Edges

Edging is usually a low priority for me in the garden – but higher for my kind husband who does the grass cutting! The last time any borders got edged was probably when I put the pond in and turned most of the lawn into flowerbeds a few years ago. At the same time, some new paths were added which never had edges at all while they established themselves. Now it is time for me to decide which bits of grass count as path, and which have to be reclassified as weeds.

It is not a job I am particularly comfortable with. Easy enough physically: stand vertically, push the half moon into the soil with a foot, use foot to protect new edge and lever soil away, let soil fall higher into the flower bed, and repeat many times over. Then go back and weed all the bits of unwanted grass, dandelions, daisies, primulas, phlomis and everything else I have chopped out so that they may be composted and returned to the garden in due course. However, I find it strange looking out to see crisp, sharp edges. The boundaries between wild and mown strictly delineated. The flowers will spill over wherever they please later in the season, but for now they are contained within their spaces.

I consider how I am not a person who likes to compartmentalise my life. When I did, I was two people, neither of which were the complete ‘me’. I cannot divide myself like that. Nor do I always stay behind recognised boundaries. To be a witch is always crossing borders, physical or on other planes. Being not on the outside looking in, but frequently on the edges, almost part of things but with a foot in both worlds. I cannot shut nature out, it is part of me and I like to keep the boundaries blurred.

Animals, too, like transition zones. Wavy, soft edges give them a much greater choice of habitat as they combine the search for food with the need for some warming sun or protection from predators. These tend to be from mown to unmown areas, not from grass to flowers, but I worry that I have created an obstacle that they didn’t have before.

The alternative would of course be a wildflower meadow; grass covering the whole and growing between plants that are happy in that environment. Yet this still needs management to be successful and avoid a monoculture. Unless it is grazed, or cut yearly as hay meadows were, trees will eventually take over. And the wildlife supported would be far lower than the range currently found in my ‘cottage’ style garden.

I am reminded that the job of the gardener is to make these decisions. To decide for each plant where its boundaries should be and set limits. To create a design and hold it in my mind as a picture I want to make. So I carry on, following the natural shapes as far as I can.

Then I look down on my work from the upstairs window. While all the paths I simply re-edged are fine, I really don’t like the newly shaped path at all! What was I thinking? Finding my plans, I realise how far out some of my other edges are from what is drawn on paper. I wait for a day or two, hoping it will somehow look better; it doesn’t.

Two days later I have had time to work out what needs to be done. I find our long building rope, and lay it over the edges, moving it to where I think the path should go. I check again from upstairs, then find my edging moon again. Suddenly I am enjoying myself, being creative, making a shape that is graceful to look at and easy to walk (and to mow). Harmony restored. Even better, it has created extra space for flowers – which will flop over the grass in due course, returning the edges to their blurred state.

Getting the line of the path, and being covered with blossom at the same time.

Unexpected Consequences of Magic

When I work a spell, often in the form of a wish, I always start with the words “An it harm none and be in the best interests of all…” This is my way of bringing a measure of protection into my spellworking. Otherwise it is all too easy to want something, but then cause a bigger or more upsetting problem as a way of getting what you want – such as wishing for money and then being left a large legacy when a close relative dies. Sometimes what I think I want may not even be the best thing for me in the long run. I cannot know. But I trust Spirit to know, and choose the best of all possible outcomes.

Last week I had an example of this. I had to go and collect some recycled plastic boards, from a place a few miles away, to replace the rotten timbers of the vegetable beds. (I don’t feel plastic is an ideal solution, but modern tanalised timber didn’t seem any better – dowsing said this was the best option, and at least we won’t have to replace it all again in another 10 years. Raised beds are necessary here as the topsoil is too thin to grow anything otherwise; there is only the depth of the sides that has soil and not clay or rock.)

I was a bit nervous of doing this by myself because I would have to load the roof rack, strap them on securely, drive with them, and then unload them all by myself before going out with my daughter to visit a friend in the afternoon. I asked what the weight of the boards was to be sure I could lift them onto the roof rack okay – it turned out they weigh slightly over 10kg each. Within my capabilities, but there would be twenty of them. And some smaller bits as well. I did a quick calculation and realised the total weight was over a quarter of a ton. Could the roof rack support that weight? And if it could, could I safely drive with it?

Simple answer: No. This would be over three times the manufacturer’s recommended capacity of the rack. I was prepared to make two trips if necessary, but not three.

Next question – I used to put my boat (whitewater kayak) inside the car (different car though similar) as I was unable to lift it onto the roof by myself, could I do the same with these?

Long answer – after much of an evening tweaking the seats to go as flat as possible, probably two thirds would fit inside. That would leave the remaining third to go on the roof, which would be within safe limits. And I would only have to unload what was on the roof before going out again later.

I was still nervous, so I asked Spirit (in the form of a spell) for protection to keep me safe and to help the collection all go smoothly.

The next day, I woke up feeling relaxed and peaceful, full of trust and confidence that I was going to be okay.

I was indeed fine. The car, however, refused to start. The battery was flat, probably as a result of the lights having been on half the evening, or just because it is easy for elementals to play with electricity. We have a get-you-home rescue service, but I have to be a mile from home first. Most unusually, there was not a single neighbour or friend who was available to help with a jump start. I was clearly not meant to go anywhere. Not only that, but unexpected circumstances had for once made it really easy for the collection to be made the next day without involving me at all. My other visit was less easy to sort out, but I hadn’t asked about that in my original wishing, and when I did ask for help it was also sorted the next day in a different way than originally planned.

Why did it happen like this? Why was the way Spirit answered my request so different to the way I expected, such as providing me with help to load the car for example? I believe it was because the evening before I gave myself a severe headache and sinus ache while taking apart lots of Lego and ended up feeling so ill I went to bed early. I am actually allergic to plastic – I get sores and swellings on my lips from plastic cups or drinking bottles, even a single sip, and cannulas are a disaster on me. So possibly being in a car filled with brand new (recycled!) plastic, just after having had a bad reaction to plastic, was going to do me no favours. I was truly protected and am grateful.

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…

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

Stanton Moor Circles

Nine Ladies stone circle, Stanton Moor

There is a very well known stone circle on Stanton Moor, known as ‘Nine Ladies’. It was one of the first circles to be protected in law as an ancient monument by the Victorians, and is visited by huge numbers of people each year. History has not always been kind to it; it has suffered much abuse over the years, yet it manages to be welcoming to many. However, within a few hundred yards of it are other circles, now stone-less, that have managed to retain their bank. On one free, cloudy day, I went in search of these.

Ring Cairn on Stanton Moor

My walk took me past the cork stone, and then left (North) up the ‘central’ path of the moor. The first ‘circle’ I found was just beyond the crossing of the paths, on the right hand side. It is marked on Ordnance Survey maps as ‘Cairn’, as it is believed to have been a ring cairn. There is quite a strong, friendly energy field around the side that remains – it had been recently used for some purpose and the remains of a fire could be seen on a rock near the centre. I found the gift of a sheep’s jawbone complete with teeth on the heather in the exact centre.

South Circle just about visible, Stanton Moor

Continuing along this path, on the same side is believed to be the remains of a stone circle. It consists of a raised bank forming a complete circle, slightly larger than the ring cairn, marked on the map as ‘enclosure’. There are no rocks present, the energy field is very low, and there was little to recommend it on this day.

