Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Drip, Drip, Drip...

The sound of dripping trees, birdsong and running water.

Fog hangs in the air like a pall of gunsmoke. The crushed grass bears testament to the great battle that occurred overnight.

The Snow Queen's mantle lies in tatters as she retreats - for now.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Deep and Crisp and Even

The Snow Queen has spread her mantle over the hills.

Thick snow, piled deep on a silent world. A world of beauty, the soft, round drifts at odds with the harshness of bitter cold. No owl quavers, no fox screams. Only the tracks left in the snow betray signs of life.

I trust that under the snow, snowdrop, crocus and narcissus dream the first faint stirrings of spring. For now all is quiet, all is still, all is frozen.

I feed the birds. I watch the sky, praying for a thaw, waiting for the days to lengthen. The Snow Queen is beautiful, but she is without mercy.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Wishing the Arctic Well: A Spell of Healing and Transformation

Image ©Donald Engstrom-Reese 2010

My friend Donald Engstrom-Reese is inviting people to join him in a spell-working to support the Polar Bear and other inhabitants of the Arctic, who are threatened by the pressures on their unique eco-system.

The spellworking officially began on the Winter Solstice, but you can join in at any time.

Many thanks for your help - and spread the word!

Peace & Yule Blessings.

Friday, 17 December 2010

ThriftWitch: The Clean Start Soap Spell

Do you know which kinds of spell I hate? The kind which say, 'On the full moon, take some powdered frankincense, a quartz crystal and three black feathers and place them in a velvet pouch. Go to a secluded place and bury them, whilst chanting: "Love be mine, love divine, come to me and we'll be fine". Walk away without looking back. You will meet your soulmate within a month.'.

I mean, huh? How does that work? Why would that work? (not to mention the godawful sub-greeting card rhymes that are inevitably integral to the process)

Actually, as a witch, I do very few spells. In my experience, it's usually way easier to take the mundane route to getting what you want than the magical. Like all those daft movies where the gorgeous teen witch absent-mindedly stirs her coffee by 'magic' rather than by hand? Or she floats or balances a pencil? Seriously, can you imagine how much psychic power it would take to do that? Why on earth doesn't she just stir the damn drink by hand and if she really has the power to effortlessly move objects with her mind, why isn't she using it to do something that's not utterly pointless?

Plus magic - like water or electricity - tends to take the path of least resistance, meaning that it's almost certain that the spell won't work out the way you planned. And believe me, that leaves plenty of scope for misfires, unforseen consequences and complications (yes, that was the older but wiser voice of experience speaking).

Even so, I think there are times to use magic, when appropriate. Sometimes the Universe needs a little nudge. More often than not, it's about re-setting our own psyches, moving the energy, opening up possibilities. Although I made up the the sample spell above, it's pretty typical of much of the stuff bandied about as 'magic'. And I don't for one minute believe 99.9% of those types of spell work, for one very good reason: your psyche wouldn't understand a word of it. The 'ingredients' used in a spell are there to tweak at your psyche, your subconscious (and perhaps thereby the collective unconscious or even the fabric of reality), but if your subconscious can't understand what's being said, that's where it'll end.

The ingredients are really just symbols, for symbols are the language of the subconscious (all the better of course, if those symbols seduce the subconscious with their colour, scent, taste, texture). Frankincense, quartz crystal and black feathers may mean one thing to the person creating the spell, but they may mean something completely different to you. Frankincense may mean 'higher spiritual connection' to the spell-originator, but to you - if you had a very oppressive religious upbringing for example - frankincense may speak to your subconscious of repression, guilt, fear, anger... not exactly the things you would want to be musing on (even subconsciously) whilst trying to conjure a soulmate. Some ingredients/symbols, such as rose petals for example, have such a widely accepted connection with love and pleasure, that it's no wonder they appear often in love spells. Yet how many people would have the same subconscious knowledge of the symbolism of yarrow, say, or thyme, or comfrey? Most likely they would all have different interpretations - and many may never have come across less common ingredients like yarrow before. No wonder our subconscious is bamboozled and the spell fails to work as planned.

