Aug 31, 2019

Hazy Days and The Blessed In-Between

I am finding, more and more over the years, that the deep breath between the notable points of the seasons is where I feel the most inspired. It is the softer spaces, the blurred boundaries between one tide of the year and the next, that spark a swelling in my heart and spirit. All seasons have their beauty. Even the fierce heat of the last several weeks, the height of summer's fire before the sun's rule over the day began to slip, has had its own charms. But it's these in-between times, when one portion of the year looses its grip and another season begins to whisper of what is to come, that I feel my pulse quicken and my mind swirl with musings and enchantments.

It's been a difficult summer for many of us. My compass has been spinning since May and I've managed to chart my course only when I shifted my focus to my own work and well-being. When my gaze lingered on others for too long, I faltered. When I chose to expend all my energy taking care of folks, it became a too-heavy burden instead of a gift I could offer. I had to reach for my heart like I did the summer peaches, find comfort in my own arms and hands, and sweeten my spirit with staggering sunsets, meandering waterways, and the call of osprey.  

I found solace in the shady spots of the yard and gardens these last few sultry months, in books and poetry, in fairs and farmers' markets, and in a brief escape to the ocean. But mostly I managed to thrive in the way I always do. Dirt under my fingernails, walking beside the river, eating food right out of the garden, and transforming my herb harvests into teas and balms and magics. Right at this moment I've got calendula flowers set out to dry, a basket on the counter of scarlet paste tomatoes and basil still warm from the heat of the day, and I'm slipping goldenrod into a jar to make an extract to assist my lungs should I fall to a cold this winter. I haven't harvested all the plants I wanted to this year, didn't reseed the garden beds that were available after the spring crops came to fruition, and I haven't been out in the woods nearly enough. But I've done what I could do, and I don't have much care for running myself ragged anymore. I'd rather run through cornfields.

“At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. You don't need to photograph, paint, or even remember it. It is enough.”  - Toni Morrison     

Virgo season is my season. It's the sweet sigh of relief after a frenzied summer in the valley. Though the frogs and crickets still sing each night I can hear the low murmur underneath those songs again. The whisper of trees making less chlorophyll as the days shorten. The nesting and gathering of animals preparing for the colder months. The owls were calling the other night - a haunting chant I haven't heard since late winter. The sumac is blushing, the rowan heavy with berries, and the geese are gathering in the fields and lakes to prepare for their long journey.

I'm feeling wildly sensual of late. Electric. My skin is the velvet of flower petals and my hair is perfumed with herb blossoms. I am cat-mint and raspberries, the fragrance of ripe garden tomatoes, and the delighted surprise of a wild apple tree found in the forest. I am the opening of evening primrose in the dusk. I can't stop smelling my skin. I've been working with damiana and kava, infusing massage oils and sipping elixirs and reveling in their magic. I want to press pause on these too-short twilights so I have more time to roam between bats and dragonflies, nibbling the last offerings of the ever-bearing strawberries while my feet press sigils into earth and grass.

There are exciting things on the horizon. Fall fairs, a birthday, and an enchanting journey. I'm slowly planning October fetes, mulling over harvest tasks, and pulling out sweaters from the back of the wardrobe. But this year I'm trying not to get too far ahead of myself. I'm soaking in these moments that are bookended by summer and autumn, enjoying the hazy days and cooler nights, knowing that this liminal time has a deep magic all its own.

May the magic find you, too.

May 10, 2019

Pizza for a Kinder Mind

I'm feeling raw and broken-open, of late. It's okay. It's part of being human - being me. I've grown, and have developed healthy ways of softening and easing the panic or despair that rises from my gut and tries to squeeze my chest, lungs, heart. I like this being older. This feeling of still being a feral girl (which is how I feel every day if I don't look too long in the mirror), but having the benefit of experience and whatever small amounts of confidence I've mustered up over the years.

My brain isn't always a friend. It brings up old stories sometimes. It says "they don't like you," or "you'll never fit in," or "your best isn't good enough." It says "that thing you did fifteen years ago is shameful and you should still feel awful about it. Remember. Remember all those mistakes. All those times you should have done better. You should have been better."

Several years ago I began treating that voice like a frightened child. A shivering animal. Talking kindly to it. "Yes, yes, love. I know. You're safe. Shhh." When it won't quiet down, I go for a walk, or go out to the garden, or drive along the lake, or bake something that reminds me of my grandmother.

