Thursday, 31 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 61: Cleansing on New Year's Eve

 


Every year on New Year's Eve, I turn my attentions to tidying up loose ends, cleaning the house physically and cleansing it energetically. I began this tradition almost by accident, but the idea really resonates with me, and so I have continued it each year. New Year's Eve is also the day I conclude my annual Clean Start Soap Spell, so this morning saw me diligently using up the last slivers of soap. Interestingly, this year they seemed reluctant to finally dissolve away, so I'm taking that as an unfortunate omen that the issues and energies of 2020 will be tenaciously hanging on into 2021. Be that as it may, I'm cleaning and cleansing in preparation for a fresh new start tomorrow. Won't you join me?

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 61

Cleansing on New Year's Eve

There are many ways you can clean and cleanse in preparation for the New Year. Clean your home, bathe yourself, do an energetic cleansing of yourself and your surroundings. Here are some ideas.

  • Tidy your home, putting things away in their proper places and throwing away/giving away/donating to charity anything which is no longer required. 
  • Clean your home - wipe down surfaces, sweep the floor, scrub the sink.
  • Put fresh bedlinen on your bed, clean towels in the bathroom and clean tea-towels in the kitchen.
  • Wash, dry and put away the dishes after your meal.
  • Wash and valet your car.
  • Open all the windows for at least 10 minutes to allow fresh air to circulate.
  • Do an energetic space cleansing by sprinkling a little salt water around the perimeter of each room and at each door and window.
  • Use a singing bowl or a smudge stick to cleanse your home and yourself of any negative energy.
For more inspiration on cleansing your space (including recipes for making your own magical cleaning products) see my post on Magical Spring Cleaning.

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 60: Year End Review

 


The year 2020 is drawing to a close. Is that a sigh of relief I can hear? 

For many - most? - of us this has been a year like no other. The entire world has collectively had to navigate these strange, challenging, stressful, tedious, frightening times.

Most years I find the last few days of the year a good time to look back over the preceding twelve months - both good and bad. This year I think it's more important than ever to reflect on the events of the last year. It has been a time of such momentous change for everyone that there must be a serious need to process it all. In fact, I suspect we'll be processing 2020 for a good long time to come. 

Despite the dramas of 2020 though, I believe when looking back we'll be able to find happy memories as well as difficult ones. Life is never all good or all bad. For example, Coronavirus has had a devastating impact on my work and income, we've had major maintenance issues with the house and several of my loved ones have been battling serious illness. Yet I've loved having more free time on my hands to spend on gardening and writing again; I've had my faith in human nature restored by so many acts of love, kindness and generosity; and I've had space to stand back, reassess my life and realise what is really important - and what isn't.  

Winter Blessings and Beauties - Day 60

Year End Review

In your notebook or journal, make some notes reviewing 2020. Probably there will be some major events that stand out in your memory so make a brief note of these first. Then cast your mind back, month by month and try to remember what other things occurred. If you need to jog your memory, look back through your journal, diary, calendar, blog, social media accounts or even the photos on your phone. Make brief notes of everything you remember.

Now start to flesh things out and ask yourself some questions about the year. What were the best things that happened? What were the worst? What did you learn? What did you lose? What things would you like to leave behind in 2020? What will you gladly take forward with you into 2021? What unfinished business do you have to deal with?  What did you achieve? What are you hoping for? What would you differently next time? 

Try to find a sentence - or two - that sums up 2020, good and bad.  

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 59: Recipe - Curried Parsnip Soup

 


I love making soup - as I may have mentioned before. It's such a versatile dish - and a great way of using up leftovers or gluts of homegrown veggies**. One of my favourite soup recipes for this time of year is Curried Parsnip Soup. C
reamy, spicy, warming, soothing - it's everything you could want from a Winter recipe. Root vegetables are grounding, connected to the deep slow pulse of the Earth. In this recipe they compliment and contrast with the subtle fire energy of the spices.

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 59

Recipe - Curried Parsnip Soup

Ingredients
1 tbsp vegetable oil
knob of butter
1 onion
1 tsp turmeric*
pinch of asafoetida*
1 tsp medium curry powder*
2-3 parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium, potato peeled and chopped
vegetable stock
½ tsp garam masala*
single cream
fresh coriander leaves

Method
Heat the vegetable oil and butter in a saucepan, add the chopped onion and fry gently for a few minutes until softened and translucent. 
Stir in the turmeric, asafoetida and curry powder, then add the chopped parsnip, carrot and potato. 
Pour over enough vegetable stock to cover the vegetables, and bring to the boil. 
Stir well and reduce to a simmer until the vegetables are soft. 
Blend until smooth with a stick blender or in a food processor. 
Return to the heat and stir in the garam masala and single cream. Check seasoning and adjust if necessary. Serve, sprinkled with a garnish of chopped coriander leaves.

 * Make this soup as mild or spicy as you like by adjusting the amount of spices to suit your own tastes. 

** My other soup recipes can be found via these links:


Monday, 28 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 58: Snow Stories


The snow has stories to tell. 

As it falls, it creates a blank white sheet on which the eager world may tell its tales... tales of adventure and exploration, tales of secret journeys, tales of life and the living of it...

