Apple Blossom

Apple Cordons in full blossom

Following on from the Blackthorn blossom a couple of weeks ago, I am now seeing the best display of apple blossom ever in my garden! I had always believed apples needed sufficient cold to set flower buds, but clearly that isn’t the case. Having had warm winters two years in a row, and small crops for the last two years as well, I think the trees have gathered their energies into production. It is of course possible that my pruning has improved and had some effect, but I’m not aware of it. I think it is just a good year for fruit blossom around here.

Blossom from ‘Bountiful’ opening from dark pink to white.

I really enjoy the different colours from different plants, and the change as the petals open.

Anyway as apples are such a great Pagan fruit, I just wanted to share it this week. Pagan because they make a five-pointed star inside, and because anything regarded as totally sinful and at the same time the fount of all wisdom must be good… They are pretty good for promoting harmony and love as well!

Arthur Turner Blossom

Crabapple ‘Laura’ Blossom. The fruit is dark red all the way through.

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!

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…

A Quest for Good Handwriting

About every eight or nine years I seem to have a sudden need to improve my handwriting, and have been struck by the urge again this week. For Yule I was given a very beautiful fountain pen with a barrel made from an old oak whisky barrel which I use for writing in my pagan journals – and then of course I have had no computer for a few days while it was being rebuilt (see previous post). I was amused to then discover it was National Handwriting Day last weekend; who knows if it influenced me subconsciously!

Generally when I have worked on my penmanship skills as an adult, it has been to look at an aspect of calligraphy rather than my basic handwriting, concentrating on writing slowly and beautifully. But this isn’t necessarily useful for every day, which has made me question what actually makes ‘good handwriting’?

To help me in my own handwriting improvement endeavours, I tried writing out the alphabet and various short phrases in as many different ways and styles as came easily to me. The slower I wrote the more rounded the letters were able to be, and more regular the size and slant of letters. Some of it looks great, but when I tried to write something longer my writing returned to my usual style again: small, with a slightly irregular forward slant, angular not curvy (which I prefer to look at), and longer down strokes than fit standard proportions. Better than what I learned at school, but not something instantly pleasing to the eye or easily readable by other people.

Most of what I currently write by hand is in personal notebooks, such as recording journeys, or moon jottings, or ideas for stories, or other personal writings. Pretty much all pagan-related in some way, and not generally for anyone else to read. I do, however, need to write at a reasonable speed or else the time lapse between thought and pen becomes too great. I could of course spend several hours practicing letter forms so that neater writing became more natural to my fingers, but I’m still not sure that would create the fast, relaxed writing style I want.

Then I realised I had missed an interesting aspect of handwriting – that it gives something of the character and feelings of the person who wrote it. In this modern age when almost everything else I do is typed, and I can type quicker than write, there is far less need for regularity of handwriting. If I need ‘regular’ for a letter or card, then I can use a suitable type face, or do calligraphy if it is only a few words. But for fast writing that only I see, why not let my writing express something of me? If the lines rise in excitement, or fall in frustration, why does it matter? I would rather be someone who is looking forward, impulsive, imaginative, and has my feet on the ground, than be a conventional, copy-book writer with no outlet for self-expression. I have finally realised I don’t need to change it.

Although I have been inspired to improve my calligraphy further…

An Alternative View of Michaelmas

This week I was unexpectedly witness to a Michaelmas celebration, complete with Archangel Michael symbolically killing a dragon. This is a theme that appears frequently in England’s history, with our ‘native’ (or adopted) Saint George killing a dragon and Beowulf killing dragons, not to mention Bilbo Baggins with Smaug. The only trouble is, I rather like dragons and don’t like all this killing of them. So I decided to investigate what meaning is intended behind the stories.

Most (if not all) versions of Michaelmas I could find refer to the Book of Revelation in the Bible, which states: “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, who fought back with his angels; but the dragon was defeated, and he and his angels were not allowed to stay in heaven any longer. The huge dragon was thrown out – that ancient serpent, called the Devil or Satan, that deceived the whole world. He was thrown down to earth, and all his angels with him.” (Rev 12, verses 7-9, Good News Bible.)

