Friday, 19 March 2021

Celebrating the Spring Equinox in Lockdown

The Spring Equinox is almost upon us. It falls on 20th March this year, within a hair's breadth of the anniversary of the first lockdown here in the UK on 23rd March. Most of us would probably not have guessed back then that we'd be celebrating the Spring Equinox of 2021in another lockdown.

As in my previous posts on celebrating the festivals of the Wheel of the Year in lockdown (Beltane, Summer Solstice, Lammas and Samhain/Hallowe'en), I've grouped my suggestions in varying degrees of lockdown restrictions, so hopefully you can find something that suits the rules in your area. 

If you're able to get out to the countryside/beach/park
  • This is a great time of year to forage some early wild delicacies for a celebratory spring feast. If you're confident of your plant identifications skills, look for nettles, wild garlic, hairy bittercress, dandelion greens, tender young sorrel leaves, or violet and primrose flowers. Try my recipes for Nettle Soup or Spring Herb Salad, or Google other recipes such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Nettle Risotto with Sorrel.
  • Take a walk in the woods - or in an area with plenty of trees. Notice the new leaves, the buds that have just opened or are just about to. See if you can identify trees by their shape, bark colour and texture or leaf buds, blossom or catkins rather than by their leaves. Look down as well as up - which spring flowers can you find? If you come across trees or flowers you don't recognise, use your phone to take a photo so you can identify it later using a guidebook or an online plant identification site.  
  • Connect with a tree. In Spring trees begin to re-awaken from their Winter dormancy, making it a good time to try to connect with them on an energetic level. Choose a tree that you feel drawn to, and that seems open and receptive to you. If you aren't sure if the tree welcomes connection, ask its permission to interact. You should be able to sense its response. When you are ready, either sitting or standing, lean your back against the trunk. Relax, breathing deeply and slowly. Focus your awareness on your breath, conscious of the fact that you are breathing in the oxygen produced by plants and trees, and breathing out the carbon dioxide that they breathe in. As you exhale, do it consciously as a gift to the tree. As you inhale, consciously give thanks to the tree for the gift of oxygen. Now open your senses to the tree. What do you see/feel/hear/smell/taste? Take note as you continue to lean against the tree, exchanging breaths with it. Now open your inner senses. Do you feel a particular energy or emotion from the tree? Remain open and aware for any communication or message from the tree - this may come in words, feelings, images or even colours or scents. Send back gratitude and friendship. When you are ready, thank the tree and bring back your awareness into your own body. Move away from the trunk. Thank the tree again, and leave it a small gift such as a libation of water on the roots or a sprinkling of compost. Don't leave anything non-biodegradable or damaging to the environment. If you'd like to continue and develop your relationship with the tree, commit to returning on a regular basis - each time bringing a suitable offering. 

If you have access to a garden or small green space
  • Cut twigs with leaf or blossom buds which are just about to burst open. Taking them into the warmth of your home will encourage them to open fully and they make a lovely Spring decoration for your altar. Treat them like cut flowers and put them in a vase of water, and they should last well.
  • As the Spring Equinox marks that point in the year when day and night are of equal length, arrange to get up in time to watch the dawn and greet the Sun, congratulating it on its growing strength and welcoming in the light half of the year. Enjoy the dawn chorus of birdsong! At dusk, watch the setting sun and welcome the night and the darkness for the opportunity to rest. Thank the dark half of the year which is now passing away, for being a time of quietude and rest in which the land could slumber and heal itself. Listen as the birds sing the sun down into night.
  • Find space in your garden to make a garden altar to the Green Man. Nestle it in amongst growing plants, or cluster pots of flowers and herbs around it. Find a Green Man plaque as its centrepiece, or create your own image of him from air-drying clay or paint Him on a smooth pebble or rock. Honour Him by making your own compost, planting trees, or sowing seeds. Listen quietly for His inner guidance on how to nurture your garden and develop green fingers.

