Friday, 28 October 2016

ThriftWitch: Getting The Most Out Of Your Pumpkin This Samhain



Oh yes, it's that time of year again. Whether you call it Samhain or Halloween, the shops are full of pumpkins just waiting to be carved into spooky Jack o'Lanterns. But is that all you normally do with yours? The young daughter of a friend of mine expressed shock when she heard me talking about cooking pumpkin recently. "But you can't eat them!" She declared. "They're poisonous, aren't they?" I was even more shocked than her; surely children know pumpkins are edible, don't they? Well evidently not. Presumably for some people they are just a Halloween decoration. What a waste! My inner ThriftWitch has decided this just won't do. So here is my list of suggestions, both culinary and magical, for getting the best possible value and most use out of your pumpkin this year.

Firstly, if you do want it as a Samhain/Halloween decoration, don't carve it too soon. Pumpkins really don't last very long once their protective tough outer layer has been cut, so for best results don't carve them more than 24 hours ahead of time. My friend's husband carved her a beautiful Jack o'Lantern that was a work of art - but unfortunately he did it a week before Samhain and it had turned to mush by the time it was needed. 

Keep all the flesh for your favourite recipes. Pumpkin pie is of course the classic dish, though I have to confess at this stage I'm not a fan (heresy, I know). But if you'd like to make a pumpkin pie just Google recipes and I'm sure you'll find something to tempt you. Personally, I usually make Pumpkin Soup, but you could also try converting the flesh into many other sweet or savoury dishes, or even chutney or pickle. If you like the soup idea, though you could try this:

Moonroot's Pumpkin Soup  
Scoop out the flesh of a pumpkin. Separate out the seeds and put to one side. Chop the flesh into chunks, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and chilli powder and roast at 180°C until it's soft and a little caramelised. Meanwhile, chop and fry an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic until soft. Sprinkle in some ground cumin and paprika, and perhaps some finely chopped ginger, saute for another 5 minutes and remove from the heat. When the pumpkin is cooked, add to the onion mixture, and pour in a tin of chopped tomatoes, a squirt of tomato puree and enough vegetable stock to cover. Simmer for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to blend, then whizz in a food processor to a smooth consistency. Check seasoning and adjust to taste. Just before serving stir in chopped fresh coriander leaves and a swirl of single cream or natural yogurt if liked. Enjoy!

What about the pumpkin seeds? Well they are delicious roasted, and it couldn't be simpler. 

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Just clean off as much of the stringy flesh as you can, give them a rinse and spread them out on a baking tray. Drizzle them with a little oil and soy sauce (give them a quick stir to ensure they're evenly coated, then spread them back out evenly). Roast for about 10 mins at 180°C. Allow to cool and enjoy with a nice cool glass of something.

What about magically? You could keep back a few of the washed, uncooked seeds and use a marker pen to inscribe them with runes to use for divination. Or choose a rune to symbolise what you want to draw into your life, inscribe it on a seed/some seeds and plant them in spring to 'grow' your desired outcome. Alternatively, you could inscribe what you want to be rid of on a spare seed or two and chuck them in the fire to burn it away!  And of course you can enchant your soup - or other pumpkin recipes - by murmuring spells and incantations over them as they cook, stirring in your wishes as you go. 

If you like you can also save a few seeds simply to try and grow next year's pumpkin. They do need a bit of room to sprawl, but if you can fit one in, try sowing the seed indoors in April, placing the flower pot or seed tray in a warm spot such as the airing cupboard. When it's germinated, keep it on a sunny windowsill and plant out when all danger of frost is past.  

Finally, when your Samhain ritual or Halloween party is over, put your carved pumpkin out in the garden. There are plenty of critters who will be glad of the chance to nibble it, and if you put it in an out of the way spot when the critters have finished it will decompose quickly, returning its goodness to the soil.

Samhain Blessings! 

Monday, 5 September 2016

Dendrophilous



I first noticed the signs of Ash Dieback Disease this summer in a young ash sapling at the back of the house. The twiggy ends of branches were losing leaves in the middle of summer; an unusual occurrence unless a tree is diseased or otherwise stressed - by drought for example. Soon, I noticed the same thing happening in other ash trees in the locality, large and small. Strangely although some seem very badly affected and have already lost all their leaves, others - for now - show only minimal damage and others seem completely untouched. I hope this means there is some degree of resistance to the fungus in the trees. Time will tell. It tears at my heart to think of all the ash trees in the landscape dying. I remember my parents and grandparents lamenting the tragedy of Dutch Elm Disease and the changes it had wrought in the landscape. It seems we have not learnt the lessons we should have from that disaster. 

