Monday, 30 November 2009

Making Presents

It's that time of year when I think of the presents I'm going to make for the winter solstice celebrations.
The idea is often a bit scary for some of my friends but I take great pleasure in thinking up new ways to send thanks / greetings / love to my friends and family.
I have had quite a few ideas this year (little first aid bags with Arnica, plasters, Rescue Remedy in / lanterns made of beautiful hand died paper ) but settled on rosemary and garlic infused olive oil for my friends, I've been saving bottles for a few weeks and have them all lined up in my kitchen ready to be filled, and cinnamon and orange flavoured shortbread biscuits for family. I trialed the idea last week and made star shaped biscuits and brushed them with a copper or gold edible sheen. They looked and tasted very nice so I will be busy making those about a week before the celebrations.
Last week I spent a day with my sister and daughter making rich aromatic mince meat. This is an annual activity that the women look forward to. We enjoyed a delicious home made soup and bread which my sister made and then put on some wonderful wassailing in the background and got to work adding the ingredients to our large bowls. The mix has to stand for 12 hours and then cook on a low heat for 3 so we took our mixtures to our own home and cooked them there.
We will make the first batch of mince pies on 1st December and eat them watching a Christmassy film or maybe tell some stories round the fire.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Pimms and Strawberries on the lawn

We celebrated the Solstice with Pimms and Strawberries on the lawn. It was a beautiful day and many old friends came to support and gossip.

Ruth, the hostess, kept an eye out for everyone's comfort and people relaxed and enjoyed the abundance that was there to share.

Later on that day when the guests had gone, Ruth and I went for a walk on the beach and thought about where we have got to and how things have moved on.

It was a lovely day and we have much to be thankful for.

Happy Solstice.

Monday, 15 June 2009


(21st June & 24th June)

In farming communities the summer was a time of hard work and toil to reap the benefits of the growing season. Long hours of work would be needed to weed and hoe all the crops. The sheep would have been sheared and the women would be busy spinning the wool. In England, after sundown, large bonfires would be lit on Midsummer Eve, which would provide light to the revellers and ward off evil spirits. Similar to the traditions at Beltaine people often jumped through the fires for good luck. In addition to these fires, the streets were lined with lanterns, and the people carried their own little lanterns as they wandered from one bonfire to another. Lighting the bonfires was known as ‘setting the watch’ while the wandering bands were called a ‘marching watch’. Often Morris dancers and other traditional players joined them.

The summer solstice is the high point of the sun when he is at his strongest, but it is also the day when he begins to weaken. Once again the year has turned and the great wheel goes on. The Druids would worship in their oak groves and the Old Ones would meet at the ancient monument at Avebury, in Wiltshire, the great sun temple of old.

At dawn the sun can be greeted from a hill facing east. Now the best of the summer will follow and we ask that the sun will bless the crops and give us a good harvest.

Summer Solstice was another excuse to deck the halls (although mainly over the front doors) with boughs of greenery. Five plants were thought to have special magical properties on this night: rue, roses, St. John’s wort, vervain and trefoil.

This was an important time for the faery folk who especially liked to go a riddling. Remember to wear your jacket inside out if you venture out on this fine summer night. If you get lost seek out one of the ‘ley lines’, the old straight tracks, until you get home. This will keep you safe, as will crossing a stream of living (running) water.

Puck. How now, spirit! whither wander you?
Fairy. Over hill over dale,
Through bush, through briar,
Over park, over pale,
Through flood, through fire,
I do wander every where,
Swifter than the moon√ęs sphere:
And I serve the Fairy Queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be,
In their gold coats spots you see:
Those be rubies, fairy favours:
In those freckles live their savours.
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits: I’ll be gone-
Our queen and all her elves come here anon.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
from ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare’ Cambridge University Press

This is the time of year to be out of doors, enjoying the sunshine (if it’s not a cold summer), the time for barbecues and beach parties. My friend Ruth celebrates this time of year by inviting friends round to a garden party. They have a beautiful garden and bring the food that she has prepared and the contributions from friends onto outdoor tables. Each year the guests try to outdo each other with sumptuous puddings and sweets. She prepares a Pimms cocktail in a large glass bowl and a fruit cocktail for those who don’t want alcohol. The tables overflow with strawberries and cream, salads and fresh fruit. The children all meet up and play together in the sunshine and as Ruth is lucky enough to live near a beach they can enjoy the beauty of a walk by the sea and give thanks for the energy and warmth of the sun and the power and life force of the water.


