Sacred space

It’s been a while since I have been in this space. More than half a year. Late spring, plus summer and autumn have all passed on a spinning plate that wobbles somewhat precariously on some of my fingers whilst my other fingers attempt to weave the myriad threads of Day-To-Day Life, and my mind is scattered in a hundred places. And my ears try to attend to quite a few voices.

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Now we are sliding into winter where I live. Samhain-tide, I call this: the time from October’s Vanishing Moon (the waning crescent – the last quarter) to that of November. This winter seems to have come early with that chilly, biting kind of wind that makes you squint and chaps your hands as it dances around you like a playful toddler who wants to have fun but hasn’t quite learnt that teeth and nails hurt people! Samhain-tide is a sacred, liminal time where I say goodbye to the year – and with it the dreams I didn’t fulfil, the mistakes I made and hard memories that I’d like to bury. I picture them mushing into a sludge along with all the fallen leaves then sinking down into the earth, their secrets becoming the lessons that will nourish the seeds that grow next year. I look forward to that renewal.

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It’s a sacred time, these death-throes, and I find it’s easy to be tempted to skip over it and start focusing on the festive season, to start all the planning and making and buying and counting down. The shops lure us to do this from so early on. I find it sad not to give this time it’s own space, that we turn away from whatever song it has to sing – even if it’s not the prettiest song, and is often whispered.

I wonder if a parallel could be drawn between our society’s skipping-over of the year’s dying, and how we don’t talk about – or we make taboo – old-age and death of us as people.

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So I’ve tried to resist the festive magazines and refuse to eat a mince pie yet, until I’ve finished my Samhain-ing. I’ve been connecting with the slowness of this time, enjoying the invitation of the dark afternoons to cosy up and light candles, savouring the remains of Autumn’s beauty. (Like the revelation I had this week of how I prefer the deep red of the hawthorn and rowan berries now to their more scarlet hue earlier on). Protecting space as sacred can be hard though – whether that space is

  • a period of time in the calendar,
  • the “space” amidst all life’s to-do lists for self-care and spiritual practice,
  • personal space when your loved ones need endless hugs,
  • emotional space from those who are wearing you down a little,
  • physical space (say, protecting the nature table from being dismantled by the now-mobile baby!),
  • geographical space such as the land and water that those at Standing Rock are trying so very hard to protect,
  • mental space,
  • creative space.
  • And online space to come here and tell you all about it.

But I guess doing so is part of what makes it sacred.

Welcome back. Happy winter  ♥ ♥

Emerging

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Over winter, I kind of retreated.

Darkness, stillness, inwardness, rest, quiet and alone-ness: I welcomed and sought out these wintry things, mentally creating a sort of birthing cave that I could nest down in. As January trod its way into February I craved those things more, my husband supporting me – with a generous heart – to make time for them.  I rarely looked at the ‘net or the news. I did a fair bit of sewing and knitting.

As Imbolc reminded me of the season subtly starting its shift from winter into spring, I focussed a lot on that imminent shift from being pregnant to having another child, our family life shifting from being three to being four. I feel that taking the time out – at that very unique time – to connect with my body and my baby, was an important part of the journey towards birth, and helped protect my strength and focus for that rite.

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Around Imbolc, we had some wild storms here in Bristol, UK. Below, you can see that my son put on our nature table one of his Paddington Bear’s welly boots to remind us of all the rain and how we were often wearing our wellies!

 

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I felt a little stormy as well sometimes; a bit swept and batted between trusting and doubting my ability to birth my child safely and naturally this time. I tried to connect with the beautiful energies of new life emerging – the crocuses and daffodils opening, the leaves unfolding, the light returning. I witnessed this annual miracle in the woods that we frequently visit, and in the gardens and parks my day-to-day life takes me past. I reminded myself that, as part of nature, my body likewise had the power to open and unfold to bring forth the gorgeous new life waiting in there.

But I also know that nature isn’t always perfect. I had quite a traumatic birth with my first child and part of my healing from that came in that realisation. I can sow a dozen pumpkin seeds from the same packet or plant, grow them and plant them out under the same conditions, and a few of them may not germinate – or the young plants may die or the pumpkins not thrive. Things are sometimes beyond our control (which I sometimes find very difficult). But I offered up my sense of unity and my trust… even if some days it was a little hard to feel it.

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A gift from my metaphorical birthing cave was the discovery that chanting and singing often quiets my mental chatter and worrying. I wonder if my family got a little bored of hearing some of those chants A LOT! If they did, they’ve been too sweet to say. This one was my favourite, introduced to me by my lovely yoga teacher. We sung it as a class and that joining of hearts and voices was incredibly special.

More gifts were in store: a long but rewarding labour with gentle, respectful midwives; a safe and natural birth not very far off our plan…

…and the beautiful, magical, awesome prize of our second little boy, Ethan. Here he is! I’m over the moon! And feeling so very, very blessed.

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I’ve not actually got round to planting any seeds in our garden yet, having been a little busy with the precious tasks of feeds, nappies, cuddles and doing much gazing in awe. But there are many “seeds” that I’ve brought from my “cave” in the form of discoveries, lessons, memories and things that have been healed and renewed. I hope to carefully nurture these “seeds” with what they need as they grow, to enjoy and benefit from what they become and to always hold gratitude in my heart for them.

