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HEARTH WITCHERY

This is the ancient wisdom of the grandmothers, the wise women, once passed down from mother to daughter and crone to apprentice, and then improved by a lifetime of study and the daily observation of the patterns of nature.

In bygone ages most of us lived much closer to nature than we do now. Once every woman had to be something of an herbalist and healer, responsible for her household’s health, since professional medical help was either unavailable or too expensive (and possibly dangerous to boot). Every home kept some drying herbs and flowers to make herbal infusions, powders, oils and poultices, brewed wine and ale, preserved fruit, made jams and jellies, pickles and chutneys, and many also made inks, dyes, soaps and household cleaners. A girl would be initiated into the secrets of these family formulas by her mother, along with her knowledge of folklore, stories, healing potions, minor surgery, gardening, brewing and wine making, spinning, weaving, dyeing, childcare, home management, animal husbandry, bee-keeping, fortune telling and cookery know-how.

And then there were those in the community who knew that little bit more, the village wise woman or cunning man. When joined my first coven Julia, our high priestess, told us stories of the herb wives of the past, who cared for the bodies and spirits of those around them, telling their fortunes, treating their bodily ailments with herbs, dowsing their lost property, and physicking their farm animals. She held them up to us as examples of powerful, magical women in an age when women otherwise had little influence. They were the midwives who brought new life into the world, she said, and who laid out the dead at the end of life. Though such stories have often been wildly romanticised, folklore records and accounts do show that virtually every village seems to have had a wise woman or a cunning man of some sort. These village shamans had different names in different places, including handywomen, blessers, witches, conjurors, herb wives, wild herb men, snake doctors, fairy doctors and currens. These practitioners didn’t use athames and magic swords but everyday objects – stones, keys, shears, sieves, pitchforks, brooms, divining rods, wax, bottles, paper and anything that came readily to hand from the kitchen or farm.

This is the ancient wisdom of the grandmothers, the wise women, once passed down from mother to daughter and crone to apprentice, and then improved by a lifetime of study and the daily observation of the patterns of nature. Such expertise formed the pattern of women’s lives for thousands of years and that women developed highly skilful methods in all these areas, even though no contemporary historian wrote about them or accorded women due status for their invaluable work. Women’s knowledge has been derided and ignored for most of our history, and this is just as true today in western culture, in which knowledge is ‘owned’ by experts (mainly men) and can only be passed on through state-approved academic institutions, and where those seeking to follow traditional or alternative paths – such as herbalism – are dismissed as uneducated, naïve or even dangerous.

But this is our knowledge, our heritage – as women and as witches, both male and female. Discovering it and practicing my Craft has been a marvellous adventure for me, and it never ceases to fill me with wonder and awe at the power of Mother Nature. It makes me aware of the magic that flows throughout the world in every uncurling oak leaf in spring, every blushing rose petal, every humming summer bee, every rutting stag, and every misty shore. This is the reward of the path of the hearth witch.

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Dandelion Wine

23rd April (St George’s Day) is the traditional day to make dandelion wine, and indeed, this is the time when the dandelions are in full flower, sunny golden flowers covering the fields and verges. I will be gathering flowers for wine, which should be kept at least two years before it is drunk. 

Dandelion Wine

6 pints flower heads

3 lb. sugar

2 lemons

1 orange

1 lb. raisins

1 cup of black tea

1 gallon water

Yeast and nutrient

Gather the flowers when you are ready to use them fresh. Boil the water and pour over the flowers, stand for 2 days, stirring daily. Boil with the sugar and citrus fruit rinds for 60 minutes. Put it back in the bin and add the citrus fruit juice. Cool to lukewarm, add the tea, yeast and nutrient. Cover the bin and leave in a warm place for 3 days, stirring daily. Strain into a demijohn and add the raisins. Fit an airlock.

Old Fashioned Herbs – Sweet Cicely

My Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) is starting to come up, lovely feathery, fern-like leaves that will have an umbel of frothy white flowers soon. The whole plant is aromatic, myrrhis meaning ‘smelling of myrrh’, and odorata meaning ‘fragrant’. Its folk names include British Myrrh or Wild Myrrh, as it is native to the British Isles.

