Archives for posts with tag: ancient

Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) is a native of the Appalacian mountains of North America yet it thrives in most lands it has been introduced to.

The tree was introduced to the UK in 1636 and can now be found hidden in plain sight in many parks, municipal borders and even deep in some semi natural ancient woodlands. In many woodlands it’s overlooked by all who do not look for it – slipping in to the subconscious as if simply a native Ash.

Given it’s name by Jesuit missionaries due to its likeness to its relative the Spanish Locust, otherwise known as the carob tree, the Black Locust is actually much more toxic.

A member of the pea family and also leguminous, this tree fixes it’s own nitrogen in the soil, suckers like mad and produces an abundance of seeds – added to the the vicious thorns it can grow if grazed or pruned and you end up with a formidable tree.

The tree bears straight-ish main trunks with often zig-zagged branches and deeply furrowed grey bark.

In many areas (including states within its home country) the Black Locust is considered to be incredibly invasive.

However, as with many invasives they are often very useful in other ways. In this case the wood is outstandingly longlasting in the soil, even if untreated.

The heart wood has such a high level of flavinoids in it that it can last in the soil for a century! That’s a long time for a fence to last!

There are few snippets of folklore associated with this tree – one of which suggests that under the Black Locust is where one should bury secrets. I wonder if this originally meant under the timber and not under the tree – after all, a body or item buried under a century lasting fence post wouldn’t be discovered for a long time! No one would have need to disturb it…

The grain is often straight in the upright trunks and although fresh wood has an unpleasant and bitter odour (like if excessive tannins in bad red wine were a smell). This scent fades as it’s aged. These qualities are leading many furniture merchants to consider this wood instead of rare tropical imports – easier on the planet and the pocket.

That straight grain, dense wood and readiness to coppice also makes this tree an ideal firewood – even one that will burn while still green.

Like many trees which are relatives of the pea and bean, many of their parts will kill you if you eat them.

In this case almost all of the plant is toxic – when eaten by horses it requires immediate veterinary treatment and causes depression, cardiac arrhythmia, colic and incontinence…. I wouldn’t recommend you find out what it does to a human… unless you have a salad loving enemy.

There is, however, one part of the plant traditionally eaten – the freshly opened flowers.

These are beautiful and have a mint/citrus / bleach kind of smell and are picked and separated from all green bits apart from the small flower stalk before being eaten.

These flowers are also the primary source of ‘acacia honey’ in France (despite it’s scientific name outing it as a ‘false acacia’). The varying presence of the quantity of flowers annually means that only around one in five years gives a good honey crop.

There are some reports that the seeds are also edible. … but I find more reports that they are rather toxic…. so use caution if trying.

The flowers are only available for a little over a week each May/June are either eaten raw or fried in batter – see recipe below. This is seasonal eating at its finest.

Black Locust Flower Fritters

– Pick only the freshly opened flowers and take all green parts off other than the small stalks that attach to the flowers.

– mix a thick sweet batter – flour, water ( or milk), sugar and an optional egg, plus a little nutmeg or similar if you like.

– pour the batter on the flowers and stir in well until they are covered.

– Place spoonfuls of the mixture in to hot oil and cook until browned on both sides (a minute or two per side).

– Lift out with a slotted spoon and set to drain excess oil on a towel or paper.

– Dust with sugar and eat…. say ‘nom nom nom.’

– Congratulate yourself for not eating the toxic bits before panicking that you left too much stalk on and maybe you did eat the toxic bits….

– Enjoy a second time if you picked the right bits 🙂

Those daring enough to try should remember that they are eating flowers and thus preventing seeds of an invasive species forming as well as eating a food known to Native Americans for centuries but thousands of miles apart.

I hope you are all daring enough – go on…. be adventurous.

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In May of 2016 I was fortunate enough to visit the Republic of Ireland with my partner at the time. I’ve yet to write up much of what was seen in that trip and I’m starting to get a bit of a back log!

I’ve previously written about Gurteen stone circle and the lone Gurteen Menhir that stands in a near by field.  Today’s post will be a quick one to detail a trip to An Cathair Cubh Deargh in County Kerry. (See location here)

Locally known as ‘The City’ this ruined site sits 7ooft above sea level and in the foothills of The Two Paps mountains. The Two Paps are also known as the Paps of Danu and their name is thought to be a reference to an ancient Irish Goddess, Danu (or Danann or Anu or Dana) who leaves little lore behind her. Yet who may well be a form of an even more ancient water Goddess connected to the River Danube.
In this case though, she is often thought of as one of the mothers of the Tuatha De Dannan which means ‘The Tribe Of the Gods Of Danu’. In Irish lore Danu is the mother of the majority of the Irish Gods, but is herself, the daughter of the good and mighty God Dagda.

These hills are rich in cairns and possible tombs and some can even be seen atop the mountains; appearing to be the nipple on the breast.

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The setting was not, however, the reason for paying a visit to the site. The City was thought to be the first place to be settled in Ireland and has seen thousands years of continuous worship held upon it’s soils!  Which makes it an amazing place for cultural heritage in the West. It’s a wonder to think of all of the ways in which that worship alone has changed.

However, the site has nought but a few notice boards and is accessed by a steep and country track like road in the middle of a cluster of farm like buildings. On approach, we thought we must’ve taken a wrong turn and so i nipped out of the car to, unintentionally, loom over a small and geriatric Irish man in order to ask for directions. At first glance the site would appear to be a ruined barn, or outbuildings, if one wasn’t looking for it.