*****
I love trees. A wooded landscape is my favourite place to be. I spent my childhood in a small Essex village with large gardens and an orchard of apple trees to roam in. The orchard was a magical place to me. I wandered under the twisty old trees looking for fairies and teaching myself the names of wildflowers, snacking on windfalls and blackberries. I climbed into the friendly, spreading branches of the apple trees which held me kindly, giving me a sense of daring and security at the same time. The apple trees seemed like a group of benevolent, grandmotherly beings who fed me with their fruit and soothed me with their tranquil presence. 

All trees in fact seemed to me to have their own personalities. The big oaks at the edge of the orchard were aloof, yet protective in their own way. The rowan tree outside my grandmother's kitchen was a quixotic, magical being akin to a good fairy. The twin hawthorns at the front of Nanna and Granddad's house a pair of gruffly good-natured gnomic characters. The tall, graceful ash tree in our front garden was a totemic family guardian. Later, as a teenager, a particular beech tree - serene and non judgemental - became my confidante, as I sat with my back against its smooth bark pouring out my adolescent woes. 

The trees that surrounded me as a child were my friends, and when Dad and Granddad decided to cut some down I begged them not to and cried so hard that they relented and the trees were saved.

*****

One evening, years later I was over at my parent's house - the house I had grown up in, next to my grandparent's house and the orchard. The family - my Mum and Dad, Granddad, brother and sister and assorted partners were gathered in the lounge chatting cosily. I went out to the kitchen to get a glass of water when I suddenly felt a strange urge to go out into the garden. It was winter, it was dark and cold, and yet I felt a strong pull to go outside into the night air. Shrugging on my coat, I unlocked the back door and stepped quietly out into the chilly air. It was a clear night with enough of a moon for me to see my way without a torch. Following the little voice inside I crossed into my Grandparents' garden. The night was still and silent, not a breath of wind. And yet laid before me like a slain warrior was the fallen body of one of the apple trees, its trunk and branches silvered by moonlight. This was the apple tree in whose branches Granddad had built a treehouse for us. I remembered climbing up there on the day I left primary school and whispering the news of this rite of passage to the tree, trying to make sense of how I felt about this momentous occasion. I remembered playing up there with my sister and brother. I remembered sitting up there in the shade on a hot summer's day reading a book. 

I brushed the branches with my hand, felt a tear slide down my face. The tree was old but had shown no sign of dying. Yet something - honey fungus? - had been eating away at its roots and tonight, quietly, finally, in the still night air it had fallen, giving up its hold on life. I blessed the tree, thanked it for it's friendship and fruit. I bade it farewell and returned to the company of my family feeling sad, yet somehow peaceful. How had I known? There had been no sign, no sound, no reason for me to go out into the garden at night. And yet somehow the tree had called to me, had wanted to say goodbye. I was glad I was there at the right time and place.

*****

Other trees have called to me, offered friendship to me over the years. The cathedral-like grove of cedars planted at the windward side of Halfway Up A Hill as a windbreak. The silver birch T and I planted on our son Peter's ashes as a memorial. The great beech trees at the top of the hill, which sang to me on the day of my initiation. The weeping silver birch under which my Welsh grandmother used to hide gifts for us when we were children. The rowan tree I am nurturing in a pot to be a friendly fairy outside my kitchen, just like the one my Nanna had. 

I love the trees surrounding my home. I pray for the health of the ash trees, hope they will weather the coming storms. I breathe in the oxygen gifted me by the trees, and gift them with the carbon dioxide of my exhaled breath. May we live together in symbiosis and friendship. Bless the trees.


Sunday, 22 May 2016

When Life Gets In The Way




I love Beltane, it's one of my favourite festivals. For one thing it's such a beautiful time of year here in the UK. For another, I like the way Beltane and Samhain balance and complement each other, doorways into Summer and Winter respectively. In years past, I would make a special effort to rise before sunrise on Beltane morning, going out into the pre-dawn darkness to experience the gradual lightening of the sky, the first tentative birdsong swelling into a glorious dawn chorus, the magical dew-soaked, mist-wreathed, blossom-scented break of day. As the sun rose I'd wash my face in the Beltane dew then cut some sprays of hawthorn (may) flowers and tie them to my front door with a red ribbon as a token of welcome to summer. And then, cold and dew-drenched and exhilarated I'd tiptoe back into the house and creep back into bed for a couple of hours more sleep before the alarm went off.