King’s Stone with the Nine Ladies circle beyond; Stanton Moor

I knew there was another circle on the other side of the path before I reached the Nine Ladies, but I failed to see it. The Nine Ladies were dancing alone, so I spent some time there, clearing it of rubbish and reacquainting myself with its space and the trees around. Just outside the circle is the King’s Stone, according to legend the fiddler to the ladies’ dance on that Sabbath when they were all turned to stone. There is a very strong energy connection between this stone and the circle, easily felt by most people I have ever taken there. It may have always been strong, or it may be that the many visitors have in fact forged this connection. (Many times I have felt well-walked footpaths with my hands as a flow of energy. I really must work on distinguishing different causes and increasing what I can learn beyond which way it flows!)

Trying to make some notes, I realised I had dropped by pen somewhere. I had a bit of a look around, but couldn’t find it. Disappointed I sat on a rock and wondered what to do next. Then, realising I was actually quite upset about it, I asked that I may please find my pen, and the other circle.

Central Circle, Stanton Moor taken from outside the circle

Retracing my steps while counting them, I found my pen easily the second time. By careful counting I also found the middle circle, which had no path leading to it or round it. It was the largest of the circles and had a complete bank around it, with lovely strong, protective energy within. Trees grew just outside the banks adding to the sense of being in another world and time. It felt really quite special, hidden as it was, with a focus on peace and completeness.

Central Circle, Stanton Moor, taken while sitting inside the circle. There is a strong sense of enclosure from this level, with birch trees all around the outside of the circle but not encroaching upon it.

Finally I made several attempts to find the ‘Northern’ circle, although I knew it to be badly damaged and overgrown. The bracken was up to my chest, the ground covered with brambles, rocks and ruts from vehicle tracks long overgrown. I tripped and found myself sitting in a jungle. While I am fairly sure I was in the right place, and could get a sense of it energy-wise, trees grew on and in the circle and it was not possible to see or photograph anything meaningful. Instead I turned around and walking back to the path a different way, found the wonderful Oak tree I wrote about last week. I had already learned what I needed to from the land, and was being shown something else.

I attempted to journey later, to try and understand the relationship between the circles better. While on this occasion nothing was clear or coherent to me, I had the following impressions:
The circles were used at different times, with some of the stones being moved from the previous circle to the new one.
The energy flowing through the Earth at this point is not stable but twists and turns like a serpent; the prime spot moved over time or possibly over the year with the seasons and with the rainfall.
There is a strong connection to the Andle stone. (A large lump of rock with some carving half a mile to the West; just outside the Open Access Area and not yet visited. Originally Anvil Stone.)
There was tribal conflict in this area, and different chiefs gave their influence through the circles and cairns where their remains were interred.

Whether there is any truth in these impressions I have no way of proving. What is known is that the King’s Stone is exactly on a line between the Nine Ladies circle, the Andle Stone, and Doll Tor the other side of the Andle Stone, which probably marks Imbolc / Samhain sunset if there were fewer trees. This may help explain why this energy link is so strong.

The other three circles line up along a SSW / NNE line, Nine Ladies being just off this line. They are of slightly different character and may have been done at a different time, by a tribe with a slightly different set of practices.

There are around 70 burial mounds on Stanton Moor, which covers an area only about a mile long and half this wide. Most have been found to contain cremations from the mid-Bronze Age, some several, and a bronze knife was found in one.

The Cork Stone is also recorded as having had four sanding stones around it pre-quarrying, and a symmetrical pothole usually containing water in the top. (I haven’t yet climbed up it…) There were also three large stones along the gritstone edge, natural outcrops that would have been seen from some distance.

As a witch I cast circles regularly, indoors or out, wherever I chose to connect with Spirit and create ceremony. As a mother however, I sometimes struggle to explain how what I do is equal to those going to a splendid building like a church when I have no equivalent to show or books to read. Yet in the circles can be found an outdoor temple where people of many faiths and none still come to marvel, and frequently, to pray. On a personal level, I would love to know what directions they called in these circles, given that the cardinal points do not appear to be significant in their construction, why the entrances are where they are for each circle and how they used them, and the significance of the egg shape so many have in this area.

Wands and Weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing Plants Indoors

I was given a very lovely, anonymous gift of flowers from a local florist at the end of last term. Pink Stargazer lilies, dark pink miniature roses, grey-blue sea holly, dark purple alstroemerias, light purple crysanthemums, rosemary, pussy willows, fatsia and wide green flax leaves, and the whole thing was beautiful. Over two weeks later, many of them are still looking good. So a huge thank you to whoever gave them to me for making me smile and brightening my days, when I was having a particularly hard time!

I now see it as a once in a lifetime gift that I shall probably pass on one day. But trying to figure out who they were from made me think first about my friends (who all denied any knowledge) and then about the various plant-related things I do for which I expect nothing in return, which might have somehow ‘earned’ me some flowers. Rubbish collecting around the village. Giving plants or fruit away from my garden. Secretly sowing appropriate wildflower seeds in barren places. Shifting energies or sending healing – to the Earth or its inhabitants. I rarely see the full effects of my actions, just like the kind donor of these flowers will never see how they brightened my kitchen and left the house smelling amazing, or how they made me feel loved and wanting to do more.

There has been one immediate impact on me however: they have helped me to understand that I need greenery inside the house again, and to do something about it. I used to have a few houseplants, ones I had been given that didn’t really like the conditions in our house, and that mostly felt stiff and spiky to me. Eventually I got fed up with them always looking slightly ill, and wanted the limited windowsill space for seedlings of perennial flowers or vegetable plants each Spring.

So now I am trying to be more creative about where I put plants, considering Winter (near window) and Summer (eg in front of fireplace) positions. I look at a book from the library and see what might be suitable, but dowsing comes up with very little that looks like a guaranteed success.

Then I visit my nearest garden centre. Outside first, I can’t resist a look, and in the back corner find some wildflower plants that are being sold off at rock bottom price, just in perfect condition with the roots starting to show through the bottom. I choose several, two of which I have been looking for for some time – Herb Robert and Red Campion, each nicely labelled with their history and planting requirements. We also choose some pansies in flower, of which more later.

Back inside, near the tills I find the houseplants. Lots of showy orchids in flower, along with a few large foliage plants. Too big for what I want at the moment. Small Dragon trees, with a picture of a dragon and basic care instructions but no clue that they will reach 5′. Then almost hidden away, small plants of the size and price I thought might be reasonable – but labelled mostly as ‘fern’, or ‘foliage plant’ with no care instructions at all. I choose four plants whose shapes combine well, and which intuition and basic plant knowledge suggest may survive where I want to put them. Even looking later, I cannot positively identify three of them from the library book I have; my list of questions fails to get much shorter.

I could just hope for the best, but being a witch I am now asking the plants what they need. So far they seem happy, and have brightened up my shady kitchen windowsill brilliantly giving me something green to look at when I wash-up instead of tiles, cleaning products and the temporarily bare brick wall opposite. It may be possible to live a fulfilling life without plants and greenery around me, but I’m glad I don’t have to.

When is a plant dead?

This is a question that I have pondered more than once over the past few years, and finally have some answers. First I will explain the question.