It was used to scent furniture polish in the 16th and 17th centuries.  You can make your own by gently macerated the seeds in beeswax over a low heat before straining. The flowers and leaves can be dried and added potpourri or added to incense to lift the spirits and impart joy and happiness to ceremonies, particularly Beltane and Midsummer.

Every part of the plant is edible. It has an aniseed-like taste, very pronounced in the unripe green seeds, which can be eaten raw or roasted as a snack.

However, the important thing about sweet cicely is that it is sweet! It can be used as a sugar substitute. The natural sweetness of the leaves has been used to reduce sugar in recipes, especially when stewing fruits such as rhubarb or gooseberries, as they also help reduce the acidity.  They are calorie free and well tolerated by diabetics.

The stalks can be used much like celery, while the roots can be boiled or eaten raw. The raw leaves can be added to salads, even fruit salads. They can also be cooked into soups, stews and omelettes.

Medicinally, the plant is added to digestives and aperitifs to aid digestion and relieve flatulence.  Sweet Cicely is famously used by Carthusian monks to make the liqueur, Chartreuse. Try making your own aperitif by steeping the unripe seeds in vodka or brandy for two months before straining.

© Anna Franklin, April 2021

Making Flower Essences

I first came across the Bach Flower Remedies many years ago, but over recent years, I have been making my own flower essences.

Flower essences are an energetic form of plant medicine, using an imprint of the flower’s life force on water, that works primarily on the emotional, spiritual and energetic bodies, helping us to shift emotional and spiritual blocks and effect change.  

They are very simple to make. Gather mature flowers. Float them on the surface of 150 ml spring water in a bowl and leave in the sun for 3-4 hours. Remove the flowers.  Pour the water into a bottle and top up with 150 ml brandy or vodka to preserve it. This is your mother essence.  To make up the flower essences for use, put 7 drops from this into a 10ml dropper bottle, and top that up with brandy or vodka. The usual dose is 4 drops of this in a glass of water four times a day. When making this it is important not to handle the flowers – it is the vibrational imprint of the flowers you want to be held by the water, not your own imprint.  Standard recommendations are for 4 drops from bottle 4 times per day.

Below is Dr Bach’s original list, but practitioners have added many more since.

Agrimony – mental torture behind a cheerful face

Aspen – fear of unknown things

Beech – intolerance

Centaury – the inability to say ‘no’

Cerato – lack of trust in one’s own decisions

Cherry Plum – fear of the mind giving way

Chestnut Bud – failure to learn from mistakes

Chicory – selfish, possessive love

Clematis – dreaming of the future without working in the present

Crab Apple – the cleansing remedy, also for not liking something about ourselves

Elm – overwhelmed by responsibility

Gentian – discouragement after a setback

Gorse – hopelessness and despair

Heather – talkative self-concern and being self-centred

Holly – hatred, envy and jealousy

Honeysuckle – living in the past

Hornbeam – tiredness at the thought of doing something

Impatiens – impatience

Larch – lack of confidence

Mimulus – fear of known things

Mustard – deep gloom for no reason

Oak – the plodder who keeps going past the point of exhaustion

Olive – exhaustion following mental or physical effort

Pine – guilt

Red Chestnut – over-concern for the welfare of loved ones

Rock Rose – terror and fright

Rock Water – self-denial, rigidity and self-repression

Scleranthus – inability to choose between alternatives

Star of Bethlehem – shock

Sweet Chestnut – extreme mental anguish, when everything has been tried and there is no light left

Vervain – over-enthusiasm

Vine – dominance and inflexibility

Walnut – protection from change and unwanted influences

Water Violet – quiet self-reliance leading to isolation

White Chestnut – unwanted thoughts and mental arguments

Wild Oat – uncertainty over one’s direction in life

Wild Rose – drifting, resignation, apathy

Willow – self-pity and resentment

The Witch’s Ladder

By the knot of one, the spells begun

By the knot of two, my wish come true

By the knot of three, the magic’s free

By the knot of four, my will be law

By the knot of five, the spell will thrive

By the knot of six, the magic fix

By the knot of seven, my words to heaven

By the knot of eight, the magic create

By the knot of nine, this thing be mine.

