Happy Equinox

This year I have been asked to write a series of articles about the various Pagan festivals for a non-pagan audience, so I have been looking at the ‘basics’ of what is common to each festival rather than just relying on my own personal eclectic practices. Needless to say my online searches have turned up many short introductory articles, most of which repeat the same information, most of which is totally familiar. But just a few give me something that I didn’t know before, and in the case of the Spring Equinox, some of what I thought I ‘knew’ has proved to be just a little different.

1. I always had the impression that this festival and its September equivalent were less celebrated and therefore less important than the other sabbats.
However, several stone circles including Stonehenge and various circles in Derbyshire where I am getting to know them have alignments to the sunrise or sunset on this day. They wouldn’t have bothered if they weren’t interested!
I also suspect that the majority of celebrations were related to the farming year – it is always the time when I start my seed sowing, and it always feels entirely appropriate to start it with a ceremony.

2. It comes in the middle of the Pagan year.
Well it does if the year starts at the Autumn Equinox or at Samhain, but actually the spring equinox comes at the start of the modern Persian year, the old European year (on March 25th), the astrological year… The Romans also celebrated new year in March before they created January and February. Of those who didn’t, the Greeks celebrated at the winter solstice, and the Egyptians and Phoenicians started their year at the Autumn Equinox.

3. The name Ostara is used for this festival, the German equivalent of Eostre.
First there is the confusing claim that Eostre was only mentioned by Bede and nowhere else so he probably made her up… Given that Bede was pretty good on his knowledge on every other subject, I don’t see why he shouldn’t have known about the local Goddess where he lived! Evidence on many Celtic and Anglo-Saxon deities is pretty scanty at times, but there are always clues for those that wish to see them.
But, and this is a big but for me, I then read that Eostre’s day was the first full moon after the equinox, not the equinox itself. Given that Eostre is concerned with hares and eggs, this makes perfect sense that the full moon would be relevant, and also explains why Easter is the first Sunday after Eostre’s day. The only trouble is I shall no longer feel right celebrating eggs at the equinox, I will want to wait for the full moon. And it also means that Eostre (and if they are equivalent Goddesses, Ostara) had nothing to do with the Equinox – giving me a whole new set of challenges, and hopefully journeys of discovery, for next year.
Just to confuse things further, there are also those who claim Easter was named for Ishtar who, while still being a Spring Goddess, has a whole different mythology associated with her…

4. Egg hunts are just a fun thing for children to do.
Eggs have been apparently been decorated on every continent, the oldest yet discovered being South African and 60,000 years old. The ancient Egyptians decorated eggs. Almost every European country as well as several Asian and American ones have their own special egg traditions. Eggs can be cooked or blown, scratched, carved, coloured in many different ways, and then displayed in some form (often hung in a tree or by a well) or offered to another. They are not restricted to a particular day either; any time from early spring to the summer solstice seems to have been recognised in this way. But in Britain, eggs were apparently buried by Celtic Druids after being dyed red in order to encourage the life force to return to the Earth for new planting. More sinisterly if true, during difficult times in Europe eggs were hidden to avoid it being known that offerings were being made to the Goddess and children were apparently paid on finding and reporting these eggs. Hiding eggs so that they may be hunted for ‘fun’ seems to have started in England by the 1800s.

Oddly I found an egg buried nearly a foot deep in my garden a month or so ago when planting a small tree. Probably a duck egg, white and quite large, and heavy as if there was an egg inside it. Having absolutely no idea where it came from or what to do with it (we have lived here for 19 years and have never kept ducks) I just left it on the surface of the soil to see what would happen. A week later it was still there, but after another week I saw its broken shell, and it was now definitely empty. Who or what ate it, and what condition or age it was, I have no idea.

Finding Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts are one of my favourite foods to forage. At first I see nothing. Then little nuggets of gold seem to appear on the ground. Not many, and frequently hidden by long grass and brambles, but walk back and forth over an area by a nut tree and more seem to emerge from the undergrowth until before I know it, I have managed to fill a pocket. A few days later I will do it again.

The timing seems to be critical with hazels, and some years I have missed them altogether. Early falls are hollow, rejects by the tree. Later ones get eaten or lost within a day or two of falling. Reaching them for picking directly from the tree is rarely possible; the trees near me grow tall and nuts form at the extremities, so the only way is to watch and wait, and keep visiting the same trees every few days. In small ways I am lucky however, as the three trees I mostly pick from are in a line along a field boundary between a cow field and a playground and I can walk along both sides of two of the trees. Also they ripen in succession so if I miss the first tree I may get the second or third. And thanks to their open location few squirrels seem to have found them – the other trees around my village rarely produce any nuts without holes and trying to find uneaten ones amongst the debris of empty shells is a frustrating task.