(May eve – 30th April)

Beltaine is the glorious season of rich growth when scarcity gives way to plenty and it is time to celebrate Mother Earth in all her gifts. May Day is the call to awaken. It is one of the great celebrations in Europe, celebrated from Ireland to Russia. Finally the winter is over and the cattle are sent to their summer pastures. In times past bonfires would smoulder and the cattle would be cleansed of ticks by being driven through a thick medicinal smoke of burning herbs. Since Beltaine got its name from its bonfires it is the perfect time to have one.

The month of May was always a time of relief in agricultural communities when it was possible to feel the warmth in the air. Young people were allowed out all night to hunt through the woods and coppices for the first branches of flowering hawthorn, and bring them back to decorate their homes. They would also collect the green of the sycamore tree, the wood traditionally used to make love spoons.

Here we go gathering knots of may,
Knots of may, knots of may,
Here we go gathering knots of may,
On a cold and frosty morning

As the month of May suggests it is the time to bring out the Maypole and join in the traditional dancing around it with ribbons. There is no real evidence that Maypole dancing was a Pagan or Celtic tradition. The Maypole dancing that we know today was brought to England by John Ruskin, a Victorian who ran a Teacher Training College. He had seen the dancing around a pole with ribbons in Italy, brought it back to England, and taught it to his teachers who then went out and taught it to school children. There may well have been May Day dances around a tree that had been decorated with the May branches. These may have been included with the May Day civic dances that were around in the 15th and 16th Centuries but the Puritans frowned on such happy behaviour, linking it with Pagan activities, and tried to put a stop to it. (You may like to find out more about the dances from the website )

Be that as it may, for many the maypole dance is still the symbol of this season, weaving and celebrating the sexuality of male and female together. For others the white maypole lifted high above the ground is the symbol of the white mare of Rhiannon/Aphrodite/Venus who rode onto the land from the ocean to teach us about the sacredness of love between two people. For others it is the weaving of summer warmth and good growth, fertilising the sun power from above with the nourishing earth power below. According to Marian Green in her book ‘A Calendar of Festivals’ dancing around the maypole represents the tidal patterns of energy being sent down from the sun and the unwinding shows how the power is returned to the sky in a cyclic and unending pattern.

Other rites at this time may include the jumping of the water. A narrow part of a stream can be used to jump over and give thanks for water and hope that there will be enough to feed the land and crops for the growing months. Some may like to jump the cauldron with another person for whom they wish to give thanks. Children love this ritual and jump with family, friends and loved ones, even favourite teddies have been included.

May Day rites also include the Holly and Oak Lords battling for the hand of the maiden who, after her mating, would become the Mother and bring forth the following spring. After this fight, when he is beaten, the Holly Lord retires with his hounds to the Wild Wood to rest until he is recalled at Samhaine. This would take place on May eve. In Cornwall they still tell of the various battles between dark and light, good and evil with Robin Hood, St George and the dragon, or St Michael. Some still have the crowning of the May Queen, a modern version of Maid Marian, the ancient White Lady who could change herself into a deer to hide in the forest, who brought healing water from the secret springs and who cared for all the wild creatures and the forest.

Trees have long been the centre of our celebrations. At this time it is good to decorate the May Tree representing the tree of life. Hang ribbons, flowers and eggshells saved from Eostar on the tree. You may have stayed up all night on May eve making things to decorate your tree (and yourself). Include lots of singing, games and dancing to welcome the summer. Also on May Day those who wanted to look after their skin would be out before sunrise, seeking a patch of dew to bathe their face and eyes.

