Rushes for Brigid

Finished crosses on the display quilt (after several days of drying time.)

One of our current family traditions is making Brigid crosses out of rushes. It is a fun, simple activity my daughter and I do together, and talk about who Brigid is and the festival of Imbolc itself. The crosses are the end of the process however, the first part is to gather enough rushes to make a cross each.

This year the responsibility of rush gathering fell to me, since I was the only person free last Friday. Previously we have collected them together, so I have had someone to pull me out of the ditch and laugh at my wet foot…

The weather was cold, snow was forecast but missed us almost entirely, meaning it should be easy to gather a few stalks. But where? Rushes are one of those really common plants that you can never find when you need it. I had been keeping a lookout over the previous couple of weeks or so, but places I have seen rushes in the past were bare of them. Land dries out. Houses get built. Sheep and cows eat them. The drainage ditch, used previously, was not an option this year. Luckily a walk in January along a footpath new to me showed me a currently ungrazed field where there were some rushes growing, although having driven there to save short legs the boring bits and spend more time doing good or new bits, it was further from our house than I would have liked.

I decided I could manage the walk, a 5-6 mile circle, if I took a snack and had a rest somewhere and put my trust in Brigid. I treated it as a walking meditation on Brigid and Imbolc.

Single Rush plant, Juncus effusus, by stream

It seems very fitting that the plant I was looking for grows in damp ground, and the first single plant I found was by the start of a little stream. Brigid is of course known for her healing wells and springs – as well as fires, hearth and home, where the crosses are traditionally placed once made deepening the connection with her. (Ours are on our mantelpiece.)

However, I did not want to pick all from one plant, and this one was so perfect, being protected from horses by the tree, it didn’t seem right to take any. A second plant grew by the fence so I gathered a few stalks, but not enough for a cross.

Rushes eaten almost to ground level.

I continued up to the next field, where there were a lot of rush plants in the boggy ground from which the stream flows, but all had been cropped close to the ground.

Gentle but very curious cows on the footpath.

And then, a herd of cows across the footpath. Why should I expect otherwise on Brigid’s day? She kept me safe, and they gently moved out of the way before closing in again behind me. There were a few bullocks, curious and coming towards me for a closer look, but they seemed quite a calm lot, as (thankfully) were the longhorns I found later – complete with bull next to the footpath. I was very glad the mud by the squeeze stile was frozen solid, however.

Circle oak tree.

The furthest point from home was not the rush field, but a small patch of woodland where wild daffodils and bluebells grow. It is noisy, thanks to the nearby dual carriageway, but that means if I can tune it out, a meditation is rarely disturbed. I waited to see which tree called me for a sit down – and discovered this wonderful oak.

Close up of the circle oak.

The hole was too difficult for me to risk climbing through without help, (I wasn’t sure if I would fit all the way, especially with the branch across the middle!) but after my rest and grounding on the frozen earth, I put my head through and felt the tree’s energies circling me. I stayed there for some minutes, exchanging energies.

Soggy, frozen field where rushes grow.

Finally I left the woodland and descending, found my field, again luckily frozen (there is a good reason why I haven’t walked this path before!) with many small rush plants growing now the cows have been moved. I picked a few stalks from several until I had enough, they would make small crosses this year but size wasn’t important. In fact, I found later they behaved very well without splitting as thicker stalks can. Frozen myself, I put all in my rucksack, gloves back on my hands, crossed the stream and began the long walk back up the hill to home. I had a celebration to prepare for.

Advertisements

Fire and Rhubarb

I mentioned last week, in Happy Samhain, that I have been working quite a bit with the elements over the past year. Not for the first time, in fact the third, but I seem to go deeper and take longer each time. On this occasion I stayed with each element, exploring through meditation, ritual, appropriate outdoor activities and music, for around 6-8 weeks, and then mostly had a quick end when I realised I was going too far out of balance. Earth I gradually became ‘stuck in the mud’ and lethargic, not getting anything done. I also had molehills appear all over the place, in the middle of winter when I wasn’t otherwise digging the ground, forcing me to connect directly with the soil more than just walking. Water saw me crying a lot, and it raining a lot. The washing machine broke two pumps and flooded the kitchen on more than one occasion. My daughter suddenly decided she was ready to visit the swimming pool at last, enabling me to go too. Air saw strong winds and many ideas, if often impractical or challenging intellectually. The fence blew down. Fire saw drought and moorland fires, but I was being scared of it and in hindsight didn’t really open up to its teachings.

I ask myself, was I just more aware of each of these things because I am thinking about their element? No, I haven’t mentioned all of the occurrences, and there were way too many coincidences for it to simply be awareness, but that is part of being with the element too. I can say that within the year just gone they were the most extreme periods for each type of weather. But as I said, I didn’t really do Fire. I remember feeling relieved that I got through unscathed, no burning the house down or major temper outbursts, because I was deliberately keeping it in balance with the other elements.

However, I am now realising that fire is determined to teach me. The fire is relit within me and new projects are taking off – but I need to direct my energies better. In two weeks I have managed to burn an oven mitt, a pillowcase, a wooden spatula, and yesterday a pan that boiled dry. Finally I recognise what I am being shown. So having got the message at last, now I need to sort it out. Make my connection to Fire in a positive way, and use it to not only be creative but follow things through. To take action where action is needed.

Meanwhile, the totally blackened pan won’t scrub clean, so I look online for ideas. Vinegar and baking soda. Bio washing liquid. Well each did get it a bit better, but not so you’d notice if you hadn’t seen how it started out. Rhubarb, I thought. Was there any left? Despite the recent frosts there were four thin stems still with colour on them. I picked two, and boiled them in the pan. A bit of scrubbing, mainly with the burnt spatula, and I can see silver again. Fighting fire with fire.

A Walking Meditation

I was lucky enough to have most of a day to myself in the middle of the school holidays, which I chose to spend doing a very mini-vision quest in the form of a walking meditation. We were staying in my childhood home for a few days, so the country park that I went to was one that I knew well as a child, but had scarcely visited since. After a drop-off at the top of the hill (saving me about a mile of road walking), I started out on the most familiar track, one I cycled along almost every day for seven years of secondary school. Familiar puddles, roots, obstacles. It was raining hard, the sandy ground was as slippery as ever.

