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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.

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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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Making Raw Cider Vinegar

We had a bit of a cider vinegar making session at the weekend.
CIDER VINEGAR
Raw cider vinegar is full of enzymes, vitamins, probiotics and minerals that pasteurised cider vinegars do not have, as they are destroyed by the heating process. All the healing benefits you have read about with cider vinegar are absent from processed products. Raw cider vinegar is best for all the recipes in this book, and if you have ever tried to buy it you will know that it is very expensive compared to the heavily processed kind. Luckily, it is really easy to make:
1. Take a large, wide-necked jar. Sterilise it.
2. Wash and chop your apples including the cores and peel (you can make this recipe just using the cores and peel after making an apple pie), but remove the stalks. A mixture of different varieties makes a better tasting cider vinegar, but don’t worry if you can’t manage this.
3. Put them in the jar, making sure it is half to three quarters filled.
4. Cover them with water that has been boiled and cooled to lukewarm.
5. Stir in a little sugar or honey to help the fermentation process start.
6. Cover the jar. When making wine, we use an airlock to keep out the bacteria that will cause it to turn to vinegar, but when making vinegar we actually want to encourage them, so instead the jar is just covered with cheesecloth secured with an elastic band.
7. Stir daily for a week. It will begin to bubble and ferment from the natural yeasts in the apples, and you will be able to smell this happening.
8. Strain out the apple pulp
9. Return the liquid to the jar and cover again with cheesecloth. Leave in a warm, dark place for 4-6 weeks, stirring occasionally. The alcohol will transform into acetic acid or vinegar. A small amount of sediment will fall to the bottom, and what is called a ‘mother culture’ of dark foam will form on top; don’t worry about this, it is normal.
10. Taste it to determine if it is ready starting after 4 weeks as it will get stronger the longer you leave it, and you can choose how you like it.
11. Strain once more into clean glass jars or bottles. Store out of direct sunlight. Don’t worry if another mother culture forms on top, it isn’t going bad. Just strain again.

Elderberry Glycerite

I’ve been making elderberry glycerite, one of my favourite remedies for winter colds. Elderberry is very effective against colds and flu, particularly when taken during the first 48 hours of infection. You can make elderberry syrup, but I like to make an elderberry glycerite. This is a very simple process using vegetable glycerine. Glycerine can be purchased from pharmacies, and is a syrup made from vegetable oil. It can be used to extract phytochemicals from herbs in the same way that alcohol is used to make a tincture. This is useful for people who don’t want to take alcohol, or for children. Make sure you use a food grade glycerine.

 

To make elderberry glycerite half fill a jar with the berries pour on slightly warmed glycerine, enough to cover them. Seal and keep in a warm place for 2 weeks, shaking daily. Strain through muslin and store in a dark bottle in a cool place for up to 2 years.

February, the Month of Purification

February, though it the shortest month of the year, is said to have the worst weather. Native American tribes called the full moon of February [1] ‘the Snow Moon’, ‘the Hunger Moon’ or ‘the Storm Moon’. [2] Winter seems to be dragging on, and if we didn’t see signs that spring is just around the corner, it might be considered the dreariest month of all. Yet the rain, the cold and the snow are cleansing the face of the earth, destroying harmful bacteria, soaking the soil with life-giving moisture and filling the rivers and reservoirs, all of which will ensure good crops later in the year. An old saying had it that “a Welshman would rather see his dam on a bier than see a fair February” (i.e., he would rather see his mother dead). [3]

Just as the Earth is being washed clean, many ancient festivals of February reflect the theme of purification. The name of the month itself is derived from the Latin februarius which means ‘purification’.  According to the Roman writer Ovid, in ancient times purgation was called Februa: “Of this our month of February came… For our religious fathers did maintain, purgations expiated every stain of guilt and sin”. [4] He explained that the custom had come from Greece where it was held that pure lustrations could cleanse any sin or impious deed. February was once the last month of the Roman year and the idea seems to have been to propitiate the spirits of the Gods and ancestors, atone for any offence given to them, and so prepare for spring and the new year with a clean slate. According to Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (4 CE – 70 CE) even farmland was purged (purguntur) this month:  old reeds were burned, fields were weeded, olive and fruit trees pruned and vineyards tended. [5]

