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A couple of weeks ago, Aislinn had her cast removed. She hated it. It was noisy and scary and uncomfortable, and she was hysterical. After the cast was removed and the x-rays were taken, we were sent back to the waiting room to wait for the P.A. Aislinn was sobbing and clinging to me, and people kept looking at her with sad eyes. A little girl, who was Aislinn's age, but appeared to not speak any English, on the other side of the waiting room, calmly, silently walked over to Aislinn and gave her a Rainbow Dash sticker. The smiled at each other, and Aislinn's whimpers subsided to hiccups.Little kindnesses forge connections. They make life better. And they take so little from us and turn it into something bright and beautiful for someone else. Aislinn's fear was eased by something so small as a sticker. She held it in her hand for hours afterward, and she talked about it a week later.
To make a kinder world, we need to start small. Smile. Hold a door. Wish someone a good day. Let that car that waited to merge in without yelling or honking. Share. It doesn't have to be a grand gesture, but you might be surprised to find that it can grow into something bigger and better than you imagined.
Its almost Samhain and here they come again, the WITCH Questions.Have you ever noticed, that as fall begins and our energies surge within the mystic powers of Samhain, people want to ask us questions about our beliefs? But not so much those that would bring understanding, but Why? Why we are the way we are and what made us this way? Like something happened to make us Witches. Most questions I have heard and honestly dont mind answering. That is how we all learn and I do believe that
I’ve always had a private love affair. We fell in love when I was at secondary school. I hunted her out in the library where she used to hang out. It was pretty exciting. To that very young Damh the things she showed me placed my feet upon a life journey. But over the years, every now and then, we lost touch. Other things took my attention. I guess it can happen to any relationship. Then over the past few weeks she got in touch again. Well, not really simply got in touch, she’s been quite insistent. At first I was a little worried I wouldn’t have space in my life for her like I used to, to the degree she obviously wanted, but then I realised that she had always been there, like a supportive friend, I just hadn’t taken as much notice of her as I could have. I guess maybe I took her a little for granted.
As I reflect I remember now that Samhain was always her favourite time of year. As the nights grew longer she came out more, she was somehow more visible. As I sit here writing this I can feel her very clearly, close, like a comforting hand upon my shoulder. I think she’s also glad we are reconnecting again. But I have to be honest it feels a little naughty. The hand resting on my shoulder is the hand of magic, the hand of the unseen, the supernatural. It’s both soft and young, yet also boney and gnarled. She offers peace, connection, dreams, but she can also bring fear, disorientation, or maybe both of those feelings are the result of something else.
Something more primal.
I’ll come clean. It wasn’t spirituality that led me to the Druid path. It was those things I mentioned above. I was a 10 year old Fortean, searching the school library for books on the supernatural and the occult. I loved those old Victorian photographs of Mediums with their ectoplasm. The old black and white photographs of ghosts both scared and thrilled me. I loved horror films in the same way some people like rollercoaster rides. Hardly any surprise then that tales of an Otherworld and magic drew my attention, and when I discovered that there were many who saw that Realm as a reality, well, it was like seeing an enormous firework display on the horizon, all I had to do was get there.
As I grew older I went to those Psychic Fayres that were once so popular. I bought as many of the books as I could find. I explored the practices of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (the magical society, not the far right political party…) and that led me to the books of Aleister Crowley. No, not a nice man at all, but his books on magic intrigued me. I joined a Magical Order and was initated as a Neophyte and began the journey of the magician. But magical Orders being as they can sometimes be, after a few years, this one imploded and dissolved, leaving me adrift and searching. That search led me to send off a stamped addressed envelope to a Druid Order called OBOD, and I that is where I found my new home.