Those notice boards are crammed with information though, and on them it can be seen that An Cathair Cubh Dearg translates to ‘The fort of the red claw’. The Red Claw is thought to refer to a war Goddess of ancient times and might even link in to a past far more ancient than can be easily told.

In ancient times, An Cathair Cubh Dearg was surrounded by a wall of mounded stones, over three metres tall and four metres wide. Some of this is visible today and the site has a clean but holy sensation to it’s air.

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The site has a central well spring, stabilised in concrete in more modern times and with cups laying around the area for any to use. The water tastes beautiful, in case you are wondering, although the relatively close proximity of cowpats did give me cause to pause for a moment.

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In fact, it’s absolutely wonderful to see that this hidden site is so well used. There are rosary beads and clootie ribbons around the place and deep grooves in the shape of  crosses that have been worn in by the rubbing of a stone from worshipful folk over the years.

In ancient times, Danu and other goddesses were doubtless worshiped on this site. It’s even been postulated that the site has developed several times – with the first incarnation being that of a sacred Neolithic mound.  Over time the site has been developed and enhanced by the artifice of clever hands and the Virgin Mary now holds court in The Fort Of The Red Claw, as testified to by a brightly coloured statue.

One of the notice boards tells of the the festival of Beltane, in which fires were burned and offerings made to the Gods to seek fertility and good luck. A festival which now would seem to be overtaken by the May Day Rounds.

The May Day Rounds, however, include such things as walking around the outside of the fort thrice and more within it – something that some practitioners of modern day witchery might recognise; certainly those who have looked in to the christianised forms of traditional witchcraft should see some parallels in how it’s done. Despite the number three being held sacred by the Christian faith, I can’t help but be titillated by the idea that the Rounds could be mirroring a pagan practice, even if only in where the feet of worshipers tread at the time of Beltane.

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I’m currently in the midst of preparing a big Samhain post and hopefully a podcast with it… but I’m also in the midst of doing a great many other things too!

The weekend just gone saw me in Shropshire, working on my parent’s new place, a stone cottage/house near the LLanclys crossroads, and helping them to move in.
For the past half a year they’ve been renting a place called The Lodge, some ten or fifteen miles away but still rural.

The Lodge sits on the periphery of a large estate and the building itself has a charm… though, with the low doorways, it’s a charm that can be steadily  knocked out of a tall person like me.

As nice as the house is, that’s not what has inspired my post today – you see, not more than a hundred metres away from the property edge you find yourself approaching the shade cast by two huge sweet chestnut trees.

Unusually for many, these trees are absolutely covered in fruit; nuts encased in coats of thin and numerous spines – like a tree’s impression of a hedgehog, but without the soft underbelly!
Luckily, the green spiny cases often split as the ripe clusters fall to the ground, dispersing their precious cargo of shiny, beautifully coloured seeds.

In many places, sweet chestnuts grow more as a multi-stemmed tree rather than the behemoths in front of me, but often the multiple stems are the results of coppicing and human interference.

Most sweet chestnuts wear what appears to be a good crop… but often is just the seed cases filled with hollow, slim nuts, the fattest being small by comparison to shop bought ones; often imported from warmer climes.
Indeed the sweet chestnut favours a more Mediterranean climate for good nut production but excels at producing wood that has a plethora of uses in our wetter lands.

I was aware that, historically, some communities in Italy would use chestnuts as a staple food , almost in place of grain, but I’d never had the pleasure of seeing a tree that made me believe that it was possible in the  UK until, looking up in to the branches of these sweet chestnut that were almost dribbling fruit down their boles, I was awe struck.

With little effort and with around half a rotation of the trees I had filled a plastic bag to the brim – easily six or seven kilograms had been picked with ease.  I had been fussy too; leaving the smaller nuts. I also left those even slightly touched by the few squirrels that had scarpered off as I approached. If all had been gathered from the floor around the trees there would have been easily thirty kilograms of nuts to eat.
Speaking to my parents it would seem  that the ease of gathering had been the same for the last few weeks and the trees were still covered with nuts that were yet to fall.
The squirrels would feed well this year!

With my bag of fat nuts in my arms I waddled off to place them in my car for later use.
I wondered if this was simply a mast year for the nuts – many trees have years where they produce a glut and then barely reproduce at all the following few years while they recover from the effort spent. A survival strategy whereby, by the grace of numbers,  not every seed can be eaten before it takes root. Only a few more years of observing would tell me.

As a reward for producing so many nuts I promised the tree that I would sow a load of these tasty seeds – and then give away and plant them out once germinated at one or more of my tree talks in the coming year. In this way, I would be giving back to the tree, ensuring it’s genetic future by spreading it’s seeds far and wide. It’s a bargain always worth making with a tree or fruiting plant. After all, if a tree can grow so well on the rainy, cold Welsh border, I’m sure it could fruit well up in Wigan or even Blackpool… though I might need to wait forty years for a full crop.

A part of me wonders if this was a similar process of bargaining to that which our ancient Ancestors might have used to begin humanity’s foray in to the world of horticulture. If you plant the best nuts from the best tree, or the seeds from the sweetest apples, then not only do you and your descendants benefit, but that individual tree could even come in to a greater prevalence by virtue of it’s  offspring. If we sacrifice a little of our harvest to honour a gifted yield, perhaps we magnify it also?
And maybe that explains our predilection for sacrifice and bargaining?
Maybe the tree, knowing that it has an ally, will continue to fruit well, nay, be encouraged to fruit even better.

