The Four Seasons

There are different dates on which the four seasons begin and end, according to how you count them.

Astronomical seasons, for example, use the solstices and equinoxes to divide the year, with spring beginning on the vernal equinox, summer beginning on the summer solstice, autumn beginning on the autumn equinox, and winter at the winter solstice.

The meteorological seasons (in the northern hemisphere) are based on the annual temperature cycle, so spring will always start on 1 March, summer on 1 June, autumn on 1 September, and winter on 1 December. But we witches use the old ways.

However, the old names of the festivals of Midsummer, 21 June (in the northern hemisphere) and Midwinter, 21 December (in the northern hemisphere) tell us our ancestors counted the divisions of the year in quite a different way, according to the light of the Sun. The days of greatest darkness fall from Samhain to Imbolc, with Yule at the midpoint, giving us a solar winter. The days of greatest light fall from Beltane to Lughnasa, with the summer solstice at midpoint, giving us a solar summer; the old song tells us “Summer is a comin’ in” on May Day, or Beltane. The Irish call Lughnasa the first day of autumn. The Craft defines the seasons as follows, which draws on the old ways of counting the year, and reflects the relationship of the Sun and Earth:

Winter – Samhain to Imbolc Eve

Spring – Imbolc to Beltane Eve

Summer – Beltane to Lughnasa Eve

Autumn – Lughnasa to Samhain Eve

© Anna Franklin


The Vernal Equinox

This year, the vernal equinox falls on 20 March. The equinox is a moment of balance, when day and night are of equal length. The Sun, reborn at the winter solstice, has gradually been gaining strength, and at the equinox the light finally overcomes the darkness, and the days will gradually 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, [1] 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.

This regeneration was celebrated in other ancient customs during this month. In ancient Greece the festival of the Anthestêria was celebrated [2] in honour of the god Dionysus Anthios (Dionysus the Blossoming), as the first flowers heralded his return in spring. [3] It fell when the fermentation of the wine made in the autumn was complete and it was ready to drink, reminding everyone that life and the seasons are cyclical, that what is born will die and be reborn again. All the temples of the gods were closed except the Limnaion, the temple of Dionysus ‘in the Marshes’, which contained a sacred spring, a passageway to the underworld. The temple was only opened on this one day of the year, and its opening unlocked the way between the worlds of the living and the dead, enabling  the vegetation god Dionysus, who had been dwelling in the Underworld during the winter, to return, along with the shades of the dead  attracted by the scent of the opening of the pithoi (large wine jars), left fermenting over winter, half buried in the Earth, and now ready to taste.  Swaying masks of the Dionysus were hung in the trees, sending good luck and fertility wherever they looked.

In ancient Rome, a ten-day festival in honour of the vegetation god Attis, son and lover of the goddess Cybele, took place. A young pine tree representing Attis was carried into the city like a corpse, swathed in a linen shroud and decked with violets, then placed in a sepulchre in Cybele’s temple which stood on what is now Vatican Hill, near where St Peter’s stands. [4] On the Day of Blood, also called Black Friday, [5] the priests of the cult gashed themselves with knives as they danced ecstatically, sympathizing with Cybele in her grief and helping to restore Attis to life. That night was spent holding a vigil over the tomb. The next morning, a priest opened the sepulchre at dawn, revealing that it was empty and announcing that the god was risen. This day was known as Hilaria or the Day of Joy, a time of feasting and merriment. [6] The worshippers cheered as the priest announced, “Be of good cheer, neophytes, seeing that the god is saved; for we also, after our toils, shall find salvation!” [7] The longer, warmer days of spring had come, and vegetation was emerging from the earth.

In an echo of the rites of Attis, in Western Christian tradition, Easter often falls during this month. It marks the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, sacrificed on a cross, but when his tomb was opened after three days, it was found empty, and he was declared to have risen.

