Monday, 31 December 2007

Let it Blow, Let it Blow, Let it Blow!

Ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to announce that we have finally got our wind generator erected! We bought it earlier in the year, but for a number of reasons we have not got around to putting it up. Until now! So we can just say that we erected it in 2007.

Here's a couple of photos of T and Harry with the wind generator, moments after we realised that yes, we had managed it and no, it wasn't in imminent danger of collapse:



The boys did most of the clever stuff, whilst I served as a combination of 'go fer', photographer and cannon fodder ("Just stand there and tell us if it looks like it's going to fall over...")

And just in case that sounds too easy, here is a photo of my feet, to show you what conditions were like (well actually you can't see my feet as they're sunk in the mud - just my legs and the tops of my wellies).


But really, despite the mud and our apprehensions about how difficult it would be, it all went rather smoothly. Hopefully another good omen!

It's only a small wind generator, but as we only have low-energy light bulbs in the house it should be sufficient to supply enough power for our lighting needs and possibly run the computer or another small appliance. Naturally I will keep you up to date with its progress.

Happy New Year!

Friday, 28 December 2007

Adieu, 2007

Let me be clear: I'm usually a happy, positive person. I see the silver lining in the cloud, the glass half-full, and make lemonade out of life's lemons. I don't believe in good or bad luck, I believe it's all in your perspective.

But let me also be clear: 2007 sucked. Big time.

I can't honestly remember another year which has been so determinedly, stubbornly, negative. And I don't mean just for me. Everyone I know has had a lousy year - bereavements, illnesses, financial hardships, job losses, workplace dramas, failed relationships have abounded. All topped off by truly awful weather. As I look back on the year, the overriding sensation is of a constant uphill struggle.

It seems to me there must be some big, cosmic pattern at work. I don't know enough about astrology to make an informed comment, but surely there is some kind of major planetary disharmony going on? And hopefully if that is the case, it can't last forever?

In my search for clues that the tide of fortune may be turning, I remember that Christmas 2006 was a bit of a disaster for my family. We had all planned to have Christmas together at my sister's house. Unfortunately the building work they were having done wasn't finished in time so the venue had to be changed to Mum & Dad's. Then the person who'd promised to house sit and care take the animals for us so we could be away, discovered she couldn't house sit after all - so T & I couldn't go. In the meantime, my parents went down with food poisoning which lasted throughout Christmas, my sister-in-law's car broke down on the journey up from Somerset leaving her stranded at the roadside with my 4 year old nephew, and to cap it all off, while my sister and her husband were spending Christmas at Mum & Dad's, their own home was burgled.

This year, Christmas has been a much more enjoyable experience! After a somewhat manic lead up to the big day, all has gone smoothly and easily. Everyone has been relaxed and happy, the food preparation went smoothly, there was plenty of it and it was delicious: no culinary disasters to report. Excellent gifts have been given and received, the house has been comfortable and cosy, the cats accepted my sister's dog quite happily and even the weather's been quite mild, allowing for pleasant walks interspersed with all the feasting! Quite a contrast to last year. So now I'm feeling quite positive that perhaps the change is coming. 2007 is drawing to a close; 2008 will be better!

Yes, at heart I'm an optimist. And there is plenty to look forward to in the coming year. My Mum & Dad are moving to Wales, Avalon Spring is going to be wonderful, my brother is planning another big party in the spring, and that's just the tip of the iceberg! We have a whole new year to fill up with fun.

Thanks, 2007, for the lessons learned about coping with adversity, the strength of family and community and acting with grace when under pressure. Thank you, and adieu.

And hallo and welcome, 2008! We've been SO looking forward to meeting you!


Full


Full of mince pies. Full of warmth. Full of giving. Full of receiving. Full of mulled wine. Full of fun. Full of laughter. Full of hugs. Full of roast goose. Full of memories. Full of surprises. Full of gratitude. Full of love.


I'm satisfyingly full of family Christmas. Yum.


Monday, 24 December 2007

'Twas The Afternoon Before Christmas...

It's Christmas Eve. The presents are wrapped, the fridge is full of food and drink, my loved ones have arrived safely through fog and ice.

Full and content after a lunch of pumpkin soup we're going to sit snugly by the fire and just enjoy the pleasure of all being together, and watching our cats make friends with my sister's dog! If only my brother and his family were here it would be perfect!

Wishing all my blog friends a Blessed Yule, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year - or Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Da, as they say hereabouts.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

By The Way...

... anyone know what has happened to my blog header? The photo seems to have got cropped and I'm not sure why. I don't think it was anything I did, and I can't seem to find out how to change it back. Any advice gratefully received.

Frosty Morning















The ivy on the gatepost wears a halo of frost...















The greenhouse panes are painted with delicate icy trails...














The humble vegetable patch twinkles under Jack Frost's magic touch...















The bare bones of the winter garden arctic-spiked...


The rising sun brings light but precious little warmth.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Morning Routine

The alarm blares at 7.30am (a bit earlier in summer, a bit later in winter). Stumble out of a warm bed, struggling into sheepskin slippers and pulling on skirt and jumper over nightclothes. Wiping sleep from eyes, shaking dreams from head, mumbling about not being a morning person, down the stairs to the kitchen where cats wait expectantly.

Slippers off, wellies on. Out into the shock of cold morning air, carrying chicken food, goose food, guinea pig food. Cats weaving through legs, splash or slide or walk (depending on weather) downhill to the greenhouse. Guinea pig is fed and watered, and the chicken drinker retrieved from its overnight frost free haven. Next, chickens are liberated from the hen house and eagerly cluster round their food. On down into the goose run. The geese run honking up the hill from their shed, gratefully flapping their wings in the freedom of fresh air.

All the while, Bear and Marley chase and tumble, darting up trees and pouncing on each other. Tigger sits in quiet, solitary dignity at the top of the steps, glaring as she concentrates on beaming out the psychic message: 'Cat food now. Cat food now.'.

Then it is back to the house, where Tigger vocally demands Cat Food Now!!!. And is rewarded with a bowlful of her own, as are the other two.

Cereal for me. Shower for me. Clothes for me.

