A funeral for Summer, or how I celebrated Lughnasadh

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“The Little Witch” from Elves & Fairies by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1916)

I’m not a big fan of summer time, mostly because I get really tired and irritable in hot weather and I’m pasty white and burn easily. I need a constant cool breeze with my sunshine and a glass of Malibu and lemonade to go along with that thank you.

Scotland is known by most to be a dreich country, but we do get some lovely summer weather too. This season we’ve had an abundance of sunshine and a lack of rainfall but I know that’s all about to change when Autumn rolls in. The air will become crisp, there will be a scent of spice and wood smoke on the breeze, green will turn to russet, gold and copper. Then will come the early morning and evening mists and I will feel the sense of anticipation and excitement I usually do in the autumn, when you feel on the cusp of a new adventure, a new story about to unfold.

It will soon be time to go foraging, and there is a lovely crop of brambles beginning to ripen, the rowan trees becoming swollen with berries,the crab apples hanging off the boughs along with the deep purple jewels of elderberries waiting to be picked. I will be up to my elbows in jams and chutneys *happy sigh*

Myself and a few friends met up early to celebrate Lughnasadh, Some folk wait till the 1st Aug, some wait until the right astrological sign and others feel their way along with the seasons and by observing the signs of nature they decide when Lughnasadh is right for celebrating. We met up early because it was convenient for us to do so. Witches are nothing if not practical at times.

We walked up a nearby hill and heard a buzzard’s cry as it flew above, and saw a red squirrel scurry up a tree. I love those little guys, they’re so adorable and I’m happy to see them thriving there.  We walked through the trees till we found a nice little spot to celebrate, with enough shelter so passers by wouldn’t see us.

For me the ritual was as much about the death of summer as well as the welcoming of autumn and we celebrated in an old cemetery none the less. We first lay down offerings to the spirits of the land we stood upon, we made it known that we meant no harm or offence. Then we called upon our ancestors to be with us and bear witness. We honoured the spirit of the grain and named him John Barleycorn, we acknowledged his sacrifice when the grain was cut down, and in turn acknowledged the sacrifices we too have made and will make in our own lives in the days to come.

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I cast aside any self doubt, I sacrificed that part of me in the burning cauldron we encircled. I sacrificed my creative apathy, to encourage me to write more of the wonderful ideas I’d been having but for some reason could not muster up the drive to put down in writing. That will all change. The fire purifies and the fire destroys as it hungrily ate what fuel we gave it, the flames licking heavenward.

Then we acknowledged our new goals for the future, we wrote these on paper, and some committed these to the cauldron fire to help manifest their goals. I kept mine intact, so I could look at it each day and remind myself of my goals and dreams. Some goals are long term and they need to be carefully tended and lovingly nourished, a bit like growing a crop for next year’s harvest. Next Lughnasadh I will review my list and check what I have reaped, which goals survived the year and which ones fell to rot and that will tell me a lot about myself and what I’m willing to truly work hard for.

For guidance for the coming month we each pulled a rune stone from the bag, asking our ancestors to guide us, and I pulled out hagalaz. Not my favourite rune, I tend to associate it with crisis, destruction and difficult times ahead. Destruction isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some things need to be destroyed to make way for the new, and it’s fitting as it will help me break out of my creative apathy and get the drive to get things done.

The ritual came to an end, and the fire was extinguished and we laughed and chatted on the way back to my place where we feasted and laughed and chatted some more. There may have been some cackling involved too.

May your harvests be full of abundance and prosperity.

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Death to Summer! Let Autumn unfold, in hues of russet, copper and gold.

Slàinte mhor!

Addendum:

One of the lovely witches who took part also wrote a blog post about her experience :

http://ravayne04.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/lammas-sabbat-of-sacrifice/

Midsummer & Wildcrafting

It’s been a busy June month for me, I don’t know about you guys but I feel this summer season is just whizzing past and it won’t be long until it’s the knitwear and soup season of Autumn (which I’m looking forward to).

I’ve recently had one of my essays published in an anthology by Moon Books, called Witchcraft Today – 60 years on. The anthology is out to commemorate the 60 year anniversary of Gerald Gardner’s book Witchcraft Today. It was printed at a perfect time, as recently a blue plaque was placed at Gardner’s old home in Highcliffe to commemorate him as the father of modern witchcraft.  My wee essay is about how I took a step onto the path of witchcraft and where it has led me, so far. My journey from solitary to coven practice, which was the case at the time of writing though now I’m back to being solitary. I haven’t gotten through the whole book yet, as I’ve got a huge pile of things I still need to read, but there are some fascinating essays which have caught my eye 🙂

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A friend and I spent the full moon on Friday 13th June taking a pilgrimage up to a local hilltop cemetery, where we were sheltered by three tree spirits as we worked our rite. The heavens with impeccable timing opened up and thunder rumbled in the background –  the perfect background music to witchcraft, no? 😉 Well we got completely soaked, but it didn’t bother us. It worked well with the purpose of our rite and it reminded me of how much I loved being out in the rain as a kid.

