Saturday, 30 May 2020

The Colours of Summer

I love the colours in my garden at this time of year. The dark purple-blue irises and aquilegia are the perfect backdrop for a bright splash of sunny yellow Welsh poppies. Add the delicate lilac-pink of chive flowers and a sprinkle of blue and pink hardy geraniums for the most gorgeous early summer palette.

Friday, 22 May 2020

New Moon Musings

Cards from my favourite decks
Top row: The Gaian Tarot by Joanna Powell Colbert
Bottom row: The Green Wheel Oracle by Danielle Barlow

The fierce, stormy weather today has me feeling not much inclined to leave the house. Instead I have a strong introspective urge. I decided to simply sit with this feeling and let it instruct me. This is the upside of lockdown. I don't have to be anywhere or do anything in particular, even if I had plans for today I can be flexible and change them on a whim. The 'normality' that we are all saying we want to get back to really doesn't allow this most of the time. We have work schedules - and chore rotas to fit round our work schedules - and obligations and social calendars and set routines. We put ourselves under pressure to be busy and productive at all times, and beat ourselves up if we fall short. How lovely to be able to take this time out of time and sit with ourselves and listen - really listen - to that quiet inner voice which is too often drowned out by the everyday clamour. 

My inner voice says it's OK to pause and cocoon for a little while. To just be with my thoughts. I intuitively felt the need to take some time out, do some serious cleansing (both of myself and the house!) and perhaps a little divination - I feel that itch to get out my tarot and oracle cards and see what they have to tell me.

Then I realised that there is a new moon this evening, at 6.38pm. So as I write, we are in the last phase of the old moon. What an appropriate time to pause for a breather, to clear away any stagnant energies, to look ahead to what the next instalment may be! 

This is my plan for the rest of the day:
  • Make and use a home-made salt body scrub for myself
  • Use incense and singing bowl to clear the energy of the house
  • Check in with my divining tools 
  • Finish clearing out and filing my messy paperwork drawer (a job I started a few days ago and have yet to complete).
If you would like to do some deep cleansing, here is my recipe for a salt body scrub to use in the shower or bath.

Salt Body Scrub Recipe

Grapeseed Oil
Essential oils of your choice

Put a couple of handfuls of salt (preferably seasalt, but you can use good old fashioned table or kitchen salt if that's all you have) into a bowl. Pour over just enough grapeseed oil to coat the salt, but not so much that it's swimming in oil. Add a few drops of essential oil and stir the mixture well. 

To use, take a little on your fingertips and rub in gentle circular motions into damp skin whilst in the shower or bath, then rinse off. The salt will exfoliate any dead skin cells and the oil will moisturise. Don't use it on sore or broken skin.

* Note on ingredients: 
  • You can use any kind of salt, but the coarser it is the harsher it will be on your skin. Really coarse salt is best reserved for a foot scrub. I like to use salt because of it's purifying qualities, but if you have scratches on your skin, the salt will sting - so you could consider using sugar instead which will have the same exfoliating qualities but won't sting. For a facial scrub, substitute a softer substance like ground almonds or oatmeal for the salt. 
  • You can use any kind of liquid vegetable oil. I like grapeseed because it's quite light and also inexpensive (it's my choice of carrier oil when I'm doing aromatherapy massage) but any oil you have to hand will do. You could even make a blend of different oils. 
  • Don't be tempted to put in too many drops of essential oil. Remember they are very concentrated and too much could irritate your skin. I would use a maximum of 3-4 drops for the quantity given in this recipe. 
  • I find it easiest to just make as much as I need each time, but if you want to you can scale up the quantities and make a jarful. The salt and essential oils are both great preservatives, so it won't go off quickly. But bear in mind that the oil will eventually go rancid (you can preserve it a bit longer by adding wheatgerm oil or a few drops of vitamin E oil), though this is unlikely to happen before you've used it all up!   

Sunday, 10 May 2020

ThriftWitch: Creating Personal Oracle Cards

I've been thinking for a while about creating my own Oracle Cards. I've made oracle sets before, mostly runestones from painted pebbles or air-drying clay - some using the standard Elder Futhark runes and others with my own invented symbols etched into them. Last autumn I taught a workshop during which the participants made their own divination sets. Most people opted to make oracle cards and I've been itching to make my own set ever since. The lockdown means I have time on my hands, so I've finally started.