The ancient Greeks celebrated the Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries this month, during which those who were planning to participate in the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries in the autumn went to Athens to be purified of any ritual impurity or sin (miasma). [6] As Clement of Alexandria wrote: “The mysteries of the Greeks begin with purification,” [7] and in most mystery traditions, ritual purification is necessary before the would-be initiate can approach the Gods. At the centre of the Eleusinian mysteries were the agricultural goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone, the goddess of spring who was associated with purity. [8] Candidates were purified by water, air and fire before being allowed to approach the Goddess. Representations show Demeter seated on the kiste (the basket which held the ritual implements of the Greater Mysteries which would not be revealed until the autumn), and the initiate holding out his hand to touch the snake which coils from the kiste to Demeter’s lap.  [9]  The snake symbolised mystery and rebirth, and the fact that the initiate was ready to receive the mysteries later in the year.

Just as people purified themselves, their homes and the tombs of their ancestors at this time of year, there are many stories of goddesses cleansing themselves in sacred waters in order to renew themselves and restore their virginity. The Greek goddess of love Aphrodite renewed her virginity every year by bathing in the sea at her birthplace of Paphos in Crete. Artemis, the moon and hunt goddess, refreshed her virginity by bathing every year in a sacred fountain, while Hera, the Queen of Heaven, bathed in the spring at Kanathos near Argos in order to become a maiden once more.[10] Even in Christian lore, Candlemas (February 2) is the feast of the purification of the Virgin Mary. The maiden goddess is associated with purity, new beginnings and regeneration, so these seem to be metaphors for the old year being washed away and turned into spring,

There was similarly a Scottish tradition that at the beginning of spring the Cailleach (‘Hag’ or ‘Veiled One’) drank from the Well of Youth and transformed into the youthful maiden Bride. [11] Others thought that the Cailleach ruled the winter months, while Bride (Brighid/Brigit) ruled the summer months. [12] The Cailleach is the female personification of winter [13]. Her staff freezes the ground [14] and she brings storms and bad weather, though she protects deer and wolves, and is the mother of all the gods. [15] Là Fhèill Brìghde (St Bride’s Day, February 1) was said to be the day that the Cailleach gathered her firewood for the rest of the winter. If she intended the winter to last a good deal longer, she made sure that the weather was bright and sunny so she could go out and gather plenty of fuel. [16] If the weather was terrible, it meant that the Cailleach was asleep and would soon run out of wood, so winter was nearly over.

In Scotland, St. Bride’s Day was considered the beginning of spring, with Bride melting the river ice. [17] According to Scottish folklorist Alexander Carmichael “Bride with her white wand is said to breathe life into the mouth of the dead Winter and to bring him to open his eyes to the tears and the smiles, the sighs and the laughter of Spring. The venom of the cold is said to tremble for its safety on Bride’s Day and to flee for its life on Patrick’s Day.” [18] As Nigel Pennick puts it “…at this time of year, Brighid symbolises the opening out of enclosed, invisible nature concealed in the darkness of wintertide into the visible world of light.” [19]

In Scotland, the serpent, sometimes called the noble queen, is supposed to emerge from its hollow among the hills on St Bride’s Day:

On the day of Bride of the white hills
The noble queen will come from the knoll,
I will not molest the noble queen,
Nor will the noble queen molest me.
[20]

The serpent throws off its skin annually and is thereby renewed, making it an ancient symbol of regeneration. Snakes and maidens also featured in the February celebrations of the Roman goddess Juno Sospita (Juno the Saviour). At the beginning of February, the consuls made a sacrifice to her, while young girls offered barley-cakes to the sacred snake in her grove. If their offerings were accepted, their virginity was confirmed and the year’s fertility assured.

During this month animals begin to shake off their winter sleep and emerge from hibernation. Some are said to come out to check the weather on Bride’s Day or Candlemas, testing whether it is safe to emerge or if they need to go back to sleep. Badgers were reputed to emerge at noon and if they saw their shadows, they went back to their setts. If they didn’t see their shadows, they stayed out, and the worst of winter was over. In Huntingdonshire the day was even called ‘Badger’s Day’. [21] The same folk belief persists in America as Groundhog Day.