My interpretation of this is that Michaelmas is therefore a celebration of Michael’s battle victory, except that in this case there appear to be angels, those beings universally regarded as ‘good’, on both sides of the battle. Also the dragon or serpent (some doubt over wings and legs here!) appears to be seen as the same as the Devil or Satan, whom I had previously thought Christians viewed as a cloven hoofed Satyr more akin to the God Pan. Still feeling confused, I looked further.

According to Wikipedia’s entry on Michaelmas, “In Christianity, the Archangel Michael is the greatest of all the Archangels and is honoured for defeating Satan in the war in heaven. He is one of the principal angelic warriors, seen as a protector against the dark of night, and the administrator of cosmic intelligence. Michaelmas has also delineated time and seasons for secular purposes as well, particularly in Britain and Ireland as one of the quarter days.”

Michaelmas, I realise, has formed part of our culture with Michaelmas daisies, Michaelmas term, Michaelmas hiring fairs, and the old Michaelmas date of 11th October was the last day for eating blackberries because the devil supposedly fell on them when he was thrown from heaven and cursed them. It is apparently a time for starting new things, taking up new tasks, taking new steps on our inner journey and raising ourselves above our nature. Michael apparently calls us to come alive while the year dies.

Lucifer, having lost the war and been thrown down to Earth, also appears in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, as a snake to tempt Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge. To develop an ego and become individuals, making our own choices. For that was Lucifer’s crime, he went against the divine will and went in search of knowledge for himself. Possibilities and uncertainties open up, and that can be scary for many. He started up a new waywardness and individuality that has gone through the ages rearing its head time and time again – that of a betrayer that leads us away from the light. The ‘snake’ of Lucifer tempting us to learn more, to use our minds instead of simply basking in divine union. Or worse, to go over to the ‘Dark Side’ and gain experiences our creator would never have planned or chosen for us.

Some sources suggest Lucifer’s desires went far beyond knowledge, to ultimate power. That he wanted to rule and to create in place of the Divine source who created him. What use is knowledge, unless it can be tested? To see if it works in practice, rather than just in theory? It was this attempt to usurp the Divine Creator’s position that led to the war. This, to me, is a more serious view and better explains why Lucifer’s temptations might be feared, and why he might be seen as an ‘opposite’ to ‘God’. And yet, to become co-creators is what we as humans are all being promised by scores of new-age writers, when we fully develop our own consciousness in love, wisdom, will and active intelligence. So is Lucifer still fallen, and a source of temptation and evil, a dragon to be slayed, or has some good come out of all this?

In ancient Egypt, Lucifer was known as Set, who ruled the underworld. Like Lucifer, he helps us to build an ego, a sense of self, an individual personality. This is a lowering of our consciousness, for we are no longer in harmony with Spirit, doing divine will, but serving ourselves. However, this is also an evolutionary step, for as we learn, we expand our consciousness again, and are on the path to becoming a co-creater, not merely serving the divine will but adding to it. Most importantly, we have learned to love in adversity.

There was a wonderful quote I read recently:

“The World, the universe, life as you know it, is all just a big experiment in love. Like a beehive. You humans are like worker drones. Your job is simply to make the hive get bigger. For this to happen, all you are required to do is love actively. And, if possible, help to build collective dreams of love. If you do that, you are fulfilling my purpose. That is all I ask. All you need for your happiness. All you are here to achieve. Whatever else you do is up to you. All I require of you is to love. It is that simple.”

As received by Rupert Isaacson in a Near Death Experience, quoted in ‘The Long Ride Home’.

I interpret this as the Divine seeing the potential and possibilities in us having developed free will, and encouraging it. Yes we are tempted, but it has become part of our spiritual journey. Ultimately, like Lucifer, we will convert the knowledge into wisdom and return Home, increasing the consciousness of the entire universe. Because Lucifer did return, of his own free will, and bring the knowledge he had gained with him. And like the prodigal son, returning of our own free will is the cause of much celebration. Those who have never left may not understand, but the wisdom which is shared also leads to compassion. We forgive them, they will forgive us.