Home made air-drying clay Elder Futhark rune set

I found some blank playing/tarot cards (to decorate yourself) cheaply online - but you could also use craft card or re-use packaging card/cereal boxes, or old birthday or Christmas cards cut to size (if you re-cycle card, you may like to cover the backs with wrapping paper or something similar so they are uniform).The blank cards come in a pack of 100, which is way more than I'm intending to make, but the extras mean I can afford to experiment and make mistakes. Unlike a Tarot deck which has a standard number of cards (78), oracle decks can have as few or as many cards as you like. I imagine I will start with a certain number of cards but probably add to them over time as new images suggest themselves. 

My first step was to give much thought to what my symbols would be. I already had a good idea of my own personal symbolic language, so I started a list which I added to as more symbols occurred to me. I believe the meaning of symbols is a very personal thing, and as I wrote in The Clean-Start Soap Spell the accepted symbolic meaning of something may be completely different to what it means to you (I gave the example that Frankincense may mean 'higher spiritual connection' to one person, but to someone with an oppressive religious upbringing it may speak more of repression, guilt or fear). Symbols are how our subconscious communicates with us, and will be as individual as our experiences and memories. So while books which claim to interpret dream imagery or symbols may be a useful jumping-off point, it is always more important to trust your own instincts and feelings about what things mean. Once you do, it makes understanding messages from the subconscious (dreams, images from guided meditation or trancework etc) much easier!

Starting my list of symbols

For example, in my own personal language of symbols swallows mean joy (and summer). A hand with a spiral on the palm represents power and manifestation. A frog means change and/or initiation. And so on. My symbols are mostly nature-based, drawn largely from observing and interacting with the land around my home, but your own personal language of symbols may be inspired by very different experiences and imagery. Go with what your subconscious knows and understands. You could even use characters, images and events from the canon of a well-loved fictitious world - Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Sunnydale?

I initially intended to draw/paint the images on my cards but ultimately (mostly through lack of trust in my artistic ability!) decided to collage the cards, with some added hand-drawn decoration where appropriate. I had an idea in my head for what I would like for most of the cards, and also did a few preliminary sketches, which helped get the creative juices flowing.  

With an idea of the cards I would be creating, I started to look through old magazines to find suitable pictures. This was instructive as I found not only symbols I'd already listed but also some that spoke to me which hadn't been included on my original list - so that got longer. The images I found also helped me refine or revise the design of each card. For example I'd originally envisioned a 'Tree of Life' to symbolise Ancestors and Descendants, but having found a wonderful photo of an old hand holding beautiful ripe apples I immediately revised my ideas for the card (apple trees in my own personal symbolic language being inextricably tied up with my grandparents and my childhood). I then found a beautiful black and white photo of an old, wrinkled hand holding that of a child, and together the two images sum up the meaning of the card perfectly for me.  

Then - gulp - it was time to bite the bullet and begin putting the cards together. Having cut out the images I intended to use, I laid them out on the cards before sticking them down to check that they'd look as I expected them to. This enabled me to change the composition around, and in some cases I found the pictures didn't gel together the way I'd hoped, so had to find new images or re-design a few cards. Once I was happy with the way they looked, I stuck them onto the card with PVA glue, and trimmed the edges where needed. Using permanent fine-liner marker pens, I added symbols to some of the cards. 

I found the cards had a tendency to curl up slightly after being collaged because of the glue, but this was easily remedied by pressing them under a heavy book once the glue was dry. 

I think this is going to be a continually developing Oracle set, as new symbols occur to me or I find suitable images to use. It may be that I have to draw/paint some cards if I can't find the right pictures to collage. But I'm very happy with how they're turning out so far.

Here are a few of the finished cards.

Top Row, L-R: 
  • 'The Moon' - The unconscious mind, dreams, intuition, night
  • 'Sparrows' - Community, negotiating with others
  • 'Blackbird' - Beauty, pleasure
  • 'Snail' - Home, security, 'baggage'
Bottom Row, L-R:
  • 'Blackthorn' - Protection, defence, isolation
  • 'Spiral Hand' - Power, manifestation
  • 'Ancestors/Descendants' - Family, heritage, humanity, past/future, legacy
  • 'Snowdrops' - New beginnings, spring
Let me know how your cards turn out if you decide to make some!

Monday, 4 May 2020

Counting My Blessings

A day bright with birdsong and apple blossom. Scatters of mayflies drift dreamily across the sunlit valley. The bluebells are in their full glory - but in lockdown I can't make my usual sacred pilgrimage to them. They call to me, and I'm sad that I can't go and immerse myself in their glory. 

