Uplifting Energies

I have always used my hands to feel different energies, ever since I started playing with magnets and realised I could feel their pull on my hands. I have since learned to feel stone circle energies, or different tree energies. It has all been learning by doing; it is not something I have come across in my readings so my learning is quite slow, developing at the speed at which my sensitivity increases. (I share it now in case it inspires someone else to get there quicker!)

As I mentioned in my recent Dragon post, I was in Wales on holiday in April. There I had two different energy experiences that were totally unexpected and both quite magical.

The first was that of mountains, on one of Cadair Idris’s nine tops. A fairly pointy one. I struggled that day – it was hot, and my lungs were in a bad mood. I felt as proud of myself for having got to the top as a child might, so went right up to the highest point, to stand on top of an uneven bit of rock. And suddenly there was a rush of positive energy coming through me, making me feel euphoric. I could tell it was also affecting everyone around me to a greater or lesser degree. Then on to the highest top, pushing me to my limit, and possibly a bit past it. M, the youngest person on the mountain, had a long wait for me at the top! Yet when I got there, there was that uplifting energy again, magnified.

I wondered if it was just my feelings, or whether positive energy really does shoot off into the sky from the top of a pointed mountain. This is not something I have felt from a rounded hill, and it was not an energy I felt anywhere else on the mountain, just at the top of the ‘pointy-uppy’ bits. Spirit reaching upwards, while the lakes below drew downwards in stillness. The recent fire in Notre Dame Cathedral brought great discussions of how unique was its construction with very early flying buttresses to enable the building to reach as high into the sky as possible; many religions have temples that reach for the skies. It occurred to me that hill forts and castles being placed at the top of small hills may not be just strategic, but also command respect for the ‘high’ chief who rules there, and additionally give a positive boost of energies to all who live in that location.

A few days later, I had a chance to test this theory, on the top of Bird Rock near Llanfihangel. That time I managed the climb easily – it was neither as steep nor as long – so could discount any of my own euphoric feelings. There it was again, just in a very small area at the very top. Step away and I could no longer feel it, step back and there it was again, lifting upwards.

Some mountains are themselves regarded as sacred, with climbing even forbidden on occasion. I now regard any mountain as the same, Mother Earth and Father Sky joining together at the point.

Dolgoch stream, just above where I was feeling it.


My other energy experience was around water, and a mountain stream not far from Cadair Idris. I put my hands in several during the course of the week, as the days just got hotter. They varied in size and steepness, and temperature, but I didn’t think too much about it – until suddenly on the last day I realised I had put my hand in something really special. Fully of light, purity, happiness. Not a virgin stream, one that had been underground flowing through rocks and also above the ground dancing through waterfalls, yet kept pure and unpolluted. I did not know I was capable of learning all that just through my hands, despite using my hands to purify water at times.

Then I listened.

Last year I started singing or toning with different natural beings such as rocks, earth, water, trees etc. Here I did not even have to sing to hear its tune, it was complex and beautiful, harmonic, bell-like. I could hear how the great composers like Bach and Mozart were inspired; this had the same source.

I thought this would be the end of it, but I have now found myself singing through rituals, rather than reciting the words, and it is giving me a really deep connection to the elements when calling the quarters. I cannot possibly sing the same tune for fire as for air, or water as for fire, or earth as for water!

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Happy Samhain!

I spent the day yesterday pumpkin carving, preparing for the festival of Samhain and having a really joyful celebration of the year gone and the year coming.

This was the first truly joint pumpkin I have carved with my daughter, as her design input was equal to mine. After explaining that we weren’t going to carve a scary face, because Samhain isn’t intended to be a scary time of year (more connecting and thanking the dead, our ancestors, those who have gone before rather than being scared by ghosts) we thought about what things we were thankful for. Fairies. Flowers. Trees. Frogs. We can use cookie cutters, she said.

I have spent quite a bit of time over the past year going through the elements, so I decided to make my own thanks and celebration by organising them into four elemental groups, with three things for each one. We also had a five-pointed star for our lid, so that made a perfect 13 holes to be carved in the pumpkin.

My daughter’s washable pens were perfect for drawing the design on, especially as any traces can be easily removed afterwards, and where we had a suitable cutter she drew round them for me. Where we didn’t she found me a picture in one of her books to copy … luckily the pen can be rubbed out and corrections made!

I used a knife to cut the lid, then a melon baller has proved the most useful tool to cut through seed strings. This year I also used it to remove half the flesh from the inside so that the walls weren’t too thick to cut through, then cooked what I removed for pies later. Experience has taught me that a cookie cutter doesn’t cope with curved pumpkin skin very well, so after having drawn around them, I used a hacksaw blade taped to a piece of wood, which has been my trusty pumpkin carver for over a decade now. It turns corners better than a knife, although can leave edges ragged if not careful.

All four sides have holes in, making it hard to photograph, but right for us. Earth on the side that was on the ground, fire upwards to the sun, water and air in between. Some are animals, some, such as a musical note or the heart, are symbolic.

May you have bright blessings and a peaceful new year.

Elemental Pumpkin, showing Earth and Air, with Fire on the wall behind.

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!

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.

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.

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.

    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.

    Trellech

    Not a stone circle this time, but standing stones and an earth circle nearby…

    Trellech today is a small village, located just over the Welsh border from the Forest of Dean, but it is currently the subject of archaeological investigations to discover the centre of the huge medieval city it rapidly developed into during the thirteenth century in order to make weapons for the de Clare family. An original ‘iron-rush’ town of 10,000 people, at a time when London only had 40,000. Its boom years ended just as abruptly however, after a raid in 1291 over alleged deer poaching.

