A Solitary Solstice

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”

–Edith Sitwell

img_20161222_203035_770.jpg

Yule candle with foraged pine

I had intended to have a sociable December and meet with my like minded pagan friends, however the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley. I thought I was weathering the storms of life well, with the stress of moving house and unpacking and the grief of losing my brother, not to mention the stress of a full time job and university studies. But everything took it’s toll and I caught the cold virus from a colleague which brought my plans to a standstill. I hate getting sick, and this cold virus exhausted my energy. I did not have it in me to properly celebrate December’s supermoon the way I had intended.

I was meant to attend a friend’s Mōdraniht (Mothers Night) ritual and although physically I felt up to it, I knew it would be selfish of me to go and pass on this nasty virus to others, especially during the festive period. Who wants to be sick during the holidays? So I gave that a miss.

The Winter Solstice came and I did my ritual alone. Once again I was meant to be celebrating Yule with a friend but after warning her I still felt ill we decided it was best to meet another time.

I have my own witch’s workroom now and it’s taking shape the way I want it. I bought a lovely green tapestry of the world tree to hang up on the back wall. My frame drum hangs above my altar like a large full moon. I still need to properly lay out the ancestor shrine. I love having a large space to work in!

img_20161222_202807_677.jpg

On the night of the Winter Solstice I burned palo santo in my witch room. The smoke cleansing away anything negative. Cleansing the self, and pleasing the spirits. I sprinkled rose water and bathed my palms in it and anointed my crown, forehead, throat and heart. I grounded myself, my roots journeying deep into the rich black earth deep below.

I created a sacred space, calling forth my blood ancestors and the Mighty Dead, calling forth my spirits. I beat my drum to welcome each of them in, the sandalwood incense swirls around me burning as an offering. I lay down my drum and wait patiently, listening.

The messages come, they tell me things I already know but have neglected; that winter is a time for rest and I have been burning my candle at both ends. They tell me my projects can wait, that I must be patient and I must look within and reflect and conserve my energy. I am a part of nature and must take inspiration from the natural world. I give thanks for these words of wisdom and light the pine candle on the altar.

I light the candle for my brother, telling him he will never be forgotten and to let the candle light his way. A couple of friends requested some help so I light candles for them too, adding a few herbs for their needs. They burn bright and clear – a good sign.

I burn a small amount of mugwort and wormwood and breathe it in to aid me in seeing. I shuffled the deck asking for messages to come through and with each shuffle three cards fall out. The meanings come to me clearly and quickly and I write them down.

img_20161222_202153_887.jpg

I spend a few moments reflecting on what I have learned this night, and what this season means for me. Then it is time to give thanks to the spirits, the ancestors and the Mighty Dead, and I say farewell to the beat of my drum and close my sacred space.

I spend the rest of the evening having a solstice meal with my loving boyfriend, of homemade lentil and vegetable soup and some melted brie bites, sausage rolls, mulled wine and chocolate Yule log. So good! I take a meal and glass of wine up to my altar and place it there for the ancestors and spirits in thanks and let the candles on the altar burn down. The Cailleach received some stollen and a glass of bourbon.

A friend of mine posted a Yule gift which I remembered last thing and opened – “Skin Spirits” by Lupa which I can’t wait to read. I am lucky to have such good friends.

Then my boyfriend and I do some crafts, I finished off a wand I was working on by woodburning some symbols onto it, and sewing up a little red bag with leftover fabric. My stitching skills need some work but it’s coming along better.

After all the work I have done it’s time to relax. I reward myself with a cup of mulled wine and immerse myself in folk tales brought to life by watching Grimm.

***

May you be cosy and safe this winter. May your needs be met. May you always have food and drink and a safe place to rest your head ❤

slàinte mhath!

Advertisements

The Magic of Rowan

Rowan_berries_001.jpg

When the days were still as deith,

An’ I couldna see the kye,

Though I’d mebbe hear their breith

I’ the mist oot-bye;

When I’d mind the lang grey een

O’ the warlock by the hill,

And sit flegged, like a wean,

Gin a whaup cried shrill;

Though the hert wad dee in me

At a fitstep on the floor,

There was aye the rowan tree

Wi’ its airm across the door.”

