Searching for Harmony

Like so many people who find the Pagan path into nature, I have for a long time been aware of my separation from the natural world. My inability to see, hear, or be at one with the world around me is frustrating but pretty much inevitable as a human being. It makes us different from other animals, although not superior to them as has been the historical viewpoint!

I work to overcome this, spending time in woodlands or other green spaces. I talk to trees often; I find this easier with old trees, young plants are harder for me to communicate with but there are few old trees near me. I have also found that the better I know the plants, the more I feel as if I am among friends. As my knowledge grows, so does my connection – and knowing different ‘kingdoms’ such as grasses, wildflowers, as well as the trees increases my sense of belonging and keeps me more in harmony. Yet sometimes this still isn’t enough.

One day last year I asked myself what I would do to feel more part of things? I realised I wanted to be about four foot tall, playing pipes and dancing through the forest. A faun, possibly. So I did this in meditation, and have done it a few times since, and now feel much better as a result. I have also taken my recorder into the woods on a few occasions this year and played seasonal folk tunes, and Morris dancing tunes.

Then last month I felt invited in to a small birch grove on Stanton Moor, near the Nine Ladies Stone Circle. I sat down, found my inner stillness and just listened. The air was buzzing with insects. Nowhere else had I been so aware of them, nor did I hear them elsewhere afterwards, but this grove was filled with all kinds of humming and buzzing. Then the trees told me how sound was so often missing, woodlands were becoming quiet. They asked me to please sing in woods, whenever I was alone and quiet. Sing to heal, to grow strong, sing them into harmony.

This seemed an immense task, far beyond my simple capabilities. I didn’t know or understand what they meant by it. I couldn’t even agree to it straight away, just saying I would think about it – though on reflection I realised I had nothing to loose and possibly much to gain so a little later that day I found and talked to another silver birch to make my agreement.

A few days later, I had my first opportunity to try singing. I listened for a tune, and sang what I heard, what I felt. The tree shapes, the weather, they way they moved in the breeze, my love for them and being with them. A tawny owl flew across my path and perched on a branch over the track for a few minutes. I felt encouraged, so carried on. I don’t know if I was doing the trees any good, but if nothing else it was a (very quick!) way of bringing myself into harmony with them.

A couple weeks on, I entered a fairly young woodland and felt awkward with such immature trees. I just walked and listened. An insect flew almost into my face and buzzed loudly at me. Okay, sorry, I have the message now! I found a tune. A tawny owl flew across my path and perched on a branch over the track for a few minutes. My heart filled with love for these amazing creatures, and for showing me the way twice. Then I suddenly worried whether I had disturbed the owls – they shouldn’t be flying in the day time surely? My heart, and my much later meditation told me the answer, they would fly away if they didn’t like it, not perch in front of me. Keep going, and I will learn more about how and when to sing, and if nothing else bring this one human into harmony with the world around me. So far I have noticed that when a loud noise rips through the air, such as a train or a helicopter, singing can help to smooth it over.

It is easy to become depressed by what humans have done and are still doing to the Earth. However, I have been left with the feeling that while I may not be able to solve humanity’s problems myself, what matters is what I do, as an individual. Live my life fully, joyfully, lovingly, using the talents that I have. In the words of the Fred Small song, “And the only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.” The love will always stay.

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Imbolc

I love this time of year with its increasing light, and snowdrops. I love Spring more, and early Summer is even better, but Imbolc holds promise. As a gardener, and being connected to the land, that is special.

Hazel Catkins lengthening

Maybe it is because I am an eternal optimist, always looking forwards, wanting to see what is coming and believing that it will be even better than the present. Ever hopeful. I like the planning for a holiday and the dreaming. I like the preparing for events. The pregnancy. I become part of it then, not just presented with someone else’s finished masterpiece.

Imbolc is even more special than a promise, though. It is the beginnings of light, and life, and putting plans into action that have been incubating all winter. They may have been planned since Samhain or slightly earlier, or they may be unconscious desires that have been there for a while. Whichever, at Imbolc they suddenly burst into the light and make us aware of them, and what needs doing.

My first Pagan initiation was at Imbolc, definitely a case of an unconscious longing and then bursting out into the light in a wave of illuminations where all made sense to me and fell into place. I have been a Pagan all my life, in my spiritual outlook, in the things I celebrate, and suddenly discovered there were others like me. On Imbolc I found out what I was, the reasons for everything – and within a few days made a promise to myself that changed my life.

A hardy cyclamen withstands a flurry of snow

As I celebrate this personal anniversary, I am struck by how many changes in my life have been initiated in February, and then been ‘harvested’ or have taken full effect in the autumn. Not all, but a disproportionately high number. Which makes me wonder as I approach this festival what change might be initiated this February? I’ll maybe let you know next autumn!

