SPIRITUAL FALLOW PERIODS

I’ve had several people contacting me lately complaining that their spirituality seems to have dried up, or that they have stopped feeling any connection.

Sometimes this happens; I’ve experienced it myself many times. When it happened, I came to realise it had been entirely my fault; the Gods had not withdrawn from me, I had unwittingly withdrawn from them.

We talk about magical and spiritual currents, and this is quite literal – if you stop plugging in, you stop being connected. It’s no good complaining the toaster won’t work if you haven’t plugged it into the socket and turned the power on, and it is the same with spiritual energy and connection with a tradition.

I believe that the power of the Gods flows throughout creation, underpinning all life and giving it meaning. It can be a joyous spiritual and emotional sustenance for those who connect with it, but though it is eternal and always present, each day we can choose to be open to it and accept it or we can reject it, ignore it, or put up emotional barriers to it. Compassionate love is the free flowing energy of the soul, but selfishness, hatred and resentment dries and dams it up.

Sometimes spiritual disconnection occurs during difficult life events. When you go through something traumatic or sad, it is natural that your efforts are directed to sorting out your problems. If you have a spiritual response, it might just be to ask for things (sort this out for me, stop it happening) or berate and blame the Gods and for what has happened (why me? why are you punishing me?) and by extension your spiritual path for not giving you immunity. These are barriers we might inadvertently erect to connection with the free flowing of spirit. As Pagans, we believe that we weave our own wyrd, through action or inaction, and are responsible for our own fates, but that often flies out of the window in such circumstances, and we demand that the Gods bend to our will.

(Of course, the opposite can happen, and when something bad occurs, like a serious illness, it can bring you closer to spirit as the concerns of the mundane world drop away, and the connection is like a tap being turned on, and I’ve experienced this too on several occasions. During my recent illness I experienced vision after vision of the flow of spiritual power. That didn’t stop me feeling sorry for myself when recovery was slower than I hoped, and being disappointed that the visions had stopped before I realised I needed to change my approach and reconnect.)

Sometimes after initiation into the Craft people experience a spiritual fallow period. I think occasionally the Gods give them a breathing space to absorb what has happened, but more often it is because the candidate considers that now they have achieved their goal they can stop trying, sit back and the sparks will fly on their command. The truth is that they have been unalterably changed by the initiation – which is the point – and thus their approach and means of connection need to change and be redoubled as a responsible priest/priestess.

 

 

Flax and the Weaver Goddess

Linen, the oldest known textile, is made from the flax plant. Its association with mankind goes back to around 8000 BC with the cloth being used by prehistoric cave dwellers in Europe. Fragments of clothing, linen fishing nets and unworked flax have been found in Switzerland in the remains of Stone Age lake dwellings, and decorated spindle whorls (holed stones used to weight the spindle whilst spinning thread) have been found in prehistoric cave dwellings. Linen shrouds and seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs, several of which depict flax cultivation in the wall decorations. Homer mentions white linen sails in the Odyssey and the plant is mentioned several times in the Bible, including the ‘fine twined linen’ prescribed for the temple veil. A passage in Joshua describes the flax being pulled and tied in bundles and retted in water for several weeks, a method still used today.

Spinning and weaving was always the business of women. Girls were taught the arts as part of their rite of passage at puberty. We still call the female side of the family ‘the distaff side’.

The circular action of the spinning wheel is associated with the turning of the zodiac through the heavens, the turning of day and night, the passage of the seasons and the cycle of life itself.  The movement of the spindle, both back and forth and in a circular motion, is sometimes seen as an image of the cosmos, making the continuous thread of life.  For this reason the flax is sacred to the Weaver Goddess, who spins the thread of life and weaves the fabric of the cosmos, the warp and weft of fate. The Weaver Goddess appears in many mythologies in various forms.  In Greek myth the Three Fates or Moerae appear, always clothed in white. Their Greek name means ‘phase’ as in the phases of the moon, the spinner and measurer of time. The thread of life is spun on Clotho’s spindle, measured by the rod of Lachesis and snipped by Atropos’ shears.  In stature Atropos was the smallest of the three, but by far the most feared, relating as she does to the crone of winter, the death goddess. According to Greek custom, family and clan marks were woven into a baby’s swaddling bands, allotting him his place in society. The Three Fates of Greek myth are paralleled in Norse lore by the Three Norns who weave the web of fate.