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The beautiful book is Luna Moon Hare by Wendy Andrew: paintingdreams.co.uk

 

As, of course, I look forward to doing with my sons. ♥ ♥ ♥

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The first week of September

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I bid farewell to August on its last day with a change of the nature table to a more autumnal theme, including a few little bowls and baskets for holding all the treasures of nuts, cones, conkers, acorns. leaves, seedpods and more that will be “harvested” on our walks. The next appropriate activity seemed to be baking a cake: I can usually rely on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to provide recipes rooted in the seasons so the result was based on an apple cake recipe of his that I added some blackberries to in order to autumn it up a bit more.

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Despite odd teasing days of bright, warm sunshine, Autumn is definitely palpable here. It rules the later mornings with their chilly fragility. It tugs to us the also-cooler evenings at an earlier hour. It’s in the slightly weaker daylight, the gusty breeze, the swelling apples and the occasional mist. It’s in the sweet, purple blackberry juice dribbling down my son’s delighted face. It’s starting to touch the leaves – not many yet in the places I walk, but some: curling them, painting them, drying them, plucking them from their trees. Some resist longer than others. I feel a little sadness at the idea of them dying, despite my love of this season and knowledge that death facilitates the joy of rebirth and renewal.

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I find September itself brings a kind of rebirth. Perhaps my years of schooling, despite having ended almost half my lifetime ago, have drummed into my subconscious the feeling of a “new start” at this time. Perhaps it’s the sense that the land is birthing its fruits and crops. Perhaps being pregnant just leaves me a little fixated on birth right now! (Especially as my first-born was due in September).

Nevertheless, we are settling into a new groove after a few weeks of being away from home a lot and out of our normal rhythm. This week will be the first full week back dancing our usual dance – although it never is exactly the same because we add to that dance the new steps we’ve learned as the seasons and our lives turn and turn; our harvests.

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The week has also seen a bit of tree pruning to optimise light in our garden as the sun gets weaker, some slipper-making, and a bit of house cleaning and space-cleansing. This week calls for me to finish making our draught excluder and to top up the cedarwood on our anti-moth blocks. To dig out the inner-child self-healing work I began last winter (and then neglected as the garden called my attention). To dig out gloves and warm hats. Time for preparation. Turning in, cosying up and winding down. And for looking forward to the pumpkins still ripening in our garden – to not forget that the year still promises harvests to come.

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Hail the Holly King

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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.

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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).

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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!

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Nearly ripe and ripening

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

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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.

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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.

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A host of golden daffodils

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“I’m everyone’s darling: the blackbird and starling

Are shouting about me from blossoming boughs”

From “The Song of the Daffodil Fairy” by Cicely Mary Barker

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“She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,

She wore her greenest gown;…

… She turned to the sunlight

And shook her yellow head,

And whispered to her neighbour:

“Winter is dead.”

From Daffodowndilly (from When We Were Very Young) by A. A. Milne

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“… Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze…

…And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.”

From “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth.

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Thank you daffs for all your cheer and loveliness. ♥

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Spring altar / sacred nature table

In spring, our sacred nature table/ altar seems to change gradually – a winter thing or two removed one week, a spring symbol added next, and so on. For me this reflects how spring often seems to enter quite gradually as well as, perhaps. how we might introduce gradually the changes, new paths and projects we dream up at the winter solstice.IMG_2901

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Something I really do like for this beautiful time of year is to have some fresh seasonal flowers on the table – ideally from our garden (leaving some for the bees!), or a local producer. Of course, this in itself requires regular attention to the space and changing of these fresh flowers as they die. I like to change flowers’ water and trim their stems with my son; he often seems to enjoy engaging with this process of caring for and maintaining things. In the West we have such a throw-away consumerist culture where many individuals, corporations and governments don’t seem to value taking care of the Earth which sustains us. In fact, they do much to harm it. I aim to demonstrate a more sensitive and sustainable attitude towards nature in this little member of the future society that I’m blessed to raise. He likes having a flower or two of his own in his bedroom.

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When the flowers do die, I try to remember to give thanks for their gift of beauty and cheer as I put them in the compost.

We also collect things from outside that have been discarded – like the fallen blossom petals below. Yesterday we added some hyacinth flowers that had become detached, today a dandelion and daffodil head found on pavements.

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The picture at the back is some artwork that I made at college for a project on daffodils. Daffs are such an icon of March for me, as I wrote about here. I think it’s fair to say they’re pretty well represented on our nature table! The artwork is now in our lounge on our mantlepiece. I decided it was nice to have one or two seasonal focal points in each room to catch my eye when I’m doing housework / contemplating which brand of tea to buy / negotiating untidiness limits with my son. To draw my attention back to what’s really important in my life and connects me with a place of inner peace.

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I’ve had the little crystal bunny below since babyhood. Sadly. her ears have been lost along the way!

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Our spring book basket.

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As part of our spring equinox tasks, I removed the dark blue cloth hanging over the table that was our “night sky” to symbolise the daylight now exceeding the darkness. (The ice and snow symbols pictured were removed a few weeks ago, when we conceded reluctantly that we would not be getting any snow until at least next winter).

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However, our sheep – added to the table at Imbolc – have stayed. (Knitted from pattern in Landscape Magazine).

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Our goddess wheel (by Wendy Andrew) has also been turned to Ostara…

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…who was kind enough to bring us some chocolate eggs! (They’re made by Divine. And are so!)

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Some “new arrivals” came to Dylan’s farm too! These little chicks, made by Ostheimer.

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And some seasonal decorations – and equinox-symbolic food! – on our kitchen table too. We used to have our altar on our kitchen table but found that it took up too much space. The card is the first handmade Mothers’ Day card that I’ve received – heart-melting!

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Blessing for the lighter half of the year.♥

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