Throughout history, the tying of the knot is associated with the binding of a spell, while the untying of a knot represents releasing magic or breaking enchantment. Knots were used to contain illness, secure love, confine evil spirits, weave blessings, control the weather, and bind curses. The use of knots for magic was known throughout the ancient world.

The simplest form of knot magic is to tie nine knots in a cord, thread or ribbon, the length of which should be a measurement in some multiple of three- three inches, three feet, six inches, six feet, nine inches, nine feet [or nine centimetres for that matter]. Tie the knots alternating them from each end and working towards the centre, concentrating on what it is you wish to achieve, then releasing it into the knot, using the chant above. Put the cord somewhere safe.

You can enhance the magic by using a thread or ribbon of the appropriate colour:

Red- life, vitality, health

Pink-love

Blue- healing, peace, spirituality

Black- endings, negation of ego

Green- growth, creativity, wealth

Orange- optimism, joy

Yellow- thought, mental activity

Purple- power, assertion, confidence

White- spirituality, protection

For some people, the witch’s ladder is used like a Catholic rosary to keep track of chants, or during meditation, with the knots counted between finger and thumb, and the spell or magical intent being re-affirmed with each knot counted. For this a length of cord is tied with a certain number of knots, some say thirteen, others say forty.

Initiation is the time a modern witch consecrates his or her magical cord, which is traditionally nine feet long and worn about the waist. The neophyte is asked to fashion the cord themselves, plaiting it from new wool over many weeks or months, weaving enchantment into it. This cord is then used to measure the circumference of the magic circle, and used for knot magic, either solo or in company with other members of the coven. Sometimes covens keep a set of cords in various colours for group spells.

With a little imagination, the uses of knot magic are unlimited. For example, to bring two people together, use two threads in different colours to represent them. Loosely knot the two threads together, and then pull them tight. To protect a vulnerable person, you could obtain something that belongs to them, a button or earring perhaps, and tie it in a protective basket of knots. You might use threads of differing colours to weave in various strands of magic; green for growth, orange for joy, pink for new love and so on. Tie in beads to bring in extra elements of colour magic, feathers to represent messages and the element of air, and gemstones according to their correspondences- amethyst for healing, rose quartz for peace, and so on. Do a little research into the tying of knots and use different types of knots for different purposes. Remember that knotting, weaving and braiding symbolises the bringing together of disparate elements and binding them together.

Cuckoo Folklore

April is the month when the summer birds return to Britain, such as the swallow and the cuckoo. For the Norse April was Gaukmonad, ‘cuckoo month’, and in many places, when the bird’s distinctive call is heard, then spring is really deemed to have arrived. In Sussex (England) it was said that spring began when ‘the Old Woman’ (the Hag of Winter) shook the cuckoos from her apron. The cuckoo is a summer visitor to Britain, arriving in April and leaving in August. Special cuckoo fairs were once held all over the country during April to welcome it. Sadly, much of its habitat has been destroyed in recent years, and the call of the cuckoo is a much rarer sound.

Cuckoos bring good luck or bad luck, depending on what you are doing when you first hear them. It is lucky to hear them if standing on grass but bad luck if on barren ground. If the call comes from the right, it is good luck for the year, make a wish and it will be granted, but it is unlucky if it comes from the left. If you are looking at the ground you will be dead within the year; the Scots say the number of calls it makes indicate the number of years you have left. Moreover, whatever you are doing you are fated to do for the rest of the year, so if you are in bed you will become ill and bedridden, and if you have no food in your stomach, you will be poor for the rest of the year.  However, if you turn over the money in your pocket, or spit on it, it will last the year. 

April, the Month of Opening





Our name for this month comes from the old Roman name for it, Aprilis, generally thought to bederived from aperio, a verb meaning ‘to open’, in the sense that the earth is opening up and flowering.  As the Roman poet Ovid said, “Because Spring opens everything and the sharp/ Frost-bound cold vanishes, and fertile soil’s revealed”. [1] However, he himself believed that the name derived from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, whom the Romans called Venus, saying that while the first month (March) was dedicated to fierce Mars, the second month was granted to Venus, because love rules the whole world, bringing together human and animal partners to mate and give birth to young, especially at this time of year. [2]

April showers bring a flurry of new growth, and everywhere, flowers are opening, leaves unfolding, the birds are busy nest building and animals are mating. According to folklore, adders begin mating on April.

