Saturday, 27 December 2008

A Merry Solstice Tide

I have always only invited women friends to my Winter Solstice celebration. This is my particular decision and it has worked very well so far. We follow certain traditions that have grown over the years. We each bring a small present for everyone who comes and take it in turn to give them out. This can take a long time and is most enjoyable. The presents are small and simple and beautifully wrapped. While we are waiting for everyone to arrive we make a pile of the presents under the tree and a very attractive pile it is. By the time we have given and opened the presents it is time to eat. We always have a wonderful cheese board full of delicious cheeses and a bunch of grapes, savoury biscuits, a bowl of mixed dry roast vegetables that are like crisps but much tastier, and a hot chestnut and vegetable stew. We also have mulled wine and mulled apple juice or spiced berry juice. It is a wonderful feast. We share Tarot readings and listen to or join in some carol singing. We put fresh mistletoe up in place of the old and each person is given a small piece to take home.

Some ideas for things that can be bought for Solstice presents are night-lights, small candles, candle holders, tree ornaments, brooches, earrings, sweets, photographs, cakes, lanterns and any small seasonal thing that doesn't cost much. We encourage people to make their own and most people think of simple, beautiful things to make.


(21st or 22nd December)

As the nights grow longer and the air colder the atmosphere in our homes changes, we are less inclined to go out and we try to keep ourselves cosy with light, heat and warm, comforting food. The birth of a child has always been celebrated at this time of year, whether it was the return of the sun, the Star Child of Promise, Jesus, Dionysus, Attis, Mithras, all have been welcomed, celebrated and delighted in, giving us a real reason to rejoice.

Perhaps in earlier times, people would have been less sure than we are today that the sun would return, that the days would begin to get longer and the winter not cover the world with its frozen mantle. They might have put their effort into chants and spells to call back the sun until, by a few minutes a day, the nights would begin to shorten and the people could rejoice and the best of the stored foods be brought out, bonfires lit on the hilltops, decorations of greenery festoon the homes and gifts for the children be given and received. There were round dances, called 'carols', special songs and wild fragrance of holly, ivy and mistletoe to enrich this darker time. We love the heady smell of pine whenever we have a green tree in the house at this time of year.

Now make you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
Cold winter now is set to flight
The sun returns today,
To keep us all from dark and cold
He has not gone away,

O, tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy,
O, tidings of comfort and joy!

Now make you merry, ladies,
The dark is on the run,
For blessed light does now return
And so begins our fun,
Lets drink a cup of friendship here,
And then another one!

O, tidings …

Now make you merry, children,
A star returns this night,
For the dear Child of Promise
Gives us his gentle light,
To keep us all from dark and cold
There're presents warm and bright,

O, tidings …

Now to the Sun sing praises,
All you within this place,
And like a loving company
Each other now embrace,
The happy time of longer days
Is drawing on apace,

O, tidings …
(With thanks to Norman Isles)

In Starhawk’s book ‘The Spiral Dance’ she tells of the tradition to meet at the beach just before sunset on the eve of Winter Solstice. You can imagine the thrill of the wonderful atmosphere that must be built up as they build a fire and chant to gather their courage before jumping into a chilled ocean for cleansing. She tells of the all night vigil that follows, which leads to the meeting at dawn and the climb to the city’s hills and the chanting and drumming until the sun comes up (or until the mist grows light). The children have their own ritual in which they decorate round cookies to represent the sun. They receive gifts, tell stories and each child receives a red floating candle that they can light and let burn until morning.

Let us be inspired at this time of year to rejoice at the return of the sun and maybe our rejoicing will become our rituals that we look forward to when all else is dark. Winter Solstice is the time to gather together and celebrate; to be joyful and give thanks for all that is to come. This is the time to give and receive presents, to cook wonderful meals from the generous harvest and to be witness to the miracle of birth, new life and the constant turning of the seasonal cycle.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008


(Pronounced Sow-in)
(31st October)

Samhaine, or Halloween, marks the beginning and the end of the year when Mother Earth rests to gather her strength for the turning tides of nature, affirming rebirth in the midst of darkness. As the leaves begin to fall, and the nights are long, this is the time to gather together to hear the old stories. The Celts called it Samhaine, which means 'summer's end', according to their ancient two-fold division of the year, when summer ran from Beltaine to Samhaine and winter ran from Samhaine to Beltaine.