As the hedges opened out onto the ‘plain’, an area of open grassland where the trees were kept back to stop highwaymen from attacking travelers on the old coaching road, I left my old cycling route and revisited the woodland areas I had explored and played in when very young. Almost unrecognisable after a gap of 30 years, yet the feelings of the place were the same. Happy, and full of potential. I then walked parallel to the plain staying within the woodland. Pleasant, even while being dripped on, though unexpectedly mostly young-ish growth with one veteran tree decaying sadly behind a fence.

I came to a large oak tree I didn’t recognise, at a junction in the paths. It’s roots called me to sit down, so I spent some time there, working out exactly what my questions were. After some thought, I realised I needed to understand where I was right now and which path to take forwards.

I had thought everything would change a year ago when my daughter started school, so I made all sorts of plans – and then had them systematically unraveled by being unable to do much of anything thanks to my hip injury. Eventually I got the message to stop worrying about the things I couldn’t do, and found peace within. A peace that has stayed with me, and allows me to be at one with the world. But maybe I am impatient or awkward, as it rarely feels like I am doing enough – even if that is what all the messages I receive tell me! It felt like time to ask again, as the new school year approached, and see what, if anything, had changed.

Coming out of the woodland as I reached the far side of the plain, I found a familiar view from a bench where there had always been one.

This was a step back into a different past – a memory of a disastrous day at school and daring to come here in my lunch break, to escape. I had failed an exam I really expected to pass, and was suddenly faced with reality being different to how I had imagined things were going. I had followed teacher’s advice, taken what I thought was the ‘easy’ route, and a subject I had always been good at, instead of following my heart. Looking back, so much might have been different that year had I stuck to my original plan. I have failed worse things since then, but I don’t think ever made quite such a wrong choice again.

Two friendly oak trees.

Having put my past in its proper place, it was time to follow a new path into my future. One that I had never walked before; small, quiet, pretty. I walked through many new areas, and eventually circled round to return via some more oaks and Scots pines. I sat in an oak, and asked what message it had for my future. The answer was not something new however, but ‘Thoroughly’. In other words, follow the advice from the ‘Certainty’ tree I had met recently, and do whatever I do thoroughly. Reach for the sky. Find the joy in it. Don’t be just liking what I do, but love it. Value it. Spend more time doing the things I love rather than simply like – and find ways to love more. Remember what I always said as a child: that it doesn’t matter why we’re here, it matters that we enjoy it. Be happy, and spread happiness. That’s all. I looked up and in front of me saw two lovely oaks, happy together.

The rain had gradually eased, so I looked for a place to eat my lunch. I walked past larches and through a grove of silver birch trees. Then two oak trees lying down by a stream, covered in soft moss, inviting me to sit down. Squirrels played, some holly protected me and a hazel stood nearby.

A perfect place for a picnic


A perfect end to a perfect morning. I had another hour or so there, then walked home, picking blackberries in the sunshine.

Inspiration from Darkness

We have a rather slow building project going on here, turning our L-shaped house into a square. This summer’s project has been to make a window in the outside wall of the bathroom… For the past 3-4 years the room has been a ‘black hole’, having no natural light or ventilation.

At first I was horrified by the idea that the old window would have to be bricked up before the new one could be fitted, and we tried to work it so that it shouldn’t take too long, but events and a lack of builder who wanted the job conspired against us. (We have done most of the work on the house ourselves, so no change there then!)

However, what I never anticipated was what a great meditation and journeying space a totally black room could create. In a reversal of what some people do, lighting candles around the bath, I found I could reach the pull cord to turn the light off and have total darkness – while being immersed in my favourite element, water. Combine this with a quiet house and it is almost like being in a sensory deprivation tank or a warm cave. No aches, no tiredness, no distractions. My body relaxes leaving my mind free to go wherever it wants. Different to drumming, but no less effective! The first time I tried it I was helped by a steady drip which was almost like a slightly slow drum beat, which made the transition into another way of working easier, but mostly all is quiet.

Once building work resumed, sadly the magic was gradually eroded away as more and more light seeped in from around the edges. Then last week we had the excitement of the window being finally fitted, opening up the space to daylight and views across fields, which for most times of the day is a huge improvement! Yet while I love the effect on our hallway (which has no windows of its own), and getting a blast of curtain-free daylight in the mornings, already I have needed to create a quick, temporary, darkening solution using a remnant of blackout fabric, three eyelets and three screws, to last until the plastering is done and I can make or fit a proper blind. In full light, the unfinished bathroom becomes just a mundane space, too bright and distracting to travel in. With the cloth in place, while not the total blackout I had previously, I can switch off to the world around me. I never imagined darkness would be something I would grow to love so much that I don’t want to lose it!

Carving My Wand

Earlier this year I designed a new altar for my rituals. Not intentionally, I was just trying to sort out what candle to use given the cost of quarter-used beeswax tea-lights! (see Candles For Rituals, February) Trying to picture how many candles (and what shape they should be) gave me a whole new altar design, which after much thought I decided I liked. Two candles at the back, a pewter goblet on the left, and Apple wand on the right, and space for the specific ritual or flowers in the front. The only thing was at that time I did not have a wand, nor much of a connection to Apple!

Following the advice from my spirit guides, I cut a small piece from one of my apple trees and whittled it into a rounded piece I could carry in a pocket. The act of whittling had me falling in love with the tree, and gradually over a few months, I have become more Apple myself. I see it as the female aspect of Mother: nurturing, loving unconditionally, wise without needing to say anything in the way of the perfect matriarch, using music more than words in order to reach the heart before the head. The emotional and musical aspects also put it in harmony with the elemental kingdom. With its blossom it brings beauty, while the fruit is abundant and generous. I find myself becoming aware of the energy signature of Apple, for example when out walking. If there is some apple in the hedgerow next to me it is like receiving a tap on the shoulder, so I turn around to look and sure enough, there is an apple tree I hadn’t noticed before. It just wants to say hello.

I was also given the design of my wand in meditation. It was to have an apple on the end, with that most knowledgeable of Earth creatures spiraling around the handle, the Snake. The ancient tale needed reclaiming apparently! As it happens I love snakes, and soon after I began carving we had some visits to our garden by a grass snake. I watched it diving and twisting in our pond as it gobbled up all the tadpoles it could find. (Sad, but I think I prefer that to the pigeons eating them!) Snakes to me are creatures of the sun; we only see them this far north when we have a spell of really warm weather. They are totally in tune with the Earth, the seasons, the weather, and can sense their environment through touch and smell. As their eyes glaze over they appear to enter a trance-like or shamanic state, and by shedding their skins each year (females, twice a year for males) they demonstrate how they can confidently transform themselves and be born anew. Hence snakes have become a symbol of healing ever since Asclepius.