The year is awakening, new and pure, waiting for life to mark it. The lengthening days that follow Imbolc hold the promise of spring and the rebirth of plant life, and the yearly cycle of work on the land begins once more as the earth is prepared for the seed. [22] I think of February as a time of purification during which we can banish negativity in all its forms, a time to cleanse, physically and spiritually, and get things ready for the busy season to come as, day by day, the light increases.

© Anna Franklin 2019

[1] Every nineteen years there is no full moon in February at all

[2] The Old Farmer’s Almanac, https://www.farmersalmanac.com/full-moon-names, accessed 19.10.18

[3] Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999

[4] Ovid, Fasti

[5] Junius Moderatus Columella, Of Husbandry,  A. Millar , London, n/d

[6] The Lesser Mysteries of Eleusis, Stephanie Goodart, MA, SRC, online at ?

[7] Quoted in The Lesser Mysteries of Eleusis, Stephanie Goodart, MA, SRC, online at ?

[8] The Lesser Mysteries of Eleusis, Stephanie Goodart, MA, SRC, online at ?

[9] The Lesser Mysteries of Eleusis, Stephanie Goodart, MA, SRC, online at ?

[10] Pausanias, ii.38.2

[11] Alexander Carmicheal, Carmina Gadelica, Volume 1, T. and A. Constable, Edinburgh

1900, online at sacred-texts.com, accessed 17.10.18

[12] F. Marian McNeill, The Silver Bough, Vol.2: A Calendar of Scottish National Festivals, Candlemas to Harvest Home, William MacLellan, 1959

[13] Donald Alexander Mackenzie, Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, 1917

[14] K. M. Briggs, The Fairies in English Tradition and Literature. University of Chicago Press, 1967

[15] Donald Alexander Mackenzie, Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, 1917

[16] Katharine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies. Pantheon Books, New York, 1976

[17] Donald Alexander Mackenzie, Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend, 1917

[18] Alexander Carmicheal, Carmina Gadelica, Volume 1, T. and A. Constable, Edinburgh

 1900, online at sacred-texts.com, accessed 17.10.18

[19] Nigel Pennick, The Goddess Year, Capall Bann, Chieveley, 1996

[20] Alexander Carmicheal, Carmina Gadelica, Volume 1, T. and A. Constable, Edinburgh

1900, online at sacred-texts.com, accessed 17.10.18

[21][21] Nigel Pennick, Folk-lore of East Anglia, Spiritual Arts and Crafts Publishing, Cambridge, 2006

[22] Trefor M. Owen, Welsh Folklore Customs, Gomer Press, Llandysul Dyfed, 1994

The Land of Lost Cats

The festive season has been subdued and very sad for us. Last year we had three gorgeous, rescued feral kittens. I bought them toys and a real tree so that they could climb, because they had had a hard start in life, and I wanted their future to be happy. They rewarded us with unconditional love, joy and affection, as all our pets do. There was Jack, a rascal who was always getting himself into trouble, who followed me everywhere and liked to chew, very gently, on the ends of my fingers while he lay upside down on my lap. Then there was Dylan, the shyest who took the longest to trust us, who liked to sleep curled in the crook of my arm, and Milo, who got so excited every time he was stroked that he couldn’t sit still.

All three went missing over a weekend in November when they were just a year old. For the first week I could convince myself that they had all gone on an adventure together. For the next few weeks I did everything I could to find them, searching for miles armed with cat biscuits, advertising, putting up posters, getting articles in local newspapers, thousands of shares on social media, signing up on lost pets websites, informing all the local vets, shelters and putting up a reward of first £1000, then £2000. I must have been called to see every black cat in the area, though of course, very few of them turned up when I was there, no matter how many times I went, and some of them proved to have owners in the very street where they were reported.

Eventually, I have had to admit that the fear I buried deep is almost certainly true – they, and four other cats in my locality, were taken and killed back in November.

