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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

The Wheel Turns

This year has been a challenging one. It seems we’ve all had to face some battle and experienced some loss. It is The Dark Year as Sarah Anne Lawless put it.

My partner and I had been trying to find ways to live together. We both applied for numerous jobs so we could be together, and it was a year long struggle before we achieved it. It had been upsetting and frustrating when we thought we were stuck at square one. It was heartbreaking having to say goodbye at the end of each weekend. But finally he managed to get a job here, although that in itself was an annoyance; it took ages to finalise.

Then just before Samhain I received some bad news. My big brother had died. It was a complete shock to everyone. I hadn’t seen him in a number of years, life drifted us apart. But I always thought I’d see him again someday.  He had his demons, and he made bad choices in his life, but he was a good man with a kind heart. He never judged anyone, though plenty judged him. He had a great sense of humour and was always clowning around and making people laugh. He left behind his daughters and two grandchildren. My siblings and I are devastated beyond words.  I can’t believe we will never hear his laughter again.

His funeral service was lovely and we all gave him a great send off with a traditional Scottish bagpiper at his local church. Sometimes it takes a funeral to bring a family closer together, as terrible as that sounds it has been true in my case. My sisters and I are closer than we used to be, we’re making a better effort to communicate with each other. Now from my brother’s death I have also gained nieces. I hadn’t seen them since they were tiny children, and now they are all mostly grown up.

Then to add to the difficulty of this year, my partner and I moved into a new home and moving house is stressful enough in itself. I honestly don’t think I could have had the strength alone to see everything through. I am fortunate that I have the support of my partner, my family and my friends. They anchored me to reality.

For Samhain I had a small private ceremony. I carved a tumshie and my partner carved a pumpkin. I lit a candle for my ancestors, and for my big brother. I prayed that he would find peace. I prayed that he would be received by my Aunt and Nana in spirit, that they would care for him and comfort him.

 

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Rest well big brother, till we meet again.

Cha bhith a leithid ann tuilleadh 

 

 

Hear the Hag’s voice

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Tumshie lantern

This is a time of great transition for me as Samhain approaches, I will be leaving my home of 12 years to live in an much bigger home with my beloved. So begins the nightmare of packing up!

I laid out my decorations, it’s as much of a spiritual time for me as well as a time to get fun and festive. The skull lanterns and black candles are laid out, the pumpkin banner is stretched across the fireplace and I will be baking pumpkin spice loaf and carving tumshie and pumpkin lanterns. I just might write another blog post about my Samhain revelries.

I did a brief interview with BBC Radio Scotland Out of Doors programme, the link is below, and only keeps on iplayer for 30 days. I’m working on getting a more permanent link arranged on my blog. Skip to 1 hour and 11 mins to hear me:

BBC Radio Scotland Out of Doors

In the meantime folks be good to one another, hold your loved ones close and keep cosy this season.

Slàinte mhath!

Celebrating Imbolc

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bride’s hearth flame

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

slàinte mhath!

 

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/

Sabbats and the city

Being an urban witch ain’t easy

Bedpans and Broomsticks

When i used to live in the countryside, celebrating the sabbats in a ‘pagany way’ wasnt difficult.

Aberdeenshire-Where i grew up

My home was surrounded by fields, trees and oldie places. five minutes walk from my house was an old ice house in a glade of trees that we would play in as kids. It looked like a hobbit hill and was really dark inside and unfortunately its magickal appeal was destroyed by the fact that alot of the time it smelled of pee.

Ice House

Living in such a place meant that i could happily go walking through fields, and celebrate the seasons in privacy and solitude. I could even take my clothes off and lie in the sun without the worry of being seen. I disclosed my habits to my mum once who’s only response was ‘what if a randy farmer comes along?’. apparently my mum lives in…

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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!

 

 

 

Shetland Style Bannocks

For me, I can be weel content,

To eat my bannock on the bent,

And kitchen’t wi’ fresh air;

O’ lang kail I can mak’ a feast,

And cantily baud up my crest

And laugh at dishes rare.

 

– Allan Ramsay, 1686 – 1758,  Scottish Makar (poet).

 

In Scotland a bannock is a type of bread or cake, which can sometimes resemble a scone, a tea cake or an oatcake. The recipes differ in each region. It is essentially a type of round flat bread cut into wedges.

Historically, specially made bannocks were used in rituals to mark the changing gaelic seasons.  As F. Marian McNeill states in The Scots Kitchen:

Oatcakes, prepared in a special way were used from time immemorial, in the rites of Beltane (May 1st, O.S.). Pennant (1769) writes: “Everyone takes a cake of oatmeal, upon which are raised nine square knobs, each dedicated to some particular being, the supposed preserver of their flocks and herds, or to some particular animal, the real destroyer of them. Each person turns his face to the fire, breaks off a knob, and flinging it over his shoulder, says: “This I give to thee, preserve thou my horses; this to thee, preserve thou my sheep,” and so on. After that, they use the same ceremony to the noxious animals: “This I give to thee, O Fox, spare thou my lambs; this to thee, O Hooded Crow, this to thee O Eagle!”