I'm in love with the scent of yeast. The feeling of dough stretching out and softening between my palms as I knead, makes me soon. Whirling around in the kitchen in the late afternoon while sunlight and sweet breezes dance through the window, is one of my favourite ways to unwind. I speak blessings to the dough, sing or chant to it, and as I go through the ritual of pressing and folding I find that my tension, fear, or anxiety slips away.

I don't purposely set out to eat wheat anymore (when I do bake it’s more often with gluten-free blends or a wheat & grain free ‘flour’) though it finds its way into my world from time to time. The sexy coupling of yeast and wheat is singular - nothing else really smells or feels like it. Sometimes it’s just the only thing I want.

This ridiculously easy thin crust pizza dough is what I've been playing with lately. ‘Pizza for a Kinder Mind’ is a movement I could happily start. Do you have your own tricks to lower the volume of a shit-talking brain? What things happily derail a train of not-so-helpful thoughts, for you?

Quick and Easy Thin Pizza Crust

1 teaspoon of traditional yeast
pinch of sugar
3/4 cup of warm water
1 and 3/4 cups of flour
a pinch of salt

- add the yeast and sugar to the warm water and wait 5 minutes or so for bubbles
- place flour and salt in a bowl, add yeast-water mixture and toss with a fork
- turn out onto floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes, adding more flour if too sticky
- press dough into a non-stick or greased pan, top with your fave ingredients, bake at 450 for 10-13 minutes

Apr 30, 2019

Riding Goats into May - A Nod to Walpurgisnacht

The wind has been howling at the windows for three days, and although the sun has done its best to shine in between spring rains its heat cannot compete with the biting cold that the tempests have blown in. I don't mind the last gasps of winter, the final shake of Frau Holle's feather blanket that resulted in rain-snow-hail this past weekend. In my mind and dreams the Wild Hunt is riding a frenzied race across the skies to the peak of the Harz to celebrate winter's end and the coming of summer. I need a fast goat who likes altitude, because I want to go too.

We have arrived in the season of lush festivity. And let's face it, in days of old if you made it through the winter without succumbing to disease or starvation there was definitely something to celebrate. Feasting on spring greens and shoots, lighting bonfires to chase off the winter and to cense your livestock, jumping brooms and fires (and jumping each other - it's a very fertile time of year after all), were some of the activities that folks embraced as the days grew long.

The last day of April marked Hexennacht, when it was said that witches rode to their sabbath at the Brocken in the Harz mountains of Germany. The saint Walpurga/Walburga who was called upon to aid in protection from witchcraft was canonized on May 1st, conveniently overlapping her eve with the night of the witches. Walpurisnacht (Walpurga's night) became both the time when witches were out on their revels and when people would employ protections for their homes and livestock to keep them safe from witchcraft. It's a wicked merry-go-round, isn't it?

If May dawned and you made it home from the mountains or your woodland frolicking, then you might bathe yourself in the morning dew to ensure youthfulness for another year. You could find yourself spinning ribbon around a maypole with village folk, guising or dancing in a parade through the streets, or preparing to lead your cattle between two bonfires to bless them with vitality.

There are more stories of folk practices and debaucherous frolicking than I have time to tell while the hours of April slip away, but I wanted to share a few words from others here - snippets from people and books I enjoy that speak to the spirit of this celebratory time. I'll be out by the fire tonight (if the wind cooperates) and I'll lift a glass to see the Old Woman of winter off. If you hear me howling, send a howl back. I know you're out there bringing in the May in your own way.

Bernard Zuber

"Some call it Walpurgisnacht or Beltane or May Day, and the days of observance may shift minutely, but the general celebration remains the same. It is a grand day of festivity and rejoicing, an ode to vanquishing the dark and looking forward to a green and glorious future. It is a time for joyous feasting and the encouragement of growth, a time for lovers and life.

In Blacktree, however, we see Hexennacht as a night when witches fly to their own gatherings and revels. On this night, we also acknowledge and honor our genus loci and other land spirits. For us, Hexennacht is literally a night of witches; it says so right in the name. On this night, we howl at the moon, wild in our power and in love with our very nature as witches. We connect deeply with the land and spirits around us."