Magic is a potent energy to the modern Druid, but often it isn’t overtly visible, it is subtle. However to me magic, the Awen, have always been intrinsic to my Druid path. I am a polytheistic animist, and I feel the presence of the Otherworld even sitting here typing this, staring at an illuminated screen. I have sometimes seen that this way of viewing the world isn’t 100% popular, even with some Pagans. Rationality, atheism, particularly after the release of Dawkins’ The God Delusion certainly shifted the way some of my Pagan friends viewed the world and their Pagan path. I read it. It didn’t do that for me. I still feel that rational thinking is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master. None of my songs have ever been written using rationality as inspiration, I’m not sure any work of art has been created that way, and that to me is the flowing spirit of the Awen at work.
I love this quote from rational thinker Philip Pullman:
Trying to understand superstition rationally is like trying to pick up something made of wood by using a magnet.
I’d go with that. It’s taken from this article and maybe reading it was another step in me needing to write these words.
(Now if rationalism is your thing, please don’t think I’m suggesting you’re in any way wrong. If it works for you, fabulous. But ever since I fell in love in the school library all those years ago I have felt there is something else, something unexplainable, enticing, seducing, exciting. Rational thinking certainly has its place in my life, but it’s not my driving force. So that’s enough of that, time to move on.)
In a couple of recent blog posts I asked if any of you had had what some may call supernatural experiences on your path, wondering if the culture of social media might sometimes make people fearful of expressing those moments that are labelled, sometimes in a derogatory manner, Personal Gnosis. Sure enough I had a lot of replies, mostly through private email. I read one on the recent OBOD podcast, DruidCast, and the response was encouraging – it seems there are many of you who feel this way too. So I’m going to try to read a few more over the coming months.
I have been on this path, as Magician and Druid, for most of my life. It has been a passion of mine since as far back as I remember. To me the Druid Way is a mystical path, as well as a way of life, and a way of relating to the natural world. When I stand upon the hill below the Long Man of Wilmington to celebrate the festivals of the Wheel of the Year I’m not simply marking a season. I’m seeing the changes in the landscape as a magical dance between the Earth, the Sun and the Moon. The way the seasons change, the Moon waxes and wanes, the tides rise and fall, the way day turns to night, those cycles bring with them a deep and powerful mystical connection with not only the physical changes I feel with my senses, but with something else that is deep within me, and that also flows across the land, and out further into the cosmos. The power of inspiration, magic, life-force, the influence of the Otherworld, and the voices of beings whose tales we tell, and try to understand, is tangible at those times of seasonal change. The Oak is both an ancient living being, and also a portal and doorway to other lands. My wand is both a piece of Rowan wood, and a magical ally who has walked with me for many years. My Druid path is still very much the path of the Magician. It is the horse upon whose back I ride when I see the veil thin, and the high mountains of Annwn come into view.
And I am forever thankful to you, my love, for opening my eyes all those years ago.
The association between cats and witches goes back centuries, and modern days witches often find themselves drawn to cats, even if they don't use them in their magical practice. Little Book of Cat Magic author Deborah Blake details why cats are so magical, and how we can perform magicandmdash;with them and for them.
I thought I’d open a can of worms today. Throw a hot potato in. You know, stir it up a bit. I don’t normally go there but I think, in truth, there is no one correct answer to this so it really doesn’t matter in the end – it’s all about how you personally relate to the seasons and the land around you. So what is this contentious topic…?
But more to the point where they begin and end.
Ok, I’ll begin with my own relationship. For me the seasons have always begun on the Solstices and Equinoxes. I know, I know, before you frantically type “but it’s called Midsummer!” into the comments section hold off. I realise it’s called Midsummer and it seems that is because:
- The name came from a time when there were only two recognised seasons – Summer and Winter. Apparently Spring and Autumn were not early Anglo Saxon terms. Now I’m no linguistic scholar so that might be ‘fake news’, but it seems to be a thing.
- Steve Pollington, the well known Anglo Saxon scholar during one of his talks I heard said that the Anglo Saxons had a 12 day festival around the Solstices, the mid point of which were called the mid point of the festival. Hence ‘mid’ Summer and Winter.
- The seasons actually start on the days of the Fire festivals. So Summer begins at Beltane, the Summer Solstice is its mid point, and the Autumn begins at Lughnasadh with its height being the Autumn Equinox. Winter begins at Samhain and thus Midwinter is the Winter Solstice. Spring begins at Imbolc with the height of Spring being the Spring Equinox.
