Happy Yule!

Barn Owl Linoprint


I am not normally an owl person, but I seem to have been aware of them quite a bit recently and they seemed to want me to create some artwork with them. They are after all a common witch’s familiar, along with cat, frog and hare which have been with me for approximately 40, 10 and 2 years respectively. (I’m being selective here, penguins, dragons, snakes and butterflies don’t fit the witch image so well!)

The background idea for this card came to me in the autumn, as the trees lost their leaves and trunks were the most noticeable part. Some of the cards I printed gave the trees a misty effect. Not intentional, it is due to my inefficient inking, but I rather liked it and it matched the weather we were having at the time.

The barn owl is a beauty and one I have occasionally heard calling across valleys, usually when camping, without always knowing what it was. Quite different from the twit twoo of tawny owls! They are not actually woodland creatures, yet the only places I have ever seen them in the wild have been along the edges of woodland, where it opens out to fields.

Owls hunt at night, when it is dark to most creatures, as they have excellent eyesight, much better than their prey. They bring the gifts of far-seeing, and seeing what was previously unseen, into our lives. They also have particularly long necks, so can turn their heads to see what is behind them, or sideways. Sometimes it is good to look at things from another angle. Or sometimes there are things we simply haven’t seen and owl will bring them into focus. Illusions and secrets will be seen through.

Another gift is silence. Thanks to the shape of their feathers with soft edges, owls can fly with far less noise than most birds. The barn owl is particularly well adapted for silence, as it has very large wings so can fly very slowly with no sound. Instead they will be listening; owl hearing is acute as their ears are not symmetrical, allowing them to pinpoint sounds accurately, while their heart-shaped face directs any sounds towards their ears. Listen beyond the background noise to what is really being said.

Unfortunately the payback for soft feathers in Barn owls is a lack of waterproofing. They cannot fly in wet weather, so will sometimes be seen during the day if there have been several wet nights. Take opportunities when they are available, even if it is not what is usually done.

There are many superstitions about owls, especially the barn owl, appearing silently as a ghostly-white apparition in the moonlight. The most common is that they foretell a death. Given the huge numbers of mice and other small animals they must catch each night to feed their family, that is certainly true! Spiritually however, death is often close to change as it usually means the end of something in our lives, ready for something new. Owl does often seem to bring this message, often also bringing an increase of intuition helping to smooth the change.

The Celts believed owls sometimes accompanied souls on their journey to the other side, and owls were often regarded as gatekeepers to other realms.
Conversely the Ancient Greeks liked their protection, particularly in battle, because they were patient and ever watchful. Like the Goddess Athena, they are seen as being full of wisdom and knOWLedge…

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Bringing Plants Indoors

I was given a very lovely, anonymous gift of flowers from a local florist at the end of last term. Pink Stargazer lilies, dark pink miniature roses, grey-blue sea holly, dark purple alstroemerias, light purple crysanthemums, rosemary, pussy willows, fatsia and wide green flax leaves, and the whole thing was beautiful. Over two weeks later, many of them are still looking good. So a huge thank you to whoever gave them to me for making me smile and brightening my days, when I was having a particularly hard time!

I now see it as a once in a lifetime gift that I shall probably pass on one day. But trying to figure out who they were from made me think first about my friends (who all denied any knowledge) and then about the various plant-related things I do for which I expect nothing in return, which might have somehow ‘earned’ me some flowers. Rubbish collecting around the village. Giving plants or fruit away from my garden. Secretly sowing appropriate wildflower seeds in barren places. Shifting energies or sending healing – to the Earth or its inhabitants. I rarely see the full effects of my actions, just like the kind donor of these flowers will never see how they brightened my kitchen and left the house smelling amazing, or how they made me feel loved and wanting to do more.

There has been one immediate impact on me however: they have helped me to understand that I need greenery inside the house again, and to do something about it. I used to have a few houseplants, ones I had been given that didn’t really like the conditions in our house, and that mostly felt stiff and spiky to me. Eventually I got fed up with them always looking slightly ill, and wanted the limited windowsill space for seedlings of perennial flowers or vegetable plants each Spring.