    The name Trellech means ‘three stones’, although that is not the only site of interest in the village. There is also a ‘Turret Tump’ and a ‘Virtuous’ well. I did not manage to visit the well unfortunately, as the water apparently runs directly under and in line with the three stones therefore linking the two sites. But what I have managed to find out afterwards is that it was previously known as St Anne’s well, probably from Annis, the Celtic goddess of rivers, water, wells, magic and wisdom, suggesting it was used in pre-Christian times if not earlier. There are stone seats for travellers and niches for offerings or cups, and it was visited regularly until late seventeenth century, as well as by modern pilgrims tying offerings to nearby trees. It is said to be fed by four springs, three of which contain iron (as might be expected given the ore that was mined locally) and each of which was said to heal a different disease, particularly eye ailments and women’s problems.

    Both stones and tump have generated legends over the years, mostly connected with an eleventh century Harold – though clearly they are much older than this. They are however depicted on the sundial on the church… There has been a church there since the seventh century, such was the importance of the site.

    Three stones of Trellech

    The three stones rise out of the earth in the middle of a sheep field, leaning in random directions but with their bases in a straight line. Photos cannot do them justice – they are huge stones, towering over me. The tallest is around 15 feet high. The conglomerate stone is known as ‘puddingstone’ and looks much like weathered concrete with the aggregate showing on the surface. There are possibly cup marks on the middle stone.

    Turret Tump


    Nearby is the mound, around 20 feet high, which most sources describe as being medieval and built as the motte for a castle. There was indeed a castle here in the twelfth century, probably belonging to the de Clare family, but I also read suggestions that the mound was there in Roman times. I wondered if it may in fact be much older, and contemporary with the stones. Sadly it feels somewhat abused, with trees now growing on its summit and brambles on the sides.

    While not proving anything, I tried meditating on the two sites I had visited to see what ideas came to me. Here is my summary:

    “Three stones, almost like ribs. Very male, a line to exactly balance the mound which is female. Very different sort of people / tribe who built these compared to Derbyshire circles, with very different purpose which is beyond me to understand at the present time. Slightly older, but different. Still working with earth energies, just in a different way – which I don’t have means to access [ie feel with my hands or body] like in a circle or a barrow. Were more hills like this, balanced by stones, but not generally recognised today – like Silbury hill yes, but often smaller. Somewhat abused by turning it into a castle, but it didn’t last long!”

    Braiding and Knotting

    Many years ago, when we had family holidays on a narrowboat, I got interested in ropework. New ropes always needed ends or loops splicing, many different knots needed to be tied quickly and accurately such as a Lark’s Head, Round turn, Half Hitches, Clove Hitch, or a Bowline in its various forms. Occasionally I had fun trying out some of the more decorative knots; I have used a monkey’s fist as a keyring for many years.

    One knot I never found a use for was the Turk’s Head, as we didn’t have the sort of tiller that needed ropework on it. It is a knot or braid that could be used on any cylinder, particularly where a marker or a handgrip is needed, I forgot about it for many years, until I recently became interested in the idea of making simple bracelets or necklaces out of knotted leather cord. Paracord has become popular for knotting and wearing, and the Turk’s Head often photographed on the cover of such books; however I particularly wanted things that were natural and untreated, and that I could wear to connect me to spirit. What works in rope should work in leather cord, I thought!

    Leather Turk's Head Bracelet

    Leather Turk’s Head Bracelet

    This was my first one, which I still wear sometimes. It is not perfect, being a little loose in the weave, (leather does not slide easily over itself like modern ropes and cords do, nor can I simply heat-seal the ends in place) but I like the simplicity of the triple nature of both the braid and the number of strands. Nine is usually the number of Spirituality, of completeness – there are nine complete circles of the leather tied in a never ending ‘Eternity’ knot. Three on its own is the upper, middle and lower world, or the number of potential, creativity and self-expression. There is another number woven in that I didn’t expect, and certainly didn’t plan for – master numbers eleven, or twenty two. These are the number of curves or bights on each side. Eleven is the ultimate in creativity, while twenty two is capable of putting the creativity into practice.

    Wearing it, I feel an inner knowing that everything is connected. It seems to help when I am feeling stressed. I also feel a connection to the three worlds. I have woven friendship bracelets and similar items using embroidery threads and felt connected to the triple goddess, but this is different, more primal, more basic. It connects to the Earth, to animal kingdoms, and to plant kingdoms, yet with an awareness of what also lies above. And it wants to get things done. Most unexpectedly, it has formed one of a series of recent lessons to me in how wearing a particular piece of jewellery can influence me in a positive way. Somehow I feel more will follow, as its work is not yet completed.

    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.

    Unexpected Festivals

    It is always a challenge, living as a Pagan in a Christian country, to decide how to celebrate festivals. It is even more of a challenge to explain to M why we are celebrating on different days to everyone else in the country. Normally I try and think through what my approach will be to each festival before it arrives. And then one catches me completely by surprise.

    Today is apparently Mother’s Day. Originally known as Mothering Sunday, it was the day when young girls in service would return home to go to their mother church and has been celebrated in England since at least the sixteenth century. They would pick flowers along the way to give as an offering, either to the church or to their mothers. The day was also known as Pudding Pie Sunday, Simnel Sunday, Refreshment Sunday or Rose Sunday, being a short break from the general austerity on week four of Lent so that the underfed daughters could have a good meal and possible something to take back with them.

    Mothering Sunday has morphed into Mother’s day over recent years, maybe because fewer people go to church or feel strongly allied to a particular church, or maybe because of influences from the American Mother’s Day – which has an entirely different history. Ann Reeves Jarvis began organising mother’s groups, along with various other women, in the 1850s to promote peace and tackle issues such as infant mortality and milk contamination. They tended to both sides during the civil war in the 1860s, and in 1868 a Mother’s Friendship Day was held for mothers of fallen soldiers to mourn together, whether they were union or confederate. Her daughter Anna Jarvis then created Mother’s Day in May 1908 to honour her mother (who died in 1905), as a local event in their home state of Virginia and after much lobbying, nationally from 1914. She later tried to have the holiday stopped after it became too commercial.