– The Silver Bough, Volume 1, F. Marian McNeill

 

The magic of the rowan tree has enchanted me since childhood. It seems to be a tree which marks the end of summer and beginning of autumn, with its red jewels drooping towards the earth. I’d felt a pull towards this tree long before I knew anything about witchcraft. Perhaps a wee bit of ancestral memory was passed down, as this tree is very important in Scottish folklore.

The rowan, rodden, or mountain ash – ‘the mystic tree whose scarlet berries were the ambrosial food of the Tuatha de Danann’ – may still be seen growing hard by many of our cairns, stone circles and other sites of pagan worship. As a potent charm against witchcraft and evil spells, it was used in many forms about the homestead – in fact, an old Scots word for the cross-beam in the chimney is rantree, a form of rowan tree, o which, as a lucky wood, it was commonly made. Rowan wood was also used for the distaff, the churn-staff, the peg of the cow shackle, the pin of the plough or water-mill… a rowan tree was commonly planted at the door of the homestead to ‘keep the witches away’.

-The Silver Bough, Volume 1. F. Marian McNeill.

In Highland life, a family’s livestock was often their only source of food and money and rowan charms were used to protect animals from bewitchment and mishap.The rowan tree was also shaped in the form of an arch over the byre door to protect cows, and on Quarter days a wand of rowan was placed above the lintels of the house and out-houses and a twig carried in the pocket for protection. A tree was often planted near a gate or front door of the property.

cropped-14354985_10154626920067845_1897565896993320574_n.jpg

One of the most popular pieces of Scottish folk magic is the rowan tree and red thread. An auld rhyme states:

“Rowan tree and red threid, Gar the witches tyne their speed.”

Two twigs of rowan were shaped like a cross and tied together with red thread and this was carried on one’s person for protection from witches and evil spells, or the evil eye.

This practice has a long history, having been recorded by James VI who wrote about the use of rowan charms in his book Daemonologie 1597. He noted that people protected their cattle against the evil eye by “knitting roun trees or sundriest kind of herbes to the haire and tailes of the goods (animals)”.  It is likely this practice dates back much further than 16th century.

In 1709, Thomas Pennant recorded that,

“The farmers carefully preserve their cattle against witchcraft by placing boughs of the mountain ash and honeysuckle in their cows’ houses on the 2nd of May.”

This practice was also seen well into the 19th century in the north-east of Scotland.

Red thread was also used alone by Highland women as a charm tied around the finger or wrist. The colour red was associated with blood and life force and having protective qualities.  Women would also wear a string of rowan berries as necklace for protection.

20160920_210023.jpg

The rowan trees outside my home are heavy with lots of bright red berries and I had a dream that the first fall of snow will come early this winter. Folklore suggests that an abundance of berries on a tree can indicate an early and cold winter is on its way. The elder berries this year were very quickly gobbled up by the birds. The signs are telling me to buy a lot of thick woolly jumpers and cardigans! As much as I dislike the thought of a cold Scottish winter, I do feel it’s needed. Last year’s winter was too mild with little snowfall.

So, besides their mystical and folkloric properties, rowan berries were also used as a traditional medicine in Scotland. Mary Beith states in Healing Threads that,

A good gargle can be made from the berries by boiling them to a pulp, then they should be squeezed through muslin and strained for use. Whooping cough was relieved  with a decoction of apples and rowanberries sweetened with brown sugar. Lightfoot mentions that in Jura, ‘They use the juice of [the rowan] as an acid for punch”. (Rowan contains sorbic acid).

Rowan berries must never be eaten raw, because the acids in them can cause indigestion and lead to kidney damage. But heat treatment such as cooking, heat-drying and to a lesser extent freezing, neutralizes the acids making them benign.

Rowan Jelly

Ingredients: Rowan berries, apples, water, sugar.