So now I am trying to be more creative about where I put plants, considering Winter (near window) and Summer (eg in front of fireplace) positions. I look at a book from the library and see what might be suitable, but dowsing comes up with very little that looks like a guaranteed success.

Then I visit my nearest garden centre. Outside first, I can’t resist a look, and in the back corner find some wildflower plants that are being sold off at rock bottom price, just in perfect condition with the roots starting to show through the bottom. I choose several, two of which I have been looking for for some time – Herb Robert and Red Campion, each nicely labelled with their history and planting requirements. We also choose some pansies in flower, of which more later.

Back inside, near the tills I find the houseplants. Lots of showy orchids in flower, along with a few large foliage plants. Too big for what I want at the moment. Small Dragon trees, with a picture of a dragon and basic care instructions but no clue that they will reach 5′. Then almost hidden away, small plants of the size and price I thought might be reasonable – but labelled mostly as ‘fern’, or ‘foliage plant’ with no care instructions at all. I choose four plants whose shapes combine well, and which intuition and basic plant knowledge suggest may survive where I want to put them. Even looking later, I cannot positively identify three of them from the library book I have; my list of questions fails to get much shorter.

I could just hope for the best, but being a witch I am now asking the plants what they need. So far they seem happy, and have brightened up my shady kitchen windowsill brilliantly giving me something green to look at when I wash-up instead of tiles, cleaning products and the temporarily bare brick wall opposite. It may be possible to live a fulfilling life without plants and greenery around me, but I’m glad I don’t have to.

Intuitive Sewing

I have had an interesting and unexpected lesson in intuitive sewing over the past few days – which follows on from my year’s aim of being more connected to what I am doing. It started with a piece of fabric, as most sewing projects do, but unlike most projects, no plan.

The fabric was dark red with a pattern of roses made by varying lengths of pile – a fluffy, warm, knitted fabric, that looked tricky to sew and with such a large pattern, not ideal for a small child. I didn’t buy any. A couple of weeks later, with a combination of a change in the weather and a growth spurt, something warm was really needed and M still wanted this fabric. I bought a metre, thinking it would be about right for a jumper or jacket, or possibly a cape. She told me it needed to be a long cloak not short… and with a hood!

I look in my pattern collection: nothing. I look online: a few superhero style patterns, or circular cloaks, but nothing that will work for her or the fabric I have available. Just a photo from a long-out-of-date and no longer available pattern.

Rose Cloak

The finished Rose Cloak

So I take a couple of measurements, width across shoulders and length, and start sketching. Half an hour later I have a pattern with several lines drawn at different angles to see what looks right, and lay it on the fabric to see what will fit. The front and back will have to lie in opposite directions, but luckily the roses don’t show this up too much. It is my best guess at the size; I look again at the pattern after a break seeing if anything needs changing. I don’t seem to be able to improve it, so I cut it out, leaving fluffy bits of dark red everywhere that need cleaning up.

Finally I sew. The whole thing takes about an hour, and just needs a button on the front out of my box to complete it. I guess on the loop length.

M tries it on. It fits, she loves it. I am amazed.

Finding Footpaths

Sea of Bracken

Sea of Bracken

I have been in Yorkshire this past week, exploring many footpaths new to me. Most were well-maintained, had good surfaces, and were obviously well used – with the exception of one!

Here is a problem I have encountered before: what to do when it is impossible to follow a footpath by any of the usual means, such as signs on the ground, or aiming for a visible point, or following the shape of the land. Visual clues, in other words. Yes there have been plenty of times in the past when I have taken a bearing, and then struggled down a difficult route a few feet from a very good path that was just out of view – it gets me there, but isn’t much fun. What I have been trying to learn, however, is to use intuition and touch by feeling energy flows in order to follow paths that I cannot see.

