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.

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Lughnasadh Quilt

Continuing my series of quilted display cloths I have been making, here is my finished quilt for the beginning of August and the colours of the grain harvest.

Lughnasadh Quilt


The design is still based on squares, as I did for Litha, but this time I did not have so many suitable fabrics available to me so decided to make some of the shapes bigger. This made it quite entertaining to sew together, since I could never follow any regular pattern!

I have deliberately used some of the same fabrics as for Litha, and would like to make that a passing theme through the year: that each quilt has a relationship to the ones either side through sharing some colours, as well as having some that are unique to only that quilt. In this case I am unlikely to use the brightest yellows for anything other than Lughnasadh, but I used the gold prints for the Litha quilt, and will use the darkest red / orange fabric for Mabon and also for Samhain if I get stuck with a lack of other suitable fabrics.

It is now forming part of my display as we prepare for the coming festival, and has been adorned with candles, flowers, and some corn dollies we made last year. For the first time we have some wheat in the garden, sown by M at school as part of her ‘Spring Garden’ and transplanted here in April. We will be able to ceremonially cut it on the day and place it centre stage.

Solstice Greetings!

Linoprint Phoenix

Linoprint Phoenix

Here is my Winter Solstice picture for this year, the Phoenix or Firebird. It is a linoprint again, like the previous two years, but with a watercolour background.

I realise that the Phoenix is not a conventional choice for the Winter Solstice, but when the idea came to me a couple of months ago, it seemed to fit the idea of the sun being reborn and the light returning. However, before I went ahead with planning my design I thought it might be a good idea to try and make contact with one in meditation and make sure it was happy to be featured, and see if it had any additional messages for me. The experience I had and answers I got were somewhat unexpected in light of what I thought I ‘knew’ about Phoenixes from popular culture. Here are the notes I made at the time:

Met with Dragon [who else for a mythical animal?] to ask if I could talk to a Phoenix. Wanted to check it was okay to send an image on Yule card, and if it had any messages for me. Very reluctant at first – said I wasn’t a fire person and should not be trying to work with it. Did agree to talk to me, although I found it very proud and touchy!

“It is a comet, or a shooting star, or a fireball like when a planet burns up.”
“Like a salamander?”
“No, they are mere striplings on Earth. Phoenix sphere is the cosmos, they are much greater. They cause huge destruction in their fires, which are absolutely necessary for rebirth.”

It was happy to be better known, however, and better understood, as its role is a vitally important one. Exactly right for Yule and rebirth. Also acts as a warning of change coming, and that is a good thing this year, even if only a few people heed the warning. Advised not to call upon the Phoenix, however, unless want a completely fresh start and are prepared to have everything go up in flames.

“Fire colours for picture please – not rainbow as a few people have done. Preferably hissing and spitting sparks as well.”

More recently I have tried to research the Phoenix mythology that exists from around the world. Here is a brief summary:

In Greece the Phoenix is said to come from Arabia, larger than an eagle with brilliant scarlet and gold feathers and a beautiful voice. It was said that only one phoenix existed at any one time, with a life span of 500 years or more. As the end of its life approached, the phoenix would build a nest of aromatic branches and spices such as cinnamon and myrrh, set it on fire, and be consumed in the flames. After three days, a new Phoenix arises from the pile of ashes, young and powerful – or alternatively like a worm at first. It then embalms the ashes of its predecessor in an egg of myrrh, and flies with it to the city of the Sun, Heliopolis, where it deposits the egg on the altar of the Sun God.

In Persia the Huma bird looks similar to a golden griffin and it spends its entire life flying invisibly high above the earth. In some versions it is said to have no legs, for it never lands. It embodies both male and female natures, each having one wing and one leg where it has legs. It is also said to consume itself in fire every few hundred years. It cannot be caught alive, and a person killing a Huma will die in forty days – but to see its shadow or even a glimpse of one is sure to bring happiness for a lifetime.