Many weddings would take place at this time of year, the young couples pledging themselves for ‘a year and a day’. To seal their bond they would leap over a bonfire hand in hand. We have chosen this time to write a letter to someone we love or care about, to tell her or him how much s/he is appreciated. It may be someone you have been married to for some time and you wish to renew your vows or express things that you don’t often say, or it may be a daughter, son, parent or friend. It could even be someone you would like to know better. We have great fun with our letter writing, which we feel is something of a dying art. We use lovely bright coloured pens and illustrate the letters with drawings or pressed flowers. My daughter is especially fond of the scented pens that are available now. If we don’t get round to writing we try to say something special in a ‘phone call or when we see the person but a letter is very special so it is always worth making the effort.

Spend time out of doors, have picnics, play outdoor games, throw a ball round, play hoop and ball (throw a hoop and someone else try to throw a ball through it when it is in the air); all target games are good like archery for example. At this time of year, as at the others, it is an opportunity to let go of unwanted things in our lives. One way we have marked the season (as yet I’ve not done this with children but I don’t see why one shouldn’t) is to light a bonfire and ask the people who will attend to wear or bring something that represents a part of her or himself that s/he wishes to be rid of. They would then at an appropriate moment throw it on the fire, give thanks for the lesson it has taught them and then ask for a blessing on all that they wish for the summer months to come.

For the May Day is the great day
Sung along the old great track
And those who ancient lines did ley
Will heed this song that calls them back

Ian Anderson


(21st – 22nd March)
Primroses and violets stay with us from Imbolc and purple lupines line the mountains in the deserts of California. In the flowering seed sleeps the knowledge and promise of maturity. If the snow has gone we can see the fields greening and soon it will be time for the blackthorn to blossom and the delicate pinks and whites of the orchard blossoms to line our pathways. It is time to celebrate the equality of light and dark. In times gone by, as soon as the soil began to warm up and be workable the seed corn and barley would have been sown by hand. Among it would be the special ears of corn saved as the corn doll, symbol of the corn god sacrificed at harvest-tide.

This is the Vernal Equinox, and the season of spring reaches its apex, halfway through its journey from Imbolc to Beltaine. The Great Mother Goddess, who has returned to her virgin aspect at Imbolc, welcomes the young sun god’s embraces and conceives a child. The child will be born nine months from now, at the next Winter Solstice. (The old folk name for the Vernal Equinox is ‘Lady Day’).

With the lunar aspect of the Goddess we remember the descent of the Goddess into the Underworld for three days, the time when the moon is dark and hidden from our view. We can then celebrate the next full moon (the Eostar) when the Goddess returns from her sojourn into the Land of Death. For some this is the time to celebrate the Hand-fasting, a sacred marriage between Goddess and God, the ultimate Great Rite although the British custom is to transfer this to Beltaine, when the climate is more suited to outdoor celebrations! Though I have placed the telling of the Descent stories in Samhaine they also belong here with the ascent back to the Upper World at spring.

Easter was taken from the name of a Teutonic lunar Goddess, Eostre (from whom we also get the name of the female hormone, oestrogen). Eostar falls on the Vernal Equinox full moon. For some people there is confusion about dates at this time of year. Eostar is a lunar holiday, honouring a lunar Goddess, at the Vernal Full Moon. Eostar is reserved for the nearest festival. In our family we are not so specific and celebrate this season whenever we feel like enjoying some spring activities.

In her book ‘The Spiral Dance’ Starhawk talks of a basket of story eggs – each painted egg is taken out of the basket and a story is told. One of the eggs is painted half black and half gold to represent the balance of the equinox. In Ceisiwr Serith’s book ‘The Pagan Family’ he suggests the fun of an egg fight. Each person chooses an egg. Two people then face the small ends of their eggs towards each other. One of them hits the other’s egg with her own. When one person’s cracks, he turns his around and has another chance with the other side. (He does not say whether this is with raw eggs or hard-boiled!)

For several years my daughter and I (and any friends who had dropped in at the time) would take our bell sticks and go for a walk out along the wooded paths and as we went we would bang the ground with our sticks calling, “Wake up earth! Wake up earth!” and skip around to wake all the sleeping nature. It is a long time since we have felt able to pick the wild flowers that blossom at this time so we content ourselves with a wonderful spring walk and leave the flowers for others to enjoy. If we want to deck our home with primroses and violets and early daffodils we have to grow them ourselves.