The weaver goddess is always associated with magic.  The Egyptian Isis was the patroness of weaving but she also wove magic and could heal, while Meith was also known as a magician and her symbol was a weaver’s shuttle. She was titled ‘The Opener of the Ways’ and conducted souls to the underworld. This idea of following a linen thread into or out of the underworld is echoed in other myths such as Ariadne leading Theseus out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur by means of a thread, and the witch goddess Hecate leading the corn goddess Demeter into the underworld with a thread to find her daughter Persephone. The latter was re-enacted by the initiates of the Eleusinian mysteries.

The growing of flax was surrounded with ritual. The old Prussians performed a ceremony to make the crops grow high.  The tallest girl of the village stood on one foot on a seat, with a lap full of cakes, a cup of brandy in her right hand and a piece of elm or linden bark in her left, praying to the god Weizganthos that the flax might grow as high as she was standing.  She would then drain the cup, have it refilled and pour it onto the ground as an offering to the god.  Then she threw down the cakes for his sprites.  If she managed to remain steady on one foot, it was a good omen.  If she put her left foot down, it was an omen that the crop might fail. This standing on one foot is a shamanic practice and denotes having one foot in the manifest world and one foot in the Otherworld. In the Tyrol, a fir tree was topped with a figure called ‘a witch’ and burned on the first Sunday in lent.  The embers were planted in the flax fields to keep vermin away. When the flax waved in the wind, the people of Magdeburg said: ‘It will be a good year for flax.  The flax mother has been seen.’ In Swabia, young men and women would join hands and leap the midsummer fire, shouting ‘Flax, flax, may the flax this year grow seven ells high.’  In Switzerland the fire was leapt over as high as possible to make the flax grow.

Linen robes make one of the best magical garments. A linen thread may be employed in initiation rituals where the candidate must find his or her way to the centre of a maze, or flax threads may be woven by members of a magical group in a ritual to bind them to each other in friendship. Flax may be used in an incense, an infused oil or an infusion to consecrate the ritual wheel or sun/moon disc or zodiac symbol.  Flax incense may be used to invoke the Goddesses Arachne, Athene, Arianrhod, Brighid, the Fates, Frigg, Hulda, Inanna, Isis, Meith, Minerva, Neith and the Norns. Flax may also be used in incenses of the planet Mercury and the element of fire or be thrown onto the ritual fire at Midsummer. Linen fibre from the perennial flax can be used to make paper for magical scripts.

The common flax is also used medicinally. Country people would boil the fresh, whole herb and take it for rheumatic pains, colds, coughs and dropsy. Linseed oil, made from flax seeds, is added to cough medicines and used medicinally as an infusion for the treatment of colds, coughs, catarrh, bronchitis, urinary infections and pulmonary infections. The infusion can be used externally for boils, ulcers, cuts and inflammations. For a poultice the seeds can be boiled until soft or they can be pulverised and placed between two gauzes applied as hot as tolerable to rheumatic aches and pains or applied when cooler for ulceration, inflammation, irritation and pain.

CAUTION: IMMATURE SEEDS CAN BE POISONOUS

 

 

 

 

Natural Skin Care Workshop Fun

I love running workshops and showing people how they can use herbs not only for healing, but also in their daily lives for beauty products, personal care and around the house in various ways. Most participants are amazed at how cheap and easy it is to make their own products

We had a brilliant time at my Herbs for Personal Care and Beauty Day Workshop on Saturday, got the giggles trying face masks, whipped up batches of products, and everyone went away with a box full of goodies they had made including shampoos, hair rinses, bath bags, toothpaste, tooth powders, deodorant powders, skin toners and two types of face creams. All natural and chemical free, all organic, all vegan and made for pennies.

Rose Petal, Frankincense & Myrrh Night Cream

I love making creams. There is a kind of alchemy to it, when the oil and water emulsify and change into a creamy texture. The basic method is to prepare the oil part and the liquid part separately, before bringing them together. Most creams use a combination of pouring oils, such as grapeseed or almond, and more solid oils, such as coconut or shea butter. This is warmed separately to the ‘water’ part, which is warmed in a separate pan.  The water part is then dripped into the oil part very slowly, whisking constantly with an electric whisk until they are fully combined and emulsified. It is tricky, and the secret is to make sure that your oil mix and your water mix are the same temperature.

 10g beeswax

12 g cocoa butter or shea butter

50 ml rose petal infused oil [1]

15 ml benzoin tincture

30 ml rose petal infusion [2]

5 g emulsifying wax

10 drops frankincense essential oil

10 drops myrrh essential oil

Heat the beeswax, cocoa butter, emulsifying wax and rose infused oil together in a bain marie.(A bain marie is a double boiler. You can alternatively use a heat proof bowl over a pan of water.)

