Thursday, 31 December 2015

In Which I Wax Lyrical About Trees

Well, one tree in particular. My apple tree. Fifteen years ago I planted three apple pips, just for the hell of it. They all grew. Two of the seedlings I gave away, and the third grew in a pot in my gardens and yards for the next seven years. Then we moved to our current property and I planted it in a corner of our garden. Where it grew. And grew. And suffered with mildew, rust, greenfly infestation and wind deformation from the prevailing sou'westerly.

It never bloomed. And therefore never fruited. It was a bit of an embarrassment, actually, and there were several occasions when I seriously debated digging it up and planting one from a nursery. I didn't, because it was MY deformed, rusty, mildewy, pest-ridden tree.  Then four years ago, I decided we would wassail our pitiful tree on Twelfth Night as part of our Yuletide celebrations. The Witchlets made noise with rattles and drums and shouting, I sang (which apparently counted as noise according to Witchlet One, thanks for the ringing endorsement, son!), and we soaked toast  in cider and stuck them in the branches. 

Four solitary buds bloomed the next Spring. Two fertilised, but the apples dropped off before they matured.  That year, less greenfly. No rust. Less mildew. Of course, that had a lot to do with the wormwood growing in a pot under the tree than the wassailling... Or maybe not. I took to going out and touching the tree, talking to it, leaving offerings just as I do at certain trees in 'my' woods.

I have wassailed my tree every year since.  The next year, I had a tree covered in blossoms. And it gave me four full size fruit. This year, thirty clean, green, shiny apples.  It's still misshapen. It leans. It gets the occasional patch of rust, powdery mildew and greenfly. But it's mine. Nurtured from seed, for fifteen years. It has produced fruit, beautiful, blemish-free organic apples, and that was something I was told it would never do.  Master gardeners, books, websites, they all told me it was a waste of time. It will never fruit. It might fruit, but the apples will be poor, and disease prone.  Dig it up. Here, buy this grafted variety.

They were wrong.

Was I just lucky? Maybe.
Was it the wassailing? Can't have hurt.
Was it the offerings, and acknowledging this tree as a vital part of my life? Who knows? (Only my tree, and she's not telling.)

But there's a lesson in there somewhere. Sometimes, don't give up. Don't listen to all the advice. Take your time. Trust your instincts.

Prove the nay-sayers wrong. 

Sunday, 27 December 2015

In which I am a dim-witted thunder-twonk

So, the Old Kitchen Witch is really starting to feel every one of her forty-five years. Bits of me ache. Some bits of me bloody hurt. Injuries take longer to heal. Insomnia is a bitch. Anxiety doesn't lessen with age.  Hot flushes are horrible. And obviously my brain is slowing down, because I have herbs that will HELP, for pity's sake. I know how to cook and eat healthily.  And I know how to ground, centre, cleanse, shield and protect.

Sometimes, my sheer dim-wittedness amazes me. Because I know Lots Of Things to help me, and I'm currently doing None Of The Things. Not even One.

So, I've instigated A Plan. It involves daily yoga. Daily grounding and shielding. Sage and Lady's Mantle tea for the hot flushes. Lemonbalm tea, Rescue Remedy, lavender essential oil and meditation to kick the shit out of the anxiety. Decent food, lots of fruit and veg and plenty of water because eating well helps everything. And today began with making a salve with meadowsweet infused oil, frankincense, lavender and rosemary essential oils, with a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper thrown in for good measure. I've made this before for my Dad and a couple of work colleagues, and they swear by its pain-relieving abilities. So it's about time I started using it on my hands and knees, which are beginning to show signs of arthritis.

I rubbed about half a teaspoon of the salve into my hands before donning my rubber gloves and doing the washing up. By the time I'd finished the sinkful of plates, my hands had stopped aching.

It's been six hours, and my hands are still pain-free. I didn't realise how much they hurt, until they didn't.

My lesson for the day: it doesn't matter what the hell you know if you don't put it into practice.  Anyway, here's my recipe for the meadowsweet salve.