Out of the winter, spring comes. Out of the darkness comes light. At the equinox, the world is renewed with youth and vitality, freshness and vigour. The folk customs of the season reflect these themes. New clothes were often bought for Easter, particularly gloves and new bonnets for women. [8] With the increase in light, wild and domestic birds start laying, a symbol of renewal and fertility. Forbidden during the fasting of Lent, they could now be eaten for luck, or given as gifts. In many districts, eggs were coloured or eaten for luck at Easter, and there was (and in some parts of England still are) egg rolling down the hillsides, perhaps to reflect the passage of the Sun, or perhaps just for fun, and the winner is the egg that rolls the furthest. The Pace Egg mumming troupes go out, performing mumming plays in return for eggs and beer. [9] In Germany, it is important to eat something green, and fire wheels are rolled down hills, straw stuffed into large wooden wheels, set on fire and rolled it down a hill at night. If all wheels released roll straight down the hill it is said to bring a good harvest. [10]

Since the 1970s, many modern Pagans have called the spring equinox Ostara, with many books claiming that Ostara is a Germanic goddess of spring associated with eggs and hares who gave her name to the Christian feast of Easter. Sadly, Ostara is not an old Germanic name for the vernal equinox. The goddess Ēostre was mentioned, though only once, in early literature, by the seventh/eighth century English monk Bede in his De temporum ratione (‘The Reckoning of Time’). He wrote that during Ēosturmōnaþ (the lunar month of March/April) Pagan Anglo-Saxons had once held feasts in Ēostre’s honour, but the tradition had died out by his time.  Based on this single source, folklorist and recorder of fairy tales Jacob Grimm attempted to reconstruct a possible Germanic equivalent goddess calling her Ostara, arguing that since Germans called April ôstarmânoth while most countries retained the Biblical pascha for Easter, the word must relate to áustrô, from the Old High German adverb ôstar which “expresses movement towards the rising sun”, concluding that the putative deity would have been a goddess of dawn.  [11] Given the lack of any evidence for Ostara or Ēostre, scholars have dismissed the goddess as a pure invention of Bede, [12] concluding that the Old English word eastre is a simply an approximation of the Latin albae (’white’), a word sometimes applied to Easter. [13] [14] It has to be said that this doesn’t mean that she didn’t exist – it is unlikely that Bede made her up – but we have one very brief mention of her name, and it may be connected with the word for east, the direction of the rising Sun. We certainly know nothing at all about her worship, and there is most definitely no mention of hares and eggs as cult symbols. There is no linguistic connection with the Latin word oestrus (relating to ovulation and eggs), nor with the Middle Eastern goddesses Ishtar and Astarte. 

If we want to mark the vernal equinox, we should take our cue from nature itself and celebrate it as the time when the light gains over the dark, and the world rekindles in response, bursting forth from its winter sleep in a flurry of growth and new birth. The Sun warms the earth, ready for planting. Like the Earth we too plant our own seeds at this time; seeds we literally plant in the garden, but also seeds of goals that we will make into reality.

© text and illustration Anna Franklin

[1], accessed 12.2.19

[2] The full moon following the full moon of the Lênaia, and two moons following the full moon nearest the winter solstice.

[3]  Federica Doria, Marco Giuman, The Swinging Woman. Phaedra and Swing in Classical Greece, online at, accessed 27.11.18

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

[5], accessed 15.3.19

[6] James Frazer, The Golden Bough,

[7] Louis Bouyer, (trans. I. Trethowan), The Christian Mystery: From Pagan Myth to Christian Mysticism, T.& T.Clark Ltd, 1990

[8] Brian Day, A Chronicle of Folk Customs, Hamlyn, London, 1998

[9] Brian Day, A Chronicle of Folk Customs, Hamlyn, London, 1998

[10], accessed 12.1.20

[11] Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology. (J.S. Stalleybrass edition) George Bell & Sons, London, 1883

[12] Karl Weinhold, Die deutschen Monatnamen

[13] Philip A.Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World, Bristol Classical Press (Bloomsbury Academic), London, 2011

[14] Philip A.Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World, Bristol Classical Press (Bloomsbury Academic), London, 2011


On this day, 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.

