Water Unfrozen

Through the centre of Ambleside, like many Lake District towns and villages, runs a stream. When wet, it can be quite a torrent as it runs over a series of ledges; Stock Ghyll once powered so many mills in the town that it had the nickname of Rattle Ghyll. However, it took me several years to realise that just a short walk upstream is something far more dramatic.

Stock Ghyll tributary running under the footpath.
(Click to enlarge)

Just outside the town there is a rather lovely circular path through woodland alongside the stream that was engineered by the Victorians. The first photo shows where a small tributary stream is crossed early on in the walk. The bridge is almost invisible from the main path, most people seeing it only on the return journey if the arrows are followed. (I prefer going sunwise as I am perverse, and also it is prettier if I am not planning to return directly to Ambleside.) Below the bridge are some stepping stones, from where you get a wonderful view of this beautifully built gateway into another realm – as well as the easiest place to dip a hand in the water.

Continuing upwards, whichever side of the river you walk there are several different viewpoints from where you can see the main waterfall, the 70 foot high Stock Ghyll Force. Some of these still have the Victorian ironwork in place; others are very muddy and are less protected.

Stock Ghyll Force
(Click to enlarge)


I have seen the falls at lower water levels, when most of the water falls river left (ie the right hand side as in the photo), but what I liked on this occasion was the near perfect balance of the two falls, which then come together to make one. It always feels a good place for me to connect with falling water, especially going sunwise so crossing above the falls (the wooden bridge is just visible) before following with the water in the direction it is flowing in order to see them in their entirety.

These pictures were actually taken in February, when the previous snowmelt was underway. I had every intention of posting them on our return – and then the snow arrived. I just couldn’t connect with running water! Now the snow has melted again here, I finally felt ready to edit the photos (as the colours didn’t come out the way I saw them) and to write about the waterfall, however briefly. So I learned something about myself at the same time, and how I live in ‘now’, at least as far as weather is concerned!

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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.

Tadpole update

Mass of emerged tadpoles

I thought anyone who follows my blog might like to know that the tadpoles are all wriggling about the pond…

The first ones ‘hatched’ after 2 weeks, with more emerging each day over the next week and creating a very dark mass of wrigglers in the centre of the two clumps of frogspawn. Finally they seem to have eaten the remains of their ‘egg sacks’ and the first ones broke free to pastures new, being seen around the plants and nibbling algae of rocks – particularly later in the day as the sun warms them. I may have a cleaner, clearer pond very soon!

Tadpole off exploring

Frog Spawn

Frog spawn apparently ‘appears’ between January and February or March, in any pond where there are frogs. I have had various people asking if we had any over the past few weeks, but had to keep saying no, the pond was less than a year old and I didn’t know if we would this first year.

Frogspawn

First Frogspawn, a few hours old. (Click to enlarge.)

And then to our great excitement a large clump of spawn appeared last Sunday.

Given it was full moon that day, I spent some time in the garden in the evening and for the first time in my life had the joy of listening to the gentle sound of frogs croaking. After about 20 minutes there was a splash, then silence. A second clump of frogspawn had appeared – so close to the first I almost missed it in the dark.

Two clumps of frogspawn. (Click to enlarge.)

So now I am keeping an eye for changes, and making sure nothing damages the spawn. However, I was fascinated one morning to discover just how well it looks after itself. Some beech leaves had blown in from the nearby hedge, which I remove most days at this time of year, and one had landed on the spawn. I was surprised to find it was slightly stuck to the spawn and then worried about damaging them as I pulled it off – until I realised that it had a series of circular holes and arcs cut into it. (Afterwards I wished I had kept hold of the leaf, as I couldn’t find it again later to take a photograph.) I can only assume that the coating on the spawn had dissolved the leaf wherever it touched, so that it was no longer blocking the light. This seems to me some feat to achieve in less than a day on a crispy tough beech leaf!