Meadowsweet Pain-Relieving Salve

1 cup meadowsweet-infused oil (I used a mix of 1:1:1 olive:almond:coconut oils and double-infused fresh meadowsweet into it in a bain-marie last summer and stored the oil in a clean glass bottle in a dark cupboard)
1/2 cup grated beeswax
20 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops rosemary essential oil
10 drops frankincense essential oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Add the beeswax and meadowsweet oil to a bain-marie and heat gently until melted. Stir well.
Allow the mixture to cool very slightly, add the essential oils and cayenne pepper and mix well.
Immediately pour into clean, dry jars or pots.

The salve turned out quite solid, which was what I wanted, but you could use more oil (or less beeswax!)  to get a softer consistency.

Monday, 5 October 2015

In which I intend to work Thirty-one Days of Magic

Bob the Skull having more than a little fun with the last few Calendula blooms.
A recent post from Velma Nightshade (one half of the fabulous duo responsible for the podcast Inciting a Brew-ha-ha and the Chief Witch of Magickal Miscellany online shop) piqued my interest.  In it she suggested getting witchy with thirty one days of magic this October.

Of course, I am late to the party.  For which I would humbly apologise, but hell, I’m not sorry.  I’ve decided not to regret things.

Every day must have something woo-woo in.  Whether it is getting back into daily devotions, divination, spellwork, meditation, research – anything woo-woo related is fine.

So it may be the 5th of October, and my thirty-one days is either going to be only twenty-six days, or I’m going to run into November, but here we go.

It’s Monday.  Moonday.  A day of beginnings (it’s the start of my working week, the beginning of the school week for the Witchlets). The moon’s silvery reflected light glimmers and shows us illusions.  Or perhaps it shows us a different way of looking at a situation.  A perfect time for divination.

I have decided to forgo Tarot cards for the time being.  I have been wanting to use cartomancy for quite some time, and as I have a brand-new-never-used-knew-it-would-come-in-useful-for-something pack just hanging around on the bookcase, I’m going to have a go.  The indomitable Cory Hutcheson has written a wonderful book called 54 Devils – The Art & Folklore of Fortune-telling with Playing Cards, and it’s going to be my guide as I plunge, fairly helpless, into this rather compelling art.

Check back tomorrow, and I’ll have an update on my first night of Witchy-Woo-Woo October!

In which I have been through HUGE STUFF


In the last eighteen months my life has changed dramatically.  I am now gainfully employed in a job I love.  It is incredibly pressured in some ways, intensely rewarding, and I put in a lot of hours (way more than I’m paid for!) which has, in turn, had a knock on effect on the day-to-day running of this mad household and the night-to-night witch-duties.

In the past year I have also achieved Cronehood.  Well, not so much achieved, rather I’ve had it thrust upon me.  I knew it was coming.  I thought I would struggle with the emotional aspects, and I was completely certain that the physical symptoms would be horrendous (both my mother and grandmother had suffered terribly – my Mum was on HRT for years) and I was dreading it.

I started having hot flushes early on this year, and they woke me at night.  I would wake up, not knowing why, and within a minute the heat would spread outwards from my chest across the rest of my body and I’d leap out of bed, panting, desperate to cool off.  Not the best recipe for a good night’s sleep.  Exhaustion was my constant companion.  Dear friends suggested Lady’s Mantle and Purple Sage Tea.  I started drinking a mugful morning and evening, and within a week the symptoms eased almost completely.  I’m now down to a mugful every other evening, and I’ve been symptom free for a couple of months (YAY!) I'm hoping that the worst is over, and that my transition to being the REALLY-OLD Kitchen Witch is pretty much over.

On the emotional front, I think the lack of monthly hormonal upheaval has eased any depressive symptoms.  I get anxious, but not in that I’m-frozen-in-time-can’t-move-can’t-breathe-can’t-live kind of anxious, and days where I wish I didn’t exist haven’t happened in a very long time.  This is a GOOD THING.