Yet I am grateful too. There is so much for which to be grateful. That I live in a world of marvels like bluebells and swallows and apple blossom. That I am here in this beautiful place to experience another spring. That even in lockdown I can walk down the lane taking eggs to Mair (I leave them in the mailbox at the end of her driveway, she leaves an empty eggbox with payment inside for me to collect), and commune with the hedgerow flowers - including bluebells. The scent of appleblossom wafts by and the swallows joyfully chatter overhead. I am blessed.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Celebrating Beltane in Lockdown

Beltane is traditionally celebrated with maypoles and bonfires, feasts and festivities. As the festival which marks the beginning of summer, it's natural to want to spend it outdoors in company with friends and family - yet this year that won't be possible for many of us. The current Coronavirus lockdown means that gathering with coven mates, friends and family just isn't possible right now, so we're going to have to adapt the way we mark the festivals - at least for a little while. But with a little ingenuity we can come up with novel - and safe - ways of celebrating.

First, have a little brainstorming session with those you'd celebrate Beltane with normally - you can do this by phone, text, email, Skype, Zoom etc if you do not live in the same household - and see what amazing ideas you can come up with together. If you are a solitary Pagan, you can Google for ideas as well as taking inspiration from this post. 

Secondly, skim through the ideas I have come up with and see if any of them appeal - or you can use them to kick-start creativity and come up with your own plan. I have grouped them according to your situation - so there are ideas for those of you who can get out into nature, ideas for those who are in a town but have a garden or accessible green space, and finally ideas for those who are confined to their living space.

If you can get out to the countryside/park for a walk:

  • One traditional Beltane activity was to gather mayflowers (hawthorn blossom). While on your walk, see if you can spot some mayflowers and pick a small bunch (careful of those thorns!) to bring home with you. It's considered bad luck to bring mayflowers indoors, but the exception is at Beltane. Or you can do like I do and hedge your bets by tying the bunch of flowers to the front door of your house as a Beltane blessing. You'll probably need secateurs or scissors to cut the woody stems, so take some with you.
  • If you take an early morning walk, wash your face in the Beltane dew - traditionally believed to be a foolproof beauty treatment! 
  • If you have bluebell woods near you, this is the perfect time to take a walk and soak in all that beauty. I can't imagine a more sacred activity!
  • If you're confident of your plant identification skills, this is a great time of year to forage for wild garlic, nettles, sorrel, jack-by-the-hedge etc. Keep your eyes peeled for hedgerow delicacies on your walk and cook up a seasonal gourmet feast to celebrate Beltane when you get home. 

If you are in a town, but have access to a garden or other green space:
Depending on what is in your garden or green space you may be able to gather mayflowers, forage some wild delicacies or wash your face in the morning dew, as above! But here are some other ideas you could try too.

  • Draw a labyrinth on the lawn/patio/decking big enough to walk (for a classic 7-walled Cretan labyrinth - my preferred version - you will need a space which is a minimum of 9'x9'; if you have more space, so much the better). You can mark out a temporary labyrinth using flour, sand or masking tape. If you like it you could make it a permanent feature by using rocks, bricks etc, or mow it into the lawn. There is a clear tutorial on how to draw and use labyrinths on the blog of my friend and mentor Donald Engstrom-Reese here, and there is a wealth of information on Sig Lonegren's website here.
  • If you have enough room to pitch a tent in the garden, why not camp out overnight on Beltane eve. Toast marshmallows over a campfire, stargaze, then get up to greet the first light on Beltane morning, revelling in the dawn chorus of birdsong.
  • Beltane is one of the times of year most strongly associated with faeries. You could celebrate Beltane by leaving offerings for them in your garden - it is said they are fond of bread, cake, honey, beer, wine and cream. Or you could plant up an area of the garden as a faery garden with flowers they are said to be particularly fond of such as foxgloves, violets, thyme and clover, and pretty sparkly decorations like sun-catchers and wind-chimes (bear in mind they strongly dislike iron).

If you cannot get outside to celebrate Beltane:

  • Use Skype, Zoom etc to connect with Pagan friends and share Beltane blessings. You may be able to organise an online Beltane ritual together, or plan a visualisation or spell you can each do separately at a co-ordinated time and then check back in with each other later to check how it went for everyone. 
  • Many well-known Pagans are offering on-line meditations and rituals you can join, so check out the websites and Facebook pages of your favourite Pagan leaders/writers/etc to see what is on offer. 
  • Beltane is all about pleasure, beauty and love, so show yourself a bit of self-love and devise a pampering ritual as a way to celebrate. Cleanse in preparation by using your favourite toiletries - have a home-made facial - soak in scented bathwater - use a salt body scrub and moisturise afterwards with your most luxurious body lotion. Dress in your favourite clothes. Clean and tidy your altar. Put fresh flowers on it (if you can). Burn your favourite incense. Prepare your favourite food, and pour a glass of your favourite beverage (springwater? mead? freshly squeezed juice?). Light a candle and sit in front of your altar giving thanks for everything for which you're grateful. Home, health, relationship with deities, loved ones, pets, food on your table, hobbies, favourite books/songs/films, anything which brings you joy... Toast yourself, celebrate yourself with your homemade feast. Remember 'All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals'.
  • If you are creative by nature, you could make your own mini-maypole as an altar decoration. Check out Pinterest for more inspiration.

