Vanishing

I was blessed with a beautiful glimpse of the vanishing moon – the waning crescent – this morning. The last, or maybe penultimate, sliver before she enters her dark phase. Sadly I have no photo due to our brilliant little camera being away at the camera hospital, having accidentally met with my arm and then the kitchen floor. Can I blame pregnancy for such clumsiness? Let’s go with yes.

IMG_2797

A Great-Grandmother Moon from a less clumsy time in my life. This morning’s moon was leaning back a little more, and the sky a little darker with Venus shining brightly quite nearby.

I correlate the dark phase of the lunar cycle with the Winter Solstice in the solar cycle, so today we’re around similar times in both. I hold the word vanishing in my mind and think about its correlation to my own life right now: the vanishing days before the Solstice and Christmas is upon us (why am I not more organised for these events by this point in December?! And why do I leave it so late every year?!), the vanishing weeks before my baby is due to be born, my seemingly vanishing energy in the evenings. The vanishing sense of anxiety about it all as I realise that, really, almost everything that’s truly important has been done; by the time baby comes, we’ll be ready to welcome them.

Back outside, the colour is fast vanishing from our garden as the last of the nasturtiums have died and the green leaves are pretty few. The piles of crisp, vibrant leaves on the ground are vanishing into brown soggy mud and mush. The light starts vanishing not long after 3pm. “Come inside,” it all whispers sleepily, “find a blanket. Rest and dream”.

December

 

December, to me, is twinkling. The day’s light is pale, fragile and translucent – and there is always twinkling. Twinkling of the indoor lights that peep from windows, determinately warm against the outdoor winter light, twinkling of streetlights that come on in the afternoon and of Christmas lights. I find some of them pretty and some of them tacky and garish.

IMG_2647

Last year’s Solstice Branches

The pretty ones give me an inner twinkle. It’s the twinkle of anticipation as the festive season – and deeper winter – draws near. I love winter: the beauty of bare trees and of frost, the cosying up, the feeling of mystery in the darkness and in the . The anticipation that I feel is similar to that of my son as he opens his advent calendar each day. It’s in our excitement in this month of preparation for the solstice and for Christmas. It’s a child-like feeling and that’s probably what’s so special about it; this time of year awakens the part of me that will always be a wonder-filled, magic-believing, enthusiastic child. The busy awake feeling of my inner world is in contrast to the outer world, which speaks of sleep and inactivity.

But glitter and sparkle is where they both meet.

IMG_1028

IMG_1027

A beautiful, glittery heavy frost in 2012

IMG_2800

Magical, Avalonia-like misty frost near the Forest of Dean last winter

IMG_2879

“Snow Garden” – snow is made from soap powder and crystals, twigs, fir cones, conkers etc are added. Taken from Earthwise by Carol Petrash.

IMG_2815

November nature table

Our November nature table / family altar is less colourful than earlier in Autumn (see also this and this post). The oranges, bronzes, and rich reds mostly give way to plainer, darker, more sombre hues, although I find that a little sparkle somewhere (like in the spider-webs on this cloth) doesn’t go amiss. I usually prefer altar cloths of natural fabrics, but at Samhain I make an exception and dig this one out to remind me of the association of spiders with Autumn, with weaving magic, and with the idea of interconnectedness: the webs in our lives of community, of the various aspects of our inner and outer selves, of collective consciousness. Sparkle reminds me of frost, and November is usually the month in which it arrives to where I live. I’m also feeling drawn to bowls, particularly empty ones: symbols for winter where the womb of the crone goddess is empty and barren.IMG_3404

To represent air, I’ve offered a little bowl of black copal; it’s colour and scent seem to me appropriate to this time of the year and to the crone aspect of the goddess. Our offering for Earth here is a little piece of cinnamon bun from a batch made by my husband. He doesn’t bake a lot and this kind of recipe was quite a new thing for him to do. To me this was reminiscent of Samhain being the beginning of a new year, a new cycle and new aspirations. IMG_3410

My mother-in-law spontaneously made this pine-needle angel on a walk in the woods that our family recently enjoyed together. I love it, particularly how the inspiration just came to her to tie a couple of knots to form arms and….voila!IMG_3407

The sweet chestnuts are awaiting a roasting attempt… but I can be quite the champion procrastinator with attempting something new that has strong Fail Potential.IMG_3406

The spoon lives on our nature table. It’s the first of three spoons that my husband has carved, the second being a ladle and the third – carved this Samhain – being around dessert-spoon sized. This one, although so beautiful, wasn’t carved optimally so we only use it decoratively: it reminds me of the idea of process and improvement. The different stages of the cycle of the year (and of the moon) that we see in nature prompt us to consider these stages in the cycles of our inner worlds: our projects, our self-development and other inner journeys. This is particularly relevant at this point in the year where the sleeping Earth calls us to attend to those inner journeys and our psycho-spiritual selves.IMG_3415

The seed-heads below and nasturtium seeds (picture below this) remind me of the “seeds” (ie. things that we have learnt and gained) that we take forwards to replant and nourish us in the new year. The fairy toadstools, the owl and the witch are, to me, symbols of magic and wisdom pertinent to this time of the year.IMG_3420IMG_3418