The day has begun.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

December Will Be Magic Again...

It's December - which means Christmas is nearly upon us.

Yes, I'm Pagan, but I do celebrate Christmas. Christmas has always been a time to get together with my family, and I wouldn't miss it.

Yule, the winter solstice (21st December) is when I shall make my Pagan seasonal celebration. Rather like my attitude to Hallowe'en and Samhain, I enjoy both Yule and Christmas, but they mean very different things to me. Yule is a spiritual celebration marking the shortest day (and from then on, the returning sun), and my Christmas is a secular one, a time of family reunions and celebration.

This year I will celebrate Yule with the members of my local Pagan Moot, as well as a small solo ritual. Then a few days later my Mum and Dad and also my sister and brother-in-law (and their dog!) will be joining us here in Wales for Christmas. I'm really looking forward to doing the entertaining. We've ordered a goose from a free-range farm just up the road (don't tell Buffy & Angel) and I'm planning lots of other locally produced Welsh yumminess too. I've been splitting lots of logs so we'll be able to have plenty of fires in the woodburning stove. And I'm already getting excited about putting up the decorations in our lovely new kitchen-diner.

Three cheers for multiculturalism!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Thanksgiving Soup

Today I have been busy in the kitchen.

For lunch I made squash soup with Thai spices - smooth, creamy and warming, the perfect November comfort food. I used a mixture of homegrown onions and homemade chicken stock, along with garlic and a beautiful squash grown by my friend Gaia, who runs a small organic farm and box scheme on the Gower.
Later I started this year's batch of crabapple wine*, made with crabapples from my friend Pinky's garden, supplemented with windfall apples from ours.
All these collaborative ingredients started me thinking about how we share with each other, how we connect and nourish eachother, and how magical and precious those acts of unconditional mutual caring are.
These thoughts seem timely, in that Americans have just celebrated Thanksgiving weekend, a time when people come together to feast and reconnect. Perhaps there's something of that spirit in the air, even here in Wales!
Later this evening, I finished an article about the Summer Gathering for the British Reclaiming Newsletter. Somehow, that's also ended up being about the way we create something magical when we work together in a spirit of generosity and goodwill, and how that connects us to eachother (complete with cooking metaphors!).
So (spoiler warning to Newsletter subscribers!) I'm copying below what I've written for the Newsletter.

The Power of Community
or What I Did On My Summer Holiday


When it was announced that this summer’s Avalon Witchcamp had to be cancelled due to an unprecedented combination of a lack of on-site Organisers, a shortfall in bookings and difficulties within the Teaching team, I was very upset. A self-confessed Witchcamp addict, this would have been my tenth year at Avalon as either a camper, organiser or student teacher.

Whilst I tried to console myself that I now had the luxury of a free week to do as I pleased, truth be told the prospect of a summer without Witchcamp looked pretty drab.

During this time, a few Witchcampers upset at the prospect of losing the deposits they had paid for their places at camp began a rather heated discussion on BRDL [British Reclaiming Yahoo Discussion List]. Whilst I understood that no one likes to lose money and get nothing in return, I also knew from my time as a Camp Organiser that putting on Witchcamp requires a lot of advance expenditure – and I knew that the Organisers weren’t in a position to refund deposits. As the protests about lost deposits got louder I began to try to think about ways to help out, but all my fundraising ideas were either financially risky (involving more expenditure initially), or would only have generated small amounts of cash.

And then as part of the ongoing discussions on BRDL, someone made a suggestion that, as the venue (Earthspirit) had already been paid for, perhaps an alternative event could be held there instead. I thought this was a good idea and waited eagerly to see if anyone would pick up on it and volunteer to organise something. After a few days no one had said anything more, so I decided to contact Earthspirit myself and see whether they would be amenable to British Reclaiming putting on an event to replace Witchcamp.

Looking back, I think that was the point at which my ‘free week to do as I pleased’ evaporated along with most of the rest of my summer! Earthspirit had been unable to fill the slot with another booking and were therefore only too delighted to agree to host an alternative British Reclaiming event that week. I knew it was absolutely impossible to put on a Reclaiming Witchcamp at such short notice, but having organised a couple of weekend-long British Reclaiming Gatherings, it seemed quite feasible to me that we could stretch that format into a seven day event.

At this point I should probably explain the differences between a Reclaiming Witchcamp and a Gathering for those who may not have attended either.

A Reclaiming Witchcamp is a weeklong residential Intensive. A myth or story forms the structure for the week, and the teaching and arc of evening rituals is planned around this. Witchcamp teachers have also undergone several years of training and work experience before they can call themselves Witchcamp teachers. The planning process takes a year, starting almost immediately after the end of the previous camp.

In contrast, the British Reclaiming Gatherings that we have held over the last few years are a much looser style of event, which encourage participants to teach and priestess the event themselves by offering talks and workshops, and co-creating the rituals. The atmosphere is more casual, and people drop in and out of the event as they prefer. Until this summer, the longest Gathering we had held had been over a weekend.

So my plan was to use the basic ‘Gathering’ model for a week-long event that community members would co-operatively create. I flagged up the suggestion on BRDL where it was greeted with enthusiasm. Several people (Anna, David, Diego, Flame, Halo, Peter, Raven, Richard and Sylvia) volunteered to help with the organisation so we created a separate Yahoo group and started planning. From then on things moved at a rapid - and sometimes terrifying! - pace.

We had to get a list of people willing to offer activities, then organise a draft timetable of those workshops, rituals and other activities; work out how to charge affordable prices whilst covering our costs; look into the whys and wherefores of public transport to get people there; produce fliers and advertise, advertise, advertise; liaise with Earthspirit about special dietary requirements, dorm room:camper ratios, minimum/maximum numbers of guests and dozens of other issues; and field enquiries from people interested in attending. Every day brought a flurry of new queries, problems and solutions and at times I dreaded opening my email inbox because I knew how many messages would be piled up waiting for me.