[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], accessed 27.2.19

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

[7], accessed 26.2.19

[8], 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

Magical Names

There is an ancient belief that by naming something you invoke it. In earlier times, and in tribal societies, the naming of a thing or person was a great responsibility. The true name of something encapsulates its essential nature. Even today a child is named in a solemn ceremony and there is a belief that the name chosen will affect the child, in some way shaping its character.

Often a child is not felt to be a person at all – or to have its own individual identity – until it is formally named. Un-named or unbaptized children were considered to be at risk of being kidnapped by fairies and jealous spirits. In some traditional societies, the naming does not take place until some time after birth, but the child is called by something that is not the real name, which is secret. In Europe the name was often kept secret until the christening, even from the mother. This stems back to the old belief that people, animals, places, gods and spirits have real names that are secret. If a person can discover the real name, then they will have the being in their power (think of Rumpelstiltskin), and the real name can be used to work magic against its owner. Magicians use words of power, which include the names of gods and spirits, tapping into the essence and energy of the being when the name is intoned correctly.

Often a person takes a new name with a change of status, for example a boy will assume a new name when he comes to manhood, a woman when she marries, a priest when he is ordained, and a witch or magician when initiated. Many people choose a special name that they use just for magical work. This is known as a magical name and has certain advantages. When you are within your circle, you leave the everyday world behind and become a magical being who will learn to see things in an entirely new way. Having a magical name can help separate the two worlds and some people find this very useful. Another reason people choose a magical name is for anonymity. In the days when witchcraft was under attack, it was dangerous to be named as a witch, so they took secret names and did not refer to each other’s everyday names at all in connection with the coven.

There is no right or wrong way to choose a magical name. You may have had one in mind for some time. Perhaps you would like to meditate and take whatever comes to you during the meditation. Don’t let anyone choose your name for you, or don’t be persuaded into a name you don’t feel comfortable with. Some choose plants or animals they feel an affinity with. Ravens, crows, foxes and wolves are popular. Herbs have great appeal since they can often sound very well.  Some include a name that relates to their heritage. Some combine an animal name with their own everyday name. Other options include taking the name or part of the name of a famous wizard from legend – especially from the Arthurian tales. There are any number of Merlins, Morgans, Morganas, and Nimues. Take a look on the Pagan or occult shelf of your local bookshelf; many authors write under assumed names which are often the same as their magical names.

© Anna Franklin


Isis is the Greek form of the Egyptian name Aset (‘Throne’). As Isis Unveiled, she is the goddess of manifest nature, as Isis Veiled, she protects the most profound secrets of the universe. She is the goddess of marriage, motherhood, healing, magic, prophecy, love, fertility, agriculture, domestic crafts, spinning, weaving and brewing. She is portrayed with a blue robe, wings and her head-dress is the empty throne, which belongs to her murdered husband, Osiris. She is often shown with her young son, Horus, or carries the ankh, the symbol of life. In addition, she may be shown with the sistula, a breast-shaped container for milk, and a jug for carrying the holy waters of the Nile.

She is called the Light Giver of Heaven, Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea, Queen of the Earth, Lady of Green Crops, the Green Goddess, Lady of Abundance, Lady of Joy and Gladness and Lady of the Shuttle. She was the source of the ruling Pharaoh’s power, whose throne was said to be her lap.

Isis and Osiris, together with Set and Nepthys, were the children of the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut. Osiris married Isis and the pair became rulers of Egypt, teaching humankind how to plant and harvest grain, how to spin and weave, make tools, bread, beer and wine. They also established the institution of marriage.