This is hard to deal with. I have had cats that died of illness or old age, having shared their lives with me. Over the years I have even had other cats go missing, never to be found, and accepted they must have met with accidents. But the cruelty and the loss of all three is something very different. The feelings that I have cannot be simple grief, and they are hard to deal with, because I am not even sure what they are. I had promised my boys a safe and loving life, and I feel I let them down. At first the loss was tinged with worry, then a kind of despair at a world where this could happen. For a brief few minutes I even harboured fantasies of what I would like to do to the person who had killed them, but I am not that weak. People who carry out mindless acts of cruelty to animals are pathetic misfits, driven by anger, fear and an innate lack of self-worth, whose only sense of control comes from hurting the small and weak. They are to be pitied because they are indeed pitiful. I hope they are caught and given the psychiatric help they clearly need before they hurt anything (or anyone) else, and before their innate darkness devours them whole.

However, there was a wonderful light during this time of darkness – the many, many people who came together to help me. Those who searched, distributed posters, shared my posts and offered to contribute to the reward. Local friends who went out with me each day, and others who travelled for many miles to help look, complete strangers who combed the area and distributed posters, the many dog walkers who said they would keep a sharp eye out, the builders working nearby who went out searching at lunch times, and the people who called me with suspected sightings. The majority of people in this world are kind and good, they believe we are here to help each other, and that makes the world beautiful. It far outweighs one damaged crank who would make it ugly.

I will remember that I gave my beautiful boys a very happy year. It should have been a lifetime though, and that pain will be with me forever, though I hope it won’t always hurt so much.

THE MIDSUMMER FERN

Fern is the common name for any spore-producing plant of the phylum Polypodiophyta.  It is associated with sun gods and goddesses, and gods and goddesses of the dawn, such as Daphne. It is also sacred to the Great Goddess and the sky gods of thunder, lightning and Midsummer. At the turning of Midsummer and Midwinter it is reputed to allow access into the Otherworld and contact with its inhabitants, the Sidhe. It was sacred to the Baltic sun goddess Saule who appeared on the horizon at Midsummer, wreathed in apple blossom and red fern blossom [i.e. red clouds].

Use fern in incenses at Midsummer to protect the household and for divination purposes.

At Midsummer the magical fernseed is collected. At midnight it is said to glimmer with a magic light. The plant must not be touched directly but bent with a forked hazel stick over a pewter plate. The seed is so tiny that it is almost invisible, and therefore was thought to convey invisibility to its possessor. In Lancashire [northern England] it was held that fernseed collected on the family Bible conveyed invisibility.

 

Lucky ‘hands’ made of the rootstock of the male fern trimmed to a likeness of thumbs and fingers were smoked in the Midsummer fires and hung up for protection in houses and farms. Such hands are said to reveal hidden treasure buried within the earth, glowing with a blue flame.

Looks like a bumper crop of clary sage this year…

My clary sage is growing like crazy.

You can use it like ordinary sage in cooking, though it is stronger, so use less.  You can also eat the flowers. It is traditionally used for women’s problems, particularly the menopause and its hot flushes. Take as a tea. The astringent tea can also be gargled for sore throats or poured over small wounds. The tea is also good for digestive complaints such as gas and bloating. Also use the tea as an eyewash.

You can make a wine from it, which is said to be slightly narcotic. People also used to consider it to be an aphrodisiac.

MYTHS – STORIES THAT TEACH US HOW TO LIVE

Ancient cultures sought to understand their existence and explain their connection to the world through myths and rituals.

Myths are the body of stories and legends that a people perceive as being an integral part of their culture. Before the invention of writing, these stories and legends were handed down from generation to generation in the form of rituals and oral traditions. The reappearance of certain themes, time and again, in different mythologies, leads to the realization that these themes portray universal and eternal truths about mankind.

Myth basically serves four functions:

  1. The first is the mystical function – realizing what a wonder the universe is, and what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before this mystery
  2. The second is a cosmological dimension, showing you what shape the universe is, but showing it in such a way that the mystery comes through.
  3. The third function is the sociological one – supporting and validating a certain social order.
  4. But there is a fourth function of myth, and that is the teaching function, illustrating how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.” [1]

At their core, all myths exist to teach us. They teach us about ourselves and others, and they show us how to live our lives. Myths serve more than just the folkloric functions in society of “do this”, “don’t eat that”, “be careful when travelling there”, and so on; myths are the guidebooks for life itself, with all its beauty and mystery. Myths are the keys to understanding the whole of human experience.