Witch-stuff has taken a back seat.  Devotions have been sporadic.  Getting out in The Old Man’s Woods has happened, but nowhere near as much as I’d like.  Foraging has gone ok; one of the joys of the Witchlets being older is that they join in and can walk much further.  (It all starts with lots of whining that they don’t want to go, and ends with whining that they don’t want to go home because they’ve had fun.)  Serious workings have been almost non-existent.  Much as I have noted the change in seasons, I haven’t observed them, nor celebrated them with feasting and merriment.

The Hubster is also happily ensconced in a new job.  He is now nocturnal, which is superb for family arrangements such as getting the Witchlets to and from school (he drops them off, I pick them up, thus saving a not-insignificant amount of money spent on child-minders). It is not, however, conducive to us spending much time together.  But we make the most of the time we do get.

I did think that I’d get lots more done, witchcraft wise, than I do.  But by the time 10 pm rolls around, I am battling exhaustion and the energy for workings elude me.  Hell, the energy for housework generally eludes me.

The good news is that we are no longer living hand to mouth.  The last week of the month is not referred to as ‘porridge and soup week’ – we get to go shopping every weekend, and having to buy all new uniform for both of my growing Witchlets this August didn’t have us terrified we wouldn’t have enough money for the monthly bills.  Money may not buy happiness, but not lying awake at night having financial panic attacks makes me much less unhappy, thank you very much.

But I’m hoping that I can squeeze in some more esoterically inclined activities in the coming months.  I am being pointed in that direction, for certain, and one thing I learnt a long time ago is that when the Divine pokes you with unmistakable requests, you comply, or face the consequences.  Negotiation is currently in progress (while PL seems to understand completely that we mere humans need sleep, Hekate is seemingly unimpressed by the fact) and hopefully we’ll come up with an acceptable timetable… I hope!

Well, that’s my current situation in a nutshell.  I’m probably wittering to just myself here, as it’s been so damn long since I’ve written, but you never know.  So I’m wishing anyone out there a pretty awesome October. 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

In which First Spring arrives

It's been a WET winter. Pretty much the wettest on record, here in the wilds of Yorkshire. Living on top of a hill has its advantages in this sort of winter. All this water has, even on our hill, caused problems. I've lost a lot of the alpines that were dotted about through the herb patch, as they hate sitting with their roots in water. The Cinquefoil I planted in our first year here has also succumbed. And yet there has been magic afoot, even in this strange weather. Mother Elder may not have have graced us with snow, or even more than a couple of crisp, crunchy, frosty mornings, but I'm glad to see the back of the short days and long nights nonetheless. 

So, First Spring arrived with the first snowdrops. 

The family altar was decorated for Bride, with a bed for her, wrapped in ivy, the Bride doll made of fresh Rosemary, dried poppy seed head crowned with rowan berries watching over a cauldron filled with this years seeds, and offerings of mead and poppy seed bread were given to ask for the blessings of fertility on my garden this year.


I even managed to fashion my own Brighid's cross from last year's wheat stems. Not bad for a first attempt. 

For some reason, this year didn't start in January for me (I can't quite get my head around it starting at Samhain/Last Harvest, either) and it seems as though First Spring is the real beginning for me. 

The last few months have been a period of frustration and stagnation for me, personally, (I promise to share more on this next time) and it seems now things are moving again. 

At long bloody last. So hopefully I will feel there's something worth posting more often this year!

Got to love my hellebore this year, too. 

Friday, 27 December 2013

In Which I Catch My Breath and Catch a Cold

Every year the madness that is my silly season begins a week before Samhain/Hallowe'en/Last Harvest and continues to 27th December. By this time, I am usually recovering from the immense physical and emotional stress and swearing I'm never doing it again.  This year, I sat with my feet up on the sofa, CraftyCat One on my lap, toys and games piled up on the floor, a pile of washing to be folded and put away at my side, and feeling remarkably chilled - and dare I day it, actually SMUG - about how well it's all gone.

There's a first time for everything!