    I have never celebrated Mother’s day before, nor wanted to. It hasn’t felt right to me to annex a Christian festival to gain recognition – something which is either there anyway, or won’t come because of one day. Neither have I ever felt comfortable with the commercialisation of the American Mother’s Day. Other mothers may feel differently about this, and that is fine, but that is how I have felt. So it was very disconcerting to say the least to find my daughter presenting me with flowers and card she had made at nursery this week!

    As it would have been churlish of me to refuse the gift offered, it has made me re-examine my feelings towards Mother’s Day. Most likely I became biased against the day over many years of not being able to have children – there is nothing like a yearly reminder of something I haven’t got to make me reinterpret the situation into something non-threatening. And then reading about the history, I discovered that, like so many other Christian festivals, it may have a Pagan root.

    The Ancient Greeks celebrated the Earth Goddess Rhea, the Mother of the Gods and Goddesses, every Spring with festivals of worship. The Romans celebrated her better known counterpart, the Phrygian Goddess Cybele in March with offerings of flowers, reeds, pine and oak. Unfortunately at this point the ‘may’ of pagan history comes into play. Every online source I found states as fact that the March Hilaria is a precursor to Mother’s Day, and at least three of the twelve or fourteen days are celebrating Cybele and motherhood; but a key focus of the festival is the death and resurrection of her lover Attis, which to me is an Easter story. However, since Cybele was known as The Great Mother, and this was her festival in March, the connection to Mother’s day appears to have stuck. Two thousand years on it is difficult to know which aspect, motherhood or resurrection, was more important.

    So I have now come to see Mother’s Day as a way to celebrate all mothers, from the Earth mother down through dynasties of Goddesses and humans, to myself as a mother on this Earth. It is a festival of Spring, of fullness, of flowers and trees, and of joining families together through the power of the mother. I will go and enjoy the sunshine with my own family.

    I now wait and see if there will be a similar offering for Father’s day…

    Sour Grapes?

    I read some interesting comments this week, talking about the way fruit and vegetables are treated:

    “By spraying poisonous chemicals on our fields and gardens, we killed the micro-organisms and bacteria that provided the glue that held the soil together in its crumb formation. … Once the micro-organisms and bacteria had been killed, their work – which was to excrete humic acids that would break down mineral elements into nutrient forms the plants could use – did not take place! … Plants grown in poor, dying or dead soil were not healthy enough to withstand cold, heat, periods without rain, or the normal range of pests, fungi, and viruses that lived in any soil. … The dead and collapsed soil we insisted on trying to grow foods in was just not capable of producing either healthy plants or healthy foods. Since insects and fungus were nature’s garbage collectors, her way of cleaning up sick, diseased, or dysfunctional plants and removing them from the landscape because they were not fit for consumption, our continued use of poisonous sprays to protect worthless crops was nothing less than ridiculous, ignorant, and doomed. … Fruits, vegetables and grains that grew from dead soil were almost as dead as the dirt they came from. Even when they looked beautiful they lacked basic levels of proteins, sugars and minerals. Worse, they contained chemical residues and other poisons. Healthy, normal amounts of protein in vegetables and fruits had to be at least 25 percent to support human life. Foods grown in these depleted soils of these United States had been at 3 percent or less for at least thirty-five years.”
    Penny Kelly, The Elves of Lily Hill Farm

    And that is just proteins. Huge numbers of trace minerals are missing from these crops, leached out of the soil that hasn’t been taken care of, and further unbalanced by using NPK fertilisers with many of the essential trace elements missing. The effects of waxing or preserving fruits for storage, then gassing to ripen them only adds to the chemical imbalance.

    Fundamentally for me was this statement:

    “Most of us were paying for cheap, poisoned foods grown in depleted soils and still complaining that it cost too much to eat. No one realized that what was saved at the grocery store was being spent at the hospital.”
    Penny Kelly, The Elves of Lily Hill Farm

    As someone who has had major health issues in the past, this struck a chord within me. I don’t like buying overly processed food, or non-organic vegetables or fruit that may have been flown half way around the world, but sometimes I still do. I can make many excuses, like alternatives not being available, or being significantly more expensive, or that I have requests for particular things that are only available from sunnier climates, but ultimately I still have to take responsibility for the choices I make. I would like to do better, one day…

    And then I ate a grape. Just one, but before any other food instead of after as I normally do. It made me feel queasy. It gave me an instant headache, something I don’t suffer from. Sure the grape taste was in there, but what else?

    So I have realised I cannot carry on down the path I am on any longer. Ideally I would grow more fruit and veg, but my garden is small and the area given over to edibles is smaller still, not sufficient to grow everything we want. Neither am I a very successful vegetable grower, yet! But change has to start somewhere, and for me it is now. So I am writing down my intentions to grow better fruit and vegetables and to seek out organic and biodynamic locally grown alternatives, because what I write here has a good way of coming true.

    A Soggy Imbolc

    I am feeling a bit of a theme to Sabbats at the moment – all of the recent ones seem determined to get me wet! However it was not from above that I got a soaking, but from below.

    I like to make Brigid Crosses to honour the goddess at this time of year, and although I have used crocosmia stems from my garden successfully in the past, this year they were well past it and shredded for compost. So instead I went on a search for the traditional plant used, the common or field rush, Juncus effusus, being a good Brigid green all year.

    Rushes are not a plant that grow in abundance where I live – which is on the top of a hill – even in this damp year we have been having. However a drainage ditch put in a few years ago alongside a minor road a short distance from me has been colonised by some very interesting flora, including rushes. So on Sunday afternoon, once the rain had stopped, we had a family walk returning by way of the ditch so that I could cut a few stems.

    This year the timing of the verge cutting left no rushes growing out of the top of the ditch. The only plants with leaves long enough to cut where those growing low down near the water level, out of the sides of the gabions from which the ditch is constructed. It wasn’t deep, I had wellies on, so I jumped in next to the first likely looking plant – and yes was able to cut several stems that were suitable. But not enough for a cross, unless I left the poor plant with nothing left to grow from. (There is not an abundance of rushes here!) So I asked for a hand out of the ditch, and then stepped down again at the next place where there were three rush plants growing close together. All good, until I tried to climb out again.