Isis is a magician called ‘Strong of Tongue’, as she knew how to use words of power with the correct pronunciation and tone. She learned her magic from Thoth the god of wisdom, and from the sun god Ra, whom she tricked into revealing his secret name to her, thus giving her full access to his skills. Like other magical goddesses, she is associated with spinning and weaving, drawing out concepts into being, and weaving or knotting various forces to control them. Isis taught humanity the art of using magical knots. It has been said that the priestesses of Isis could control the weather simply by braiding and releasing their hair. One of her symbols is the tiet, which is also called the “Isis-knot” and “the Blood of Isis” and is associated with her menstrual blood. The fact that she inserted a tiet into her vagina when she was pregnant with Horus tells us its meaning: it was once thought that a woman became pregnant when her menstrual blood coalesced into a baby. Women wore a little symbol of the Isis knot to conceive and protect against miscarriage.

She is the “Lady of Life,” often depicted holding the Ankh, the symbol of life. She had power over life and death, and was a skilled healer titled the “Divine Physician”. She once cured the god Ra from the effects of a scorpion bite, and even brought her own husband back to life. In the twenty-eighth year of his reign, Osiris was murdered by his jealous brother Set. Set is generally seen as an evil figure, the personification of the dry desert that surrounds the thin strip of fertile Nile Valley. Set and his followers tricked Osiris into getting into a coffin, nailed down the lid, and then threw it in the Nile. It washed up in Byblos, where Set found it and cut his brother’s body into fourteen pieces, which he scattered across Egypt.

Isis searched the whole land until she found the pieces, leaving a funeral inscription at each site, all but the fourteenth part – the phallus, which had been eaten by a crab. [1] The jackal-headed god Anubis embalmed the body, creating the first mummy. Isis formed a new phallus by magic and, transforming herself into a kite, mated with the corpse and conceived Horus, the falcon headed god of day. Isis was forced to hide from Set until Horus was old enough to avenge his father. Osiris chose to remain in Amenti (‘West’) the Land of the Dead to act as the judge of souls.

The protective wings of Isis are depicted folded around may coffins and sarcophagi, showing that she breathes new life into the souls of the dead. Her wings indicate that she may have aspects as the goddess of the cooling breeze, leaving the scent of flowers and spices in her wake. She takes fresh air into the underworld when she goes to take food to the dead. The morning breeze created by her wings heralds the dawn.

Every woman can identify with Isis as the devoted mother of Horus, and with the sorrowing widow who had lost her husband. This may at least partially account for the popularity of her worship, which lasted for 3,500 years. Her cult spread across the Graeco-Roman world, as far as Britain, where there was a temple to Isis in London, on the River Thames in Southwark. The cult died out in Rome after the institution of Christianity, with the last recorded festival of Isis held there in 394 CE. The last Egyptian temple of Isis, situated on the lovely island of Philae, closed around 550 CE.

However, much associated with worship of the Egyptian Holy family was appropriated by the Christian religion. Early Coptic art identified Horus with Jesus, Isis with Mary, and the Christian cross with the pharaonic ankh. The depiction of the seated goddess holding or suckling the child Horus is certainly reminiscent of the iconography of Mary and Jesus. In addition, Osiris was a god who chose to become a man to guide his people. As such he was called ‘the Good Shepherd’ and depicted with a shepherd’s crook. He died, was buried, and brought back to life. He was called the ‘Resurrection and the Life’. His ‘flesh’ was eaten as a sacrament in the form of wheaten cakes. Isis was called ‘The Star of the Sea’ and ‘Queen of Heaven’, titles appropriated by the cult of the Virgin Mary. Isis was a virgin who brought forth a son titled ‘the Saviour of the World’. The family was forced to flee from an evil king and hide until the son became a man. Some say that the so called ‘Black Virgins’ found in some Christian churches, are none other than basalt figures of Isis.

© Anna Franklin

[1] Possibly the Constellation of the Crab (Cancer) which precedes the inundation.

