SUMMER GODDESS RITUAL

At this difficult time, we might feel that life is passing us by as we are unable to connect with the people and places we love. This is a ritual that employs the gifts of the season to help us remember that life goes on, and that we are always connected to the Gods and to the Earth.

Solitary hawthorns growing on hills or near wells were considered to be markers to the world of the fairies. Any human who slept beneath one, especially on May Eve, was in danger of being taken away to the land of the Sidhe.  Hawthorn is so potently magical that it is forbidden to bring it indoors except at Beltane. The flowering of the hawthorn marked the opening of the summer season, the time when people could get out and about, and when young men and women could meet up. May was often considered the month of courtship and love. For this reason, and the fact that the scent hawthorn blossom is supposedly redolent of sex, the hawthorn is associated with love-making. In ancient Greece the wood was used for the marriage torch, and girls wore hawthorn crowns at weddings.

However, while in some circumstances it was considered to be a tree of love, like other fairy and magical trees, it was very unlucky to bring it indoors: Hawthorn bloom and elder-flowers/ Will fill a house with evil powers.

For this ritual, prepare an infusion of hawthorn blossoms by putting ½ oz. of blossoms in a pot and pouring over 1 pint of boiling water. Infuse for 10 minutes and strain into a cup. Hawthorn is wound about with the mysteries of the Goddess and should be treated with great care. For women, contact with the sexual side of the Goddess and themselves, hawthorn tea may be employed. It may be used by men to gain deeper understanding of this aspect of the Goddess and their female partners.

Go outside (if possible) to your garden or wild place early in the morning, beneath a hawthorn tree, if possible, and inhale its scent.  Set up a stone for an altar. If you can’t go outside, decorate your altar with seasonal wild flowers. Put the infusion in your cup on the altar and light two green candles.

Goddess, Lady, White Queen

I come to you in the soft warmth of May

Beneath boughs jewelled with flowers

Your perfume loads the air

With the scent of love and magic


Take up the cup of hawthorn blossom tea, saying:

I bless this cup and ask that as I drink of it I may learn more of the wisdom of the Goddess who is manifest within me. I ask that I may learn more of her ancient ways and feel her love for all creation as my own.

When you are ready drink from the cup and feel the sacred flower spirit of the Summer Goddess contact your spirit within and become one with you. Gaze at the the wild flowers and feel the earth blossoming and growing around you. Feel your spirit grow and blossom within you and become one with the current of the year, the manifest love of the Summer Goddess.

Pour the remaining liquid onto the earth as an offering to the Earth Goddess, saying

 White Queen, I thank you for being with me this day and ask that I may recognise that you are within me, as I dwell within you. Let me feel your presence in all things, visible and invisible. Let blessing be.

© Anna Franklin, from the forthcoming Hearth Witch’s Year, Llewellyn, 2021

 

My old fashioned herbs #3 Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata)

This beautiful old herb, sometimes called British Myrrh, pops up all over my garden, self seeding everywhere with its soft, ferny leaves and frothy blossoms. It is rich in nectar and attracts many bees and other beneficial insects.

The generic name Myrrhis is from a Greek word meaning ‘smelling of myrrh’. The specific name odorata comes from the Latin odorus which means ‘fragrant’ and is a reference to the sweet scent of the plant. The plant is easy to dry and retains its lovely aroma even when dried. The flowers and leaves can be dried and added to incense to evoke joy and happiness.

Sweet cicely was used to scent furniture polish in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. You can make some yourself by hot macerating the seeds with beeswax to make a polish for wands and other wooden tools, furniture and floors. An even simpler polish can also be made by pounding the fresh seeds and rubbing the juice into wooden furniture.

Sweet cicely is thought to have been introduced into Britain by the early monks as a herbal remedy declared “so harmless you can not use it amiss”. It was thought to be particularly good for any elderly people who were “dull and without courage it rejoiceth and comforteth the hart and increases their lust and strength”. The root infused in brandy was considered an excellent tonic for this, but a decoction of the root (the root simmered in water) is also useful for indigestion and coughs.