    Having moved downstream, the layer of mud in the bottom of the concrete-lined ditch was about twice as deep as my first place. Wellie was not released by said mud, and instead bent over at the top and filled with water. Result: one very wet foot. The rushes were exacting their payment. Brigid was anointing me with her water. And I was laughing too hard to do anything.

    The strange thing is since that event, I have felt her presence very strongly back in my life, guiding me forward. I have been exploring other directions a little over the winter, and become very aware of Elen of the Ways, the only horned goddess, amongst others. I realise that each year I seem to experience a different goddess in Winter when Brigid is less present, Danu and Hecate both having been strong forces in recent years. Yet now Spring has returned it is Brigid again, with her crafting skills in particular. It is a familiar, comforting and relaxing feeling to return to what I know. However, she has been showing me how I can use my own crafting skills to bring more love into the world thus taking what I know to a new level, as well as how I can work with water, Earth’s “living love”, to honour the Earth and help bring healing. I will of course be writing as much as I am able here, fulfilling the third of Brigid’s three aspects…

    Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards

    The Roman God Janus, who gave his name to January, has two faces so that he is able to look forwards and backwards at the same time. At the beginning of last year I wrote about the things that I hoped to achieve over the year – in the hopes that writing them down would give me the help I needed to make sure they happened. So now honesty compels me to find that list and see if I actually managed any of it… as well as looking forwards to work out where I want to go this year.

    Sewing – well I did finish the quilt of Pooh’s map, and posted a photo of the completed quilt on my wall in April. I have managed quite a few other sewing projects besides, most of which don’t appear here! Somehow the more I manage to complete, the more projects seem to appear so I now seem to have a list of clothes to make as well as quilting projects for my new sanctuary space and altar that will keep me busy for the whole year and beyond at current rates of progress!

    Stained Glass – er… I’m glad to say one window I made three years ago finally got fitted (Oak Sunrise, see December post), but no new work was started. Unfortunately I think I’m still a few months off, as this year’s priority is to finish the building work. So my glass tools will have to go back into storage again. But maybe I’ll manage something small towards the end of the year if all goes well.

    Bodhran playing – I have made a start, and some osteopathy work early last year definitely freed up my shoulders and arms for better playing. I have started to get the feel of the instrument and what it can do, and find that the more bodhran practice I get in the easier it is to play a simple steady beat for journeying. (When M doesn’t want to join in, that is!) But I haven’t found a regular ‘practice slot’ yet and it shows! This is definitely on my list of things to do this year! As well as to drum some healing for the Earth in an outdoor location.

    Working with elementals – well the garden is now completely replanned to bring in some water features, more flowers, and make it a fun, relaxing space for all. For this coming year I hope to establish a wildlife pond and get the building work finished, so that where there are currently piles of bricks I might be able to reclaim the space as garden. However, having dug six red bricks, a paver and a blue brick out of a small test hole for the pond this weekend, the brick piles are likely to get bigger rather than smaller in the short term! (So far we have dug 4,500 bricks out of our garden, which is about the size of a singles tennis court. They have proved very useful for the extension, but would have been better left in their original arrangement!) So I have felt inspired by elementals, and seem to get some good guidance in meditations about how to develop the garden. But as for working directly with them, I seem to spend my time focussing on weather rather than what is right here. Who knows what direction this will go.

    Climbing the Wainwrights. Well I spent a week in Cumbria and managed precisely zero hills to tick off his list. The one new hill, two tops, were too low to be included, given that they were below the mist level and also within M’s capabilities. Interestingly however, the guidance I received on a journey was that it would be good exercise for me and help get me fit if I climbed them all, but it was more important for me to get to know the valleys and the streams. Well I did plenty of that!

    Swimming in Dunnerdale – well I said it might take me eight years! Last year I managed a bit of stream and sea paddling in bare feet, maybe this year I’ll get as far as swimming somewhere…

    And finally one to add to my list for this year, to make time and space for my writing, so that I can finish the tree stories I have started, and get back to writing longer stories without loosing the flow. With writing also comes reading, because for me the latter inspires the former. However while it was easy to read books when M was little and feeding all the time (provided they could be held in one hand); it is proving much harder to find the time to stop and read for myself as she gets older and more active, and as my ever growing list of things I want or need to do take priority!

    I am reminded by looking at this list that there are only so many hours in a day, and at best only two of them are mine to do what I like with. But keeping that small part of me alive and focussed on the things I want to do gives me a sense of well-being and achievement – and writing it down like this helps me do that. However another theme has emerged for me from doing this list: I notice how for the first time every single item has a connection to the Earth in some way. I have over the past ten years experienced moments of acute homesickness for places which are most definitely not Earth as I currently know her, and at times I have found this quite hard to deal with. But this past year, I have also noticed how when I make strong connections not just with where I am but the Earth herself, her rivers and hills, her weather, I seem to find a stronger sense of purpose in me being in this life, here right now. That is something which will guide me going forwards, in what I do, and how I celebrate Sabbats.

    Creating a Circle

    Grass Circle with paths to the four directions.

    Grass Circle with paths to the four directions.

    I am really excited to have a new circle space in the garden, done in time for Samhain last weekend. It is 13′ across, and has four access paths positioned North, South, East and West.

    It looks a little unfinished at the moment – I haven’t actually planned shape of the pond yet, just where it is going to go (about where I am standing), so I simply dug out the final side of the circle to mark the edge. I now need to do some measuring, thinking and drawing before any more digging, but I have been really pleased to get this far. Having a break for a couple weeks will hopefully allow the shifted ground to settle enough so I can see where to put the soil from the pond. Then in another month or two I can start moving those plants that are in the middle of the “East” path (to the left in the picture, a very large and very lovely Geranium ‘Patricia’) – giving easier access to the hedge on that side. Eventually the plants should signify the four elements: Windflowers already grow in the East for Air (those tall floppy Anemone hupehensis var. japonica plants), hot colours to the South for Fire, there will be Water in the West, so it is only Earth in the North that will need careful consideration.