We focus now on new life and the return of hope after a long winter and find ways to celebrate the emerging life. Following the cleaning of the home at Imbolc we like to invite friends round to batik eggs. This is a wonderful activity that we have done for several years. I was taught the traditional Ukrainian egg batik method from a friend, Helen, in Bedford nearly twenty years ago and for the last five years I have gathered together my friends, decorated eggs and shared food and gossip (the noble and much maligned art of news sharing).

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Spring Clean

At this time of year many people like to give their house a spring clean, especially when the sun lights up all the dusty corners.

I am often asked to clear homes of unwanted spiritual presences and so I put on my white clothes, take my bells and incense and tootle off to see what I can find lurking in the dust.

I treat the spirit beings I find in the same way as I treat my living clients. I listen to their story, find out what is keeping them bound to the place they seem to have become stuck and then help them on their way. It is interesting work and not at all scary as some people seem to think. Mostly the stories I pick up are rather sad but in the end it is OK.

Some people like to just clear their homes and make them feel clean and peaceful so I don't have to try to find any lost souls. The Spring Equinox is an excellent time to do this.

There have been some interesting cases in the past. Most presences will have been drawn by someone living but it is more often by compassion than anything sinister.

In one house I visited there was a young girl who had been the maid to a rather unpleasant master. She had been beaten and half her face was bruised and she had difficulty seeing out of one eye. She told me that she loved the sound of the bells from the church next door but the master would never allow her to go to church. I asked her why she was still there and she said that she still had work to do. I told her that she could watch what I was doing, as I went through my usual routine, and then I told her I would wash up and, when that was done, it would be finished and she was free to go. As I cleaned the room she told me a bit of her story and then left happily to join the rest of her family who were waiting for her.

While she had been there she had cried a lot and the present owners of the house mentioned that they had terrible damp in the house all down one side of the property. I never found out if the damp cleared up after my visit but I did hear that their daughter, who had never brought her friends into the house since they had moved there, brought two friends in that evening.
One home had a very sad little boy who had severe learning difficulties and had been locked in the room. Both the parents were doctors and, it would seem, had difficulty coping with the fact that their son wasn't perfect. Once I had cleared the room (which was difficult as the presence had some trouble communicating) the whole house felt lighter. I went round to each of the rooms in the house and cleared them. Later that week the owner's mother paid a visit and, without knowing what her daughter had had done, mentioned that the room seemed lighter.
House clearing is simple and very peaceful. If there is something/someone that the owner thinks is present then I just sit quietly in whichever room seems to be the most disturbed. Eventually I will pick up a story and the description of the person. I let them know that it is OK to leave and if it is acceptable then I clear the room. If it's not then I try to find out what will help. I clear the room by visualising a clear, light space then ring several bells, starting with a low singing bowl and ending with a very small, high pitched bell. If there is a presence in the room I put salt on the floor around the edges of the room, leaving a gap by the window. I then lead the presence out of the window into the light.

Thursday, 12 March 2009


February 2nd

At Imbolc, the Goddess returns, and the Earth rejoices as the might of winter loosens its grip on the land. In many areas white snowdrops can be seen nodding their bright heads above the melting snow and the brightly coloured crocuses lift their heads as Persephone steps on the frozen earth again after her long work underground. Life awakens as new lambs are born in sheltered pastures and Mother Nature is renewed, as she becomes the Maiden of Spring.

The Celtic name for this celebration is ‘Oimelc’, literally ‘ewes’ milk’, which would have been a vital part of the family’s nourishment at this starved time of year. It is also known as The Feast of Brigit, Candlemas and Groundhog’s day. For thousands of years, 40 days after the Winter Solstice has been a special festival sacred to women and at this time we celebrate the festival of the White Goddess Brigid, a celebration involving the women of the household (men joining in later). Before the advent of the written calendar, people relied on nature’s own calendar to show them when the Goddess had come back. In the northern hemisphere, spring arrives with the thaw. According to Paddy Slade in her book ‘Natural Magic’, in olden times farmers used to take their trousers off and sit on the ground at Imbolc to find out if it was warm enough to plough.