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 58

Snow Stories

What stories does the snow tell? Who has passed this way and what has occurred? Let the snow reveal its secrets...

 

Sunday, 27 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 57: Snow

 



Here in West Wales, the winter weather has mostly been mild so far - but we have a Yellow Weather Warning for snow tomorrow. Time will tell if the forecast is correct, but here's a photo from a few years back when we had such heavy snow that we were snowed in for several weeks. I wasn't happy about it at the time - I couldn't get to work or even out to buy groceries - but even so I could appreciate the pristine beauty of the snow. It's amazing how the soft, white blanket of it transforms the landscape into something magical.

One winter when we'd not been living in Wales for very long we were invited to a neighbour's home for a party. As the hosts only lived a short distance away, we walked there. During the evening it began snowing heavily, and by the time we left everything was thickly blanketed in soft whiteness. A full moon shone down, reflecting so brightly off the snowy fields, that we had no need of a torch. We walked back home through a silent, luminous landscape, enchanted by the transformation of our everyday world into a frozen fairyland.  

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 57

Snow

Snow can be deeply inconvenient - or it can be magical! See the beauty of a snowy landscape and appreciate its otherworldly, transformative qualities. Remember how much fun snow was when you were a child! Walk in it, play in it. Let it inspire your creativity. What is the most beautiful snow scene you have ever seen?  Try to capture its beauty and magic in art and words. 

Saturday, 26 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 56: The Twelve Days of Christmas


Most people know about The Twelve Days of Christmas via the traditional song listing an array of strange gifts - including 'A Partridge in a Pear Tree' - that 'My True Love Sent to Me'. I had always assumed that the gifts were sent in the run-up to Christmas, but actually the Twelve Days of Christmas commence on 26th December, the day after Christmas. 

According to Caitlin Matthews, the Twelve Days of Christmas are called 'Omen Days' in Wales and Brittany (click through to the link for her full explanation of this). Each of the twelve days corresponds to a month in the coming year - the first day (today, 26th December) corresponds to January, the second day - 27th December - to February, and so on. The idea is that on each day you look out for an oracle which forecasts what you can expect for the corresponding month of the year ahead. You can either take note of events or occurrences during each day, or you can use a divinatory system such as the runes or tarot for your predictions. 

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 56

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Starting from today, until Twelfth Night (6th January) keep alert for oracles forecasting the months of the year ahead. Or do daily divinations using the method of your choice to get your forecast.      


Friday, 25 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 55: Christmas


Christmas means many things to many people -  religious festival, midwinter celebration, family gathering, time out of time, day off work... 

Even more so than Samhain/Hallowe'en, Christmas is a victim of its own success in that many of the trappings surrounding it have overtaken and masked its original meaning. To add to the confusion, customs from other midwinter festivals have become mixed in over the centuries, creating something greater than the sum of its parts.

As a Pagan, I don't celebrate Christmas as a religious event but I do celebrate it as a secular midwinter festival which is a huge part of the over-culture I live in (just as I enjoy Hallowe'en as a secular autumn festival, celebrating Samhain as a religious event). 

All around me friends and family decorate their homes and get together to eat, drink, exchange gifts, make merry. We eat special seasonal foods, listen to seasonal songs, tell traditional tales and watch Christmas films. We pull crackers and roast chestnuts, kiss under the mistletoe and hope for snow. For some of these people Christmas has religious significance, for others it doesn't. Yet we are all united by the celebration itself. And this is what I - a Pagan - love about Christmas. Religious or secular, it brings people, communities, families, friends together in celebration.

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 55

Christmas

Whatever the day means to you, and however you are spending it, I wish you a Merry Christmas - religious or secular. 

      

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 54: Star of Guidance, Star of Hope

 


The Star from The Wild Unknown Tarot Deck

I managed to see Jupiter and Saturn close together in the sky this evening. It's been so cloudy for the last week or so that it wasn't possible to view them come together in the Great Conjunction on the evening of the Winter Solstice, but I finally saw the two planets together, low on the horizon after sunset. They have moved a little way apart from each other now, but they're still very close. 

Seeing this phenomenon on Christmas Eve started me thinking about the story of the three wise men and the star that led them on their journey. It has been suggested that the star they were following may actually have been a Great Conjunction

Stars are often used as symbols of hope, small sparks of light in the darkness, holding out the promise of guidance and illumination. How does this symbol manifest in your life? 

Winter Blessings and Beauties - Day 54

Star of Guidance, Star of Hope

  • What is your guiding star, your light in the darkness? In times of confusion and difficulty, what is the hope that keeps you going? What beliefs or practices help you to persevere?
  • Who are your 'Wise Men'? Who has taught you or given you wise counsel when you've needed it? Who has appeared in your life and inspired you? Who has used their own life experience and wisdom to show you the way?
  • What gifts do you have to give as a result of the guidance and wisdom that has been given to you? What can you 'pay forward' to others?     

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 53: Fire



Fire assumes a greater importance in Winter when our usual source of heat and light - the Sun - is at its weakest. From a flickering candle flame to a cosy wood-burner to a roaring bonfire, fire's reassuring glowing warmth is the natural antidote to a surfeit of cold and gloom.  

Winter Blessings and Beauties - Day 53

Fire

Here are some ideas for warming your Winter with the element of fire.