It didn't start off that well. All the decorations for  Samhain/Hallowe'en/Last Harvest went up (and looked fab; if I do say so myself), and I was all ready for the Witchlets' annual Hallowe'en party when they both went down with 'flu. Yes, proper 'flu, not a nasty cold, real, horrible, bone-achingly painful 'flu. For a whole fortnight.  Party got cancelled, school was missed, sleep was a luxury nobody got much of. Normally this would have thrown me completely out of whack, but they recovered well enough to go out trick or treating for half an hour, all dressed up warm under costumes, although they didn't really want to eat their haul of sweets for another three days. (How to tell if the Witchlets are REALLY poorly - if they refuse chocolate, make sure you've got Calpol on hand.)

My solitary ritual to call back the Ancestors was due to include a full night's vigil, but after two weeks of broken sleep that wasn't a sensible proposition. I've given up beating myself around the head for not being able to give the gods and spirits what I want to give them, including time, because that's all I end up doing - giving myself grief because I think I should be doing better. One thing Hekate really has managed to drum into my head is that She doesn't want me as her Devotee, that my path isn't as her Priestess. There's more to come on Her plans for me, but that's for another post.  Anyway, this year's ritual was extra important as it was the first Last Harvest since my Grandad died, and I needed to call him and my Nana back - I've missed both of them terribly since she left her ethereal post hanging around my kitchen to escort Grandad from this world. 

I set up a space for them in my bedroom, somewhere I would have to make the effort to go and spend time. I didn't want it to be in the kitchen, although that is my usual spot for the ancestors, it had to be a little more special. Each night for a week before Last Harvest itself, I would spend a few minutes sitting quietly with their photos, Nana's Swiss Cottage music box, Grandad's Little Mermaid ashtray, along with the names of as many of my ancestors that I know.  Finally, after sunset on the 31st October itself, I lit the candles, burnt a smidgen of ancestor incense (from the marvellous House of Ellegua, now Camino de Yara) and called back the ancestors, and specifically Nana and Grandad.

Never in my entire life has an empty room become so crowded. And there, just at my shoulder, they stood. Nana and Grandad, side by side. Welcome back, dear ones. 

Last Harvest Supper was prepared to be a feast for all the family, Witchlets included, and we delayed it until the weekend after the 31st to give the poorly little ones time to fully recover. Presided over by a grinning pumpkin, we ate roast chicken, the last of the sugar snap peas, roast swede wedges, roast potatoes, carrots, a and the obligatory Yorkshire Puddings (Witchlet Two doesn't consider it a feast unless there are Yorkshire puddings), and home-made wine and a plate of food was left for the ancestors to enjoy. We told the Witchlets stories of all their ancestors that we know, and made them laugh, (the tortoise in the tree, how I really believed that dachshunds were really greyhounds that had run too far and worn their legs down, and how to pick a five year old up by her ears) and go wide-eyed with wonder at how many years ago some of those stories were from. 

Things continued apace with lots of school activities, birthdays, and frantic Yule prep. The Hubster now works for a different company which shuts down for two weeks at Christmas, so the Witchlets were delighted to have him home. The Solstice was celebrated with feasting, candles, and a procession around the house with (battery-powered) candles in lanterns, and of course a visit from the Yule Faerie. (It's our Yule, I have absolutely no qualms about making up new traditions to mix in with old ones if it makes it more magical for the Witchlets!)

So, there's a brief recap. Oh, and I got a cold (you try keeping up with all the madness I put myself through between Last Harvest and Twelfth Night without YOUR immune system saying "Fuck this, I give up!") but hey, it was worth it. 

And I started this post three weeks ago. Bad BlogWitch. So I'm going to post this before I lose another three weeks!

Friday, 25 October 2013

In Which Hallowe'en is Fast Approaching

Last Harvest/Samhain/Hallowe'en is almost upon us again.  The veil thins, and even my fairly impenetrable head seems to be poked by the gods, the odd spirit, and the ancestors.  This weekend was due to be my Annual Hallowe'en Bash for the Witchlets, their friends and our family.  It always throws me into a tailspin because everything has to be clean, decorated, cooked from scratch and on a budget.  Every couple of years a spanner gets thrown into the works - normally in the shape of someone getting sick.  Mostly it's been me, but over the years we've had a dose of the noro-virus (Witchlet One) and various stages of man-flu (The Hubster).  This year, both Witchlets have gone down with both a sickness bug and a bloody awful snot-monster of a head cold.  I gave up on the party idea yesterday, knowing full well that even if they were miraculously recovered by this morning, I still wouldn't have enough hours left to do what I needed to.