 

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Then at midsummer I worked a solitary ritual then had a long walk outside to go foraging. There was tons of elderflower so I felt inspired to make some cordial this year. I’m a responsible forager, I make sure I never harvest more than around 10% so I leave plenty of the plant left for growth and to provide food for wildlife. I also make sure I ask permission and leave some sort of offering to the spirit of the plant. This time however I’d forgotten to bring the usual offerings, so I used what I had to give. A little bit of saliva on the bark, “some of me, for some of thee”.

 

Going foraging seems to be a great conversation starter with passers by wondering what you’re doing, and it delights me to see that they find it fascinating and never knew it could be so simple. I hope I have inspired them in some way.

 

I adapted the recipe from the River Cottage website: http://www.rivercottage.net/recipes/elderflower-cordial/ I used less sugar and only one lemon and one orange.  The next day I strained the brew then heated it in a pan and added the sugar and orange and lemon juices and then (carefully) poured into sterilised bottles. I couldn’t wait for it to cool so of course I had to sample some mixed with soda water, and it was truly beautiful, a perfect summery drink. I took some into work for my colleagues to try and it seemed to be a big hit with them too 🙂 I will be making more next summer.

 

 

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I hope you all had a wonderful midsummer 🙂

 

Slàinte mhath!

 

 

 

Witchcraft, wine and the spirit of Mandragora

The day had arrived, and I took a ritual bath to prepare myself. My home was cleansed with florida water and a burning stick of palo santo.

Some folks say that before taking any sort of entheogen you need to sort out any issues with ego and the subconscious first as you may be shown things you’ve been trying to avoid dealing with. My psyche was preparing itself throughout the week, bringing me dreams of previous issues I had not properly dealt with, and after such dreams I felt more at peace with myself.

We witches gathered at my home in preparation for the mandrake ritual using the ointment I purchased from Sarah Anne Lawless  http://sarahannelawless.com/.

The atmosphere was jovial and exciting, as friends laughed with each other.

The space was sained with blessed water and palo santo incense, and Wardruna played softly in the background (excellent music for ritual). We discussed expectations from the ointment. Three of us were going to try it, the other two to witness (and luckily, one of them is a nurse, so we knew we’d be in safe hands). Those two witches decided to imbibe some red wine instead.

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We three applied a pea sized amount of the mandrake ointment to begin with. We spent some time meditating and grounding, then each witch was sained with blessed water and palo santo. Incense and a candle were lit in offering to the spirit of the mandrake ointment. Then a thorny hedge circle was cast…

“Above and below. Around and about, good keep in, evil keep out”

 

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Palo santo, blessed water and my scrying mirror

 

The ancestors and guardian spirits were called in to the beat of the drum. I felt a mild effect from the mandrake, like a slight shift in perception, it felt a bit surreal. J commented it was like he was watching everything as though he weren’t fully present.

We drummed and chanted for a little while We are the flow and we are the ebb, we are the weavers, we are the web.” and I felt my energy levels rise. I noticed the difference in the other two, they were starting to loosen up more, whilst the two wine witches were jovial. We three decided to be brave and try another pea sized amount of mandrake ointment.

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We sent some healing to a friend, and got out the cards and scrying mirrors for divination. The visions seemed to come with very little effort and more than once a few of us picked up on the same answers as each other. We were all very much in tune, and we wanted to do more with the ritual than we had planned. We certainly had the energy for more! We decided to work on some of the fears holding us back. We used the drum to break up the fear energy within us, and we used laughter to help expel it’s hold on us. We gave our fears a voice. A very silly voice. A voice that’s funny and can’t be taken seriously. Each of us used that voice to air our fears and fell into fits of laughter.

It was time to wind the ritual down, and farewell and thanks were given to our ancestors and guardian spirits, then the thorny circle was dismantled and we were free to eat and drink! I prepared some non fatty snacks of oatcakes, ham and red onion chutney, some blueberries and strawberries and angel slice cakes (kinda non fatty…) and we fell on them, devouring like wolves. Rituals usually get folk hungry, but I had ate very little that day in preparation for using the ointment.

The wine flowed and so did some of the best conversation I’ve ever been part of. It seems that witches, wine and mandrake ointment create the perfect atmosphere for discussing philosophy, physics, religion and theosophy. In between jokes and bouts of laughter of course 😉 I wish I had recorded that conversation! No doubt there will be many more in future.

Sadly I had to say goodbye to my friends as it was getting late. I could have happily stayed up all night with them. We were all rather tipsy and merry and I’m glad the ritual was a success.