Besom, Stang & SwordChristopher Orapello and Tara-Love Maguire

"Although officially sanctioned by the church as the feast of Saints Philip and James, May Day celebrations in England smothered religious veneration with fertility rites suggested by flowers and fires. The notorious lecher, King Henry VIII, took great pleasure in his court's floral masquerades and the sexual license of Mayings. The common people had fun with setting up maypoles, lighting bonfires, playing football, running races, morris dancing, and flirting. Villagers were sent into the woods where they would cut down a maypole (that most obviously phallic symbol) to erect in front of the parish church, and many young couples, it appears, got "lost" for the night in the woods to enjoy semi-clandestine love."

Ritual in Early Modern Europe, Edward Muir

"Beltane rituals are still held. Traditionally bonfires are lit. To heal infertility, people creep through bonfires, jump over them, and run between them. Once upon a time, they also made love amongst the bonfires, although to avail yourself of this power you may have to build private, personal fires."

Beltane Bonfire Spell, The Encyclopedia of 5000 SpellsJudika Illes

"Walpurgisnacht" by Albert Welti 1897

"A Munich vesper from the fourteenth century mentioned a Brockelsburg as being an abode of nocturnal ghosts and witches. Such "buck mountains," "hay mountains," or "heathen caps," where the last heathen festivals took place, were found throughout Europe. The most famous of these is the Brocken, in the Harz mountains of Germany. The "witches" usually gathered there on Walpurgis night. They danced the last winter snows away in "participation mystique." In the sagas they danced so vigorously that they danced through the soles of their shoes."

Witchcraft Medicine, Muller-Ebeling, Ratsch, Storl

Bernard Zuber

This charm may well be the 'vesper' spoken of above. I've included a small snippet here if you are the sort to quake at witches flying overhead and want a few words of protection to whisper as you drift off to dream. (I'll try not to wake you as I streak by on my goat.)

May the supreme Numen divinium,
may the holy sanctus spritius,
may the sacred sanctus dominus,
again protect me this night
from the evil creatures that roam the darkness
and I sign myself
against the black ones and the white ones
whom people call the Good ones
and who leave from Brockelsberg

- excerpt from a 14th-15th century charm,
published in Lecouteux's Phantom Armies of the Night

I wish you wildness and firelight. Frenzied joy and good feasting. Kisses and dances and all the merrymaking you desire. May your earth and home and family be fruitful.

Happy Witches' Night. Happy May!

Apr 17, 2019

Blessing the Seeds and the Blossoming Year

There is a world I had forgotten. Beyond snow and ice, frigid temperatures and howling wind. That world has been slowly slipping into this one, and over my winter-ravaged spirit, thawing even the most cold-bitten parts of me. The vernal equinox arrived in the northern hemisphere four weeks ago heralding a bright new season, but the warmth of spring has taken its time settling in. The sun that lights up our valley shares space with fast-moving clouds, cold rain, and blustery winds. The eternal early-spring dance twirls on.

Spring rain coaxes out a different perfume from the earth than autumn rain does. The last time my valley was blessed with precipitation that wasn't snow, it was late November and the land had concluded its sickly-sweet dance of dying and rot, putting that haunting season to bed barren and still. The rain returned at the dawn of this month and the earth is rising to meet it, flushing with the sharp medicinal bouquet of greens and yellows. The buds on the trees are growing fat (and in a very few instances, popping open), and the grasses are pushing up from under last year's leaf compost. This is not the sugary scent of spring bulbs and blossoms - that will come soon. This is the hint of ginger and citrus, the pleasant balm of sunlight-awakened earth, that is the first welcome home sign of spring's return.

I am still stirring from my long winter's slumber, stretching and yawning. I've begun walking with my umbrella by the river as the Canada geese pair off and gorge themselves on the new grass on the path. The sheep have lambed at the small farm beneath the hill and the little ones race around their mothers. Crows soar past carrying nesting material in their beaks. The last of the snow melted away from the shadowy corners of my yard only two weeks ago, and now I'm keenly aware of how much work I have in order to clean up all the garden beds for the new growing year. It will move fast now that the cold season has finally loosed its grip.