  • There are lots of ideas for enjoying candles and candlelight here
  • If you have an open fireplace, a woodburning stove or a bonfire, you can roast chestnuts or marshmallows, or make s'mores
  • You can scry into the flames or embers of a fire, or even a candle flame.
  • If you don't have a fireplace in your home, you can get the real fire effect by putting on a YouTube video. You can also buy candles that are scented like a wood fire if you'd like to get the full effect! Yankee Candles make one called  'Wood Smoke', St Eval have a fragrance called 'Embers', and the Woodfire Candle Company not only have wooden wicks in their candles which crackle like a real log fire, but they also have a scent called 'Campfire'. I'm sure there are many others out there too.
  • Wrap up warm and enjoy a bonfire under the stars - don't forget to bring a flask of hot chocolate.
  • Gaze into your fire - or candle flame - allowing your vision to soften. Imagine how your ancestors too, gazed into the flames on winter nights, lost in reverie. How much has changed through the centuries, and yet how much we still have in common. Feel how connected you are to those distant ancestors through the shared experience of fire-gazing, dreaming and unwinding, watching images form and fade in the flames.   

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 52: Family Traditions

 


In the days between Yule and Christmas, I'm thinking about all the personal or family Traditions I associate with this time of year. As I've mentioned before now, it was my family's Tradition that we put the Christmas tree and decorations up during the weekend prior to Christmas. We were also scrupulously careful to make sure they all came down and were neatly packed away on Twelfth Night - it's supposed to be unlucky to leave them up after that.

When T and I were married, we had a Tradition of enjoying a special feast on Christmas Eve - smoked salmon, caviar, oysters, avocado and king prawn salad, crusty bread and an indulgent dessert, accompanied by a bottle of champagne. It was the only time of year we ate such a luxurious spread, but we did it without fail every Christmas Eve. I'm not quite sure where the Tradition came from, except that it was something we did on our first Christmas Eve together, enjoyed and decided to keep doing every year! 

I should say here that I don't think something has to have originated way back in the mists of time to be considered a Tradition. After all even the most ancient of Traditions was a new idea once. The only thing necessary for something to become a Tradition is repetition. Then again, it is really something special when a Tradition becomes so established that it is passed along to others, or down the generations within a family. 

One inter-generational Tradition that was passed to me was that of 'First Footing' on New Years Eve. My maternal grandmother was of Scottish ancestry and this Hogmanay custom was very important to her. As a tall, dark-haired man, my Dad was called upon to step outside the door just before midnight on New Year's Eve. Then as soon as the clock had struck twelve, he'd knock on the door and be admitted back into the house, carrying with him a piece of coal and a glass of whisky, symbolically bringing luck and plenty into the house.

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 52:

Winter Traditions

What winter family Traditions have you inherited? Do you still follow them? Have you passed them along?

How do you feel about the Winter Traditions that you hold? How does continuing them make you feel? Are there any you would like to drop? What stops you from doing so? If they no longer serve you, think about leaving them behind. Consider starting new Traditions that better reflect you and your life. Which Traditions continue to hold meaning for you? How will you carry them forward? With whom will you share them?

What winter Traditions have you initiated? How did they start? How have they developed? Who have you shared them with?


Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 51: The Light at the End of the Tunnel


We have now arrived at Yule, the Winter Solstice - the shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern hemisphere. From now on days will gradually lengthen and nights grow shorter - although imperceptibly at first. Although we passed the halfway point of winter a few days ago (the exact midpoint between Samhain and Imbolc), it is from today onwards that we begin the climb back up towards the light half of the year from the deepest, darkest days of Winter.

Understandably (and especially this year), many people choose to celebrate the returning light at Yule, but I think we should also be honouring the dark at the height of its power. This year - probably because I've been posting daily about the Blessings and Beauties of Winter - I've felt a pang at the idea that Winter and the season of darkness is already beginning to wane. Is that weird? I think it's actually good that the practice of actively engaging with the positive side of Winter every day has changed my way of thinking about this much maligned season.

Which is not to say I'm not looking forward to the first snowdrops and the warmer, brighter days they herald! But for me at least, even in this most difficult of years, the 'Winter Blessings and Beauties' experiment seems to have sped up the first half of Winter, and helped me more consciously enjoy the things that make Winter unique and special. I hope it's helped you too. 

Winter Blessings and Beauties - Day 51

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

We have journeyed through the dark together into the very heart of Winter - savouring every step of the way, lingering over the pleasures and treasures we have found en route. As the sun stands still at its nadir, let us too pause and take stock. Looking back over the first half of Winter, remembering the all the facets of the season that we've explored and savoured so far... then turning to look ahead at the light at the end of the tunnel, beckoning us forward. What adventures and discoveries await us in the second half of Winter, as we journey through the growing days into Spring? 

Monday, 21 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 50: Mistletoe

 


Along with Holly and Ivy, Mistletoe is one of the classic Yuletide plants with which people traditionally decorate their homes - yet it is also set apart from the others in many ways. The first difference of course is that mistletoe is a parasitic plant which draws water and nutrition from its host. It grows on a variety of different tree species but is found most frequently on apple trees, hawthorns, poplars, willows and lime. It can weaken the host tree but rarely kills it, which would after all be fatal to itself. 