So, this morning saw me cutting and peeling hundred of nuts  (barely a third of the bag!) and placing them in to a dehydrator. Dried they will keep for years and can be added to soups, stews, broth or even  ground up as flour…. but left as they are, they loose their capacity to germinate within a few weeks – almost as soon as the initial shine is gone from their shells even! Then, those not lucky enough not be destined to be sown will start to turn to mold slowly but surely.

As I go through the bag I’ll select the biggest and best nuts and put them to one side to be sown in the very near future – my sacrifice or my bargain held to.

As for the others, I’ll spend hours preserving another batch and the rest are in a fridge draw, cool and safe… until I slice in to the top of them to prevent them exploding when I place them in a crock pot and slowly roast them atop the wood burning stove.

And there’s little to top that sweet, stodgy, soft and moist nutty flesh when you pop it in you mouth still warm from the fire.

So…. I encourage you all – strike bargains, plant seeds and help spread abundance in to the world…. and then eat the rest of the unborn children of the trees… nom… nom….nom.

A good friend  of  mine,  Brian, and myself took a day away from the grindstone  yesterday to head up to the sandy beach of Formby.

We were joining a party of folk all interested  in seeing the prehistoric  footprints  trapped and eroding layer by layer in the eluvial layers of estuarine mud.

It would appear that the beach at Formby is vanishing;  the  wind  and tide stripping almost ten metres from  the  edge each year.

Although Formby  is well known for the dunes and  pine forests which  house a delightful  cluster of red squirrels,  it wasn’t  always so.

Jamie, our National Trust guide explained that the melt water of the most recent  ice age dragged sediment and sand  out to sea and effectively  goes a sand bank, enlarging  the coastline  some four or five kilometres  further out than it is today. This  sand bank in turn trapped both water and debris until in time a mosaic of habitats had formed. 

Habitats  such as both salt and fresh water lagoons, wet forests,  grass lands, salt marsh and scrub; ideal for a large array of animals and as hunting and gathering  grounds for ancient  humans some between  four and six thousand years ago.

Due to the nature of the place it was regularly  covered with flood brought layers of mud. This mud captured imprints in it and baked in the sun before a dusting of wind brought sand covered it over…. and then a new layer of mud arrived and so on.

As the sea encroaches upon the land the dunes are forced to retreat …. as they do they are uncovering many footprint storing layers of mud. The sea in turn is slowly wearing theses away – a dynamic landscape  revealing ancient  track ways.

On our visit the tide had left a lot more sand covering  the mud layers  than was ideal…. but we still saw a good number of species preserved – gilded in the imagination  due to the heavy mud.

Contained in the mud could  be seen the foot print of a juvenile auroch; a now extinct species of wild cow which would dwarf even a large modern  bull by thrice the bulk. 

Note the squared shape, the splayed  toes and the rear imprint  of the redundant  bovine toes.

These incredibly  heavy and strong  animals are well known as powerful, ill tempered brutes to those who read legends of European  origin.

Two species  of deer were also traced – roe deer (above) and large red deer (below) – it seems that the red deer of old were bigger than our current  moor land loving beasts.

Add to this the ancient  foot prints of millenia old oyster catchers, amongst the eliptical burrow marks of molluscs from the 1700s (below) and we had quite a lot of finds.

Yet for many this obvious trail of tracks which show evidence  of our own kind was the most fascinating.

Thousands  of years ago people with a significantly different  culture and world view to us walked in what was a significantly  different  landscape than the one we were seeing…. but for all the difference,  they were still human – still us.

These layers of estuarine  mud go down around six metres and may have many more treasures  to share  as they wear away.

Full red deers skulls replete antlers have been found buried in this mud and there must be more.I know I’ll  be  keeping  an eye out.

The retreating dunes have also begun to unearth more modern finds… the remnants  of an old caravan  park.

A caravan  park which, with every tide, disgorges chunks of concrete and bitumen and bricks.

Further up the coastline is a thick layer of compressed  and shredded tobacco  waste from a the Victorian era. 

Seemingly dumped and shredded stems; abandoned  after the nicotine  had been extracted for the pesticide  industry. It now looks like rock… but is soft enough  to break apart and crumb up by hand.

Yet still potent enough  to leave your hands stinking  like stale tobacco.

However,  going back to that caravan park debris. Some of it became a temporary  stone circle of  alternating monoliths  and stone stacks.

All in under twenty  minutes, yet unlike to last the evening  tide.

It was a mixture  of play time and of mystery – the query from a couple out walking  along the beach as the light dimmed was enough  to know that a little  enchantment  had been spread in to the world. … and all from bits of concrete foundations  and tarmacadamed road.

And… as big kids do…. we couldn’t  resist the urge to make ourselves feel like giants 🙂 

(Brian below… myself at the bottom)

 

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I’ve found myself building more and more stone stack shrines these last few months, and some of that could be a reflection of what’s going on in my own life. Yet, I suspect that a lot of it is due to the fact that I’m being called to build them by the Spirits of the places I visit.