Later in the day I would do a ritual to celebrate Beltane. Sometimes alone - a simple blessing, or meditation or trip to the bluebell woods - and sometimes with fellow Pagans marking the occasion by dancing the maypole or leaping the bonfire or simply making merry.

This year, I did not get up early to greet the dawn and bring in the may. Nor did I meditate or dance or celebrate in any way. I noted the date and gave brief, regretful thought to the days when it wasn't totally impractical for me to get up before dawn to wander in wet grass listening to birdsong and picking flowers. A long, tiring week of work meant I just didn't have the energy to get up in the middle of the night. I needed all the sleep I could cram in. A local Pagan group invited me to their Beltane celebration, but I couldn't go as I was working. The Monday after Beltane was a Bank Holiday and we discussed the possibility of combining a working party (on a friend's garden) with a celebratory bonfire and combined garden/Beltane blessing but in the end it rained and my friend was ill, so those plans were abandoned too. And that was my 2016 Beltane.

I imagine it is that way for many of us. Life gets in the way, as we say. And paradoxically, that is not necessarily a bad thing. After all at Beltane, as the natural world is springing into the full fecund glory of summer what are we celebrating if not life? Yes, it would be lovely to celebrate with flowers and singing and rainbow-ribbon bedecked maypoles, but if that just isn't possible I don't think we should be beating ourselves up. 

Celebrating the Wheel of the Year is important work, in the sense that it connects us to the changing world around us and keeps us in relation with the Earth and the web of life around us. And yet that can be done in a million tiny ways, as well as observing the eight big festivals of the Pagan Year. I celebrate this time of year by rejoicing at the returning swallows, sniffing the faery-scent of bluebells, wearing my favourite summer dress for the first time of the year, loving the sight of mayflowers in the hedgerow and apple-blossom in the orchard, eating fresh locally-grown asparagus... Mindfulness is the key. Any of these things becomes special, sacred, celebratory when it is done mindfully. Even work, household chores, family obligations can be re-framed this way. We work because we need the money to feed, house, clothe ourselves. In so doing we are exercising self-care, honouring our own lives and those of our dependants. Household chores keep our living spaces clean, pleasant, sustainable, marking our place in the world and how we choose to live in it. Family obligations - be they childcare, elder care or simply cooking the evening meal for those who share our lives - are the glue of community that holds us in relationship with our ancestors and descendants, small yet immensely important acts of love and care for our loved ones. Sacred work indeed. 

Nor do I believe that our deities would judge us for missing out on celebrating festivals when we are overwhelmed by our other commitments. They know even better than us of our frailties and struggles. A tiny murmured prayer before falling into exhausted sleep is as valid as a big, elaborate ritual when that is all that your time and energy levels will allow. What matters is that you are giving to the best of your ability at the time. As long as we treat our deities with respect and love, I do not believe we incur their wrath or disappointment. 

Perhaps next year, my circumstances will allow me to mark Beltane with a ritual. Perhaps not. But even if I am over-committed and exhausted next year too, I will still note the date and the turning of the Wheel. I will still watch the swallows and feel joy, observe the beauty of the bluebells and mayflowers and apple-blossom, enjoy the sensation of sun on my bare arms, and rejoice in the return of summer. When 'life gets in the way', don't use that fact to beat yourself up. Celebrate instead that you have a life, that you are here and now in this beautiful world experiencing it and all its unpredictable and messy entanglements. Experience life mindfully and it becomes a celebration of itself.








Friday, 15 April 2016

Faery-sighted




This morning the sun turned the hillside to magic, dew-shimmered gold. 

Clear, pale light stroked the smooth, bare limbs of trees; lengthened shadows in the secret hollows.

Celandines and windflowers smiled joy from the roadside.

A wren sang fierce beauty outside my window.

A lone first swallow swept overhead and away into possibility, leaving behind a splash of early bluebells. Soon a flood of them will pool the woodland floor, seep along the hedgerow.

Today I am faery-sighted, and my heart sings the song of the awakening earth.



Monday, 29 February 2016

Spirits of The Land Workshop



I am very pleased to announce that I will be co-teaching a workshop with the wonderful Halo Quin in June. It is called 'Spirits of the Land'. Click on the link below for full details.

"Join us in the wild hills of West Wales for a day of magic!