The seeds are usually spread by birds either in their droppings or when they wipe their beaks on tree branches after eating the sticky berries. The seeds get stuck in crevices in the bark where they germinate, and a kind of root called a haustorium penetrates the branch, allowing the mistletoe to tap into the tree for its food and water.

Mistletoe does produce some of its own food through photosynthesis which is why its leaves are green. This is probably one reason it was seen as 'magical' and significant during Winter - like holly and ivy, it is evergreen. But it must also have seemed magical to our ancestors due to the fact that it doesn't grow in soil but seems to miraculously appear in the branches of trees, a product of neither earth nor sky. 

Understandably, as such an unusual plant, mistletoe appears in a great deal of folklore and mythology.

The 'Golden Bough' that enabled Theseus to visit and safely return from the land of the dead in Greek myth is thought to have been mistletoe. 

The Romans associated mistletoe with peace and hung it over their doorways during Saturnalia

In Norse myth, Balder the Beautiful God was magically protected by his mother Frigg, who extracted promises from everything living on or growing in the earth that they would not harm him, thus rendering him invincible. He seemed so indestructible that the other Gods played a game using Balder for target practice. Unfortunately Frigg had overlooked mistletoe when she wove protection around her son, either because she considered it too weak to pose a threat, or because uniquely among plants, mistletoe doesn't grow on or in the earth. The trickster God Loki (being jealous of Balder's beauty) mislead Balder's blind brother, Höd into throwing a piece of mistletoe at Balder, killing him. 

Mistletoe was seen as a fertility charm too - partly because the sticky white juice of the berries was thought to resemble semen. This, added to its ability to remain green throughout Winter suggested the plant contained a vital life-force, and this may be the origin of the custom of kissing under the mistletoe for good luck. 

All these Pagan connections were too much for the medieval Church and it banned mistletoe as a decoration in churches.

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 50

Mysterious, Magical Mistletoe

is there any mistletoe growing in your area? It's usually most easily spotted in Winter when there is no foliage on its deciduous host tree and its bushy growths can be seen silhouetted against the sky. In certain areas of the UK - such as Herefordshire - it is very common, but in others it is something of a rarity. 

Take a walk to see if you can spot any mistletoe growing. If not you may be able to buy some - it is often sold at this time of year as a Christmas decoration.

If you can find some, you may like to hang a sprig or two over your door like the Romans used to, as a protective charm for your household. When I do this I tie it with a piece of red ribbon and leave it up for the rest of the year, until I can replace it with a fresh sprig next Winter.    

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 49: Deck the Halls...


When do you start decorating for Christmas? Is it an integral part of your celebrations - or something you don't really bother with?

When I was a child we usually put up the Christmas tree and decorations on the weekend before Christmas. To this day, doing it any earlier seems a bit premature to me. Rather like my position on life's little luxuries it seems to me that it's the infrequency of these things that makes them special. I believe that if I put my Christmas decorations up in November, by December they would have become 'part of the furniture' and I'd no longer really notice and appreciate them. I'd rather have them there for a short period during which they catch my eye with their novelty and I really enjoy them. 

This year there seems to have been a general trend towards decorating even earlier than usual. It is totally understandable that in the darkest months of what has been a difficult and often traumatic year for people that they feel the need to bring light and cheerfulness in, as soon as possible. This year Christmas decorations are - even more so than usual - a necessary antidote to gloominess, a welcome reminder of good times and happy memories.

Over the last few years, my Christmas decorations have been at best sparse, due to a combination of little spare time to devote to them and the presence of young, hyperactive cats who would see a Christmas tree as an exciting climbing opportunity! This year I may finally be able to get a little more creative with Christmas decorating as the cats are old enough to (mostly) act sensibly around a Christmas tree. And of course in Wales as of this evening we are back in lockdown, so I have time on my hands. I'm planning to mostly decorate with evergreens from the garden, with just a few baubles and a minimal amount of sparkle. But I'm thinking there should be plenty of lights - fairy lights, lanterns, candles, votives. Like the rest of the world, this year I feel the need for an antidote to gloom. 

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 49

Deck the Halls...

If you haven't yet put up decorations, think about doing so now. They don't have to be  'Christmas' decorations - they could be decorations in celebration of midwinter, Yule, or whatever you feel like celebrating at this time! 

The possibilities are many - home-made or shop-bought? Sparkly or natural? Lavish or minimalist? Themed to a colour scheme or a wild rainbow-mix? Sleek and sophisticated or an eclectic assortment that has been gathered over the years? 

The important thing is that it is beautiful and meaningful to you. Celebrate the Winter with a joyful display that will brighten your home and make you happy. 



Friday, 18 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 48: Saturnalia


 

The Roman Festival of Saturnalia was celebrated from 17th-23rd December, with feasting, gift-giving and much merry-making. It was a time when normal social conventions were turned on their head - gambling was allowed and slaves were waited on by their owners. A 'King of the Saturnalia', was elected by drawing lots and would preside over the festivities, issuing arbitrary whimsical orders which had to be obeyed by his 'subjects'.

It's believed that some of the customs associated with later European celebrations of a Winter festival have been influenced by the Saturnalia festivities, including that of electing a 'Lord of Misrule'.