I cannot recall a time before which I enjoyed making simple things by hand. Don’t get me wrong, I found wood work and any ‘technology’ class other than cooking to be incredibly dull and frustrating – at no point have I ever wanted to make something according to a curriculum not of my choosing.
The sea of inspiration smacks hard against the wall of  a curriculum without room for creativity… and like a fish leaping from the sea to find itself hurtling wetly towards a wall, the otherwise inspired suffer much from it.

There’s a simple beauty to be found when a rock or  log or similar can be stacked or worked with to create a change in the landscape that engenders a recognition that there is something other than the self in a site when stumbled upon by another. An echo of what is and what was, possibly moments before, possibly centuries.

Stone stacks are found all over the world and in varying sizes and shapes – I claim no artistry here, as I have seen some stone balancers who truly have made it in to an art form. The ones made by my hands will never win awards, but they echo the voices of the places they are found – rough, unshod and if not wary then belligerent.
My little shrines are a mixture of the ephemeral and almost permanent – they both have their value.

In the woods, I sometime stack sticks from a fallen tree, in the form of a stepped pyramid, grids of sticks lined up  to form a pyramid, but that’s rare as I’d hate for them to become an invitation to light a pyre for local pyromaniac youths. More often in the woods, I slide feathers in to cracks in bark. Done at eye height; a deliberate change. A recognition of the tree and the bird; designed to be seen.

I have in the past also made witch’s ladders from bones and compostable twine (or cordage), and hung these from branches in trees.
With the coming of the winds, the bones sing an odd and jaunty rattle as if glad to be granted movement again. While the feathers flutter until they are knocked aloft, flying once again; even if momentarily.

Yet, more recently I’ve been called to make more and more of these little stone stacks out in the middle of seemingly nowhere – the desolate moor, the cliff top, the stream bed, the beach at dawn. Or, as in the pictures above, on a recent Circle of Pagans Trip to Anglesey, in a cove just beneath Barclodiad-y-Gawres Burial Chamber as part of a mini ceremony of gratitude to Mon.

It’s a compulsion almost, my hands tingle, the Spirits of the place seem to add a gloss to exactly the right rocks to use and whisper… and so the back pack is dropped and some time is spent  making these structures; with me seemingly at play.

So I thought I’d share a few from a recent visit to the Isle of Man and my time on Anglezarke moor – both places where Mannanan’s presence is strongly felt, both landscapes that seem open but that hide a lot… but Mannanan is a topic for another blog post or two.

The majority of stone stacks will survive for a long time if in a sheltered spot. Some can be made in to pretty permanent things, but often the top third or so falls off with a strong wind or when a passing animal uses it as a scratching post.

Using big stones in a big and barren landscape was an Inuit tradition. It can be awfully lonely out on the tundra and the iced up sea when out hunting, fishing or walking.
To combat the loneliness, they would build big stone stacks on the shore line, enough that they could be seen by passing boats and to act as a reminder that you aren’t alone, nor are you lost. Others have been this way before you and will come this way again.
In many cases it would be remembered who had built which stack and so, as they were seen, you’d remember a family member or a friend.

 

Many of the small ones pictured, will be little more than one stone tall now. They are built in exposed areas. It pleases me in someways to know that I’ve given the Wind something to play with.

For me, making these isn’t about achieving any form of immortality, nor is it to be remembered in the short term. They’re made by going with the flow of inspiration received while out in these places. They are made to recognise the dynamism of the spirit there; and as such they should be changeable, movable and yet still obvious while they exist.

Some however are built in such a way as to give others a tingle as they come around a corner in to a landscape speckled with stone stacks shrines, they know about it. There’s an eeriness in the air and a giddy energy – the Spirits of the Place and Time are recognised even by the non-magical traveler.

 

It’s rare for me to aim for permanence, but sometimes that’s what’s called for. In the pictures below you can see a stone stack on Anglezarke moor, made in a place of exposed stones, where I’m pretty sure they’re from a a naturally exposed ridge rather than a settlement footprint. Either way the spot blasts out potency and I made a simple stack on my first time  visiting.
A couple of weeks later I was in the area again and checked on how the stack was doing, it had lost the top third or so of it’s stones in the windy weather. As I began to rebuild it inspiration came in that led me to make it more resilient and more likely to survive for a long time… it’s now a little over a metre tall and about 60cm across at the widest point. It’ll be checked up on and the Spirits greeted next time I’m up there.

 

Quite to the contrary though, it’s just as important to make things of fleeting presence – a sacrifice of energy and awareness.
As such, I often find myself creating seaside stone temples in miniature whenever I’m on a stony beach.

The images below show a small, not quite, stack shrine and a metre wide shrine, made on the beach. The stones were just south and east of the point of Ayre on the Isle of Man. Within ten minute the sea had rushed in to claim them, leaving no trace after a few waves had broken over it. Although it took quite a few more waves than anticipated to fell all of the stones.

The resistance of both of these little structures to the sea’s advances is oddly hope giving.

What we might expect to be washed away in mere moments, we find stands strong until almost fully submerged by rolling waves.

It’s long been said that there’s a  beauty in decay and as you watch the work you made to be eaten, slowly become other than it was – returned to it’s constituents, that beauty creeps in to the mind.
It’s almost as though the same beings that suggested you build it just here and with these exact rocks and in this pattern are also reminding you that the world is rife with impermanence. Showing that even the strongest of us will find peace from the ceaseless conflict of change, of becoming and unbecoming, if we surrender to that which makes us what we are in the here and now.  Or it will come if we wait it out for the greater whole of the world to subsume us again in it’s regenerative embrace.