The aniseed scented and flavoured seed pods, leaves, flowers and root of this plant can all be harvested and eaten and it was a popular cooking ingredient on the continent. You can cook the leaves like spinach, or add fresh leaves to salads, soups or omelettes. The stalks can be used much like celery, while the roots can be boiled or eaten raw. Sweet Cicely was used to sweeten food and drink before sugar came to the British Isles – it is a  healthy, practically zero-calorie replacement for sugar. The leaves and stems can be added to cooking rhubarb, or try adding them to a bowl of hot plums. The leaves and flowers make a refreshing tea that aids the digestion. The unripened seeds can be collected when still green and nibbled as an aniseed-tasting snack. Unripe seeds can be pickled or dried. Like its relatives anise, fennel and caraway, it can also be used to flavour aquavit, a Scandinavian spirit distilled with herbs and spices.

© Anna Franklin, 20.5.20

 

 

English Mace

English Mace (Achillea ageratum) is another old fashioned herb I grow and use. It shouldn’t be confused with the spice called mace, which is the outer husk of the nutmeg. This plant is a member of the yarrow family, and bears frothy white flowers.

It was a popular herb in the Middle Ages, when it was used as a sweetly scented strewing herb, scattered around the floor to freshen the air and repel lice and moths.  It is rather lovely dried and added to potpourris or added to dried flower arrangements. It was used in Mediaeval times to make ‘sweete washing water’, steeped in boiling water and strained off to make a scented water for washing the hands, especially at the table, when diners ate with their hands, rather than a knife and fork.

The leaves can be used (very sparingly as they have a strong flavour) in soups and stews, stuffings, rice dishes, or fresh in potato salads.

English Mace and Potato Salad

Chop up cooked new potatoes and spring onions and mix together. Combine mayo with finely chopped English Mace and use it to dress the potatoes.

© Anna Franklin

Mai Bowl

This really is the birds’ month. Bird activity is intense in May, and they seem to sing all day and most of the night. There are more insects flying in the warmth too, with bees and butterflies on my herbs.

There is blossom on my apple and pear trees, and the vegetable garden needs more time now, and is producing a greater choice of fresh foods with spring cabbage, rhubarb, early lettuce, spring onions, radishes and even early new potatoes. We can still get frosts in May, and the weather is still changeable; it can be warm and sunny or cold and wet. I won’t be putting any tender plants until June, but I’m sowing more lettuce, radish, parsley, basil and peas directly into the ground, so that I can crop throughout the summer. In the greenhouse I’m sowing annual flowers and herbaceous perennials, marrows, courgettes (zucchini), autumn cauliflower, calabrese and kohl rabi.

The herb garden is keeping me busy too. I collect the early fresh green growth of comfrey (Symphytum officinale), to make salves to heal cuts and small wounds, sprains and arthritic joints.  I also collect the leaves of the common mallow (Malva sylvestris), a soothing plant with a high mucilage content, which is useful for stomach ulcers and dry coughs, in the form of a tea, or to use as a poultice to reduce inflammations such as insect bites and boils. The fresh young leaves even make a lovely addition to a salad. The woodruff (Galium odoratum /Asperula odorata) is coming up everywhere, and I pick the flowers to make a May-time drink called May Bowl. The sweetly scented leaves can be dried, or pressed between the pages of a book, to scent drawers and linen cupboards.

Mai Bowl

12 sprigs young sweet woodruff, chopped
5 oz. (1 ¼ cups/ 140 g) powdered sugar (icing sugar)
2 bottles dry white wine
2 pints sparkling wine

Chopped strawberries

Place in all the ingredients except the sparkling wine and strawberries in a bowl. Cover for 30 minutes. Remove the herbs. Add the sparkling wine and strawberries. NB: Avoid woodruff if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Rose and Pomegranate Cream

I’ve been running out of night cream, so I knocked up some rose and pomegranate cream.

It is based on rosewater, which has anti-inflammatory properties, jojoba carrier oil as it is excellent moisturiser for all skin types, pomegranate carrier oil which works to deeply penetrate the skin to soothe and reduce inflammation and prevent free radical damage, as well as tightening and bringing a glow to the skin.

Because this cream has no fresh plant material, providing that you have sterilised all your equipment it should keep well for months.