Together we have found different ways to celebrate the coming of spring and the thawing of the land. We made some beautiful white robes, my daughter’s was silver like the glittering snow, and we lit a large white candle to put in the centre of the table at meal times. We have taken a bowl of snow and lit a candle in the middle allowing the snow around it to gradually melt to represent the thaw; a table full of snowdrops, crocus and other available flowers (we prefer to use potted rather than cut flowers where possible); a meal served in a cauldron or a cauldron of water in the centre of the table. At the mealtime we ask each person what commitment they are going to make to the coming year. We try not to prepare for this part and see what spontaneous ideas come up. It is good to have something to work on as the year unfolds and it is also very important to work on loving yourself enough to help yourself stay committed. (We make a point of not allowing anyone to use this as an excuse to criticize her or himself if they can’t finish what they set out to achieve!) You may like to give out small candles to your friends and family to represent their hopes and wishes as spring gives us hope for the year, and, if you make candles, this is a good time of year to do so; they can then be blessed and, if you make enough, can last you for the whole year.

One of the nicest folk-customs still practiced in many countries is to place a lighted candle in every window of the house, beginning at sundown on Imbolc eve (February 1st), allowing them to continue burning until sunrise. Make sure they are safe and won’t catch the curtains or tip over, as sadly, the number of house fires has risen due to more people using candles for decoration with little thought or respect for the power of fire. What a wonderful sight to see so many windows lit up on such a dreary night.

This is the time of year to look for new beginnings. Sometimes it is hard to believe that warmth and light will ever come again! Go for walks and feel the season turning and see who can be the one to get the first sightings of snowdrops. Make sure all your Winter Solstice decorations are put away before Brigit comes. This is the time of year for giving thanks for all that we have had and seeing what we can give away. Invite your friends round for a pot-luck dinner, take something to a charity shop, make some craft things to put in a present drawer, give to charity or make a commitment to sponsor someone or something, get involved in a community project or spring clean your house and learn from the disciplines of Feng Shui how to best use the energies in your home space.

Sunday, 25 January 2009


When the Yule decorations come down the house looks a bit bare so I have put up a selection of snowflakes that I have collected over the years. One year Ruth and I made some paper snowflakes and hung them up in the window. Real snow started to fall the next day, gently drifting down behind our paper ones as we looked out of the window. It was quite magical.
At the Winter Solstice I hang my lovely suns to celebrate it's return. This will be replaced by a moon at Summer Solstice to represent the waning of the year. The sun in the picture is the glass one. I also have one made of tissue paper stuck on wood and the whole picture dyed in yellows. It is very beautiful and was made by a friend, Rae, who made it out of the paper sun she was given when she stayed with us over the Winter Solstice. We all got our little paper or wooden suns and she decided to make hers into a work of art and give it back to us the next year.
The sparkling ball you can see in the second picture was made by another friend who had the carved wooden ball in his collection of oddments (he has many). He was doodling one evening, painting the ball with some glitter sticks and decided that it was an ideal present for me. I liked it so much that I put it up last year and can't bear to put it away, so in the arrangement it stays, all year round. It does have a rather seasonless quality as it looks lovely with whatever arrangement I put in the grate.
It has been cold for the past few weeks and my cooking has become more and more comforting (lots of porridge and mashed potatoes, not together of course). This morning I made some apricot slices to have with steaming mugs of coffee or chocolate.
I used 12 ozs of dried, chopped apricots, the rind of a lime and a small amount of water (I started with 4 tablespoons).
I heated up the apricots, lime and water, adding more water if necessary, until they were soft.
I then melted 5ozs butter, added 6ozs wheat free flour, 2 ozs ground almonds, 6ozs oats and some honey and maple syrup to taste. I mixed these ingrediants together and then put half the amount into a square baking dish, pushing it down. I then spread the apricot mixture over that layer and added the rest of the oat mixture on top. Cook in the oven, gas 6 (or just over medium what ever you are using) and you have a very nice sweet nibble that will serve as a sweet or snack.
Hope you enjoyed your winter festivities. I'm off to enjoy another apricot slice.