The spells I like are grounded in reality (if it's possible to say that about a subject like magic). I like symbolic actions carried out mindfully, the kind of thing that says to my subconscious (and the Universe), "I am opening up space for the possibility of [insert desired outcome here] to happen."

For example, almost two years ago I wrote about vigorously cleaning the house on New Year's Eve and then spending New Year's Day focussing on the things I wanted to draw into my life, to change my luck after a horrible year in which my marriage had ended. Lo and behold, the new year did indeed change my life for the better as my heart began to heal, I achieved some long-cherished ambitions, and much to my surprise, fell in love again.

The Clean Start Soap Spell runs along similar lines. I have been doing this for the last couple of years, and although it originated in my desire to not waste things (soap!), in doing it mindfully, it has become an act of magic (which as Dion Fortune famously said, is after all, 'The art of changing consciousness at will').

The Clean Start Soap Spell
This is a spell I do over the course of a year, though  you could adapt it to a different time period to suit your own circumstances. I begin afresh on 1st January, and quite simply each time I get to the last sliver of a bar of soap throughout the year, I put it in a drawstring muslin bag on the bathroom shelf. Personally, I like to suit the soap to the season, so in winter I may have a warming cinnamon and orange scented one, then a floral for spring, maybe coconut for my summer holiday and vetivert or patchouli for autumn... As the year progresses the muslin bag fills with aromatic slivers that each bring back vivid scent-memories of the past months. And then, towards the end of December (I judge this by eye, depending how full the muslin bag is) I begin to use the muslin bag to wash myself in the shower instead of a fresh bar of soap. The idea is that as we approach the end of the year, I am re-visiting and integrating the experiences of the last 12 months. It's pretty effective, as of course scent is a great catalyst to memory. It is also symbolic of washing away the last vestiges of the old to make way for the new. The important thing is to time it so that the last of the soap dissolves away on New Year's Eve. And then of course, a carefully chosen, fresh new bar can be unwrapped on New Year's Day, and the spell begins for another cycle. You could of course choose a different start/end date, your birthday perhaps, or maybe Samhain or some other significant date. You could even choose a different time period than a year, perhaps stretching the process over a period of difficulty (such as medical treatment, a legal battle or time of emotional upheaval) so that you can finally wash it all away as the period comes to a close.

I also recommend the cleaning the house on New Year's Eve/mindfully choosing your activities on New Year's Day spell. It certainly starts the year on a good note!

P.S. I have to confess I am particularly fond of the soaps produced by Lush, although local West Wales company The Soap Shed have some delicious products too.

Monday, 13 December 2010


I can't help it. I just hate seeing anything going to waste. Perhaps it's the influence of grandparents who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930's followed by the austerity and rationing of the War years, and parents who were born just before the advent of the Second World War.

Both my Grandmothers were (and my Mum is) great advocates of making do and mending, preserving food during times of abundance to keep for the 'hard times', making inventive new meals from left overs, scraping every last smear of jam from the jar, squirrelling away safety pins and rubber bands and lengths of string; or scraps of ribbon or lace or fabric to 'make things over'. None of them would have dreamed of throwing away today's cold, leftover veg which could be transformed into tomorrow's bubble & squeak, or soup, or casserole. Each of them had a 'button box' to store buttons cut from old garments (themselves usually handed down, passed on, restyled or - if they were beyond redemption - used as rags). I used to love playing with the contents of the button boxes, sorting their shiny contents into colours, or shapes, or sizes.

Somewhere along the line, this behaviour rubbed off on me, and I too love being inventive with leftovers, I have my own stashes of pins, string, fabric and rubber bands, and even my own button box. I look hard at things before chucking them to see if they have a possible chance at re-use, and recycling has become second nature.
Sometimes that's a good thing. I can feel pretty good about my minimal contributions to landfill sites and my habit of only buying a replacement for something when it dies completely must have saved me quite a fair amount of money over the years. On the other hand it does also result in gluts of jams and chutneys, I'm usually at least 5 years out of date with gadgets (mobile phone the size of a house brick, anyone?), and well, yes, I am a terrible hoarder. With a cry of 'That will come in useful one day!' my cupboards (and drawers, and the outbuildings, and the garage) soon fill up, and it is oh so hard to contemplate throwing any of it away because, well - you never know when it might come in handy.