5 fl. oz rosewater (rose hydrosol)

2 fl. oz. jojoba oil

1 fl. oz. pomegranate oil

2 tbsp. shea butter

½ oz. beeswax, grated or emulsifying wax

Few drops rose essential oil (optional)

A cream or lotion is basically a mixture of water and oil. As we all know from school, oil and water don’t mix, so they will need another agent to bind them together, and this is called an emulsifier. I generally use beeswax, but there are other options. You can make a basic cream just from vegetable oil, water and emulsifying wax.

In a double boiler combine the oils and wax and heat gently until they melt. Allow to cool a little without setting. Warm the rosewater slightly (do not boil!) until the two liquids are the same temperature.

Add the rosewater to the oil and wax mixture, whisking constantly as the mixture cools and thickens. Spoon into sterilised jars.

THE HEARTH WITCH’S RITUAL YEAR – BEYOND THE EIGHT SABBATS

COMING JANUARY 2021

My year as a Hearth Witch is a cycle – the balmy days of spring, when life returns, and I begin work on the garden and go out to collect nature’s first wild gifts. The full days of summer when I am busy weeding and hoeing, collecting and preparing herbs and remedies to see me through the year. Then comes the abundant bounty of autumn, when the hedgerows are full of wild fruit and nuts, when all the work on the vegetable plot pays off, and I get busy preserving it, freezing and canning, making jams and wines. Finally come the frozen days of winter, when I cleave to my hearth fire and turn my attention to indoor activities. Then the year begins anew, and the whole cycle starts again, never the same twice, but a continuing cycle nonetheless. The magical and spiritual rituals I celebrate throughout the year reflect this cycle.

The natural cycle of the year is the basis of the Eight Sabbats observed in modern Paganism – the first stirrings of spring at Imbolc, the gaining of the light after Ostara, the flowering of the earth at Beltane, the zenith of the sun at Midsummer, the first fruits at Lughnasa, the completion of the harvest at the autumn equinox as the light begins to decline, the death tide of Samhain with the coming of winter, and the rekindling of the year at Yule, as the sun is reborn.

However, for our ancestors, the cycle of the year was much more personal, since most of them worked on the land and depended on it for survival. They were acutely aware of the tides of energy flowing into then out of the world, energy both spiritual and physical, and instead of trying to dominate these tides, worked with them, marking them with a myriad of feasts and festivals, myths and folklore. All these together give us half-blind modern Pagans, with all our distractions, cushioned by central heating and a constant supply of food from the shops, places to start to make our own profound connections.

The Greeks and Romans left us a wealth of written material documenting their beliefs and religious practices, but the Pagan Celts left us nothing – all we know of them comes from much later Christian chroniclers, who failed to record any earlier Pagan ritual practices. However, when the Christian church stamped out Paganism throughout northern Europe, the old festivals proved difficult or even impossible to get rid of, and they were forced to incorporate them into the liturgical calendar, but appropriated to various saints’ days. Some of the old Pagan gods were even turned into Christian saints to make the transition easier. We can also look at the folklore customs of the year, which may stem from earlier Pagan practices in some instances, though this is debateable, but which were certainly practiced by people intimately concerned with the cycles of nature. These things taken together give us an insight into the year that goes beyond the Eight Sabbats.

But while we can look to the past, we must also recognise that we work here and now, and that cycles change. When the dinosaurs walked the earth, the planet was on the other side of the galaxy. In the Bronze Age, the solstices and equinoxes fell in different constellations to where they fall now. The hawthorn no longer blossoms at Beltane, because eleven days were dropped from the calendar in 1752, meaning that the cycle shifted on.  Climate change brings larger swings still.

The spiritual lessons of the Gods are always there, if only we have the ability to look and see. Though we thirst for this knowledge, we can die of thirst beside its fountain without being aware of its presence. The pattern of the year tells us that there are times when it is easier to access – when there is a confluence of the season, the pattern of the stars, the time, the place, the preparation of ourselves and myriad other cycles that overlap. Sometimes only a few of those things converge, and we get a partial connection, or at another time different things converge, and we get something else again. And then there are the times when everything aligns and we experience a profound and life changing gnosis. So we watch for the signs and signals – the pattern of the year, the currents and moods of Mother Nature, the places we work, the synchronicities that give us clues as to our direction: the clews that take us through the labyrinth. These opportunities are always flowing, always changing. The cycles that converge at one Samhain will never be repeated again – ever. Every year will be different. We can only try to discern the patterns, the myriad cycles, large and small, and find the intersecting points, where we can stand, and drink from the fountain of spiritual wisdom.