In ancient Rome, the whole month was dedicated Venus, originally a goddess of gardens, and also contained festivals in honour of other agricultural deities – since work on the land was in full swing – like Ceres, the goddess of grain crops, and Flora, goddess of flowers. The honouring of female deities of agriculture and fertility continued with sacrifices to placate Tellus, goddess of the earth.  [3] Her Greek equivalent is Gaia, and we often use the name Gaia for Mother Earth in connection with environmental movements suggested by James Lovelock’s book Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth in which the Earth is viewed as a single organism with self-regulatory functions.

The Romans also remembered new animal life with the Parilia Festival in honour of Pales, a woodland and pastoral deity. It was mainly observed by shepherds for the protection of their flocks. The sheep pen was decorated with green branches, and at dawn, the  shepherd would purify the sheep by driving them through the smoke of a bonfire composed of straw, olive branches, laurel, and sulphur. Millet cakes and milk were offered to Pales, after which the shepherd would wet his hands with dew, face east, and pray four times for protection for the flock.

The Romans held the Floralia at the end of April and the beginning of May, which gave rise to many May Day custom we still practice today. Flora is a goddess of the spring and of flowers and blossoms in general, as well as youth and its pleasures in this youthful season of the year.

The energies of April are about the year and the earth opening up and blossoming. The magic of the season reminds us to open ourselves to new things, to love, beauty and grace.


[1] https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/OvidFastiBkFour.php, accessed 6.3.19

[2] https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/OvidFastiBkFour.php, accessed 6.3.19

[3] William Warde Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People, London, 1922

The Renewal of Life

Life is certainly renewing itself in the garden and the land around me. There are English daisies in the lawn, cheerful little flowers, rayed like the Sun, that flower roughly equinox to equinox, and which I use to make salves for bruises. There are yellow primroses and cowslips all over the garden, of primrose, golden celandines, violets and wood anemones. The hedgerows are covered in fresh green haze of new leaves on the elder, hawthorn and dog roses. The daffodils are all out in the garden and along all the road verges, sunny cheerful flowers early perennials that tell me spring has arrived in full force. They are potent symbols of cheerfulness, rebirth and new beginnings, which are said to bloom from Ash Wednesday and die on Easter Sunday.

Some of my perennial herbs are pushing their way into the light, the frothy green sweet cicely green and spears of chives. There are butterflies on sunny days, and early bees lazily looking for nectar in the early flowers. I’ve been picking coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), one of the earliest flowers of the year, the sun-coloured flowers appearing before the leaves, hence its folk name ‘son afore the father’.  I use a coltsfoot tea for coughs and bronchitis at this time of year. I’ve also found the fresh green shoots of cleavers (Galium aparine), which we called sticky buds when I was a child. It makes a great spring tonic, cleansing for the lymphatic system, in the form of a tea, eaten or juiced.  [1]

We can feel energy building in the natural world as it responds to the increasing light during this month. Vigorous life is returning to the land; everywhere shoots push up through the earth, trees bud, flowers blossom, and animals and birds begin to mate – the earth is waking up. It is a time of renewal, of promise, of hope when the Sun God gains strength, when the Vegetation God emerges from the earth, and the Maiden Goddess is wreathed in flowers.

The Sun, reborn at the winter solstice, has gradually been gaining strength, and at the vernal equinox the light finally overcomes the darkness, and the days become longer than the nights. The Saxons called March Lentmonat, ‘lengthening’ referring to the lengthening of days, a word the Christians adopted as ‘Lent’, the days leading up to the festival of Easter. 