This year I am making more of an effort to watch the moon and charting the astrological signs so I might put the age-old wisdom of well-timed planting to good use. I have my trusty Old Farmer's Almanac and a journal to mark this year's experiments, successes, and inevitable failures. My peas and lettuces went into the ground under the waxing moon in Cancer last Friday, and I'm hoping to get some spring flowers in today or tomorrow while the moon is lingering in Libra. (I've long planted under the particular moon phases, but I've never been especially vigilant about planting under specific signs.)

If you too want to give your crops a leg up, why not try to correspond your planting and tending to the moon's movement through the constellations? Here's a quick and easy list for reference, or you can always pop over to the Farmer's Almanac site and check in on their moon planting calendar each month.

ARIES (head & face): Dry and barren. Never plant. Best sign for plowing, tilling and cultivating.

TAURUS (neck): Earthy and moist. Plant here to withstand a drought. Excellent for root crops and okay for crops above the ground and flowers. 

GEMINI (arms): Airy, dry and barren. Destroy weeds, kill trees and prepare soil.

CANCER (breast): Watery and very fruitful. Plant here to withstand a drought. Excellent for above and below-ground crops. Time to graft. 

LEO (head): Fiery, dry and barren. Never plant; destroy weeds, kill trees and prepare soil. 

VIRGO (bowels): Earthy, dry and barren. Destroy weeds, kill trees and prepare soil. 

LIBRA (balance): Airy, moist and semi fruitful. Excellent for flowers (beauty) and okay for above-ground crops. 

SCORPIO (loins): Watery and fruitful. Excellent for above ground crops and flowers. Okay for below-ground crops. Time to graft. 

SAGITTARIUS (thighs): Fiery, dry, and barren. Destroy weeds and kill trees. 

CAPRICORN (knees): Earthy, moist and productive. Good for root crops and okay for above ground crops. Root cuttings and make grafts. 

AQUARIUS (legs): Airy, dry and barren. Destroy weeds and kill trees. 

PISCES (feet): Watery and fruitful. Plant here to withstand a drought. Excellent for below ground crops and okay for above ground crops. Root cuttings and make grafts.  

If charting the moon's course isn't enough magic for you, there are a variety of folk charms, historical customs, or familial traditions that you can employ while preparing your gardens for the new growing season. 

* Ask the elders around you what practices were their favourites for successful growing. My 86 year old friend swears that you must bury a fish beneath your tomatoes and pumpkins for the best possible harvest (I prefer to use a good quality fish fertilizer).

* If you created a corn or wheat dolly last summer or autumn you can put it to bed in the garden or field now to re-plant the spirit of that fetish back in to the earth. Some folks will burn or bury their dolly upon creating a new one each year. You may have your own charms or magics to tuck in your garden as the growing season begins. Perhaps you've written out petitions of things you'd like to come to you slow and steady as the spring progresses, or you may bury a coin or two with the beans in the hopes of 'growing' your bank account. 

Wildlife-safe, biodegradable or retrievable offerings to the land can be made at the start of your growing season and/or throughout the year. I routinely share local wine with my gardens and their good spirits, and chocolate-free cookies or cake make their way into a specific corner of the perennial garden to keep myself on the sweeter side of the mischievous creatures that wander by that shade-dappled place full of strange, flickering lights in the dark, and odd volunteer plants.

* There are a number of seed-sowing charms and songs.  The Consecration of the Seed from the Carmina Gadelica is a beautiful example. Children's gardening songs are easily found - often creatively crafted to the tunes of older songs a child has learned. I create my own as I move through each variety I'm planting. It's a delightful trance to be in, singing or chanting to the seeds as you tuck them into the earth, wishing them fruition.

The old saying "one for the rook and one for the crow, one to die and one to grow" has many incarnations and is found all over North America and abroad. Being generous with your seeding was wise as it meant more chance of germination, especially when planting seeds near the surface of the earth where hungry critters could nibble them up. In a similar bent, "two for the devil and one for the garden" speaks to successive sowings of plants that might be finicky about sprouting. Sometimes this is temperature related (sowing too early) or might be a result of sub-par seed stock, or simply a crop that takes its sweet time germinating.

* Special days, hours, or time markers that have meaning can be worked into your planting rituals. In different regions, towns, or even spiritual communities there are sometimes special days/times that signal optimal planting opportunities. Perhaps you always plant a certain flower or herb on a beloved's birthday. In my valley we consider the May holiday weekend the safe-zone to begin planting crops that are less cold-hardy. Good Friday was once considered a beneficial day to plant as the devil was thought to be powerless on this date. (Of course, this is going to depend on your climate.)