To this day, the days leading up to the Winter Solstice and Christmas have a quality of 'time out of time' mixed in with a celebratory atmosphere. Schools wind down for the holidays and there is often more fun than learning going on; a festive air pervades the workplace and there are office parties, and meals out; the darkness is lit by a myriad of fairy lights; people frantically shop and prepare for feasting and merrymaking with loved ones. There is a sense of anticipation, and to a certain extent the usual rules are suspended. 

Isn't it interesting how our modern celebrations so closely mirror many of the ways the Romans celebrated their mid-winter festival 2,000 years ago? Is it because the Romans set a template that has been followed down the years? Or is it human nature to feel the need to cut loose, let our hair down and light up the darkness with a big party? Or is it just the tension between the darkest, slowest, quietest time of the year crashing up against our impatient desire for the return of the light?  Personally I suspect it's a little of each. 

Winter Blessings amd Beauties, Day 48

Saturnalia

Take a few moments to centre yourself. Breathe slowly and deeply and feel your way into the energy of midwinter. How does the contradiction between the slow, deep rhythms of the sleeping earth, and the excited, jubilant energies of the human world as it gears up for midwinter festivities in anticipation of the turning of the darkness feel? It feels to me as if the two opposing forces coming together generates a charge of intoxicating energy. Is it any wonder that the King of the Saturnalia and the Lord of Misrule revel in their ability to turn convention on its head and undermine the usual order of things?  They are the perfect incarnation of the paradoxical midwinter energies in this liminal time, when winter approaches its peak - which is simultaneously the point at which it begins to wane.

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 47: Halfway Through Winter


 Sign and photo by Lonely Signpost https://www.facebook.com/lonelysignpost


Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and girls! [drum roll]
It gives me great pleasure to announce... we are now halfway through Winter!

Can you believe it? Already we are halfway between Samhain and Imbolc. We perch on the brink of the Winter Solstice, ready for the day of peak darkness - inevitably followed by the slow but irreversible journey back to the light half of the year.

Winter Blessings and Beauties - Day 47

Halfway Through Winter

Now, half way through the Winter days, is a good time to stop and take stock. How has your experience of Winter been so far? What has been good? What has been bad? How could you make it better? What have you been meaning to do that you haven't yet got around to? What favourite old Winter activities and customs have you enjoyed? What surprising discoveries have you made? 

There are only another 47 days until Imbolc, when the light will be returning, and snowdrops will be nosing up out of the earth. How will you use those days to enjoy the rest of the Winter?

  

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 46: Hibernation and Sleep


I fell down on the job yesterday. After a busy day at work - I currently work in retail, and the lead-up to Christmas is our busiest time - I came home, ate my dinner... and promptly fell asleep on the sofa. I woke a couple of times, thinking "I really must write today's blogpost!" but each time I just went straight back to sleep. Eventually I admitted defeat and went up to bed. I was so tired I couldn't form a coherent thought, never mind write anything.

Today - a day off - I managed to catch up and write yesterday's post on the Mari Lwyd. And I also spent some time thinking about hibernation, and our sleep requirements in Winter.

The fact is, many of us do feel sleepier in Winter. Feelings of needing more sleep at this time of year are largely driven by our bodies' reaction to lower light levels. The combination of shorter day length and spending more time indoors means our exposure to natural light is decreased. This lower light intensity signals to our bodies that it's time to prepare for sleep, leading to increased levels of sleepiness. 

However, sleep experts say we don't need more than 7-9 hours of sleep a night, and what is more important is to make sure we have good quality of sleep. We can do that by maintaining consistent sleeping/waking times, getting regular exercise - preferably outside in daylight - and keeping light levels low before bedtime. 

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 46:

Hibernation and Sleep

Pay attention to your sleep requirements in the winter. Get more sleep if your body needs it - but don't overdo it. Aim for 7-9 hours per night. Practice good sleep hygiene. Make it part of your self-care routine. 

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 45: The Mari Lwyd

 
The Mari Lwyd is a Welsh winter folk custom related to Mumming and Wassailing. 'Mari Lwyd' means 'Grey Mare' in Welsh, and the Mari herself is a hobby horse made from a horse's skull on a pole. The skull is decorated with ribbons or strips of cloth forming a mane. The eyes usually have pieces of glass or baubles inserted into them and sometimes the skull is painted or otherwise embellished. The jaw is often wired so that the operator of the Mari, who is hidden beneath a draped cloth can 'snap' the teeth at people. 

Traditionally, around Christmas and New Year - the timing wasn't exact, varying  between communities - the Mari, accompanied by her Handler and a group of others including musicians and sometimes stock characters such as 'Punch' and 'Judy', would travel around the village, stopping to sing outside each house. The song requested that they be allowed to enter, but the inhabitants of the house would reply with reasons why this couldn't happen. The Mari's party would then sing another verse about why they should be allowed entry, and the inhabitants would again rebuff them. This battle of wits was known as the 'pwnco' (pronounced poon-KOH) and it would go on until the household eventually gave in and welcomed in the Mari and her supporters with food and drink.    


These photos of the Mari Lwyd were taken a few years ago at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Although the custom of the Mari Lwyd had declined, in recent years there has been a revival and there seem to be more Mari Lwyd events every year. There is now even an annual gathering of Mari Lwyds at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic at Boscastle in Cornwall.   