It is not surprising that many places of the ancient world celebrated New Year at the spring equinox, when the Sun entered Aries, the first sign of the zodiac, and the natural world renewed itself. The Babylonian New Year, for example, began after the vernal equinox with the twelve day festival of Akitu. It commemorated the defeat of the dragon-goddess of chaos Tiamat by the god Marduk, and the beginning of creation with the emergence of order out of chaos. To mark this, New Year was celebrated with a temporary subversion of order, [2] reminiscent of the customs of misrule in later western Europe, when the king was stripped of his jewellery, sceptre and crown before kneeling before the altar of Marduk and praying for forgiveness on behalf of himself and his subjects, before all his emblems of authority were restored, symbolising the annual renewal of his authority and nature alike. Influenced by these ancient rites, Iranians, Zoroastrians, the Parsis in India, the Kurds and members of the Ba’hai faith still celebrate New Year at the spring equinox with the festival of Nowruz (‘New Day’), and this has taken place in Iran for at least 2500 years. It celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, order over chaos, and the rejuvenation of the world as the warmth of the spring conquers winter.

Out of the winter, spring comes. Out of the darkness comes light. In the midst of despair is hope. The world is renewed with youth and vitality, freshness and vigour. The themes of this month are the emergence of the vegetation god with the green shoots, as the youthful Green Man, the Maiden goddess as the lady of flowers, birds nesting and egg laying, and animals mating, promising us that life will be renewed and continue.

© Anna Franklin


[1] Julie Brunton-Seal & Matthew Seal, Hedgerow Medicine, Merlin Unwin Books, Ludlow, 2008

[2] http://www.payvand.com/news/12/mar/1176.html, accessed 12.2.19

Primrose

I love primroses, they tell us that the tides of spring and summer are turning, and they have such a magical reputation. In Ireland they are called ‘fairy flowers’ and it is said that eating them is a sure way to see fairies. According to legend, if you touch a fairy rock with the right number of primroses in a posy, it will open to fairyland and fairy gifts, but the wrong number opens the door to doom.

This time of year I always make infused primrose oil to use in skin care products, as they are great for mature and dry skin. Simply pack a jam jar with flowers, and cover with vegetable oil. Pop the lid on and shake the jar every day for 2 weeks. Strain off the oil into a clean jar. You can use this as it is as a moisturiser, or you can turn it into a salve by warming it and adding beeswax or soy wax.

Not many people realise they both the leaves and flowers are edible, and make a pretty addition to salads. I also like to crystallise the flowers to use for pretty cake decorations.

A cup of tea, make from the leaves or flowers is a mild painkiller, and can help a headache. Use 2 tsp. herb and infuse in one cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Strain and drink.

Caution: Avoid medicinal use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, sensitive to aspirin or taking anti-coagulant drugs.

The Magical Birch Tree

After the glaciers of the last Ice Age receded, birch was one of the first trees to re-colonise the land. Though it is a slender and graceful tree, it is amazingly resilient, and rarely has one species of tree been so important to so many different peoples. Our ancestors used it to make shelters, canoes and coracles, fibre, medicine, ‘paper’, magic and even brewed wine and beer from it.

As it is one of the first trees to come into leaf in the spring, it is associated with regeneration and new beginnings. In Scandinavia the appearance of leaves marked the beginning of the agricultural year and the farmers took it as a sign to sow their spring wheat. In the Northern tradition the birch (Beorc, Byarka, or Berkana) is a symbol of Mother Earth and represents the feminine powers of growth, healing and the natural world. May poles were made of birch, associating the birch with the May Day revels of sympathetic fertility magic.

The white bark of the birch also connects it with purification. The Anglo-Saxon name for the tree was beorc means ‘white’ or ‘shining’. Birch rods are used in country ritual for the driving out of the old year. Another possible derivation is the Latin ‘batuere‘ meaning ‘to strike’, referring to the birch rods use for flogging.

Birch is considered a protective tree, believed to guard those who carried a piece of it, and to keep livestock safe when attached to their barn or shelter. In some parts of England a birch was hung with red and white rags and leant against stable doors at Beltane (May Day) to prevent horses being ‘hag-ridden’, i.e. being taken out by spirits or witches and ridden.

The leaves, bark, twigs are all used medicinally.

Birch contains the natural pain reliever and anti-inflammatory salicylate, the same compound found in aspirin. This is especially useful for arthritic conditions and muscle pain. You can prepare a poultice of fresh bark and apply it directly (the inner bark against the skin) to the affected areas, or make macerated oils of the leaves or bark to apply externally. This will help to relieve both the pain and inflammation of arthritis. These same salycilates in the bark make an effective wart treatment.