Sowing above-ground crops as the day dawns or as the hands on the clock work their way up (from 6 to 12) might be how you symbolize your wish for the plants to grow tall and strong, and planting root crops in the waning hours of the day or when the clock hands are moving downward may bring to mind healthy tubers reaching deep into the earth.

However  you bless or begin to plant this year's gardens or patio pots or wee windowsill terrariums, I am wishing you the utmost joy as you step into spring and the blossoming year!

Sweet month thy pleasures bids thee be
The fairest child of spring
And every hour that comes with thee
Comes some new joy to bring
The trees still deepen in their bloom
Grass greens the meadow lands
And flowers with every morning come
As dropt by fairey hands

- John Clare, The Shepherd's Calendar, "April"

Dec 31, 2018

Witches For a New Year

"Come here, my bird! I will give you the dangerous black night to stretch your wings in, and poisonous berries to feed on, and a nest made of bones and thorns, perched high up in danger where no one can climb to it." 
That's why we become witches: to show our scorn of pretending life's a safe business, to satisfy our passion for adventure. It's not malice, or wickedness - well perhaps it is wickedness, for most women love that - but certainly not malice, not wanting to plague cattle and make horrid children spout up pins and - what is it? - "blight the genial bed." Of course, given the power, one may go in for that sort of thing, either in self-defence, or just out of playfulness. But it's a poor twopenny housewifely kind of witchcraft, black magic is, and white magic is no better. One doesn't become a witch to run round being harmful, or to run round being helpful either, a district visitor on a broomstick. It's to escape all that - to have a life of one's own, not an existence doled out to you by others...  
Excerpt from Lolly Willowes, by Syliva Townsend Warner

I think a great deal about my existence at the end of each calendar year. Whether my presence has helped or hindered others. How I might have added to the joy of the world, or where I might have washed entire universes away with my tears. I used to be very hard on myself. As the last days of December slipped away I would replay a list of my faults and failures. All the things I could have done better. The ways I should have been wealthier, healthier, wiser, or more loving. Though the unkind voice might still slither in at times, I'm done with tearing myself apart. It serves no good purpose. I'd rather take a look at what I've done well, and how I might slip into the current of those successes and swim toward the things that bring me more satisfaction and a sweeter life.

There were times this year, in moments of pain or fear, I spoke curses and blights that made me ashamed and I did my best to take them back as soon as possible. Curses can be useful but carry a weight with them that can bear down even the lightest spirit if used haphazardly, and I've learned that my own agony is not lessened by inviting pain on others.

I've come to a uneasy truce with a brain that is changing as it ages. No more multitasking, or trying to balance several spinning dishes in the air at once. I work better these days when I focus on one task at a time. I have discovered that jumping and wiggling makes my body really happy. Not running, or swimming, or biking. Jumping. I have learned that there is, sadly, such a thing as too much coffee. I know now that sunrises and sunsets - as many as I can glimpse - are an absolute necessity and not something I'm willing to go too long without seeing. We get too used to living indoors, I think. The woods miss us.

I have discovered that I'm not willing to be still. To be obedient or nice. I have very little interest in what others want for me or from me (though for those I love, there is little I wouldn't do). There are places I want to go, places I've waited to see, and I'm not content to wait for the right time to go, or the right person to go with me anymore. I've had my heart torn apart a hundred times and it always grows back in some funny sort of way, so there no longer seems to be much to lose. I am planning adventures that I will actually take this coming year, one way or another.

Life is not a safe business. And it's not long lasting. Even my beloved grandfather would have happily kicked around many years more than the 99.9 he was allotted if he'd had the lungs to let him keep going. I imagine my year ahead and it is all about how I will create a life of my own - one I can be proud of, blush at, and cackle loudly while recalling my journeys. I will satisfy my passions and my thirst for adventure. I will make magic and grow wicked things and revel in the roses as well as their thorns.

I'm wishing you a fierce 2019. Wild in all the ways you want it to be. Kind and soft as you like. Brilliant, love-filled, and so full of laughter that you have sore cheeks most days. May it be magic.

Happy New Year

photos courtesy of