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

Salt Dough Goddess
  • Make Spring Equinox decorations for your altar and home. Salt dough is an excellent cheap way of doing this! To make salt dough mix 1 cup of flour with ½ cup of salt, then mix in ½ cup of water to create a mouldable dough. You can also add ½ tspn ground cloves or cinnamon, or a few drops of your favourite essential oil to scent your dough. This will make the house smell amazing while you're baking it in the oven, which you'll need to do to harden your creations. Sprinkle working surfaces with a little flour to stop the dough sticking and then get creating. If you're feeling ambitious you could make a Spring Goddess figurine or a simple Green Man, or perhaps a moongazing hare or spring leaves and flowers. Simple shapes are best. Making egg shapes is the simplest of all, and once they have been baked they can be painted all kinds of pretty colours and displayed in a bowl. When you've finished moulding your creations, line a baking tray with baking parchment and pop into an oven set at the lowest temperature. The dough will take a few hours to bake, depending how thick it is. Check it often and remove from the oven once it's done. You can now paint your creation. If you're doing this activity with small children remember that salt dough is not edible and supervise accordingly!    
  • Eggs are a perfect symbol for this time of year, symbolising new life, growth, fertility and possibility. Prepare your favourite egg dish - be that an egg sandwich, a quiche or eggs benedict! Bless the meal first and then as you eat, mindfully take in the energy of new growth, hope and possibility. Those who can't or choose not to eat eggs could do the same with a dish containing another symbol of new life, growth, fertility and possibility - seeds! A slice of seeded loaf, a poppy seed muffin or a sprinkle of toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds on your salad or soup are all delicious and appropriate foodstuffs.
  • One of the themes of the Equinoxes is balance. As day and night are in balance with each other at this time of year, it's a good time to check ourselves and our lives for balance. A good way to do this is to run a chakra check. If you're not already familiar with the chakras, they are a system of energy points in the body. Regularly checking in with, and if necessary adjusting the chakras is a good way of keeping your energies balanced. Imagine them like the pupil of an eye or the aperture of a camera that can be opened wider, or shut down to control what passes through. To run a chakra check, find somewhere you can sit or stand comfortably. Relax and let go of any tension in your body. Take some slow, deep breaths. (1) First focus your attention on your Base or Root Chakra which is located at the base of your spine. How does it feel? How is the energy flowing? This chakra controls your survival and keeps you grounded. If it was a thermostat, would it need turning up to improve your groundedness, or would it need turning down? Imagine adjusting it up or down as necessary until you have found the right setting for you right now. (2) Next turn your attention to your Sacral Chakra. This is located in your lower abdomen and is concerned with your sexuality and creativity. How does it feel? How is the energy flowing? As before, adjust it as you would a thermostat until you find the correct setting. (3) The next chakra is the Solar Plexus which is concerned with your self-confidence and will-force. How does it feel? How is the energy flowing? Adjust it as necessary. (4) The fourth chakra is the Heart Chakra, located in the centre of your chest. This chakra is the seat of love and compassion - love for yourself and others. How does it feel? How is the energy flowing? Take time to adjust it to the right level of openness. (5) Next move to the Throat Chakra, found at the base of the throat. This chakra is concerned with communication and self-expression. How does it feel? How is the energy flowing? If you feel stifled or blocked from speaking your truth it may need opening wider. If you speak too impulsively or lack a filter you may need to close it down a little. Find the right level for you. (6) The penultimate chakra is the Third Eye Chakra, located between your eyebrows. This is the centre of your intuition. How does it feel? How is the energy flowing? Do you need to increase your intuitive powers, or would it help you to quieten those senses? Adjust the level of openness accordingly. (7) Finally, the Crown Chakra is located on the crown of your head. It is the chakra which connects you to your spiritual consciousness. How does it feel? How is the energy flowing? Adjust it to a level which enables you to stay connected to your spiritual side whilst still able to negotiate the mundane world. Finally, quickly run through all seven chakras and ensure they are all well balanced, before returning to the ordinary world. This is a useful exercise to carry out periodically to keep you in balance.
May we all have a blessed and balanced Spring Equinox, and as we step forward together into the light half of the year may there be plenty of sunny days ahead. 