So far none of the Michaelmas story has fitted with the Pagan wheel of the year, welcoming, even celebrating the dark time. It is all constructed in a way to look towards the light, and to be fearful of being tempted otherwise as we head towards the dark time of the year. But if I look to Lucifer, rather than to Michael, I unexpectedly find something different. An angel, one of the greatest, who now spends his time working with those spirits who find it hardest to give up material pleasures and raise their consciousness. An angel who fell, it is true, but an angel who has been redeemed. Returned to love and with love. We can do the same.

According to Tanis Helliwell in ‘Decoding Your Destiny: Keys to Humanity’s Spiritual Transformation’, as we enter the Aquarian Age Lucifer will take over from Michael, helping us to cleanse by fire that which no longer serves us. (The Hindus call this period Kaliyuga, after Kali the dark mother, goddess of Time and Dark, who helps to remove the illusion of the ego.) Both Michael and Lucifer are equally important, Michael guarding us from the outer world of temptation and Lucifer guarding us from the inner world of nothingness. They may each help us when called upon, helping us to clear our negativity, though they may act in different ways. If it helps us to follow Michael with his sword and head towards the light, that is fine, but if we are prepared to face the darkness and look at it head on, Lucifer, the light bringer, will help to strengthen us. Ultimately when we can balance these forces of light and dark, yin and yang, suns and black holes, within ourselves, and move between them at will, then we achieve wisdom. And that balance is something we can celebrate at the time of the Equinox.

As for Dragons, they are a race of huge knowledge and wisdom. They are very logical creatures, impossible to defeat in an argument, and speak great truths. Long lived, they are often called upon to judge other races. Like other reptiles, they are still learning in love and sometimes come to Earth for that purpose and so that their judgements may be balanced. They also help us in other ways, helping to control the kundalini energy of Earth and in a minor way being associated with the kundalini energy in our bodies. It is, however, their knowledge that has led them to be associated with Lucifer, and hence the devil. May they, like Lucifer, soon be properly understood and revered!

Cycling into Consciousness

I have been back on my bicycle again, after an eight-week break over the summer, feeling decidedly unfit but loving the freedom and speed that comes from being on two wheels. I suspect I am not alone in this, as given a choice M chooses bicycle trailer over car every time. It will be great when she can help pedal!

I have had many people ask me if I am scared of the traffic. My usual replies focus around the fact that I have been cycling on roads for many years and know how to be seen by cars in my riding style and clothing; that while one of the roads is busy it is also wide enough for cars to overtake me; and most people are more careful when I have the trailer than when I ride solo. I could add that if I focused on the fear I would probably have an accident, but when I trust that I am doing the right thing by cycling, and pay attention to the messages I get from the world around me, then there is no reason why I should have an accident unless it is already predetermined.

However last week my experience went a stage further. I had been reading about levels of consciousness, and suddenly found myself completely aware of every other person on or around the roads, before I could see them, and could feel us all doing a dance around each other. I was filled with love for all these people, complete strangers to me, giving me space and acknowledgement at soul level as they went about their lives. After a few miles I found myself loosing focus, feeling overwhelmed by so many souls I was touching, so I pulled back. But having done so, I felt the disconnect and joined up again. It wasn’t a totally new experience to me, having previously tried to be aware of others in a group situation with some success, or nature spirits around me when sitting outside, but this was deeper than anything I have experienced before. Even better, as a result of my cycling experience I now find I can enter this state of awareness more easily in other situations, although it still takes a conscious expansion to do this accompanied by a mind shift to expand into love.

It occurs to me that cycling has characterised several different stages of consciousness for me. Some of my earliest memories are bicycle accidents as I learned how to live in the physical world: getting a foot stuck in a front wheel while riding on the crossbar as a ‘tiny’, falling off onto gravel when a little bigger, occasional bike problems, ice, birds, dogs and one more major accident when riding to school… However the overriding good memories are of companionship and discussions of ‘life, the universe and everything’ each morning cycling to school, and the freedom to explore further afield than my legs alone could take me.

As an adult I used to find myself cycling to work ‘half asleep’, and then waking up a few miles in with no recollection of how I got there. I had a short period of doing this, and looking back it was when I was so unhappy in the job I was in that I really didn’t want to greet the day and wake up in the morning. I’m glad to say this period didn’t last long!