    There is no permanent marker for the centre of my circle of grass, but at present the paint mark is just visible. I would put a flat stone there, which would serve many purposes, but if anyone ever wants to camp in that space it might be a little uncomfortable! At some point in the future I hope to create a bulb spiral which will also mark the centre (leaving a space), but with my present record on doing anything with spirals I’m not rushing anything!

    An Alternative View of Michaelmas

    This week I was unexpectedly witness to a Michaelmas celebration, complete with Archangel Michael symbolically killing a dragon. This is a theme that appears frequently in England’s history, with our ‘native’ (or adopted) Saint George killing a dragon and Beowulf killing dragons, not to mention Bilbo Baggins with Smaug. The only trouble is, I rather like dragons and don’t like all this killing of them. So I decided to investigate what meaning is intended behind the stories.

    Most (if not all) versions of Michaelmas I could find refer to the Book of Revelation in the Bible, which states: “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, who fought back with his angels; but the dragon was defeated, and he and his angels were not allowed to stay in heaven any longer. The huge dragon was thrown out – that ancient serpent, called the Devil or Satan, that deceived the whole world. He was thrown down to earth, and all his angels with him.” (Rev 12, verses 7-9, Good News Bible.)

    My interpretation of this is that Michaelmas is therefore a celebration of Michael’s battle victory, except that in this case there appear to be angels, those beings universally regarded as ‘good’, on both sides of the battle. Also the dragon or serpent (some doubt over wings and legs here!) appears to be seen as the same as the Devil or Satan, whom I had previously thought Christians viewed as a cloven hoofed Satyr more akin to the God Pan. Still feeling confused, I looked further.

    According to Wikipedia’s entry on Michaelmas, “In Christianity, the Archangel Michael is the greatest of all the Archangels and is honoured for defeating Satan in the war in heaven. He is one of the principal angelic warriors, seen as a protector against the dark of night, and the administrator of cosmic intelligence. Michaelmas has also delineated time and seasons for secular purposes as well, particularly in Britain and Ireland as one of the quarter days.”

    Michaelmas, I realise, has formed part of our culture with Michaelmas daisies, Michaelmas term, Michaelmas hiring fairs, and the old Michaelmas date of 11th October was the last day for eating blackberries because the devil supposedly fell on them when he was thrown from heaven and cursed them. It is apparently a time for starting new things, taking up new tasks, taking new steps on our inner journey and raising ourselves above our nature. Michael apparently calls us to come alive while the year dies.

    Lucifer, having lost the war and been thrown down to Earth, also appears in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, as a snake to tempt Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge. To develop an ego and become individuals, making our own choices. For that was Lucifer’s crime, he went against the divine will and went in search of knowledge for himself. Possibilities and uncertainties open up, and that can be scary for many. He started up a new waywardness and individuality that has gone through the ages rearing its head time and time again – that of a betrayer that leads us away from the light. The ‘snake’ of Lucifer tempting us to learn more, to use our minds instead of simply basking in divine union. Or worse, to go over to the ‘Dark Side’ and gain experiences our creator would never have planned or chosen for us.

    Some sources suggest Lucifer’s desires went far beyond knowledge, to ultimate power. That he wanted to rule and to create in place of the Divine source who created him. What use is knowledge, unless it can be tested? To see if it works in practice, rather than just in theory? It was this attempt to usurp the Divine Creator’s position that led to the war. This, to me, is a more serious view and better explains why Lucifer’s temptations might be feared, and why he might be seen as an ‘opposite’ to ‘God’. And yet, to become co-creators is what we as humans are all being promised by scores of new-age writers, when we fully develop our own consciousness in love, wisdom, will and active intelligence. So is Lucifer still fallen, and a source of temptation and evil, a dragon to be slayed, or has some good come out of all this?

    In ancient Egypt, Lucifer was known as Set, who ruled the underworld. Like Lucifer, he helps us to build an ego, a sense of self, an individual personality. This is a lowering of our consciousness, for we are no longer in harmony with Spirit, doing divine will, but serving ourselves. However, this is also an evolutionary step, for as we learn, we expand our consciousness again, and are on the path to becoming a co-creater, not merely serving the divine will but adding to it. Most importantly, we have learned to love in adversity.

    There was a wonderful quote I read recently:

    “The World, the universe, life as you know it, is all just a big experiment in love. Like a beehive. You humans are like worker drones. Your job is simply to make the hive get bigger. For this to happen, all you are required to do is love actively. And, if possible, help to build collective dreams of love. If you do that, you are fulfilling my purpose. That is all I ask. All you need for your happiness. All you are here to achieve. Whatever else you do is up to you. All I require of you is to love. It is that simple.”

    As received by Rupert Isaacson in a Near Death Experience, quoted in ‘The Long Ride Home’.

    I interpret this as the Divine seeing the potential and possibilities in us having developed free will, and encouraging it. Yes we are tempted, but it has become part of our spiritual journey. Ultimately, like Lucifer, we will convert the knowledge into wisdom and return Home, increasing the consciousness of the entire universe. Because Lucifer did return, of his own free will, and bring the knowledge he had gained with him. And like the prodigal son, returning of our own free will is the cause of much celebration. Those who have never left may not understand, but the wisdom which is shared also leads to compassion. We forgive them, they will forgive us.

    So far none of the Michaelmas story has fitted with the Pagan wheel of the year, welcoming, even celebrating the dark time. It is all constructed in a way to look towards the light, and to be fearful of being tempted otherwise as we head towards the dark time of the year. But if I look to Lucifer, rather than to Michael, I unexpectedly find something different. An angel, one of the greatest, who now spends his time working with those spirits who find it hardest to give up material pleasures and raise their consciousness. An angel who fell, it is true, but an angel who has been redeemed. Returned to love and with love. We can do the same.