But the response from everyone was so overwhelmingly positive that somehow, in about six weeks we managed to pull everything together. Anxiety that we may not get enough attendees to be viable was put to rest by a flurry of last-minute bookings - I even took a telephone booking for two people 5 minutes before I was due to leave the house to drive down to Earthspirit!

The rather experimental format sometimes threw up unexpected plus points as well as challenges. For example, unlike Witchcamp where people are together for the whole week, the format of the Gathering allowed people to come for as short a period as a day, or as long as a week. The advantage of this was that many people who are unable to come to a week-long event due to finances, work or family commitments were able to attend. On the downside of this, the Gathering seemed to lack the degree of intimacy that Witchcamps usually enjoy; people also had a tendency to congregate in already established social groups, rather than mix freely. It made me realise just how much mutual trust and understanding is fostered by the Witchcamp ‘intensive’ model, and also how useful Affinity Groups are in contributing to mixing people up and making them feel at ease with each other. Perhaps future Gatherings could bear these points in mind and work on strategies to overcome them. Or perhaps it’s OK for people at Gatherings to connect on a more casual level. Although we didn’t do so this year, at future Gatherings it might be helpful to give people feedback forms when they leave to see what their verdict is.

Earthspirit were unbelievably helpful and cheerful no matter what our weird requests were ("We forgot to tell you, but we need a bonfire in 20 minutes!" "Can we borrow a wooden spoon and a ladle?" "Do you have lots of old newspapers and a big roll of sellotape?").

And of course the members of the British Reclaiming Community were amazing: those from near and far who helped assemble all the ingredients, and those who came along and stirred and seasoned and baked the amazing concoction that the Gathering turned out to be.

Admittedly some things were a bit rough around the edges, and there are some things I would do differently if I was to organise another – although at this stage I’m more than happy to hand the reins over to someone else!

In the end the Gathering was a success. For me, it was a rollercoaster week of anxiety, exhilaration, joy, stress, hope, and a thousand other emotions. I shed tears of both exhaustion and joy, laughed until my face hurt, danced until I was breathless, and had my faith in the strength and power of community restored. I reconnected with loved ones, deepened existing friendships, gained new ones, and - I hope - made progress in repairing damaged relationships.

More importantly, we managed to cover our costs, making enough to repay Avalon Witchcamp the deposit they had paid on the venue - meaning all Witchcampers had their full deposits returned. When all the fundraising (raffle etc) was added in, we actually had a little left over, so there is seed-money for a similar event next summer.

And most important of all, I think this was a great piece of magic, which helped to strengthen and repair our community. There has often been discussion about whether we are a community or merely a network, given that we are so geographically scattered and can only meet up infrequently. I think the way everyone rallied round to support this event and so generously gave of their time, money and energy proves that we are, after all, a community.
* Yes, I know, a bit late. We harvested the crabapples a while back, but I was so busy with other stuff, I knew I wasn't going to get a chance to deal with them. So they've been in the freezer since then. I'm not sure how the wine will turn out as a result - I'll let you know!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Ten of my US Trip Highlights



  1. A fresh fall of snow when we awoke on Friday morning.
  2. The chance to hang out with old friends... and make new ones.
  3. My first S'more - they're one of those American popular culture things that I've read about for years without ever trying one, so I was overjoyed to actually taste one at last! (For any Brits or other non-Americans reading this who haven't heard of S'mores, they're a campfire delicacy - toasted marshmallow and chocolate sandwiched between Graham crackers [like digestive bisuits]. The name is a contraction of 'some more' as in "I want some more!")
  4. Seeing the brilliant colours of the New England autumn leaves on the bus journey back to Boston to catch the plane.
  5. Listening to Willow, Melissa and Raven drumming and singing the afternoon before the meeting started.
  6. An amazing backrub from William!
  7. The stories and offerings at the Bardic Circle, some moving, some hilarious...
  8. The food! Wonderful cooking from our hostess, Claudia.
  9. Watching people dance in the snow.
  10. The beautiful Maine Coon Cats belonging to our hosts.

There's No Place Like Home (or Ramblings From A Jetlagged Brain...)


I'm just back from a whirlwind trip to the US, to attend the annual face-to-face meeting of Witchcamp Council. WCC meets in person and on-line to discuss policy and cultural development of Reclaiming Witchcamps, share information between camps (how we do this, what worked on that), problem solve etc. I was representing Avalon Spring, my home camp.


I travelled to New Hampshire from Wales for the meeting, leaving home on the morning of Wednesday 14th November and arriving back yesterday morning (Monday 19th November). Can you say jetlag?


Having spent the time with a magical group of witches in a magical (snowy) landscape, and with jetlag added into the mix, my muddled brain feels rather like I've just returned from Oz.


I just keep tapping my ruby slippers together and murmuring, "There's No Place Like Home, There's No Place Like Home..."


...And when I opened my eyes this morning I was back in my own bed!


Friday, 9 November 2007

You've Read the Blog, Now Meet the Cast!

This is Tigger. She's 14 years old and we've had her since she was 6. Her previous owner fell ill and couldn't care for her, so she came to live with us.

Tigger is convinced she's a princess and T and I are a pair of trained monkeys whose sole purpose is to wait on her. She won't even go out the catflap on her own if we're around to open the door for her.

Tigger's favourite things are sleeping and eating. She adores T and loves snoozing in a flowerbed on sunny days. Her pet hates are going to the vet, and other cats.

Which is a bit of a shame as we have two others.



This is Marley, hunting expert and part time ballerina (she loves standing up on her hind legs to demand strokes). Marley is now 3 years old and we've had her since she was a kitten.

Marley is dainty, ladylike and very much her own cat. If she wants to do cat-stuff we don't get a look in - but if she wants a cuddle, she will headbutt and climb up your legs until you respond.

Marley's favourite things are mice, voles and shrews, especially when they're rustling temptingly in the long grass. In the absence of small twitchy rodents, she will play with plastic bottle tops or her sister, Bear. Or Tigger's tail, which needless to say doesn't go down well with Tigger. Marley's pet hates are dogs and children.



This is Marley's sister, Bear, so-named because as a kitten she looked just like a little black bearcub. She is also 3 years old.