1. Some shamans claim it is possible to talk to a tree before cutting it so that the ‘dryad’ divides in two, and lives on in the piece that has been cut off.
2. Some wandmakers claim it is possible to ‘wake’ the ‘dryad’ after creating a wand.
3. A cut branch will frequently root or graft successfully, whether or not the gardener talks to it first.

Given that I am currently in the process of finding wood for and designing a wand from one of my apple trees (see Candles for Rituals, Feb 2018) these questions have a particular relevance to me right now. So having failed to find definitive answers in any of my books, I did what I usually do in such circumstances: ask the trees.

My usual tree to talk to is a hollow oak, about half a mile from me, that I have a good relationship with. It is my guardian for journeys, and if he cannot answer my question himself, will usually know where I should go or who I should talk to. On this occasion Oak had most of the answers that I didn’t find within myself. (Some people use the term ‘dryad’ for the Spirit of a tree; this Greek word seems to me to both personify the Spirit and separate it from the tree in a way that seems more human than tree-like. Also, a dryad was an oak tree spirit, Meliae lived in ash trees, Epemeliad in apple trees, Caryatids in walnut trees … etc. etc. I prefer to just use the English tree names; in this case the tree is known to me as Hollow Oak.)

A tree is dead when there is no more ‘green’ remaining. That does not necessarily mean the colour green showing, such as in the leaves or inner bark, but that the plant still has the ability to transport water and nutrients, and therefore can grow. A section of stem, or root, can live a surprisingly long time after being cut, and regrow given the right circumstances. The Glastonbury Thorn, grown from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea is a case in point. (And in rare circumstances of complete human and elemental cooperation magic can happen, eg in the case of Machaelle Small-Wright, Dancing in the Shadows of the Moon.) However, by the time the cut wood is considered dried enough for woodcarving or furniture making, it can generally be considered dead. This is like a human slowly dying of old age – over the last few weeks of their life, the elements will withdraw one at a time. First Earth, as the person ceases to feel hunger, then usually Water as they cease to thirst. Fire, they become cold, Air, they stop breathing, and finally Spirit in the form of Soul leaves and the person is considered dead. (Actually sometimes a person is declared dead before Soul Spirit has left; they can usually be revived when this is the case.)

The Spirit of the tree does not go to the Summerlands, Annwn, Heaven, etc as we do, as because trees do not have free will, there is no need to learn the lessons from the life just lived and plan the next life or experiences to come. Their consciousness is already merged with the All and our planet Earth continues to grow in experience and love.

After our Soul Spirit has departed, our body elemental continues with our bodies until it is no longer recognisable as a body. Then the elemental passes over to other more simple elementals, while it goes on to help us form the next physical body we inhabit. The same with trees, after the Spirit of the tree withdraws. Fire elementals are generally involved in the making of compost, then compost becomes Earth, or dissolves in Water, so new elementals take over.

But if a piece of wood is stored carefully, it does not decay. The way I understand it is this: if a bicycle can be conscious and talk to me, or a rock or crystal, so can a piece of wood from a tree. It doesn’t have exactly the same consciousness, it is no longer alive, but it has a consciousness all the same which is related to the tree it once was. In my desk the wood comes from more than one tree, so the consciousness becomes more complex, and possibly deeper. In a wand, there may be different elements which combine – including the consciousness of the person using the wand. I understand now why a wand has to be a very personal tool, and why they are usually broken on the death of the witch or magician who used it. I also see a parallel here with bones. Just as a specific branch can help the user connect to the original tree, so could a specific bone could help a person connect to a specific ancestor – many barrows when opened up were found to have skulls neatly arranged inside them. But after time, when the original link is lost, there may not be a connection to a specific person any more – but a human bone will still have a different consciousness than a cow bone, or a sea shell just like a malachite is different to a moss agate or an amazonite stone.

One further thought was offered to me by Oak: trees are very aware of being cut and of the consciousness and intentions of the person doing the cutting. Oak gave me two examples of when this really matters. First, a branch cut specifically for propagating will take better than one pruned off and then grafted or rooted as an after-thought. Second, flowers are the peak of a tree’s energy and beauty; cutting it off in its prime is very confusing and distressing for the tree and the flower elementals. If flowers are cut for enjoyment as cut flowers, then please share your love of them with the tree and explain why you are cutting some of its flowers off (never cut all the flowers off a plant!) and leave the plant something in return like a drink or some food.

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.

Rowan Trees

Rowan Tree growing in the mountains near Beddgelert. (Click to enlarge.)

Rowan has long been known as a witches tree and for protection. Amusingly, it is used both by witches, and also to protect from witches; this often took the form of two sticks joined together with a red ribbon and hung over a doorway, or a branch with berries laid over the mantlepiece. Rowan was often used to protect animals; cows in their stable, or sheep jumping through a hoop at the beginning of May. Its energy qualities are light and air, and these are so strong that they can transform any darkness around them, hence the protection that follows. It certainly grows well in light and airy places, such as the sides of mountains, needing no shelter for itself but looking after other trees until they may stand alone.

Rowan is also known as the ‘quickening’ tree or Quickbeam, as its energy gives life to projects encouraging them on their way. Without a burst of energy, such as the rowan can provide, creative ideas are lost and do not manifest in the physical world, or projects are started but abandoned before being completed. I suspect I have Rowan to thank for the many things I actually manage to get finished and then write about here!

Rowan appears in many old myths and legends, being considered sacred in many different European cultures. This may have something to do with its colours, as red berries were powerful symbols of life and death. It may be because of this, or it may be its lightening and quickening properties, or it may be the flowers that were sometimes used for a visionary aid that have led it to be planted around ancient sites – such as the thickets that grow in Iceland. Rowan trees were sometimes planted in Britain on energy points instead of standing stones and in churchyards in Wales in place of yew.

Rowan trunk

So now I will return to the story I began last time, about meeting the dragon Fireball at a rather special rowan tree in Wales. This tree is growing half way up, or rather down (the direction we were walking) a mountain valley near Beddgelert. The first thing that struck me was its size; the trunk is beyond what I could get my arms around, which makes it the largest rowan tree I can remember seeing. So I stopped to spend a few minutes with it.

Rowan branch

Around the back was a branch that had been cut off at some point several years ago, and the tree had almost grown around the stump of the branch, another thing I don’t usually associate with rowan. And the third thing was a pool by the side of the tree, showing how it had grown so strongly, and also giving it a connection with other worlds in a way I might usually associate with willow or alder or occasionally oak but not rowan.

So I walked around the whole tree, stopping at a low branch to admire the bark, and who do I see but Fireball playing around the spaces between its branches. He didn’t seem to want to talk, just play, but told me I could travel here from my own rowan tree at home any time I wanted to. I suddenly understood what the concept ‘group soul’ means in practice: all rowan trees have the same basic core, which comes through in their teachings and wisdom, in their energies, but all are also connected at another level. While it is easier (for me at least) to connect with and talk to older trees, a young tree is still part of that bond and can link to the others if I make use of that link. The fact that I travel between oak trees regularly serves to emphasise to me at least how this applies to all tree species.

Rowan tree where I met Fireball, with pool to the left.