    According to Tanis Helliwell in ‘Decoding Your Destiny: Keys to Humanity’s Spiritual Transformation’, as we enter the Aquarian Age Lucifer will take over from Michael, helping us to cleanse by fire that which no longer serves us. (The Hindus call this period Kaliyuga, after Kali the dark mother, goddess of Time and Dark, who helps to remove the illusion of the ego.) Both Michael and Lucifer are equally important, Michael guarding us from the outer world of temptation and Lucifer guarding us from the inner world of nothingness. They may each help us when called upon, helping us to clear our negativity, though they may act in different ways. If it helps us to follow Michael with his sword and head towards the light, that is fine, but if we are prepared to face the darkness and look at it head on, Lucifer, the light bringer, will help to strengthen us. Ultimately when we can balance these forces of light and dark, yin and yang, suns and black holes, within ourselves, and move between them at will, then we achieve wisdom. And that balance is something we can celebrate at the time of the Equinox.

    As for Dragons, they are a race of huge knowledge and wisdom. They are very logical creatures, impossible to defeat in an argument, and speak great truths. Long lived, they are often called upon to judge other races. Like other reptiles, they are still learning in love and sometimes come to Earth for that purpose and so that their judgements may be balanced. They also help us in other ways, helping to control the kundalini energy of Earth and in a minor way being associated with the kundalini energy in our bodies. It is, however, their knowledge that has led them to be associated with Lucifer, and hence the devil. May they, like Lucifer, soon be properly understood and revered!

    Acceptance and Change

    There is a prayer by Rheinhold Niebuhr written in the 1930s which begins: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I have tried to remember this good advice for many years now, first asking for help with the things I cannot change and then more recently learning about acceptance. However, here is an idea I have been exploring in the last month or so: that acceptance is sometimes the way to effect change. This is particularly in relation to situations that you know are not the way you want them to be, but can’t seem to change no matter how much time and effort and energy you throw at it.

    I once read of someone who never unpacked their things when they moved into a flat because they didn’t plan to stay long, Five years later they were still there, living out of boxes, still looking for the ‘right’ place. It was suggested to them that maybe they needed to accept this place and ‘prove’ they could make a home anywhere, and within a month of unpacking they had found the perfect place.

    We have lived with an open hanging rail for clothes for about seventeen years, always saying we would get a fitted wardrobe in our new bedroom so there was no point in doing more. I never liked it from the start, but seeing the sense of it went along with the situation; it was somewhat low down in my priority list for much of that time. But then one day earlier this year I looked at it and decided I had had enough of dusty, light-affected clothes and didn’t want to live with it any longer. Accepting that it was going to have to be there for a few more years, I bought some very cheap gauzy fabric and made some curtains to go around it, and found some plain polyester fabric to make a ‘roof’. Within a month of me doing this we had found someone to build our wardrobe, at a price we could afford. We did the finishing inside (as mentioned in an earlier blog post on ‘Trust’) and this month we moved in. The curtains never did get fitted and all but a very short section of hanging rail has now been removed. (I’m sure I can reuse them for something else!)

    So how does this work? I can only presume it comes back to accepting What Is, fully, and then dreaming a new reality into existence. This is what I believe we need to do for the Earth. Accept, love everything on Earth as it is now, and from that point dream a new reality. Where there is connectedness not separation, where we recognise her divinity and that of everyone and everything on the Earth, where we stop trying to destroy that which supports us. We need a new way of seeing. But I am finding acceptance brings love and then wonders may happen.

    Cycling into Consciousness

    I have been back on my bicycle again, after an eight-week break over the summer, feeling decidedly unfit but loving the freedom and speed that comes from being on two wheels. I suspect I am not alone in this, as given a choice M chooses bicycle trailer over car every time. It will be great when she can help pedal!

    I have had many people ask me if I am scared of the traffic. My usual replies focus around the fact that I have been cycling on roads for many years and know how to be seen by cars in my riding style and clothing; that while one of the roads is busy it is also wide enough for cars to overtake me; and most people are more careful when I have the trailer than when I ride solo. I could add that if I focused on the fear I would probably have an accident, but when I trust that I am doing the right thing by cycling, and pay attention to the messages I get from the world around me, then there is no reason why I should have an accident unless it is already predetermined.

    However last week my experience went a stage further. I had been reading about levels of consciousness, and suddenly found myself completely aware of every other person on or around the roads, before I could see them, and could feel us all doing a dance around each other. I was filled with love for all these people, complete strangers to me, giving me space and acknowledgement at soul level as they went about their lives. After a few miles I found myself loosing focus, feeling overwhelmed by so many souls I was touching, so I pulled back. But having done so, I felt the disconnect and joined up again. It wasn’t a totally new experience to me, having previously tried to be aware of others in a group situation with some success, or nature spirits around me when sitting outside, but this was deeper than anything I have experienced before. Even better, as a result of my cycling experience I now find I can enter this state of awareness more easily in other situations, although it still takes a conscious expansion to do this accompanied by a mind shift to expand into love.

    It occurs to me that cycling has characterised several different stages of consciousness for me. Some of my earliest memories are bicycle accidents as I learned how to live in the physical world: getting a foot stuck in a front wheel while riding on the crossbar as a ‘tiny’, falling off onto gravel when a little bigger, occasional bike problems, ice, birds, dogs and one more major accident when riding to school… However the overriding good memories are of companionship and discussions of ‘life, the universe and everything’ each morning cycling to school, and the freedom to explore further afield than my legs alone could take me.

    As an adult I used to find myself cycling to work ‘half asleep’, and then waking up a few miles in with no recollection of how I got there. I had a short period of doing this, and looking back it was when I was so unhappy in the job I was in that I really didn’t want to greet the day and wake up in the morning. I’m glad to say this period didn’t last long!

