Saturday, 20 June 2020

Solstice Magic: The Tale of the Dancing Weasel

One Summer Solstice morning, many years ago, T and I set off to watch the sun rise from a nearby hilltop. As we were still living in Essex at that time, there weren't an awful lot of hills to choose from, but we had carefully scouted out some east-facing fields in an elevated position that we hoped would give us a good vantage point.

It was still dark when we rose and threw on some clothes in preparation for our adventure; I grabbed a small pack containing a few ritual tools and some food and drink. We made our way out into the pre-dawn quiet and found our way into the field by torchlight, waiting expectantly in the damp chill. When the much anticipated sunrise came, it was an anticlimax. Instead of the bright golden rays I had expected, clouds blurred the horizon and the sky lightened slowly into a disappointingly grey and indistinct dawn.

Nevertheless, it was still the Summer Solstice: I drew the items I had brought with us from my pack, murmured a blessing and made a small offering to the sun, including some fruit and a small libation of mead which I left at the edge of the wheat growing in the field. We sat to eat some food ourselves and that was when the magic happened...

A movement at the edge of the wheat, close to where I had left our offering caught my eye. Only a few metres from where we sat, a small weasel appeared - apparently unafraid - and eyed us curiously. We both froze, not wanting to scare it away. The slender animal sniffed the air, completely unperturbed by our presence. Suddenly, it leaped into the air, twisting its long lithe body mid-air into a kind of somersault, landed with perfect agility and shot back into the wheat - before immediately running back out again, doubling back, leaping and twisting and capering in what appeared to be a joyous gymnastic dance. We held our breath as the weasel danced an exuberant celebration of life for precious moments, until suddenly it disappeared back into the standing wheat, and we were back in the everyday world of a grey June morning.

I have heard that weasels 'war dance' to confuse their prey before attacking, but there were no prey animals around. Perhaps it was a young animal practising and honing its hunting skills. But I like to think on that Solstice morning it was just dancing for the sheer delight of it, in celebration of life and summer and all that's good.

We may not have witnessed the awe-inspiring sunrise we had hoped for, but instead we experienced something more amazing and magical than we could have imagined. It felt like a special blessing, something I'll never forget. Moreover I learned something very important that day: The magic you go looking for may not be the magic you find - but that's all part of the magic.

May you find your own magic this Summer Solstice. Blessed Be!

Wednesday, 17 June 2020


Half an hour ago I was watching bees happily bumbling in the comfrey patch. 

From out of nowhere it seems, there is suddenly torrential rain. The sky splits with lightning. 

One by one the cats careen in from wherever they have tried to shelter from the downpour, soaking wet and complaining loudly and plaintively about the rain as I towel their fur dry.

Hemlock - the biggest, baddest, blackest witch's cat you've ever seen - is spooked by the thunder and crawls into my lap for comfort, pushing his soft face against me as I hold and soothe him.

Outside the back door, the white roses - just minutes earlier a-buzz with bees - now hang like wet rags, yet the air is still fragranced by their perfume. Torn petals float limply in the growing puddle by the doorstep.

Rain hammers the windows, rattles on the roof and pours from flooded gutters. Again and again the flick of lightning is followed by thunder's bellowing roar. I count between each flash and rumble, tracking the progress of the storm as it moves closer, passes overhead and then starts to recede. 

The world is now quiet but for falling rain, as every living thing shelters, waiting for the drama to pass.

The rain lessens, the thunder is gone.  The sky lightens. Hemlock purrs. 

This storm is passing. A microcosm of the macrocosm. May the worldwide storm we're all sheltering from pass soon too. 

Friday, 12 June 2020

Celebrating the Summer Solstice in Lockdown

The Summer Solstice, or Litha, this year falls on Saturday 20th June, (astronomically it varies between 20th and 22nd June). Although some restrictions are being relaxed, by and large we will still not be able to gather to celebrate, a fact I am happy to accept in order to keep people safe. But it does mean we'll need to be creative and adaptable in how we mark the occasion, just as we were at Beltane. Many of the suggestions I made in that post can be adapted for the Summer Solstice, but here are a few additional ideas too. As before I've grouped them depending on a variety of lockdown/isolation situations.

If you are able to get out to the countryside/beach/park

  • One of the simplest and most memorable ways of celebrating the Summer Solstice is to go and watch the sunrise from an east-facing hill or a beach near your home. You can check sunrise times in the UK here, and there are other online resources that give the times for other parts of the world. There is something really magical about experiencing the world awake to a new day as the sky gradually lightens, the dawn chorus begins and the sun appears over the horizon. Take a small picnic breakfast to celebrate this special day, and don't forget to leave a small offering of food and pour out a little of your drink for the spirits of the place.
  • If you are confident of your plant-identification skills you could take a walk and forage some wild plants for a Summer Solstice feast. Plants to look out for at this time of year include wild strawberries, chickweed, elderflowers, sea kale, fat hen, linden blossoms and honeysuckle flowers.
  • If you can't travel to sacred sites such as Avebury or Stonehenge for the Solstice, do a little research to find sacred sites in your local area that you may be able to visit instead. Many of these smaller, less well-known sites have an amazing atmosphere and are all the more special for not being crowded with visitors.

If you have access to a garden or small green space

  • It's a great time of year for roses, and if you have some in your garden take this opportunity to really appreciate their beauty and fragrance with a small ritual. Gather some petals - the more perfumed the better - and make yourself some rose petal tea. Remove the thicker white base of the petals (where they attach to the rest of the flower) as this can be bitter. Steep the petals in boiling water for a few minutes, then sweeten with a little honey if liked. Sit in the sun to drink your brew, inhaling the fragrant steam and feeling the warm sun on your skin. Let the warmth and fragrance spread through your body. Take a moment to imagine your heart as a rose in your chest, gradually unfurling its petals and opening to the sun. Raise the cup in your hands as a toast to the sun, the source of all light and energy. Feel yourself blessed. 
  • If you have children, throw a special 'Sun Day' party for the family. Decorate the house and garden with sunny colours, get the children to make sun-themed art and get everyone to dress in sun-themed clothes (yellow, orange or gold coloured, sparkly, or their favourite summer clothes). Have a sunny foods feast - make yellow cupcakes, drink orange juice or home made lemonade, have a barbecue, eat ice cream, enjoy slices of watermelon... and later on as the sun sinks in the sky, share toasted marshmallows round a fire. 
  • Make a small sun altar, if possible in the South corner of your garden. Here you can put sun-themed garden decorations, solar-powered lanterns and grow plants ruled by the sun - like sunflowers, marigolds, St John's wort, chamomile and rosemary.   

If you are confined to your home/can't get outside

  • As has been widely reported, English Heritage have cancelled the sunrise celebrations at Stonehenge this year, but they will be livestreaming the sunrise at the stones on social media.
  • Make a sun-catcher to hang in your window to honour the sun and send rainbows dancing across your walls. There's the story of one I made here to get you started. All you really need is some sparkly things - crystals, beads, sequins - and some wire and/or thread to hang them from. Just be careful not to use any convex glass pieces/balls/marbles etc which could focus the rays of the sun and potentially start a fire.
  • Honey is already a very 'solar' substance, as it is concentrated nectar from flowers. Charge a jar with the power of the sun by placing it on a sunny windowsill for a day. Then use your sun-powered honey to give yourself a boost of sunshine by adding to recipes or in your tea on those days when you need a little extra lift.   

Happy Summer Solstice everyone! Stay safe and have a wonderful summer. 

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Further Adventures in Edibles

I have to admit it, I'm not the biggest fan of radishes. As a homegrown crop they do have their advantages though - mostly that they are about the quickest thing from which you can get a harvest (usually about 4 weeks from sowing to eating). For this reason they are great for introducing newcomers (and children) to the thrill of harvesting your own veggies, and I personally find them useful sown as a 'catch crop' between rows of slower growing plants to make the most use of the available space. 

Luckily for me, IB is a big radish fan who is happy to eat as many radishes as we can grow, so it all works out. He's so keen he even asked me whether we could add the leaves to a salad as well as the roots, but the coarseness and hairiness of the leaves is frankly pretty off-putting from a 'mouthfeel' perspective. As with nettles, cooking will take care of the prickly hairs, so you could eat them as a cooked vegetable or in soup. But the solution I found is so tasty that so far we haven't cooked a single radish leaf. Instead we have been eating Radish Leaf Pesto - absolutely delicious with a slice of IB's home made bread, still warm from the oven.

If you Google Radish Leaf Pesto, you will find many recipes. But here is my extremely adaptable 'whatever you have in the store cupboard' version.

Moonroot's Radish Leaf Pesto

1-2 handfuls of radish leaves*
1 garlic clove
A handful of toasted nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios etc) or seeds (pumpkin, sunflower etc) 
30g grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese**
Olive oil (or vegetable oil of your choice - it might be interesting to try a nutty-flavoured oil like sesame)
Generous squeeze of lemon juice
Pinch of salt

Place radish leaves, garlic, nuts/seeds and cheese in bowl of food processor and whizz them together. Trickle in some olive oil and whizz the machine again. You'll probably need to keep stopping to scrape the mixture down towards the blades from the sides of the bowl. Add more oil if necessary to get the right consistency - but remember it's easy to add more if you need it but impossible to take it out if you add too much, so add a little at a time. When it's nearly there, squeeze in some lemon juice, and add salt to taste. Give it a final whizz and there you are. 

Enjoy with fresh bread, on toast or crackers, with vegetable crudites, on pasta...

According to all the Radish Leaf Pesto recipes online, it freezes really well. But I wouldn't know, it never lasts long enough round here to get frozen!

* If I don't have enough leaves from that day's radish harvest I keep them with their cut ends in a jar of water until I have harvested some more a couple of days later. And at times I have supplemented the radish leaves with any salad leaves that are starting to bolt - rocket, mizuna etc (in fact if you don't have any radish leaves you could use just salad leaves, as in Jack Monroe's excellent 'Salad Bag Pesto' recipe). Or you can adjust the quantities of the other ingredients too and just end up with a smaller amount of pesto!

** As IB is strictly vegetarian, Parmesan or Grana Padano are off the menu for us (both contain animal rennet). We use a vegetarian version of Parmesan when we have it (usually labelled something like 'vegetarian hard cheese' in supermarkets). During lockdown, as we didn't have any vegetarian Parmesan available I experimented by using a strong mature Cheddar instead. This is no doubt absolute heresy in foodie circles, but... it tasted fine. Different but fine.