- I’m sure there are more but I’ll leave it there…
But none of these actually work for me. When I look around at Lughnasadh the only thing I see nearing the end of it’s cycle is are the grass crops on the fields. The rest of Nature seems to be thoroughly enjoying the sunshine and heat. Imbolc may bring with it one flower, the snowdrop, thus announcing the beginning of Spring, but that gorgeous flower, and symbol of Imbolc apparently only arrived in Britain in 1597 and it was only noted in the wild in 1778. Imbolc is probably the coldest festival of the year. I simply have never been able to square the beginning of Spring on the 1st February and believe me I’ve tried. I’d like nothing more than that to be true, but the land, weather, plants just don’t tell me that’s true. The vast majority are completely asleep. Samhain the start of Winter. Oh please no. That’s way too early for this Sun worshipper. And I was always told that ‘Samhain’ meant ‘Summer’s End’, but according to the seasons starting on the Fire festival days Summer ended at Lughnasadh, unless you only have two seasons, Summer and Winter, then it makes total sense – Summer begins at Beltane and ends at Samhain, but no Spring or Autumn.
So it seems to me that Britain is carrying with it countless cultural seasonal traditions, and trying to make them fit together, and they don’t, but that’s ok. We are also blending two very different ways of looking at the Solstices and Equinoxes particularly. The meteorological, and the astrological.
Northern Meteorological Seasons
According to the meteorological definition, the seasons begin on the first day of the months that include the equinoxes and solstices:
- Spring runs from March 1 to May 31;
- Summer runs from June 1 to August 31;
- Fall (autumn) runs from September 1 to November 30; and
- Winter runs from December 1 to February 28
The astronomical definition uses the dates of equinoxes and solstices to mark the beginning and end of the seasons:
- Spring begins on the spring equinox;
- Summer begins on the summer solstice;
- Autumn begins on the autumn equinox; and
- Winter begins on the winter solstice.
The beginning of each season marks the end of the last.
Is it any wonder hardly any of us can agree?
We had a long chat on our Grove about the seasons and there were some who follow point three above. I’ve tried for the past two years to see the changing seasons in that way – to see the changes through that lens, but to also compare it to how I’ve always related to the seasons before, ie, the Astronomical Seasons. I failed miserably and now will just go back to how I was before.
Spring begins on the Spring Equinox – after the cold of Winter this is the point of the year when I see plants and trees really begin to wake up. But it’s still slow, even in March, but then April arrives, and that often breaks the cold, and suddenly there is that amazing Spring green, and the larger trees begin to join in as we approach the height of Spring, Beltane. Now the countryside is awash with green and blossoms, the birds are calling, the land is an explosion of activity. The weather is still changeable and not always exceptionally warm, but for me Beltane mark the height of Spring.
Summer begins at the Summer Solstice – the green between Beltane and the Summer Solstice is a green that only stays for those few weeks. Once the Solstice arrives it begins to darken, and the warmth of Summer truly arrives. The days are long, the nights hot, yup, that’s Summer to me, and it reaches it’s peak at Lughnasadh. After 18 years of regular open rituals at the Long Man I can categorically say that Lughnasadh is the hottest, driest, most Summer festival of the year. There is nowhere to hide from the Sun up on the hill below the Long Man. The sunshine and heat continue, the trees are still in their Summer clothes, and the hedgerows are filling with Summer fruits.
Autumn begins at the Autumn Equinox – The arrival of the Autumn Equinox brings with it a change in the quality of light, and brings those amazing Autumnal mists. It goes from a silver light, to a light with a golden tinge. The leaves of the trees now start to turn, the days begin to feel much shorter, but there is still warmth in that there ball on the sky. The height of Autumn to me is Samhain, when we are right in the depths of the season. The leaves are now really falling, but still many oaks and ash trees are holding on to theirs. We have had a number of Samhain rituals at the Long Man where we are still standing there in our T shirts, but after, the Cailleach’s breath arrives with the November winds, and soon the trees are bare, and the cold has arrived.