Like most things in life, there must be balance. It is one thing to save yourself money and save the planet from drowning in consumables, yet it is quite another to find yourself overwhelmed by boxes of 'stuff that might come in useful one day'. My own challenge seems to be in keeping the hoarding instinct under control. Now that T has removed all the things he wants from the house, I need to take a deep breath and start sorting out what is left into what is truly loved, needed and/or useful and that which is merely taking up space. I suspect the local charity shops will soon get very sick of seeing me arrive with yet another box of donations for them to re-home, and at some point I may even get really ruthless and make a trip or two to the local dump.

On the other hand, I don't want to totally lose the thrifty habit. It's good for my bank balance and it's good for the planet when I reduce, reuse, repair, repurpose, recycle. And I still love playing with the contents of the button box occasionally!

In these cash-strapped times, I thought it may even be useful to pass on a few thrifty ideas via the blog. These will be many and assorted, ranging from ideas for re-using things and materials, to recipes and even spells. I'll label each with the tag 'ThriftWitch' so you can find them easily.

My first ThriftWitch tip will be 'The Clean Start Soap Spell' appearing in the next day or so. Stay tuned!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Fog and Ice and Gratitude

A new skyline on this day of fog and ice. The world ends across the valley, distant hills erased by fog. Sounds speak of life continuing 'out there' - a barking dog, a tractor, jackdaws - yet my eyes tell me the world is much smaller today.

Sheet ice covers the ground, even the chickens are slipping and sliding around. I walk intently, bent like an old woman, testing each step before carefully chancing my weight on it.

Cold, damp air chills my bones.

Yet the house is warm, the fire is lit, and my love and the cats await me. I count my blessings.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Blatant Advertising!

OK, here's a blatant advert: it's cold outside and I have some lovely cosy knitted items in my Etsy shop (along with other tempting goodies). Go see! Thank you.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

When is a Dead Frog Just a Dead Frog?

Detail from an altar at the Spiral Dance

A few years back, in the days leading up to my initiation, I was set a series of preparatory meditations and cleansing practices. One of these was to go to a local beach to cleanse and purify myself. As it was a particularly blustery day in March this turned out to be no gentle shoreline cleansing but a fierce sand-blasting by the elements. As I began the return journey, I was feeling positively scoured clean, and ready for the next stage. And then I saw them. First one, then another, then more and more. Dead frogs of all sizes, the corpses quite dried out and dessicated, were scattered along the pavement and in the gutter. Part of my mind was occupied with thoughts of the upcoming initiation, but part was bewildered. Why so many dead frogs, here, now? Had there been a plague of frogs in this small seaside village? Had they spawned and then met some grisly end? Poisoned by something? Run over? Frozen? Drowned? Can a frog drown? No one else seemed to have noticed. I walked on, puzzled.

Later, I checked on the lore and symbolism of frogs. They are creatures of earth and water (the two elements I resonate with most strongly). Due to their life cycle, from spawn to tadpole to frog, in many cultures they represent change and rebirth. Frogs seemed to be creatures I could have a connection to – and my eye was drawn back to the sentence about rebirth. In the days leading up to my initiation, a rite of passage symbolising the death of the old self and rebirth of the new, was it mere coincidence that an abundance of frogs – dead frogs – had crossed my path?

More recently, I was at my friend S’s house preparing, along with others, for the initiation of another friend. A couple of us were cleaning and tidying the space in readiness for the ritual, when we discovered the dessicated corpse of a frog under some shelves. We checked with S that it wasn’t a precious magical or ritual object (cue for many jokes about only having to ask such questions in a fellow Witch’s home!). It wasn’t – merely the hitherto undiscovered grisly relic of a hunting trip by S’s cat. Yet I noted the strange coincidence. Initiation. Dead frog, symbol of death and rebirth. Again.