I washed the ointment off and drank a lot of water before bed. But I couldn’t sleep. The mandrake was giving me the energy to do stuff whilst my drunk wine-fuelled self wanted sleep. Sarah Anne Lawless mentions that one of the side effects of mandrake is blurred vision. My left eye blurred for a while, and my other eye was seeing everything more vividly. My sense of smell and hearing was heightened too. It took a few hours for body and mind to settle down and I managed some sleep.

It was a restless sleep filled with dreams, throwing up more things I need to deal with and purge from my psyche. Mandrake has taught me a lot in a short space of time.

I would also like to add that I am not using an entheogen as a shortcut. I agree it’s better to do the work yourself to get to an altered state of consciousness. I wanted to try the ointment to see how it would affect me and my practice. It is something I will try again in future, but the majority of the time I will be doing the hard work myself without an aid and I recommend the same to anyone reading this.

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh!

 

 

Adventures in the Undergrowth

 

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I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2.1.255-60)

Herbalism can seem like a daunting project to take on board, what with their being over 10,000 species in the world. However, you don’t need to know what thousands of herbs do. You don’t even need to know what a hundred herbs do. You’re most likely only going to use a small number of herbs regularly in your life anyway.

I don’t have a garden but I’ve found the best way to learn about herbs is to go outside and LOOK. See what’s growing on the land YOU live on. Don’t know what kind of plant it is? No problem.Take a photograph of it and research it online or with a reference book. Or even better, talk to the plant and ask it what it does. I would recommend not touching the plant, as some can irritate the skin and some are poisonous.

I get excited when I spot a herb I don’t know, and it’s not uncommon for me to dash up a muddy hillside to get a closer look at it. One minute you could be talking to me, the next I’m running up that hill before you’ve even noticed I’ve disappeared!

There’s nothing wrong in learning from herbal books alone, but it’s no comparison for doing your own field work. Also some books tend to focus on plants that aren’t native to your home soil. Walk throughout the land nearby you, through all seasons and you’ll soon be able to spot what certain herbs look like in their different stages of growth, and when the best time of year is to harvest them.

So get outside folks, get back in touch with the spirits of the land, remember your manners too –  herbs are living organisms after all – ask permission before taking any cuttings and never harvest more than 10% of a plant. It’s always nice to leave an offering too.

Over time you will have compiled a sizeable knowledge base of herbalism all by yourself 🙂

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The woods are lovely, dark and deep…

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“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.”

– Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, 1818

 

The sleepy Earth is awakening, and with it grows my need to get out into the green land. Dundee may be the fourth largest city in Scotland but luckily there are no shortage of green spaces here, there are plenty of woodlands and parks to access.

My witchy friend J and I wandered through Templeton Woods to draw in that green energy. Upon our arrival there we were greeted by a red squirrel at one of the feeders, but he disappeared before I could get a photo of him. We had both visited these woods a year before and what a difference! It was snowing last Spring Equinox:

 

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Templeton Woods, Spring Equinox 2013

It felt good to be outdoors, our feet treading the well worn paths through the woods, breathing in the crisp air and taking in the glorious sight of acres of giant trees sighing in the wind. And how does one describe the perfume of a woodland, except to say it smells like green and gold?

What do witches talk about in the woods? Well, witchcraft 😉 We discussed different ways to hedgecross and the shamanic version of journeying by using an opening in the earth, when we came across an uprooted birch tree – a perfect example of an opening in the earth for shamanic journeying/travelling.

 

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We talked about hoodoo and flying ointments (I hope to buy one of Sarah’s mandrake ointments in the near future – http://blackartsfoundry.com/ ) and workings each of us were considering doing in the near future. Sometimes a walk in the woods and a good witchy chat is all one needs to feel revitalised again.

As we walked deeper into the woods, the energy began to feel more untamed and less human. I remembered my manners and said a silent prayer to the spirit of the land to tell it we meant no harm.

The woodland floor was covered in a blanket of dead leaves and the skeletal bones of old trees. I was hoping to find the perfect branch for making a stang, but sadly I didn’t bring any cutting tools. I did find a mini stang which had a curious little face on it, but the branch had been weathered down and picked hollow by insects and I want a branch with a bit of life left in it.

On our way back to the car a deer jumped in front of our path and darted off in the dark heart of the woods. I only glimpsed it briefly, J got a better view and was enthralled.

The sun was setting and we continued our chat on the drive to get food at the witchiest of places… McDonalds lol. Then a stop at mine for tea and cream cakes and nostalgic chat about the most successful and absurd spells we cast in our youth. Some of them totally cringe worthy and ridiculous, I was definitely more than a bit fluffy back in the day. But hey we all start somewhere, no judgey 😉

I will be back in the woods as much as I can be, working with the genius loci and looking for my stang and just breathing in as much green and gold as possible.

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Templeton Woods, March 2014.

 

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh!

(Great health and every good blessing to you!)