In China the phoenix or Feng Huang was thought to be a gentle creature, alighting so gently that it crushed nothing, and it ate only dewdrops. It was originally a pair of birds, male and female, but later was considered female, while the dragon was its male partner. It is said to be made of celestial bodies: sky, sun, moon, earth, wind, planets, and to have the beak of a cock, the face of a swallow, the neck of a snake, the breast of a goose, the back of a tortoise, hindquarters of a stag and the tail of a fish – although these animals changed over time – while its feathers were the five fundamental colours of black, white, red, green and yellow. It has been pictured attacking snakes with its talons and its wings spread, or with scrolls in its beak. It represented power sent from the heavens to the Empress, and symbolised loyalty and honesty; it would not stay where there was darkness or corruption.

In Japan phoenixes or Ho-Oo fly in pairs, the Ho being male and the Oo being female. They nest in paulownia trees but were thought to only appear at the birth of a virtuous ruler or to mark a new era – after which they would return to their celestial abode.

In ancient Egypt the Bennu was a sun bird, a living Osiris, like a heron with two long flame-coloured feathers or a sun disk on its crown. It was born from flames at the top of a Persea tree that stood on the top of an obelisk and renewed itself in the sun’s rays every day. Some say it helped the sun to rise and set, and the Nile to flood each year bringing fertility to the land, and its cry helped the world to form and bring order out of chaos.

In Russia and Eastern Europe the Zhar-ptitsa was a large firebird whose gold and silver feathers emit red, orange and yellow light the colour of flames, and do not cease glowing even if removed; one feather is enough to light a large room. Some say it flies at night, and eats golden apples, while valuable pearls may fall from its beak when it sings. It was able to heal the sick and cure the blind by its chanting.

The more I discovered these parallel myths, the more I felt that the information I received fitted in. Just like Noah and his boat surviving the floods appears in multiple sources around the world, with evidence now becoming more available to us to prove there were huge floods that drowned civilisations 12,000 years ago, or the way angels appear in almost every culture and religion, so I believe it is with the Phoenix. We catch glimpses, we have stories passed down to us, one day we may see the whole.

I will finish with a quote from the Egyptian ‘Book of the Dead’:

“I flew straight out of heaven, a mad bird full of secrets. I came into being as I came into being. I grew as I grew. I changed as I change. My mind is fire, my soul fire. The cobra wakes and spits fire in my eyes. I rise through ochre smoke into black air enclosed in a shower of stars. I am what I have made. I am the seed of every god, beautiful as evening, hard as light. I am the last four days of yesterday, four screams from the edges of earth – beauty, terror, truth, madness – the Phoenix on his pyre.
“In a willow I make my nest of flowers and snakes, sandalwood and myrrh. I am waiting for eternity. I’m waiting for four hundred years to pass before I dance on flame, turn this desert to ash, before I rise, waking from gold and purple dreams into the season of god. I will live forever in the fire spun from my own wings. I’ll suffer burns that burn to heal. I destroy and create myself like the sun that rises burning from the east and dies burning in the west. To know the fire, I become the fire. I am power. I am light. I am forever. On earth and in heaven I am. This is my body, my work. This is my deliverance.
“The heat of transformation is unbearable, yet change is necessary. It burns up the useless, the diseased. Time is a cool liquid; it flows away like a river. We shall see no end of it. Generation after generation, I create myself. It is never easy. Long nights I waited, lost in myself, considering the stars. I wage a battle against darkness, against my own ignorance, my resistance to change, my sentimental love for my own folly. Perfection is a difficult task. I lose and find my way over again. One task done gives rise to others. There is no end to the work left to do. That is harsh eternity. There is no end to becoming. I live forever striving for perfection. I praise the moment I die in fire for the veils of illusion burn with me. I see how hard we strive for Truth, and once attained how easily we forget it. I hold that fire as long as I can. My nose fills with the smell of seared flesh, the acrid smoke of death, so that years from now I might look on that scar and remember how it was to hold the light, how it was to die and come again radiant as light walking on sand.
“I change and change again, generation after generation. I find anguish then peace. I am satisfied with my birth and the faith to which it led me. I do not regret the discomforts and terrors of my mortality any more than I regret the company of angels. I have entered fire. I become invisible; yet I breathe in the flow of sun, in the eyes of children, in the light that animates the white cliffs at dawn. I am the God in the world in everything, even in darkness. If you have not seen me there, you have not looked. I am the fire that burns you, that burns in you. To live is to die a thousand deaths, but there is only one fire, one eternity.”

