An Orchid Sign

A little over a year ago, just after the Autumn Equinox, I had a crazy idea. Instead of leaving some savings in a bank account to earn almost no interest, why not buy a field and plant a woodland?

My economics turned out to be way out from reality, since there is a premium on good grazing land around here – it turns out much cheaper to buy almost any woodland than an empty field. And the sort of woodland we can see from our windows that was planted on ex-coal mines twenty odd years ago and then pretty much left to do its own thing, was not much more than the money we had available. If energy follows thought, this idea was put into action in two days!

Energy, however, follows more people’s thoughts than just mine, and even keeping mine pure was a challenge at times. Or it might just be that Spirit has its own perfect timing that makes sure we are prepared. It took months to negotiate a price, and many more months for questioning the contract, long before any solicitors were involved. I visited every month or two, leaving the footpath that runs along one side to find a tree to sit with. I felt more and more comfortable there as time went on, at home, welcomed, loved. I played my recorder at Beltane, I sang.

Eventually a commitment was needed; solicitors needed appointing who would need paying even if the deal fell through. I had made a promise to serve trees, but did they want me to look after them? Was I capable? Was this the right thing to be doing? Would the purchase even go through? I didn’t know. Like so much, as the initial enthusiasm wears off, the enormity of the task starts to make itself apparent. This could be crazy.

I asked Spirit that if we should go ahead and that it would all work out okay to please give me a sign. I considered what sign I would take as a positive confirmation; several thoughts passed through my mind such as a particular type of feather, a toadstool, something colourful, and settled on an orchid as being a very definite sign. This is in a woodland with very few understory plants except for brambles, nettles, and willowherb which frequently block the way through, nothing of any particularly beauty I had ever seen. (Although small, it is not an easy woodland to explore!)

I followed whichever route through the trees I felt like back to the footpath, turning each time my way was blocked. First I found a large goat willow, only the second large tree I have found there, the first also being a goat willow alongside the private track on the opposite side. That was a delight in itself. Many more dead ends followed. Intuition ruled, just going with what felt right. I came a direction I was sure I hadn’t been before, and there in a patch of grass in dappled sunlight was a very bright, knee-high, common spotted orchid. Really stunning, and totally improbable. I wished I had a camera with me.

For the past three months or more (it was mid-July when I saw the orchid), every time I have doubts, or there are delays, I have held the picture of that orchid in my mind. Finally it has paid off. The woodland became ours last Friday. We held a ceremony there on Saturday and walked the bounds for the first time. I hope walking the bounds will be easier in future years after some bramble removal!

I had an amused moment when cooking dinner on Friday night, realising that in all the things I have studied and the jobs I have had, the one I have never felt was ‘me’ was being a mother – and yet here I was cooking, sewing, being a home-maker and doing the job full-time. Maybe I needed the woodland to run away to and escape when it all got too much. Then I realised actually I was suddenly now ‘mother’ to several hundred trees I had promised to look after! I feel overwhelmed, but in a happy, excited way.

As for the orchid, I trust it will grow again and, should I be able to find it next July, I shall take a photograph. My symbol of hope and belief.

Wands and Weather

Back in February when I was redesigning and simplifying my altar, I learned that I ‘had’ an apple wand. This made very little sense to me at the time for two reasons. First, that I have never used a wand finding my finger a pretty good tool for most things, and second because I had very little connection to apple as a wood. Since then I have made some progress in understanding these two difficulties, so am now ready to write a bit more.

A wand is always associated with witches and other magic workers in fiction, but in modern witchcraft rarely gets more than a passing mention. For those in a coven it may be obvious as to when a wand is employed, but for those like myself who read, experiment, meditate, and talk to dragons or other spirits, it seems of much less concern. Most books seem to promote the athame as the primary tool for casting a circle and directing energy, and for the great rite (although this has less relevance for a solitary witch!) But a wand is frequently the subject of a single paragraph, saying that it can be used to direct energy, without explaining how or when; and that it is usually associated with Fire as it represents Will, while the athame is Air and connects more to the mind. (Some say the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deliberately reversed these in order to keep occult practices secret. There is logic both ways, since a blade is forged by Fire while a tree branch grows through the Air, but I know it is my Will I am directing through my finger or a wand and not just my thoughts!)