Bear loves everyone and everything. She's very affectionate and follows me round all day 'helping' with whatever I'm doing. Of all the cats, she is the only one unphased by my friend's little Jack Russell terrier, Poppy, and the two of them play together - although Poppy still hasn't figured out that Bear can't throw a ball for her and often drops it hopefully at a bemused Bear's feet.


Bear's favourite things are food, playing fetch with sweet wrappers, food, accompanying me down to the chicken run and food. Her pet hates are... well I don't think Bear actually dislikes anything - although she is a bit scared of grumpy old Tigger.


This is Bella, our Cream Legbar hen, who lays the most beautiful pale blue eggs. Bella's the youngest of our small flock and also the flightiest.
Like all the chickens, her favourite thing is wheat, or even better, maize, and her least favourite thing is anything remotely scary.








Here we have our three Light Sussex ladies, (l-r) Blodwen, Blanche and Bronwen (yes, I can tell them apart).

Blanche is definitely the head chook and is both smart and bossy. Bronwen keeps her head down and quietly lays plenty of delicious eggs. Blodwen is our pretty airhead.

The flock is quite small at the moment as we have recently lost the matriarch, Daphne, to old age and a younger White Leghorn, Lulu, to a chronic infection, so I'm hoping to get some more point of lay pullets in the spring to swell the ranks again.


This is Buffy and Angel, our pair of Brecon Buff geese. They are totally devoted to each other and view all our actions with deep suspicion. So far they haven't managed to successfully hatch any eggs, but we are still hoping for the patter of tiny webbed feet some day.

Their favourite things are being hand-fed grass, and swimming in their pond together. Their pet hate is the wheelbarrow, the appearance of which always elicits a storm of outraged honking.



We also have a guinea pig, Ted, but he's a bit shy so I don't have a photo to share. And the bees declined to be interviewed for this article...

Thursday, 8 November 2007

There's Magic in These Here Hills...

While we were in Edinburgh, my Mum & Dad house-sat and looked after the animals for us. At some point during those five days, Dad lost the glass 'lens' from his watch. They hunted high and low, but it was nowhere to be found, and in the end they gave it up as a lost cause, deciding to get it fixed when they returned home.

Towards the end of their stay with us, I went down to give the chickens their afternoon treat of wheat (they love scratching around for it, and all cluster by the gate when they know it's imminent). Lo and behold, in perfect condition and lying in plain sight by the chicken house was the glass from my Dad's watch. We had looked there a number of times before without success, so we decided it must have been turned up by the chickens while they were scratching.

That same week, Mum, Dad & I drove out to the Pembrokeshire coast to visit Porthgain (a tiny fishing port) and St Non's Well near St David's (a holy well in a stunning clifftop position overlooking the sea). Later that evening, I realised I had lost my silver pendant.

I was really upset. For one thing it has great sentimental value, as T had bought it for me as a birthday present when we were on holiday in Australia. For another, it's my 'subtle pentacle' - living as I do in an area with fiercely evangelical Christian neighbours, I have to be a little bit careful and keep my Pagan identity a secret most of the time. This pendant is a five-pointed star within a circle (a pentacle, the sign that Witches wear as a Christian would wear a crucifix), but it's not an obvious pentacle, so I feel comfortable wearing it openly. I have never seen another exactly like it.

I pulled out all the stops trying to track it down. Mum, Dad and I combed the house, car and garden - down the back of the sofa, under the car seat, in the outhouses, on the drive, in the grass on the path down the hill. For a variety of reasons I couldn't go back to Porthgain and St Non's well and hunt for it myself, but I sent out a flurry of emails, to the restaurant where we'd eaten lunch, the retreat centre near the holy well, St David's tourist centre, Pembrokeshire local radio, and a Pembrokeshire 'local news' yahoo group. The response was wonderful, people searched for it, emailed back suggestions of other contacts to try, and offered handy hints like taking a metal detector down to the places we'd been to try and find it. Everyone really was lovely.

But the pendant remained lost. After a fortnight I was out of places to look and out of luck. I gave up any idea of getting it back, and wondered wistfully about asking my sister (a silversmith) to make me a new one.

Last night I took the chickens their afternoon scratch feed of wheat. And guess what was lying in plain sight in the chicken run?


Now, like Dad's watchglass it must have been there all along, hidden in the grass until it was scratched up by an insect-seeking chicken. Or must it? Perhaps we have criminal mastermind kleptomaniac chickens? Or kindhearted fairies living under the chicken house who run a Lost Property office? I'm keeping an open mind. And I've told my friend, who lost a pair of glasses at the supermarket, that I'll keep an eye open for them in the chicken run. Just in case.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Hallowe'en Sweet Treat Award



Wow! I've been given a Hallowe'en Sweet Treat Award by The Cottage Smallholder for my Samhain post. Thank you!! I'm very excited as this is my first blogging award!
[clears throat and speaks tearfully into microphone] I'd like to thank everyone who supported me - my Agent, my Mum and Dad, Blogspot.com, Gerald Gardner, Samantha from 'Bewitched', the Goddess, God....[fill in the tearstained waffle of your choice here] ;-)

Actually what I'd really like to do is pass on the award to some other bloggers who've written about Hallowe'en/Samhain.


I pass the award to: Hope Springs at Spring Dawn, Reya at The Gold Puppy, Miss R at Tales of Inglewood and Deborah Oak at Roots Down, Branches Up.