[This post was written two days ago, but an unexpected lack of internet connection delayed things…]

Happy Yule!

Barn Owl Linoprint


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Samhain!

I spent the day yesterday pumpkin carving, preparing for the festival of Samhain and having a really joyful celebration of the year gone and the year coming.

This was the first truly joint pumpkin I have carved with my daughter, as her design input was equal to mine. After explaining that we weren’t going to carve a scary face, because Samhain isn’t intended to be a scary time of year (more connecting and thanking the dead, our ancestors, those who have gone before rather than being scared by ghosts) we thought about what things we were thankful for. Fairies. Flowers. Trees. Frogs. We can use cookie cutters, she said.

I have spent quite a bit of time over the past year going through the elements, so I decided to make my own thanks and celebration by organising them into four elemental groups, with three things for each one. We also had a five-pointed star for our lid, so that made a perfect 13 holes to be carved in the pumpkin.

My daughter’s washable pens were perfect for drawing the design on, especially as any traces can be easily removed afterwards, and where we had a suitable cutter she drew round them for me. Where we didn’t she found me a picture in one of her books to copy … luckily the pen can be rubbed out and corrections made!

I used a knife to cut the lid, then a melon baller has proved the most useful tool to cut through seed strings. This year I also used it to remove half the flesh from the inside so that the walls weren’t too thick to cut through, then cooked what I removed for pies later. Experience has taught me that a cookie cutter doesn’t cope with curved pumpkin skin very well, so after having drawn around them, I used a hacksaw blade taped to a piece of wood, which has been my trusty pumpkin carver for over a decade now. It turns corners better than a knife, although can leave edges ragged if not careful.

All four sides have holes in, making it hard to photograph, but right for us. Earth on the side that was on the ground, fire upwards to the sun, water and air in between. Some are animals, some, such as a musical note or the heart, are symbolic.

May you have bright blessings and a peaceful new year.

Elemental Pumpkin, showing Earth and Air, with Fire on the wall behind.

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.

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.

Happy Solstice!

Winter Solstice Greetings

May light fill your hearts and your lives as the sun returns, bringing inspiration and happiness.

I have seen various images of winter trees in lino printing, all snowy white silhouetted against a dark sky. However I needed the sun in my sky, not the moon and stars, so after a lot of thought and several sketches, I came up with this design.

This is a tree I see to the East every morning, growing in a garden a short distance away and now tall enough to show over the rooftops. It always intrigues me to look at things in mirror image when creating lino prints, so I took that idea further by drawing the tree the right way and its mirror – knowing that once printed I would still have the right way and the mirror. For once I drew straight onto the lino, knowing that any copying and image reversing was superfluous.

Last summer I was able to acquire a small roller press, and this was its first use which was a joy. I can still improve my inking, but the ‘misty effect’ improved some of the images for me on this occasion. All a learning process which takes a long time when I seem to do only one a year!

Evergreen plants have long been a symbol of life and fertility for the middle of winter. Many ancient cultures used to bring sprigs of greenery into homes or temples for decoration at this time of year, and that has never stopped. A wreath, to me, symbolises the cyclical wheel of the year, always turning through each season, while trees are life themselves as well as representative of the World Tree from which all life grows. This particular tree is probably an overgrown Christmas tree planted out several years ago…

Yule Quilt

Yule Quilt

This is now the fifth quilt I have made in the series of 8 for each sabbat display, and the first where the colours had a small amount of planning in their arrangement – rather than just the total random, ‘scrappy quilt’ look. I did not have many suitable fabrics for Yule, 3 golds, 3 greens, and 4 reds although one was in very short supply. Had I started with this quilt, I would have probably made it far more definite in its design by using some colours for the stars and different colours for the borders, yet this interests me precisely because it wasn’t done that way. It draws me in more.

The stars made me think of spiky holly with its bright berries, as well as poinsettia plants sold everywhere but needing more warmth than our house generally offers on a winter’s night. There is also the coming of the light, directly from the sun as we celebrate its return – and for two months of the year I have an unobstructed view of the sunrise through trees from my bedroom window. Most years (but no longer guaranteed) there is also light reflected by snow, bringing a wonderfully uplifting feel at what is generally a dark time.

Making a series of quilts that are supposed to be an exact size has also been a learning experience. My sewing accuracy wasn’t bad before, but sew each 1/4inch seam just 1/2mm out, and over 25 seams you have gained or lost a whole inch, 25mm. That is assuming my cutting was accurate to within the same tolerances! So it took me to quilt 4 to get almost the right finished size, and this one is just slightly long. Given they are all made slightly wide, long looks good. The other good thing I have finally learned is how to work methodically when picking up each pair of pieces to sew, in order to keep them in the same position and rotation. It has taken me a long time to master this basic skill!

Normally I change the display about a week before a sabbat, but it felt appropriate to get this out last weekend. Not because lights and decorations are up everywhere else and M enjoys them being up in our house as well, but because winter arrived with the last leaves falling off the trees, two dustings of snow and ice on the pond. Autumn has passed, it is dark outside, and I feel ready to close the curtains and be looking within. Enjoying candlelight, being cosy in the long dark evenings, and preparing for what is to come. In my case, a completely crazy, exciting, holiday season with so much packed into about 3 weeks that I have had to write down what I need to do when.

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.

Dragons and Trees

Thanks to the changes I made to the shape of my garden last year, it turns out that I now have a place where I can contact or meet with dragons easily. It is my circular grass lawn with paths in from each of the cardinal directions. The first time I tried meeting a dragon there (at their suggestion) it was very easy and felt positive. However for various other reasons, a lot of trees have been arriving in and around my garden over the past month or so, also making the circular lawn their central focus point. This has made it much more difficult for the dragons who, although they are not solid matter and can therefore ignore many material obstructions like walls and trees, found it more difficult against the trees in my own mind! But it worked okay, the trees stepped back and let my normal companion through. But the next time I went out there in a journey, it wasn’t my usual companion who arrived (who is small and bright blue) but a huge, dark green, forest dragon. And I mean huge. I had met him once before over a year ago, and now he was arriving to assist me with a project concerning tree planting.

In a July post I was saying good bye to a large part of my life (Leaving, 14 July) and suggested I would soon be looking forward again. Just two days later a chance conversation has led to a project of trying to get permission to plant a small woodland in a field near me. Spirit moves fast sometimes! It is a bit of a sad field at the moment; a football pitch that is never used, some swings that were taken out last winter when the land they were sited on was sold for a car park, and a footpath that cuts across the middle leaving the bottom end unused by almost anyone. (I say almost, as it is my best picking place locally for hazelnuts and blackberries, but I find so many that I may be alone in doing this.)

At the moment I have just the seed of an idea and a willingness from a parish council member to support my ideas if properly funded and thought through – one of my seeds mentioned in my Lughnasadh post. So I have been spending every spare minute reading up on woodland planting and management, surveying the field for tree species already present around the margins, and drawing plans with the help of Google mapping (although unfortunately the new car park is not shown, involving much pacing and measuring.)

It may all end in nothing. But very fact that a forest dragon showed up gives me hope that a woodland has already been created on the etheric level; I just need to sort the physical out. Flying from my house to the field showed woodland growing strongly, with a tree circle at the centre connected to the grass circle in my garden. There seems to be a common energy line connecting the two. And on the return, the space in between (currently farmland) was also filled with trees. Wishful thinking, or can I make this a reality one day? Meanwhile any pagans locally who can help support this project in any way now or in the future, please get in touch. A tree is for life, not just for Yule…

Lughnasadh

Lughnasadh was on Tuesday this week, a festival I realise I tend to be slightly ambivalent about compared to the other fire festivals of the year. A fairly important family anniversary the day after Lughnasadh may have something to do with that, as well as the fact it normally features the grain harvest as its central message (thanks to its connection and confusion with Lammas, the Christian Loaf Mass) and I am allergic to wheat! However, this year Lughnasadh marked some major unexpected events for me that make me really look forward to the next year (more of which to follow) – so I was feeling puzzled as to why seeds are being madly sown in my life while the rest of the world is apparently at harvest, and wanted to explore some of the meanings of the festival a little deeper.

Lughnasadh, also spelt Lughnasa, Lughnasad, Lunasa etc, is an old Irish festival, named for the Celtic sun-God Lugh, and Nasadh meaning an assembly. It didn’t actually celebrate the harvest, which is frequently a little later in August; however, Lughnasadh was started as a result of the start of growing and harvesting crops. Besides, if the assembly was held at harvest time most able-bodied people would have been too busy to compete in any games!

When the Tuatha de Danaan invaded Ireland, the High King of the Fir Bolg, Eochaidh mac Eirc was killed in battle. His wife, Tailtiu, was then given a high-born son of the Danaan to raise as her own, as a mark of trust. Fostering children was a common way of creating peace between kingdoms, in the same way as marriage was used. The son she was entrusted with was Lugh.

Clearly as a way of inspiring loyalty, this was an inspired choice. Lugh flourished and developed incredible skills and talents, winning the titles Lamfhada, ‘of the long arm’ for his prowess with spear casting, and Samildanach, ‘master of all arts’. He went on to become High King, and was a Druid and a Warrior.

He remained very close to his foster mother, despite leaving to seek his fortune, and was devastated when Tailtiu died of exhaustion on 1st August after clearing a great forest on the plains of Brega in readiness for farming. (The Bronze Age had arrived in Ireland.) When the men gathered at her death-bed, she told them to hold funeral games and celebrations in her honour. As long as they were held, she prophesied Ireland would not be without song. This is of course what Lugh did.

The first games were held at the town now known as Teltown in County Meath, where they continued to be held until the Norman invasion – and informally in rural areas until the eighteenth century. They were known to include sporting contests in hurling, spear throwing, sword fighting, handball, running, wrestling, boxing, horse and chariot racing, staged battles and displays of Irish martial arts, as well as music, poetry, story-telling, singing and dancing, and competitions amongst craftsmen, such as goldsmiths, jewellers, spinners, weavers, and the forging of weaponry and armour. It was also the time that laws were made and announced to the people by bards, and contracts, politics and alliances were agreed between families. Even weddings or handfastings took place by linking hands through a hole in a stone, which could be dissolved the next year by walking away from each other if it didn’t work out. August remains one of the most popular times of year for weddings. Violence was not tolerated for the period of the festival, all those who came had to agree to a truce.

So it was Tailtiu who made the sacrifice so that man could plant corn, offering herself as the divine feminine. She was not afraid to work hard, and was an excellent mother in all senses of the word. Her festival reminds us to look at all our talents, use them, and as well as reaping our harvest, see what we can give back to others, and to the Earth. In that sense I now understand where my new seeds have come from, and what responsibility I have to nurture them and help them grow.

Leaving

Yesterday was the last day of term for us, which has meant saying goodbye to a place of unconditional love and spiritual learning, and where M and I have been going for four years. I always imagined we would be there ‘forever’, becoming part of the school and the community, but I had a shock just over a year ago to realise that we wouldn’t be.

There are times when I just seem to ‘know’ things, which defy logical explanations. It usually happens when I just can’t ‘see’ the future of something, for example when pregnant with M and considering car seats, I realised we wouldn’t have the same car – and a different one may have different fixings. I assumed we would sell it since it was over ten years old; however its end was rather more dramatic in a high speed motorway collision in which no one was hurt but the car was written off, three months before M was born. Similarly, there was no reason for me to think we should leave this school, yet I trusted my instinct from a year ago that we might not still be there when M reached school age and made plans in case that proved to be true – I didn’t want to end in a crash again. Because over the past fifteen months, starting before I was even properly aware of it, there have been many small signs that it would be time to leave at the end of this summer term. Both pushes and pulls.

It has been a hard journey at times, and involved much frustration, sadness and soul searching. I haven’t always felt ready to be ‘moved on’, to leave the cosy duvet of love and protection (which I am told is common to all Steiner schools) and take what I have learned out into the ‘real’ world. The last few weeks have seen me being tested in unexpected ways, such as many friends expressing fear about us leaving, and an expectation that we will be back. I don’t know if this is to test my resolve, or is a reflection of my own inner worries; or whether it is more about them and my confidence about leaving is what they themselves need. (Or the reality that sometimes people do come back…) There is also much I shall miss including the other parents and some teachers who have become friends.

Luckily we have been able to make a really positive choice to a wonderful little school in the village that we can walk to, and it just feels right as the next step forwards – although I suspect ‘luck’ doesn’t actually come into it. The universe is giving us what we need next. I keep reminding myself that as with everything in the wheel of the year, there cannot be new beginnings without there being endings, which is what I am acknowledging this week. Soon I will be looking forwards again.

Amidst feeling sad however, I was incredibly touched by a teacher-friend lending me two books to read that she had just been given because she knew I would enjoy them and also would read them before she got to them. How or when I will be able to return them to her I have no idea; for various reasons it will probably be months before I see her again, yet she has trusted me with her own gift. Blessings indeed, and possibly a sign that it won’t be the end but a transmutation into something different and new.

Unexpected Inspirations

In early May I walked past a poster which read:

“I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”

That was all, no further explanation given.

My immediate thought was wondering who it was referring to, and if there were people who believed there was someone in particular who was all of these things. (Okay it didn’t take me too long to realise that the poster was outside a chapel… I am a Pagan first and not a Christian.)

Then almost straight away a reminder came to me:

“As within, so without. As without, so within.”

Or in other words, the macrocosm is reflected and present in the microcosm and vice versa. What applies to one applies to all, and what is present in the world also applies to me as a tiny part of this world. This is my interpretation as influenced by Rudolf Steiner, slightly different to the more familiar Hermetic phrase “As above, so below, as within, so without, as the universe, so the soul…” which is usually interpreted to mean that our thoughts shape the world outside of us, and in one direction only. Therefore as well as an emotional reflection, I also see the microcosm / macrocosm relationship in a physical way such as the way patterns are repeated on every scale, eg spirals as building blocks of life on every scale, or the dome of the earth reflected in the arch of our feet which in turn reflects our connection to the earth, or the weather reflecting and also influencing our emotions. So if this phrase applies to a microcosm of one person, does it also apply to the macrocosm?

I repeated the original phrase over again in my mind, to myself, – and suddenly thought Wow! What a profound statement! Because I am, or should be, all of those things for myself. I follow my own path, and only I can know the way for myself. I must look within on a regular basis to know that way, no one else can tell me what I should do. I am also my own truth, with my own sense of morals and ethics and what is right for me to do. Others have their own truths, which may be different to mine. And life? Well this is my life. I have chosen it, I own it, and I should live it as fully as I am able. No one else.

The phrase became a personal mantra for a few days, giving me a powerful reminder of just what and who I am – divine, Spirit, Me. I need reminding sometimes. And the real wonder is that it applies equally to everyone.

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?

Brambles

Blackberry flowers and fruits

Blackberry flowers and fruits


For the past three weeks M and I have enjoyed picking blackberries on our walks. Apart from just eating them, we have made several pots of bramble jelly, some blackberry ice cream, had blackberry and apple crumble, stewed blackberries for breakfast, and even frozen some. Blackberry cheesecake is a personal favourite that might come soon… It is one of those flavours that you can never quite remember properly, but a good juicy berry is always better than you expect. Or a bad one more pippy and worse.

Brambles love the British climate, growing anywhere they are allowed and rooting themselves wherever they touch the ground. Around here it is in the hedgerows that I find them, often picking a few here and there as I walk. Most branches will have a few ripe ones, but the plants have evolved to fruit over a long period to encourage maximum spread of the seeds so it is rare to find many ripe ones together. M has taught me to notice them even when I haven’t brought a pot to put some in; the odd one or two keep her going on a walk and she can now spot a bramble bush before I can. Even 30 yards away, the other side of a road. Picking half a pound along a mile of hedge is quite easy; if I’m after more than that it takes effort, knowing where to go, and frequently full combat gear! They are the most predatory plant I know, using their thorns to hook onto whatever they find – hawthorn, fences, their own branches. (Take a look at Bramble Scramble from the BBC’s Private Life of Plants if you don’t believe me!) Luckily there are thornless types now available for those who wish to cultivate them, but they are generally not half as satisfying as picking wild berries.

Bramble hedgerow

Bramble hedgerow


In some areas of Europe there is a taboo against eating blackberries – either because they belong to the fae, or because they represent death. The former is an interesting one, given blackberry wine is apparently okay! This is not a question I have had the opportunity to ask directly, but I believe the point here is about balance, respect, understanding, and above all sharing, especially if you make wine… And remembering that the bramble bushes feed and shelter many animals and birds as well. Cutting them all back, especially when they are about to fruit, would not be appreciated. Others suggest that eating blackberries or drinking blackberry wine at the Equinox is a good way to contact the fae. This is the time when the energies start to withdraw, spiralling down into the earth, and in some legends the Lord of the Harvest enters the Underworld, through the hollow hills, into the care of the fae. Black will take you down into the dark, finding the way through the tunnels of the Earth, while the sweetness will bring pleasure and enjoyment and lightness of heart, helping us to remember life is to be lived.

As for death, well being a pagan is all about the cycles of nature and death being a necessary part of life. The old must be cleared away to make space for what is to come, and Spirit is eternal. Death is not to be feared, but to be embraced, worked with, even thanked at times, for it is the only way we may pass out of this life and into the next part of our spiritual journey when it is time to leave.

There are also many superstitions against eating blackberries after a certain date, usually Michaelmas day (11th October) but sometimes Autumn equinox, or October 1st. The reasons given vary with the date, but in my experience it is a rare year that the late blackberries have been properly pollinated and ripen to full sweetness; the August berries always taste the best.

Planted on graves, brambles were supposed to stop the dead from wandering. Children or cows can be passed through a bramble arch rooted at both ends to bring health, for the blackberry has the gift of abundance as well as protection. Whooping cough was a favourite to be cured in this way, leaving an offering afterwards of bread and butter for the fairies of course.