Working with the spirits of the land and the stories of Pwyll, Arawn and Rhiannon we will delve deeply into working with the Spirits of the Land and developing our own practices for building and deepening our relationship with those spirits and powers.

This one-day event is in the tradition of Reclaiming Witchcraft in which we often honour the “Spirits of Place” or the “Spirits of the Land”, so in this workshop we will explore what this means and ways in which we can recognise and honour those spirits who graciously allow us to work our magic in their homes, and who support us as we do.

BOOKING ESSENTIAL - Limited places available!
More details to be found here: http://haloquin.net/workshops/


Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Views Through Different Windows, or The Blessings of Blogging




I started this blog in 2007 just after Imbolc, so it is now 9 years old. How time flies! I'm not really sure why I started. Several of my friends were blogging and it looked like fun. Also, I had always wanted to write and I thought it may be a relatively pain-free way of getting feedback on my writing. 

It turned out it was, but really that was only one of the many benefits of blogging that I discovered. I found a voice, for one thing. I found that people liked my writing, which was a confidence-booster. That in turn led to me having the courage to attend writing classes and workshops which I have enjoyed and learnt a lot from (including the fact that you shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition - but hell, rules are made to be ignored, right?). My writing has improved, and my confidence has grown so much that I am actually working on writing a book, something I have wanted to do for many years.

Reading someone's blog is a little window into their world, giving an unexpected sense of intimacy at times. I have deliberately guarded my anonymity on the blog, being vague over the details of my and others' real names, or the exact location of Halfway Up A Hill. And yet reading over old posts I am sometimes astonished at how much of my inner self and feelings I have revealed. Possibly much of that is because just over a year after starting 'Moonroot' I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself in the middle of a divorce. The blog was and is a source of comfort through difficult times, and looking back I'm certain that it was therapeutic during some of my darker days to be able to write about them in the way I have. That's not to say I haven't self-censored; there is stuff in my personal journal that I wouldn't dream of sharing with the rest of the world. But looking back I find that I have shared far more than I would have expected, and I think it has been positive and healthy to do so. 

Blogging has also helped me with journalling, oddly enough. I always loved the idea of journalling but the perfectionist in me wanted my journal to be a thing of beauty, not poorly constructed rantings and crossings out. The journals that people share pages from are usually works of art, poetry, insight. Every journal I started before I had a blog, I began with such high standards that I couldn't possibly maintain them and invariably gave up shortly afterwards. Blogging has no such drawbacks as unlike writing with pen and ink, things composed on a computer can be retrospectively edited, cut, pasted or deleted without spoiling the overall 'look' of the thing. But then when I found myself unable to access my blog for whatever reason, I missed it so much I still needed an outlet for all those thoughts and ideas rattling around in my head. So I bought a cheap notebook and some pens and started noting it all down. And before I knew it, I was journalling. Now I can't imagine how I would cope without my journal and have already decided that should I ever appear on Desert Island Discs my luxury item will definitely be an inexhaustible supply of pretty notebooks and nice pens. 

I have also met many wonderful people through blogging, either through commenting on their blogs or through their comments on mine.  Some of these people I am still in touch with - though we have never met - and others have dropped away over the years. And I miss those who have dropped away. I enjoyed the glimpses into their lives, I felt that we were friends even though we had never sat down over a cup of tea together. If you're on my blog-roll, even if you haven't posted for years, I'm still hoping I'll hear from you again one day! I guess this is one of the weird side-effects of the digital age, where we can share so much with total strangers, feel such intimacy yet lose touch so quickly when our point of contact - e-mail address, Facebook page, blog etc gets deleted. Even so, on balance, I think this sharing with strangers is a good thing. I have had insights into other lives all around the world, views through different windows. People I have never met have shown me great kindness in difficult times (and I hope I have done the same for them). If this sharing means better understanding between people, greater compassion, more empathy then I do not think it can be a bad thing, even if the relationships we create turn out to be ephemeral. 

So here's to blogging and its many blessings. Long may it continue. 