– The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day

Getting Back Into Glass (At Last!)

'Fire' Candle Holder

‘Fire’ Candle Holder

It’s been a while since I did any stained glass work, apart from sketching out design ideas. I’ve missed it. The last window I made was when pregnant with M – the Oak Sunrise window, which was pictured here in December last year when it finally got fitted. As M is the sort of child who still has to experience everything in a physical way, ‘no touching’ remaining an alien concept to her, I simply haven’t felt safe getting glass out around her yet. This simple candle holder was made for a friend, in a single day whilst M was elsewhere.

It reminded me just how much I love everything about glass. The light coming through it, the colours, the feel of a large piece in my hand, the act of cutting it and listening for the sound all the time. Lifting the cutter out of holes where there are faults in the glass. The careful snap, or easing a cut, or occasionally tapping the back of a sharp curve to control the line of cracking. Glass may be man-made, yet it shares many properties with crystals and gemstones – and each colour seems to have its own cutting character influenced by the specific minerals which make the colour. Red, made with gold, tin or selenium, is always really nice to work with! The opposite of green, made from iron or chromium, which can be one of the flakiest and always the most likely to give me nicks. Amber is harder, iron plus sulphur, good bottle glass.

Copper foiling isn’t my preferred technique, but appropriate here so I dutifully wrapped each piece in the required sticky copper tape before the joy of soldering. The acid tang and spicy smell of the flux, so different from the tallow I use on lead. And the way molten solder behaves is just so fascinating. Sometimes it melts cleanly, other times it feels more solid depending on the exact temperatures. Most of the time it flows beautifully into a joint, making a raised silver bead, but occasionally it reminds me of my lack of practice recently when it hisses and spits gently where there is an air pocket, or even runs straight through when it gets too hot. And when it runs out it makes a beautiful silver puddle, ready to be gathered up again with the iron tip and reused. And the final stage is so simple – a bath in warm soapy water. No mess.

Tree Stories 11 – Elder

Elder is now published on its own page, under Tree Stories or click here.

Elder tree

Elder tree

Technically Elder, Sambucus nigra, should probably be a shrub rather than a tree. It does have a bole where the roots and branches meet but it scarcely has a trunk, its branches are hollow, and it is currently classified as being in the Adoxacae family along with Moschatel. (Previously it was with honeysuckle and snowberry in the dipsacale or teasel family.) However Elder towers over most other shrubs and grows to the size of a small tree, so in folklore it is a tree.

The name is thought to come from the Anglo-Saxon aeld, fire, as its hollow sticks were used for encouraging a good blaze. They also called it ellaern, meaning hollow tree. Other names include Ellhorn and Bour (pipe) tree.

Elders like to grow in full sun and will romp away in a hedge overshadowing the hawthorn, but are also frequently found in damp shady areas of woodland forming part of the understory. It has a very strong life force and great powers of regeneration, being quite hard to remove should you wish to. However not much will grow under it so it is difficult to place in a garden.

A wide range of wildlife lives off elderflowers and berries, hence it will often grow near rabbit or badger setts after they have helped the seed along its way. Caterpillars also like the foliage. Elderberries can be mildly toxic to humans unless cooked, particularly if still unripe. Medicinally, however Elder is a very valuable tree. The berries and also the bark were used as a purgative, for rheumatism, or for colds and flu or sore throats and for asthma; breathing through a hollowed out stick was also a remedy for asthma. The leaves are good for bruises, sprains and strains or chilblains, or for insect repellant as a bunch to keep flies out of the kitchen or off horses, or soaked and the liquid used on the human body against midges. The flowers are good as a tonic or for epilepsy or sinusitis.

Other uses from the tree include: berry juice as a blue or purple dye, or for making wine, pies, jams, vinegar, chutney; flowers for sparkling wine or cordial, or in salads or cakes; bark for black dye, leaves for green; sticks for blowpipes, whistles, pegs, skewers, or making small whittlings; and the pith for fishing floats or to hold samples on microscope slides. The wood polishes up well when the bark is removed, and the bole is very dense.