My own initiation marked the onset of a period in my life where everything that could go wrong, went wrong. My health suffered, and I felt like for some reason I was out of step with the Universe. This period culminated in the end of my marriage, and a huge re-examination of my Self. And then, one evening last summer, just as I finally felt truly back in harmony with the Universe, another piece of frog magic occurred. Going out to shut the chickens away, something made me look up at the garden wall as I passed. There, at eye-level with me, was the biggest, healthiest looking frog I’ve ever seen. We regarded each other for a few seconds, until I quietly said, ‘Thank you.’ Then the frog jumped over the wall and disappeared.

I do think some part of me died and was reborn at my initiation. I think somehow, somewhere, my life had gone off-track without me even noticing. I think the Universe gave me gentle and some not-so-gentle signs and nudges to get me back on the right track. And I think the frogs - dead and alive - were part of that, a sign or message about the death and then rebirth of the self. Or at least a damn strange coincidence.

I have mentioned on this blog before now the notion of being predicted by the weather – the fact that sometimes, the weather seems to reflect our inner moods. Or are our inner moods subtly coloured by the weather without our realising it? The trouble with messages from the Universe is they can be so hard to spot in amongst ordinary day to day events. Another potential pitfall is that sometimes, we may be looking for a message when actually, there isn’t one. Sometimes a flat tyre may be telling us something profound about our journey through life. And sometimes it’s just a bloody nuisance. Sometimes, the Universe does have a message for us. But sometimes, shit just happens. The question is, when is a dead (or live) frog a message from the Universe? And when is a dead frog just a dead frog? How can we tell?

This is what I think. I think we live in an amazing and interactive Universe that speaks to us all the time. I think sometimes we hear, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we misunderstand, or only hear what we want to. I didn't notice how out-of-tune my life had got - the Universe tried sending me gentle hints, then glaringly obvious symbolism (dead frogs) then finally had to whack me over the head with stress-related exhaustion, illness, misfortune and the end of my marriage. I can be a slow learner, but I got it in the end. How much simpler, though, if I'd been listening in the first place.

The trick is to hone our listening skills. Tune in. Listen carefully. Notice coincidence and serendipity when they occur. Use the divination methods that work for you. Ask Reya's useful question, 'If this was a dream, what would it mean?'. Trust your intuition, your gut instinct. Pay attention to your dreams. Don’t just listen for what you want – or expect – to hear. Remember to say please and thank you.

And most important of all, remember that sometimes, a dead frog is just a dead frog.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

La Dia de los Muertos

Our final day in San Francisco was La Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead (2nd November). In the UK, it is 'All Souls Day' and passes by pretty much unnoticed, but in Mexico and amongst some Mexican Americans in the US it is the occasion for a big celebration.

In San Francisco, in the Mexican Mission district of the city, the weeks leading up to the date see shops and houses decorated with altars to the dead, intricately-cut tissue paper bunting depicting skulls, skeletons, flowers etc., and decorated sugar skulls and 'pain de muertos' or 'bread of the dead' are for sale in bakeries. Marigolds are another traditional decoration at this time of year, and along with all the Hallowe'en pumpkins, witches, ghosts, etc, the Dead are a definite presence within the city.

The Day of the Dead skeletons are usually depicted dressed in clothes and/or carrying the tools of their trade. Traditional ones would be dressed as farm workers for example, or fancily-decked out Victorian ladies, but I also saw more modern ones such as the skeleton dressed as a career woman with power-dressing suit and briefcase, or a skateboarding skeleton complete with backwards-facing baseball cap. The point is that the Dead are like us - they are us, and we shouldn't be afraid of them, or of death, nor should we take life too seriously. I must say I like the idea of continuing a relationship with our Beloved Dead after they have left us, and in many ways the Day of the Dead celebrations are like a big party to which the ancestors and the living are both invited to hang out with each other.

There is a big parade through the streets of the Mission District on the evening of la Dia de los Muertos, so that evening, IB, Deborah and I and several of her friends painted our faces to look like skulls, and carrying a lit votive candle each, made our way to the gathering point for the parade.

There were already many people assembled, and some of the costumes were amazing, putting my own skull-bedecked T-shirt and jeans ensemble to shame. As well as all the people dressed as the dead like us, there were drummers, Aztec dancers, stiltwalkers and an amazing covered wagon pulled by a team of cyclists, with a kind of 'ringmaster' figure perched on top calling through a megaphone for people to 'bring out your dead!'.

