’ and being too neat and tidy. This can be very hard to explain to adult garden ‘helpers’!