The second thing I learned while at the tree was the particular ‘feel’ of Rowan energy. I have sensed it through smelling the flowers, but since I have never come across a Rowan tree of this size before, I have never truly experienced its unique qualities. I would know it again anywhere now, even from a small tree, just like I can recognise the energy signature of oak when I can’t see one along with a few others I know fairly well (eg beech, hazel, apple, birch, willow, heather) when I make the effort to connect to them.

Later, I managed to ask Fireball about the tree, and the legends of Rowan trees and earth dragons, one supposedly marking or guarding the other. (I have read of the relationship both ways around, but I like having things confirmed for myself and explained in a way I can understand them.) However, I learned nothing about the legends on this occasion! (Well he is a fire dragon not an earth dragon…) But what I did learn was that he just loved the energies of the tree and loved playing in it, in the same way elementals played in trees or other places sometimes. He reminded me about the joy of playing, of feeling, of exchanging energies, and of a story I read long ago of a very psychic person ‘visiting’ some distant ancestors at a remote spot playing in the sea, who just liked playing and took energy from the waves, the sun. Being at one with them. Fireball has a relationship with Rowan, especially when in berry, while other elementals have relationships with different trees; each type of tree has its own friends who associate with it, like attracting like. He reminded me of the particular elementals of hazels, of birch and of oak that I have seen on rare occasions. They all work together and are happy to do so.

Yet Fireball is not an elemental. He has nothing to do with the growth or development of the tree. His only reason for being there, as far as I can tell, was in his role as teacher. To show me the place, and to help me become more aware, and to enjoy Just Being as well.

Stone Circles in Derbyshire

I have started a new project recently, one I have been cogitating since the start of the year. My aim is simple – to photograph and meditate at all the stone circles in Derbyshire. Needless to say, it gets more complicated from there!

The first question I looked at is why stone circles, and should I include anything else? Most stone circles can be reasonably dated to the Bronze Age from finds within the circles – but there are also huge numbers of other Bronze Age sites in Derbyshire which include cairns, burial mounds, carved stones etc as well as evidence of settlements. However, Derbyshire has been inhabited since at least the last ice age, with various pieces of evidence from limestone caves in the north of the county as well as near the river Trent in the south – and there are two older (Neolithic) henges, one of which (Arbor Low) also includes stones. Did any of these have an influence on the Bronze Age circles, and if so how? Then of course there are the later Iron Age hill forts, not to mention all the Roman roads and forts through which these circles have survived, and which the circles may have had some influence over. There are also other complications: some circles do not exist any more; some recorded as circles may have been ring cairns rather than stone circles; and there are also several standing stones, age generally unknown, which are even less clear in their purpose than stone circles but which are sometimes more dramatic than a circle with one small stone remaining.

So my first meditation was to answer these simple questions.

A circle, I realised, is something special. The energies flow in particular ways, it is very feminine in form, it is related to the circle witches cast, and it is healing in its centre. For some reason these are apparently all things I need right now. Many also have alignments to the sun at different times of the year following the larger cycles of our lives, so it would be good to visit them at their appropriate times if I can.

Stone Circles in Derbyshire

Stone Circles in Derbyshire, with rivers.
(Click to enlarge)

The beginnings of my map, shown here, includes 34 ancient circles, of which 8 destroyed (yellow) leaving 26 (green, darker for better preserved) to be found and photographed. Two of these are henges (double circles), one with stones and one without. There are also three modern circles (brown squares) to investigate – two apparently built new but using old rocks, the other entirely modern as a public space – to see if anything of a genuine ancient circle is created.

It is of interest to me how all the Derbyshire circles are concentrated in a small area mainly following the Derwent valley. They appear to be features of hilly areas where there are naturally rocky outcrops – yet sometimes the rocks were moved some distance from these outcrops. (There is no great concentration of stone circles just over the borders into Yorkshire, although there are larger numbers roughly following the Pennines north, as well as in other upland areas further west such as Cumbria, Wales and the South West. Very few stone circles exist in the East of Britain until you get to Northumberland and Scotland.)

Those known to be lost were possibly in more intensively farmed areas – whether there were more circles at one time is impossible to know, although my feelings are that it is unlikely since we would be talking about pre-enclosure days, when few would have worried about some rocks in the way of their sheep! What is more likely is that there were wooden circles built in lowland areas which simply would not have survived.

Saying Goodbye

This week I have been feeling sad as I say goodbye to a parent and toddler group I have been a member of almost since M was born. Now she is moving on to the next stage as she becomes more independent, and I find myself no longer belonging. It is not as if I will never see any of these people again, but we will meet at the gate as we collect our children, not spend a morning sitting, discussing, drinking herbal teas, and relaxing with no pressure from anyone to have to ‘be’ or ‘do’.

It is the first time in my life I have ever belonged to such a group of mutually supportive women. (Well, the occasional Dad has joined us…) It has been a very useful experience for me, as a socially awkward person, in learning how to talk to people beyond the initial meeting and discovering children are the only thing you have in common. I have watched others arrive stressed and leave happy; I have seen those who shy away from others and are easiest to engage in conversation in the garden; and watched those who ‘work’ the whole group every time they come and always make time for a chat with everyone present. Some even manage to do this smoothly and gracefully, excusing themselves politely to talk to another instead of breaking off mid-flow leaving me baffled by what I might have said to upset them. One or two simply bring an aura of calm with them, apparently needing no one but being generally friendly should anyone approach. The group often feels better just for their presence. And of course if any advice is needed, out of the 5-10 Mums present on any one day there will be someone who has experienced something similar.

However, I have become aware of how change seems to be allowed or even expected in children as they grow and develop, yet not in adults. Opinions are formed early on, and it can be hard to change these even if people have changed – as I would like to think I have. Yes, many people arrive stressed and a few months later turn into happy, relaxed, confident parents. But sometimes there is more than that. This has been a very formative time for me, continuing on from the previous few years of expanding my consciousness, and yet if I suggest I am not the same person I was 10 or 20 years ago, I am met with scepticism and non-belief. Luckily I have a few people I have known for many years who forgive my past mistakes and remain loyal, but I realise that in general it is easier to continue to change our friends to fit with who we are at each point in our development than it is to change our relationship with old friends. Moving on is required from time to time. To resist it would be the same as trying to resist any other change in our lives.

So I know it is the right thing to let go, and I feel confident that somehow, somewhere, I will meet a new group of people who fit with who I am going forwards from this point in time. (As well as those friends I will carry with me, or meet again at the school gate!) But I’m also realising I am glad that thanks to the approaching Winter Solstice I have a bit of time and space in the dark of the year before doing so, that I may properly acknowledge and mourn what has gone. Thanks to all you wonderful people who have given me an unconditional welcome, support and friendship over these early motherhood years. I’ll miss you!

Twisting Backwards

When I was a child I had a great deal of trouble learning to tie bows and bowlines. I did eventually learn, but mostly by doing it my own way in understanding the shape of the knot and the way it was formed rather than following rote instructions like “the rabbit goes up the hole, round the tree…” for a bowline. (A bowline can be made perfectly every time by knowing you have to tie a reef knot but come out the ‘wrong hole’ at the end, but most people don’t seem to do it this way.) Many years later I finally understood why I couldn’t follow the usual instructions – because I twizzle my spaghetti backwards.