This award was created by Anni at http://www.hootin--anni.blogspot.com/


Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Samhain


Although we Pagans and Witches celebrate many festivals throughout the year, Hallowe'en (which most of us call by its old Celtic name of Samhain) is the one that most people know about. Although of course, their concept of witches and what they get up to on Hallowe'en is pretty far removed from ours!
Whilst I enjoy seeing all the Hallowe'en trappings in the shops, carving pumpkin lanterns and handing out sweets to trick-or-treating children, all of that has about as much relevance to the true meaning of Samhain as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer has to the true meaning of Christmas.
For me, Samhain is about acknowledging our entry into the 'dark' part of the year (don't be spooked, I mean literal darkness, i.e. shorter daylight hours!), a time for introspection and rest.
It is also the festival at which I remember and honour my ancestors and my Beloved Dead - in my tradition we tend to use the term 'ancestors' to mean those who have gone before us, and 'Beloved Dead' to mean those ancestors and loved ones we actually knew from this lifetime who have passed away into death.
Each Samhain I create an altar to my ancestors and Beloved Dead. As well as being decorated in autumn colours, with fallen leaves, probably a carved pumpkin or two and plenty of candles, the altar will have photos of my Beloved Dead; sadly, there are usually more of these each year, but I suppose that's part of life and growing older. I also put out trinkets and mementos I have of them: Grandpa's cuff link box, Granddad's bronze Buddha statuette, Gan's ring, Thomas the cat's collar and name tag. And some years I put out little offerings of their favourite foods for my Beloved Dead - ice cream for my Nanna, a cup of tea for cousin Enid, tuna for my cat Julie. Doing this is part of remembering them, who they were, what they enjoyed in life, the times we shared together. Sometimes there are no treats or mementos - for our son Peter, who was stillborn, I have only an ultrasound photo. Yet the love is still there and he is remembered each year with the others.
The altar becomes a focal point for my ritual, which is usually fairly simple and involves creating sacred space, honouring my ancestors and then inviting in any of my Beloved Dead who would like to be there. Pagans usually say 'the veil between the worlds [of life and death] is thin at Samhain' and so this is thought to be a good time to contact the spirits of the departed. I sit and talk to my loved ones, tell them what is going on, how I miss them, what memories I carry of our times together. This is usually an emotional time, but I find it really helps with the grief process.
I like remembering and honouring my ancestors and Beloved Dead at this time of year. We are, after all, stitches in a tapestry which stretches backwards and forwards through time. It is good to acknowledge our place in the warp and weft, the threads we are part of and those we interlink with, if only for a brief time. Glimpses of the grand over all pattern are simultaneously humbling and inspiring.
And I'll also carve pumpkins, buy sweets for the trick-or-treaters, tell ghost stories by the fire, wear fancy dress for your Hallowe'en party and buy cute little witch ornaments. Because I love Hallowe'en and all its funny-spooky trappings too.
That's who I am and some of the things I enjoy in this life. And if I'm lucky, one day I'll be someone's Beloved Dead, remembered with a place on their altar and an invitation to visit for chocolate and time together at Samhain.

Autumn Senses




Five autumn sights...
The frosted bracken turning the hillside to rust... Dew-highlighted spiderwebs... Drifts of leaves by the outhouses... A store cupboard filled with jam, jelly, chutney & preserves... A fur of frost on the gate in the morning...
Five autumn smells...
Woodsmoke on the breeze... A bowl of fragrant quinces... Jacket potatoes baking in the oven... The resinous odour of stacked firewood... The mustiness of decaying leaves...
Five autumn sounds...
The tawny owl quavering at dusk... The patter of falling leaves... The sounds of the valley muffled by fog... The staccato chopping of firewood... Distant fireworks on Guy Fawkes' Night...
Five autumn tastes...
Homemade apple and cinnamon pie... Porridge with golden syrup for breakfast... A warming bowl of leek & potato soup... Hot buttered toast & cocoa by the fire... The melancholy sweetness of the last autumn raspberries & blackberries...
Five autumn sensations...
The reassuring thickness of a favourite woollen jumper... The crisp juiciness of an apple straight from the tree... A chill in the breeze even on a sunny day... Scratched hands from picking sloes for sloe gin... The soft fur of a warm lap-cat...

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Edinburgh Photos - and Latest News!

As promised, here are some of the photos I took during our recent trip to Edinburgh.

And, some exciting news! My Mum and Dad have decided they are moving to Wales. They have been talking about moving for some time now, but while they were housesitting for us last week they fell in love with a local property. They have made an offer which has been accepted, and all being well they hope to move in next spring. It's about 30 minutes' drive from us, a lot closer than the 4+ hours (plus negotiation of the dreaded M25) that currently separates us.

I'm very happy that they'll be closer. In my ideal world all my loved ones would live close by. Perhaps I can start a Welsh charm offensive to persuade everyone else that they should really be this side of the Severn...















































Monday, 22 October 2007

Self Help

Last week T and I were in Edinburgh. It's a beautiful city (I'll probably post some of my many photos soon) and it was nice to have a bit of a break together - we haven't managed a holiday together this year and I think we're both feeling a bit worn down.

It was brought home to me just how worn down I am on a visit to the Scottish Museum. Normally I love museums, and usually have to be dragged out at closing time. On this day, however, I began to feel quite uncomfortable there after only an hour or so. The discomfort quite rapidly grew into full-blown claustrophobia, and in the end I left, telling myself I would go and get lunch somewhere and return afterwards.

Once settled in a small cafe however, I realised that I didn't want to go back to the Museum. I didn't want to leave that warm and sunny cocoon of a cafe. So I stayed. I ate my sandwich, drank my latte (and then another - and then another), and wrote in my journal. And as I wrote, I realised what the problem was. I am exhausted, and I've been ignoring the exhaustion, not listening to the needs of either my body or soul. I didn't need a day filled with absorbing culture and taking in facts, figures, dates. I needed to sit and doodle with my coloured pens, watch the leaves fall one by one from the plane trees in the square, sip milky coffee. And listen, really listen, to what my body was telling me.

Last year, I underwent my Reclaiming-Feri initiation and also student taught at Avalon Witchcamp for the first time, both huge, intense events for me. This year, I pulled together the British Reclaiming Summer Gathering in about 6 weeks, a feat I still can't believe I managed, and probably one of the most stressful experiences of my life. All the while I have been carrying on as normal, being my usual smiley self and brightly saying, 'Yes, I'm fine!' if anyone has asked.
Now I have to admit: no, actually I'm not fine.

This is hard for me. I'm not good at admitting I can't cope, I'm not good at asking for help. I'm good at soldiering on, putting on a happy face and denying my needs.

That night - the night after the abortive Museum visit - I dreamed I was trying to help a woman who had been knocked down in a hit and run accident. She was almost submerged in mud and I was unsure whether she was in more danger of suffocating from the mud or being further injured if I tried to move her. In the end I went for help.