“Gather your rowan berries when almost ripe. Remove the stalks and wash and drain the berries. Put them in a preserving-pan with enough cold water to float them well. Let them simmer for about forty minutes or until the water is red and the berries are quite soft. Strain off the juice, being careful not to press the fruit in the least. Measure the juice and return it to the pan. Add sugar in the proportion of a pound to each pint of juice. Boil rapidly for half and hour or until some of it sets quickly on a plate when cold. Skim it well, pour it into small pots and tie down quickly.

If you allow pound for pound of apple juice to rowan juice you will get a delightful jelly. Allow a pound of sugar to each pint of apple juice. Rowan jelly is an excellent accompaniment to grouse, venison and saddle of mutton.” 

– The Scots Kitchen, F. Marian McNeill.

 

cropped-img_269912.jpg

 

Slàinte mhath!

Sources:

The Silver Bough, Volume one – F. Marian McNeill

The Scots Kitchen – F. Marian McNeill

Healing Threads, Traditional medicines of the Highlands and Islands – Mary Beith.

Myth and Magic, Scotland’s Ancient Beliefs & Sacred Places – Joyce Miller

Mystical Scotland – Ann Lindsay Mitchell

Celebrating Imbolc

2016-02-02-21.59.54.jpg.jpeg

Bride’s cross

 

Last night I met up with my local pagan moot to celebrate Imbolc. Braving the harsh wind and rain from Storm Henry, we gathered and huddled inside the building clutching steaming cups of tea and coffee.

We gathered around the altar, gazing into the candle representing Bride’s hearth fire, with Bride in her bed overlooking our circle. A motley crew of pagans; among our party was a heathen, two animist folk witches, a green witch and a kemetic witch. Yet despite our different paths and beliefs we met common ground and came together to celebrate the season. We all took turns talking about what this time of year meant for us. For me it is as though I were a bear, slowly coming out of a spiritual hibernation. Winter makes me retreat, hermit-like and I store my energy inwards to help me focus on the mundane tasks at hand.

2016-02-02-21.45.39.jpg.jpeg

Bride in her bed

But as soon as Imbolc approaches I feel the need to go forth like a seedling bursting through the cold, damp soil towards the promise of the sun. The inner fires within me burn and rise, and I feel the aching need to get back into my craft and socialise, as well as plot and plan projects over springtime. Bride has come, and She renews us, giving us the vitality needed to break out of the lackluster winter darkness.

2016-02-02-22.06.17.jpg.jpeg

Moot Imbolc Altar

We cleansed ourselves with incense and blessed water with purifying herbs, using a bird’s foot as an aspergillum. We each lit a candle from the central hearth fire, and later snuffed it out to be relit, taking Bride’s fire into our homes. The moot co-ordinator Ffyona guided us through a seasonal meditation and I felt myself relaxing, sinker deeper and deeper into it, the imagery filling my senses. When it was done I felt like I’d woken up from a nice long nap. Using the energy we’d gathered, and the light from Bride’s hearth flame we sent out healing to loved ones and took some of the healing within us too.

Then after all the energy work, we laughed and chatted and feasted together 🙂

Although we were a small gathering this time round, I can attest to the success of our moot as I was one of the co-founders. The moot is now running in its fifth year and going strong.

A moot is only successful when it’s members contribute. So please folks, support your moots and gatherings. They are run by hard working volunteers with busy lives,  so although showing up to moots is great, perhaps you can also offer to lend a hand? If you have a skill, or a talent, put it to use 🙂 Moot co-ordinators don’t want to be running the show 24/7, the point of a moot is to create a safe community for members to get to know others of a like mind and for celebration, but also as a place of learning. We all have something we can contribute to the community.

2016-02-02-21.51.44.jpg.jpeg

My Imbolc celebration has turned into a two day event. This evening I relit my hearth flame from the candle I used at the moot to welcome Bride into the home, an offering of milk was placed on my altar and then I made some Bride’s crosses out of pipe cleaners.

2016-02-02-21.52.54.jpg.jpeg

I am looking forward most to the days lasting longer and can’t wait to get out foraging again when new things start popping up out of the soil.