 

The Beltane bannock appears to be the last survivor of the old Highland Quarter Cakes; the bonnach Bride, St. Bride’s bannock, baked for the first day of spring; the bonnach Bealltain, Beltane bannock, baked for the first day of summer; the bonnach Lunastain, Lammas bannock, baked for the first day of Autumn; and the bonnach Samhthain, Hallowmas bannock, baked for the first day of winter.

– F. Marian McNeill, The Scot’s Kitchen.

 

I decided to try my hand at making Shetland style bannocks which is made using flour, buttermilk, cream of tartar and baking powder. This little video is a good guide to making them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=It2CNB61Vng

 

I made quite a few as some were to be used as a food offering to my ancestors, a couple to the wee folk and then some for me 🙂 I don’t have a girdle (griddle) to cook them on so I just used a dry frying pan on a low heat. They turned out quite well 🙂

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Most bannocks are to be eaten as a savoury food, but I’m a heretic and slathered mine in strawberry jam 😀

 

Beltane Revelry: Mirth and Magick at the Beltane Fires

            Oh, do not tell the priest our plight, 
               Or he would call it a sin; 
            But--we have been out in the woods all night, 
                A-conjuring Summer in! 
            And we bring you good news by word of mouth -- 
                Good news for cattle and corn -- 
            Now is the Sun come up from the south, 
                With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn! 

- From A Tree Song by Rudyard Kipling

 

I travelled to Edinburgh on May’s Eve with two fellow witches to celebrate Beltane at the Beltane Fire Festival on Calton Hill. I was last there in 2009, and I couldn’t wait to be there again.

The Beltane Fire Festival of today is inspired by the ancient Gaelic festival marking the start of summer. The festival has been running since 1988 and now thousands of people attend it each year. The Beltane Fire Society also run a Samhuinn Fire Festival and I plan to attend that one later in the year.

Before the festival we stopped off at a nice little gothic pub called Jekyll & Hyde for dinner and drinks.

 

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It was raining heavily outside, not the ideal weather for an outdoor festival lasting over 3 hours. So we put our witchy minds together and using a simple pub table candle and our intent we spent a few moments focusing on dry weather. The bar maid was standing nearby and must have noticed what we were doing, but she didn’t bat an eyelid. Well, she was wearing a t-shirt that said “Book of Spells” on it, so who knows? We got the giggles afterwards and joked about being the power of three, and both me and J joked how the bar maid could be our fourth. Yeah, I think we can quote The Craft word for word 😉

We walked a little tipsily to the Beltane Fires, and lo and behold the rain had stopped. As we queued to get in I could feel the excitement building up in me. All sorts of people were here, old and young, of all races and genders and walks of life. We followed a line of petrol fueled flames and animal masks onto the hill.

We walked to the acropolis which was already surrounded by hundreds of people, so there was no way of getting close to the front. However we managed to position ourselves so we could at least see some of what was going on. The hunting horn sounded, and the neid fire was lit, then came the beat of the drums and I felt the hairs on my arms stand up and the feeling of joy and excitement wash over me.

 

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The May Queen’s procession had begun followed by dozens of blazing torches and we all scrambled to see her, and follow her procession line. The three of us linked arms so as to not lose each other in the crowd. We followed the torches and the drumbeats to a fiery archway guarded by a huge fearsome red dragon, who gave way to the May Queen. The lusty red spirits represent the embodiment of desire and they performed as the rest of the procession moved on ahead.

 

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We watched some of the dancers perform, some using fire poi and lots of drumming. Some of the dancers represented elementals and others resembled animalistic earth spirits. The May Queen had her white painted shieldmaidens to protect her on her procession. The red spirits seemed to be everywhere, performing, dancing, playing with the fire, building up the desires of the crowd. The story line goes that the Green Man is kidnapped by the reds before he can be wed to the May Queen.

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We caught up with the procession as the white shieldmaidens free the Green Man. But he must die first as he sheds the last of his winter self. The May Queen revives him, with the heart’s beat of the drums and the warmth of the flames, one, twice, third time is the charm. He springs up as his youthful self. He dances and rejoices with his new found vitality, and then he see’s her once more. His saviour. Then they dance together and she crowns him. They are reunited with a kiss.

 

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They both lead the procession to the lighting of the Beltane Bonfire to herald in the summer.

 

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We decided to leave after that as we were frozen and the rain had come back on again. It was such a perfect night, and I can still feel the beat of the drums. My photos aren’t so great but here is a link to the photos taken by the Beltane Fire Society.

I hope you all had a lovely Beltane,

 

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh!

 

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Links:

https://www.facebook.com/beltanefiresociety

http://beltanefiresociety.wordpress.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calton_Hill

 

It’s Spring! (I think)

Happy Spring Equinox/Ostara! 🙂

Hope you all have a great day whatever you choose to do.

I have a busy evening ahead of me. firstly I’ll be taking part in a march in the city centre against sexual violence towards women. This is to help raise awareness and I feel this is an important issue to educate others about.

Then I will be meeting with the coven to celebrate Ostara, which will be eggcellent (sorry! Lol) It’s a bit of a wet and windy day today so it doesn’t feel like Spring just yet, but there are flowers in bloom which are always a pleasure to see – I’m looking forward to warmer days though!

Over the coming week I plan to write more about Dundee – it’s folklore, history and magic. I would love to hear more from anyone reading my blog, so feel free to leave a comment and tell me a bit about yourself 🙂

Mar sin leat an-dràsta!

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