This may seem a strange connection. However, if the hole is made backwards for the rabbit, it falls apart at the back of a tree. Similarly every time I tried to twizzle spaghetti, I could never follow instructions or hand guidance – and I eventually realised that I could naturally wanted to twizzle in the opposite direction to everyone else. Now I have discovered I swirl drink in my glass backwards to other people as well. (I am right handed but naturally swirl anti-clockwise.) I also have trouble doing anything with a screw thread the right way unless I work it out each time.

In times gone by, this would probably have marked me as a witch. They were probably right… I have noticed I naturally move around a space in a clockwise direction – which is great for casting a circle or building energies. Apparently over 90% of people who enter a shop turn to the right first – and shops are laid out with this in mind. By going clockwise this takes me to the left and usually gets me to the part of the shop I want much quicker, eg basics or underwear rather than expensive outfits, in the average department store. Even my supermarket wants me to turn right first, with the checkouts to the left!

Exploring this topic makes me wonder what left-handed people do, who were of course labeled as ‘sinister’ – meaning evil and threatening, while right-handers are supposedly the just, correct and proper way to be. I have been intrigued to discover left-handed pencil sharpeners and corkscrews exist…

Crafting Ceremonial Tools

Every witch or book on witchcraft will tell you that tools are not needed to direct energies or to do magic – it comes from within, and a finger can work just fine. (Is seven years as an active, circle-casting witch a record for still using a finger most of the time?)

The other great wisdom often quoted is that you can find tools anywhere, and they will feel right to you. Well I have looked many times, but none of the huge number of ‘witches tools’ offered for sale have ever felt right to me.

Tools I have looked for include a wand, a chalice, and an athame. I have acquired various knives for ceremonial cutting of plants or for whittling, dedicated several household objects I already had and loved for use in ceremony, such as a suitable bowl for water, plate for offerings, and candle holders, and even created an altar cloth, clothes and jewellery to wear. It was only in the last month or two however that I realised the best person to make the tools I want to use is me – so that they may be crafted in harmony with the natural materials around me, and full of the intentions of the use to which I wish to put them.

As with previous craftings, I am not going to show photographs of any finished items I use in ceremony. However here is my mostly finished athame I have been whittling out of a Prunus Pandora tree that is very special to me, and which had to be pruned this month. There were really too many side shoots for a perfect blade, but that is the way cherry grows. My first attempt was actually in Holly which was much smoother and more even, but just too hard for my knife to work. I may have kept it too long before starting, or it may simply not have been the right wood for me for this purpose. One day I may find something even better, but until then I am really enjoying using the cherry and it fits nicely in my hand.

Athame made from Cherry

Athame (not finished) made from Cherry

One of the side shoots left a hole in the handle, which I turned into the centre of a triple moon symbol; there will be some carving on the other side as well. I found it was an interesting wood to whittle, being a novice at this type of woodworking, quite hard but straight grained and with thicker bark than I anticipated. When freshly cut the bark was very pale and green inside, but on exposure to the air turned this richer brown colour. It is not the black of traditional athames, but is dark enough for me. I originally started making it as a single bladed knife, changing my mind as I realised a dagger shape would make better use of the hardest wood down the centre of the knife; the point is surprisingly hard and capable of cutting a candle should I wish. Also being symmetrical it has the advantage of directing energy straight down the centre line of the branch. However the blade will need some protection, such as oiling it, if I wish to dip it into liquids regularly. (I anticipate doing a bit more smoothing too, before it is declared finished and ready for consecrating!)

It occurs to me that a boline would be great fun to whittle, if I found a suitably curved branch of light-skinned ash or similar! Meanwhile I may look out for some wand material, and I’ve always wanted to carve a bowl in the shape of a leaf… The tool I use all the time though is a staff, which I really should complete one day! I have used a particular staff when journeying in the lower worlds ever since I found a hazel pole about five years ago. When I journey it is always complete, in ordinary reality it isn’t. And recently I have acquired a second staff for mainly upperworld journeys – which I am told I should use for ceremony as well. So I have two to make now! Watch this space, as they say…

Conscious Participation

I have been exploring the idea of conscious participation over the past few weeks, inspired by a comment I read from Laurie Cabot (Salem, Massachusetts witch and writer) suggesting there is no such thing as a passive observer; you are always a participant.

This makes a lot of sense to me, as the human influence can be seen working at every level: in quantum physics where light can behave as particles or as waves depending on which you are looking for; in mind experiments controlling where a ball falls; in dowsing where clear results come for anyone openminded enough to believe in the possibility – and frequently not working at all for people convinced it won’t.

At a group M and I enjoy, the person who runs it thanks everyone for being there at the end of each session. Not for coming, for being there. I found this odd the first time, that she should be thanking us rather than the other way around, but now recognise that she is acknowledging how each person’s presence influences the group and is welcome. I notice how I learn different things and have different experiences depending on who is there and how they are being, and it is frequently precisely whatever I am needing at the time.

In canoeing there is an often repeated phrase for swimmers (ie those who are unintentionally parted from their boat in whitewater) that they are not a victim, they are an active participant in whatever rescue is needed. I have been on both sides of this, rescuer and swimmer, many times, and know there is nothing to be gained except a feeling of helplessness if I don’t take an active part when needed. Sometimes that job is to observe, especially in a group situation, as signals might need to be passed up or down river. But passive observation it is not! Alternatively, even at the distance of a few years since I was last in a boat, for any rescue I can remember (and there are a few!) I can still picture every person who was there, even if they were merely passing along the footpath. Sometimes I made use of complete strangers, having to use intuition for who I could trust to help.

Similarly, in any situation of performing in front of an audience: musicians, actors, dancers, speech givers, and in every situation from concert halls and theatres to office boardrooms to the street, every person present or passing by is a participant if only they knew it! The most uninterested or bored observers will have an effect on the performance just as much as those clapping or cheering.

This is also true in witchcraft. I would never invite anyone to ‘observe’ a spell or healing I was doing, but if I felt their energies were positive might ask them to participate – the intentions of each person present and assisting will influence the outcome. After all, we ask the stars and planets to aid us in our magic, just as I am discovering many do in biodynamic gardening, which is a pretty subtle influence – as are other correspondences such as crystals or herbs used. But they can all add up to a very powerful whole.

So as this weekend was Beltane, I have of course been celebrating. Some folk might talk of ‘observing’ a festival – but this is not the pagan way. For several years now I have actively created a ritual at each Sabbat so that I may learn something from it. These are generally solo and thus fairly simple meditations and activities that I have used to give my life greater depth and meaning, connecting to the Earth as the seasons progress. However this weekend I have finally understood why many pagans talk (or write) of helping to keep the wheel of the year turning. It is not that it would stop without our efforts, (actually it might if Earth enters a higher state of consciousness, but that is a different story!) it is more that by actively participating in the celebration of the seasons, I become part of it too. By showing my love to each sign of Spring I add my consciousness. I am not a mere ‘audience’, I add my appreciation and encourage the flowers, the birds, the sheep and other field animals, the bees, the ladybirds, to greater efforts. I have become a co-creator with nature: an active participant, part of the turning wheel. That to me is something worthwhile.

Tree Stories 11 – Elder

Elder is now published on its own page, under Tree Stories or click here.