The next stage was when I started paying attention to what was around me and where I was going. Not that I had been ignoring the views before then, but I started to become aware of my body and how it felt, and doing ‘active meditations’. My cycling was no longer for work, but happened when I wanted to go out and ride a bike. I was starting to learn who I was, and what I wanted in life. I became a Pagan, and started to understand and see the value in the Wiccan tenet ‘An ye harm none, do what ye will.’

The third adult stage for me was unfortunately when I stopped cycling. This was the ‘testing’ stage, when we go through the dark night(s) of the soul in order to loose what no longer serves us, and take on a different, more loving and forgiving view of the world. For me it took several months of deteriorating health, making cycling impossible, before I realised you cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results. Yes there were other incidents as well that helped me look at things differently, expanding in love and trust and learning not to judge, but once cycling again it marked the end of this transition and cemented the success of my new ways of being.

And finally as mentioned above, a jump to the fifth level, when we become one with the world and realise how all things are connected. The Wiccan rule goes out of the window and my ego learns it has been promoting separateness instead of the connectedness of all things. To serve the Divine will with love, and to align my will with Spirit. This would be impossible if I hadn’t learned to know and love myself first – I couldn’t possibly know what Spirit wanted of me if I hadn’t got to know myself – but I can see the two growing a little more in tandem from this point forwards.

This is not the end of course, not only because I have a way to go before I can live at the fifth level but also there are more levels (I have read there are twelve in total) with more to learn at each level. However, as each new layer is peeled back there is magic to be found there.

The Earth will apparently soon move into the fourth dimension, the poles will reverse, and much will change just as it did 12,000 years ago with the ending of the ice age and the sinking of Atlantis. Then in another two thousand years, at the end of this Aquarian Age when all the negativity has been transmuted, Earth will enter into the fifth dimension and our consciousness will be able to rise further; compare this with Earth spending millennia in the first stage, the second stage ending with the end of Lemuria 100,000 years ago, and the third ending just a few thousand years ago, and it is no wonder so many people are having rapid expansions in their consciousness right now. It is an exciting time to be alive.

Clearing the old

It is a fact of nature that some things have to die in order to make way for new growth. As a pagan I generally feel well connected to the cycles of the land, and when the time is right, can even enjoy being destructive as part of clearing the way for something positive to follow. So I have begun the work of transforming my garden in accordance with the plans I made earlier this year.

The first big job turns out to be the removal of a pyracanthus ‘hedge’. It was planted by the previous occupants so is probably 20-25 years old. Being evergreen, it hides the grey breeze block wall at the end of the garden from view all year round, and so is appreciated by the rest of the family from that point of view. As a pagan I should appreciate it for its white flowers and fiery berries, and the thorns which can cut to the root of a problem. However as a gardener, I have found it hard to love. The ground is too dry or too lacking in nutrients for it to flower, so after setting buds it turns brown and fails to make berries. (The raspberry bushes I planted immediately alongside have fruited well for 15 years, so I suspect the problem is the plant, or the original soil preparation. No amount of pruning to remove the dead bits has helped…) Being summer the rest of the family doesn’t notice its brown-ness, as there are plenty of other plants nearby to divert the eye, but to me it becomes an eyesore. In addition its thorns will go through any glove, and are frequently found some distance from the hedge after its annual prune, where I may not even have the benefit of hand protection. In short it is not a plant I have come to love, and part of the redesign gave me pleasure in finding an excuse to get rid of it and put in something I do like. Viburnum tinus, or cotoneaster, or box or hebe, or just about anything evergreen and non-prickly!

The hedge is fighting back. I am covered in scratches and bruises, and have thorns stuck in my fingertips and elsewhere that have to be dug out. There are substantial thorns on every stem or trunk, no matter how old or thick they have become, right down to ground level. Not wanting to risk trying to shred such an awkward plant with its twisted branches, they have to be cut up small enough to go in the bin, over a series of weeks as it is only collected fortnightly.

But then I looked at it a different way. This plant has protected our garden from intruders, and cows, for a long time. It may not have always looked pretty, but it succeeded in the job it was asked to do. Therefore in order to remove it without major difficulty, I have found it helpful to thank it for its efforts. It is so easy to forget to properly acknowledge what was!

