Rethinking midsummer associations – fire and water.

Our garden is all planted, and too full for anything more. It just begs for water, water, water. And it’s water that I’ve been thinking more about this midsummer than other years. I’ve always associated summer, and Litha (the summer solstice) with fire; the time where the weather is hot and we celebrate the sun being at its strongest. It seems obvious. However, it was whilst learning about Ayurveda that I first considered the water aspect to summertime. Pitta, the dominant dosha right now, is comprised of fire and water. Water is liquid and Ayurveda connects this to the melting power of heat. Water is heavy and I guess Ayurveda would attribute the heaviness we tend to feel now to the presence of water in this season’s Pitta energy.

IMG_1177

Of course water has a balancing effect to heat too and I think that this is where the association of water with midsummer from a pagan perspective rings true for me; we associate summer with the seaside and with boats and shells and pebbles and fish, we think paddling pools and water-play for our children, we know we need to drink plenty of the stuff. The association is also relevant to the story of the year as told in the analogy of the goddess reproductive cycle; she is heavily pregnant and waiting for labour to start – the first sign of which is often the waters breaking. Fluids – and fluidity – are then quite symbolic of the birth process, including the fluidity of time and perhaps reality that many women report experiencing when they are in labour. Indeed, such fluidity seems quite pertinent to summertime itself, for our usual routines, activities and times that we do things warp a little with the long hazy, dreamy days (or if we are on holiday). Midsummer has long been associated with the fairy world and their magic and mischief: further blurring and dissolving of reality, time, space, form, and boundaries of possibility.

This theme of fluidity – ie: motion – is kind of incongruent with the call for stillness and slowing down that I also feel at this time of year. That the word solstice comes from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still) impresses this for me. I guess this contrast gives me more food for thought and discoveries to make as my journey with my own spirituality continues – or is maybe a call to not get too hung up on associations at all, but to take each year for what it is and where I’m at, listening to the unique messages that year brings.

IMG_2308

Hail the Holly King

IMG_3146

For some time, we’ve had a beautiful Oak King on our nature table. Earlier this year, I decided that I’d like to make a representation of the Holly King to take his place after the summer solstice; this is the day when the two kings are said to fight until the Oak King is slain by the other. The victorious Holly King therefore reigns and rules the land until the winter solstice, when the two kings meet again. This time the Oak King wins and therefore rules the following half of the year.

I wanted our Holly King a little smaller than his counterpart: Autumn, in particular, is a season where many treasures of the earth can be found and brought home for the nature table, meaning that space can get a little pushed. But what to make him from! I’ve never used clay and it’s so long since I did anything with saltdough that I didn’t quite trust that it would turn out ok, (and although I’d decided I’d like a Holly King months ago, I’d characteristically left it to within days of the solstice to do anything about it!) I wanted to use a natural material and it needed to be able to withstand being enjoyed by a small child – our nature table is all of ours. I choose wool felt. Plant-dyed would have been my ideal but I couldn’t find suitable colours without buying a large, expensive pack.

Next, I drew two holly leaf templates of different sizes on card and cut them out of two different shades of green felt. I used one shade for the bigger size, another for the little but that was just personal preference. I cut out two circles (using a small plate and a wide mug as their respective templates) out of a third shade of green and pinned and stitched these together with my sewing machine, the smaller one centrally on top the larger, leaving a little gap for stuffing. I used sheep’s wool balls, then sewed up the gap.

IMG_3139

Next I pinned and hand-stitched the leaves on, Because I’m a bit lazy, I didn’t go all the way around each leaf; just enough to attach the leaf securely and look decorative. Here and there, I added a sparkly green bead or few.

I then hand-stitched the face, squidging (is that a technical term?! Let’s say yes!) the stuffing a little to shape the nose. If I’d had more time, or been making this or someone else, I’d have cut an extra circle of felt the same size as the large circle to attach to the back to cover up the visible stitches from sewing the leaves on. (I’d attach it by hand-stitching the two large circles together around the edge).

IMG_3147

On the solstice, we gathered together, lit some beeswax candles and beat a sort-of rhythm (three-year old style!) on a drum. We placed the Holly King on the Oak King and I told the story of this being the day that they meet together. My son’s age is a tender one, so I prefer not to talk about battles with much detail. We talk about how the Holly King has the victory this time; now is his time to reign, for holly stays green all year, and it is at its most splendid in winter when the berries provide colour for the landscape and food for the birds. We talked about how the Oak King will have his time again when the wheel turns once more to the winter solstice. The oak and many other trees and plants will then soon start to think about waking up again and growing their new leaves. After this, we thanked our Oak King, took him off the nature table, wrapped him in tissue paper and stored him away. The Holly King remains in his place. Hail the Holly King!