On our picture wire still hangs a few Autumnal pictures: a couple of the apple and pumpkin harvest that we are still enjoying, a couple reminding us of the falling/fallen leaves that still surround us and our shoes. Another picture, if a lantern procession, reminds me of the light-related festivals of Diwali, Martinmas and Advent that fall in November. The central picture – in the misty greys of typical November weather – is of an old tin mine engine house in my native Cornwall; a reminder of the concept of ancestry honoured and celebrated at Samhain.IMG_3423

Bright blessings in these often-gloomy days!  )O(

Samhain soup

We set aside Sunday (1st November) as our family Samhain day. I’d baked a cake beforehand (discovering that carob and blackberries go really deliciously together!), and I’d made some soup. Samhain soup. The idea had come from The Radical Homemaker blog, where a recent post described how she makes an annual Samhain Stew. The broth is made from bones from the various animals they raise on their farm, plus some other ingredients that they grow, and the family remember with gratitude the animals that they’ve raised, as well as their broader harvest – and their ancestors.

IMG_3389

The idea wasn’t one that I would use directly: as a vegetarian, I’m not comfortable with the idea of a living creature having been killed for my consumption but respect that others – such as my husband – do feel comfortable with that idea and so make a different choice. Our garden isn’t large enough to produce much food from plants or animals, but we grow a little, so a home-grown pumpkin and some herbs picked and dried in the summer went into our soup (which you can see garnished with one of our rampant nasturtiums!). Joining them in the pot were a couple of tomatoes and a pepper from a close friend’s greenhouse’s harvest, plus a couple of things from our vegbox, a couple from other independent shops that we frequent and a couple of things bought in the supermarket. For me this symbolised celebration of the harvest from the land – be it land I tend, land I know or land I don’t but am very grateful for. It reminded is of the year’s story from planning (“I want to grow pumpkins, Mama!”), to planting, to watching them grow, to harvesting to consuming. It celebrated our family’s efforts, those of a friend who is a big and special part of my life, and the efforts of those who work for the companies that we buy food from. At this point in our life where it’s not possible for us to be as self-sufficient as we one day hope to be, we are blessed to have the convenience of those businesses.

The soup did us several meals, including one shared with another very treasured lovely friend, and the evening meal of our Samhain day. This one was eaten outdoors around a bonfire and with our Jack o’lantern, following a beautiful walk near the Mendips which began in golden sunshine lighting up all those glowing Autumn leaves, then later turned to quite Avalonian wintry mists: pretty symbolic of Samhain’s calling us towards winter. It looked as though there had been frost there the previous night: something I often take as a cue for when to celebrate Samhain, rather than adhering to a specific date. (Although frosts do tend to arrive a little later here in the city). We put a spare chair and bowl with ours by the fire for the souls of loved ones who have passed on, speaking a little about them, and about the tired Earth being almost ready to tuck herself in for her winter sleep. We took our corn dolls from the nature table, told them any regrets or disappointments that from the year that we wished them to take into the fire to be burned up, and then my son took delight in throwing them in.

IMG_3393

We’ll continue our goodbye to the year – our Samhain-tide – for another few days until just before the dark moon (the lunar phase that I correspond to this point in the solar cycle) and until it really feels like winter is arriving.

Releasing and gathering

IMG_3292 IMG_3290

IMG_3293

IMG_3237

As the Autumn Equinox approaches, that day of equilibrium before the day’s dark minutes outweigh light, balance is a theme I reflect upon. I wrote the other day about the theme of letting go at this time of year; a call that I take from the trees and the hedges and the land. In counterpoint, I hear also the call to gather, called to me from the earth and from the worms who bury inside it as they gather the year’s leaves and other debris. I hear this call from the animals and birds who gather berries and nuts to feed them through the winter. I hear it from my ancestors who would also be gathering and preserving food from the land at this time. And gathering seeds; preparation for next year’s food. Continuation of the spiral.

IMG_3289

This balance of releasing and gathering, letting go and storing, holds beautiful and necessary harmony for me. Death is needed for birth and rebirth, emptiness creates space that is full of potential. Those busy worms break down that debris to feed the soil that will feed us next year.

IMG_3294

This year,  pumpkin seeds will probably be the only ones we’ll harvest from our garden. Happily, the year has been rich in many others; lessons about my strengths and weaknesses (and limitations), lessons about why some of these are so, lessons about our garden, about things we desire more of or less of in my life – that we want to release or gather. There’s been new friendships that I hope will blossom, the awesome and unique personality of our son that blossoms more and more into its own, the little “seed” growing inside my belly into a whole new person, skills and interests of ours that are blooming too. Like many food growers record their seeds sown, their successes and not-so’s, and seeds gathered for next year in a gardening journal, I record these personal harvests in order to remember and to learn about my growth. Continuation of the spiral.

I wish you peace and joy in any Equinox preparations of your own, and in your own gathering of your precious seeds. xx

IMG_3291

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

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.