Samhaine was the time of the slaughter, and preservation in salt, of livestock for winter meat and for the selection of the fittest animals for future breeding. Some suggest an earlier explanation of Samhaine that refers to a time when the Shamans would enter the Realms of the Dead at the first frosts, to conduct the souls of the recently departed to their place of rest, and to bring back knowledge and enlightenment. Many of our myths reflect this image and are good to tell at this time of year when the nights draw in.

To those who celebrate this time, Samhaine is one of the four High Holidays, Greater Sabbats, or cross-quarter days. Because it is the most important holiday of the year, it is sometimes called 'THE Great Sabbat.' With such an important holiday, some people often hold two distinct celebrations. For some Samhaine is a time for one of the more serious rituals and children are not always invited, but adaptations can be made and children can be made welcome. Since my daughter has been old enough we have celebrated Samhaine with children.

Bobbing for apples is one activity popular at this time of year. This may well represent the remnants of a Pagan 'baptism' rite called a 'seining', according to some. The water-filled tub is a latter-day Cauldron of Regeneration, into which the novice's head is immersed. The custom of dressing in costume and 'trick-or-treating', not just by children, is of Celtic origin with survivals particularly strong in Scotland. In ancient times, roving bands would sing seasonal carols from house to house, making the tradition very similar to Yuletide wassailing.

In ancient time Samhaine was believed to be a time when the veil was thin between the world of the living and the world of the dead. The dead are our friends and family, our ancestors who gave us life. We call them our ‘beloved dead’. Death is a natural part of life and one of the gifts of the Goddess.

Samhaine is a time to look back over the year and count our blessings, the time to get out our photographs and put them in albums or on a wall display, the time to ask ‘what have we done for the garden?' 'What have we learned that helped us or made us happy?' This is the time when we clean our house from top to bottom to prepare for and welcome the ancestors. It might be good to visit the family graves and do some brass rubbings.

At this time of year we like to mark the festival with a gathering of friends around a fire - outdoors if weather permits. Here are some of the ideas I have used successfully: We sometimes use two candles to mark the passing of the year, a black one for the old year and white for the new. A simple way is to light the black candle and let it burn away completely. While this happens we write on pieces of paper anything that we do not want to take forward into the New Year with us; for example any negative thoughts or beliefs we might have, or anything we might have done that we wished we could do differently. We don't tell anyone what these are. We then throw them on the fire and let them burn. One of us will read something appropriate about the turning of the year or we will tell a seasonal story. When the candle has burned down we light the white candle and write on pieces of paper things that we want to take forward into the New Year. We keep these pieces of paper and take them home with us. Then it is time to eat together and share seasonal food and drink, for example apple and honey cakes, oatcakes and cider. Plenty of vegetables in a stew can be enjoyed and fruit salad to celebrate the harvest. One year our friend, Rae, asked us each to make a weaving of our experiences through the year. Those of us who remembered brought back a beautiful representation of our year and shared them with the group. They were far too beautiful to burn so they have been kept as a happy reminder of our Samhaine gathering.

Sunday, 2 November 2008


(22nd – 23rd September)

Now the days turn colder and we feel as though we need to build a warm nest and curl up in it even though we are not hibernating animals. The Autumnal Equinox is a time of balance when the days will begin to lose their power to the dominion of the night. We give thanks for the harvest and say goodbye to the strength of the sun. From now on the days will get shorter and preparations need to be made for the coming winter.

The harvest of the hedgerows is ready for picking; crab apple, blackberries (until the end of September), elderberries and rowan, rose hips, nuts, plums and sloes. What a good opportunity to gather the wild harvest and make preserves and potions for the months to come. A favourite of ours is sloe gin, and for the children the first blackberry pie is always a real treat.