Now, in waking life, I am also going for help. I'm accepting offers of all kinds of help from friends and family ('Yes, I'd love you to cook dinner!', 'Yes a back-rub would be great!', 'Oh thank you for feeding the chickens for me!'). And I'm helping myself. Listening to what my body wants and providing it - naps, nourishing food, gentle walks, time amongst the trees - and meditating, journalling.

I have come down with a heavy cold, but at the same time I feel better than I have in months. I am helping myself out of the mud and finding that my injuries aren't life threatening after all. Not if I acknowledge they're there and deal with them.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Confessions of a Fairy Goddessmother

One thing I always knew I wanted was to have children. Unfortunately, my body had other ideas and it wasn't to be. After 16 years of trying for a baby and now aged 44, barring a miracle it seems pretty unlikely that I will ever actually become a biological mother.

For many years my unfulfilled broodiness left me frustrated and depressed. Every menstruation brought a sense of failure and disappointment. I had my eyes so firmly set on the thing I wanted - a successful pregnancy - that it never occurred to me that there could be another outlet for my maternal instincts. Life, however, has a way of presenting new possibilities if you are only open to them.


I can't pinpoint exactly when my perspective changed - there wasn't a light bulb moment as such - but at some stage in the last 16 years, my childlessness became less of a source of pain to me. That fact is almost certainly due to our beloved friends, Kevin and Ann, who have generously allowed us to form a close bond with their three wonderful children. We have been around, babysitting and doing the aunt & uncle thing since their first daughter, Rachel, was born. When their second daughter, Charlotte, was a toddler, I had given up my stressful job (in an attempt to increase my chances of getting pregnant), so I spent a lot of time looking after her while Ann was at work. And then I did the same with their son, Michael.


We became extended family and spent virtually all our spare time together. I started using the term 'heart family' to describe our relationship to each other. We have watched with awe, pride, joy - and at times anxiety! - as Rachel, Charlotte & Michael have grown into amazing individuals. We have shared in the tears, the laughter, the scraped knees, the food fads, the treasure hunts, the birthday parties, the bad dreams, the endless questions (why?), the hilarity of water fights, the magic of Christmas, the walks to the park, the bedtime stories, the games of hide and seek, and of late, the teenage hormones, exam jitters, first romances, and initial steps into independence and adulthood.


Through all this we have been in the unique and privileged position of part-parent, part-friend, part-confidante... but it has been hard to define our relationship to the children using existing terminology. We aren't blood relations, so we aren't really an aunt and uncle. Kevin & Ann have asked us to be listed in their will as guardians of the children, in the event that something should happen to the two of them. But unless that should happen - and I pray that it won't - we aren't the children's guardians. We aren't Godparents, as we aren't Christians and have never been asked to fulfill that role. And yet we do and don't meet some of the criteria for each of the above categories. As there really doesn't seem to be a widely-used term for the nature of our relationship, I have started to describe myself as their Goddessmother. It kind of fits and I like it.


Although we now live miles apart, Rachel is currently at university nearby, and this weekend Ann brought her back to Wales to start her second year at Uni. It was so lovely to spend the weekend together, and we effortlessly slipped back into the easy friendship between us, even though we don't see each other so often these days.


Somehow, despite my inability to bear a child, I've been lucky enough to find a way to express my maternal instincts. I'm blessed to share in the lives of three wonderful young people, and I hope I can be there for them whenever they need me. Life has a way of presenting new possibilities indeed. I'm just glad I looked up from the path I was on long enough to notice. And I'm so lucky to have friends generous enough to open up those possibilities in the first place.


Sunday, 16 September 2007

Cat, Napping


It's a grey and blustery Sunday in September, with the threat of rain in the air. So what should you do?
Snuggle up in a too-small bowl of pot pourri.
Of course. Silly me.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Avalon Spring


I am very excited to see that the details of Avalon Spring are now available to view on line. I'm really excited to be involved with this new event, and I'm so looking forward to it. Go on, click on the link!

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Inbetween Days


Flowers and butterflies still grace the garden. There is grass to be cut and tomatoes are ripening on the vines. Yet long, light summer evenings dwindle as days shorten.

Last call for summer dresses, sandals and cool cotton tops! Soak up every ray of sunshine while the warmth lasts. Time for one final barbecue?

Bramble-scratched arms, berry stained tongue. Mist in the valley on dew-soaked mornings. Swallows discuss departing for warmer climes. Apples, blackberries, elderberries, quince. Leaves redden yet cling on - for now.
In the kitchen: pickles and jellies, jams and relishes, chutneys and syrups and fruit pies. The harvest is being gathered and stored for the cold months ahead.
Neither still summer nor yet totally autumn. We balance on the cusp.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Autumn Waits in the Wings


This morning there is a tinge of autumn in the air. Although the last week or so has been perfect summer weather, early in the morning autumn is waiting in the wings.

Some scent in the air, or chill in the breeze, or heaviness in the dew seems to whisper of autumn. The birdsong has a mournful edge. The summer flowers have peaked and are in decline. Blackberries bejewel the hedgerow.

No wonder poets write of the fleeting nature of summer. She comes with such promise, but never stays as long as we hope.

As a witch I love the cyclical wheel of nature, relishing each season in turn. And yet I find myself wanting to hold on to each one too. The crisp clarity of winter, the freshness and promise of spring, the easy bounty of summer and the melancholy woodsmoke-scented autumn. Perhaps this wanting to cling to every last moment is age-related. It is true that time speeds up as the years pass. This world is so beautiful, who wouldn't want to savour every minute?

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Happy 140th Birthday!

This weekend, my Mum & Dad will celebrate their 70th birthdays with a joint 140th Birthday Party.

Happy Birthdays and Many Happy Returns, Mum & Dad!

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Simply Divine!