I’ve written in this book about how the year and the patterns of Nature influences me,  and how I sometimes take inspiration from ancient practices, but putting them in the context of my own time and place (I’ve had to leave a lot out or the book would extend to several volumes). Where you work is different, and if you are on a different continent, or in the southern hemisphere, it will be very different. The message of this book is to go out and understand the natural cycles where you live, and respond to them, rather than imposing something that doesn’t fit.

According to our coven bard, Dave the Flute, witchcraft is like making good tea. If you follow the way of the Abrahamic Regions of the Book – referential, scripture based – you are told what to believe and the actions you must take to be successful. Take mug, put in tea bag, pour on boiling water, take teabag out, add milk and serve. In may be quite a foul cup of tea and you might have preferred some sugar, but you have done as you were told. But a witch would also prod the bag to see what it was doing, note the colour of the tea as it got stronger and compare with past experience of tea making, giving it a taste to try see how it was doing, and end up with an ace cup of tea. The witchcraft method is experiential, personal and non-scripted. It is the path untrodden – revelation through your own effort.

© Anna Franklin, from the forthcoming Hearth Witch’s Ritual Year, Llewellyn, 2021

 

 

 

 

Elecampane Tincture & Electuary

I’ve had to move a big clump of elecampane, so I’m taking the opportunity to make some tincture from the roots, though I would usually have waited until the autumn to harvest them.

Elecampane (Inula helenium) is a plant with bright yellow flowers and big leaves, which can grow more than six feet tall, but despite this showy top growth, it is the roots that are used medicinally. They have a pungent, spicy flavour which is not to everyone’s taste though.

It is a plant which supports the respiratory system and is used as a herbal decongestant. It is also a strong antiseptic and bactericide, and was traditionally used to expel internal parasites.

According to Gerard it took the name Helenium from Helena of Troy, who had her hands full of it when Paris stole her away into Phrygia. Another legend states that it sprang from her tears.

Not only was its root much employed as a medicine, but it was also candied and eaten as a sweetmeat. Dr. Fernie tells us, in Herbal Simples: “Some fifty years ago, the candy was sold commonly in London as flat, round cakes being composed largely of sugar and coloured with cochineal. A piece was eaten each night and morning for asthmatical complaints, whilst it was customary when travelling by a river, to suck a bit of the root against poisonous exalations and bad air.”

Tincture

To make the tincture, the roots are washed and dried, and the outer pith is stripped away. They are then chopped and placed in a jam jar and covered with vodka (you could also use brandy). This is put in a dark place for a few weeks, shaken daily, before being strained off into dark dropper bottles.

Electuary

You can also make an electuary from the roots, by covering the dried roots with honey, and leaving for three or four weeks, before warming slightly and straining off the honey into a clean jar. Take a spoonful a couple of times a day if you have a cough or congestion, or pop a spoonful of it into another herbal tea.

NB: Do not take if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you are allergic to ragweed or other plants in the Asteraceae family (eg. chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies, feverfew, chamomile, Echinacea), if you are taking prescription medication for blood pressure. Treat with caution if you are diabetic. Do not take for two weeks before surgery or if you are taking any sedative medications.

© Anna Franklin, 2020

 

 

 

Lovage Soup

Lovage is an old fashioned herb, once very popular, though now few people know it. It has a strong, fresh celery-like flavour, and was used both in cooking and for making cordials and liqueurs which had the reputation of making a man more ardent in the bedroom department!

I had a lovely flush of fresh growth on my lovage plant in the herb garden, and found some potatoes in the veg patch that had escaped being dug up in the autumn. Lovage soup seemed the obvious choice. It is very simple to make:

Fry an onion for a few minutes, and add peeled cubed potatoes (I used the amount in the picture) and sauté for a couple of minutes more. Add a pint of vegetable stock, and half a pint or so of milk (soya is fine), salt and pepper and cook until the potatoes are soft. Add three or four good handfuls of chopped lovage leaves and liquidise. Serve and enjoy. If you have never had lovage before, it’s a taste sensation!

© Anna Franklin 2020

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.

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.