Autumn can be a time for clearing out again, although in our house it tends to be a time for collecting dried leaves, conkers and nuts to make things and decorate the house with! One year we stayed with a Jewish friend of ours who told us of the wonders of mushroom picking. It is always good to use the seasons to help us clear the clutter that accumulates so easily – a neglected drawer or cupboard, unfinished projects and things that we will never complete. Let the season help you to be part of the great pattern, joining those who farm the land as we prepare for winter with an ordered and wholesome living space.

The birds are not forgotten either. Seeds can be collected to feed them through the barren months when food in the wild is hard to find.

This is a time for balancing games, for gatherings that remind us of the natural balance and interdependence of male and female. Autumn is also a time of gathering, not just the bounty of the countryside but of our own achievements.

In the other gardens

And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
the grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all,
Flowers in the summer
Fires in the fall!

‘Autumn Fires’ by Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, 16 September 2008


I got together with some friends this week to meditate for Transition Stroud. We are concerned about what is happening in the world and particularly aware that many prophesies have suggested that 2012 is a time of great change and unrest. We are calling the group a Dream Group, a sort of Grandmother's lodge, and will meet every week to hold the dream for the Transition movement.
The feeling we all got was that we need to let go and listen to the Earth.
While looking on the website for thoughts about 2012 I came across this, which seems to support what we are feeling. It was posted by Maria Kamaka Naakai Ts’ilsoose Yraceburu.

"This year I began translating our prophecies. Yesterday one was confirmed that is occurring NOW. What I need to share with all of you is that the Prophecy Keepers want you to know WE SPEND TOO MUCH TIME FOCUSED ON 2012. What will happen in 2012 is the ENDING OF WHAT BEGIN IN 1993 when we entered the Time of No Time… the “time in Earth Mother’s womb.” The Intersection of Time and Space when humanity’s consciousness would/has begun to open.
The Elders are concerned that once again we are not present for what is our task at hand. We are focused in the future, on something that will not take place unless we are focused on NOW.
Papa Reynolds Kamakawiwoole said two years ago, “The women walk first.” This out of the blue was a confirmation of what an Omaha Grandmother said many years before - “Women must find their spirituality first and then bring the men.”

Grandmother Vickie Downey of the Tewa said “What Mother Earth has to do to heal herself, we can help her and we can help ourselves. Think about her and ask for assistance for her, because whatever she goes through we go through.”
So many ask, what can we do? To this I say, do ritual and keep yourself aligned with Mother. She will tell you what to do. Give offering. Close your eyes and listen. Open your eyes and the next step is there. Take action. Then repeat the procedure… again and again. But stay NOW. Stop worrying about what is happening in 2012. 2012 is the ENDING OF THE GERMINATION PERIOD, not the beginning. The Grandmothers gather and the Star Rites of Initiation begin 12/08…. THIS YEAR. Ritual, always ritual. This is the way of the mother. And the Mother is who we are guardians for. Guardians of life for the future in the Now.

Remember… as you watch the Olympics… pray… because something is about to happen, and what was thought to be true, will be exposed as non reality. My family will gather in New Mexico to hold space and do ritual. The Hopi will be involved in their annual Snake Dance. All over the world the Prophecy keepers know that truth begins 8/8/08 and culminates in knowing by the Dragon Moon of 8/30. Fear is an illusion. Clarity comes from ritual and provides direction. And in all of this Earth First in all our decisions. Prophecy states, “War ends when the Mothers of Earth say No More.”

to read more

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Lammas Garden

Even though my garden is very small it is wonderful at this time of year. I even have enough growing in it to make some Winter Solstice presents. The lavender has blossomed and is attracting a few bees, which is comforting. I will make some little lavender bottles again this year.

I have also been making a most delicious and fragrant spice for my friends for winter. I often find I come up with ideas for Winter Solstice presents when everything is so abundant. Not that I grow my own spices. You can just about see some fennel growing in the garden but not enough to make these lovely curry spices.

The recipe is one I got from a friend many years ago.

Add a generous tablespoon of seeds from Cardamom pods, Sesame seeds, Cumin, Coriander, Cloves, Black Peppercorns, Allspice and Aniseed. Mix all the wonderful spices together and spread on a baking sheet. Cook in an oven on medium heat for half an hour and then keep in an airtight jar. I find it improves on keeping which is why I have made mine so early this year. I will keep it in large pots and then decorate some small yoghurt jars and put it in those for presents some time in November or December.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Where are the Butterflies?