As birch is a blood purifier, a decoction of the twigs or bark can be helpful when used as a wash for boils and sores. Make a tincture of birch buds for the treatment of small wounds and cuts. This has antibacterial, antiviral and cell regenerative qualities.  A decoction or macerated oil made from the bark or leaves is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory and useful for skin conditions such as eczema. Use as a skin wash or add to the bath.

Birch bark and leaves are diuretic, with the added benefit of being anti-bacterial. Taken as a decoction they help to eliminate excess fluid and toxins from the body which can help with arthritic conditions, urinary tract infections, cystitis and help to dissolve kidney stones.

The young shoots and leaves are used as a laxative, but the bark is useful in the treatment of diarrhoea.

The betulin compound found in birch bark is under investigation as a treatment for the herpes viruses, AIDS, and cancer.

An essential oil of birch bark is available. This pale yellow oil has a balsamic scent, and is extracted from the leaf-buds by steam distillation. Birch oil is good for dermatitis, dull skin, eczema and psoriasis, and also eases the pain of arthritis, rheumatism and sore muscles.  Birch oil blends well with benzoin, sandalwood and rosemary. However, it should be used with caution and highly diluted, and never when pregnant.

In magic birch is used for protection, purification, against negativity, love, new beginnings, changes, Ostara and Beltane.  It is associated with Aphrodite, Freya, Brigantia, Brighid, the Earth Mother, Thor, Frigga, Idunna, Nethus, Persephone, Sif and Venus.  It is ruled by the planet Venus, the element of water and the sign of Cancer.

Birch represents the power of cleansing and purification in preparation for the new beginnings. When the tree is opened to extract the sweet sap the essence of the tree is released to give its power to the waxing year and the strengthening sun at the vernal equinox, when the light begins to gain on the dark. This can form part of the ritual of Ostara. Honour the sun god with birch sap wine the following year.

Birch Sap Wine

8 pints birch sap (Betula spp.)

½ lb. raisins

2 lb. sugar

Juice of 3 lemons

Yeast

Boil the sap and add the sugar. Simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the liquid over the raisins and lemon juice. Cool the mixture to 20oC and add the started yeast. Ferment in a brewing bucket for 3 days, then strain into a demijohn and fit an airlock.

To obtain the sap, bore a small hole into the tree, just inside the bark, and insert a narrow tube, sloping downwards. Sap should start running from the tree (if it doesn’t, it is the wrong time of year). Put the free end of the tube into your container (eg a plastic soda bottle), which you can tie onto the tree.  Don’t take too much from one tree. When you have what you need, remove the tube, put a piece of cork into the borehole, and the birch tree will seal itself after a short while. In very early spring (late February or early March here in the UK, depending on the weather) you should be able to draw off enough sap for a gallon of wine in a day.

 I also came across this old English recipe for birch beer, though I haven’t tried it yet:

“To every Gallon of Birch-water put a quart of Honey, well stirr’d together; then boil it almost an hour with a few Cloves, and a little Limon-peel, keeping it well scumm’d. When it is sufficiently boil’d, and become cold, add to it three or four Spoonfuls of good Ale to make it work…and when the Test begins to settle, bottle it up . . . it is gentle, and very harmless in operation within the body, and exceedingly sharpens the Appetite, being drunk ante pastum.”

 

The God & Goddess of Spring

On 17th March , the ancient Romans honoured Liber and Libera as spring fertility deities.Liber was another named for Bacchus/Dionysus, while Libera was another name for the goddess Ariadne (see 4 March). The statues of the gods were garlanded with ivy, and it was a day of liberty and license, when slaves were permitted to speak freely. Old women called Sacerdotes Liberi (priestesses of Liber and Libera), crowned with ivy, tended portable altars along the streets and charged a small fee to sacrifice oily honey cakes called liba. [1]

In Russian myth, the spring fertility god and goddess Lado and Lada were worshipped along with the springtime cult of the rusalki, nymphs who brought fertility to the land.  [2] They are spring fertility deities, corresponding to the Norse Freyr and Freya, and the Roman Liber and Libera. [3]