In a separate bain marie gently heat the rose infusion with the tincture but do not allow to boil.

Check both mixtures are the same temperature. Gradually and very slowly, pour the infusion/tincture mix into the oil bowl, whisking quickly with an electric whisk until thoroughly combined. This will create a creamy consistency. (If you have ever made mayonnaise it is a similar process.)

When the cream has cooled, you can whisk in the essential oil.

Spoon into sterilised jars, label and date. Will keep up to four months in the fridge.

[1] Pack fresh rose petals into a clear glass jar, cover with vegetable oil and leave on a sunny windowsill for two weeks. Strain the rose oil into a clean jar.

[2] Pour a cup of boiling water over fresh rose petals, leave to infuse for 15 minutes and strain off the liquid – this is your rose petal infusion.

THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER

In the ancient world, the constellations of Orion and Canis Major (especially the Dog Star, Sirius) were calendar markers for planting and reaping. Sirius, the Dog Star, sets in the west in spring and is absent from the sky for seventy days, then its heliacal (just before dawn) rising in the east marked the beginning of the Dog Days when the sun was said to burn at its most fierce and rainfall to be at its lowest level. The Old Farmer’s Almanac of 1792 lists the timing of the Dog Days as the days beginning July 3rd and ending on August 11th (Old Lughnasa), and they are traditionally listed as such in the present day. They are a period of desiccating heat, when summer growth and moistness ends, and the sun dries the corn ready for harvesting, ushering in the Autumn and the gathering of the First Fruits.

Sirius (‘Scorching Star’) is the brightest star in the sky, and lies in the constellation of Canis Major, the ‘Greater Dog’ which, along with Canis Minor the ‘Little Dog’, follows the constellation of Orion the hunter across the sky, helping him pursue Lepus the Hare or confront Taurus the Bull. Canis Major has been associated with dogs from the earliest times. The ancient Assyrians called the Dog Star the ‘Dog of the Sun’ or ‘Star Dog of the Sun’. The Assyrian month of Abu (July-August) signified ‘fiery hot’ because the sun was in Leo and therefore raging like a lion.

 The Romans sacrificed a red-coloured dog in May, when Sirius disappears for seventy days below the western horizon, to ensure the health of the forthcoming crops. The hottest part of the year, which dried the grain ready for harvesting, they called the dies cani cultriac or ‘Dog Days’. They thought that Sirius was a distant sun (the central sun of the Milky Way, in fact) which during the Dog Days rose with our sun to add its own heat, making the weather unbearable. Its influence was considered baneful and malign. Pliny wrote that Sirius burned with “…a bright fire and sheds a killing light’ and went on to say that ‘this is the constellation which has the most widespread effects on earth. At its rise the seas are rough, wine in the cellars bubbles, marshes are stirred.” [1] Aristotle said “…this is a period of great upheaval when the sea is extremely rough and amazing catches are made, when fish and mud rise to the surface.” [2]

Hesiod described it as ‘a desiccating sun’, burning up plants and making the seeds in the earth sterile by depriving them of food. Animals die of thirst, vines are burned and humans are prostrated with fevers and illness, especially siriasis (a type of meningitis which attacks young children). According to these ancients, the Dog Days are a time of cruel heat when men’s skins are burned and their throats parched with thirst. Those afflicted with hydrophobia were said to have been driven mad by Sirius.[3] In fact, the Greeks imagined the constellation of Canis Major in the form of a rabid dog with its tongue lolling and its eyes bulging. The astronomer Manilius said: “…such is the heat diffused among the constellations, and everything is brought to a halt by a single star.”  He went on to relate how the heat brought out the worst in people, with anger, hatred and fear, impetuosity, frayed tempers and arguments, all fanned by alcohol.

It was during this time that the Adonia Festival was celebrated in Greece,[4] as Theophrastus said ‘when the sun is at its most powerful’. During the festival women would plant small gardens – called Gardens of Adonis and dedicated to the vegetation god – in clay pots or wicker baskets. These were composed of wheat, barley, fennel and lettuces. The women would climb ladders up to their rooftops, thereby placing the little gardens as close to the sun as they could. During this time of year the great heat gives an impetus to a plant’s growth, but this can become leggy and spindly with the plant outgrowing its strength, while young shoots wither in dryness. The gardens were left to grow for only eight days to come to maturity, in contrast to the eight months taken by the cereal crop under the auspices of the goddess Demeter. At the culmination of the festival the gardens were taken from the roofs and cast in to the sea or into springs. Thereafter August was sacred to the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone.

