A New Year and Castlerigg Stone Circle

Castlerigg Stone Circle

As the title of this post may suggest, I have been on holiday in Cumbria, where we welcomed in the New Year by doing a lot of walking in wild spaces. Oddly this particular stone circle is not wild at all, being in a well maintained field, a few yards from a road with parking spaces just outside Keswick. However it is surrounded by mountains so must have the best views of any circle I know.

A circle represents completeness as well as the cyclical nature of life and each year within it. All people and all compass directions are represented equally, just as on this day there were many visitors speaking three or four different languages (that I heard), a great sharing global community. Many circles were built in alignment with sunrises and sunsets; this one is no exception, with several possible sight lines for sunrises at different times of the year, especially the solstices. While not there at sunset, I was able to see that all directions are visible, and that several rocks to appear to line up with specific fells and with compass directions.

Castlerigg showing part of the inner enclosure.

The circle is on an ancient trade route from Langdale, a centre for stone axes, three of which have been found on the site. It is probably no coincidence that it is also one of the oldest stone circles in the country dating from the late Neolithic period rather than Bronze Age, just after the transition from henges. I had a sense of a demarcated space – the inner, square enclosure felt different to the circle as a whole and seemed reserved for particular people or ceremonies. I also had a sense that it may have had different purposes over a long period of usage, but overall it had a spiritual rather than a trading feel; any trade that happened here was probably on the periphery by virtue of people being brought together, rather than the intention of the site.

I was there on the last day of the old calendar year, and took the opportunity to say thank you for the year I have had, as I continue growing in inner peace and harmony with the world around me, doing lots of what I love. I can now walk 6 miles on a good day provided I sit down when I stop, and have managed 4 new ‘Wainwright’ fells over the year bringing my total to 54, a quarter of the 214 he wrote about. I may not do them all, I may not even want to, but each one is a walk in a new place I haven’t been before. Best of all, they have been done with my family, my daughter now walking as far as I can.

Castlerigg looking West.

A year ago I set myself a challenge “to love more, to see the good in everyone and every situation, even when I am not feeling calm inside.” Somehow I had forgotten I wrote this, and yet it has happened anyway – once again proving to me how when I set my intentions strongly they manage to come through. I recently made a new intention, remarkably similar: to make sure all my relationships are positive. It started when I realised how much easier it was to start a conversation by commenting on something bad such as complaining about the weather than it is to say something good. I have already been working to change that, and to protect myself from negativity where necessary, but I would like to feel that even the shortest, briefest contact with a person can increase happiness in each of us. I have a little way to go yet…

I also realised that it isn’t just relationships with humans I should ensure are positive, but with everything in my life. Trees and most plants already are, but money, transport – I have long talked to my bicycle but am not so keen on the car, sewing machines, pens and pencils, books, musical instruments … anything I bring into my life and use, I develop a relationship with. A positive partnership is more pleasurable and life-affirming than regarding everything as tools to serve me, or even worse, getting frustrated with it.

This is certainly what I saw at Castlerigg circle; people being happy together and in the wonderful mountain space that surrounded us, Earth and Air in perfect balance and harmony.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Samhain Quilt

As the pagan New Year approaches, I have been making preparations by completing the next quilt (or altar cloth or display cloth depending on who I am talking to) for my display, and also buying a pumpkin and deciding what to carve into it.

The quilt design is still based on 2” squares, but this time there are many triangles incorporated – which sometimes combine to make diamonds. I wanted a lot more movement in this quilt than the one for the equinox, reflecting the flames of this fire festival. Change can happen. New seeds can be sown in the Earth to put down roots through the winter. Ancestors can peek through the cracks and offer their advice and support. My colours are perhaps a little clichéd, but they are what felt right from my scraps pile – which may even fit in its cupboard again by the time I finish all 8 quilts… Now I just have the enjoyable task of creating my display on top, which like all of our displays will find ways of connecting to the seasons as well as the Sabbat, in this case Samhain and our ancestors being remembered.

Samhain Display Quilt


The vibrant orange in the quilt is almost identical in colour to the pumpkin I have found for this year. Pumpkins are a vegetable I have been carving for over 40 years now; I can remember primary school days when other children brought in carved turnips and swedes, and thinking what hard work it looked and why didn’t they just use a pumpkin? The bits we cut out of pumpkins tasted good in pies as well, mixed with enough sugar, eggs, cream and spices, whereas I don’t think we even ate turnips in our house. However as a child I just carved a face each year, whereas as an adult I like to carve more meaningful designs. One side to represent what has been important to me in the past year, the other to sow my seeds, hopes and dreams for the next year. I usually start thinking about what I will carve a week or so before the day, when I see what size pumpkin I have.

While planning a design always involves a period of reflection for me, as all spiritual art must come from within, this autumn it has been particularly intense.

I mentioned when writing about my Mabon quilt that I had hurt my hip and leg. I have no idea what I did, or exactly what is wrong, but walking and sewing are still very tricky for me, and as for any of the plans I had for when M was in school full time, my leg is clearly telling me they were the wrong plans. Luckily I have found cycling is even better than the physio exercises and really enjoyable in this mild autumn weather. Meanwhile I have had a lot of meditation time to think about what direction I should be going in.