2016-02-02-21.50.38.jpg.jpeg

Bride’s hearth flame

Wishing you all a very blessed Imbolc, Là Fhèill Brìghde and Candlemas.

slàinte mhath!

 

I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers

tumblr_mtkrrrpc9L1rkc8vvo1_500

Image from Tumblr

Well the referendum results did not go the way I hoped they would. Still on the positive side the whole experience has opened up the eyes of the people in Scotland. No more political apathy, people are giving a damn about their country and around me I see petitions being signed and people campaigning for change. It’s wonderful to see.

IMG_2617[1]

Autumn is finally here and it’s one of my favourite seasons. It took a little longer for the leaves to change this time around, but now there are reds, golds and coppers carpeting the ground like jewels. There are mists in the mornings and the scent of damp earth and wood smoke in the air. It makes me feel more alive and I see the change in people around me as I watch them come alive also.

IMG_2665[1]

Balgay Park

IMG_2652[1]

Mists over the Dundee Law

IMG_2668[1]

Birch tree with fungus like little fairy steps

I met up with a lovely witchy friend over a pumpkin spice latte and he gave me this amazing witchy box of goodies at a time when I was feeling a bit bleh. It cheered me up immensely.

IMG_2633[1]

He really did spoil me with this box of wonders. Inside was a box of chocolates, the wildwood tarot wrapped in a silk scarf, a jar of hedgerow chutney, a book on hedgerow cooking and a book of Scottish witches, some dried sprigs of rosemary, a piece of high john the conqueror root, coconut incense sticks and a handmade incense holder plus an autumnal woodwick candle.

I’ve been spending a lot of evenings wrapped up cosy listening to The Pierces new album Creation, reading books with the sounds of the woodwick candle crackling like a fire in the background and filling the room with the scent of spices. Everyone needs one of these candles. Magical.

IMG_2701[1]

Books books and books. I’ve got a stack of books on folklore, herbalism and the occult to get through this autumn (so I can buy more!). I’ve been addicted to the new Outlander show and started reading the books, currently on book four. James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser, mm mmm. That’s all I’m saying 😉

I was meant to be doing a beginners Scottish Gaelic class but sadly it was cancelled due to not enough numbers. Hopefully they will reschedule in February. I did some of the class last year so I know the basics, but in the mean time I will be working my way through Beag air Bheag on the BBC website, Learn Gaelic and old videos on Youtube of Speaking our Language. I’ve still got the lessons and audio clips from last year’s class so I will work my way through those too. I would love to be fluent and to do my spells and rituals in Gaelic.

I also plan to acquire more skill with knitting. So far I can cast on and do the knit stitch, but I’m not great at fixing my own mistakes or following patterns. So for now I think I will make a plain scarf with just the knit stitch. I’ve always wanted to make my own clothes. Tis the season for cosy knitwear after all.

Speaking of keeping cosy it’s been cold at the office at work so I’ve ordered these little beauties from HandsTime on Etsy so I can type and have cosy hands.

il_570xN.529816064_rbsl

I’ve not done nearly as much foraging as I intended this year but I did manage to get some rowan berries for charm making and elderberries for chutney. Both are in the freezer at the moment until I have all the necessary ingredients available. I’ve heard frozen elderberries are easier to remove from the stalk.

IMG_2699[1]

As for witchery, I’ve mostly been doing spontaneous magic using whatever I have to hand at the time and the results have been very quick, as it’s fuelled by the moment. But I’ve been meaning to get studying and practising more in a structured basis, so for October I’ll be doing one month of magic. Each week I will be going over topics and expanding my knowledge and experience of them. Week one is going over sigil work and energy work. Week two will be psychometry and palmistry, week three is glamours and hedgecrossing, week four is weather work and dream incubation. I’m looking forward to recording my experiences.

Samhain is approaching and I plan to celebrate it over a three day period from 30th -1st. On the day itself I will be in Edinburgh with friends at the Samhuinn Fire Festival, I can’t wait 😀

In the mean time I intend to read more books and  drink more of these

IMG_2641[1]

Pumpkin Spice Latte – I am so addicted to these right now. A mug of unbridled joy.