There’s a power in accepting how vulnerable we are, how mortal we are, in the grand scheme of things. Whether you believe in reincarnation or otherwise, this life, this form, this self will never exist again in exactly the same way after we are gone.

The ephemeral nature of life and being means that every breath we share with others truly is a blessing – we gift ourselves to those we spend time with, as they do to us.
And so, from the apparent permanence of stone we can catch  a glimpse of our own mortality and smile, knowing we are truly gifted with the present moment… even if not all present moments are nice or pleasing.

Finally though, there’s another blessing that stone stack building can convey; enchantment.

By leaving a foot print free stone shrine on a beach, or in a landscape known for it’s magical properties, we can keep the world a little bit more magical for those who find it.
Like this one, done shortly after dawn on Ramsey beach, Isle of Man. It’d be hours before the sea came in and hours before the beach was filled with children… enough time for the wind to hide my footprints and for the mischief found both in myself and in the Spirit of that place to leave a little mystery and hopefully a little enchantment for those who found it.

And then, finally, if not kicked over, it’d become a sacrifice to the Sea God Mannan.
A sacrifice freely given and made of my time at play.

 

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In a previous blog post I mentioned  that I hold the role of ‘Ritualist’ for the Circle of Pagans moot.

This is a longstanding moot that serves Liverpool  and the surrounding area as well as any one else who might be passing through.

Part of my role is to create simple rituals for each of the eight spokes of the Neo-pagan wheel of the year. These are rituals that anyone can follow, regardless of how new they are to their pagan path or their ritual experience.

The rituals are based on Wiccan, Druid and Traditional Witchcraft ceremonies;  like most followed by Neopagans today.

They are rituals that can be used by sole practitioners or adapted to group use easily; feel free to tweak them until they suit you and yours.

Circle of Pagans aims to share knowledge and reach out to the wider community. Which is why I thought I’d post the rituals on my blog for others to see, adapt and use.

So here we go……..

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Mabon, Autumn Equinox ritual:

Thoughts:

– In today’s world, it can sometimes be a bit of a mystery a to why things are celebrated, but the equinoxes are some of the most self explanatory. An equinox happens twice a year, once in Spring (Vernal equinox) and once in Autumn. Mabon, as it’s come to be known is the Autumn equinox.
Equinox means ‘equal night’, this refers to the hours of daylight and darkness being equally matched. Either side of this day Summer and Winter can be said to be reigning.

–  The autumnal equinox usually falls on either the 21st or 22nd of September. To the casual observer it looks as though there is a period of around three days where the day and night are almost identical in length to each other, or at least it does here in the UK.

–  After the Autumnal equinox, the number of hours in darkness, will be greater than those in light each 24 hour period, until we hit the Spring equinox.

–  Recognising the changing tides of day and night, can be reason enough to make this a special day. Here, with the equinox, the summer officially ends and we step ever further in to the darkness.

–  Agriculturally and horticulturally speaking, this is the time of the second major harvest. The grain crops and hay crops would have been gathered in around the beginning of August (Lammas) and now the plants in the vegetable garden have started to run out of vigour. Yet, at the same time apples, pears, quince, medlar, late plums and grapes are suddenly showing up; swollen against the back drop of slowly changing leaves.

– Although, historically, many of these fruit would be picked over a long season between now and the start of November (Samhain), many would now be gathered and checked over. The best of the fruits would be stored in barrels or in the cool airy rafters of the lofts of cottages.
While the fruit that would not store so well, or indeed was grown especially for it, would be chopped and pressed and funneled in to barrels to make what is the second most holy drink in my opinion: cider.
(With mead being the first… arguably a place shared with a sensually good red wine or a smooth whiskey).

– Cider making was a communal activity and a magic all of it’s own. Cider vinegar was also made at this time to help preserve the last of the seasons vegetables as strong chutney or pickles.In more modern times, canning of vegetables and fruits would also have been common place.

–  Crops like plums may well have been dried, while quince and medlar would be picked and left to soften, or blet, as in begin to rot, in the case of the medlar, before being used.

–   All these foods are the flavour and nutrient givers to the carbohydrate crops of grain and potatoes and similar harvested back in August, with these prepared, stored and fermenting the prospect of Winter wouldn’t seem quite so bleak to people living a peasant  life.

–  Although the mists would be coming in more frequently and the dew wetting one’s feet in the morning, this time of year also marks a productive time in the hedge row, with rowan, hawthorn, elder and black berries ripe for picking. The obviously generous nature of the Land could not be missed.

–  In modern Druidry, the Autumn equinox is known as Alban Elfed – the light on the water. As the sun lowers to a point where it reflects strongly off the sea and sets in to the West, which is associated with autumn and the third quarter of the year, and , indeed our lives

–  September is often a time of seemingly confused weather as the heat of summer meets the wetness of Autumn; and although the midday can be too hot, the nights can be too cold for comfort. A balance on average, but spiked in experience.