The first time I remember successfully using intuition was in the Brecon Beacons, taking a little used path off the side of a hill to shorten a walk in bad weather. Unfortunately the side path petered out and there were more pony prints than human ones. I repeatedly asked for guidance from within, and seemed to find ways around all the crags and gorse, zig zagging my way down until we were able to join a more well used path along the valley. No rock climbing required!

Feeling paths was something I discovered by accident when walking in the south of France several years ago, when we did not have the benefit of an Ordnance Survey map to follow. An old walking guide to the area proved slightly inadequate on one particular walk, but I was surprised to find I could feel through my hands when I was on a path that was regularly walked, and when I wasn’t. It saved a lot of wrong turns. Finally we came out to a minor road, and the force of energy hit me in the chest and stomach so strongly it left me reeling as if a large truck had just run into me.

So when faced with a sea of bracken that was head high a few days ago, I was really keen to try and follow where the path should be. I should add that it was only a matter of 150m to come out onto a track, which would then make a circle with paths we had walked previously, and there was a newly rebuilt bridge at the start – but I wasn’t alone and it was getting dark. I had quite a lot of convincing to do, and had to trust that the path I could feel was the right way even if it didn’t exactly follow the bearing taken from the map. But the most important thing to me was that I could feel it. Lines of energy where people, not sheep, had walked. Sometimes I could use a swimming motion to see the ground and see fewer bracken stalks where I felt I should be going, but mostly it was on feel. Oh the joy to come across a submerged rock with a date inscription where there had once been a viewpoint! Yes it was hard going, the moon was almost full and high in the sky by the time we reached the track, but the joy of having succeeded and avoided all boggy or marsh thistle sections was huge. I was only sorry that I never got the chance to walk it in the opposite direction to make a circle the other side.

Smelling Rain

I have recently discovered that I can smell approaching rain, when I am outside, sometimes to the point of being able to work out how far away it is. This comes as a great surprise to me not least because my sense of smell is at best undeveloped, and frequently non-existent.

Thanks to my nose and lung problems over the years, I am frequently unable to even breathe through my nose. I can often smell in reverse by taking a deep breath and blowing out through my nose, or blowing my nose after drinking a good wine or eating chocolate, but smelling things through my nose is pretty variable. If I need to check the milk is okay, I get a second opinion! However maybe thanks to the work I have been doing with rain, I have discovered I can actually smell it before it arrives. So I have started to try and understand this process.

There are three possible things I could be smelling. One is from the Air above us, Ozone, particularly associated with thunderstorms. This is because lightning can split oxygen and nitrogen molecules to form small amounts of nitric oxide – which then re-reacts to form ozone. These ozone molecules, smelling similar to chlorine, may then be blown on the winds that precede a storm. That assumes a storm is present however, which I’m not sure is always the case!

The second and third scents come from the Earth and are Petrichor, the oils released from rocks formed from a variety of plant and animal sources, plus the compound geosmin, which is created by soil-dwelling bacteria. Most investigations have focused on the fact that these scents are released when rain drops hit the soil or rocks, sending spores and oils into the air and giving that fresh, earthy smell so many people love after it has rained. But this doesn’t explain why I should smell anything before it rains – especially as I have never smelt anything particular afterwards, just noticed the change in the feel of the air. A more recent theory says that as the humidity increases, the petrichor is released from pores in the rocks or soil, thus preceding the rainfall. This may be possible, and it has been suggested it is the cause for cattle becoming restless before rain. However, I don’t get the ‘smell’ of rain on a humid day! I only get the ‘smell’ shortly before actual rain.

Then last year researchers from MIT managed to film water drops landing on different surfaces and replay it in slow motion – and found that the Petrichor effervesces like champagne from porous surfaces, when the rain is light. These aerosols can then be carried on the winds in front of the rain for long distances. When you consider that a front is not just the mile or so wide it seems to us on the ground where the weather is, but often hundreds of miles wide all the way up through the atmosphere, then it makes sense to be smelling approaching rain before we can see it. It would also explain how other bacteria become airborne and cause certain diseases to spread.