However there were also good reasons for not using an athame as my primary tool: the intention of a blade is usually to cut, whereas my aim is usually to direct energy; elementals don’t like blades being used, iron or other materials, so if outside I would need an alternative; and finally, laws in this country make it very difficult to legally carry a knife anywhere outside the home. I couldn’t help wondering if witches did use knives for casting their circles in days gone by, whether this was for protection against being seen before the circle was complete, that the knife was then in heir hand ready for use. I also find it very hard to believe that the average witch could afford a knife that was used purely for witchcraft or circle casting; I think most were practical people who took whatever household items were most suited to their purpose and sometimes a knife was appropriate to have at hand.

So having accepted a wand as my tool, I realised that the wood Apple is generally associated with Air, the fey, and music. Now I was getting a hint of why Apple might be right for me! I have recently been trying to sing the songs suggested to me by stones or water, and finding each to have its own character and be unique. Different types of stones, soil, sand, pure water or polluted water, each expressed its character through the song I sang with it, and area I have been developing and want to do more with. But was that the only reason? I decided to ask Oak about it, and have now had several discussions with him and various other allies.

The first discussion – I already have apple trees in my garden who would like to be used, I don’t have my own oak tree! And apple will lend its gentle aid, being strong and unweilding but also add a loving, peaceful, sharing influence.

The second discussion, after more reading and still feeling very little connection with Apple – yes other woods will do, but get to know apple! Apple brings calm and peace to its work, along with maturity. Not fast like Rowan, or straight like hazel, but loving and giving. Different doorways to Oak. Female. Time to set the Eve story in its proper place.
I then cut a short length and whittled the corners off while fresh from the tree, and was overwhelmed by the amount of love coming from the tree. It now takes its place on my altar until I have finished making my wand.

The third discussion – following on from learning about trees dying, (see ‘When is a plant dead?’) a certain consciousness exists in any piece of wood, and how it works will depend on the original tree, where it is cut from the tree, what is carved in it, how I add to it and add my consciousness to it. (This is why no one should borrow a wand!) I should use it for sun circles, sabbat celebrations, casting circles, love, friendship, for myself spiritually eg gaining wisdom, knowledge, singing, meeting goddesses. One day I’ll want a moon wand for working outside at night, hazel, and a yew wand for different work. But Apple first and for now. (A few weeks later I realise that the three woods are all female to me, and represent maiden, mother and crone. I discover unexpectedly that I have recently fully embraced motherhood; not by having a daughter who I am slowly teaching independence to, but by taking in houseplants that will need nurturing care for their whole lives (see ‘Bringing Plants Indoors’) so this shift in me is why I must make the Apple wand first; then go back and make Hazel. I’m not quite a Crone yet, so Yew could be a few years off.)

There was nothing suitable I wanted to prune from any of my apple trees, so I investigated my collection of stored wood – and found four pieces of apple from our garden already cut and seasoned from previous prunings. However, none seemed ideal for a wand being either too small once the bark was removed, or too large.

Then finally, I use my wand, under the guidance of Dragon. Some weather working is needed, and I am told to use my wand to call a wind and shift the clouds that have brought persistent fog for days now. I try holding it, knowing by now how it needs to be carved, and feel its energy through my arm and hand. I direct energy with it, and feel how much more effective it is than just me. Later I go back to my pieces of wood and can feel exactly which one it is carved from. The clouds start to clear; the next day is bright sunshine. The weather forecast has apparently ‘changed’.

I use my wand again a week later, first holding it too tight, then realise my mistake. This wand is very exacting! I finally understand that I am needed for weatherworking because I am not attached to any particular weather; I am actually happiest with the variety England normally gets. In early March I had asked if I should shift the snow, but was told it was necessary to rebalance the world and for humans to start to become aware of how they are affecting their environment, and there would be another 3 weeks of cold. There was. This time I was told it was right to shift the fog, and later to rebalance again, and therefore felt confident in doing so. Ultimately I need to keep balance, because humans are out of balance with themselves, and with the weather, wanting only sunshine. The problem is a result of humans, therefore humans must be involved in its solution, if we want to continue to work with the Earth. I have worked locally for several years, (see previous posts) but now also sometimes nationally when my awareness is capable. I share because more people around the world are needed to do this work. I didn’t choose it or ask for it, but seem to have been given the responsibility for it.