The origins of the Mari Lwyd are obscure. Some think she dates back into the mists of prehistory, others argue she is a mere couple of hundred years old. Whatever the truth of her origins, she is a potent and magical figure. Mysterious, frightening, mischievous, anarchic, she has connections to horse Goddesses like Epona and Rhiannon; to the mysterious chalk hill figure horses such as the Uffington Horse; and to other folk horses like the Padstow 'Obby 'Oss. Let us also not forget there is a longstanding strong taboo against eating horseflesh in the British Isles. Clearly the horse is an important and magical creature within British folklore, and the Mari reflects this.

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 45

The Mari Lwyd

Learn more about the Mari Lwyd (there is much to be found simply by Googling 'Mari Lwyd') and other traditions of Hobby Horses and Hooden Horses. To connect with her spirit, try drawing or painting her image, or compose poetry dedicated to her. Place an image of her on your altar at this time of year, and treat her with respect and deference. 

 

Monday, 14 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 44: The Dance of Dark and Light

 


Today, there was not only a New Moon, but also a total solar eclipse (visible in Chile and Argentina). And of course we are only a few days away from the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. This must be one of the darkest of dark nights! And yet... all these things are cyclical. 



Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 44

The Dance of Dark and Light

The phases of the Moon, the cycles of the Sun: the Moon, Sun and Earth interact with each other in a giant cosmic dance. The dark Moon will in time become the bright Full Moon. Eclipses throw growing shadows across the Earth before eventually receding. The longest night will give way to the growing light, and in six months' time we will be on the cusp of the Summer Solstice, when the sun's strength is at its peak. It seems a world away on this dark day. But it is coming. Remember this in times of dark: the light is coming. And in the days of summer light, remember that the restful dark has a part to play in the great Cosmic Dance too. Light without dark is diminished, as is dark without light. It is the dance between the two that makes the World such a beautiful place.      

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 43: Warming Winter Breakfasts


I love breakfast - I often say that if I could only have one meal a day I would choose breakfast! This morning, as I wasn't working I made myself a warming breakfast of porridge with golden syrup, a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice, and hazelnut coffee. It was a perfect start to a cold Winter day. It started me thinking about hot breakfasts and how they are among my favourite Winter pleasures.

One of the things I love about breakfast is its versatility - you can eat sweet things, savoury things, or a combination of both. You can have hot breakfasts, cold breakfasts, cooked breakfasts, cereals, toast, pastries, fruit smoothies, eggs, pancakes... 

Although I love breakfast I'm not especially keen on a full cooked breakfast - bacon, eggs, sausages, fried bread etc. The only times I eat that kind of breakfast is when I'm camping - or for lunch. It always makes me feel like a bit of a weirdo when  staying in a hotel or a B&B because I'm usually the only person who doesn't ask for a full cooked breakfast! It's most people's favourite kind of breakfast (although as it's a bit time-consuming to prepare in the morning it's usually reserved for weekends and holidays). But there's no denying that it's a great, warming start to the day in winter.

My personal choice is usually cereal of some kind, and as well as porridge there are other cereals that can be consumed with hot milk in Winter, such as Weetabix or Ready Brek. You can ring the changes by adding berries or dried fruit and nuts, sweeten if necessary with honey, maple or golden syrup, and add a little luxury with some cream. Or how about hot buttered toast with honey or marmalade, or croissants or pain au chocolat straight from the oven all deliciously hot and flaky? Then there are pancakes or banana pancakes, omelettes and boiled eggs. Another of my favourite warming breakfasts is apple and sultana compote, served hot with a swirl of Greek yogurt, a sprinkle of granola for crunch and an extra pinch of cinnamon for good measure.

For breakfast drinks - tea, coffee, juice, herbal tea, chai, hot chocolate?

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 43

Warming Winter Breakfasts

Set yourself up for the day by having breakfast each morning. Your body needs to be properly re-fuelled after a night's sleep. Make a list of warming Winter breakfasts that you enjoy, and use it for inspiration on those grey mornings when you're not quite sure what it is you fancy. Try different breakfast recipes to widen your repertoire and keep things interesting.

As you eat, think about how you are nourishing yourself and taking care of your body, and give thanks to the Earth for providing delicious food.       

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 42: Winter Promises

 



Winter Promises

Tomatoes rosy as perfect baby's buttocks,

eggplants glossy as waxed fenders,
purple neon flawless glistening
peppers, pole beans fecund and fast
growing as Jack's Viagra-sped stalk,
big as truck tire zinnias that mildew
will never wilt, roses weighing down
a bush never touched by black spot,
brave little fruit trees shouldering up
their spotless ornaments of glass fruit:

I lie on the couch under a blanket
of seed catalogs ordering far
too much. Sleet slides down
the windows, a wind edged
with ice knifes through every crack.
Lie to me, sweet garden-mongers:
I want to believe every promise,
to trust in five pound tomatoes
and dahlias brighter than the sun
that was eaten by frost last week.

~ Marge Piercy

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 42

Winter Promises

What do you dream of in Winter? What seeds are you planting - literally or metaphorically? What are you planning or anticipating? What are you looking forward to? 