However, I still can’t help wondering, given how poor my sense of smell actually is, whether there is some intuition or other sense at work rather than simply smelling. Many animals are aware of approaching rain – and from an evolutionary perspective this is a useful thing as following the smell back would lead to where it had rained and food will be growing. (Camels finding oases is one suggested example.) It helps us know to find shelter, or to put out pots for harvesting rainwater. In my own life, living in a modern world with waterproof clothes, houses, and taps I can turn on and off at will, I don’t often need these skills – and yet as the Earth becomes more unbalanced these may become the skills of the future.

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.

Learning to follow my Intuition – Honey

Bee on Marjoram flowers

Bee on Marjoram flowers

Intuition is one of those amazing things that we all wish we could have all the time, but most of us don’t, or at least not very well. That is my current perspective anyway. How often do I have a feeling I should do something, and take no action, and then later wish I had acted differently? Getting stuck in a traffic jam is a classic for me, as even though I sometimes get a message to go a different way I nearly always ignore it and see what happens. Last week a road was not only blocked but closed completely. I could have avoided it, but chose not to.

The key to doing better, I feel, is to not only acknowledge the messages I get, but to actually follow them! So when I finally worked out that honey seemed to be trying to get my attention in every way it could, (I noticed I was eating honey instead of jam, using honey shampoo, checking out books on bee shamanism although not actually buying them, investigating better gardening for bees, and have always burned beeswax candles when possible) I decided that I would try and find out what lessons bees and honey had for me.

I started out by reading ‘The Shamanic Way of the Bee’ by Simon Buxton. This was a truly fascinating account of his initiation as a bee shaman, and my respect for what it means to be a shaman, chosen by and dedicating your life to the spirits, increased enormously. It was amazing to discover that this was a native tradition, going back centuries, yet still relevant today and still practised in this country by those who are called to it. I also loved learning about the origins of the ‘flying ointment’, so often attributed to witches, but here shown to be fully part of the bee tradition – the three relevant herbs, henbane, deadly nightshade and thorn apple, all growing in the same island location and coming together in the form of honey which does indeed help the initiate to fly. On something very like a broomstick…

Reading this book helped me fully understand that a shamanic path is not for me in this lifetime! I am very happy as a witch who journeys, but who has a family life and interests outside of witchcraft.

I then investigated beekeeping. This has never been something I wished to pursue personally, and still isn’t, but I now have a better understanding of how the honey I eat was made and gathered and how the flavour is affected depending on the time of year and types of pollen gathered. And related to that, how I can garden better for bees.

By this stage I was getting a little frustrated that I didn’t seem to be able to work out the answer to all the messages I was getting. What was I missing? What did I still need to know about bees or honey, and where could I find out?

Since I generally try to learn through books in the first instance, I then did a library search on honey and then wrote down the Dewey decimal number for every book that came up in the local area. The next time I visited the library I was armed with my list of numbers, no idea what section most of them were in, and went round to see what was in stock. Now at this point intuition had to take over again, because I mentally rejected the book I actually needed. My hand picked it up regardless, my brain told it to put it back. My hand didn’t. After a few minutes of still firmly holding the book, I accepted the inevitable and put it in the pushchair. This is a technique I have used in bookshops – buy only the books my hand refuses to put back on the shelf. They always have something to teach me. I don’t usually argue that hard in a library, because I can always bring it back the next week, but since on this occasion I had argued quite hard against it I decided to read it first when I got home. The book was ‘The Honey Diet’ by Mike McInnes.