Freshly picked hazelnuts

Freshly picked hazelnuts

The photo shows one day’s picking. So far, a six out of six success rate for finding nuts inside … but given the pale colour of some released still with their calyxes attached it is unlikely that I will get 100% fill rate. I never do. But I enjoy eating the nuts fresh, or shelling a batch and toasting them so they may be stored, for sprinkling over my breakfast or just nibbling for a snack. The difficulties in getting hazelnuts at least doubles the appreciation, and reminds me why they cost so much more than almonds.

It also amazes me every autumn how the catkins are already forming on the trees, ready for winter and then next year’s flowers and fruit. As we approach the Autumnal Equinox, ready to start the cycle again, the hazel tree is already there ahead of me.

Equinox Daffodils

Apparently the Equinox, last Sunday, was the first day of Spring. This year with hawthorn coming into leaf in January, and daffodils even earlier, Spring seemed to come before winter. Then we finally had some snow, some frost, and nature seemed to sort itself back into the proper order of doing things. So now we can properly enjoy Spring – and the sunshine that filled the Equinox from start to finish.

Wild Daffodils

Wild Daffodils


I spent the day outside, which included a walk in some woods where wild daffodils grow. Narcissus pseudonarcissus is not generally reported as being in Derbyshire – the Lake District, Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, and South Wales being its usual haunts, but there is a small area of woodland north of Derby, surrounding the remains of a castle (the stone was plundered for building Kedleston Hall), where it grows in abundance. Only around 6-7” high, they make small delicate clumps and do not make the sort of show that we think of from daffodils growing en masse; it is certainly not an unmissable haze of colour, like the bluebells will produce nearby in another month or so! But their delicacy makes them special, as does the fact they only fully open in warm sunshine.

Daffodils are poisonous; they were used to induce vomiting, eating a tiny amount (if mistaken for onion) can kill, sap can cause dermatitis, and even regular handling of the bulbs with bare hands can cause similar problems. I have read that the Romans introduced them to Britain as they carried a bulb in their pocket to use as a suicide pill. However more recent research has revealed treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease, for Leukemia, and for Depression.

It is said to be a flower of the dead and the underworld, after Persephone was distracted by daffodils and Hades abducted her. They are often planted on graves, and can be used for death and rebirth ceremony or magic. As a symbol of new life and regeneration the daffodil is remarkable for its ability to return each Spring no matter how hard the winter has been; it is one of the few bulbs that will thrive almost anywhere, on every council roundabout and roadside verge, unlike fussier types like tulips. Alternatively the ancient Greek may refer to the Asphodel – which would be an equally good choice in ceremony, but rather less good as a hardy garden survivor.

Daffodils are, however, associated with Narcissus who pined and died for the love of his own reflection; its cup is said to be full of his tears. To some the daffodil therefore represents vanity and unrequited love. This ‘narcissism’ can be turned into a positive where more self-love is needed: its strong yellow colour and sunny attitude will help strengthen the solar plexus chakra which holds our sense of self and personal power, while the green stem and leaves link it to the heart chakra, that of love.

Wild daffodils like sunlight, and mostly they grow in fields, by hedgerows, or in coppiced woodland. The woodland I know is mostly young, but the bulbs still grow in their greatest profusion on the south-facing slopes on the edge of the woodland. I will have to see how well they survive in the absence of further coppicing. Meanwhile they remain, for me, one of the surest signs of Spring.

Wild Daffodils growing in once-coppiced woodland

Wild Daffodils growing in once-coppiced woodland

Tree Stories 10 – Scots Pine

Scots Pine story is now posted on its own page, under tree stories. Please click here or follow the links above.

Probably my nearest Pine Trees...

Probably my nearest Pine Trees…

This is a tree I have been familiar with all my life, and yet never really known; it has always felt rather remote. In its wild state, it stands high on the hillside on dry soils, often in small groups pointing the way. The Six Pine Trees of Pooh Bear’s world are a landmark and indicated on the map although little featured in the stories. Arthur Ransome had a pine tree to hold a lantern marking the way through the rocks into harbour in ‘Swallows and Amazons’, then in ‘Swallowdale‘ a row of four pine trees pointed the way on an otherwise bare hillside. Alfred Watkins wrote in ‘The Old Straight Track’ that Scots Pines had been marking ancient sites on Leylines for millennia, despite the fact that he admitted to never having seen an old tree. He was most likely wrong in the timing, since many Scots Pines were planted in England by Landscape gardeners and artist landowners of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries seeking to romanticise the countryside, tumuli being particularly prone to new plantings of Pines or Beeches, but right in them as a landmark. Single trees were often left when others were cut down in order to mark drovers’ paths, some of which may themselves have followed leylines. Single trees were also planted in the Highlands of Scotland to mark the burial sites of warriors, allowing their spirits to climb the tree into other worlds.

Scots Pine is one of our three native confer trees (the others being juniper and yew), with the Caledonian forest dating back to the last ice age. It is a fast-growing, short-lived tree compared to many, but will grow from seed in its own shadow and thus regenerate without the need for a natural disaster. It will also grow happily with other trees such as birch or larch, sheltering them as they grow without casting too much shade. Many animals rely on pine forest, or the blaeberries and cowberries that frequently grow in its shade. Notable species include red squirrels, pine martens and Scottish wildcats, as well as birds such as Scottish Crossbills, Black Grouse and Capercaillies. Roe and Red deer like eating pine so much they prevent the natural regeneration of the forest. Wolves, Bears, Elk, Beavers and Lynx all used to live in the pine forests, the latter two may do again as there are many who wish to see their reintroduction. Sadly it is often treated as a monocrop in plantations to produce construction and joinery timbers, or telegraph poles, forests which have no understory and support very little wildlife.

Pine is very high in vitamin C, and the needles can be used to brew a healing tea for bronchitis and other chest complaints. The smell of fresh pine is good for clearing congestion, clearing the blocks in what we can see and uplifting us. Pine trees reach for the sky. This is particularly relevant in the middle of winter when many of us need a boost, and gives us a good reason to have a pine tree in the home for a few weeks! In fact it was the huge pine bonfires lit at Yule in various parts of Northern Europe which gave rise to the tradition of the Yule Log, and later the Yule or Christmas tree.

In Roman times it was not Yule that celebrated the pine tree however, but the Spring Equinox. The Earth Goddess Cybele turned Attis, her lover, into a pine tree after an incident in which he was unfaithful to her and then castrated himself in remorse. In some versions online he appears to have been tied to the tree and gored by a bull or a wild boar. I have read two endings to this sorry tale, that the tree was burned after three days and Attis was reborn from the ashes, and that Zeus later made him evergreen so that Cybele could have him as a companion all year. The Spring rites paralleled those often enacted in late summer with the corn spirit: in a three day ceremony, March 22nd-25th each year, an effigy of a man was made and attached to a pine trunk and bedecked with flowers. The second day trumpets were blown, and on the third a sacrifice, usually of blood from the Priest, was made to appease the Earth Goddess in order that Attis may be resurrected and the fertility of the Goddess restored.

The pine cones were often seen as phallic, continuing the male fertility theme from Attis and Cybele – despite actually being the female flowers. The double spiral formed by the seeds was also a symbol of life and fertility. This may be where the idea of pine being an aphrodisiac came from… Pinecones are sometimes fixed to the end of a staff or wand and used in fertility magic, while pine needles are sometimes used to purify a space and remove any negativity.

Finally from an art and crafting point of view, pine is used to make paper, the sap is used to make turpentine for painting and varnishing, and rosin used for giving friction to violin bows. And when a break is needed, it formed brewer’s pitch to line beer casks, and its close relative sabina pine flavoured retsina wines.

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!

Autumn Equinox

This week was the Equinox, when day and night equalise briefly as the sun passes over the equator. Here in the Northern hemisphere we have now entered the ‘dark’ time of the year. M and I held a ceremony at the time of the equinox, conveniently 9.22 on Wednesday morning when we were at home, so we lit candles, rang bells, and I sang some songs celebrating the turning of the Earth. At the moment of the equinox we paused, and then had the rather awe inspiring sight of the candle flames dipping down very small for several seconds, before growing back to full size again. Her delight that something had actually happened was very touching.

For me the equinox was time to call in a new way of being. I could feel many cycles coming to an end in the month preceding the equinox, but nothing new really happening yet. Impatient as ever, I have been finding this frustrating. There are things I want to do, to achieve, and I need to look after me a bit more since I am down to one pair of trousers that fits, the other having worn out last week. (M now has a full autumn wardrobe…)

However I also have to remember what autumn is all about. Getting the harvest in for the winter, making sure it is safely stored away so that we will not starve in the months ahead. Animals retreat into hibernation, plants retreat below ground. They are busy resting, building, growing in ways that we cannot see but that will bear fruit in the light half of the year. I need to look after myself more, sleep more, keep warmer and eat more sustaining or starchy foods than I do in summer – root vegetables instead of salads. This should be a time for dreams. Dreams need time, and even dark to grow, before they can manifest in their full glory.

Luckily there is one cycle I began during the summer months which has reached the active stage this week – that of my garden redesign. As the grass ceases its growth, it is time to mark out the new paths so that digging may commence. That will be a great job to do in winter!

Garden Sculptures

Moonstruck Hares Sculpture

Moonstruck Hares Sculpture
(Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire)

I came across this wonderful garden sculpture last weekend, while doing “essential research” for planning the redesign of my garden. (This garden is a little bigger than mine however…) It consists of ten wooden hares, nine of which are mesmerised by a full wooden moon hanging in the tree above their heads.

The hare has inspired many legends thanks to its unusual behaviour, such as boxing which is apparently females boxing males to either prove their strength before mating, or else fend them off. Until relatively recently it was believed that hares were hermaphrodite and changed sex each month – as late as the nineteenth century valuations in Wales did not specify the sex of the animal unlike for cats, dogs, or any other farm animal. Hares do not mate for life, and do not have much of a family life. They are born fully furred and with eyes open, and can just about survive by themselves if they had to. Each leveret will have its own ‘form’ or nest for the mother to visit, constructed in some long grass to give shelter, so they learn to be independent and solitary from the start. It was said that hares can do superfoetation, that is be pregnant twice over, with each pregnancy at a different stage. Science has apparently yet to prove this one way or the other. However it is known that one doe can produce 42 leverets in a year, which is a pretty high fertility rate for a mammal.

They are often said to be shape-shifting witches in disguise, particularly during times when witches were feared. Their solitary nature, being active at night, and being unpredictable and illogical in most people’s minds rather than recognising their intuition led the two to be associated. In British mythology, the Goddess Eostre was said to change into a hare at the full moon, the hare was sacred to the Moon Goddess Andraste, Ceridwen changed into a hare, and Freya was attended by hares. Boudicca used hares for divination, releasing them before battle and seeing which way they ran.

Hares are closely associated with the Spring Equinox, as it is the one time of year when they are seen to gather in droves, for reasons not yet understood. It is also at this time they are seen to box, run in random directions or in circles, roll in the grass, and generally behave like ‘mad March hares’. In more recent times the relationship with Eostre is cited for a reason for celebrating them at the Equinox, and also because their sex brings balance, which is the key to the energies that surround us at that time. Like the moon, they symbolise resurrection as they go through the birth, growth, reproduction, death and rebirth cycle at great speed. Male hares can supposedly give birth, having got themselves pregnant, and they are even said by some to lay eggs, like the picture of the hare in the moon holding an egg. Some see the hare’s egg as a cosmic egg which contains the seeds for all life.

Equally interesting is the tree, which is a handkerchief tree, Davidia involucrata, which was in flower when I saw it. (The flowers were all a little high for photographing individually, and just past their best.) Also known as the Dove tree in its native China, a tree of peace, seed was brought back to England by EH Wilson in 1901. It is the sort of tree that still gets mentioned in the newspapers here when it flowers, because it takes several years to reach flowering size and is still considered to be a rare sight. It was never widespread and remains endangered in the wild.

Timelessness

Cathedral Oak, also known as Millennial Oak, in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire. Girth almost 10m at 1m above ground.

Cathedral Oak, also known as Millennial Oak, in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire. Girth almost 10m at 1m above ground.

Last week I was on holiday in Wiltshire, enjoying some Spring sunshine and frosty nights, and revisiting some very old trees and even older stones. To be in the presence of living beings that are ancient is, for me, to experience a sense of timelessness and peace. To know that I am part of something almost greater than I can conceive, and that I am transient in physical form, with a far shorter life expectancy than this tree. And yet I am also part of everything, connected to the tree and the rocks, and therefore timeless.

I was reminded particularly of how our ancestors thought a solstice sunrise or sunset was sufficient excuse to build a huge monument out of stone in order to enhance their celebrations. At Avebury, as at Stonehenge, there is an avenue leading up to the stone circles and I could feel a sense of excitement as I rounded the summit to see my destination. How, I wondered, did we manage to complicate our life so far that we stopped celebrating the stations of the sun? Why do we look for more in everything, instead of realising fully what already Is? And how can I get back to this in my own life?

I have read of the pleasure elementals take in simply being at one with the manifestation of their element, be it fire, water, wind or rock. For them it becomes an ecstatic experience. For example, to take the experience of a Gnome:

Musar feels that the fault lines and mountains talk to him and answer his questions about their origins. He perceives the history of a mountain, its internal stresses, its erosion patterns, and the forces that have shaped it and that will wear it down. Musar can dip his finger into a subterranean stream and instantly identify the minerals present, their concentration, and the sources of the stream. He senses forests and the evolution of trees and plants and how they affect the earth. … He can sit watching the stars moving through the sky from dust to dawn and feel that no more than a moment of time has gone. He can gaze into past ages and epochs of time and not feel in the least old or weary. For Musar, everything that has shape, form, and weight is fascinating and full of wonder.
Unlike a mountain or a plateau, Musar never grows old. He is constantly full of enthusiasm. For Musar, there is no need to hurry; there is no need to worry – each moment is satisfying, and each moment is a treasure of the heart. The silence in which he dwells is a magic well from which he sips and drinks the beauty of the earth.
(Mermaids, Sylphs, Gnomes & Salamanders, William R. Mistele)

I have read of Machaelle Small Wright’s experiences at the solstices and equinoxes, where there is magic in the exact moment of the sun’s transition.

March 20 [1984]
Spring equinox: 5:25 A.M.
I set my alarm for 5:10 and prepared for the equinox. At the moment of the equinox, I felt a strong wave of energy wash through me, and I saw the garden at Perelandra take a shift.

June 21 [1984]
The Summer solstice: 1:02 A.M.
… At 1.02 I felt the Annex fill with energy and saw it light up. I received an invitation to come join nature in the new Annex, to join their party. When I entered the Annex, I could feel the celebration all around. Then a nature spirit – a faun – stood before me and allowed himself to become visible to my naked eye. I hardly knew what to say, except “Hello” and “I love you.” I made clear eye contact with this lovely faun for the longest time. It was a special and extraordinary moment, I remained in the Annex for about an hour, feeling the movement and celebration going on around and within me.
(Dancing in the Shadows of the Moon, Machaelle Small Wright)

So I spent some time simply communing with the stones at Avebury, and seeing the delight in each one. All unique, individual, characterful, with their own story to tell. Yes they were once part of something much greater as many stones are now missing, our ancestors having knocked over and even destroyed many stones through fear, but the original layout can still be sensed through the landscape. One day we may collectively regain the understanding and connections that humans had with the Earth, at which point it, or similar structures may be reborn in a new form. For now, it represents where we are – which is probably better than where we were even a few decades ago.

For me personally I feel a parallel in that I started as a child with every possibility open to me, free of doubts, then science and logic and often fear took over. Finally I started to find my way again, connecting to my intuitive nature and the Spirit within. I feel I am still incomplete, for there is so much I don’t know yet feel I should be able to understand on some level, but I am now starting to find the building blocks of reconnecting. Much like the stone circle at Avebury, where some stones have been restored to their original positions.

'Munching Mouth' stone at Avebury, Wiltshire

‘Munching Mouth’ stone at Avebury, Wiltshire

An Eclipsed Equinox

This weekend marks Ostara, the time of the Spring Equinox when all comes into balance for a very brief period before tipping over into Summer. Night and Day, cold and warm, closed and open, hibernating and active. And of course the Ostara hare lays its cosmic eggs and fertility is everywhere. I often feel it as a pivotal moment between Winter and Spring – even though Spring might have started at Imbolc, with occasional glimpses earlier, now is the time when I can think about sewing seeds in the garden.

However this year was totally different, with a solar eclipse on the same day. It was as if the Earth anticipated the event, with the birds falling silent before the Moon even moved in front of the Sun. First a small bite, as the Moon moved between us and the Sun, forcing the Sun to follow the Moon’s usual path. I watched as the Sun waned from its full state not to Gibbous but more like a cookie with a bite out of it. Then the more familiar crescent shape, which diminished to a very thin line. Then as the Moon continued to pass above the Sun the crescent became a hammock, then a smile. Beautiful. Finally as the Moon moved off, the Sun waxed to its normal full state again. An entire cycle of death and regrowth in under two hours. I watched first through a welding mask while the skies were clear, then as the clouds thickened, there was sufficient filtering to watch it through plain glass – which felt more special as I was no longer cut off from it. The clouds gradually became so dense as to be almost opaque so I was unable to see the final moments, but by then the power had been released. Normal life resumed, except that the day felt charged, brighter, less ordinary than before. And definitely less balanced!

So instead of a gentle balancing and breathing out as energies begin their rising back out of the earth, I felt a tremendous burst of potential released as the Sun and Moon came into line and their individual powers combined to produce something greater than the sum of the parts. It was exciting, and I was full of plans for the day, the month, the year, the future.

Ostara was celebrated on Saturday, when ‘normal service resumed’ and the birds were back at the feeder again. But for me, there was another difference – that may have been crystallised by the eclipse – which relates to a post I wrote four weeks ago on Finding the Excitement. Because the next day I was completely unable to lie in bed listening to the radio or reading a book while waiting for M to wake up and want her morning feed, before we both joined the day in our usual slow way.

I have been a slow riser all my life … and existing on six hours sleep because M is hungry and wakes up every two or three hours means I generally take as long in the mornings as I can get away with. But since my previous post I have continued to approach each day with excitement and wonder about what it may hold. When I think how up until four years ago I was in and out of hospital, with no energy, drugs in my arms, unenthusiastic to get out of bed ever, I’m just amazed at how my life has turned around. And if I can do it, anyone can. One small step at a time.

Brambles

Blackberry flowers and fruits

Blackberry flowers and fruits


For the past three weeks M and I have enjoyed picking blackberries on our walks. Apart from just eating them, we have made several pots of bramble jelly, some blackberry ice cream, had blackberry and apple crumble, stewed blackberries for breakfast, and even frozen some. Blackberry cheesecake is a personal favourite that might come soon… It is one of those flavours that you can never quite remember properly, but a good juicy berry is always better than you expect. Or a bad one more pippy and worse.

Brambles love the British climate, growing anywhere they are allowed and rooting themselves wherever they touch the ground. Around here it is in the hedgerows that I find them, often picking a few here and there as I walk. Most branches will have a few ripe ones, but the plants have evolved to fruit over a long period to encourage maximum spread of the seeds so it is rare to find many ripe ones together. M has taught me to notice them even when I haven’t brought a pot to put some in; the odd one or two keep her going on a walk and she can now spot a bramble bush before I can. Even 30 yards away, the other side of a road. Picking half a pound along a mile of hedge is quite easy; if I’m after more than that it takes effort, knowing where to go, and frequently full combat gear! They are the most predatory plant I know, using their thorns to hook onto whatever they find – hawthorn, fences, their own branches. (Take a look at Bramble Scramble from the BBC’s Private Life of Plants if you don’t believe me!) Luckily there are thornless types now available for those who wish to cultivate them, but they are generally not half as satisfying as picking wild berries.

Bramble hedgerow

Bramble hedgerow


In some areas of Europe there is a taboo against eating blackberries – either because they belong to the fae, or because they represent death. The former is an interesting one, given blackberry wine is apparently okay! This is not a question I have had the opportunity to ask directly, but I believe the point here is about balance, respect, understanding, and above all sharing, especially if you make wine… And remembering that the bramble bushes feed and shelter many animals and birds as well. Cutting them all back, especially when they are about to fruit, would not be appreciated. Others suggest that eating blackberries or drinking blackberry wine at the Equinox is a good way to contact the fae. This is the time when the energies start to withdraw, spiralling down into the earth, and in some legends the Lord of the Harvest enters the Underworld, through the hollow hills, into the care of the fae. Black will take you down into the dark, finding the way through the tunnels of the Earth, while the sweetness will bring pleasure and enjoyment and lightness of heart, helping us to remember life is to be lived.

As for death, well being a pagan is all about the cycles of nature and death being a necessary part of life. The old must be cleared away to make space for what is to come, and Spirit is eternal. Death is not to be feared, but to be embraced, worked with, even thanked at times, for it is the only way we may pass out of this life and into the next part of our spiritual journey when it is time to leave.

There are also many superstitions against eating blackberries after a certain date, usually Michaelmas day (11th October) but sometimes Autumn equinox, or October 1st. The reasons given vary with the date, but in my experience it is a rare year that the late blackberries have been properly pollinated and ripen to full sweetness; the August berries always taste the best.

Planted on graves, brambles were supposed to stop the dead from wandering. Children or cows can be passed through a bramble arch rooted at both ends to bring health, for the blackberry has the gift of abundance as well as protection. Whooping cough was a favourite to be cured in this way, leaving an offering afterwards of bread and butter for the fairies of course.