–  Many call this festival Mabon, named after a Welsh deity. Mabon ap Modron appears to us in the tale of in the tale of Culhwch ac Olwen as man, who as a child was stolen from his mothers arms when he was three nights old and locked away in a castle dungeon for milennia. Culhwch, becomes infatuated with Olwen, the daughter of a giant, Ysbaddaden, neither of which he has met, after a he’s cursed for not wanting to marry his stepsister.  Families eh?
A battle ensues and Ysbaddaden is wounded before agreeing that Culhwch can marry Olwen if he performs a series of impossible tasks.
One of these tasks is to hunt down Twrch Trwyth , a giant boar. Twrch Trwyth can only be tracked by Drudwyn, a dog that can only be mastered, so prophecy says, by Mabon ap Modron… as such Culwch and crew head off to find him and in doing so end up speaking to the oldest animals in existence including a devious hawk, an ancient owl, a haggard old stag and a geriatric salmon.

It’s a tale worth reading.

–  The woodland floor is now starting to be come decked with fallen nuts – hazelnuts, acorn and beech mast. And as such, just like Twrch Trwyth, wild boar and pigs would have been moved in to the woodlands to fatten up ahead of the more brutal harvest found at Samhain in six weeks time.

–  The equinox is a time of balance and is a seasonal threshold – perhaps the first leaves are changing colour; shirking their pleasant greens for vibrant painted skins. Perhaps the seed heads of wild grasses have started to bow towards the ground in an aged shade of brown. Perhaps the wildlife is starting to prepare hibernation nests and perhaps hedgehogs and foxes are seen more  as they forage from nature’s bounty to put on weight enough to survive the winter.

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Mushrooms are every where… little ones like this don’t take up much room 😉

 

 

 

What to do?

Here are a few ideas for activities that you could do to recognise the time of Mabon, the Autumn Equinox:

–  Read the tale of Mabon ap Modron – there are a several versions and it’s worth reading a few so that the sense of the connection to the time of year sinks in.

–  Take a bag, some tubs or baskets and go on a mushroom foraging walk (trust an expert if you don’t trust yourself and always make sure they are safe to eat). Perhaps dry some mushrooms at home, to practice an ancestral skill.

–  Go on a berry and nut foraging walk, make some jam or chutney, or even fruit leather. taste the landscape as you go.
If you are feeling brave you could look up how to safely make yew berry tart. The pinky red flesh around the seeds is the only edible part of the yew tree and they taste somewhat like raspberries but with the texture of snot. Never eat the seed or leaves, bark or buds of the yew tree though… they are likely to kill you.

–  Even better, get up early and go walking in the dew found on grassy lands. Take time to appreciate spiders webs as they bear droplets of water, like flowing crystal gems.
Don’t forget to say hello to the large Orb spiders that weave webs that dominate the spaces between paths. These beautiful lady spiders with egg swollen abdomens, naturally painted in beautiful markings, could even lead you to looking in to Arianrhod as a goddess of weaving and spider like accuracy.

– Go out to a woodland or park near you and gather some acorns from under oak trees. Perhaps you would even like to plant some to further the next generation of oak trees. Plant them while still fresh and in a place they will grow well.

– Consider  going on  a shamanic  journey to  visit Mabon ap Modron, or the Guardian of Autumn, or one of the Ancient Animals mentioned in the tale. They can both often be found in the middle or lower worlds. Ask what lessons they have for you and what adventures they’d take if they were in your shoes. You don’t have to act these adventures out though if they are a bit much!

– Set up a circle or working site and invoke an appropriate deity of your choice, or your Ancestors, and speak with them about what you have harvested in your life over the past season or so and what you’d like to harvest in the coming months.

– Or simply go for a walk in to the woods, or meadows or park and see what changes the season has brought to the land near you.

– Have a go at making cider or elderberry wine and perhaps take a toast of a ready cider or mead to a liminal place, such as the beach or moorland and offer it as a libation to the Spirits there and of the time.

–  Collect the best coloured autumnal leaves as you find them and perhaps make a leaf mask to use for Samhain in due time.

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Berries of the Guelder Rose start to deepen to red

A brief solo ritual for you to practice.

Rituals are always better with meaning and purpose  that is more than just a recognition and a tugging of one’s  forelock to a deity or time of year.

These words are my own, but not necessarily the ones I frequently use. If you would like to,  please feel free to ad lib or replace with your own words.

Edit if you will, but please cite me as the author if you are sharing (Mark Buxton or this blog).

The circle cast used here is one aimed at connection rather than separation or safety, feel free to use a different one if you feel in need of a more secure space.

This circle is in a similar vein to the majority of Neopagan style circles and is losely based on both a Wiccan and Druid ceremony format.

The purpose of this circle is connection,  this allows for some vulnerability, but  please don’t use this if you are in a place  that creeps you out or feels ‘wrong’;  wait and work elsewhere.

Preparation 

Find your working space. An area with a 9 foot (3 metre) diameter of open ground will be more than sufficient. You will  need a lighter or matches. Please make yourself aware of fire safety.

Mark out the North with a stone and an  unlit candle.
Mark out the East with a  feather (or  jos stick) and an unlit  candle.
Mark out the South with an unlit candle and something golden in colour.
Mark  out the West with a small bowl of water and an unlit candle.

Place a candle, a dark bowl of water (ideally dew or spring water collected from your local area) an apple and some fresh acorns in the centre. A small amount of cider, apple juice or mead can be placed in a glass in the centre as well. You will also need a knife, this can be an athame, boline or penknife depending upon how you use your tools.

Circle cast

Begin by standing in the centre of what will be your circle.

Take three deep breaths, feeling your lungs fill completely. Feel yourself centred, calm and ready to begin. Face the East.

Extending your finger (or wand, athame, staff or whatever you choose) hold it against your heart. Move your finger to point outwards and be aware of power moving with it.