Myths are not literal truths. Myths are not lies. Mythology is poetry: it is metaphorical. It is said that mythology is the penultimate truth – penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words; it is beyond words, beyond images, beyond music.  Mythology stretches the mind beyond that point, to what can be known but not told.

All cultures create ‘masks’, which are the names and images for the divine, and they serve as metaphors for an inexpressible transcendence, being beyond all being and the idea beyond all thought.

The idea of the divine as being something over and above the natural is a destructive idea. In the Middle Ages this was the idea that finally turned that world into something like a wasteland, a land where people were living inauthentic lives, never doing what they truly wanted to because supernatural laws required them to live as directed by the church. In a wasteland, people are fulfilling purposes that are not properly theirs but have been imposed upon them as inescapable laws.

This is destructive to the soul. The spirit is really the bouquet of life. It is not something breathed into life, it comes out of life. This is one of the glorious things about the mother-goddess religions, where the world is the body of the Goddess, divine in itself, and divinity isn’t something ruling over and above a fallen nature. The story of the fall in the Garden of Eden sees nature as corrupt, and that myth corrupts the whole world for us. Because nature is thought of as corrupt, every spontaneous act is sinful and must not be yielded to. You get a totally different civilization and a totally different way of living according to whether your myth presents nature as fallen or whether nature is in itself a manifestation of divinity, and the spirit is the revelation of the divinity that is inherent in nature.” [2]

Joseph Campbell, the great writer on mythology, said many times that a new global mythology was arising based on the concept of Gaia, the Earth Mother.

 Which brings us to the big question – who or what are the Gods? Are they just stories, the dreams of men, metaphors? Or do they exist?

There are hundreds of thousands of god and goddess names, some of whom were worshipped in Britain, many more that were not. We find that within a single pantheon that the names of the gods are not always consistent; some gods absorb the names, titles and attributes of another with the passing of the centuries. Mythologies evolve and change, are absorbed and assimilated into other cultures.

The question that every individual Pagan must resolve for themselves is does this mean we are to believe literally in all these differing deities? If we do, where do we choose a particular time in history to fix the names and attributes of the gods we chose to worship? To choose to be a Celt of 300 BC as opposed to a Celt of 100 AD, or a Viking of 50 BC as opposed to a Viking of 300 AD involves serious logical and spiritual dichotomies. Even if it is possible to make these decision, can we really enter into the ‘world view’ of an older culture without imposing our modern preconceptions on it?

In the Craft we are taught that “…beyond the two is the One, which we cannot name or limit, for the One is without limit, therefore we do give our worship unto the Lady and her Lord.”

This is far from being a belief in a supreme monotheistic god who is separate from his creation; it means that everything, even the gods and goddesses, are part of a single great whole, a manifestation of pure consciousness, Divine energy.

The Craft view is that in the process of manifesting, consciousness divides itself into two parts, God and Goddess, yang and yin, define it how you will, which, though seeming to be separate, cannot exist without one another, any more than a coin can have one side.  Only when they combine can action, movement and creation arise.

Through the splitting of the primordial principle at the beginning of creation, the duality within our lives came into being, together with a strong force that is constantly striving to re-unite with the other part.

In the Craft it is believed that the Divine Spirit is not separate from creation, it is creation. It is us, and everything else. There is no real difference between spirit and matter – gods, humans, and everything else are part of each other, part of the One.

The oldest Pagan gods were always embodiments of natural forces – vegetation, storm, sun, moon, sea, wind, sky, storm, thunder, fire, earth, water, rain, fertility, creation and destruction.  For me, these are facets of the Divine we can approach and work with. When you invoke the name of a deity, you are invoking a particular facet of the Cosmos. If you invoke the Norse god Thor, you are invoking an aspect of thunder, but this is not the same as invoking Taranis, the Celtic god of thunder, which has a somewhat different energy, while still embodying thunder. That doesn’t mean that the energies – or gods – are metaphorical, or products of the human mind, it just means their nature is beyond human understanding, and we work with what we can comprehend.

Myths are stories that give us clues to the nature of life, temporal and spiritual, manuals to the whole experience of ourselves and others. Used wisely, myths initiate the individual into the realities of his or her own psyche and become guides to spiritual enlightenment.