Frogspawn photographed from underwater

Meanwhile my photography took a new turn as I began writing this post, as I managed to find the waterproof case we used to use with our old camera when canoeing. I have a lot to learn still about lighting and focal distances underwater – I obviously cannot see what is in the viewfinder, nor can I check the resulting images very well while they are in the waterproof case, and it needs to dry before I can open it giving little chance for a repeat attempt.

7 day old frogspawn, photographed from underwater.


Surprisingly for a camera that is rubbish at macro, it was the closest pictures that came out most in focus, just showing the start of tails developing. Hopefully with this knowledge and a bit more time to experiment, I will improve before the tadpoles emerge!

A Woodland Spring

There is a very lovely woodland spring near to me, which I had the opportunity to revisit this week. It is shown on maps as “Ben’s Well”, near to “Ben’s Farm”, and lies within “Booth’s Wood”. I have not as yet been able to find out anything about who Ben was – do comment below if you can enlighten me!

Ben's Well as it emerges from the ground.

Ben’s Well as it emerges from the ground with the root bridge in the foreground.
(Click to enlarge.)

The spring is one of several nearby, but the only one that never seems to be muddy. It comes straight out of the muddy bank and flows beautifully pure and clear, making nice drinking. I was reminded on tasting it of some of Victor Schauberger’s work on streams following their natural course through woodland, running all year and never flooding or jamming up if they are not interfered with by man. The temperature stays far more constant with the tree’s shading, and it is very pleasant there even on a hot day.

Root bridge at Ben's Well.

Root bridge at Ben’s Well. (Click to enlarge)

There is, however, an extra feature that attracts me to this stream. Within a few feet of the spring is a path, which at one time had a stone wall built along each side of it. This can be seen higher up in the wood, with the occasional stone gatepost still standing. However where it crosses the stream, the main evidence of the wall is where a tree root has used it to advantage to make a natural bridge. This root has become the crossing point itself. A special place.

Root Bridge and Wood Sorrel

Root Bridge at Ben’s Well, Derbyshire. Wood Sorrel grows on the upstream side.

Wild Swimming in Yorkshire

One of my long-term dreams, mentioned previously on this blog, is to swim in the river Duddon at Birks Bridge, preferably on a nice sunny day when it looks like it does in the pictures… I always said when I gave up canoeing, it was because I wanted to spend more time walking and swimming. Well finally I have swum in a river, even if not one I had ever heard of before.

Thomason's Foss, Goathland, North Yorkshire

Thomason’s Foss, Goathland, North Yorkshire

This is Thomason’s Foss on the Eller Beck, which runs North and West through Goathland before flowing into the Murk Esk. The steam railway roughly follows the river, and can occasionally be seen high above the waterfall through the trees.

When I visited there was a fallen tree across the outflow from the pool that had clearly been there for some time and which, with the large rocks there, could form some interesting strainers in higher water conditions. However at this level it felt like a magical entrance archway that had to be passed under to reveal the full glory of the pool beyond.

It was cold. The pool was very deep, and shaded by trees. It was also very dark from the peat in the water so my feet disappeared when at only knee depth and rocks had to be found by touch. I stood for a long time, and then explored around the edges – most of my swimming in recent years was either in a dry suit or in a wetsuit in warmer waters! Today I had neither.

Eventually I asked the water for help. Remarkably it worked. I swam, and didn’t freeze. It felt beautiful.

Climbing out safely onto the awkward rocks, I paused for a moment, before having another go and swimming as close to the waterfall as I was comfortable before returning to a flattish rock. I thanked the water for helping me. I then had a third go, and seemed to find the full effects of the cold. Definitely bracing!

Water Meditations

I am in water, I am nearly part of the water. I am wishing I could come back not as a human but as a water elemental. Oh to be a drop of rain, falling through the sky, then trickling through vegetation into a stream. To be a part of that, part of a river, the sea. Waves, or deep water. The feeling is so powerful, it catches me by surprise.

Could I simply do that?

Then I see a problem. Water elementals are formed and unformed when they are needed and not needed. They live, but then disappear as the water evaporates, taking no memory with them.*

A human has memory, too much sometimes. I feel weighed down. I want to be free. Tears run down my face.

But then I remember that as a human I can follow the water with my mind. I can go into the tree with my mind, up out of the leaves. I can play in a huge stopper at the bottom of a pourover, or just drift lazily down a summer stream where ducks make their way back and forth. And I can keep the memory of each exploration, bring it into my own life – along with so many other things as well. I make a vow to go swimming again.

* On further reflection I realise this probably isn’t true. Elementals can be themselves again when they reform, or even a more developed, further advanced version of themselves, just as we are in essence ourselves again in each lifetime. Spirit, in all its forms, is conscious. But it may be just as well I didn’t consider this at the time…

——

It is two weeks later. I journey astrally to meet the elemental of the swimming pool where I have been going. I tried to make contact when physically at the pool, but just had the impression of colourful swirls of energy, the colours associated with swimming pools, of blues and whites, strangely the blues nearly the same as what I was wearing.

In my journey I was able to see her much more clearly. She is far more advanced than the simple elementals, more like a mermaid in form. I shall call her a Deva, as that is how she seemed to me. Her main colours were indeed swirls of light blue and white, with the occasional streak of dark blue. She had long blond hair, and overall looked like an Art Nouveau image of a graceful woman, but with her form unfixed and ever changing. I was surprised that when she came out of the pool to talk to me, she had legs, but they disappeared again as soon as she re-entered the water. She was young, and as bright and clear as the water. (Which is the nicest public swimming pool water I can ever remember being in.)

As the pool suddenly became busy, she excused herself and said she had to go. I watched her guiding several people to avoid collisions, and supporting anyone learning to swim – one girl of about six or seven in particular was getting a lot of help from her to float gently.

I then left the pool and came to my own garden, to try and meet the Deva of our pond. She was completely different in looks and character, swirls of greens, lots of browns, a dash of pink and red from the waterlily, dark hair, more frog-like. She had no time to stop, so busy was she trying to keep the balance of this very young pond. I thanked her for her efforts and told her how beautiful it was looking. I then returned the way I had come, for once not feeling bereft as I re-entered ordinary reality.

Frogs in the Rain Pond

Common Frog (Rana temporaria) on Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) in our pond. (Click to enlarge)

Common Frog (Rana temporaria) on Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) in our pond.
(Click to enlarge)

This is the first week that a frog has been spotted in our pond. Swimming, and looking happy.

There were two animals I really hoped to attract when building the pond – one was frogs, the other was dragonflies. From all I have read, importing animals or frogspawn is a bad idea; nature will usually turn up when conditions are right.

I have not written here about planting the pond, beyond designing a pot lifter to move the pots around in deep water. (See ‘Planting the Rain Pond’, 17 April 2016.) It has been an interesting learning curve for me, starting with the basics of understanding water plants, how many and what types are needed, what depths they like, and how to actually plant them when they arrive as bare-rooted specimens. General advice I could find was to avoid anything remotely invasive, put in more plants than you might expect, and allow time for a balance to be reached.

So I dowsed with my trusty pendulum to find out which plants would like to be in my pond, bought one of everything that said it would, three of each of the oxygenating plants that get planted in bunches, and then spent the best part of a day fitting the whole lot into pots. The weather promptly turned cold with snow, growth was at a minimum, and virtually nothing happened. It then got hot, algae grew and, with virtually no plant cover on the surface yet, the pond needed frequent topping up from water butts. Algae continued to grow, and most of the plants disappeared from view, and I feared would never be seen again…

There are probably more plants that absolutely necessary, but it has been fascinating to me to watch how they all grow so differently. Forgetmenots and brooklime have sprawled all over the place and leave trailing roots through the water that I suspect will attempt to invade their neighbours. Irises just sit there looking small. But the water hawthorn sent up flower stems very shortly after being planted, giving hope. Now all of the various plants seem to have recovered and are growing and flowering; even my waterlily, which I feared drowned for some months due to its disappearance into the depths, has sent up a flower bud. And the water soldiers have risen like a bunch of pineapples as the water suddenly cleared a couple of weeks ago.