In conclusion, with a little ingenuity and adaptation we can still celebrate the Wheel of the Year, even if we aren't able to do so in the way we would in more normal times. After all, even in those 'normal times' things don't always go to plan!

Above all, remember: Beltane is a celebration of life. Honour and protect your life and the lives of those around you by observing social distancing and staying home if you can. Blessed Be!

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Adventures in Edibles

I'm finding one unexpected side-effect of being on lock-down is that my cooking is getting more adventurous. I think there are a variety of reasons for this. Firstly for once I have the time to experiment and try out new recipes. Secondly, we are trying to keep to a once-a-week shopping trip, and we are using smaller local shops rather than big supermarkets (as we assume the bigger shops will inevitably have higher footfall and hence more chance of coming into contact with the Coronavirus). The downside of this is that the smaller shops have a correspondingly smaller choice available, so I have to be inventive. We're also using a local supplier who obligingly delivers our fresh fruit & veg. Although I usually try to eat seasonally, shopping from someone offering mostly seasonal produce has made me realise how often I bend my own rules when confronted with a wider choice! Finally, the restrictions to what we are able to buy are leading to me digging out some of the more esoteric items lurking at the back of the larder. I am finally getting around to using the mushroom ketchup, bottled Datterini tomatoes and tinned jackfruit! In fact I highly recommend this recipe that I made from a tin of jackfruit the other night, it was delicious and will be definitely going on my 'make this again!' list. 

We've been foraging too of course, and have enjoyed a lot of nettles (in soup and other guises, including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Nettle Risotto with Sorrel), and Spring Herb Salad. I'm planning to gather and dry plenty of nettles while they're still young and tasty so that we can add them to soups and stews later in the year (we're also planning ahead by whipping the vegetable patch back into shape and planting lots of veggies to keep us well-fed in the coming months).

The other thing we've found is that with a restricted choice of food available it has become more important than ever to not waste anything, using every last bit of food. Here are a couple of my favourite 'use every last bit' recipes that I've been employing recently. In fact I had the first for breakfast this morning.

Banana Pancakes

I don't know about you, but I'm not fond of over-ripe bananas. But luckily they do make great cakes, or even simpler, banana pancakes. Luckily because of the chickens we always have fresh eggs, so this is my favourite easy way to use up past-it bananas. Most recipes say to use a ratio of 1 banana to 2 eggs, but to be honest because both bananas and eggs vary in size there is wiggle room here. This morning I made them with 1 banana to 1 egg, which yielded two pancakes. 

Cooking oil
Cinnamon (optional)

Peel the bananas and mash them together with the eggs. In a non-stick frying pan melt a knob of butter and a little oil (I like the flavour of the butter and if you use a little oil too it raises the smoking point of the butter and avoids a burnt flavour. But you could use just oil if you prefer). When the pan is hot, add a small ladle-full of the banana/egg mixture. It's better to cook it in small amounts as this makes turning the pancakes easier. After a minute or two when the pancake has firmed a bit, lift the edge with a spatula or fish slice to check if it's browned. If it has, and it's firm enough, slide your spatula underneath and turn it over to cook the other side. Slide onto a serving plate, sprinkle with a little ground cinnamon (if liked) and enjoy hot, while the next pancake is cooking. You could experiment by adding ingredients like chocolate chips or raisins to the mixture or serve with a smear of Nutella or a drizzle of maple syrup. 

Marinated Broccoli Stems
I love broccoli and will happily cook and eat the stems too, but IB isn't keen on them so I have started using them up this way, which I discovered in a vegetarian cookery book by Martha Rose Shulman way back in the 80's. 

Broccoli stems
Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil

Trim and peel the broccoli stems (this will get rid of any stringy bits) and slice them into rounds about ½cm thick. Put into a lidded container (I use an old jam jar) and sprinkle with salt. Put the lid on, shake well and put into the fridge overnight, or for at least a couple of hours. The next morning, drain off the brine that will have accumulated and rinse under the tap. Return to the jar and add 1tbspn olive oil, 1tbspn balsamic vinegar and a crushed garlic clove. Shake the jar well again and leave to marinate for at least a couple of hours before serving. They're a great addition to a salad or as something to nibble. 

I'll post more gourmet left-over ideas as I think of them!