After sketching out the picture of my wand, I went in search of some Apple wood. I found four pieces in my stock of garden tree-prunings, two were too narrow once the bark was removed although a good length, one was chunky and twisted with a fork on one end, and the final one was medium width, perfectly straight and nearly as tall as my shoulder. It seemed a pity to cut it.

The next thing I did was to use the finished wand – in its astral form. Some weather work was required, and Dragon and my new wand guided me on how to use a wand to bring a wind to shift the persistent fog. (See Wands and Weather, May) Afterwards I held each piece of wood in my hand, and then knew exactly which wood my wand was made from! A week or two later I had another occasion to use it, and tried to do this by memory; then I realised I was holding it too tight and the wand was uncomfortable. It seemed to me a very exacting wand! I know some people say to make sure you mark which way the wood was growing – again, holding this wand it was very clear which way the energy flowed through it, in a spiraling, twisting manner unlike my long straight piece of apple which had energy shooting through so fast that the apple scarcely had time to touch it and give it character.

The branch which had the wand inside it.


It is the first time I have ever done a woodcarving knowing that the wand is already made, and I simply needed to work towards that completed item. At the same time, that also made it much harder for me to work, since I couldn’t simply measure it, mark the wood, and use a saw to remove excess wood quickly. Instead I found myself turning the wood endlessly to find which way felt right in my hand, how long it was, where the alignment was in a twisted, off-centre core, and constantly removing it from the clamp to feel rather than working by sight.

It wasn’t actually a great piece of wood. There were dead bits even inside, splits, and a lot of knots. A perfect finish was never likely – which was probably as well with my lack of carving experience, thus avoiding any guilt. I am also allergic to sawdust so I decided a tooled finish was quite acceptable, with the use of a spokeshave and scraper to smooth off the shaft of the wand. (I know people with tools I can borrow, I just couldn’t let them help!) It definitely has character.

Once I had the stick round, and about the right size in my hand, I was able to draw on the design – starting by drawing around my fingers. It wasn’t an easy thing to hold, so finding ways to clamp it got more tricky as more work was done. I also couldn’t clamp it and work on one section, because it needed continual rebalancing in the feel across the whole wand. For most of the detailed work, I hand held it with the aid of a piece of rubber on my bench, and a no-cut glove. But the wand generally told me how to do things, which tool to use, and what shape to make it. Even the apple, which I thought was going to be a full-sized crab apple such as we have growing in our garden, the wand stopped me and pointed out that the apples that came from the same tree as the wood were completely different to all the others in my garden, being wide at the top and tapering down to a narrow base. I wished I had realised this earlier, but that is what I did. I also thought I was carving an adder, until a second visit from a grass snake to our garden made me realise that was wrong. Luckily it wasn’t too late to make the correction needed – which was more mental connection than physical carving.

I continued using the wand in my rituals as I carved it, so each time it was a little different. As soon as I started carving the snake I had a demand to call on Snake in the South in my circle casting. It made sense and was a good circle, so that is what I have done ever since.

Finally I had to decide when to stop carving and declare it ‘done’. I realised it was not intended to be a carving of a snake, but the spiritual essence of the snake. It is not a perfect woodcarving, it is a perfect wand. Here it is after oiling but still unfinished – I never photograph finished ritual items. Hopefully I will write about the final stage of its making in a future post.

Mostly finished Apple Wand

Candles for Rituals

Candles have apparently formed a part of ceremony and ritual for around 5000 years. A ritual without a candle (or a fire) burning, no matter what other offerings or symbols are on an altar or equivalent, to me is just a meditation. It might be very meaningful in itself, but there is no uplift. No Fire in its pure elemental form to create a transformation in my subconscious.

Now that M is at school, I find I have time and space to do more full rituals again – and having not managed much for a few years it is a good opportunity for me to re-examine what I do and why. (Oh the joy, and effort, of being a solitary!) However, I have been encountering two problems. Paraffin wax, which the majority of candles are made from, smells awful to me and gives me breathing difficulties even without any scents being added. Alternatively beeswax candles, a beautiful smelling natural product, are expensive especially as easily available nightlights don’t burn properly in the time a solo ritual generally takes. Unless a candle burns to its edges before being blown out, it will form a hole in the centre, making it difficult to relight. So for my typical 30 minute or so burn time, 2cm is probably the largest candle size to use. (Several years ago I bought some beeswax “birthday candles” for which I was kindly made a wooden pentacle holder, but these only burn 10-15 minutes each. Great for a spell or focused meditation, but simply too short for a ritual.)

Pagans luckily have an answer to this problem, I have recently discovered, in the form of Spell Candles. Usually around 1-1.5cm across and 10cm tall, many are made of beeswax and come in a variety of colours. Burn time varies from an hour to 90 minutes, depending on size and if they are rolled or solid. Prices vary with some people charging a premium, while others charge in proportion to the amount of wax required to make each candle. (Yes there are now many electronic effect nightlight candles around, and yes it does take fire elementals to create electricity so they would be present, but this isn’t my first choice if there is a natural and sustainable alternative available.)

So having finally established that there are suitable candles for me to buy, I then start considering candle holders. Not many are this small, and they will need to be sized fairly specifically to which candles I choose to buy. Sticking one in melted wax on a plate is basic but tempting! But there is also the question of how many candles to have, given candle holders often come in pairs.

One candle seems to me to be adequate for a ceremony, to be lit at the start, before any circle is cast, and extinguished at the end. It can represent anything and everything, and ultimately symbolises that all is one. Connected through the centre which is everywhere. However, many witches have candles for the God and Goddess, possibly in addition to a central or carried candle (which may also be used represent Fire on the altar), making two or three candles per ceremony. Some witches also like to light candles in each quarter, coloured for each element, giving a possibility of seven candles. (I am assuming any candles lit as part of a spell or a working are extras.)

At this point I spent some time in meditation. I asked, what does my ideal altar look like for use indoors?

