Walking the labyrinth

img_0726For the Autumn Equinox, the village green had a wonderful candle-lit labyrinth set up by Kay’s Pathway. The labyrinth was marked out by grass seed, so as to leave no harmful paint or suchlike, and then lit by hundreds of candles in lanterns, jars, glasses, whatever was available.

Arriving to it, on a dark and cool September night, felt really rather magical. At the centre of the labyrinth was a conker cairn: the idea of which was that you take a conker (horse chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum) and walk the path with it, leaving it in the middle. For me, this was an offering to the Earth in thankfulness for the year so far.

It was interesting to see how people reacted, for the most part people walked the labyrinth in silence, or spoke in whispers. Almost everyone seemed instinctively to feel that this was sacred time and sacred space, regardless of beliefs.

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The labyrinth was not Pagan, and nor (I imagine) were most people who walked it last night. But it was one of those mysterious traditions that speak of an older way of being that I like to think of as “Folk Pagan”.

I didn’t do a “formal” Equinox ritual, as I have shifted in my practice lately to more simple acts of daily awareness rather than scripts and circles (which I feel work better in a group setting), so having this opportunity to practice walking meditation in the Equinox labyrinth was a beautiful alternative, and to me still very Druidic, way to celebrate Alban Elfed, and also to take part in the activities of my local village community too.

img_0741All of that, followed up by a wonderful seasonal brown ale (Water Vole by “From the Notebook” beers, money from which goes to wildlife charities), was a great way to acknowledge the turning of the Wheel of the Year as we spiral into the darkness.

What did you do/what are you doing to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox?

 

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Alban Elfed

The Autumnal Equinox occurs on or around the 21st and 22nd September in the northern hemisphere each year, and marks the point at which day and night are at equal length (i.e. around 12 hours each).

The word “equinox” comes from the Latin for “equal night” and reflects this equal division. The reason for this is due to the angle of the Earth’s axis, which is tilted 23.5 degrees with respect to its orbital plane. As the Earth orbits the sun, the two hemispheres tilt closer or further from the sun, causing the seasons on Earth to change.

Image from National Weather Service (USA)

Image from National Weather Service (USA)

An equinox, National Geographic says, is “a geometrical alignment between the sun and Earth in which the sun appears positioned right above our planet’s equator. On these days, both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres experience roughly equal amounts of sunshine. It’s also only on the spring and autumn equinoxes that the sun rises due east and sets due west”.

From this point on, the days will be shorter than the nights as we enter the dark time of the year, leading to the shortest day at the Winter Solstice. The weather also changes, becoming cooler and more Autumnal, with the leaves turning golden and falling from the trees, the “second harvest” of apples, berries and sloes ripening and the creatures gathering food stores for the winter to come.

The name for the Autumnal Equinox in the Druid tradition is Alban Elfed or Alban Elued, meaning “the Light of the Waters”. As the festival is situated in the West, the place of water, on the Wheel of the Year, and Autumn tends to be a very wet and rainy season in Britain, the name seems fitting. The OBOD website says: “The Wheel turns and the time of balance returns. Alban Elfed marks the balance of day and night before the darkness overtakes the light”. It is a festival for celebrating the harvest and for preparing for the darker days ahead.

This is a good time of year to make fruit crumbles, elderflower cordial, and warming vegetable stews, go on long walks through the crunchy leaves and enjoy the last warmth as late Summer transitions into Autumn’s cool crispness. It’s also a good time to tidy up the garden before Winter, and sow wildflower seeds to bloom in Spring.

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Kubo

Last night, I saw Laika’s new stop-motion animated film, Kubo and the Two Strings. Set in a mythical ancient Japan, the story follows the heroic adventures of Kubo, a young boy on a quest for magical armour.

Or that’s the basic plot anyway. In truth, Kubo is a surprisingly poignant and bravely melancholy meditation on love, loss and memory, alongside some very nature-based imagery that I found beautiful.

The animation, like all of Laika’s previous films, was visually stunning, and the storytelling was inspired. I felt like I was watching an old myth be retold rather than an original story, which speaks to the truly Bardic talent of the whole team involved in its production.

If you were put off by the overly-silly trailers don’t be. The jokes are well-spaced out and not overpowering and, while I felt the humour didn’t always land perfectly, the more serious and emotive parts of the story outweigh the comic relief, especially in the final act.