Feel the energy flowing out of your finger and move your hand slowly to face the East. See that the energy flows out and pools in the air just beyond the Eastern candle, creating a wall that extends both upwards to a point directly above your head and down wards to a point directly below your feet.

Move clockwise, feeling the energy drawing a spherical curtain around you. As you move say the words below. Keep moving in a clockwise direction (deosil) until you reach East again.

A circle of Joy I wind around me like a cloak,
A sphere of presence and of love,
These walls borne of my own spirit,
weaving a circle of connection,
A circle of power, joy and strength
Shared with the world around me.

Once you have reached the East pull your hand back in towards your chest and  allow yourself to feel the presence of the sphere of your own energy around you.

Walk to the East and say:

Hail to the East, place of dawn and the Spirits of Air!
Spirits of the Mighty Winds and Living Breath!
I ask that you join me and watch over me in my rites.

Light the Eastern Candle

Move to the South and say:

Hail to the South, place of the midday sun and the Spirits of Fire!
Spirits of the flickering flame and the body’s chemical fires!
I ask that you join me and watch over me in my rites.

Light the Southern Candle

Walk to the West and say:

Hail to the West, place of dusk and the Spirits of Water!
Spirits of the Falling Rain and the water in  my flesh!
I ask that you join me and watch over me in my rites.

Light the Western Candle

Walk to the North and say:

Hail to the North, place of Midnight and the Spirits of Earth!
Spirits of the fertile soils, stones and bones!
I ask that you join me and watch over me in my rites.

Light the Northern Candle

Walk back to the centre of your circle.  Bend and touch the Earth beneath you, then stand and reach up to the heavens.  Lowering your hand and tuning the full  circle where you are say:

Ancestors of my blood, Ancestors of this land and Ancestors of my Tradition I call to you!
Spirits of this Place and of this Time, Those seen and unseen,
Walk with me and guide me in my ways.
I ask that you join me and watch over my  rites

Sit in the centre of the circle and meditate or dwell on what this second wave of harvest has brought you or will bring you. Try to recall all of the changes in the natural world, or the plants and such growing in your local area, that have marked this out as the Autumnal equinox.

Consider  whether or not you have experienced any change as the Equniox arrives. Perhaps your clothes are now heavier and warmer? Perhaps you diet is suddenly more filled with starches and heavier fattier foods? Or perhaps it would be if you gave in to the cravings?

Kneel or stand in front of the items in the centre of the circle now.

Taking the apple, anoint it with dew water, seeing the blessing of the Autumn, of harvests and richness sink in to it.
Hold the apple with the stem towards the sky and cut through it’s centre horizontally.

Look down at the cross cut core of the apple and you will see it is shaped as a star, a pentagram. Note that this gift of the season and Earth displays the five pointed star at it’s centre.

Become aware of the pentagram being a symbol of balance between the four magical elements of Earth, Air Fire and Water, along with the Essence of Spirit.

Place half of the apple on the ground and eat the other half. Focusing on nothing but the taste, texture and pleasure of eating.

Once done, say:

The Earth’s fruits have nourished me with insights and joy,
Half I have imbibed, Half I leave,
A gift to me is a shared gift with All.
May this half be a blessing to another creature of the Earth.

 

Touch the second half off the apple and leave it on the floor.
Pick up the bowl of water and place it on the ground in front of you.
Place the candle behind the bowl and light it.

Say:

I seek now to look for my memories of success and for what is to become.
I seek the knowledge hidden in the Light on the Water.
I ask my Ancestors to show me what joy is yet to be harvested,
to remind me of a task not yet attended to. 

Pause, breathe and look deeply in to the reflective surface, allow your eyes to defocus. Spend some time here and if you are meant to see something you will.
Scrying, as this is, does not come easily for many. Do not rush; take your time.

Reflect on what you see, if, indeed, you see anything.

Once done, step back from the bowl and thank the Ancestors thus:

I offer you my gratitude,
The Light on the Water i now return again to you,
The blessings of a past harvest and a long and fortuitous future life,
I ask for here with this offering of acorns.

Snuff the candle out with wet fingers and drop the acorns in to the bowl of water.

Now take up the cider, apple juice or mead. Walk to the East and pour a little on to the floor, say:

A libation for the start of the year, a spring well raised.

Walk to the South and pour a little on to the floor, say:

A libation for the height of the year, a summer well grown .

Walk to the West and pour a little on to the floor, say:

A libation for the present hour, a harvest well given.

Walk to the North and pour a little on to the floor, say:

A libation for the end of the year, a Winter yet to pass.

Walk back to the centre and pour a little on to the floor, say:

A libation for those gone before and all in attendance.
Blessings upon you
and may your blessings be upon me.

Drink the remaining contents of the cup or bottle.

 

 

 

 

Closing

Facing the North say the following

Spirits of the North and Earth
I thank you for watching over my rite,
I offer blessings and farewell.

Facing the West say the following

Spirits of the West and Water.
I thank you for watching over my rite,
I offer blessings and farewell.

Facing the South say the following

Spirits of the South and Fire
I thank you for watching over my rite,
I offer blessings and farewell.

Facing the East say the following

Spirits of the East and Air.
I thank you for watching over my rite,
I offer blessings and farewell.

Standing in the centre of the circle and turning round say:

Spirits of this Time and Place, This Land and of All my Ancestors
I thank you for watching over my rite,
I offer blessings and farewell,
Walk with me as you will.