The picture that came into my mind was this one:

Two candles at the back. That was a surprise because it isn’t what I usually do. They are equal, yet apart. Goddess and God, Mother Earth and Father Sky, female and male, dark and light, above and below, within and without, manifested and unmanifested. I realised we live in a world of duality and what I seek is balance. Then on the right side of my altar, an apple Wand (I wonder why apple? I’ll come back to this when I know… ), ready to pick up and use, while on the left, a silver (pewter) cup bearing water. In the centre at the front, my working area where I can place anything specific to that ritual, ideally on a pentagram disk of some kind, completing the five-pointed arrangement. Underneath is my portable table covered by a bright green cotton cloth. Behind on the wall is a beautiful fabric picture of a tree.

I share this because it is considerably more basic and simple than most witches use – and in fact than I normally use! Yet although I was then shown how it could be added to, the athame next to the wand, a bowl for salt next to the cup, Goddess and God statues behind the two candles, other items specific to the ritual such as gemstones, flowers, amulets, pictures, carvings etc, I realised it is perfection in its simplicity, with each item being hand made and beautiful in itself. Both male and female are present, as are all four elements, as is an ancestor connection. If my altar represents me in the higher planes, then I seem to be calm, peaceful, simple and uncluttered inside.

A permanent altar with lots of things on it is not something that feels right to me because I live with non-Pagans who would have no use for such a thing and not treat my tools as sacred; when I am not using them, they (bell, athame, swan feather, cups, offering plates, etc) are safe inside my desk, along with all the other sacred objects, talismans, divination aids, space clearing tools etc that I possess. Our ‘seasonal displays’ on the mantleshelf act as a permanent focus with the various quilt tops I have made changing for each sabbat – they are based around the pagan year, which is of course the solar year so easily understood by all including visitors to the house. Our two dining candles live there when not in use, creating a parallel with my altar. I also have various locations in the house where there are power items that are left out all the time, and a place where I leave offerings in the garden. So after a bit of thought and experimentation, I find a really simple altar inside gives me the freedom to set it up quickly and easily when I want it (and dismantle it again before collecting M from school), and I have the flexibility to add any statues or symbols or flowers etc that are befitting to the ritual.

The loss of some tools does, however, feel like I am breaking a lot of rules! I clear space before casting a circle, so these tools are kept nearby, but I won’t now be putting them on my alter after use. My wooden athame I made has not seen much use, and it was interesting while exploring altars and candles to read other people’s comments that they don’t use an athame outside for fear of upsetting elementals – any blade is objectionable, not just an iron one. (I wondered if some witches used knives originally so that they had one to hand in case protection is needed. Also I suspect only rich witches in times past would have had a spare knife for magical purposes! Another area to come back to…) Incense I don’t use because I can’t cope with smoke – but I do sometimes use natural sprays while cleansing the space so I’ll have to find a way to work these in. Also my apple wand will need consecrating when I have made it, so I’ll have to find a way of doing this that doesn’t involve smoke!

I am amused that I started out just trying to work out what candles to buy, and have ended up redesigning my altar, and probably the whole way I celebrate. Sometimes all it takes is a small thing for us to make the big changes that we simply couldn’t see before.

Moles … Again!

There are grass verges in front of most houses at the outskirts of our village, a legacy of Edwardian planning, setting the houses back from the road. Most of the verges are neat, mown regularly by the council, though occasionally covered in wheel tracks or removed altogether where space is needed for parking. Ours currently is not neat or tidy. Ours is completely covered in little brown molehills, where a small, black creature has evidently been digging in circles.

When I started this blog, I asked which animals would like to help me and offer their support. The result is the sketch I made at the top of the page. One of these animals was the mole, who made himself known to me in the same way as he is now, by making molehills all over the place. And then disappeared as silently and completely as he had appeared.

So now he is back, I felt he had a message for me.

Unfortunately with the holidays my meditation time was massively reduced, my focus has been elsewhere, and I never made the time to simply ask Mole what he had to say. Instead I spent three weeks being puzzled. Not annoyed with the destruction of the otherwise perfect lawn – it is winter and no one is harmed by a few molehills, but it is so extreme as to be very odd. And then suddenly the penny dropped.

Molehills on the grass verge.

I have been working with the elements individually, something I do every so often in a cyclical way, deepening my connections each time, and this time started with Earth knowing I find that element hardest. It is also the element of the North, and of Winter. A good time of year for working with rocks, crystals and other gemstones indoors, and going for (short) walks on Derbyshire gritstone, but not for gardening and connecting directly to soil with my hands. The ground in my garden has alternated between frozen or waterlogged for the past three weeks and certainly wouldn’t be helped by digging or compacting right now. But then I looked again at the molehills. Perfect soil, not frozen, not waterlogged, already loosened for me. Created by an animal of the Earth. So obvious in retrospect.

My original intention had been to try meditating with some soil indoors, just as I had done with different types of rock – one from my pond, another I brought back from Wales last summer, etc. Soil is after all the basis for trees, which I have never had a problem connecting with! But when I got outside I realised I had already done all the indoor work I needed to, exploring loam, sand, silt, clay etc. and how they relate to different types of trees growing, and if I did any more was in danger of becoming so Earthed that all would reach a standstill. I needed to be active, practical. So instead I had a really enjoyable time raking all the little heaps level, seeing the various qualities and ingredients in the soil that help plants to grow and moles to feed, and marveling at how much the soil can vary in colour and texture even over quite a small area. Not only that, but I managed to do it in the only hour of sunshine for about three days. A really lovely working meditation. So thank you mole, and I expect it is goodbye again for now.

Reflections

Janus looks both ways, forwards and backwards, reminding me that both matter. So as the new year begins, I am reflecting back on how much is different to what I had imagined. I have written already about my tendon injury. While it continues to heal, I have changed. I am no longer dreaming of all the physical things I hope to achieve; instead I am grateful for each thing or outdoor experience that does happen. Possibly this is self-defence, in that I don’t want to get my hopes up again. Yet I have found an inner peace and happiness in just being. I no longer feel there is always more I could or should be doing.

My rhythms are constantly changing, dictated to me by outside forces. A year ago I promised to meditate more; had I not managed this I would be lost. Yet within that there are times when I have plenty of meditation space, and other days or weeks that feel crowded by activity. Somehow everything gets done, even if never in the way I plan it.