Winter begins on the Winter Solstice – the trees stand bare, the mornings are crisp, and the land rests. January and February are always the coldest months here in Sussex. The hardest time of the year for me as a person who has S.A.D. I’m looking for signs of rebirth, and love the snowdrop when she appears. It reminds me that Springs is not too far away, but by Imbolc, the height of Winter, the land is icy, muddy, wet, and cold. The trees sleep, the land sleeps, but soon the buds of the Elder, Hawthorn, Willow will open, with the arrival of the Equinox.
So I’ve tried my friends. I’ve tried to see things through another lens, but it just doesn’t work for me. As with all things Pagan it comes down to personal experience and connection. So please don’t ever think I’m telling you you’re wrong for seeing the changing seasons in a way that differs from mine – I’m not at all. I’m not even trying to ‘sell’ my way. It just works for me.
So how do you relate to the seasons? Are you a ‘two seasons a year’ person? Do you feel happier with the meteorological approach? The astronomical approach? The Fire Festivals beginning the seasons? A blend of a number of ways?
I still find it amazing how quickly after the Autumn Equinox the season takes hold. Maybe it’s the angle of the Sun to the Earth but the shade of light blends with a touch of gold, whereas the Summer sunshine, to my eyes at least, sparkles with silver, and with that change in light the leaves turn also. There is still a lot of green across the Sussex countryside, but the red of the abundant Haws, and the yellowing leaves of the Horse-chestnut is now colouring the forests and Downs, painting a watercolour only Nature Herself can create. With those colours, and earlier evenings, my thoughts begin to turn to Samhain, as the rooks call outside my window.
Just as the turning tide of the waxing and waning Moon shows us the changing aspects of Magic, so the seasons reflect that also. The year is waning and, as the waning Moon opens us to reflect and consider, so too does the waning year. Of course life goes on as it always does, but if we are in tune with the cycles of Sun and Moon we can step beyond the Human constructs of commerce, entertainment, do-do-do and keep doing, don’t stop, be proactive, post that photo, make that Tweet, never stop, and be still. It’s a wonderful feeling. To notice the change in light, the Autumn colours, and step in tune, slow down, really observe. It can feel like you’re in one of those freeze-frame images, where you are in perfect focus, whilst the rest are a blur of activity.
Although I love the Summer, I also love the Autumn, and this opportunity to take stock, look back, reflect, and open to the new possibilities of next Spring. But I know that by mid-January, I’m done with reflecting. I want to put things in motion, get going again, and maybe that’s why my relationship with the Winter is a little strained. I’m not sure that the seeds of my creativity need ‘over-wintering’. They don’t need a frost to germinate, but they have to get one anyway. But now isn’t the time to think of Spring, nor Winter, it’s time to be present, right now, and enjoy the perceptible wind-down.
Autumn and Samhain also bring with them a very deep, Earthy magic. Yesterday I put together this month’s episode of DruidCast. It won’t go live until the 20th, but I like to have the show ready nice and early. This month there is a talk given at this year’s AnderidaFest by the author and Witch Gemma Gary. I introduce her by saying that “there are those who would like a Wicca that can happily sit and have tea and cucumber sandwiches with the local vicar. This talk isn’t like that”. And it’s the perfect Talky Bit for this time of year, as we approach Samhain. Gemma’s talk is on the ritual use of human and animal bones, in Witchcraft, and in Folklore. As I put the show together I wondered how many Druids and Pagans still have animal bones on their altars. I do. Bones have always been a part of my Path, particularly when it comes to Magic.
I’ll give you an example.
During a very difficult part of my life I asked for the help of an animal. This help came in the form of Seagull. The freedom they show when they fly, their survivor attitude, was inspiring, and helped me deeply. As I went for a walk one day on the local beach I found the body of a Gull. I knelt and asked the Spirit of this bird if it would be ok if I took its mortal remains. I got clear approval. So I took it home, and buried it in the garden near an ants nest. Some days later I got out a trowel, and dug up the remains. The ants had done their job. Very little flesh remained. The skull was perfect, and I took the wing bones, and put them in my travel guitar case. I have always been a nervous flyer, and so I asked these bones to bless my guitar, to keep it safe when we flew off to distant countries.