Use Your Dandelions

Dandelions are rich in minerals, especially potassium, and vitamins including A, B, C and D, but people have largely forgotten them as a food source.  Up until the 1800s Americans pulled up grass from their yards to plant dandelions, while before the First World War dandelion was grown as a commercial crop in Britain.  In Britain the roots were lifted from two-year-old plants to make dandelion coffee.  The roasted and ground roots were sold for two shillings per pound.  However, when food is scarce, people remember and during the Second World War the British radio doctor Charles Hill recommended dandelion leaves as a food.

The leaves can be eaten fresh in salads, boiled like spinach, or made into a tea.  You can pop a dandelion leaf into a sandwich.  Pick the young leaves in early spring for eating (the older ones get bitter), before the plant has flowered.  For a more delicate flavour, you can blanch the plant in a similar way to endives.  Put a flowerpot over the plant during the winter.  

The root can be boiled as a vegetable or added raw to salads.  The root may be roasted and ground as a substitute for coffee.  Gather the roots during the autumn.

The flowers can be eaten raw or used to decorate salads, and taste slightly sweet, or try dipping them in batter and deep frying them.  Macerated Dandelion Flower Oil can be used in salad dressings.  Dandelion Vinegar can be used as a salad dressing.  Dandelion Honey is a vegan alternative to honey.

Dandelions can be added to tonic beers and wines, which aid digestion.

Dandelions are great for the skin as they are rich in antioxidants, and vitamins A, C and E.  They have anti-aging properties, are anti-inflammatory, help prevent free radical damage, reduce fine lines and the appearance of scars, as well as encouraging healthy skin cell production, evening out skin tone, and stimulating circulation.  Furthermore, they can have a protective effect against sun damage and improve skin hydration.  Do you still want to weed out your dandelions?

Macerated Dandelion Flower Oil can aid dry skin and is especially good for the delicate skin around the eyes.  You can also use the oil in the preparation of your homemade skin care products.

Make a dandelion infusion and use as a face wash for the treatment of large pores, age spots, blemishes, sunburn and chapped skin. 

Dandelions are also good for the hair.  Rich in vitamins and minerals, they can stimulate root growth.  Use dandelion infusion as a hair rinse, or dilute Dandelion Vinegar half and half with water as a hair rinse, or massage dandelion tincture into your scalp. 

Every part of the dandelion can be used medicinally, and it has been described as a self-contained pharmacy.  [1] Dandelion is a good all round health tonic, rich in vitamins A, B, C, D, and minerals including potassium and calcium, sesquiterpene lactones, triterpenes, coumarins, caratonoids, taraxacoside and phenolic acids.

The bitter nature of dandelion leaves aids digestion by stimulating the secretion of digestive fluids and promoting the appetite. 

Dandelion root is a powerful detoxifying herb, encouraging the elimination of toxins due to infection and pollution, including hangovers, by working on the liver and gall bladder to remove waste products, plus stimulating the kidneys to remove toxins in urine.  This is useful in many conditions including constipation, acne, eczema, psoriasis, boils, arthritic conditions including gout.  It is a safe liver herb and stimulates bile production, and is used in the treatment of jaundice, hepatitis, gallstones and urinary tract infections. 

Dandelions are diuretic and can be used to treat swollen ankles and fluid retention, but without the consequent loss of potassium of orthodox drugs.  Use dandelion tea.

For rheumatism and arthritis take Dandelion Leaf Tea or Dandelion Coffee to help the joints and the removal of acid deposits.  Macerated Dandelion Flower Oil can ease muscle tension and stiff joints when rubbed into the affected parts. 

Macerated Dandelion Flower Oil applied to the skin helps reduce inflammation and irritation, and may help soothe eczema, psoriasis, acne and skin rashes.

In folk medicine the white latex sap within the flower stem has been used to treat warts and pimples, simply by breaking the stem and dabbing it on the affected area.   