Writing is something I have long dreamed of spending more time doing, and yet when I had three weeks of enforced hip rest and no interruptions I quickly ran out of things to say. Staring at a blank page of fiction suddenly felt self-indulgent and I realised my family needed me. I no longer need to prove to myself that I am ‘somebody’ because I write; I have a job as a homemaker, decorator, gardener, seamstress, cook, mother, lover … and am loved and valued for it. Even my blog has taken second place at times – if I didn’t have something to say that fits the very broad definition of either pagan or crafting, then I decided to ease up on myself. Once or twice a month is sometimes what I can manage, if I am concentrating on other things.

Looking back, there are two things that have changed me. One was realising my happiness depended on what stories I told myself. I had the power to be happy or not in any situation, depending on how I interpreted it for my conscious self. (See my comments about happiness under Samhain Quilt in October 2017.) The second was some recent journeying experiences of being some kind of woodland elf. Most people have had past lives, to which windows are sometimes opened, usually revealing a previous human existence or series of existences. Mine, so far, are not. They are of living as an advanced elemental in freshwater, or in woodland, the two environments I am most at home in, that give healing to me just by being there. (Unlike the ‘seaside / blue skies’ pictures or holiday places generally recommended to get healing and calm.) I do not fully understand these memories / experiences yet so haven’t written much about them (the first was 2-3 years ago, most were 2-3 months ago), but I am wondering if this life I am now in is about learning to be a human being. I often feel myself in this life as a hazel tree going off in all directions with no strong central trunk, but all weaving together to build a strong support. I would often prefer to be single minded, an expert at something, yet this is never the way things work out and it doesn’t seem to matter. Believing what I now do it makes some kind of sense and also deepens my love and respect for the Great Spirit that is in everything and knows all.

So looking forwards, I have no plans, and no strong desires. I will simply trust that everything comes in its own time, and that there is more to come.
If there is one challenge to set myself this year, it is to love more, to see the good in everyone and every situation, even when I am not feeling calm inside. In other words, be a good human being.

Black Bryony

Black Bryony berries garlanding its way through the ivy.

All autumn I have been enjoying the sight of black bryony berries garlanding the hedgerows. They are of course a fairly common plant in most of England, but one I only tend to see once the bright red berries have ripened. The flowers are fairly small and insignificant.

Black Bryony in Hawthorn hedge.

I have wanted to take a picture of the berries before, but mostly I see them while cycling, along roadside hedges that are not always good places to walk with a camera. They also drape themselves so sparsely that they don’t frame well. Then this year a new cycle route was opened up to me (see earlier post, Cycle Roads) and it grew in these traffic free hedges in such profusion that I wanted to have a go. A month ago the leaves were still yellowing and showing their bindweedy shape, but now they hang brown or have dispersed into the hedge bottom to be recycled into next year’s crop. Getting camera, weather, time and leg that can be walked on all together has taken some time… (These were taken with our old compact camera – the DSLR camera I got this year would have done a better job at putting the background out of focus and letting the berries shine, but would have added an extra weight / balancing challenge I wasn’t ready for. Work in progress!)

There are two bryonies, named white and black after the colour of their roots, both looking very similar for most of the year since they each have mid-green ivy-like leaves, small insignificant greenish white male and female flowers followed by red berries, and they climb up hawthorn with abandon. However they are completely unrelated to each other. White bryony, Bryonia dioica, is a member of the curcurbitae family (ie courgettes and melons) so climbs with tendrils, and is dioecious, while Black Bryony, Tamus communis, belongs to the Dioscoreaceae family (ie yams), climbs by twining, and is monoecious. Both are poisonous in all parts.

Black Bryony berries and ivy.

Black bryony berries and juice or pulp from the root have been applied directly to the skin for bruises, strains, gout, rheumatism and hair loss because the calcium oxalate it contains as crystals irritate (or stimulate?) the skin. It has also been used to cause vomiting in careful doses, and when mixed with wine or honey, black bryony has been used for gravel or asthma. An overdose is likely to cause a painful death however. All parts also contain saponins, another poison, although one which is normally deactivated by cooking – but the young shoots are cooked and eaten like asparagus in southern France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Croatia and Greece.

I managed to meet Black Bryony in meditation, and found a very interesting energy which was willing to communicate with me, appearing briefly in a dark female form and very beautiful. Its element is fire, and its focus is transformation – hence is medical uses. But transformation can be destructive to some if they are not willing to change, to let some parts die down. It was used in alchemy for this purpose. [I cannot find any evidence for this as yet, although I’m not an alchemist so it may turn up…] It has been particularly active along the lane to create the transformation that I have seen this year. It has developed strong roots in the course of this work so will continue to grow well there, but doesn’t need to spread further. It also brings harmony, creating links between species. It does not help the fiery aspects of will, or of strong focus and intention.

Black Bryony makes a garland under a hawthorn branch.

Following Woodland Paths

I was lucky enough to be camping in woodland for a week last week, in an area hitherto unfamiliar to me, the Forest of Dean. Unlike that other ancient hunting forest, the New Forest which has more moorland than woodland, here trees go on for miles: an amazing expanse of green. The type of trees vary, but where we were camping (near Symonds Yat) it was mainly beech with some oaks and occasional yews, plus rare native whitebeams and small-leaved lime trees around the edges by the cliffs.

One evening towards the end of the week I went for a walk by myself, and having not been there yet, set off in search of the nearby hill fort.

Dog rose, Rosa canina, flowering in an old quarry

There were no direct paths shown on the map from where I was to the fort, but this is a woodland which seems to generate many paths of which only a few are planned and plotted. I started out well, past a disused quarry where I found dog roses flowering, and then briefly explored some caves. A choice in the paths, I headed deeper into the woodland and then along in the general direction of the fort. Another choice, I chose woodland. I regretted this fairly soon as the path veered off downhill towards the river Wye, so I took the next available turning back uphill again. This path continued for a distance, until I met with a wall and a gate that was too blocked with fallen leaves to open. Jumping over I met with a track only a short distance away, going in roughly the right direction; I kept an eye on the compass and also the time. It went well for a short distance, even being built up over a rocky section to leave a smooth path. Then a couple of fallen and now dead beech trees blocked my way. The track continued under the first, so I climbed my way through. Then it petered out to nothing. I headed up the steep bank, picking my way carefully and wishing I had hiking boots on instead of trainers. I kept expecting to come to another path, but it seemed some time before I eventually hit on a higher track. Having few landmarks and no clear view since crossing the wall, I managed to follow this the wrong way for a short distance. Realising my mistake, I turned around and discovered where the track turned in the right direction a short distance back from where I had joined it. Further along there was a style over the wall that I had crossed earlier (no the wall wasn’t straight), so I took note of it for my return. After another turn, the track led me to open space at the top of the hill, where longhorn cattle were grazing, and there, finally, lay the hill fort before me.