In Norse myth the Dog Star Sirius is called Lokabrenna (‘the Burning of Loki’ or ‘Loki’s Brand’). Sif was the wife of Thor, the god of thunder. She had beautiful golden hair until Loki cut it all off for a prank. Thor was so angry that he wanted to kill the trickster, but Loki was able to persuade the dwarfs to make some magical hair for Sif, which once it touched her head, would grow like her own hair. It is clear that Sif’s hair is the golden corn, which is cut and regrows with the next year, making her a corn or harvest goddess. Her husband is the thunder god who brings the fertilizing rain to the earth in the summer, to make the corn grow. Loki, usually described as a god of wildfire and heat, is associated here with Sirius and the heat of the Dog Days, which causes the ripening and subsequent cutting of the grain.

The Feast of St. Christopher falls on 25th July. He is the patron saint of travellers, portrayed in the Eastern Church as a man with the head of a dog. He has two festivals on May 9th (in the Eastern Church) and July 25th (in the Western church) and these dates correspond to the setting and rising of Sirius, the Dog Star.[5] This suggests an interesting Pagan origin for the Christian saint who carried the Christ Child across a raging river in a storm, and thus he became the patron of travellers who often wear St Christopher medals for protection.

In ancient Egypt, Sirius was the main seasonal marker which mobilised the whole calendar. [6] In contrast to elsewhere, the Egyptians thought its heliacal rising after its absence from the sky for seventy days brought the Nile inundation, the annual floods which carried rich alluvial mud for planting, and began the Egyptian year in the month Wep-renpet, ‘Opener of the Year’. They thought of Sirius as a feminine sun which added its own power to the usual sun, and the festivities at the Temple of Hathor in Dendera were chiefly concerned with the birth of this new sun. People would gather on the roof of the temple to see her rise with the sun Ra, sitting on the prow of his solar boat and uniting her rays with his as they melted into the dawn light. The Egyptians called the star Septit [7] (or Sothis in the Greek form), titled ‘the Water Bringer’ and identified it with Isis. During the festivities at Dendera, a statue of Isis/Hathor was carried up to the roof to face Sirius and the rising sun. Isis appears in the Pyramid Texts as the chief mourner for her husband, the vegetation god Osiris (identified with the constellation Orion), whom she brought back to life with magic. The rising of Sothis was considered to be the goddess coming to mourn her husband and revive him (as corn god) with the flooding of the Nile.

Sirius disappears from the sky for seventy days before its heliacal rising. This marked its death and rebirth and re-started the calendar. The Egyptians noted that every ten days one of the thirty six decans (the stars that kept the calendar, chosen because they followed the same pattern as Sirius) disappeared into the west and remained unseen for a period of time before reappearing with the dawn in the east. As one ‘died’ another was ‘reborn’ every ten days, according to Papyrus Carlsburg 1. During the period the star was missing, it was said to have entered the Duat (‘Embalming House’) or netherworld, where its impurities were shed, preparing it for rebirth. [8] The Egyptian mummification process took seventy days, the period of time the decans spent in the Duat.

Of all the stars only the heliacal rising of Sirius coincides with the length of our solar year of 365.25 days. Each year it started time – and therefore order, the seasons and creation – and because of this it was sometimes linked with the benu bird of creation. The benu had alighted on the primordial mound which had emerged from the elemental waters, the only place not submerged and when it flew away, the sun rose for the first time and brought light and life to the world, just as the heliacal rising of Sirius did each year. The Greeks identified the benu with the phoenix. Tacitus (1st century CE) reported that it took 1461 years for the benu to fly to the east and back. This was because the Egyptians calculated that Sothis took 1461 years to recycle through their 365 day calendar, moving forward by a day every four years (which accrued because they had no leap year). This was called a Sothic Year.

© Anna Franklin, heavily condensed from Lughnasa, History, Lore and Celebration by Anna Franklin, Lear Books

[1] Pliny, Natural History. II

[2] Aristotle Hist. An.

[3] Hydrophobia is better known as rabies, one of the symptoms of which is a blazing thirst but a fear of water.

[4] Marcel Detienne, The Gardens of Adonis, Princeton University Press, 1977

[5] http://www.schooloftheseasons.com

[6] Dr. E.C. Krupp, Beyond the Blue Horizon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991

[7] A Greek form of her Egyptian name Aset or Eset, meaning ‘throne’.