I was reminded by Dragon to say again that it is not me changing the weather, I am simply doing the asking and providing the energy for it to happen. I need to be in tune with what is happening, and to always ask as I have done so far, and to find ways of directing and raising energy that suit me and are appropriate to the level needed. It can be ritual, or singing when I need more energy than is easy for me, but I also need to learn more about the various winds and which one to call up, as well as the trade winds. Apple is keen to help with this and to bring more abundance of fruits to the land.

And finally, I find myself working on a writing project with the fey. I can’t help wondering if Apple has provided the link!

Ideas of Perfection

I can remember the first time that it was suggested to me that everything is perfect, right now, as it is. I could tell the person telling me really believed it as a truth. Over the years since then, however, I have had to interpret it in various ways to try and understand what she meant.

My first interpretation was that everything is as it needs to be at any given moment in time. I may not like everything, but if it is like that then that is how it needs to be so I need to change. And when I change, the situation changes.

Gradually I have become more in balance, more aligned with myself, and I have more times when life is pretty good. But perfect?

Then recently I read an interesting passage, a scrap of conversation between Brooke Medicine Eagle and an adopted brother of hers, Sparrow Hawk who had died.

“Even the ninth hell is total perfection!” said Sparrow [Hawk], grinning.
“The ninth hell is perfection? Are you kidding? I have a hard time seeing that!” I retorted.
“Of course, it’s perfect. Our human objective was one of freedom – even to do something as silly as to believe we were separate from the great Oneness, to bind ourselves in darkness and heaviness, to lose touch with the Light. And we did a magnificent job of it!! We proved to ourselves that even something as radical was part of our freedom. The exciting part is that now we have proved it, so we don’t need to do it anymore. We can let go of that.”
Brooke Medicine Eagle, ‘The Last Ghost Dance’

This made me revise my views on perfection – and to see that perfection isn’t just about Being, it is also about Becoming.

“The purpose of life is the evolution of the soul – to fully realize its sacred nature and express it. Each one of us has one simple task: to remember who we really are and live from that awareness.” JH Ellerby, ‘Return To The Sacred’

I used to work full time, before I got ill, and had every intention of returning to the workplace, different work possibly, like maybe writing or making stained glass, after I got better. Instead I got pregnant, something medics told us would not happen, my miracle baby M was born and I became a full-time mum.

Unfortunately I was not a born mother! I have never been great with other people being dependent on me, and have few maternal instincts compared with most of the full time mums I meet. (Children, yes love them; babies, I think I assumed I would be okay somehow if they were my own…) But not having work to return to, and having a particularly demanding baby to cope with, I was gradually forced into learning how to do this mother thing. I have learned about unconditional love, about patience, about being calm. I have learned how to focus and get things done in short bursts, or with interruptions. I get lots wrong, but what I get right takes on greater meaning.

In nearly all the time I have been a mum, however, I have thought about the things I would rather be doing, felt guilty, and tried to focus on what I am doing. I also assume I will need to earn money in some way in the future, so I continue to think about what job I would want to do in the future, like when M is at school full time, to see if I can work towards that now. Aimlessly drifting from one day to the next has frequently meant I achieve nothing and feel miserable. I need goals! I write, I dream, I craft, I try and distract or distance myself from the idea that I am ‘just a mum’.

And now suddenly I blink and realise I have reached a state where there is nothing I would rather be doing than exactly what I am doing. I love learning to be a mum, watching M succeed. I love turning our house into a home. I love creating my garden. I love doing crafts and making beautiful things. I love being out in nature, cycling or walking. I love celebrating the sabbats and esbats and connecting with everything around me. Everything else has, at least temporarily, drifted away, become unimportant.

How did I get here, I wonder? Then I realise, it is not the Being that is necessarily perfect, at one point in time, because frequently it isn’t! Rather, it is the Becoming. The Process. Me being part of everything that is growing and happening, here and now. Time itself has changed from trapping me at a particular point, to being part of the unfolding. It doesn’t matter how long or short this process is, because this point and every point within it is good. It doesn’t matter if the process gets finished, or stops abruptly because I die / return to spirit, or move, or get a job, or have any other major change, it just Is. And the Is is somehow Perfection. Weird!

Unexpected Festivals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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