And the results? With even a small part of it now gone, I am finding some rewards. M has discovered she can now hide around the corner from the raspberry bushes and pinch the fruit from the back, and even more importantly, she can see the cows or horses or donkeys in the field behind without me having to lift her up. Maybe I shouldn’t plant right up to the wall!

Spring Cleaning

It’s March, the sun is shining, for some reason I have a great need to be ‘doing’ things. I started in the garden, where the second priority (after planting the first seeds of the year) was the removal of last year’s dead stems as the new shoots start poking up out of the ground. I made a huge pile of stuff to shred, which yesterday was all turned into the first compost of the year in the tumbler. Then having got into ‘clearance mode’, enjoying all that space and potential and light that enters, I find myself looking at the house to see where the greatest need is for a major sort out and clearing. I’m not like Mole who says “Hang Spring cleaning!” and runs off to the river with Ratty – this is about the only time of year when I manage proper cleaning!

Spring Cleaning has a long history, with various commentators linking it to the Persian New Year, the Jewish Passover, Christian Lent, or even Scottish Hogmanay – although the latter feels a little early to me! For those with a very strong tradition of celebrating particular festivals then it is a great focus to get the work finished and decorate in honour of the event. I see Yule a bit like this, when I put up decorations, and then clear them away as the days lengthen – but other decorations tend to be rather lower key so Spring Cleaning is to me a seasonal exercise not a religious one.

There are of course the practical aspects as to why Spring Cleaning in particular is so widespread. It is good to clean when it is warm enough to open all the windows and doors and dry the inevitable mounds of washing, but not be into insect season yet. In days gone by the extra light may have brought to people’s attention the amount of mud that had been tracked in during the winter months, or blackness from the smoke from the tallow candles on the walls.

As a Pagan, cleaning acts as a cleansing, to clear out old, stale energies and make space for something new to happen. It happens on many levels – in an ideal world cleaning should be on the energetic and astral planes as well as the physical planes, as then real change can happen. By that I mean that not just the physical dust and dirt is removed, but any negative thought forms are left with no space to hide, and order is brought to whatever chaos resides in the area. A new mindset can be brought about as well, which leads to further positive changes in our lives.

This year a long-planned major house project has affected my sewing area – thanks to having to move things out in order to plaster the wall. (Hooray!) However, I am amazed at how many ‘useful’ scraps of fabric I seem to have accumulated in just a few months, all of which need to find homes before they become scrumpled and dusty. I found I had three bags of worn out clothing or sheets for making mock-ups for new patterns. Then I have to keep all those sharp pointy sewing tools out of M’s reach – and more rearrangement needed as the tall chest of drawers moves rooms. I of course always have far too much stuff and not enough space to store it, so sometimes I do actually have to get rid of things. I try to leave myself open to guidance here so that I will not get rid of anything I will want – and put the pile in another room for a week in case there is anything to retrieve before it goes in the dustbin or charity bags. (On this occasion most of the worn out clothes were seized upon and ripped up for oiling and polishing rags by a certain model engineer before they had even made it into another room…) And this year various other bags to be carefully labelled and put in the loft while we get the plastering done. It all takes time and involves washing, dusting, hoovering, sorting, and lots of hard physical work keeping me warm enough to throw the windows open.

And the net result? Old projects are properly packed away and laid to rest, and space for new ones has been made. I can find things, I have space to turn around and to breathe, and the whole area feels enlivened. My efforts feel worthwhile. Now can I please have a second chest of drawers to put the rest of my fabric in?

Imbolc

Snowdrops in the garden on Imbolc

Snowdrops in the garden on Imbolc


Last Sunday was Imbolc, the first festival of Spring marking the transition into the active time of the year. The word means Ewe’s milk, because in days of old the first lambs were born and there would be milk to drink again. New life emerges, even as winter temperatures continue.

Celebrating the Sabbats has become a large part of the modern pagan tradition. I have written before here how, besides giving me something to celebrate every few weeks, I enjoy their connecting me to the cycles and rhythms of the natural world and to the gods and goddesses of the land. However I sometimes wonder whether they are relevant to me as a witch (rather than just as a pagan) since if I want to make changes in my life the moon is the celestial body I am more likely to work with. So this Imbolc I was pleased to have reason for a special ceremony in the garden.