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh!

Beachcombing on a bonny day

On Saturday I took a short train trip to Carnoustie to visit one of the loveliest souls I know. For the sake of privacy I shall call her the Sea Witch.

The Sea Witch treated me to a delicious salmon and rocket salad for lunch (it was divine) and I bought us some cakes from the local bakery. Afterwards the Sea Witch, myself and her son took a wander down to the beach to collect some treasures. I’ve been determined to find my own hagstones as they seem to be given to me as gifts by other people (which I’m grateful for) but I personally feel for them to work for me it must be found by me. About 2 minutes into my search I came across one and some lovely pieces of sea glass.

Image

The tide was coming back in so we took a walk along the beach gathering whatever we were drawn to. I found a stone with moss inside it – into my bag it went. I found a piece of bone too but not sure what animal it came from. It was such a lovely day, perfect weather for beachcombing and it finally feels like it’s spring time.

Image

The Sea Witch treated me to tea and cake in her local cafe and I picked the pecan pie (perfection). Then we took a slow walk back to her home and stopped inside an old fashioned sweetie shop on the way, and of course like the big kids we are we just had to get some sweets and slushies to drink on the way back, giggling the rest of the way there.

We examined our found treasures and spent the rest of the afternoon talking about witchcraft and different modes of practice, and witchy plans for the future. I will be going to the Beltane Fire Festival  (eeeek can’t wait!) and then will be celebrating with the coven the day after as one of our members will be getting initiated 😀 This Beltane also marks the 3rd year I have been with the coven and my 2nd year after initiation and I can’t believe so much time has passed since then!

I’m looking forward to more beachcombing in future, I need more hagstones to make some charms with and looking forward to catching up with the Sea Witch again in her natural habitat 🙂

 

Image

My treasures

 

 

Witches & Wine

I’ve been somewhat of a hermit this past winter. I just wasn’t feeling the season at all, and as for socialising I just didn’t have the energy to do much of it.  I can be a solitary creature at times, I have my moments where I just need stillness and quiet and time to reflect.  I enjoyed my time in my hermitage though, mostly curled up watching TV shows or reading books and practising my craft inside where it’s warm.

But now I can feel spring in the air I want nothing more than to go outside and go on adventures, or to gather my friends close to me for laughter and good times. I’m tired of practising my witchery indoors, give me woodland and stone and sky and hills.

On Wednesday, I wore black. I cleansed the room with florida water and a burning palo santo stick, I burned incense to my ancestors and the atmospheric music of Wardruna played in the background.

That night some of my friends and fellow witches gathered in my home for an evening of getting creatively crafty, wine drinking, much needed laughter and divination. I’d arranged this night because my inner witch was needing some fun, after such a long winter. I think they needed it too.

We made our spell candles with rolled up beeswax, herbs and runes, and I tried a little embroidery and made a charm bag. I definitely need to work on my embroidery skills! I loved making my own candles, charging them with my intent so that they are ready to use at a moment’s notice.  I would like to try making candles from scratch too, especially 7 day jar candles.

L brought a delicious Chilean merlot for us to drink, and usually I can only drink sweet wines but this one was just beautiful. More wine please! *hic*

Some folk say you should only practice divination with a clear head and not under the influence of alcohol. I disagree. I’ve done some of my best tarot readings when I was a little tipsy. I don’t think being tipsy is necessary and I wouldn’t crack open a bottle whenever I wanted to read either. But I feel it can open the door a little bit wider. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, and sometimes our inhibitions talk away to us during readings causing us to doubt and second guess what we see. Please note I am not condoning alcohol use, use your own judgement in all things.

L also brought one of her oracle decks, and I pulled out the card “detatchment”. I think that card was speaking about my winter, my detachment from all things. A little dose of detachment can be healthy though, it never serves to become too invested in something. I walk a fine line when it comes to detachment and I’m still trying to find my balance.

I don’t need an oracle deck to predict that I will be having more witchy evenings like this in future 😉

Mar sin leibh an-dràsta!

Image

 

Image