I was out of time, so I went no further that evening. Instead I followed the other path option I had seen, and returned to the caves in half the time of my outward journey. Pretty, but no drama. We used this path the next day to all explore the hill fort, where we found wild strawberries just ripening.

It occurred to me that had I taken the direct path the first time time, I would have had a very different walk and experience. I had expected to have trouble finding the hill fort; as a result I hadn’t looked for an easy route and therefore my expectations were met. It was tricky to find the right hill going my way! It was also thoroughly enjoyable and adventurous and fun! I had a proper woodland experience, connecting with what was around me. I saw a boar, deer, heard foxes, not to mention rabbits and squirrels, plus all the birds from buzzards to robins just on that one walk. Not only that, but on my return journey I fell in with a local who showed me some of the more hidden delights of the area – which I was able to share with my family the next day.

.

Beech woodland, with edge of rock spiral in the corner.

While I am writing about my woodland experiences, I also had an interesting experience with a tree on my last day. It was while walking a rock spiral someone had made – I reached the centre, looked up, and my eyes immediately fell on this tree in the picture. It seemed to be watching me and being amused, yet at the same time friendly and open to conversation. I felt welcome in the woods.

Friendly beech tree watching me.

However, the lesson I received when I meditated on this later was quite different. My notes read as follows: “Beech tree I was drawn to – an individual, standing by itself with its own character, despite being one of many in the forest. Similar but not identical, I would know it again. I could have been drawn to the group of 6/7 all growing so close they were almost as one, but I wasn’t. I didn’t even photograph them – light is an excuse and could have been overcome had I felt the need, [they were rather dark!] it was the individual I noticed, and that says something about me, and how I feel about myself, how I want to be. Unique, maybe even a character.” That’s told me then!

Blackwell Stone “Circle”

Blackwell Stone “Circle”
(Click to enlarge.)

Here is a Peak District novelty that I happened to spot on the way to somewhere else, and stopped to take some photographs on the return journey. Five large stones placed in an arc on a raised bank in the middle of a field, near the hamlet of Blackwell, clearly visible from the B6049. Grid ref: SK1267.7194 (last digits approximate – it is private land so I didn’t enter the field and pace out the exact position.) At first glance it might appear to be the remains of a stone circle.

However, as a circle, it doesn’t quite fit and I suspect it isn’t really trying to. The stones are limestone, whereas Derbyshire stone circles are all on gritstone – apart from the much older henges. Their size and shape also feel incorrect for a historical circle, since nearly all are ‘female’ in shape and are too close together proportionally. (Avebury alternates male and female for example, other circles are nearly all male.) Being approximately 3-4 feet high, this is also unusual for Derbyshire as most circle stones are either considerably smaller, or 6 feet plus. And the bank they sit on was probably created to support the stones and shaped around them, it does not continue to complete a circle but slopes off evenly in all directions before the ground rises again near the wall.

And yet… There is a totally unexpected power and majesty of these five stones erected carefully and precisely by human hands. They line up neatly in their arc with a precision many circles lack, and they are substantial lumps of rock. Even if it can’t be called a circle, it is an intriguing rock sculpture and deserves praise for that alone.

I was unable to meditate with the stones, given they are on private land, but I did return to them in a mediation journey later.

My first impression was a surprise of how strong energy links there were between the stones. They had come from the same place and were all strongly connected to each other, and that was replicated in their alignment. It made me see how other stone circles could easily build up such a strong energy field around the circle. However I then tried to feel beyond the stones, even within the arc, and there was nothing. If I had ever been in any doubt that this was never part of a circle, this would have confirmed it, as there was absolutely nothing across the empty space. Not even a path where people might have walked from the nearby farmhouse to the stones. I have found that it is usually possible to feel the energy of where stones were and feel the circle even when it is not visible, but that wasn’t the case here. Possibly this is an opportunity missed – there are other circles around with only 4 or 5 large stones, eg see photos on my blog about Duddo Stones, Northumberland, and also elsewhere in Derbyshire that I haven’t written about yet. But more likely whoever erected the stones just wanted them to feel like part of something bigger, and maybe one day there will be more.

The other discovery of interest from my meditation was that the stones were each already quite weathered and shaped, and I could see how this would increase over time making them each into sculptures in their own rights. Some would hold water, others would develop fissures and other interesting shapes, but all seemed to have somewhere smooth you could run a hand over.

Walking with an Angel

Last weekend I had an unusual opportunity to have a longer walk than normal, by myself. Nowhere particularly exciting – I could choose a drop-off point somewhere along the route the rest of my family were going to be driving, and then I could walk home from there, but this had the advantage that some of the walk would be on unfamiliar footpaths. Total distance around 6-7 miles, with about 3 hours before I needed to be home.

Ducks and Tree Roots

The first part of the walk was through a country estate (lots of those still in Derbyshire!) with a lake that turned out to be a popular place to feed the ducks. I had hoped to stop somewhere around here and meditate, but it didn’t feel like the right place to stop, and there was a very cold wind blowing. I just took a few photographs instead.

The walk continued to be pleasant through the park with various non-native 200 year old trees dotted about, and then into farmland. A brief visit to a small village and out again along a very pretty stream. Still nowhere to stop, and various chatty dog-walkers about.

After that I took a ‘wrong’ turn, not following my original plan. I realised my mistake almost immediately, but it looked inviting so I decided to continue across an old railway line that is now a footpath although not shown on my map. It seemed to mark a boundary, as from that point on I met no other walkers all the way home. I had sadly left the prettiest bit of the walk behind me, but also the populated areas and the people. I found a sunny, sheltered patch of grass next to a farm track to sit on and have a bite to eat, and then continued walking as it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to linger.