    The next stage was when I started paying attention to what was around me and where I was going. Not that I had been ignoring the views before then, but I started to become aware of my body and how it felt, and doing ‘active meditations’. My cycling was no longer for work, but happened when I wanted to go out and ride a bike. I was starting to learn who I was, and what I wanted in life. I became a Pagan, and started to understand and see the value in the Wiccan tenet ‘An ye harm none, do what ye will.’

    The third adult stage for me was unfortunately when I stopped cycling. This was the ‘testing’ stage, when we go through the dark night(s) of the soul in order to loose what no longer serves us, and take on a different, more loving and forgiving view of the world. For me it took several months of deteriorating health, making cycling impossible, before I realised you cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results. Yes there were other incidents as well that helped me look at things differently, expanding in love and trust and learning not to judge, but once cycling again it marked the end of this transition and cemented the success of my new ways of being.

    And finally as mentioned above, a jump to the fifth level, when we become one with the world and realise how all things are connected. The Wiccan rule goes out of the window and my ego learns it has been promoting separateness instead of the connectedness of all things. To serve the Divine will with love, and to align my will with Spirit. This would be impossible if I hadn’t learned to know and love myself first – I couldn’t possibly know what Spirit wanted of me if I hadn’t got to know myself – but I can see the two growing a little more in tandem from this point forwards.

    This is not the end of course, not only because I have a way to go before I can live at the fifth level but also there are more levels (I have read there are twelve in total) with more to learn at each level. However, as each new layer is peeled back there is magic to be found there.

    The Earth will apparently soon move into the fourth dimension, the poles will reverse, and much will change just as it did 12,000 years ago with the ending of the ice age and the sinking of Atlantis. Then in another two thousand years, at the end of this Aquarian Age when all the negativity has been transmuted, Earth will enter into the fifth dimension and our consciousness will be able to rise further; compare this with Earth spending millennia in the first stage, the second stage ending with the end of Lemuria 100,000 years ago, and the third ending just a few thousand years ago, and it is no wonder so many people are having rapid expansions in their consciousness right now. It is an exciting time to be alive.

    Walking Barefoot and Remembering

    I wrote a little over a year ago about my rediscovery of going barefoot, and how I discovered it helps to keep me connected and open to Mother Earth. Life flows when I am in touch with the Earth, and stops when I cut myself off.

    A year on, and I am still suffering from the practical point of how to keep my feet warm enough. Wearing socks around the house seems to be a good compromise for me, but except on rare occasions I have been unable to go barefoot outside. Until last week.

    The sandy beaches of Northumberland called to me, and I took my shoes off. A wonderful feeling. I stood in the sea, letting the waves run around my ankles, and had a huge feeling of knowing I had been there before. In that place on Bamburgh beach, hundreds of years ago. I looked out and knew the place, knew it was right that I had returned. Thanks to the protection of the Farne Islands, and Lindisfarne in particular, it had changed less with the passing of time than many other beaches to the South, although I think the castle and certainly the lighthouse had been built since. I knew then, if I hadn’t fully known it before, that it is time for me to start remembering who I was in previous lives so that I truly know who I am now and what I am here to do.

    There have been a number of aspects to this remembering and reconnecting, but this was the first that really spoke to me so I’m writing about it first. More may follow as it feels appropriate. Ultimately my aim in remembering past lives is to know the lessons I wished to learn from them, so that I may fulfil my purpose in this life. I have long felt that this life will be my last. As part of this, I have found it interesting to realise how my remembering that area of Northumberland makes sense for several of my interests – a fascination with eighth and ninth century English history, a draw towards Celtic parts of Britain and their later history and myths, and particularly Celtic writing and knot work such as forms my Sorrel leaf image. I have also had a huge amount of discomfort towards Viking and Anglo Saxon history of the same period…

    Bamburgh beach felt like somewhere I had been pleased to reach, having lived elsewhere and travelled East to greet the sea. A pilgrimage possibly, for which reaching the beach was an achievement but not the end of the journey. It reminded me of my own wish to walk the ‘Wainwrights’ in Cumbria.

    Later in the week I was barefoot on another beach less than five miles away, and was amazed I had none of the same feelings of recognition. Lovely beach, almost identical sand and waves, but not remotely familiar to me.

    My other discovery however was finding that I could carry M for miles in the carrier, barefoot along the beach or in the sea, with far more ease than I normally carried her with my shoes on. We were part of the same Earth that I was connecting with, who supported us fully and completely. She was part of me, and we were both part of the Earth.

    Weather

    A friend of mine recently stated, as one of a number of fixed things in life, “you can’t change the weather.” I had to reply that actually we can. Weather is nothing like as fixed as we think it is, and we affect what it does without even realising it.

    Weather helps keep the balance on the Earth, and is balanced within itself. If, for example, there is a lot of negativity in an area, a thunderstorm will help dispell it. If there is a flood in one part of the world, there will be a drought in another. If everyone asks for hot sunshine, and celebrates the sun that arrives, there is likely to be more hot sunshine continuing, potentially for weeks. Of course farmers may be asking for rain, so messages become confused and so will the weather.

    I first started asking for specific weather on holidays a few years ago. We had a choice of times for a week’s camping, I asked to have a dry sunny week and dowsed for which week to go. We had a dry week. Next holiday I asked to experience all types of weather in a particular area. The first morning we went for a walk and got very wet in an unexpected torrential downpour. I thanked the rain, and then said that while I enjoyed it the rest of my family did not appreciate it, so would it be possible for me to see all kinds of weather but for us to stay dry? That is what happened, to the point that we twice watched downpours from half a mile away. Two different camping holidays I have asked not only for my family to stay dry, but also for it to be dry when we put the tent up and packed it away again. Sure enough, although I got wet once or twice no one else did, thunderstorms came late in the evening after it was dark, and a dry tent could be packed away on the final morning without the need to hang it out for days on our return. Only the groundsheet needed attention. I have also asked for ‘picnic weather’ for people’s birthdays and had the requests granted, and finally this year for a Lughnasa picnic lunch I asked for dry, not too hot, but maybe a thunderstorm at 3pm when we were all safely back home. Rain threatened early, which I put down to my lack of trust as it stopped immediately on reminding the weather of my request. It was then dry until exactly 3pm, at which point there was a torrential downpour for half an hour.