Take the time offered by the in-between days of Winter to sink into your imagination - dream your dreams and nurture your wishes. Plan ahead with optimism and delight. Visualise in detail what you will cultivate next year. Then... take the first solid steps on the path to achieving your goal. Good luck!


 






Friday, 11 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 41: Winter Plumage


Many animals and birds change their pelt or plumage in Winter, to better blend in with their surroundings and/or to protect themselves from Winter weather. Being able to do so is advantageous whether they're predator or prey. Our human skin and hair doesn't adapt itself to Winter, but we do change the nature of our outer coverings - or clothes as we more usually call them!

The Scandinavians say that 'There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes', and it's certainly much easier to cope with wind, rain, snow and hail if you are wearing the right clothes. I invested in a good coat in the sales at the beginning of this year - it's lightweight yet well insulated and waterproof and I have been extremely grateful for it on many occasions already. I'm now thinking about getting some waterproof over-trousers - using them in combination with my lovely coat and a pair of good boots I feel like I'll be able to take just about anything the Winter weather has to throw at me!

But we don't just choose clothing in the Winter to cope with the weather - we also use it to celebrate some of the things that make Winter unique. There's fancy dress for Hallowe'en, tongue-in-cheek Christmas jumpers, onesies to snuggle in by the fire, theatrical costumes for pantomimes or carol concerts, special outfits to dazzle at Christmas or New Year parties. We also wear clothing that reflects the image we want to show to the world in an effort to convince strangers that we are the person we'd like to be. And some of the time we wear the outfits we are required to by our job - uniforms, suits, protective gear, overalls, etc. 

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 41

Winter Plumage

What is your Winter plumage? How do you protect yourself from the elements? How do you stay warm and dry? Which clothes do you have to wear for work? What are your favourite Winter clothes? What is your favourite Winter outfit? What are your favourite accessories- scarves, jewellery, bags? What do you wear when you want to feel relaxed and cosy? What do you choose when you want to dress up for a special occasion?          

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 40: The Ghosts of Happy Winters Past

 


As we move more deeply into Winter, do you find seasonal smells, flavours, sights and sounds trigger memories of Winters past? It's fascinating to me how strongly our senses can spark recollections, sometimes with an almost shocking immediacy. This is most often the case when the memory trigger is something you don't encounter frequently. As there are certain sights, sounds, aromas etc that you only tend to experience during Winter, coming into contact with them can bring back strong seasonal memories. You can use these sense memories positively to recall happy times in the past. They're also used in industries such as retail and hospitality to try to engender 'holiday spirit' - that's why we get bombarded with Christmas music at this time of year!

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 40

The Ghosts of Happy Winters Past

One of the first posts I wrote on the subject of Winter Blessings and Beauties was about Winter Senses. If you made a list of Winter Senses, you may find it interesting to use it as a prompt to help recall happy Winter memories. You may have fully-fledged, detailed memories of social occasions or particular locations, but tiny, vivid vignettes can be just as interesting and enjoyable to recall. For example there's a particular song that whenever I hear it, I'm taken back to a dazzlingly bright and very cold and frosty morning when I was driving to work. It must have been playing on the radio, because whenever I hear it I vividly remember the beauty of the frozen landscape, brilliantly illuminated by the light of the rising sun, and the way I felt both slightly resentful at having to be up and out so early in the morning and exhilarated by the cold air and bright sun.

Try writing down some of the good memories that come up for you in response to Winter prompts such as the smell of woodsmoke... the taste of a mince pie... the melody of your favourite carol...

If you have vivid memories of a special time you shared with family, friends or loved ones, try writing it out as a unique gift for them. You could handwrite it inside a special card, or type it up on the computer and print it out on fancy paper.   





Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 39: The Great Conjunction 2020


On 21st December this year we have an amazing chance to see a rare astronomical event, an extremely close Great Conjunction. Great conjunctions - when Saturn and Jupiter appear close to each other in the night sky - occur roughly every 19.6 years. This year however, they will appear to be so close to each other that they will seem to merge into one star. This type of Great Conjunction is much rarer - the last time they were this close was in July 1623. There's a theory that the Star of Bethlehem followed by the Magi was actually a Great Conjunction. Astrologically speaking, some believe that the Grand Conjunction of 2020 marks the beginning of the Age of Aquarius.

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 39

The Great Conjunction 2020

If the skies are clear enough, look out for Saturn and Jupiter in the days leading up to 21st December as they grow closer and closer to each other. The video above has useful information to help you spot them.


Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 38: Welcome the Spirit of the Green Into Your Home


The Christmas Tree as we currently know it seems to have originated as a custom in Germany before it spread more widely throughout the world. It was popularised in Britain in the 19th Century by Queen Victoria and her German husband, Prince Albert. Yet bringing Winter greenery into the home around the time of the Winter Solstice has been a custom among many, many different cultures through the centuries - for example, the Romans are known to have decorated their homes with evergreen wreaths during Saturnalia.

It's easy to imagine that in the depths of Winter, the plants and trees that remained miraculously green in the dying days of the year were seen as holding the life force that seemed so lacking in the rest of the natural world. No wonder people wanted to bring them in to decorate their homes during the festivities. I also like the idea that perhaps people wanted to invite the Gods and spirits of the green world indoors to partake in their Winter celebrations. If humanity was believed to be in relationship with a conscious, living world inhabited and animated by spirits, then it would be only natural to include these spirits in your family's and community's celebrations and rituals.