I have read tarot cards for many years now. My first deck, bought impulsively as I was just stepping onto the Pagan path (about 20 years ago now), was the Tarot of the Witches. It sounded impressively mysterious and magical, and I couldn't wait to start working with it. Unfortunately, I hated it from the minute I got the cards out of the box. I hated the artwork for a start, and then found they were hard for a beginner to learn as the Minor Arcana cards were just 'pip' cards rather than the type which have pictorial representations of the meanings (so much easier to learn!). The final straw came when I discovered the deck had been designed for use in a James Bond film - I loathe James Bond films! I quickly gave them away. Good lesson in buying any magical tool: shop around and check how it 'feels' before taking the plunge.

Luckily, I had a friend who read tarot cards so I was aware that there were pictorial decks out there. Next time around I was more picky, and looked at lots and lots of decks before I chose again. This time it was the 'Morgan Greer', based on the classic 'Rider Waite' (which I believe was the original pictorial tarot). The 'Morgan Greer' is clear, and I find it easy to use. It gives me great readings for others, though I've never been able to read well for myself.

I've also had other decks over the years, the 'Rider Waite Tarot', 'The Tarot of the Old Path', Kris Waldherr's 'Goddess Tarot', and non-tarot decks like 'The Druid Animal Oracle' and 'The Green Man Tree Oracle', to name a few (yes, I'm a bit of a card junkie!). Some of them I still have, and some I've passed on to new homes.

This last week at the Summer Gathering I attended two tarot workshops and had my tarot read by the wonderfully talented Diego. I think it's true to say I'm feeling more enthused than ever by tarot right now, and there's another reason too.

These are my new tarot cards. It's a deck called 'Songs for the Journey Home' that T bought for my birthday in July. And I am just in love with them! (if you click on the photo you should get a bigger image to study)

I love the artwork for a start. The arrangement I've laid out here is a selection of my favourite images from the deck. I actually had a hard time choosing! I find the artwork deceptively naive in style. The images look fairly simple, but the more I study them, the more I see. I also like that they're round - having never been a fan of reverse meanings for cards (too complicated!), it's great to have some that can't really be reversed.


The deck seems to be pretty earth-centred too, which of course appeals to me! And the little booklet that comes with the cards, whilst not shying away from the fact that Shit Happens, does somehow manage to mostly find a constructive message within the Shit. As a glass-half-full kinda gal, this echoes my preferred world-view.
And these cards seem to really know what is going on with me - leading up to the Summer Gathering I often pulled a card, asking 'What do I need to know about this situation?'. Though I shuffled the cards well each time, still I pulled the same card over and over - the 'Sixth Wind Song'. Look at the photo - it really expresses how I felt! Yet notice that as well as the clear image of feeling distinctly pressured, it also has a flock of birds flying freely above. The booklet says, '[this card] depicts the experience of being under a tremendous amount of pressure. If you are able to focus on trust, rather than on fear, you will rise above the turmoil of the mind. This is a time to rise above the gentle winds of change.' How on the nail is that?! Even more amazingly, since returning home I haven't pulled the card once, and actually had to look quite hard for it in order to take a photo.

Having never been able to read the cards accurately for myself before, I am very happy with the way these seem to work with me. I used to think there was something wanting in my card-reading skills, perhaps a lack of objectivity that stopped me being able to read my own cards. Now I think perhaps I just hadn't met the right deck yet!

It's still early days in our relationship, but I feel like these cards and I are currently having a great conversation, getting to know each other. I think we will be good friends.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Home Again

Back home again after the Summer Gathering, I'm still getting my breath back.


It has been a rollercoaster week of anxiety, exhilaration, joy, stress, hope, and a thousand other emotions. I have shed tears of both exhaustion and joy. I have also laughed until my face hurt, danced until I was breathless, and had my faith in the strength and power of community restored. I have reconnected with loved ones, deepened existing friendships, gained new ones, and - I hope - made progress in repairing damaged relationships.


It was a small group of us who gathered the first night and joined together in Sylvia's excellent opening ritual. That night under the stars we stirred our wishes and hopes for the week into an imaginary cauldron at the centre of our circle. During the rest of the week, at some point during most of the rituals we gave people an opportunity to stir the cauldron, adding to it if they wished. It was a rich brew that we created together, maturing over the week into a hopeful vision for the future of the community, guided by the Gathering's intention: 'To Nuture Our Community'.



As the weekend drew nearer, our numbers swelled, reaching a peak on Saturday and Sunday, then slowly waning again. This gave a different kind of energy to the week than that we normally get at Witchcamp; it had a more ragged, less intense quality that at times added a kind of chaotic dynamism to proceedings.


Everyone chipped in at the level they felt comfortable with: for some this meant dipping in and out, interspersed with trips into Glastonbury, for others it meant offering talks, workshops and discussion groups, or taking an active role in planning and priestessing the rituals. And what a diverse and abundant assortment of activities we ended up with - workshops on a multitude of subjects, including Energy Raising, Tarot, Mermaid Lore, Reclaiming-Feri practices, Ecstatic Dance, and a Buffy Path; and rituals including a Healing Ritual, a Climate Change Ritual, and a tripartite ritual held over three nights based around bringing the best of the community's past into the present and then visioning how we should carry this heritage into the future. We also managed a Bardic Circle; fascinating discussions on the whys and wherefores of naming ourselves 'witch', and our regular spiritual practices; an audience with Henry VIIIth; a concert by Caitlin & Sika; a Herb Walk; time in the hot tub and much, much more. Come to think of it, no wonder I'm tired!


Overall, people seemed to have had a wonderful time. We managed to cover our costs, infact making enough to be able to repay Avalon Witchcamp the deposit they had paid on the venue - meaning all Witchcampers will now have their full deposits returned. When all the fundraising was added in, we actually had a little left over, so there is seed-money for those who've expressed interest in staging a similar event next summer.


So after all the anxiety, I think the week can be counted a success. My own energies will now be focussed on Avalon Spring, the 5-day intensive planned for next April. But I'm proud of the Gathering that we created at pretty short notice and I'm hopeful that any future events can build on this foundation. I am so grateful to everyone who made the Summer Gathering so creative, fruitful and enjoyable, and I wish every success to those who choose to work on similar events in the future. Blessed be one and all!



Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Que Sera Sera

Well, the anxiety and anticipation of the last few weeks is finally over. Tomorrow I leave for the Summer Gathering in Somerset. No more worrying and fretting about numbers attending or finances. Or at least, no point in worrying about them any more. I have now accepted that at this stage, there's no more I can do - the event will be what it will be.

I'm feeling a strange mixture of resignation and mild hysteria! The weight of responsibility is still palpable, but at least I feel I can do no more right now.

I'm now focussing on looking forward to a week in one of my favourite places with some of my favourite people. And also meeting lots of new faces! I'm just hoping everyone has a fun time and the weather is kind. It's not too much to hope for is it?

By this time next week I will know if it was worth all the nailbiting.

Wish us luck!

P.S. I look forward to catching up with all my friends in blog land when I get back. Sorry I've been neglecting you all but it's been pretty intense.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

8 Things

I have been tagged for a meme (wow - six months ago I wouldn't have had a clue what that even meant!) by one of my favourite bloggers, Tori. I must reveal eight random things about myself. Here are the rules:

~We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.

~Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

~People who are tagged write their own blog post about their eight things and include these rules.

~At the end of your blog, you need to choose people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged and they should read your blog.


Well, here goes!

1. I love eating lemons - have done ever since I was a child. When I was a teenager my mum used to bring me one back every week with the weekly shopping, and I'd sit in my room savouring every segment, trying to make it last. I still love them.

2. I hate wearing lipstick - I dislike the feeling of it on my mouth. I am, however, a lip balm/lip salve addict.

3. When I was 21 I travelled around the world on my own (Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, USA)

4. I have a scar on the third finger of my right hand from an accident when I was 2 years old.

5. My favourite comfort food is spaghetti with home-made tomato sauce.

6. When I peg socks on the line, I have to peg them in matching pairs. It really bugs me when there's an odd one left over!

7. Even in summer I often take a hot water bottle to bed - I just cannot sleep if I have cold feet! It drives T crazy - if I have a hot water bottle he says it makes the bed too hot, and if I don't he complains when I put my cold feet on him!

8. I would love to keep alpacas - they're just so damned cute! Luckily T is more sensible than me and refuses to shell out the £2000+ it would cost us to buy a pair.


That's my 8 - and now I'm passing on the meme baton to these lovely bloggers:

Faerose at http://users.livejournal.com/faerose_/

Leanne at http://somersetseasons.blogspot.com/

and the sleek and beautiful Ginger Darlings at http://www.wethreecats.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Of Wizards and Rebels, and the Frankly Unlikely


Carmarthen has an ancient and amazing culture and history. It's the alleged birthplace of Merlin for one thing, who is supposed to have made many predictions about the place, including that one day a bull would climb to the top of St Peter's church tower (this apparently did happen a hundred or so years ago when one escaped during the weekly livestock market). He also predicted that should the tree known as 'Merlin's Oak' be felled, Carmarthen would be swallowed by the sea. The local council has taken pains to avoid this eventuality, first patching up the ancient - and by now dead & decaying - oak with concrete and iron bands, and finally removing it to a place of safe keeping when it was threatened by a new roundabout.

Carmarthen was also as far west as the invading Romans got in their attempt to subdue the Celts. The oldest part of the town still retains the layout of the original Roman streets, and hidden away are the ruins of an amphitheatre, although little is made of it in terms of either cultural heritage or tourist attraction.

Later, less than two hundred years ago, the town was at the centre of the 'Rebecca Riots', during which farmers revolting against excessive road tolls dressed themselves as women (to avoid being recognised), and calling themselves 'Rebecca and her daughters' (a biblical reference) went on a tollhouse-burning rampage (something the owners of the overpriced Severn Crossing would do well to remember).

Another quirk of Carmarthen? A few remaining coracle fishermen still fish the river Towy from the riverbanks in town.

I could go on and on listing things that make Carmarthen unique. But one characteristic of the town seems to go quite unremarked by other observers. The fact is - Carmarthen has weird graffiti.

There's some, (though not too much) evidence of the usual 'tagging' in the town centre; but I've noticed some graffiti around the junction of Blue Street and Lammas Street where someone regularly scrawls the names of their favourite rock bands/artistes in chalk. What I find remarkable about this is that the bands listed are invariably those fashionable 20-30+ years ago: Rod Stewart, AC/DC, Depeche Mode, The Stranglers, Blue Oyster Cult, InXS, David Essex etc. The graffiti is regularly removed, presumably by business owners or the local council, but then reappears: neatly scrawled lists of slightly naff 'golden oldies' who are mostly unheard of by today's young trendies. Who is the mystery scrawler? Is it someone old enough to remember these bands the first time around and hence really old enough to know better? Or someone younger, trawling their parents' record collection for inspiration? And the neat lists look so polite and unrebellious. No in-your-face slogans, or even declarations that 'Phil Collins rocks!!!', just neat columns of has-been names (apologies to any die-hard fans of any of the above. But fact is, even for those of them still around, their heyday is over). Isn't graffiti supposed to have an element of subversion, a whiff of revolution?

My other favourite piece of graffiti was painted on a wall outside Marks & Spencer for several years. It was a poem, with the title 'For YOU', which invariably made me smile when I passed by. It read:
'You're as young and as old as the ocean,
You smile and skies unfold
Wind and heaven
Are still and solid
You have an unearthly GLOW...'

I always wondered if there was supposed to be more (doesn't it sound like there's supposed to be more?), but it was written in a very neat, unhurried hand, so I don't think the painter was interrupted at his task. And although it was there for a number of years, nothing further was ever added. It has recently been pasted over with home made 'pop-art' style posters - that area seems to be the wall of choice for the creative and artistic vandal-about-town.

They may not fit the usual stereotype of graffiti, but actually I think the examples above are subversive, rebellious, revolutionary - for the very fact that they don't fit the mould. They don't seem designed to shock, or claim territory or status, they're polite and even sweet. Think about it - how subversive is that? Perhaps they are actually the perfect graffiti for a town like Carmarthen: a town of wizards and rebels, a town of ancient heritage and the frankly unlikely.