So now I have a frog. I can’t help wondering if the fact I went swimming two days before for the first time in a few years, making new, deep connections with water and water elementals, had something to do with its arrival. I wanted to take a photograph of it, and of course couldn’t find it. Best evidence was rustling in some plants the other end of the garden, where frogs have occasionally been spotted before. I went back later at a similar time of day to when I had seen it before, mid to late afternoon, looked again in the branches of the scruffiest plant there, and this time found not one but two frogs in the pond! I guess the brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) will be staying…

Two frogs hiding in the brooklime.

Two frogs hiding in the brooklime.

Smelling Rain

I have recently discovered that I can smell approaching rain, when I am outside, sometimes to the point of being able to work out how far away it is. This comes as a great surprise to me not least because my sense of smell is at best undeveloped, and frequently non-existent.

Thanks to my nose and lung problems over the years, I am frequently unable to even breathe through my nose. I can often smell in reverse by taking a deep breath and blowing out through my nose, or blowing my nose after drinking a good wine or eating chocolate, but smelling things through my nose is pretty variable. If I need to check the milk is okay, I get a second opinion! However maybe thanks to the work I have been doing with rain, I have discovered I can actually smell it before it arrives. So I have started to try and understand this process.

There are three possible things I could be smelling. One is from the Air above us, Ozone, particularly associated with thunderstorms. This is because lightning can split oxygen and nitrogen molecules to form small amounts of nitric oxide – which then re-reacts to form ozone. These ozone molecules, smelling similar to chlorine, may then be blown on the winds that precede a storm. That assumes a storm is present however, which I’m not sure is always the case!

The second and third scents come from the Earth and are Petrichor, the oils released from rocks formed from a variety of plant and animal sources, plus the compound geosmin, which is created by soil-dwelling bacteria. Most investigations have focused on the fact that these scents are released when rain drops hit the soil or rocks, sending spores and oils into the air and giving that fresh, earthy smell so many people love after it has rained. But this doesn’t explain why I should smell anything before it rains – especially as I have never smelt anything particular afterwards, just noticed the change in the feel of the air. A more recent theory says that as the humidity increases, the petrichor is released from pores in the rocks or soil, thus preceding the rainfall. This may be possible, and it has been suggested it is the cause for cattle becoming restless before rain. However, I don’t get the ‘smell’ of rain on a humid day! I only get the ‘smell’ shortly before actual rain.

Then last year researchers from MIT managed to film water drops landing on different surfaces and replay it in slow motion – and found that the Petrichor effervesces like champagne from porous surfaces, when the rain is light. These aerosols can then be carried on the winds in front of the rain for long distances. When you consider that a front is not just the mile or so wide it seems to us on the ground where the weather is, but often hundreds of miles wide all the way up through the atmosphere, then it makes sense to be smelling approaching rain before we can see it. It would also explain how other bacteria become airborne and cause certain diseases to spread.

However, I still can’t help wondering, given how poor my sense of smell actually is, whether there is some intuition or other sense at work rather than simply smelling. Many animals are aware of approaching rain – and from an evolutionary perspective this is a useful thing as following the smell back would lead to where it had rained and food will be growing. (Camels finding oases is one suggested example.) It helps us know to find shelter, or to put out pots for harvesting rainwater. In my own life, living in a modern world with waterproof clothes, houses, and taps I can turn on and off at will, I don’t often need these skills – and yet as the Earth becomes more unbalanced these may become the skills of the future.