But there was a problem with this…
As we came into Australia one year I was pulled over by customs and asked to open my bags. Of course everything would be fine. I opened my bags, they had a rummage, all good. Then I opened my guitar case. There were the wing bones.
“What are these?” asked the customs official.
“Seagull wing bones,” I replied.
“Why do you have bird wing bones in your guitar case,” she asked,
A fair question really.
“Erm. For luck,” I replied.
“You do know it’s illegal to bring animal remains into this country?” she said.
Gulp. “Er, no, I didn’t.”
She looked at her colleague. Between them they agreed that four Seagull wing bones didn’t constitute animal smuggling, and they let me pass through, but I still remember the looks on their faces – they obviously thought me very weird, very weird indeed. When I got home after the tour I took the bones out of my guitar case. I put them on my altar, and they’ve been there ever since. Now before I fly I close my eyes, place my hands on the bones, and ask that my guitar be safe.
I love bones, but respect is the key. I guess some would say that leaving the bones alone is more respectful. Well, that entirely depends on your own worldview, and if that’s you, I respect that, but it’s not how I work. If there is a powerful calling, I’ll listen, and follow where it leads, and if it leads to bringing home a victim of roadkill, then so be it. I look at other cultures (maybe you too saw the recent documentary with Grayson Perry where he looked at other cultures and their rituals around life and death) and see how some still have deep relationships with the remains of the dead, I totally get that. We are so shielded from death. The body is taken away, cleaned up, maybe filled with horrendous preserving chemicals, then the next time we ‘see’ it it’s in a box ready to go in the ground. I’m not at all sure our relationship with death is healthy, but it does explain why so many are squeamish when it comes to remains. I’d love to leave my skull for my family. I’m not sure they’d like it, but I wouldn’t be shocked or appalled if one of my sons asked if they could have a finger bone, or some other part of me, after I’d gone. I get that type of connection.
Maybe that reads as a little odd, but I don’t think it is. Go back far enough and our ancestors here on this island would place the body of the deceased in a passage grave (sometimes after stripping the bones of the flesh), and then every year they would be taken out once more. We don’t entirely know why, but it must have been an honouring, a remembrance, a connection with the ancestors. I have no problem with that idea at all, in fact I think its lovely. But then I want a sky burial when I go, and as far as I’m aware that isn’t an option for me. It’s either go in the ground, or up in smoke, neither of which appeal. There’s good protein on this body of mine. Give me to the birds and animals. The Gods know I’ve eaten enough of their kin in my lifetime. Then collect my bones and do with them what you wish.
And this is not just a Pagan thing. Consider the countless Christian reliquaries around that are venerated as the containers of the bones from Saints. The veneration of bones runs deep.
Our ancestors understood the power and connection of bones. Our turning Wheel of the Year, and the cycle of the Moon reflect life, death, and rebirth. Folklore is littered with tales and customs of using bones in magic. Is the honouring of bones a part of your practice? If so, what do you do?
Very useful book and I have two of it the original Natural Magic and the re-print Encyclopedia of Natural Magic - John Michael Greer. Explains the practise of natural magick and one learns to make many useful things with this book. Is also easy to read and comprehend. I am into Natural Magick since decades and this is my favorite book about it. Why do I have two of this?Late one night I was ordering books online and I think is a totally new book it is after I got it I see is only the cover and title is new. Llewellyn publisher sometimes does this. Few years later we had to move from a one level house to two level house and I keep one upstairs and one downstairs so it was useful having two.
We all want to know a love that's whole and true, through-and-through; a relationship that never fails to renew itselfandmdash;and us. Why, then, is this type of relationship so difficult to find, if it is what we desire? Guy Finley, author of Relationship Magic, provides four resolutions we can all make to make our relationships happier and healthier.
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