Elder tree

Elder tree

Technically Elder, Sambucus nigra, should probably be a shrub rather than a tree. It does have a bole where the roots and branches meet but it scarcely has a trunk, its branches are hollow, and it is currently classified as being in the Adoxacae family along with Moschatel. (Previously it was with honeysuckle and snowberry in the dipsacale or teasel family.) However Elder towers over most other shrubs and grows to the size of a small tree, so in folklore it is a tree.

The name is thought to come from the Anglo-Saxon aeld, fire, as its hollow sticks were used for encouraging a good blaze. They also called it ellaern, meaning hollow tree. Other names include Ellhorn and Bour (pipe) tree.

Elders like to grow in full sun and will romp away in a hedge overshadowing the hawthorn, but are also frequently found in damp shady areas of woodland forming part of the understory. It has a very strong life force and great powers of regeneration, being quite hard to remove should you wish to. However not much will grow under it so it is difficult to place in a garden.

A wide range of wildlife lives off elderflowers and berries, hence it will often grow near rabbit or badger setts after they have helped the seed along its way. Caterpillars also like the foliage. Elderberries can be mildly toxic to humans unless cooked, particularly if still unripe. Medicinally, however Elder is a very valuable tree. The berries and also the bark were used as a purgative, for rheumatism, or for colds and flu or sore throats and for asthma; breathing through a hollowed out stick was also a remedy for asthma. The leaves are good for bruises, sprains and strains or chilblains, or for insect repellant as a bunch to keep flies out of the kitchen or off horses, or soaked and the liquid used on the human body against midges. The flowers are good as a tonic or for epilepsy or sinusitis.

Other uses from the tree include: berry juice as a blue or purple dye, or for making wine, pies, jams, vinegar, chutney; flowers for sparkling wine or cordial, or in salads or cakes; bark for black dye, leaves for green; sticks for blowpipes, whistles, pegs, skewers, or making small whittlings; and the pith for fishing floats or to hold samples on microscope slides. The wood polishes up well when the bark is removed, and the bole is very dense.

In folklore elder was inhabited by the Elder Tree Mother, Hylde-moer, who needed to be appeased before any part of the tree was cut. She would haunt any timber from the tree, not necessarily in a good way, so making furniture from it was generally avoided. Witches were said to be able to turn into elder trees at will. However as protection elder was apparently great for driving away evil spirits or witchcraft, so branches were hung over doorways and buried in graves. Flutes made from elder were used to summon spirits, while twigs woven into a headdress are said to enable the wearer to see spirits. Alternatively they will undo evil magic; a necklace made from elder beads can also be used for protection. To have a self sown elder tree near your house was regarded as particularly auspicious, and they were often planted by bake ovens to keep the devil away. Fairies are said to particularly like the music from elder pipes or flutes, but it is generally advised to avoid sleeping under an elder tree unless you wish to be taken by them. Food left under elder trees overnight will be considered to belong to the fae.

To me the elder is a tree I have always been a little ambivalent towards, and the many contradictions in its character and uses are possibly the reason why. However, I then found a transcript of a conversation between an elder tree interpreted by Verena Stael von Holstein, and Wolfgang Weirauch, which showed me how the strength and spiritual gifts of this species come from precisely this contradictory nature. The many connections the Elder has with spirits and otherworld beings may not be entirely coincidental. As a witches tree, it is without parallel.

Elder Tree: “For human beings there are various paths to seek initiation into the world of spirit: firstly through thinking, clarity of thought; then the path which corresponds more to me is a path rooted in one’s own culture. … On the one hand such a person needs to be formed in a relatively gnarled way, but on the other hand he needs an unimpeded lightness – as you find in my timber. From the outside my wood looks completely gnarled, but inside I am almost cotton-like. As trees we need a harder exterior form, but within I’m the opposite of heaviness: a matter that is almost dissolving. This shows I’m a kind of connecting radiance between this world and the world of spirit. … This permeation with spirit informs my whole being and substance.
On the one hand my substance is very stable, on the other it is in dissolution. For instance, see the feathery quality of my pinnate leaves, through to the tips of each leaf, which are pointed and dentate, or toothed. Due to my transitional and gateway function, my leaves are flame shaped. In the flame you meet the world of spirit in tangible form.

A sulphurous quality comes through [the smell of my leaves.] The world of spirit does not necessarily smell very good for earthly senses. You would need to completely refashion your sense systems to really endure spirituality. If you want to develop your clairsentient faculties of smell, you can school your senses with the scent of crumbled elder leaf. On the other hand, my blossoms give of a fragrance that you probably find wonderful, which has an intoxicating effect and which you use to make sparkling wine. The scent serves at the same time as a warning not to get intoxicated.

As for the berries being poisonous when green and only edible when fully ripe:

Elder tree: “When you are still green you should not pass across to the other side, for then spirituality can endanger you. You first have to attain a certain soul maturity to cope with the full reality. The guardian of the threshold and I have a very close relationship. Wherever elder grows you can encounter your guardian.

Elder has a cleansing effect on the body. You can’t cross over the threshold in an impure state.

I belong to the cultural inheritance of northern Europe, and thus to the forces that come from the North and Teutonic cultures. I belong to people of the central European cultural epoch and their roots. … I am not so important to Asiatic peoples.”
Q: “There are said to have been times when people took off their hats as a mark of respect when passing an elder tree. Why did they do this?”
Tree: “Because they knew unconsciously that the place surrounding an elder tree is sacred. That’s why they removed their hats in the same way as going into church. At the same time people knew unconsciously that higher beings were connected with the elder tree, such as the guardian of the threshold, or Mother Holle, who is a fairytale image of the figure of the guardian.”

From: Nature Spirits of the Trees.

The strange thing to me is that I never liked the taste of elderberry, just the flowers, so I have most of a box of ‘medicinal’ tea on my shelf that I save for when I have a bad cough or cold. However, since writing this story and becoming closer to the tree, I have found I now rather enjoy it.

Ripening elder berries

Ripening elder berries

Collecting memories

It appears to be a fact of modern life that technology becomes obsolete by the time you have opened the box. Our computer is now over six years old, security updates are no longer automatic, websites don’t always work properly and films over an hour in length freeze up in the middle. It is time for a complete system clearout and software upgrade – so if there is no post from me next week, we are still rebuilding…

Just as I like to tidy a room every few years and clear out what has become ‘clutter’, I have spent the last week going through my computer files. It is amazing how many folders remain untouched since the last clearout, that may as well be moved into ‘Archive’. A few thousand emails have been deleted, while a handful of wonderful ones have now been stored in appropriate folders to make me smile again at some point in the future. Photos of nieces and nephews remind me of when they were small. Good wishes or news from friends who live overseas. Memories and video clips of canoeing trips.

I am reminded how those who have lost all their possessions treasure the personal, the photographs, the keepers of memory. As the reward for this process of clearance, I will have a new printer that can do colour, so that I may collect a few of the most treasured pictures into a book. Something tangible that may be worth rescuing. Am I crazy to fill my physical shelves as well as the computer files? Well probably, but which will M enjoy looking at in years to come? Also I expect there will be at least two more computer rebuilds before she becomes an adult…

There are other, more pagan- or possibly witch-specific uses for physical photographs as well. While I am not a great one for spells, especially those involving living people, using photos for connecting to recently deceased ancestors is much simpler than trying to get hold of relevant objects to represent them. I have had a frame for some time now waiting for pictures to be printed out and inserted so that it may stand on a side table.