[8] Dr. E.C. Krupp, Beyond the Blue Horizon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991

Gooseberry Wine

I’m running out of things to do with gooseberries! It’s been an abundant year, and here are two gallons of gooseberry wine in the airing cupboard, just getting started and bubbling away nicely.

Gooseberry Wine

4 lb gooseberries

6 pints boiling water

2 lb sugar

Juice of I lemon

Cup of black tea

3 ripe bananas

Yeast

Put the gooseberries in a brewing bin and pour on the boiling water. Leave to cool to lukewarm, then squeeze all the gooseberries in your hands to get the juice coming out. Add the mashed bananas, and sprinkle on a teaspoon of yeast. Fit the lid and leave for 3 days, stirring daily. Strain the liquid into a demijohn and add the sugar and apple juice. Leave to ferment out.

Summer Roses

The garden is full of roses this week. They flop over the fences and scramble up the trellis, their soft, sensual blooms filling the air with a voluptuous perfume. It is easy to understand why they are sacred to so many gods and goddesses of love – Isis, Aphrodite, Venus, Eros, Cupid, Inanna and Ishtar to name just a few. I bless the plants and gather armfuls of flowers.

I take them into the house and lay them on the kitchen table and begin to separate the red flowers from the white. I’m reminded that in one Greek tale, when the goddess Aphrodite first arose from the ocean and stepped onto the shore, the sparkling sea foam fell from her body in the form of pale white roses and took root, but later, as she pursued the beautiful youth Adonis, she caught herself on a thorn and her blood dyed the roses crimson red, symbolising innocence turned to desire and maidenhood turned to womanhood. [1] For magical purposes, while my white roses stand for purity, perfection, innocence, virginity and the moon, the red roses represents earthly passion and fertility. Wound together, they signify the union of opposites, symbolism we use at Beltane to celebrate the sacred marriage of the God and Goddess, an act which reconciles male and female, summer and winter, life and death, flesh and spirit, and brings about all creation, driven by the most fundamental and powerful force in the universe – love.

It was Midsummer a short while ago, and roses often play a part in our solstice ritual since, like other flowers with rayed petals, they are an emblem of the sun. Like the sun, which dies each night and is reborn each day at sunrise, the rose is an emblem of renewal, resurrection and eternal life, which is why the Celts, Egyptians and Romans used them as funeral offerings. [2] [3] [4]

I’m still left with an abundance of blossoms. I take down two clean glass jars from my cupboard and pack both of them with the scented petals I carefully pull from the stems. One jar I top up with white vinegar and set it on the sunny kitchen windowsill. I will leave it there for two weeks before straining the liquid into a clean jar. My resulting rose vinegar can be used as a delicate salad dressing, as an antiseptic wash for wiping down my kitchen surfaces, or dabbed onto my forehead to relieve headaches.  The second jar of rose petals I fill up with one part distilled water to three parts vodka.  I label it and put it in a cool, dark place in my pantry where it will stay for three weeks. When it is ready, I will strain the liquid into a clean jar, and lo and behold, I have made my own rose hydrosol.  I use it just as it is as a skin toner, but I could chill it to make a compress for puffy eyes, or use it as a final conditioning rinse for my hair. Next month I will incorporate some into skin lotions and creams.

The gorgeous fresh petals I have left could be baked into cakes and cookies, made into a delicate jam or a wine for next year’s Midsummer solstice, or crystallised for cake decorations.  Tonight I will drop some petals into my bath to make a relaxing soak after a hard day in the garden, and before I go to bed I will put a handful into the teapot and infuse them in boiling water to make a subtle, fragrant tea, which is mildly sedative and good for tension headaches.

I spread out more petals on a tray and put them to dry in the airing cupboard. These dried petals are not only good for rose tea later in the year and the usual potpourri, but can be employed in magical talismans, charm bags and incense –  red for love, yellow for Midsummer, renewal and the sun, and white for moon rituals. So many virtues in just one plant, and I’ve only scratched the surface of what the rose has to offer. Each day, Mother Nature has a different gift for me.

[1] Jennifer Peace Rhind, Fragrance & Wellbeing: Plant Aromatics and Their Influence on the Psyche, Singing Dragon, London, 2013
[2] Miranda Green, Gods of the Celts, Sutton Publishing Ltd, Stroud, 1986
[3] Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, The Ultimate Guide to Roses, Macmillan, London, 2004
[4] Laurie Brink and Deborah Green, Commemorating the Dead: Texts and Artifacts in Context. Studies of Roman, Jewish and Christian Burials, de Gruyter, Berlin, 2008