In the Christian calendar 17 March is St Patrick’s Day. Patrick was born in Britain, but was carried off by raiders to serve as a slave in Ireland. After escaping he became a Christian priest, gaining the reputation of battling Paganism in all its forms, banishing the ‘snakes’ from Ireland – since there were never any actual snakes in Ireland, this probably referred to Pagans.  In the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, his feast is considered the real first day of spring: On the high day of Patrick/ Every fold will have a cow-calf/ And every pool a salmon. [4]

Curiously, St Patrick also has a partner. The day after St Patrick’s Day was called Sheela’s Day in rural Ireland, bringing the festivities of St Patrick’s Day to an end with dropping the shamrock worn all day into the final glass of drink. No one knows who Sheela was. Some say she was a relative of St Patrick, perhaps his mother or even his wife. [5] Others make a connection with the Sheela-na-Gigs, the grinning images of naked old women with open vulvas carved on churches throughout Ireland, England, France and Spain from the eleventh to the sixteenth century CE. [6] The name ‘Sheela’ in connection with these figures is a mystery. It is generally thought to be the Irish form of the Anglo-Norman name Cecile or Cecilia, since most of the images in Ireland are found in areas where the Normans invaded. ‘Gig’ is an old English slang term for a woman’s private parts. [7] In Ireland though, sheelah was a term applied to elderly women.  [8] It is not known what these figures represent. They may be grotesque representations of female wantonness to warn people against the sin of lust. Alternatively, since they generally appear above doorways, they may be protective figures. They could be fertility symbols, since in some places, brides were required to look at and perhaps touch the sheela before weddings. [9] [10] Modern Pagans often choose to see them as pre-Christian representations of an Earth or hag goddess similar to the Scottish Cailleach who rules the winter and changes place with the maiden Bride (Brighid) in spring. I have a little Sheela-na-gig figurine made for me by a friend, which sits on one of my altars.

Lord and Lady of Spring Ritual

I will be dressing my altar with ivy, and offering honey cakes to the God and Goddess of spring with the words:

Know that this is the time that the Goddess is renewed in all her glory. She is beauteous and young once more. Tall and graceful she walks amongst us as a maiden and our beloved one. Come our fairest Lady, grant blessing unto the seeds which become the flowers of tomorrow. Come O gracious Lady and protect that which is newly born, that children and animals grow strong beneath thy hands. Let the seeds be blessed in thy name O Goddess.

Come our gentle Lord, grant blessing unto the seeds which become the flowers of tomorrow. Come O gracious Lord and protect that which is newly born, that children and animals grow strong beneath thy hands. Let the seeds be blessed in thy name O Lord.

Roman Honey Cake

3 eggs
200 gm runny honey
60 gm plain flour (all-purpose flour)

Whisk the eggs and slowly add the honey. Fold in the flour, a little at a time. Pour into a 20 cm tin (9 inches) and bake at 180 C/ 350 F/ gas mark 4 for 40 minutes.  Honey was the only sweetener the ancient world had, and this ancient recipe might not be to modern tastes. I use them for offerings.

© Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch’s Year, Llewellyn, 2021


[1] Carol Field, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990

[2] Joanna Hubbs, Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1988

[3] Joanna Hubbs, Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1988

[4] Kightly, Charles, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, Thames & Hudson 1987

[5] https://www.yourirish.com/traditions/sheelahs-day, accessed 27.2.19

[6] Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

[7] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-45116614?ocid=socialflow_facebook&ns_campaign=bbcnews&ns_mchannel=social&ns_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR2f4-wSXsY0laVege7ttX5mBTK5nBDiuh_s86C9TDAO9u7HMjN5OM0JgH0, accessed 26.2.19

[8] https://hyperallergic.com/396030/mapping-the-mysterious-ancient-carvings-of-naked-women-across-ireland/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=facebook_page&utm_medium=Hyperallergic&utm_content=Mapping+the+Mysterious+Ancient+Carvings+of+Naked+Women+Across+Ireland, accessed 27.2.19

[9] Georgia Rhoades, Decoding the Sheela-na-gig, Feminist Formations 22.2 (2010): 167-196.

[10] Georgia Rhoades, Decoding the Sheela-na-gig, Feminist Formations 22.2 (2010): 167-196