It seems to me that human nature hasn’t changed much; for thousands of years we have painted our memories, first directly onto our walls, then on wood, leather, canvases or parchment. We may puzzle at the exact meaning today, but we still value the pictures. However just as we have hidden files in silicon crystal that may be accessed in the future, so did the ancients, in the form of quartz crystals. Meditating with a stone, or even a skull, can reveal all kinds of truths and memories that have been stored there.

Tree Stories 8 – Blackthorn

Blackthorn is now published on its own page; please use the link above.

Ripening Sloes

Ripening Sloes

There are many blackthorn bushes mixed into the hawthorn hedges around where I live, and some years I have picked the sloes for gin or syrup. They are best after the first frosts. Both can just be enjoyed as a drink, but are also good for coughs and sore throats. Blackthorn flowers and leaves can be helpful for depression, as well as a good general tonic. Birds also enjoy the berries. The flowers are a useful source of nectar and pollen for bees, while several butterfly and moth caterpillars enjoy the leaves.

The wood is particularly hard and dense, being traditionally used for cudgels, blasting sticks and Irish shillelaghs, as well as tool handles and walking sticks. It is very much associated with witches, with the thorns being considered ideal for spellwork such as piercing a wax poppet, although in past times it was the witch hunters who used it; blackthorn seems to be the tree most likely to be used by someone wishing to harm others. The Ogham name for blackthorn, Straif, strife in modern English, is a good descriptor for it. A hard tree to love, it nevertheless does a useful job of keeping cattle in the fields, and in some versions, keeping princes out of Sleeping Beauty’s castle becoming impenetrable to all except true love. Similarly Rapunzel, where the prince looses his eyes on blackthorn bushes, to have it restored by his true love’s tears. Those who hold onto their pain and anger rarely have an easy time with blackthorn and are likely to get scratched by thorns with a reputation for turning cuts septic.

More positive interpretations and uses of Blackthorn vary widely. Some use it for facing death, and it is usually associated with the dark Goddess, Morrigan or Cailleach. Others for piercing negative attitudes in themselves or others, and befriending it can bring understanding of what causes negativity in your life. Yet more use it for protection, either psychically or physically, or as a wand for a banishing spell. My own interpretation, for strength in times of adversity, covers most of these at a deep level.

The Blackthorn was traditionally followed by its sister tree Hawthorn when used for healing – gentling and bringing love where blackthorn has pricked the hidden sores.

Hag Stones

I have inadvertently started a collection of hag stones. Not intentionally, I just find them rather intriguing and can’t help picking them up…

There seems to be a long history of humans fascinated by natural holes. Large stones with holes in them, such as the Tolmen Stone on Dartmoor, have been used for people to pass through in initiations for thousands of years. If it is difficult to access, or dangerous to egress, so much the better. Caves have formed a similar purpose, particularly when it is possible to emerge somewhere other than where you entered.

Initiation by a stone works because it changes the consciousness of the person passing through. In shamanic journeying, it is usually necessary to find a natural hole to pass into different worlds; a hole you can physically pass through means you also take your body with you. A hag stone is a tolmen on a small scale, as only your consciousness may pass through. For this reason they can be a useful aid when you want to look at something in a different way, and I have used them for middle earth travel. This may be why they gained the reputation of being a way to see fairies.

Holes have also been thought to cure disease, or infertility. Where a holey stone of the right size cannot be found, then for cures trees were often used; these have the added benefit that the hole can be sealed up again by binding the tree back together and the time of spell is lengthened to include the regrowth of the tree.

The hole can be used as a doorway or portal even without passing through it, in order to draw or repel energy. For example, they can bring luck, or wealth, or protection, and banish misfortune, poverty or psychic attacks. Common places to find them in use are attached to fishing lines or nets, to keys, or as an amulet. They have also been used for divination, looking at the moon through the hole.

Here is my collection, found on various beaches around the British Isles. Most of the holes have probably been made by bi-valve molluscs to live in, when the stones were still attached to bedrock.

Hag stones

Hag stones

Garden Sculptures

Moonstruck Hares Sculpture

Moonstruck Hares Sculpture
(Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire)

I came across this wonderful garden sculpture last weekend, while doing “essential research” for planning the redesign of my garden. (This garden is a little bigger than mine however…) It consists of ten wooden hares, nine of which are mesmerised by a full wooden moon hanging in the tree above their heads.

The hare has inspired many legends thanks to its unusual behaviour, such as boxing which is apparently females boxing males to either prove their strength before mating, or else fend them off. Until relatively recently it was believed that hares were hermaphrodite and changed sex each month – as late as the nineteenth century valuations in Wales did not specify the sex of the animal unlike for cats, dogs, or any other farm animal. Hares do not mate for life, and do not have much of a family life. They are born fully furred and with eyes open, and can just about survive by themselves if they had to. Each leveret will have its own ‘form’ or nest for the mother to visit, constructed in some long grass to give shelter, so they learn to be independent and solitary from the start. It was said that hares can do superfoetation, that is be pregnant twice over, with each pregnancy at a different stage. Science has apparently yet to prove this one way or the other. However it is known that one doe can produce 42 leverets in a year, which is a pretty high fertility rate for a mammal.

They are often said to be shape-shifting witches in disguise, particularly during times when witches were feared. Their solitary nature, being active at night, and being unpredictable and illogical in most people’s minds rather than recognising their intuition led the two to be associated. In British mythology, the Goddess Eostre was said to change into a hare at the full moon, the hare was sacred to the Moon Goddess Andraste, Ceridwen changed into a hare, and Freya was attended by hares. Boudicca used hares for divination, releasing them before battle and seeing which way they ran.

Hares are closely associated with the Spring Equinox, as it is the one time of year when they are seen to gather in droves, for reasons not yet understood. It is also at this time they are seen to box, run in random directions or in circles, roll in the grass, and generally behave like ‘mad March hares’. In more recent times the relationship with Eostre is cited for a reason for celebrating them at the Equinox, and also because their sex brings balance, which is the key to the energies that surround us at that time. Like the moon, they symbolise resurrection as they go through the birth, growth, reproduction, death and rebirth cycle at great speed. Male hares can supposedly give birth, having got themselves pregnant, and they are even said by some to lay eggs, like the picture of the hare in the moon holding an egg. Some see the hare’s egg as a cosmic egg which contains the seeds for all life.

Equally interesting is the tree, which is a handkerchief tree, Davidia involucrata, which was in flower when I saw it. (The flowers were all a little high for photographing individually, and just past their best.) Also known as the Dove tree in its native China, a tree of peace, seed was brought back to England by EH Wilson in 1901. It is the sort of tree that still gets mentioned in the newspapers here when it flowers, because it takes several years to reach flowering size and is still considered to be a rare sight. It was never widespread and remains endangered in the wild.

Water Witching

The word ‘Dowsing’ covers several methods of tapping into knowledge that is usually beyond our conscious selves, using forked hazel sticks, metal rods, or pendulums made out of a variety of different materials. Dowsing can also cover a huge variety of outcomes, from finding things to divining, decision making or helping with health issues. However, one type of dowsing, that relating to water, has its own special name: water witching.