We followed the parade from its start on Bryant Street, turned onto 24th Street (which was thronging with onlookers) and followed it for several blocks before leaving the crowds and cutting down Balmy Alley to the quieter part of the celebrations, where beautiful altars to the Dead had been set out in Garfield Park.

The park was a mixture of people, some in 'Dead' costumes, others conventionally dressed, wandering thoughtfully amongst the altars. Yet at the same time, in a nearby part of the park a brightly-floodlit kid's baseball game was taking place complete with picnicking families. It was, for me, the perfect juxtaposition of the living and the dead; a reminder that life and death are inextricably linked. The dead are always with us. And life goes on.

P.S. Beautiful photos of some of the costumes and altars may be found here.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Did I Really...

...see a dragon on the horizon this afternoon?

Do you see it too?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

San Francisco Photos Part 2

It's hard to believe it's less than a week since we left...

The lovely City by the Bay 

Coit Tower 

Amoeba Records, Berkeley

Go Giants!

There are amazing murals everywhere in the Mission District

More murals...

Beautiful altars at the Spiral Dance. This one is for water.

Another lovely altar at the Spiral Dance.

Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco from Coit Tower by night.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

San Francisco Photos Part 1

Well, we are back in Wales, the computer is fixed - finally!! - and I have a few photos to share with you...

 The Rubinoos 40th Anniversary Concert 23/10/10

Mel's Diner


Sea lions at Pier 39

The Ferry Building, Embarcadero

Day of the Dead Altar in our favourite Mexican Restaurant (El Metate on Bryant Street)

Giant Redwoods in Muir Woods

They're really tall!

Golden Gate Bridge

Just too photogenic!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Dancing, The Dead, and Baseball

Continuing our adventures in San Francisco...

We ventured further afield on Thursday, crossing to the East Bay on the BART system to visit Berkeley. Berkeley, which describes itself as a small place with a big reputation, is probably best known as a centre of liberal politics and political upheaval, especially back in the 60's and 70's. At its heart literally and metaphorically, is the university campus.

We found it an interesting place to walk around and explore (IB was delighted to visit another branch of Amoeba Records, whilst I could have spent weeks in the wonderful bookshops!). Berkeley is a strange mix of the achingly trendy and the tragically dispossessed (many homeless people).

We had a quiet couple of days then, mostly in the neighbourhood where we're staying as we wanted to conserve our energy for the Spiral Dance on Saturday night.

It was held in the Kezar Pavillion in Haight-Ashbury. We caught the bus - I was nervous about missing our stop, but we did fine! The venue had been beautifully decorated with amazing altars - once again I took lots of photos - and was filled with hundreds of people, many in fabulous costumes. I was really looking forward to experiencing a ritual on such a grand scale.

And it was a grand scale, with many, many people sharing the priestessing, a choir, dancers, stilt walkers (and white-clothed 'Graces' scattered throughout who did a wonderful job as greeters cum information points cum guides cum ushers). It was spectacular, both visually striking and theatrical. On the downside, I found this cut down on the possibility for fully participating as it creates something of a performers/spectators dynamic. For example the choir were both talented and polished in their performance, but most of the chants and songs they used were so elaborate (with so many verses) that people tended to listen rather than join in. My personal preference would be for simple chants that the choir could lead, but which the community as a whole could really join in with. But that's just me!

The invocations of elements, deities, the dead and descendants were beautiful and moving. The main part of the ritual was a Trance to the Isle of the Dead, where we were reunited with our Beloved Dead, and this was done wonderfully. We then began the Spiral Dance, an amazing feat of organization when dealing with so many people (we guesstimated about 600-800). The Graces really came into their own here, supervising the joining of people to the snaking line until at last everyone was dancing the spiral, laughing, singing, smiling, crying. I think there were actually two separate spirals weaving around each other, and I was just blown away by the sheer number of faces passing in front of me. What an experience! The dance culminated in a huge cone of power, after which we devoked and priestesses came around with baskets of baked goodies to share ('May you never hunger!'). I have to say the cookie I received was very welcome by then!