IMG_3145 IMG_3141 IMG_3140

Nearly ripe and ripening

IMG_3097

The solstice approaches and there is certainly a sense of near-ripeness in my garden.

IMG_3102 IMG_3094

IMG_3096

IMG_3103

We are so far harvesting little. This is partly because of what seems like a lot of failed germination, as well as slug attacks (despite precautions!) This is always an important lesson to me in how nature cannot be controlled. It’s also an important lesson in correlation to my personal life and inner world where seeds also do not always germinate, where projects also get sabotaged – or just don’t work out – and where harvests are slower than expected or don’t happen at all. I’ve come to realise that this is probably why May and June can sometimes be difficult months for me; as I’ve written before, I love times of new beginnings, when there is glimmering hope and promise and optimistic goal-setting. I sparkle in that glimmer, but I’m not so good at the blood, sweat and tenacity of persevering with those goals and seeing them though; particularly of summoning up the courage to really meet with and wrestle a challenge.

Here in summertime the lack of progress with goals I made at the beginning of the year often becomes frustratingly apparent. As the Queen of Unrealistic Expectations – particularly of myself – as the solstice approaches and I roughly tally up goals achieved v goals nearly met, I realise, again, that perhaps some goals maybe weren’t so achievable.

IMG_3101

But there is still promise. There is still time. A college tutor once told me (perhaps foolishly) that some people work best leaving their essay until the day before the deadline.

IMG_3098For this is only the time of the ripening. Harvesting time for many things is still some way off.

So I think that we can celebrate and be thankful for what we have achieved so far.

IMG_3105

IMG_3106

The full moon in my different phases

As a child, I don’t remember having much of a relationship with the moon, except that it often had a magical role in stories I enjoyed. In the maiden phase of my life, during my early steps along my spiritual path, the moon and her cycles became greatly important how I lived my day-to-day life and gained understanding of myself.

The full moon phase was always busy; I would hope to not be working a late shift! I’d have a sacred bath before dressing in special clothes, silver jewellery and make up. I’d decorate my altar, bake/buy cake. eat a special meal and go for an evening walk. I’d work a spell, do a Tarot spread and carefully put my crystals and other magical items out to charge in the powerful moonlight.

IMG_2137 IMG_2142

With my rocky arrival into motherhood, my focus shifted. I was, like many new parents, exhausted, clueless and overwhelmed. My baby was mostly either feeding or crying and I was shaken from how the birth went. My instincts and intuition were lost among emotion, nappies and inability to keep on-top of housework. I didn’t really give much thought to my spirituality for a while. It’s not uncommon for mothers to immerse themselves in the needs of their babies and forget who they themselves are. My understanding is that some don’t recover this until around when the kids leave home.

I guess now, in this new phase of my life, I have a new relationship with the full moon; the mother moon. I identify with this energy. I feel her within myself. The nurturing, creative, intuitive, maternal aspects. The high-emotion, heavy, tired aspect. The challenges and magic of this ongoing process of birthing a new person into the big wide world. The abundance of joy, learning, fun, love, pain and chaos.

IMG_2053

My menu of full-moon night activities is somewhat leaner. I rarely devote the whole night to it, and the focus tends to be on being rather than on doing. I watch the moon from our garden, drawn to her stillness – her calmness – rather than her power. I go inside and meditate, or journal, or draw a single Tarot card.

I wonder how my full moon nights will change as I move out of early motherhood, through mothering all the childhood ages ahead, and eventually towards my cronehood and beyond. For now I savour my simple menu.

)o(

IMG_1519(framed picture is of a work by Wendy Andrew: www.paintingdreams.co.uk)

Morning

Some mornings, I’m gifted solitude.

IMG_2238

Health-conscious people tell me I should start my day with yoga and a large glass of hot water with lemon. I’ve tried to but I always wake hungry. I think I always have. Perhaps I’m just not so yogic-ly pure and self-controlled!

However, when I reach our kitchen, I go straight to the back door. The delicate sunlight seems vulnerable. Breeze quivers leaves without sound. The garden nods its “good morning” with silent, gentle reverence. It’s like watching a movie in mute. It’s enchanting. I open the door to switch the silent-movie alive and I take a few appreciative breaths. Communion. I do a few little stretches while the kettle boils; my compromise for the lack of something more disciplined.