There is magic and mystique in finding that essential substance for life, water, where none is apparent on the surface of the earth. It would have been a vital skill for pioneers trying to settle in new countries, but not all could dowse for themselves. The fact the results are so visual and seem to come from nowhere only increases the intrigue to the uninitiated. I mostly use a pendulum, and rather than finding water (the convenience of being on the mains with relatively good water quality and taste negating the need for a well) I have dowsed to find stoppages or leaks.

We apparently have a leak at the moment. There is water in the road, starting about 20m down from our house, and they could hear water drawing from our mains. However, that bit of verge has been dug up before and proved to contain an old gas main that fills with water when the ground is saturated. It hasn’t stopped the water board digging up outside our wall, and providing us with much amusement as one man delivered the plastic signs and barriers, two others dug the hole, two more filled in the hole and we are still awaiting collection of the barriers… But the wetter soil on our side of the wall can almost certainly be explained by the change of geology at that point – it is well known locally that digging on our side gets clay, and the other side gets coal. We have known people move house just to cross the road. As for the leak, well it needs a bit more investigation, but given the water wasn’t turned off during their testing we have our suspicions. Time will tell if my dowsing proves correct.

However I am also put in mind how I discovered paganism and witchcraft as a living religion. I wanted to become a better dowser, and after various searches on the ‘net tried “water witch”. The website I found (on witches rather than dowsers) no longer exists, but I found my home that day, Imbolc as it turned out, and I have appreciative memories every time I dowse for water.

I am also celebrating this blog being one year old. To those who have followed me from the beginning, I hope your journey over the past year has been as enlightening, liberating, enjoyable, creative and fruitful as mine has been. Happiness is something that grows with each passing day, as I learn to dream and then honour those dreams. May you all be filled with light.

Blessed Be.
Sorrel.

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…

Rhythms of the Moon

It was a full moon this week – but so cloudy and wet for three nights that I missed seeing it. Much like the winter solstice really! Before M was born I particularly enjoyed having an evening walk at the full moon, seeing familiar countryside in a slightly different way. It is rare that I can do that at the moment, but it will come again and I may even have company in the future.

M is very good at moon spotting, not being hampered by any expectations of time of day or direction. I still get it wrong on occasion and look in the wrong place, although I am improving provided I don’t miss seeing it for too many days in a row. The waxing moon can be seen in the afternoons and evenings, following the sun’s path through the sky so that it rises where the sun rises and sets where the sun sets according to the time of year. The full moon I see in the evening only, while the waning moon is visible sometimes on late evenings or in the morning.

Many witch covens meet at the full moon; they are the Esbats of the pagan year. I have had times when I have celebrated esbats by myself, especially when I have wished to make changes in my life, and then periods when I have done very little. Some covens also celebrate new moons – because if you wish to start a new project there is no better time. To work with the rhythms of the moon will always be more powerful than to ignore what is around us, for it is subtle energies that must shift for the changes we wish to see. The simple rule I follow is that if you want something to increase, then let it increase with the waxing moon. Maximum power is at the full moon, while things you wish to loose are best lost with the waning moon. This rule works for gardening too, with seeds planted just before the full moon being the quickest to emerge in my experience, while pruning can be adjusted depending on whether you are trying to stimulate growth or restrain it.

January’s full moon is sometimes known as the Wolf Moon; it represents a time of frozen lands and hunger, when the pack and family relationships become all important to survival. This has certainly been important in my own life this year as the holiday season comes to a close – and various seasonal illnesses have meant we have all had to look after each other even more than usual. Unlike bears though, wolves don’t generally hibernate, they just hide out from the worst winter weather in their dens. People are very much like this!

Tree Stories 5 – Yew

Yew is now published on its own page – please use link above under ‘Tree Stories’.

Yew arils, last few remaining in December

Yew arils, last few remaining in December

My first encounters with yew as a witch did not go well. Yew did not wish to speak to me, and when I walked around a local graveyard, having visited the church first and enjoyed several faces peeking out from the stonework, I found a barrier. Yew did not wish me to go any further. I had never had trouble from a tree before, and when I tried to communicate with yew, on several occasions after that, it was closed to me.

I will admit, I was fascinated. I started to read about yew, to understand its nature better and see if I could approach yew on its terms. The first thing I discovered was the incredible age to which yew trees can live. Until relatively recently it was thought that they lived to about eight hundred years or so. Then came a study of a tree in a churchyard in Tandridge, Surrey, in the 1980s. The foundations are Saxon, and it was found that they were built around the tree’s roots, indicating that the tree was fully grown over a thousand years ago. It is now thought to be around 2,500 years old, but that is only an estimate. The Fortingall yew is thought to be the oldest yew tree in Britain, with current estimates being 3-8,000 years old. However the hollow trunks that older trees develop make it impossible to count rings, so no one can be sure.

Yews can be very slow growing, around an inch in 25 years in normal circumstances, creating a very dense hardwood. However they will regenerate by producing shoots or aerial roots from almost any part of the trunk, including the inside if it becomes hollow. They can also send up suckers to start new trunks, or even layer themselves where a branch touches the ground. Therefore the tree that you see might not be the ‘original’. In fact fossil yews 1,000,000 years old are virtually the same as those growing now.

Every part of a yew tree is poisonous except for the red flesh of the arils, a type of hollow berry open at the end. Few animals can eat yew leaves, although deer are one exception. For some years hedge clippings were collected by drug companies to make the cancer treatment paclitaxel. However it has now been realised that the active part is a fungus that lives on the yew, which is able to be grown in a laboratory. Hopefully this will reduce the cost of production over time.

In the middle ages, yew was considered to make the best longbows. This unfortunately led to the chopping down of many yew trees across England – which is why most remaining ancient yew trees are the churchyard yews, of which it is estimated 500 are older than the church next to them. Further destruction to mature yews occurred when there was a law passed in 1492 to require four longbows to be imported with every tonne of goods, which led to the devastation of yew trees across Europe.

Yew is believed by many to be Yggdrasil, the World Tree in Northern traditions, as it fits the description of an evergreen ‘needle-ash’ best. It is generally associated with higher knowledge and wisdom, and divination. I had not personally associated it with tarot cards until I began thinking about a story inspired by yew. However the darker side of tarot seemed to be what was wanted, and I definitely had to back off to write this one down! Rather than try to contrive something with the cards, after creating the characters and having a rough outline of the story, I asked for a tarot reading to use. I seemed to take on the character of Amy as I shuffled, and the cards that were dealt were exactly as used in the story. The particular deck I used is ‘The Sacred Circle Tarot’ by Anna Franklin and Paul Mason.

I have mentioned before that I had been collecting sticks from each of the trees in the ogham. (A project put on hold after M was born.) I was interested that once I made a connection with yew, within a week I found a suitable sized yew stick lying on the pavement below an overgrown yew hedge. However yew is sometimes used to make a whole ogham set, because its exceptional durability makes it a very potent wood for magical purposes; yew wands are also good for this reason.

To me the yew is not a tree of death, but of reincarnation and eternal life. Yews have been cut down when it was believed they were dying, yet that was only the end of their first incarnation.