Finally I realised I wasn’t going to find my perfect meditation spot anywhere. I was still 3-4 miles from home, knew most of the paths, and they didn’t go through any woodland or watery places or pretty spots or drama; it was just fields with the occasional bit of road to cross. I wondered if I could do my meditation while walking. I let myself go into Alpha state, dulling the sensations of the world around me and opening to my inner world. My question was simple: having been reading about guardian angels, and the fact that angels are spirit so can take different appearances as needed, were the other spirit friends I meet with regularly simply my angel choosing that form to help me, or was an angel different?

First I met with one of my dragon spirit friends. Then he helped me meet my guardian angel. I could feel the energy as completely different. There was no way I could ever confuse the two. I thanked dragon, and then talked with my angel for the first time. Staying in alpha, we walked together, and I felt my angel’s loving presence, knew it would be there for me no matter what. Other guides are just that – guides, or teachers, or advisors, but I understood how the angel was a guardian, just there for me, whether I asked it to be or not, and would always be there. Most of the time we just walked in silence together. Finally as I entered my village and was almost home, I said thank you and left alpha state. My inner world closed, and the physical reality around me was once again my reality. But I was somehow changed. Filled with love, with light, a feeling of lightness, and connectedness. I had a sense of who I was, as Spirit but with an extra dimension to previous spiritual experiences.

***

I didn’t post this last weekend as I wanted more time to process what I had experienced, and also because new questions arose in my mind and I wanted to see what would happen next.

A few days later I was again walking by myself, this time just a short distance late in the evening as it was getting dark. So I tried contacting my angel again, this time by myself. I knew it was there, but I was not on the right wavelength to have any meaningful conversation. I returned to the spirits I knew, and felt immediately among friends. I then understood them to be octaves apart in terms of vibration, and I was clearly more comfortable at one level than the other. It may also be that the first time I asked for help with a particular issue in which a higher level of love and trust was needed to dissolve a fear, so the angel was best placed to help me with this. I didn’t have this same need the second time, and the playful company of dragons was perfect. It is now my understanding that Angels will always give help when asked, and unconditional love, but they are not beings for ‘just hanging out with’ as I often do with other spirit friends. (Dragons or other animals.) Anyway I decided I would share this in case it interests others and helps anyone else on their own path.

Stone Circles in Derbyshire

I have started a new project recently, one I have been cogitating since the start of the year. My aim is simple – to photograph and meditate at all the stone circles in Derbyshire. Needless to say, it gets more complicated from there!

The first question I looked at is why stone circles, and should I include anything else? Most stone circles can be reasonably dated to the Bronze Age from finds within the circles – but there are also huge numbers of other Bronze Age sites in Derbyshire which include cairns, burial mounds, carved stones etc as well as evidence of settlements. However, Derbyshire has been inhabited since at least the last ice age, with various pieces of evidence from limestone caves in the north of the county as well as near the river Trent in the south – and there are two older (Neolithic) henges, one of which (Arbor Low) also includes stones. Did any of these have an influence on the Bronze Age circles, and if so how? Then of course there are the later Iron Age hill forts, not to mention all the Roman roads and forts through which these circles have survived, and which the circles may have had some influence over. There are also other complications: some circles do not exist any more; some recorded as circles may have been ring cairns rather than stone circles; and there are also several standing stones, age generally unknown, which are even less clear in their purpose than stone circles but which are sometimes more dramatic than a circle with one small stone remaining.

So my first meditation was to answer these simple questions.

A circle, I realised, is something special. The energies flow in particular ways, it is very feminine in form, it is related to the circle witches cast, and it is healing in its centre. For some reason these are apparently all things I need right now. Many also have alignments to the sun at different times of the year following the larger cycles of our lives, so it would be good to visit them at their appropriate times if I can.

Stone Circles in Derbyshire

Stone Circles in Derbyshire, with rivers.
(Click to enlarge)

The beginnings of my map, shown here, includes 34 ancient circles, of which 8 destroyed (yellow) leaving 26 (green, darker for better preserved) to be found and photographed. Two of these are henges (double circles), one with stones and one without. There are also three modern circles (brown squares) to investigate – two apparently built new but using old rocks, the other entirely modern as a public space – to see if anything of a genuine ancient circle is created.

It is of interest to me how all the Derbyshire circles are concentrated in a small area mainly following the Derwent valley. They appear to be features of hilly areas where there are naturally rocky outcrops – yet sometimes the rocks were moved some distance from these outcrops. (There is no great concentration of stone circles just over the borders into Yorkshire, although there are larger numbers roughly following the Pennines north, as well as in other upland areas further west such as Cumbria, Wales and the South West. Very few stone circles exist in the East of Britain until you get to Northumberland and Scotland.)

Those known to be lost were possibly in more intensively farmed areas – whether there were more circles at one time is impossible to know, although my feelings are that it is unlikely since we would be talking about pre-enclosure days, when few would have worried about some rocks in the way of their sheep! What is more likely is that there were wooden circles built in lowland areas which simply would not have survived.

Happy New Year … Again!

We have finally reached the last of the ‘New Years’ for the winter – the one generally celebrated across the country! As a pagan I normally like to work with the rhythms of nature rather than an arbitrary date, so have celebrated a new year’s cycle beginning at the start of the dark at the Autumnal Equinox, the general Pagan new year at Samhain, and the return of the light at the Winter Solstice. And yet besides being the day we turn all the calendars over, 1st January probably has one of the strongest rituals I can think of associated with it as people who share the Gregorian Calendar all around the world make resolutions for the year ahead. To be part of a collective humanity is valuable – just like any shared activity, or shared and repeated ritual, the more often it is repeated the more the power within it can grow and be used positively.

The only reason for making new resolutions or promises that I can see is to shine a light onto my path ahead and see what I need to do or what choices I need to make about my direction. Last January I had a list of various specific things I wanted to achieve – sewing projects, glass, swimming, drumming etc – most of which has been written about here over the course of the year. It was helpful in focusing my mind when I was struggling to see what was important to me independently of the rest of my family.

Now I am noticing how the different areas of my life have become more interrelated as time goes on, one influencing another and all becoming part of a whole which is me moving closer to living in harmony with everything around me. I made a list of what I wanted to do, and achieve, and then realised that every single one of them depended on me finding quiet space and time to really connect at a deep level. Being out in nature walking, swimming or gardening; taking photographs; writing; carving wood; looking after M; creating a home… So for this year, I have just one resolution – which covers just about every area of my life:

I will take more time for meditation – to include attuning myself to what I am doing, just being, and learning to stay calm.