What did I learn? That honey is processed and stored by the body in a very different way to sugar because it has partly digested by bees. This means you avoid the peaks and troughs that come from eating sugary foods, the brain doesn’t have to shut down to protect itself from too much sugar – when it will frequently send out a ‘still hungry’ message because it can’t access the sugar you just ate, meaning that the average person eats another biscuit or chocolate bar and perpetuates the cycle. I also learned how after honey is eaten, the body stores its particular sugars in the liver for use as brain food rather than as fat like other sugars are. So I need to give up eating sugar and just eat honey. Hmmm. Giving up wheat was bad, finding honey recipes that also avoid all the other things I am allergic to could be seriously challenging! No wonder I didn’t want to know… But it probably is the next step I need to take to be truly healthy and to be more balanced in my sugar levels – especially while still feeding M and being unable to predict how much milk she will want each day and night. The cure for “baby brain” at last!

Then finally another book that if I needed any more convincing would give me the push I needed to make the changes. Tanis Helliwell, ‘Hybrids: So You Think You Are Human?’ Apparently bees came to our planet from Venus to ‘hold’ the Earth when it was sinking into darkness. They helped to raise the level of vibration of the Earth, and everything on it. I can only assume that all the plants pollinated by bees came as a result of bees being here, and it is strange to try and imagine a world in which they are entirely absent. We can, she suggests, learn many lessons from bee behaviour: honeybees working together, queen bees being in charge of huge organisations and solitary bees being individuals, and more seriously Colony Collapse Disorder when there are not enough able bodies bees looking after the dependants in the hive. But we can also benefit from being around bees and raising our own vibrations. Enjoying the many colourful flowers they pollinate, and eating honey will help to do this. Honey is one of the favourite foods of Elementals; I feel it brings me closer to their world.

Finding the Excitement

Last week I wrote about my difficulties of shopping for fabric. I was fortunate to get a second opportunity to go shopping again this week, thanks to Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire having different half terms, so having been frustrated and appalled by my previous incompetence, I thought I would have another go!

I spent some time considering what was still needed fabric-wise, with the benefit of knowing what was (hopefully!) available, and what surprised me was to realise how nervous I was about the whole thing. Yes, shopping makes me uptight. I rarely find what I want, frequently come home with something that is nearly but not quite wearable, am in danger of going into into shop after shop and coming home with nothing, and given current restrictions, am likely to end up with a tired and grouchy little girl and a parking ticket. (How people are cheered up by going shopping I have never worked out!) In short, my whole attitude was defeatist before I even started. So I meditated some more on the kestrel.

It struck me that the key thing about the kestrel was its golden colour. It was truly beautiful. I wasn’t being at all golden in my attitude, seeing shopping as going into a battle where I was likely to be only partially successful at best, and could come away with a hole in my wallet and few spoils of war to show for it if I wasn’t careful. This had to change. I meditated some more, and suddenly realised that I was looking at everything the wrong way around. I should be excited about having the opportunity to go on a shopping expedition, with my little girl, to buy fabrics which would offer the potential of new, fun projects and some good clothes for us both to wear. I had to be open to new things, allow my intuition to speak and tell me what it liked, instead of my logical, negative mind trying to judge the suitability of each item. I didn’t quite reach excited state, but I was able to go with a much more positive and open frame of mind.

Did it work?

Replacement fabric and last week's pink mistake

Replacement fabric next to last week’s pink washing mistake

Yes! I bought the fabrics I had remembered liking, plus saw some others, and found two remnants of those I wanted for a fraction of the price. I bought an amazing eight fabrics, a total of around 18m of mainly natural fibre (cotton or wool blend) cloth for just over £60. They should keep me going for a while yet! (And yes I do have a use planned for both of the fabrics in the photo.)

However, the best part was realising how it is possible to bring excitement to activities, instead of ordinariness. I have bought a bird feeding station for the garden, and in another meditation seen how to redesign the whole of the back garden putting nature at the forefront. I am almost terrified at the size of the project it has exploded into, yet tremendously excited at the same time. I’m sure I will be writing more about it here.

My aim is now to wake up every day excited by the potential it holds. I had never come close to imagining it was possible to feel this way until now, but how amazing would it be to greet each day with such joy? And yet nothing has actually changed except my attitude and way of looking at things.