The strange thing is that at the end of all this, I realised there is nothing I need to be doing right now except what I have been able to do – which is to look after my family and myself. Except now I have a very small difference in my approach. I value each person equally, including myself as an equal. I am ignoring messages from the media of what I should be doing to value or look after or pamper myself, because I don’t need it. I have no lack, and I have nothing to prove. As a result I am happier than I have ever been before as an adult. I know that even though I cannot do much right now, I should just enjoy the resting period. The future might suddenly be a lot busier.

So after all this thought, I plan to make this year’s pumpkin a joint family carve, using cookie cutters to make pictures since the first two requests of fairy and frog should be easier cut that way than freehand. I did a frog last year as well; it must have worked since our tadpoles have been hopping around the garden for the last two months. This year it might go on the thank you side.

Happy Equinox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Happy (Belated) Samhain

To many, and usually me, this is the Pagan New Year. The start of the dark time, just as all the old festivals start with the night and follow with the day. This year, however, I was feeling increasingly confused as Samhain approached, given that the new Sun cycle started in September, and the calendar year doesn’t start until January. How was I to celebrate the middle of three ‘New’ year moments? Was I going to be able to make it special?

I did the usual preparations, carving a pumpkin with pictures or symbols that were significant to me, some for the past year and some for the coming year. This year M and I chose four animals, one for each element, two seen in the garden and two that exist in other realms. These were frog (water), snake (fire) as we had a brief visit from a grass snake a few days before, dragon (air, in this case) and lynx (earth). All the useful pumpkin flesh that could be removed was cooked and turned into pies and soup, before cutting the designs with my trusty converted hacksaw blade. Then I lit a candle inside, gave my thanks, and waited to see what would come.

Well I have never before experienced such a dramatic shift into the dark of the year. The clocks changed making the evenings dark. The season changed, becoming cold and frosty with the remaining leaves making a rapid descent from the trees. The second term of the school year started, bringing new activities at seed stage to hopefully flourish in performance next Spring. But also, something shifted within me changing my path going forwards. The direction I thought I was going in suddenly no longer feels right, yet at the same time other avenues have opened up and feel really positive. I will use the dark to explore this further, make new plans, and gently ease myself out of a lot of attachments I have made over the past few years. Some will be reformed into new relationships, others may not survive. I shall be busy this dark time!

Hello 2015

I would say Happy New Year, as so many people have said to me in the last few days, but I celebrated the year turning at Samhain, and again at the winter solstice. So instead I will say welcome to 2015, in the belief that this year promises even more good things than the last one.

I prefer to look forward rather than back, and I spend more time making future plans than reminiscing or worrying about what has gone. If it is true that we get what we focus on, then this seems a good way to be to me! However this is not because I am trying to cut out or ignore the negatives in my life, but part of how I overcame illness. My road back to health that started five years ago included setting myself a target for each day, however small, that I could achieve and feel like I had done something. Some targets were physical, such as going for a walk every day and slowly increasing from half a mile to managing three miles in under an hour. Some were creative, where at the end of it I had something in front of me I could see I had managed to do. It made me feel more worthwhile – and still does, for if I have nothing I am trying to achieve I feel lost.

After various thoughts about new projects to tackle, I made some promises to myself at the solstice. I share them here in the continued expectation that what is written down is more likely to happen than what is kept to myself!

Sewing – I have started making a quilt of the map where Winnie the Pooh lives, to hang on the wall where the poster of the same picture keeps falling off. (The radiator underneath melts the white-tack sticking it to the wall.) M is being her most helpful ever and loves seeing all the green background pieces being cut out and laid out in position, which is just as well since lack of space means I have to put them on the floor!

Stained Glass – I have drawn out one stained glass design for some door panels for an internal door, and have a front door and window panels to draw in the coming weeks. It would be great to get them all made this year…

Bodhran playing – when I wanted a drum for journeying, I bought a bodhran because I loved the sound and it felt right at the time. Now (nearly three years on) I want to learn to play it properly, so that I can use it for both and be more relaxed when I play it.

Working with elementals in the garden – I have no idea how to proceed with this one yet; drumming might be involved at least in the first instance. It feels important to me to try, however long it takes.

Climbing the ‘Wainwrights’ – the Munros always intrigued me in Scotland, and I have climbed about ten, but mostly they are too big, too demanding, and too far away. Also the list changes from time to time. I was in the Lake District for Yule, an area which I love and have walked and canoed there over many years, both solo and with family. This was the first time I had come across the concept of completing all the ‘Wainwrights’, which are all the fells AR Wainwright detailed in his books in the 1950s. They have the advantages of being a fixed list of 214 fells, some are small, and given it was his personal choice to include them, they all have some feature of interest. I would love to start from scratch and see if I can do them all in, say, thirty years. However I plan to start with the hundred and sixty-odd I haven’t yet climbed and see how I go. If nothing else, it is the best excuse I’ve come up with so far to ensure I get to Cumbria at some point each year!

Section of the Soca gorge, taken from footbridge. (German paddler.)

Section of the Soca gorge, taken from footbridge. (German paddler.)

Swimming in Dunnerdale – because it looks amazing. Paddling the Soca gorge took me eight years from seeing a photo to being there – and was every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be (see the photo!) Swimming under Birks Bridge might take me as long before M is ready and the weather is right, but I’m hoping that is an outside time limit!

Given that dreams posted here have a habit of coming true, feel free to add yours in a comment below!