It is not as if I don’t meditate now; I do, at least once every day, although it is often quite short. But I have been thinking a lot recently about this quote by Saint Francis de Sales, a Swiss clergyman who lived 1567-1622:

“Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.”

The first time I read this I laughed, assuming either he was making a joke, or he was saying that we needed to cut back on some of what was filling the time up, that we were overdoing it. However as I looked at what changes I wanted to make in my life, I have seen that meditation is related in some way to all of them.

The first is simple. If I am too busy to meditate, I won’t get any answers from within and therefore will not move forwards – besides not reaching the still point of Just Being that is so valuable and only seem to comes when I have dealt with any pressing issues. I am finding that out of stillness arises creation.

After dwelling on this quote a little longer however, I started to see the idea of being busy and needing longer to meditate differently. There are always going to be more things I want or need to do than I can fit, because that is the way I am. If I don’t seem to be managing to do everything, meditating seems to help me focus on what is important and how to do it easier, and which things maybe I can leave out. A daily set time and place is difficult for me as it gets squeezed out too often, but when I don’t manage my ‘regular’ slot I need to make another space.

The second part is to make a more conscious effort to meditate in different places – attuning myself to the environment through meditation, either to make a connection with the environment, or as part of whatever work or craft I am doing. Outside before I begin gardening for example, if I am serious about wanting to work with the nature spirits in the garden. When working with glass to literally work with glass and be part of it, or with wood, or with anything else I wish to craft, such as I just discovered with the origami dragon and its bigger brother from red shiny wrapping paper that is now nestled in the tree. The whole process of creation changes and becomes bigger than just me.

Finally the third and fourth parts are related, as I have learned to ‘just be’ in some circumstances and not others. I know, this could take a lifetime or more to master! In the short term however, am hoping improved meditation can help me stay calm even when provoked, or that I can see alternative ways of handling difficult situations. Anger or frustration I see as emotions intended to force or inspire change so not negative in themselves, but they need channeling and directing and that, for me, starts with meditation. Or at least it will this year.

It has also been a very interesting experience having committed to writing weekly, as the writing itself has almost become a meditation exercise. While some weeks it has been clear to me exactly what I want to talk about, other times I have got to Saturday evening or even Sunday morning and still have no idea. However, in every case these have been the posts I personally have learned the most from because there always seems to be some subject hovering around the edges of my consciousness that needs bringing into the open and properly examining instead of shying away from. They are not always the stories that make me look good, and sometimes I have had to think quite hard about whether or how to share. Admittedly a few end up in my ‘unpublished blogs’ file, but the writing of them was still a valuable experience which wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I have learned an awful lot in this way, and I hope that by sharing more of my own stories other people have also found them helpful. Even this one – which has strayed a very long way from my original list I started a week ago!

Finding a Parking Space – The Witch’s way

I used to hope I could find somewhere to park. I was often disappointed. Then I tried trusting that I would find somewhere to park, which usually worked although I might have to walk further than I wanted to at times. And it might be on a curve, or a tight fit for getting a pushchair out of the boot. But now I have a better way. I simply ask for a space.

To do this I access the same state of mind I use when dowsing, a sort of light-meditation, functional but not interfering in any way with my awareness of my surroundings. Given I am usually driving at the time this can be important! (So too can be choosing a quiet moment.) Then I frame my request something like: “An it harm none, please find me a suitable parking space. As is my will, so mote it be. Thank you.” The first part allows Spirit to make the best possible choice for everyone, while leaving my request unspecific. Adding the second sentence, and the gratitude in advance, I know it will happen – I can then let go and see what unfolds.

What has been interesting to me is the range of parking spaces that have become available to me using this method. Places I might not ordinarily have thought of parking but where one car has shown me a new option at right angles to the road in a natural layby, or by a disused lot. I have also found that all spaces have been really easy to get in and out of, a rare thing given my previous experiences, and have been on the right side of the road for getting M in and out of her seat. Once I even parked a hundred yards from where I normally do, so used a different footpath to join the river path, and then found my normal footpath was temporarily closed off.

So I am now left wondering does this work because I have invested greater trust in finding a space, taken out any specifics of what I think I need, and am therefore open to seeing the unexpected; or because I have accepted my spiritual nature and asked for help, thus opening new opportunities?

Collecting memories

It appears to be a fact of modern life that technology becomes obsolete by the time you have opened the box. Our computer is now over six years old, security updates are no longer automatic, websites don’t always work properly and films over an hour in length freeze up in the middle. It is time for a complete system clearout and software upgrade – so if there is no post from me next week, we are still rebuilding…

Just as I like to tidy a room every few years and clear out what has become ‘clutter’, I have spent the last week going through my computer files. It is amazing how many folders remain untouched since the last clearout, that may as well be moved into ‘Archive’. A few thousand emails have been deleted, while a handful of wonderful ones have now been stored in appropriate folders to make me smile again at some point in the future. Photos of nieces and nephews remind me of when they were small. Good wishes or news from friends who live overseas. Memories and video clips of canoeing trips.

I am reminded how those who have lost all their possessions treasure the personal, the photographs, the keepers of memory. As the reward for this process of clearance, I will have a new printer that can do colour, so that I may collect a few of the most treasured pictures into a book. Something tangible that may be worth rescuing. Am I crazy to fill my physical shelves as well as the computer files? Well probably, but which will M enjoy looking at in years to come? Also I expect there will be at least two more computer rebuilds before she becomes an adult…

There are other, more pagan- or possibly witch-specific uses for physical photographs as well. While I am not a great one for spells, especially those involving living people, using photos for connecting to recently deceased ancestors is much simpler than trying to get hold of relevant objects to represent them. I have had a frame for some time now waiting for pictures to be printed out and inserted so that it may stand on a side table.

It seems to me that human nature hasn’t changed much; for thousands of years we have painted our memories, first directly onto our walls, then on wood, leather, canvases or parchment. We may puzzle at the exact meaning today, but we still value the pictures. However just as we have hidden files in silicon crystal that may be accessed in the future, so did the ancients, in the form of quartz crystals. Meditating with a stone, or even a skull, can reveal all kinds of truths and memories that have been stored there.