A few dandelion flowers can be eaten raw and may cure a headache.  [2]


Dandelion is considered safe in food amounts and safe for most people in medicinal quantities.  However, medicinal amounts are best avoided during pregnancy or breastfeeding to be on the safe side.  If you are allergic to ragweed, daisies, chrysanthemums or marigolds, you should avoid using dandelion or use with caution.  Some people find that they have a reaction to the white latex found in dandelion stems.  Dandelion may decrease the efficacy of some antibiotics, so check with your healthcare provider.  Do not take if you are on lithium or taking other diuretics.  Dandelion root should not be used by individuals with gallstones, gallbladder complaints, obstructed bile ducts, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gastritis, or ulcers.  Dandelions slightly lower blood sugar, so diabetics should carefully monitor levels.  Do not use medicinal amounts if you are already taking prescription diuretics. 

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

[2] Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal, Hedgerow Medicine, Merlin Unwin Books, Ludlow, 2008

The March Hare

I’ve seen hares running in the bottom field this week. They are usually nocturnal creatures that remain hidden during the hours of daylight and it is only during the mating season they are abroad in daylight. It is a magical sight. The expression ‘mad as a March hare’ refers to their wild behaviour during March when they may be observed boxing or leaping into the air as they prepare to mate.  Hares are prolific breeders, producing two to four litters a year, and a female hare can even conceive while she is still pregnant.  It is not surprising that hares are associated both with the season and with fertility. Even now we have the idea of the Easter Bunny delivering eggs, a tradition imported into Britain from America, via Germanic immigrants, who had their own traditions of the Easter Hare who comes at night to lay eggs for the Easter egg hunt. [1] So where did the idea come from that hares lay eggs at Easter? Unlike rabbits, hares do not burrow into the earth, but live their entire lives above ground, creating a shallow depression known as a ‘form’ as a nest.  Ground nesting birds, such as plovers and lapwings, also build their nests on open grassland or arable farmland at this time, and people coming across eggs in a nest that looked rather like a hare’s form may have jumped to that conclusion. Finding such eggs in spring was probably the origin of the Easter egg hunt.

[1] Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud, A Dictionary of English Folklore, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000

Dandelion Lore

If you’ve ever tried to eliminate dandelions from your garden or lawn, you will know it is almost impossible.  Leave behind the tiniest bit of root and it will regrow, while the fluffy seeds float freely on the wind and spread the plant everywhere.  But wait. Every part of the dandelion is useful, a gift of free food, wine and beer, dye, cosmetics, magic and a whole pharmacy within itself, available most of the year, and sacred to the Goddess.  Truly a gift from the Gods!

The tenacious dandelion is a hardy perennial plant, probably native to China and Asia, but now spread throughout the world, commonly found in gardens, pastures, lawns, meadows, waste ground and on roadsides.  It has a fleshy root and a hollow stem which contain a milky white juice.  The leaves are lance shaped and form a rosette at the stem base.  The bright yellow flowers bloom from late spring to early autumn and are followed by the fluffy seed heads.  It is an important food source for wildlife, the flowers contain a good supply of nectar, attracting many insects, especially bees.   Small birds eat the seeds, while rabbits and pigs love the leaves.  

The common name comes from the French Dent de Lion or ‘lion’s tooth’, which seems a little strange, and is generally said to refer to the shape of the leaves.  However, the lion is an ancient symbol of the sun, and the rayed golden flowers resemble little suns, so the name is possibly a corruption of ‘rays of the sun’.  [1]

The dandelion is one of the three emblems of the goddess Brighid/Bride, who was Christianised as St Brigit (the others being the lamb and the oyster-catcher bird).  [2] In Uist, it is called bearnan Bride (‘the little notched flower of Bride’), while other Gaelic names translate as ‘little flower of God’ and ‘St Bride’s forerunner’.  Like the dandelion, Brighid is associated with the coming of spring at Imbolc (1 February), her festival, and the increase of the sun; she wears it at her breast, and the sun is said to follow.  [3]  People would go to wells dedicated to her to watch the sun dance at the vernal equinox, and later, Easter.  A further association comes from the ‘milk’ that can be expressed with the stems.  Like other ‘milk’ yielding plants, they are associated with Brighid as patroness of flocks and herbs.  A common belief was that the dandelion ‘milk’ nourished young lambs in spring. 