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 38

Welcome the Spirit of the Green Into Your Home

Bring in some winter greenery to decorate your home - be it in the form of a real Christmas Tree, a wreath of foliage, sprigs of holly and mistletoe or a vase of  assorted evergreen leaves. Know that the greenery you have brought in contains the Spirit of the Greenworld, and symbolises the vital, resilient life-force that perseveres through every obstacle and hindrance. Treat the Spirit of the Green as an honoured guest in your home and celebrate that bold, beautiful, determination and tenacity. Let it inspire you in times of hardship and darkness. 

Monday, 7 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 37: Candlelight


Candlelight... soft, warm, flickering, alive. Electric light may be clear and bright and much easier to read by, but somehow it lacks the atmosphere and ambience of candlelight. Whether you're aiming for cosy, romantic or relaxing, candles are definitely the way to go, especially in winter when their light and warmth brightens the cold, dark nights.

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 37

Candlelight

Cosy up by candlelight. Tapers, pillar candles, tealights... in candlesticks, votives, sconces or jam jars... dot them around the room or display them gathered in groups. Enjoy the soft honey aroma of a simple beeswax candle or choose from the huge variety of fragrances available as scented candles. Use a single candle as a focus point for meditation, or use many for a soft, diffused light. Explore candle magic. Create a regular relaxation ritual by lighting a candle each evening when you get home to help you switch off from daily stresses. Take a bath by candlelight. Make dinner a special occasion by eating by candlelight. 

And don't forget to read this to make sure you are getting the most out of your candles!     

 

 



Sunday, 6 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 36: Frost


This morning I awake to a world so white that at first I think it has snowed in the night, but it is just a hard frost. In the early light every surface glitters, each brilliant white-haloed edge outlined by a fur of ice crystals.  


Bare black limbs of trees stand out sharply against the hazy fields.   



The grass that in summer was scattered with daisies is now strewn with coppered leaves.


Across the valley, the world slowly re-emerges from mist like the memory of a forgotten dream.


Frost renders the everyday world magical, even a simple fallen leaf in the grass catches the eye with its beauty.  
 

Hail and welcome, Jack Frost!

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 36

Frost

On frosty mornings, make time - even just a couple of minutes - to appreciate the beauty of the frozen landscape, and how something as simple as frost can bring enchantment to the world. We live in a beautiful world, if we just choose to see it. 


Saturday, 5 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 35: Sunrise, Sunset

 

Sunrise and sunset are both magical, liminal times. Unfortunately the kind of hours we modern humans usually keep can prevent us from observing both dawn and dusk. Except, of course, in Winter. The upside of the short Winter days is that the sun rises later and sets earlier, making sunrise and sunset much more accessible to us.

When I can, I like to make time to sit and observe the beginning and end of the day. The video above was taken a couple of days ago, sitting on my bench overlooking the valley. Birds were singing the sun to bed, as a thickening mist spread over the folds of the hills. It was so beautiful, so peaceful, that I took a short video to share with you. I hope you like it!

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 35

Sunrise, Sunset

When you can, try to take the time to watch the sunrise in the morning and the sunset at night. Observe the changes in light and temperature. Listen to how the soundscape changes, notice any scents carried on the breeze. Can you detect that moment when night becomes day? When day turns to night? How does the energy change? 


 

Friday, 4 December 2020

Winter Blessings and Beauties, Day 34: St Barbara's Twigs




Today, 4th December, is St Barbara's Day. It's uncertain whether she ever existed as a real person, but legend tells us that she was sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her Christian faith. While she was in prison awaiting her execution, she found a dried up cherry twig. She sprinkled it with a little water each day, and miraculously it blossomed, comforting her with its pretty flowers (some versions of the story say it blossomed on the day of her death). 

The story has led to a charming German and Austrian custom where people cut cherry twigs on St Barbara's Day and bring them into their homes - and the warmth causes the tight winter buds to gradually unfold and flower. They are called 'Barbarazweig', which means (St) Barbara's twig(s). If all goes well they are supposed to flower at Christmas - some sources say at Yule. I think this is a lovely idea, and I intend to try it this year.

Winter Blessings and Beauties: Day 34

St Barbara's Twigs

Usually cherry twigs are used for St Barbara's Twigs, but other flowering tree and shrub twigs are suitable, including apples, pears, plums, Japanese quince (chaenomeles), forsythia, witch hazel or lilac.

They should be cut on 4th December (if you want them to flower in time for Christmas) and they need to have been exposed to frost in order for the flowering mechanism to be triggered, so if it's still mild in your area apparently you can put them in the freezer for a couple of days. It sounds drastic, but I suppose they'd have to put up with such cold for longer than a couple of days if they were left out on the tree!

When you bring them in, keep them in a cool room overnight. The next day, soak them in tepid water for an hour or two. Then cut a couple of centimetres off the bottom of the stems, slanting the cut edge and arrange them in a vase. Place the vase in a warm, bright spot and wait... hopefully you will be rewarded with flowers. It is considered especially lucky if they bloom on Christmas Day as it means you have a good year ahead of you..