Imbolc celebrates the reigniting of the divine spark, bringing our intuitive, unconscious energies into a manifest conscious reality that may grow as the sun’s power grows. This is all on a much bigger scale than the 29-day moon cycles. Candles are lit to symbolise the divine spark of the returning light – and act as a focus for our inspiration, creativity and intuition. Some years I have needed to symbolically relight my own internal fire from this candle, if I have been struggling through a long, dark winter, although I’m glad to say I didn’t feel such a need on this occasion. I made a cross for Brigid, the keeper of the light, because Imbolc is really her festival. We lit three beeswax candles to stand by her cross in the evening, representing her three aspects of inspiration, healing and smithcraft. Then the next day I took the cross into the garden and had a small ceremony to announce my intentions for each of the three main areas of the garden and ask for the help of the nature spirits to work in partnership with me. It was then placed under the Rowan tree, an area I have promised to leave as undisturbed as possible.

This marks the start of my co-operative gardening experiment and while I don’t anticipate a Findhorn or Perelandra here (my communication skills have a long way to go) I hope to grow a richer and more healthful, harmonious, balanced garden that will develop over the next few years. Time, and M’s growing capabilities and interests being the main factors in the speed and direction of development. Successes and / or lessons learned will no doubt be reported here…

Solstice Preparations

Celebrating the sabbats gives a focus to the seasons for me, and I like to mark them all in some way because they add meaning to my life. They are always high points, coming at random mid-week and interrupting routines. Yule is the biggest and the only one with significant preparations well in advance of the day. However, this year even more than previously I have been asking myself what preparations do I want to do as a pagan? What will add meaning for me, rather than just going along with what everyone else does?

The Winter Solstice does of course celebrate the return of the light. This can be interpreted in many ways, including the birth of the sun god. Mithras, Sol Invictus, or Jesus, whichever sun god you prefer to celebrate. So I have been making a gold star for the top of our tree (not finished yet!), and hung many gold decorations. Dried orange slices, or clove oranges are also great decorations that I would love to do in a future year. The tree being evergreen represents everlasting life, and brings warmth and protection to the household through the darkest days. I will keep the decorated tree until the mornings finally start getting lighter around 5th January, long after the shortest afternoon.

December Candle

December Candle

We have had a “December candle” for the first time this year, burning for 45 minutes each dinner. This provoked an interesting discussion with a friend who is an Anthroposophist, who after some thought said she felt everything should be building up to the birth of Christ, not decreasing. She liked the Advent wreaths in which an increasing number of candles are lit each week. However I feel that our candle represents the diminishing sunlight, which then returns when we reach the big event on the Solstice. (Our celebrations involve getting up to see the sunrise, and then sharing gifts after that. Yes we open ours a few days before everyone else…) The candle is surrounded by an ivy ring, which fits with Yule meaning wheel. The year is at its turning point, and is a time of rebirth and transformation. The light returns, and all is renewed to grow again.

Feasting is a major part of Yule, because when it is dark and cold outside we need suitably warming and sustaining food, for our spirits as well as our physical bodies. We have lost the natural rhythms to our lives over the past century or so; before the electronic age most people would have spent Winter evenings around a fireside, entertaining each other by whatever means they felt suited to and generally resting instead of working outdoors until late at night. Storytelling and singing was popular, as well as other forms of communal entertainment. Today illness frequently forces us to rest. But the return of the sun gives an extra reason to celebrate and have a bigger or fancier meal than every day, with decorations and joyous feasts to welcome it back. The winter may be far from over, but the light is increasing again each day.

However there is one aspect which has puzzled me for a while now. There are various chambered cairns in the rocky parts of our islands, thought by some to have been used for shamanic practices such as initiations or retreats or communications with ancestors, since most contain very few actual remains. Some are carefully aligned to the Winter Solstice, so that the sun enters only on a few days each year in midwinter – bringing light to what is otherwise a perpetually dark space. A famous example is Newgrange in Ireland. But Maeshowe in Orkney, or Clava Cairns near Nairn are both aligned to the setting sun, rather than to the rebirth in the morning. So what exactly were our ancestors celebrating, and what form did these celebrations take?