I nearly always wake early… usually accompanied by my son and his incessant chatter. I well know that, in years to come, when I’m no longer worried about him waking the neighbours, I’ll treasure my memories of greeting the day with him. I’ll miss it. So – although in this year it’s the alone-time I treasure – I pay attention to his voice, to the funny things he talks about, to his posture, the way he flicks his hair and the deliberation with which he spoons his muesli into his beautiful little mouth (insisting on using a big spoon!). I lock these things preciously in my heart for when this wild, crazy season of early parenthood has tumbled by and I can get the memories out again to marvel at with a different, more savouring appreciation. For when I’ll regret not savouring it all more at the time.

CAM00121

Every early morning, I feel the hope, the promise and the renewal offered by the new day in the way that I do at new moon or new year. Or on Mondays. Ayurveda assigns this time to Vata dosha and it certainly feels light, creative and swift-moving to me. I get blown along, sometimes with an idea awakening too. Sometimes just with the memory-making chatter.

Bereavement of hopes lost

There’s part of me that feels reluctant to write here about politics; that wants to keep this as a space about connection to, and celebration with, nature…IMG_3073

… but for me the two are interlinked. And t’s not just that the colour of the party I voted for, it could be argued, is the colour of nature…

20140504_140621

… it’s more about the words of the wise and wonderful David Attenborough:

“No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced”. David Attenborough

I feel that we too often see nature as this separate thing; at best, this detached other. At worst, this resource that’s there for our manipulating, taking and profiting from. If we saw ourselves, nature and each other as part of the same then our awareness, understanding, attitude and language would surely change. Many of our actions would be labelled self-neglect, abuse, self-harm, suicide. And just downright unkindness. Actions like fracking, factory-farming, hunting for sport, burning coal, over-fishing, over-mining, selling off forests to corporations, deforestation, war. Actions like causing people to go cold and hungry, to languish in ill-health when a remedy is available, to be made poorer whilst the rich are made richer. Actions like modern slavery, like forcibly taking resources from one country to benefit another, like creating an education system that robs children of their childhoods and parents of their parenthoods. Attitudes that still deny true gender equality.

I can’t support a political party that endorses – or does nothing about – several of the above. It would feel like volunteering up my own arms for amputation. And, without them, I’d have a lot of trouble feeding myself, dressing, looking after my son, running soil between my fingers, poking a hole to plant a seed in, writing, knitting, sewing, baking bread, lighting candles, holding hands with my husband, doing “round and round the garden like a teddy bear”, picking blackberries. And, yes, hugging trees.

20140504_140055

Someone I know said, on Friday morning, that she felt as if someone had died. I knew exactly what she meant – the bereavement of many hopes lost. It sounds a bit feebly new-agey, but amongst all my “something must be done but what can I do that will honestly make a difference?”-ing, then not losing hope is something I can do. To keep talking about the people who the government would perhaps rather forget about, to keep campaigning against what isn’t acceptable, safe and fair. To give what I can give where it will make a difference. To keep connecting to what I’m part of so that I’m ready and listening for more ideas on just what I can possibly do, tiny as it may be.

May. And pixie dust.

IMG_3018

Many with an earth-centred spirituality believe that, at Beltane and Samhain, the veil between our world and spirit worlds is at its thinnest. In recent years I’ve noticed that I tend to feel this closeness for pretty much all of May – perhaps starting in late April. This is a reason, among others, that I don’t get too hung up on my Beltane celebrations taking place on Beltane Eve/Day.

The spirit worlds I feel are close at Samhain are those where the ancestors who have passed on walk. They sometimes bring me gifts of a little inner wisdom – if open myself to it – and reassurance. I offer them rememberence, reverence and thanks.

20140504_141313

The worlds that seem close to me at this time of year are the realms of the fae; the pixies, the gnomes, the sprites, elves and other beings often confined to childrens’ books and legends such as those from my native English West Country. (Brian Froud is one of my favourite authorities on fairies). In May, I get this feeling that they’re fully awake and out to play. The gifts that I attribute to their generosity are the interesting forms in nature that I usually find more of at this time, as well as the general vibe of sparkle, benign mischief and giggling enchantment that seems sprinkled over this month. The pixie-dust month, with its bluebell pixie-hats, dainty skirt-like hawthorn flowers and pretty cowslip bells.

IMG_2127

This makes May a usually-happy time of inspiration and imagination for me – if I’m open to it. Combined with the reminder from nature to remember – and be true to – my passions, May holds excitement about harvests to (hopefully) come. Harvests of personal projects and goals, harvest from the land. I feel excited when I look at the flowers on our blueberry bushes (above) and think of the juicy fruit that we hope they’ll become. I feel excited when our seedlings push their little green shoots above the soil, then add leaves and more leaves and more. Year after year I witness this magic take place, but still it amazes me. I hope it always does. ♥