In folklore elder was inhabited by the Elder Tree Mother, Hylde-moer, who needed to be appeased before any part of the tree was cut. She would haunt any timber from the tree, not necessarily in a good way, so making furniture from it was generally avoided. Witches were said to be able to turn into elder trees at will. However as protection elder was apparently great for driving away evil spirits or witchcraft, so branches were hung over doorways and buried in graves. Flutes made from elder were used to summon spirits, while twigs woven into a headdress are said to enable the wearer to see spirits. Alternatively they will undo evil magic; a necklace made from elder beads can also be used for protection. To have a self sown elder tree near your house was regarded as particularly auspicious, and they were often planted by bake ovens to keep the devil away. Fairies are said to particularly like the music from elder pipes or flutes, but it is generally advised to avoid sleeping under an elder tree unless you wish to be taken by them. Food left under elder trees overnight will be considered to belong to the fae.

To me the elder is a tree I have always been a little ambivalent towards, and the many contradictions in its character and uses are possibly the reason why. However, I then found a transcript of a conversation between an elder tree interpreted by Verena Stael von Holstein, and Wolfgang Weirauch, which showed me how the strength and spiritual gifts of this species come from precisely this contradictory nature. The many connections the Elder has with spirits and otherworld beings may not be entirely coincidental. As a witches tree, it is without parallel.

Elder Tree: “For human beings there are various paths to seek initiation into the world of spirit: firstly through thinking, clarity of thought; then the path which corresponds more to me is a path rooted in one’s own culture. … On the one hand such a person needs to be formed in a relatively gnarled way, but on the other hand he needs an unimpeded lightness – as you find in my timber. From the outside my wood looks completely gnarled, but inside I am almost cotton-like. As trees we need a harder exterior form, but within I’m the opposite of heaviness: a matter that is almost dissolving. This shows I’m a kind of connecting radiance between this world and the world of spirit. … This permeation with spirit informs my whole being and substance.
On the one hand my substance is very stable, on the other it is in dissolution. For instance, see the feathery quality of my pinnate leaves, through to the tips of each leaf, which are pointed and dentate, or toothed. Due to my transitional and gateway function, my leaves are flame shaped. In the flame you meet the world of spirit in tangible form.

A sulphurous quality comes through [the smell of my leaves.] The world of spirit does not necessarily smell very good for earthly senses. You would need to completely refashion your sense systems to really endure spirituality. If you want to develop your clairsentient faculties of smell, you can school your senses with the scent of crumbled elder leaf. On the other hand, my blossoms give of a fragrance that you probably find wonderful, which has an intoxicating effect and which you use to make sparkling wine. The scent serves at the same time as a warning not to get intoxicated.

As for the berries being poisonous when green and only edible when fully ripe:

Elder tree: “When you are still green you should not pass across to the other side, for then spirituality can endanger you. You first have to attain a certain soul maturity to cope with the full reality. The guardian of the threshold and I have a very close relationship. Wherever elder grows you can encounter your guardian.

Elder has a cleansing effect on the body. You can’t cross over the threshold in an impure state.

I belong to the cultural inheritance of northern Europe, and thus to the forces that come from the North and Teutonic cultures. I belong to people of the central European cultural epoch and their roots. … I am not so important to Asiatic peoples.”
Q: “There are said to have been times when people took off their hats as a mark of respect when passing an elder tree. Why did they do this?”
Tree: “Because they knew unconsciously that the place surrounding an elder tree is sacred. That’s why they removed their hats in the same way as going into church. At the same time people knew unconsciously that higher beings were connected with the elder tree, such as the guardian of the threshold, or Mother Holle, who is a fairytale image of the figure of the guardian.”

From: Nature Spirits of the Trees.

The strange thing to me is that I never liked the taste of elderberry, just the flowers, so I have most of a box of ‘medicinal’ tea on my shelf that I save for when I have a bad cough or cold. However, since writing this story and becoming closer to the tree, I have found I now rather enjoy it.

Ripening elder berries

Ripening elder berries

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!

Dreams

I nearly did a terrible thing this month: I nearly gave up a dream.

For a long time I have dreamed of getting a book published. I have started several since I attempted my first novel when I was about twelve, and three (one non-fiction, two fiction) reached the stage of being sent off to agents.