Friday, 12 March 2021

ThriftWitch: Home Protection Charm

I came up with this Home Protection Charm a few years ago, when we were feeling a bit vulnerable. I've maintained it since then, which includes refreshing the ingredients periodically. When I did this recently I thought it would be the perfect time to take some photos of the process and share it on the blog. 

To make your charm you will need the following:
  • A small lidded glass jar
  • Some thorns (if you can't get thorns you could use pins)
  • Some small pieces of mirror 
  • A small square of paper and a marker pen
  • A small length of fine wire or yarn, tangled
  • Some dried rosemary 

I snipped my thorns off some blackthorn twigs I'd pruned from the hedge. Late winter/early spring is a great time to find thorns, before the foliage has grown back and obscured them. I like using blackthorn thorns as the plant is used in protective spells, and in Ireland it was used to make shillelaghs - a fighting stick or club used for self-defence. Blackthorn is fierce and uncompromising (just the qualities you'd want to be defending you and your home) and its use in the countryside to create impenetrable stock-proof hedges makes it a great enforcer of boundaries. Take care when using blackthorn though as the thorns are extremely sharp and are notorious for causing wounds which become infected.

To assemble your charm, use your marker pen to inscribe the rune 'Algiz' on your square of paper. Algiz is a protective rune, and the square shape of the paper symbolises stability and strength. Put the rune-inscribed paper in the bottom of your jar to create a firm foundation for the energy of the charm. 

Scatter your pieces of mirror on top of the paper. These are intended to 'bounce back' any negative energy that is sent your way. I have a container in which I keep any bits and bobs I come across that I think may be useful for spellwork or art projects, so I had some small pieces of broken mirror and a small round shisha mirror that had come loose from an embroidered Indian cushion, but if you don't have any suitable bits of mirror you could use beads or any small thing with a reflective surface (even cut-up fragments of an old CD, or pieces of a shattered Christmas bauble would do).

Next add your thorns or pins. This adds a strong layer of defensive energy to the charm. Try to ensure the points are all facing in different directions to guard against threats from any source.

Sprinkle in a pinch or two of a dried protective herb. I used rosemary - I find kitchen herbs are just as effective as other magical herbs and they have the advantage of being easy to come by and not too expensive. But you could substitute other herbs if you prefer - consult a good witch's herbal or check an online list such as this one if you're not sure what to use. 

The last item to add is a piece of fine wire or yarn which has been tangled up. This echoes the old folk idea that evil spirits become tangled in such things, or are compelled to spend time unknotting or untangling them. Either way, while they are so occupied they are unable to cause any trouble!

The charm is complete!

Screw the lid tightly onto the jar, and place it by the entrance to your home, or on a windowsill. Mine sits on a small, round mirror (more reflective power!) on the kitchen windowsill overlooking the entrance to my home. I just have the one Home Protection Charm, but you could make more if you wanted to. 

Periodically - say once a year, or more frequently if you feel the need - tip out the contents of your jar and re-make it to keep the energy fresh and strong. When I do this, I put the herbs and thorns in the compost bin and add fresh ones, burn the paper with the rune on and re-inscribe it on a fresh square of paper, and re-tangle the wire/yarn before returning it to the jar.



Thursday, 11 March 2021

Are We There Yet?

This year - more than most - I find myself taking great interest in the start of Spring. For me, it's partly down to the 'Winter Blessings and Beauties' project, where over the course of three months I challenged myself to write a daily post on the positive aspects of Winter. The practice left me more acutely aware of the passing of the seasons and their specific characteristics (as well as feeling more kindly towards Winter!). But occurring as it did in the teeth of a global pandemic, last Winter was uniquely strange and challenging for everyone and I'm sure I'm far from alone in being particularly eager for Spring 2021 to arrive. 

The thing that is interesting me at the moment is - when does Spring actually arrive? By setting the duration of 'Winter Blessings and Beauties' from 1st November to 2nd February (the period between Samhain and Imbolc) I made a case for Spring beginning at Imbolc. In terms of imposing a structure for the seasons, I rather like the notion of Spring beginning at Imbolc, Summer at Beltane, Autumn at Lughnasadh and Winter at Samhain. But of course, none of the seasons begin or end neatly on a single date, however much we humans may like to declare that they do. As Wikipedia says, "There are various technical definitions of spring, but local usage of the term varies according to local climate, cultures and customs."