This has given me a bit of breathing space to organise a family Last Harvest celebration.  With the Witchlets off school, I've been able to go through some family pictures and tell stories about people they will only see in photographs.  They've watched, pale and wan, from the sofa as I string up decorations, telling me what bits they like best.  And they've appropriated two plastic skulls to cuddle up with while watching The Nightmare Before Christmas.  I've had time to spend on the sofa with them, having cuddles Witchlet One normally eschews but craves when he's poorly.  We've printed off the Pooka Pages and read the stories.  Downloaded freebie children's Hallowe'en stories on the Kindle.

Of course, there is unlikely to be time to visit the cemetary before Hallowe'en, but I'm pretty certain I can squeeze in a visit the first week in November.  And if this bug buggers off, the Witchlets are off to their Grandmother's on Monday and I'll get a chance to visit the Old Man of the woods - I have mead for him this year, and decent bird seed for his beloved feathered inhabitants.  

This year is the first year I've set up a distinct ancestor altar.  The death of my Grandfather in September has made this essential.  On it I have a photograph of Nana and Grandad on their wedding day, along with the photos of the pets that have passed from my life through the years.  A copy of the poem I wrote out in calligraphy for my Great-Aunt's funeral.  My Nana's Swiss Cottage music box.  My Grandad's ashtray.  Tail feathers from my budgie.  I don't have any special ritual for them; I'm just hanging out there for a few minutes daily going through memories before I call them home for Last Harvest with incense, wine, millet, cat biscuits, soul cakes and a bloody decent cigar (that last one is for Grandad, he didn't smoke for the last twenty odd years of his life, but when I was little, he and Dad used to have a decent cigar or two on Christmas Day after lunch - I smell cigars, and I'm back to being an excitable eight-year old opening presents and squealing with delight!)

We won't be having a dumb supper at Last Harvest - hell, the Witchlets can't keep quiet for longer than ten seconds - but we will be having a dinner with some of the vegetables from this year's harvest, a bottle of wild cherry mead, apple crumble with our neighbour's apples, and we're going to tell the Witchlets stories of their ancestors.  The time their Great-great Uncle Roy put their Nana's tortoise up a tree and convinced her it had climbed up there.  How their Great-great-great Nana lived in a thatched cottage that burned down, and that Grandad was one of the fireman that rescued her.  How their Gramps planted by the moon, swore at seed potatoes to make them produce more shoots, tipped his hat and wished solitary magpies "Good Day!", and had eyes the very same colour as Witchlet One.  Lots of stories, ones that I must write down before they slip away and are forgotten.  Hopefully, my ancestors will join us and whisper long forgotten incidents in my ears as I tell the stories.

This year, Witchlet Two will definitely help me make Soul Cakes, some of which we will leave in the hiding places of the garden and local wild places where she knows the Fae live.  We will start making bird-seed fat balls with vegetable suet  to hang in our pair of Elder trees, and I will pour Elderberry wine on their roots to welcome the return of Mother Elder with her bitter wind and icy shawl.

Divination will be done by candlelight at midnight, offerings will be made to Papa, Hekate, Hermes for clarity and guidance.  (Yeah, I know, good luck with getting anything less than awkwardly cryptic out of THEM.)

Protection powder of home-grown ground garlic, cayenne pepper, ashes from our summer fires, graveyard dirt from Papa's grave, my own blood and rose thorns will be sprinkled along our boundaries to keep out the nasties. 

Protection amulets of red thread, rowan twigs and berries, sacrificed aloe babies will be hung over doorways.

And once that is done, I really have to knuckle down and sort out this effing shadow work that I keep putting off.  

Note: Soul Cake recipes are regional.  Here's one I always make, and another I haven't tried yet.  And this is an interesting bit of background on Soul Cakes I stumbled across - on a Catholic website no less!