Friday, 1 January 2016

2015: Struggle and Serendipity, Pomskizillious and Gromphiberous



Oh dear. I really wanted to blog more regularly in 2015. Things went OK until June when life sort of... took over. 2015 was a good year for me, more or less. The downside of it was a lack of time and money. Up until the middle of the year, I wasn't by any means feeling wealthy but I had just about enough and was even paying instalments towards a late-summer holiday. And then I was suddenly struggling. In a short period of time I lost two clients who no longer needed my services due to changes in their circumstances, and at the same time got hit by a couple of unexpected bills. All of a sudden I was no longer floating along serenely, I was struggling to keep my head above water, sinking lower and lower each month. Luckily, the story has a happy ending. My lovely sister (with whom I was going on holiday) lent me the money I still owed on the trip until such time as I could pay her back. And I managed to find a new job, working a couple of days a week in a jewellery shop (which I love). It was still a difficult few months as I was working three jobs over a six day week without much to show for it except exhaustion and a gradual easing of my debts. At the same time, IB was having employment dramas of his own and we were seeing very little of each other. I am happy to say though, that I am now solvent again, both job situations have settled and I have managed to re-jig my working week so that I get two whole days off. The storm has abated and we are back on an even keel - for now, anyway!

But those were the difficult times. In between them 2015 gave me many beautiful experiences and memories, lots of good times with the people dearest to my heart and also new and wonderful friendships. Which is really what I wanted to come here and write about...

Some of the highlights for me were finally reaching what has often seemed like the very distant shore of 'Acceptance' following years wading through the swamps of 'Denial', 'Bargaining', 'Anger', and (seemingly interminable) 'Grief' caused by my divorce. Yes, to anyone making this journey themselves, you will get there in the end. I promise. 

Then there was my magical trip to Glastonbury in the spring.

In June by pure chance I ended up making a visit to the beautiful Rheidol valley, which just happened to be one of the rivers featuring in the folktale we were due to work with at Dragonrise Witchcamp later in the summer. The weather was perfect, the river was beautiful, but more importantly what I learnt about the river that day ended up being an important part of the work we did at camp. Such wonderful serendipity!


Trip to the Rheidol Valley

Dragonrise itself was fabulous. I should have written a whole report as soon as I got back, but the notes I jotted down to recall the 'flavour' of camp after returning will have to suffice: 


Dragonrise
The sound of children laughing under the oak tree. 
The swell of grief for the rivers. 
Butterflies in the meadow by the stone circle. 
The serenely flowing brown Borle Brook. 
The fey whispering, bubbling in the woods. 
Talking, crying, laughing, dancing with Rheidol; picking wildflowers with Her. 
Making magic potions. 
Singing, singing, singing. 
The dance of the Salmon. 
The Rivers and the Mountain. 
Owls and woodpeckers and swallows and buzzards. 
A river of stars in the night sky. 
A circle of smiling faces in a fairy-lit yurt. 
Extraordinary magic. 
"The sun is shining... I'm so sexy! this is my tree!" (translation of birdsong!)
Holding space, drumming a heartbeat while the magic swirls around us. 
The moon through the trees.
"The journey doesn't end when the river meets the sea"

Brewing Magic Potions at Dragonrise

At the end of September, we took our much anticipated holiday to Gozo. I fell in love with the place. It's kind of wonky and quirky with a definite attitude of 'manana', but that fitted perfectly with my desire for a laid-back, relaxing holiday, which was exactly what we got. There is also a sense of timelessness from the ancient land beneath your feet, a sacred, magical place... I cannot put it into words. Victorian nonsense-poet Edward Lear also gave up, describing it as "pomskizillious and gromphiberous, being as no words can describe its magnificence". The Arabs named it 'Ghawdex' which means 'joy'. And I jotted down a few more notes which tried to capture the essence of the place: 

Gozo
Water reflects ripples on stone walls.
Bougainvillea petals on stone.
Lizard sunning on the wall.
Cooling breeze.
Turquoise pool, sand coloured stone.
Clouds drift over in the blue, blue sky.
Dragonfly darts.
Rustling palm fronds.
Coffee and olives and tomatoes.
Splashing, laughter.
Big yellow butterfly, hovering black bee.
Pomegranates and carob, prickly pear and loquats.
Azure sea, ancient land.
Slanting shadows and the sound of crickets in the fields.

Gozo

Other highlights this year have been lovely birthday celebrations with friends and family, a trip to Kent to stay with my sister, making new friends, a wonderful extended Christmas with the family and the addition of two kittens to the household, now taking the feline headcount to six. I am definitely becoming a mad cat lady!

Today, I'm counting my blessings again. Each year is different, some easier, some harder. On balance my 2015 was one of the good ones, the struggle outweighed by the serendipity. Thank you and farewell 2015, and welcome 2016. I wonder what you will bring?