No matter the culture or tradition, the hero of every myth takes the same journey. Each hero departs, interacts with other archetypal beings and encounters difficulties and trials, completes his quest or fulfils his purpose (which is sometimes not to complete his quest) and returns, changed in some way. As King Arthur and his knights sat feasting, there appeared the mysterious Holy Grail in their midst. All the knights set out on the quest to find it. They had many adventures and many of them perished in the quest, until at last it was found by Galahad, the perfect knight.

The adventure can be one of inner exploration and spiritual seeking as well as some kind of high adventure. This mythic journey is present—and nearly identical—in many major religions. Buddha, Moses and Jesus, for instance, all embarked on spiritual quests, met with allies or enemies, were tested and each returned transformed. Prince Siddhartha Gautama at the age of twenty nine left his palace to meet his subjects. Despite his father’s efforts to hide from him the sick, aged and suffering, he saw a bent old man. When his charioteer explained to him that all people grew old, the prince went on further trips beyond the palace. On these he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse and an ascetic. These depressed him, and he initially strove to overcome aging, sickness, and death by living the life of an ascetic, then left the palace to live the life of a mendicant.  During this time, he was offered a throne, asked to be the spiritual heir of two yoga teachers but refused them all, still searching for enlightenment. He tried self-mortification and fasting, nearly starving himself to death until a village girl saved his life by feeding him.  After this he began to reconsider his path, and decided that this was not the way.  He realised that extreme asceticism did not work, and began to focus on meditation, discovering what Buddhists call the Middle Way, a path of moderation. Eventually, sitting under the Bodhi tree and after forty nine days of meditation, he achieved enlightenment.

Each of us has embarked on a journey, whether we like it or not – the journey of life. Powerful forces have made a gateway for each of us to be incarnated in this place and time. Myths are guides to how we live life, and whether we live life heroically is up to us.

If Frodo and Aragorn had decided just to stay in the pub, instead of returning the ring, it would have been a very short book in which evil prevailed. If Stephen Hawkins had just curled up in a corner when he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease instead of immersing himself in his work and living life as fully as he could, he probably would have died really quickly and we wouldn’t have A Brief History of Time and all his scientific discoveries.

Our names might not go down in history, but each of us is the hero of our own story. The life quest is different for each person. It might be a spiritual quest, as when Siddhartha Gautama left behind the life of a rich man and sought enlightenment.  For you, the quest might be to be a good healer, a wonderful parent, a skilled carpenter or blacksmith, an inspired musician, a poet, artist or spiritual initiate. Maybe the quest involves a few or even all of these.

So, are you the hero in your own life-quest, or are you playing the sidekick in everybody else’s story?  Do you act or just react to the people and situations around?

Usually, we don’t have a handle on is what our story is or we let other people tell us what our story should be. Basically, our story is whatever we believe about ourselves to be true. The way you tell yourself your own story can make you the eternal victim of childhood abuse, or can make you the hero who overcame it.  Myths can teach us how to live.

What myths—all myths—tell us is that the meaning of life is the experience of life. Eternity isn’t some later time, eternity isn’t a long time: eternity has nothing to do with time. It is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time obscures.

 The experience of eternity, the infinite, right here and now is the function of ritual. In ritual, we create sacred space, outside of normal space and time. We empty ourselves of thoughts and desires in order to cultivate ritual consciousness – which is not thinking, not looking to the past or future but being completely present and open. Only then can we connect with the infinite. Only then, does pantomime and ceremony become lifted to the level of sacred ritual. Only then do we realise that all the Gods, all the heavens, all the world, are within us.

Ritual lies at the heart of what we do, and it is the part that most people struggle with. I always say to aspirants that unless you can come to ritual properly prepared, and work with ritual consciousness, you will experience nothing but pantomime and find it empty. After a while, if you work on it, you may attain ritual consciousness for a second or two, when you feel a deep connection, before it disappears. The aim is to be able to sustain it throughout the ritual .In a group, the aim is for the whole group to experience it together for the duration of the ritual.

Don’t be put off – if you create a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.

© Anna Franklin 2017

[1] Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

[2] Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth