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.

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

 

Making Cold Infused Oils

Fats and oils extract the oily and resinous properties of a herb, and these are often the antibacterial, antifungal and wound-healing components we really want.

Choose your leaves or flowers. Don’t wash them before use – not only will this destroy some of their delicate oils, but as soon as you introduce water into the mixture, you are setting it up to develop mould. (One of my friends was complaining that his nettle oil had an unpleasant odour, which it really shouldn’t, nettle has a fresh, rather lovely scent as an oil. I discovered that he had been rinsing the herbs before packing them in the jar.) To avoid this, make sure you pick your herbs on a dry, sunny day, and pick them from an unpolluted location

To make your cold infused oil, take your fresh herbs, cut them up, pack them tightly into  a glass jar, and cover with vegetable oil (olive, sunflower etc.). Leave on a sunny windowsill for 2 weeks, shaking daily. Strain into a clean, dry jar, label and keep in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Infused herbal oils may be used as they are or thickened into salves with beeswax. Unlike essential oils, they do not need to be diluted for use.

Primrose – the Fairy Flower

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

They are very much associated with the currents of lusty fertility that surround Beltane. Shakespeare wrote about the “the primrose path of dalliance”, in Hamlet, and to present a woman with a bunch of primroses, was to comment on her morals!

This time of year I always make infused primrose oil to use in skin care products, as they are great for mature and dry skin. Not many people realise they both the leaves and flowers are edible, and make a pretty addition to salads. I also like to crystallise the flowers to use for pretty cake decorations.

A cup of tea, make from the leaves or flowers is a mild painkiller, and can help a headache.

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