It has been used in medicine and folk remedies since ancient times for a variety of ailments.   The name of the genus, Taraxacum, is derived from the Greek taraxos (disorder), and akos (remedy), an allusion to the use of the plant as a remedy.  Dandelion root was said to cure any disease, but you had to dig out the whole root and not leave any behind – the devil will try to nip a bit off, which makes the cure useless.  [4] In Warwickshire folk medicine it was said to be good for the blood, was recommended in the Highlands of Scotland as a tonic, and in America and as blood purifier.   Dandelion was used by Arab physicians in the eleventh and twelfth centuries as a general curative. 

It is known as a diuretic (urine promotor), hence many of its folk names – stink davie, wet-a-bed, mess-a-bed, pissimire, pittle bed and wet-weed.  Indeed, its English folk name of piss-a-bed is echoed in the French pissenlit and the German pissblume.  In counter-magic, children in the Fens (eastern England) would be given the flowers to smell on May Day, which was said to stop them wetting the bed for twelve months. 

It is a plant with a great deal of folklore attached to it, and many of its folk names call it a clock – clocks and watches, blowball, peasant’s clock, doon-head-clock, fortune teller, one o’clocks, clocks, fairy clocks, farmer’s clocks, schoolboy’s clocks, shepherd’s clock, tell-time, time flower, time-teller or twelve o’clock.  The spherical seed heads can be blown for temporal divinations of all kinds.   You can find out how long you have left to live by blowing once on a dandelion seed head; the number of seeds left correspond to the number of years you have left.  Or blow on the seed head to tell you how many years will pass before you get married, or how many children you will have. 

In Somerset it was called ‘the weather clock’ since when the seed head is fluffy, it means fine weather, but when it is limp, it indicates rain.  [5] The flowers themselves close before rain and before dew fall.  The blooms are very sensitive to weather conditions: in fine weather, all the parts are outstretched, but directly rain threatens the whole head closes up at once.

In France, girls put a dandelion leaf beneath their pillow to dream of their future husband.  [6] to dream of dandelions is unlucky, however.  To dream of a dandelion is bad luck or indicates tough times ahead.

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

[2] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[3] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[4] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[5] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[6] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

1 March – Matronalia

In keeping with this month’s theme of life emerging from the darkness into the light, in ancient Rome, the beginning of March was the Matronalia, day of Juno Lucina or ‘Juno the light-bringer’, who brings children into the light. the goddess who watched over pregnancy, childbirth and mothers. It was a day that celebrated motherhood and women in general, when men gave presents to their wives of sweets, flowers and jewellery, as well as offering prayers for them, and children would give gifts to their mothers.   Women would go to the temple of Juno Lucina to offer a cake out of very fine white flour (similla).

As the Church did with many Pagan feasts and customs, the Matronalia was adopted and evolved into Mothering Sunday in Europe, its day remembered by counting the Sundays of Lent – “Mothering Sunday, Care Away, Palm Sunday, Easter Day”.   It was meant to honour ‘Mother Church’, and some Anglican churches still keep up the old custom of ‘clypping (i.e. greeting) the church’ on Mothering Sunday, walking around the church in a big circle and singing a hymn. [1] However, Mothering Sunday was also a permitted break from the Lenten fast, so servants were given the day off to visit their mothers, taking flowers and a basket of treats that often included a simnel cake, the name perhaps dating right back to the Roman simila cake. This is still Mother’s Day in Europe, when mothers are given flowers and chocolates, and simnel cake is traditional. [2]

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

[1] Joanna Bogle. A Book of Feasts and Seasons, Gracewing, Leominster, 2002

[2] This day should not be confused with the peculiarly American ‘Mother’s Day’, which is held on the second Sunday in May, and was initiated by Anna Jarvis in the nineteenth century to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War.