‘The Musical English’, my first full length book, is subtitled a social history of two thousand years of English Music. The first notes for it were made twenty years ago, and most of the work was done five years later when I had some time and a computer. I even had some positive feedback, had I recognised it for what it was at the time, but eventually I decided there wasn’t enough original work in it and I moved on.

My second completed book was a novel about a group of young people learning white water canoeing, called ‘Not For Lemmings’. Again I learned a huge amount by writing it, about me, about canoeing, and about how to write. The number of rejection slips increased.

I started a new novel, ‘A Chance To Paint’ that I hoped would have more direct appeal to agents and publishers, a life-changing story about a young woman who is sent to look after her Great Aunt and after a series of sometimes dramatic events, never returns. Lots of agents say they love it, but don’t feel they can take it on. So I started yet another novel.

Then I got pregnant with M, so stopped writing for a while. I began this blog, and the tree stories which have the advantage of being written only to please the trees and myself. I’m being slow, I don’t find I can get into short stories in the same way as full length novels, but I also can’t get into full length novels when my time is constantly interrupted by the demands of a toddler. I redit A Chance To Paint, and remember how much I liked it and other people liked it, and send it off again to get some more rejections.

I start a plan for a new book, having finally decided not to finish what I started pre-M.

Then suddenly I get a crazy idea for a novel based on a fairytale, follow it for a few days, get very excited. Until real life intervenes. I have a house to get finished, a garden I want to redesign, clothes to make or shopping to do, and a little girl who I want to spend time with. I realised something had to give, and being a lot less attached to things than I used to be, it was the writing which felt like the luxury ‘extra’.

At this point I should have felt freer, a lightening of the load, of all the things I was trying to do. I did briefly. So that was that, I thought.

Except several days later I had a realisation: I wasn’t happy. This wasn’t particularly connected to anything, apart from a questionnaire on happiness where I was scoring myself only 6 or 7 out of ten in most areas and noticed my health had slipped down to a 5. I realised I felt a bit ‘flat’, even to the point where I didn’t feel excited about anything I was doing (sewing, gardening, reading, piano, etc) and it was only M that was keeping me going. I suddenly realised I was back to where I was a few years ago, or maybe worse because then I was on an upwards curve, whereas this one was flat. And not only that, but my health was getting worse again, with stiff hip joints and then a bad cold settling on my chest causing me all kinds of problems. This wasn’t a me I recognised right now, so what had happened? Why were things all going in the wrong direction? Then it dawned on me, my decision about writing was wrong. It had extinguished my inner flame. I have spent so much time over the past few years trying to work out what I should be doing and where I should be going, and yet somehow I had never realised that writing was my dream!!!

It was almost as bad as when I was a teenager, and nearly didn’t study music. (I was studying Maths, Physics Chemistry A-levels, but filling all my free time with music…) A serious depression set in, until I made what was then a brave decision to go against all advice, and suddenly everything felt good again. This was the same, in a minor form since I worked out the problem sooner, but what a colourless half-life I would be living if I hadn’t!

So I did a visualisation to not only see myself writing, but also to relight my inner flame. It filled my whole body and shot out of my arms and head. It is still burning now, with maybe a few holes where I don’t want them and where my body has temporarily lost trust in me, but I am on the mend. My writing is going better than I could have imagined, and somehow I just gave myself permission to write. Non-attachment might be a great thing, but not where dreams are concerned. Because if I don’t follow my dream, what am I doing here?

Samhain

There are just a few days in the calendar where the date dictates the activity. October 31st is one of these for me – I will be carving a pumpkin.

Originally turnips or mangelwurzels were carved rather than pumpkins, in a British tradition going back at least three hundred years, but thousands of years worldwide. There are a variety of stories put forward for carving the turnip on All Hallows Eve, known as Samhain in parts of Scotland, or Punkie Night in the West Country, but the most common was that it was carried by Catholics while begging for Soul Cakes. Then after the potato famine took many of the turnip carvers to America, they discovered the pumpkin as the ideal fruit for carving lanterns. Turnip lanterns were also used by pranksters, to carve a grotesque face and scare people on the night when ghosts and other spirits were said to be abroad. This may be more of an English than Irish custom, where it was sometimes known as Hoberdy’s Lantern. Others make a connection with will o’ the wisp, the strange flames sometimes seen in peat bogs.

I started carving pumpkins as soon as I was old enough to hold a knife. I don’t know how old I was for the first, but my first year in Primary School aged five someone brought in a carved turnip for Halloween, and I remember thinking how hard work it looked for a pathetically small result. Why didn’t they use a pumpkin like normal people? So I must have been pretty familiar with carved pumpkins! I stopped briefly as a student, and then took myself by surprise the next year by coming home with a pumpkin. I had missed the tradition, and wanted to carve one. Just a simple face…

Not long after, on a visit to America, I found a book with pumpkin carving pictures – with shadow images for the reverse side. I was inspired. Some carving tools were fashioned out of broken hacksaw blades, duck taped between lolly sticks, and I was away. They must be over fifteen years old now, but still doing good service.

I have probably now carved around thirty-five lanterns. The last few years have seen me move away from faces or clichéd scary images however. Samhain is generally celebrated as the Pagan New Year, with various rituals and traditions associated with it. Although it is known to some as the Day of the Dead it has positive connotations – such as remembering our ancestors and setting a place for them at the table. Not just ghosts to be scared of! So I now choose to carve images that mean something to me, from the year that is ending, to that which is coming. What has been and what I am grateful for, usually as the main image, and what I hope for over the coming year as a shadow, unformed image on the back.

A theme for me this year has been to celebrate trees, and publishing the first few tree stories I have written online. So I decided to carve a series of leaves around the pumpkin. Those for which I have completed stories at the front, those yet to be written in shadow, with various stages of transition in between. Having a small pumpkin meant I couldn’t fit all twenty, so I dowsed to find out which ones I should include for the year to come. I have made a note and will have to see if they are the important stories of the next year, or if I was completely wrong on some! But carving each leaf has brought me closer to them by making a connection with the trees, so it might prove to be self-fulfilling. Apologies for not taking a photo; none of my recent designs have been photographed, due in part to large holes in the wrong places showing the candle through, which upsets the light balance. Also pumpkin carving is one situation where you don’t get two goes at it – so it is the intention behind the design that counts more than the reality sometimes.

After our Samhain dinner in recent years I have used the pumpkin as a cauldron in a ritual to help me clear away what I do not wish to bring forward into the new year, ceremoniously burning in its flame what was holding me back in my life. Then I have asked mother Earth to transform the energies into something positive through the action of my compost heap. (Apart from the thinnings and trimmings, which get eaten for dinner of course!) But this year that seemed a negative approach, when I would rather focus on what I do want. So I am allowing the flame to bring transformation, taking in the warmth and light to see me through the dark evenings of autumn as I dream new dreams.

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…

Tree Quilt Triptych – Part 3

Autumn Quilt

Autumn Quilt

I finally finished the third quilt of my tree-inspired series and got it hung on the wall this week. It was the autumn leaves last year that inspired the idea, and since the leaves have been changing rapidly I thought I had better get on with it!

The pattern block is called ‘Maple Leaf’, although I mostly did not quilt this in blocks. I started that way at the top, but then had to explore other ways of working… I have made more mistakes and unpicked more seams in this quilt than I have ever done in my life. Even at the layering and safety-pinning stage (no I don’t have time, space or patience to hand baste!) I saw a row of three units I had managed to sew upside down and had to redo them. Hopefully I can use what I have learned from this quilt for future projects.

To quilt it I used a spiral design I made up after many scribbles on paper, which seemed to flow really well. The angular patchwork seemed to call for some softening curves, and it echoes the idea of leaves blowing around in the wind – as well as energies spiralling down into the Earth at this time of year. My free-motion quilting still leaves a lot of room for improvement, but at least each one is better than the one before.

It is a very fiery quilt as it hangs on the wall. I am glad to have it there to liven things up and add warmth as we head towards Winter, but am also glad I made the decision to rotate the quilts with the seasons. It would need a much bigger space, and a different wall colour, if it was to hang there permanently.

This was intended to be the last quilt in the series, but I have been persuaded that it would be good to do a Spring quilt. So much like Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ trilogy, this may be a triptych with more than three parts…