For example, 'meteorological spring' in the northern hemisphere runs from 1st March-30th May, but 'astronomical spring' runs from the spring equinox (around 20th March) to the summer solstice (around 21st June). In the southern hemisphere the dates would be 1st September-30th November (meteorological spring), or around 21st September-21st December (astronomical spring). The Gaelic Irish calendar counts the Spring season as February, March and April. In Sweden however, meteorologists don't define the onset of Spring as a fixed date, but instead count it as the first 7-day period during which average temperatures exceed 0°C. This of course means that Spring begins on different dates in different parts of the country - but I rather like this more nature-centred approach. 

For practical, planning-ahead purposes I suppose we need to have agreed upon dates on which we can reasonably expect conditions to reflect the change in seasons. But I like the idea of also having far more subjective dates alongside this where we can observe and listen to what the land and the weather is telling us.

This year I settled on Imbolc as the date on which the Wheel of the Year clicked over from Winter to Spring. And although on that date there were indeed signs of the coming Spring - snowdrops, catkins, birds beginning to prepare for the breeding season - it didn't much feel like Spring, especially when we had yet more snow. Even by 1st March - when daffodils, crocuses, primroses and celandines had joined the snowdrops and nest-building season was well under way - it didn't feel like Spring to me. It's hard to put into words, but each year at some point I sense a rising tide of energy coming from the land, literally pulsing through the earth - and then I experience a bone-deep certainty that Yes, spring is here!

That bone-deep certainty came yesterday. An unpromising day of gales and ceaseless rain blurring the hills - and yet I could feel that irrepressible pulse of life so clearly and strongly. Suddenly - overnight it seems - green leaf buds are breaking on the rosebush outside the door, and the honeysuckle in the hedge.

Here in West Wales at least it seems the seasons have finally turned and Spring has arrived. Hail and Welcome, Spring!

Fresh green chive shoots in the herb garden


Monday, 1 March 2021

Slowly Re-awakening

I intended to take a little break from posting once I finished my 'Winter Blessings and Beauties' experiment of posting every day throughout Winter, but I didn't mean to let quite so much time pass between posts! Nevertheless, even if I haven't been writing here about it, I have been diligently looking for signs of spring every day. Of course, the weather Gods decided to throw a sizeable spanner in the works by sending us snow, ice, gales and floods during the last month. But though spring may not manifest as quickly as I might hope, the Wheel of the Year is moving inexorably on, and Spring is undoubtedly underway. 

Here, snowdrops, primroses and daffodils are suddenly everywhere. On bright days, previously unnoticed celandines open their golden petals in wide, joyous reflection of the sun.    

Yesterday, sitting on my bench overlooking the valley and listening to the drumming of a woodpecker somewhere in the trees, I suddenly spotted the first new leaves of the season, glowing translucent gold in the sun. They were on an elder tree in a sheltered spot, and of course I had to immediately make my way down the hill to admire them up close.


From there I spotted gorse in full, brilliant bloom, which was attracting early insects to feast on its delicately fragranced flowers.

At the edge of the veggie patch there are crocuses glowing like jewels where I planted them many years ago. I'm so glad I did! Every glimpse of them gladdens my heart.

In a sheltered spot in the village there are pussy willow catkins in abundance. Here, further up the hill where we are more exposed to the elements there are only hazel catkins so far, dancing like lambs' tails in the breeze.

They are the male flowers of the hazel of course. Much harder to spot are the female hazel flowers which look like tiny crimson sea-anemones. In autumn, if they are fertilised by the pollen from the catkins each one will become a hazel nut. 

Yes, already I am looking forward to the year ahead, even though I have only just begun sowing seeds and my potatoes are still chitting on the windowsill. That is one of the wonderful things about following the changing seasons, the rhythms and cycles of the Earth. Always changing, always the same they give a pattern to our lives that is both dynamic and reassuring. That is a great gift in these strange times.