Today, while walking, my brother noticed how beautiful and luscious the budlia is this year. He also missed the butterflies. Where are they? I looked at one website that says we should be worried.

I'm worried about the bees as well. Not sure whether it's mobile phones or killer viruses but I know that when I go for a walk I hear traffic rather than bird song and humming bees. Should we be worried? Yes, I think so.

Here's an idea or two. Walk rather than drive whenever you can. Use your mobile phone sparingly. Plant a wild life space in your garden. Eat more chocolate..... (well, mabe not the last one)

Thursday, 17 July 2008


One of my favourite times of year is LAMMAS or LUGHNASAD (Pronounced Lunassa)
(1st – 2nd August)

Lammas is the feast and celebration of the fruits and harvest of the life force. We greet Lammas with a mixture of sadness and thanksgiving as we celebrate the harvest of our work through the year and we recognise the solemnity of the death of John Barleycorn, the Lord of the Sun who, having given us his strength, is now cut down.

August would have been a time of harvesting barley oats and wheat. Lammas derives its name from the Old English “Hlafmas” or “loaf-mass” or in Scotland, Lughnasad, the Feast of the Celtic Sun God, Lugh who was the spirit of the growing corn. In Britain this was a time when as many people as possible were brought from their normal work and children from their schools to help with the harvesting. Today the holiday remains as Bank Holiday Monday. The last sheaf of corn would be woven into a Corn Dolly. This would be kept at home on the hearth or alter until next spring when the seeds would be sown again. The harvest season was, and to some extent still is, the most critical of the year.

This was also the traditional time of year for craft festivals. The medieval guilds would create elaborate displays of their wares, decorating their shops and themselves in bright colours and ribbons, marching in parades, and performing strange, ceremonial plays and dances for the entranced onlookers.

Lammas is also the feast of the first fruits. Depending on when the ‘first fruits’ are for you, celebrate this season with gathering them in.

As we don’t have a garden with our own crops to harvest my daughter and I often chose this time of year to go to ‘Pick-Your-Own’ farms and gather lots of luscious fruit and vegetables to eat raw, cook or preserve. We try out different recipes for bread and once made a large wheat sheaf shaped loaf for our local Unitarian group (a religious group which draws inspiration from many faiths). As both of us are allergic to wheat, coming up with good, wheat free recipes is not always easy but we have discovered some that make the results edible!

The sun is high, the days are long and hot (if we’re lucky in England), the wheat is golden and ready to be cut and we sit within our harvest reflecting on all that we have done and all that has grown as a result. It is a good time to reflect on what is good in our lives and celebrate those things. It is a good time to invite friends round and share wonderful, seasonal meals with all the glorious vegetables and fruits that are available at this time of year.

With the development of modern farming methods it is hard to imagine the reapers in the field, all in a line under a warm sky but maybe we can look at the rhythm in our lives and enjoy the natural cycle that produces such a harvest.

O three men they did come down from Kent
To plough for wheat and rye
And they made a vow and a solemn vow
John Barleycorn should die

O they ploughed in the furrow deep
Till the clods lay o’er his head
And these three men were rejoicing then
John Barleycorn was dead

They left him there for a week or so
And a shower of rain did fall
John Barleycorn sprung up again
And he proved them liars all

Then they hired men with sickles
To cut him off at the knee
And the worst of all they served Barleycorn
They served him barbarously

Then they hired men with pitchforks
To pitch him onto the load
And the worst of all they served Barleycorn
They bound him down with cord

Then they hired men with thrashels
To beat him high and low
They came smick-smack on poor Jack’s back
Till the flesh bled every blow

O the next they put him in the maltin’ kiln
Thinking to dry his bones
And the worst of all they served barleycorn
They crushed him between two stones

Then they put him into the mashing tub
Thinking to scald his tail
And the next thing they called Barleycorn
They called him home-brewed ale

So come put your wine into glasses
Your cider in tin-cans
But young Barleycorn in the old brown jug
For he proves the strongest man.