    I had had enough examples to know that it wasn’t just luck or chance doing this, the weather really was responding to me. An awesome feeling, and completely intimidating. I knew I could never ask again, or even think again, or else I would be adversely affecting what weather was needed. With consciousness comes responsibility. Even though all my requests have included a request to keep the balance that was needed while at the same time keeping us dry, and that mostly I was asking for other people rather than myself, it did not feel right for me to go on asking for what I want in this way. I have nothing to prove any more and any further requests would, I felt, be selfish. I started to ask on journeys what I should be doing weather-wise that would be positive and for the good or all.

    Why me? is one question that has been on my mind quite a lot. I do not fully know the answer to this. I have never done a ceremony to the weather, or danced or sang like shamans often do and like I have generally read is needed; I have simply asked if such and such could happen, and then thanked the weather when it invariably has. Finding something to enjoy in all weather and not being too attached to the outcome no doubt helps, but beyond that I am not able to help anyone else do the same. You will have to find your own way! However, I did gain a few answers on a journey following my Lughnasa experiences this year. Instead of my usual drumming CD, I took the opportunity of an undisturbed bath to do a journey – to the regular beat of a dripping overflow. (Now fixed!) One question I asked was: “Should I be working with the elements more, and were there particular elements that wanted me to work with them?” I asked for a sign if this was the case. Immediately the shower above me gushed out a whole load of cold water. I asked to know more, and it seems that thanks to all my swimming, and then canoeing, I do have (to use shamanic terminology) command of water. That was why the rain stopped when I asked it to, and why it poured down at 3pm. However I do not have command of fire, hence no thunderstorm. I was then asked to use my connection with water to help heal Mother Earth and bring balance where it is needed. This I agreed to do.

    I followed up with some more questions in September, after a few weeks of working towards balance (and helping to break the drought in Derbyshire). I was then asked to gradually increase my area of awareness, as a circle expanding outwards, and told I could also use wind to blow the rain to where it was needed. One day I would work with another who could bring fire but maybe not rain. We would balance each other, each having the missing element for the other person. It is important that others start to do this work as well, individually or as a group, as it will take many people working around the world to bring harmony and stability to the weather. To be in touch with the land where we each live, and work to keep the balance. This is why I am now writing about my experiences so far.

    I was advised that the nearer to balance the weather is, the easier it is to make small adjustments. When a weather system gets ‘stuck’ then it takes more work by more people to shift it, such as what happened with the jet stream last winter. I merely watched on that occasion, not being sure if I should be doing something, but I was aware of three or four different people who did act (and wrote about it) and helped bring about the change in the weather to end the floods. However there is another aspect to consider. Sometimes drought or floods are still needed, for many reasons which we as humans cannot always fathom. It may be as a response to what is happening in a particular area, or to balance another area. High winds may be needed to move the rain, or even to blow ideas to a different part of the world. ‘Bad’ weather also serves to remind us of what could be; who would know colour existed if everything was shades of blue? Our politicians would not take the tough environmental decisions unless they were convinced there was no choice. So sometimes we need to ask what action, if any, is needed before we rush in to solve what we perceive as a problem. Life can be like that.

    I have one positive comment to add however. I was told on a journey that I could always have a dry tent to pack away, since this saved Earth’s resources by not having to dry it later…

    Children’s Playgrounds

    While the weather seems to be producing the long hot sunny days of remembered youth (whether or not it was ever actually like that!) I am having a second childhood, exploring all the local playgrounds with M. We are in the amazing position here of having 12 playgrounds within a mile and a half. Two in our village, three in the village a mile East of here, 5 in the village half a mile West of here, 1 North West, and 1 North. Strangely none in the village to the South, which is great if I want a quiet walk! Some of course have only minimal equipment, and some are aimed at only much older children, (in fact all are aimed at older children judging by step sizes) but three are brand new and several are far more interesting than the basic swings, slide and roundabout that I remember in my local park.

    Lower end of wooden playground

    Lower end of wooden playground

    My favourite is entirely natural materials, being built mostly of wood with wood chips on the ground, and a few ropes and chains to join things together. It has a good wooden climbing frame for small children at the top end (not shown here) and a larger slide with climbing wall and rope ladder at the other. We walk there through the woods, and have views for miles from the swings.

    M is great at choosing what she wants to go on, once she knows it, but she often needs to see how it works the first time. I don’t often see anyone else, (with this many playgrounds to choose from, how would we?) so I am forced to be the example for M to copy. As a result I have been down all manner of slides on one leg, crawled through tiny tunnels, got bruised hips on narrow swings, unbalanced perfectly good roundabouts, fallen off wobbly logs, got dizzy in spinning bowls… but the zip wires are better than anything I remember!

    I can tell by M’s face when she is happy and when she isn’t – which can change quite quickly on a swing or a roundabout. Having now had a go on everything, my amazement is that her learning is almost identical to my re-learning in terms of what we are comfortable with. The limit to what the body can take in terms of changes of direction can come quite quickly, and from experience, a gentle slowing is much better than a sudden stop. But the confidence soon grows, both hers and mine, and I’m sure the increasing length of time she will swing for is a good thing.

    What does it do for me as a witch? Well I can see the world from a new perspective. Look at things from the other way up. Get the sensation of flying, of freedom, and occasionally of being out of control. Get in touch with the element of Air. And then come back down to Earth again, and explore new ways of grounding. And in terms of connecting with the countryside, while not all are made of natural materials, some are in truly stunning locations.

    Tiny slide, with big steps...

    Tiny slide, with big steps…

    Bigger slide, with waist-high steps.

    Bigger slide, with waist-high steps.