Stand in the centre and face East

Reach out with your finger (wand etc)  and see the energy of the circle begin to flow back  in to our body as you turn anticlockwise winding all your energy back in.

Once done say:

This rite is now complete and done, I return  to the apparent World.

Put out the quarter candles.

The water can now be emptied in the West and the acorns gathered up.
These can be planted in pots outside, or in patches of soil on your journeys over the next three days.
As the trees grow, so too should your blessings asked for or seen in the ritual.
Listen to  the  ritual via my podcast  here:

Try: http://traffic.libsyn.com/inspirallingleafsgrove/Mabon_COP__2016.mp3

or: http://inspirallingleafsgrove.libsyn.com/mabon-the-autumnal-equinox-a-circle-of-pagans-ritual

or: http://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/id/4676504

 

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Alban Elfed – the Light on the water.

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A few years ago a conversation furnished me with knowledge of a neolithic site on moorland not too far from home, more importantly it told me where exactly it was.

It then took me quite a while to get around to going and seeing it but eventually I did. The Pikestones are a passage grave up on Anglezarke moor, near Chorley and not too far from Rivington Gardens and the magical landscape that it offers.
The site itself sits on the edge of the West Pennine moors and once you’ve found it the eye is drawn out on to the moorland -a few extra steps revealing spongy ground and muddy sheep tracks. The few times I had previously visited I didn’t ventured very far in any direction due to rain and mud and biting flies as much as due to a lack of time.

Recently, though, I had a day off, simply an opportunistic day, booked to elongate a Bank Holiday weekend. On that day I woke with a chilled feeling but  a calling to head up to the Pikestones. As the morning passed the chilled feeling remained and so did the call to visit the stones, with a growing sensation that I would be meeting someone up there.

Now, I’ve mentioned how desolate the place can be and the passage grave itself is neither visible from the road nor very well known about in the local area, so the chance of meeting another up there is rare, the narrow paths being more than frequently hidden under flowering grasses and reeds.

My sensation of being too relaxed to do anything suddenly evaporated and I headed out the door with a sensation that the timing was now right.

However, the thought didn’t go  away and as I prepared to head up towards the reservoir next to the moors I found myself assuming that it might be a friend who I was taking to via social media. However, it turned out that Tara was actually far down south at present so couldn’t come along despite my invitation. As such the mystery continued and I started to doubt that there would be any meeting on the physical plane.

Pulling in to the small car parking space at Jepson’s Gate and grabbing my rucksack I locked the car and hopped over the stile before meandering through the rushes and grasses to the top right corner of the field.

Pikestones; passage grave

 

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Through the passage 

Here, enclosed by a wire fence, is a large  patch of longer grass tinted red and brown. Sharing this space are rushes and flowering heather. Hoping over another stile in to the field I walk the almost hidden path, noticing that the grass is bent in a few places; someone had been here pretty recently.
In the centre of the patch the Pikestones sit, a few left upright, a sunken cairn and a few piles of rocks cover a 45 metre by 18 metre piece of ground. The Standing stones are the remnant of the passage grave.

I walk around the stones, touching a few here and there while greeting the spirit of the place. Suddenly though, my eyes alight upon a walking stick lodged in to a crevice next to a low lying rock. The stick is carved like a snake, with brass tacks for eyes and a small area of damage disfiguring it’s head.
Well… I wondered… is this an offering by the last visitor? A gift to the space?

As I sit and eat my food, placing an apple and a biscuit on the space for the dead to remember the tastes of food, I ponder the history of the site.

From what I’ve read the site once had a double wall around it which curved inwards to form a forecourt of sorts on the easternmost side, with the passage running North to South.. This lead to a double capped fifteen metre long passage grave that was used to house the bones of the dead after the wildlife had striped them of flesh. Sadly the site has been badly damaged in the past and now only one cap stone sits atop the uprights with the other having slipped and other stones are scattered rather than placed. This is the oldest known feature in the local landscape with other sites thought to be Mesolithic or Bronze age.

There’s also a piece of more modern graffiti in the style of a spiral cut in to the stone in one section (now worked over by someone else with a chisel to be very vague). As well as someone’s name on another stone.

Despite this the site still has a potent presence and it must have taken a huge effort to build for the local people of the time.

As I sit pondering, gently heading in to a meditation, the site seems to buzz briefly and i open my eyes and look to the stile I had entered the enclosure by. Sure enough, a man was walking towards me.

‘Right on time,’ I thought.

After a fifty minute, thoroughly enjoyable conversation,  I find out that Alan is has been retired for  little more than a year and that the walking stick was his. He’d left it that morning while on a rare visit to the site with his Granddaughter and had come back to collect it.
He was surprised to see anyone up here, let alone to fall in to conversation so readily. Alan, it turns out, is a gold mine of information, mainly on Egypt and temples but also many other thing.
While talking Alan directs me to Round loaf Cairn not too far away and we also discuss the chances of other ancient sites on the moss and the curious shape of Rivington in the distance. He recall a memory of other cairns in the area, that were more stone and less grass when he as a lad.

After a drink on my part and a cigarette on his, Alan gathers up his stick and we head our separate ways. A fortuitous meeting indeed.

Encouraged by Alan’s words I decide to head towards Round Loaf cairn… but that’s coming in the next blog post along with some other ancient oddities that were found.