We bravely caught the bus home again instead of hailing a taxi, and this in itself was an experience - the bus was crammed with Hallowe'en revellers in high spirits wearing every costume imaginable including vampires, zombies, mermaids, cats, nurses, skunks, devils, medusas etc etc.

The next day was Samhain (Hallowe'en), which we celebrated in a much quieter yet no less enjoyable way, with a quiet 'Dinner for the Dead'. This was an absolutely delicious meal cooked for us and the neighbours by Deborah, at which we set a place for our ancestors and Beloved Dead and ate by candlelight.

Later, we watched the latest game in the finals of the baseball World Series (makes me giggle every time I hear 'World Series', given that only the Americans play it...). Despite having no understanding of baseball whatsoever, I found myself getting more and more interested in the outcome. This is mainly because the final games were between the teams of our lovely host city (The San Francisco Giants - hooray, hooray!!) and their opponents (The Texas Rangers, with George W. Bush sitting prominently supporting them - boo! boo!).  The Giants won that evening, leaving them with just one more game to win to secure the title...

The next day (yesterday) was spent mostly in the neighbourhood shopping for souvenirs, although Deborah also took us out for a drive to see some of the city's best-kept secrets (including what is allegedly the REAL twistiest street in town - Vermont, as opposed to the more famous Lombard). I have to say, despite living in a hilly part of the world like Wales, some of the hills in San Francisco are truly daunting!

Later, with bated breath and fervently whispered prayers, we watched the baseball match - and San Francisco won! This is the first time in over 50 years the Giants have won the World Series, and the city just exploded in celebration! At first we listened to the sounds of jubilation erupting all around us, but then we just had to jump in the car and drive round the city (honking the horn and shouting 'Go Giants!, naturally). And so did everyone else. The whole city was out on the streets, honking horns, playing drums, tootling vuvuzelas, letting off fireworks, singing, dancing, shouting, waving flags and banners, and embracing total strangers. Quite a sight to behold. We think it's very considerate of San Francisco to win the baseball before we have to go home!

Today is La Dia de Los Muertes, the Day of the Dead. Tonight we will join those celebrations for our final night in the city. And tomorrow we will travel home... it will be nice to be home, but what an amazing trip it's been. We will be sorry when it's over.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

San Francisco

San Francisco is such a beautiful city. It's also a city that doesn't seem much like a city somehow. Since we've been here, IB and I have been amazed by the laid-back, friendly and courteous manner of most of the people we've met. Just one example is the way pedestrians have right of way over cars. To start with, the two of us were hesitating at street corners, unable to believe that the oncoming traffic was giving way to us. Now we've just about got the hang of it. I hope we remember to return to UK rules on our return! My friend Deborah keeps reminding us, "But you're in Northern California now!" every time we express amazement at the laid-back way of life.

We have been exploring different areas of the city: the Mission district, the Castro, Noe Valley, Haight-Ashbury, Fisherman's Wharf and the Embarcadero. Each is quite distinct, giving a kind of village-y atmosphere in many cases.

On Saturday, we attended The Rubinoos' 40th Anniversary concert at The Great American Music Hall, an amazing ornate venue that in times past was a brothel! The concert was one of our main reasons for coming to San Francisco - I have been a huge Rubinoos fan for over 30 years and did not want to miss this landmark event! The concert began with a great spoof 'This Is Your Life' featuring amazing video footage covering the past 40 years and some fantastic 'special guests', including former band members and friends of the band. The second half of the evening was the concert itself which covered a great selection of songs old and new, and carried on until midnight (with two encores). A fabulous night which I wouldn't have missed for the world! We also got a mention from the stage for having come the furthest, although people had travelled from all corners of the US to be there - proof of the loyalty of the band's fan base.

One reason for this loyalty may be that they are all very down to earth and approachable. IB and I had got friendly with the band's bass player, Al Chan, on line, and he and his wife had very kindly offered to take us out sightseeing the day after the show. Despite torrential rain, they took us to Haight-Ashbury (birthplace of the hippy movement) for the day, including a trip to the gargantuan record store, Amoeba Records. IB was in heaven and only budgetary constraints prevented him from emptying the shop!

Unfortunately the weather eventually defeated us - we were all four quite literally soaked to the skin - and we finished our day out drip-drying in a classic 50's-style diner over hamburgers and fries.

On Monday we got the hang of the city's BART (tube train) system and did the real tourist-thing on Fisherman's Wharf. My favourite thing there was the colony of wild sea-lions which congregate on floating platforms just by Pier 39. They are noisy and spend a lot of time sparring with each other but they are fascinating. They gather there quite naturally, as they are not fed. Only the floating platforms are placed there for their convenience, and they don't seem to mind being gawped at by tourists one bit.

Yesterday (Tuesday) Al once again took us for a day out - quite above and beyond the call of duty, I think! This time the weather was absolutely perfect, warm and sunny with barely a cloud in the sky. We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods, a beautiful and peaceful area of redwood forest within easy striking distance of the city. The giant trees make one feel quite dwarfed, and the cool, damp, eucalyptus-scented air and dappled shade beneath them seems timeless.

Later we stopped at an overlook by the Golden Gate Bridge - a perfect opportunity for lots of photos - and then got yet another perspective by walking part of the way across the bridge and back. It is so much bigger than it looks in photos! And the Bay area must be one of the most photogenic in the world. I am itching to share my photos with you, but unfortunately won't be able to do so until I get home.

We are having the most wonderful time here! If I get the chance I will write about more of our adventures before we leave, and once I get back I will post lots of photos... you have been warned!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Home Thoughts from A Broad

To say the last few weeks have been hectic would be a serious understatement. And just to add insult to injury, my home broadband connection has died and I am having serious difficulties getting it re-connected. But no matter, I have flown away from all the stress and drama (for a fortnight anyway) and am writing this from my friend's computer in her beautiful home in San Francisco.

IB and I are here in this lovely city visiting my friend Deborah Oak. On Saturday we are going to see the Rubinoos' 40th Anniversary concert at The Great American Music Hall, and next week we will be fulfilling my long-cherished ambition to attend Reclaiming's annual Spiral Dance. On November 2nd we will join in La Dia de los Muertes (or Day of the Dead) festivities before flying home the next day.

Sadly although I have my trusty camera with me I forgot to bring the cable for downloading photos to the computer, but when I get home I will post plenty of them to make up for lost time. In the meantime, I hope to report back regularly on our adventures.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Moments of Radiance

Yesterday we held our Mabon (Autumn Equinox) Ritual. It is starting to feel like a tradition each autumn: during the ritual we write those things we'd like to shed from our lives onto leaves and then burn them in the cauldron; take stock of the year's blessings and take an apple from the altar to symbolise those blessings; and finally pass around a basket of hazelnuts, taking it in turns to give them to each other - a nut for each wish or blessing we want to bestow. This symbolises the sharing of our year's harvest.

The ritual is always emotional, moving and heart-warming as people speak of the negatives they want to shed, then move on to the good things they harvest and finally bless each other in turn with lovely hazelnut-wishes.

Afterwards the group gathered in my kitchen as I finished preparing the mushroom quiche and apple crumble we were about to consume. Pinky and Suzanne were in the corner discussing tarot decks, IB and Dom compared mead recipes at the kitchen table, and all the while Sid serenaded us on his flute, moving from Ave Maria, through some Irish jigs to Ravel's Bolero.

I looked around at the lovely people assembled in my home, as the sun streamed in through the windows, the smells of the feast to come permeated the room, and the lovely ethereal music wove its way through all. And I felt a blaze of happiness. This is what I have always wanted, a group of true friends, a meaningful spiritual path, a comfortable home in which to gather and share with those friends in celebration and love.

Sometimes in life we are happy without even knowing it, only realising how precious a moment is after it has passed, and sometimes we are lucky enough to recognise true happiness in the moment. At this year's harvest I was truly blessed with an opportunity to recognise and count my blessings in a moment of radiance.

May we all be so fortunate. Blessed Be!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Beautiful September

We' ve had some rain, but also some beautiful sunny early autumn days recently. Here are some photos to prove it!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

On Mellow Fruitfulness and New Beginnings...

The early morning sunlight is golden on the treetops, and mist still lingers in the valley folds. The robin's song has a tinge of autumn melancholy, and the sunlit dew highlights a hundred spider webs. September is here, and with her the onset of autumn. Though the swallows and martens of summer haven't yet departed, autumn now begins to take over.

I was musing this morning how strange it is that September and autumn can feel like a beginning. Mostly autumn is portrayed as the end, the culmination of the year, a time of harvest. And yet isn't it - aren't all turning points - also beginnings? Years ago, I wrote a poem, part of which declared:

"Through life and death and rebirth,
The thread continues spinning;
And though all beginnings have to end,
All ends are but beginnings"

In September the children go back to school, the new academic year begins. People return from summer holidays and in many cases begin planning their next holiday straight away! The shops begin their run-up to Christmas (yes I know!). Bulbs are planted in anticipation of the next spring, jumpers and boots re-emerge from their summer hiatus, the swallows begin their long journey back to warmer climes.

September marks the end of summer, but also the beginning of a new season - autumn. There are so many turning points in our lives, but every ending is simultaneously a new beginning, a new opportunity. This morning I'm remembering to be thankful for what has passed, whilst welcoming in the new...

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Story of a Necklace

I will shortly be leaving for this year's Avalon Spring witchcamp. And when choosing what to pack, I was drawn to bring along a necklace which normally sits on my main altar, in a corner of the bedroom.

The story of this necklace goes back to Avalon Spring 2008, where I first became acquainted with it. Dawn Isidora, who was one of the teachers that year, made three beautiful necklaces which she brought with her to be auctioned to raise funds for camp. Three members of the teaching team wore the necklaces throughout camp so that they would soak up the energy of the rituals. I felt an instant kinship for the necklace I was given to wear, and decided I would definitely bid for it in the auction on the final night of camp. Dawn had strung the other two necklaces with a definite intent for their energy, but she said she was unsure what 'my' necklace was about. She had strung it instinctively, and was still unsure what its purpose was.

For me it spoke of love, romantic love. The pale pink pearls (pink being the colour of love) were interspersed with tiny glass hearts and teeny copper beads (copper being the metal of Venus). At that time I had been married for nearly 17 years and whilst I was happy in my marriage it is fair to say that romance wasn't particularly high on the agenda - familiarity having bred a certain amount of taking each other for granted. Nor was I interested in drawing a new love into my life, being decidedly monogamist in my preferences. Nevertheless, I felt I had 'bonded' with the necklace and determined that I would be the winning bidder.

At the auction, I allowed myself a budget of £45. The first necklace sold for an amount comfortably within that limit, and I relaxed a little. The second went for a little higher than my budget, but I told myself hopefully that by now people would have exhausted their spending muscles and I would be lucky. But by now, the end of the auction, people were really getting into the swing of it, and the price for the necklace went up and up, as my heart sunk and sunk. All however, was not lost. My dear friends Georgia and Annie had noticed how much I wanted the necklace, and when my price limit was exceeded and I stopped bidding, they chipped in additional money on my behalf, until at last all competition fell away, and the necklace was mine.

I still remained puzzled as to why I felt so drawn to the necklace, but took it home to sit proudly on my altar and occasionally come out, displayed around my neck.

Later that year, my marriage - much to my surprise - ended, and I was left alone, dazed and confused by this unexpected turn of events.

The necklace lay mostly forgotten on the altar, until a friend from the local Pagan community started to become more than just a friend. At Beltane 2009, I wore my love necklace for the first time with intent; the intent that if the time was right I would open my heart to new possibilities. By the end of the month, IB and I had made the transition from friends to lovers, and my happiness grew and grew.

Today, packing my bags I wanted to bring the necklace, but it has always had a loose fastening and I was worried about losing it. I mentioned it to IB, who promptly delicately, yet securely soldered it so that I can wear it with confidence.
And at Avalon Spring this year, for the first time I will be joined by my partner (T never having been interested in such things), and I can't wait to share this event I love so much with the person I love so much. My happiness continues to grow.

Now my necklace and my love are secure. Don't you just love a happy ending?