If you must blink, do it now.

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A Druid’s garden

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Bird bath with conifers, wild strawberries, pansies and red robin shrub

…or at least one that’s getting there anyway.

If, as I suggested in my last post, cookery is my Bardic art, then gardening surely must be in the green realms of the Ovate?

A recent trip to the garden centre led to a good spruce-up of the garden, including growing some veg (courgettes and runner beans) and herbs (mint, basil, rosemary, thyme, lemongrass, chamomile) in pots for use in the kitchen.

There’s something wonderful about gardening, rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands in the earth, turning over the soil and finding worms and woodlice, watching the daring robins get as close as they can to see what noms the digging has unearthed, popping in a plant and watering it with hope for a good harvest.

The garden centre also yielded several new houseplants, to bring the green indoors too, especially for over the coming winter.

So,  not much to write about in this post, but here are some pics!

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Tub of pansies to brighten up the front porch

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courgette, strawberry mint, evening primrose, marigold

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chamomile, lemongrass, thyme

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houseplant with Druid books

 

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Practical druidry

Some great thoughts on practical Druidry and herbcraft from the Green Hedge Druid.

The Green Hedge Druid

I’ve always been a big fan of using your hands and doing stuff when it comes to spirituality, whatever yours may be. The title of this blogpost is inspired by one of my favourite films, Practical Magic.

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Starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock, it’s a very VERY 90s film with witchcraft and complicated romance, including a weird possessed-zombie-ex-boyfriend thrown into the mix. But why do I love this film so much? Well, for all its slightly bonkers script writing, I love how practical witchcraft is woven in throughout the film. With Sandra Bullock’s character opening a botanical shop, and her aunts practicing something resembling some form of traditional kitchen witchcraft, the film inspired me a lot. I don’t know enough about traditional witchcraft to be sure but either way, it seems a very practical approach with an emphasis on keeping everything in balance and using resources that you’ve grown/created yourself.

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Cooking and creativity

Close up of a courgette and tomato gratin...Nom!

Close up of a courgette and tomato gratin…Nom!

So as you may know, I’m currently (re)working my way through the Bardic Grade with OBOD, which is the first stage of OBOD’s three-grade Druidry training programme.

As the name suggests, the Bardic course focuses on cultivating creative and artistic expression, often seen through the traditional Bardic arts of poetry, song, storytelling, music etc.

I am not naturally talented in these areas. I am trying to get into a regular practice of learning guitar, and I have occasionally scrawled some poetry, but a Bard I ain’t. Shakespeare, he was a Bard. The Bard in fact. John Keats, William Blake, Tuomas Holopainen, Damh the Bard (clue’s in the name there), these are Bards.

Faced with the disconnect between what it is to be a Bard and my own limitations, I have on more than one occasion got deeply frustrated, thrown my Gwersi across the room and given up.

But…what if being a “Bard” was about more than being a poet or minstrel? What if it was about finding your own creativity, in whatever way that expresses itself? Suddenly, it opens up possibilities.

And I’ve realised something. For me, that creativity is food.

I’ve always loved cooking (apart from one dire period where I got into calorie-counting and food became a dull maths problem, but less said about that the better), but since Druid Camp, I’ve really loved cooking. The food at the cafe there was amazing. Simple, hearty, vegetarian cooking, but so rich and complex at the same time.

I’ve been making a real effort to do more home cooking since then, from scratch with fresh ingredients and it’s been wonderful. From home baked bread to crumbles made from foraged blackberries, to curries, chillis and stir frys, to garlicky scrambled eggs, to courgette gratin with my very own home-grown courgette, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying experimenting with new recipes, trying out new ideas, and having fun creating something new.

Still from "Ratatouille". Image from pluggedin.com

Still from “Ratatouille”. Image from pluggedin.com

In the film Ratatouille (which is wonderful, watch it), chef Gusteau says that cooking is “like music you can taste, like colours you can smell”. Remy, the main character (who is a rat…srsly just watch the film), discovers the wonderful world of combining different flavours to create a whole new symphony of taste.

Watching that film made me think that cooking can be a Bardic pursuit. What is cooking after all but an expression of creative imagination? In the story of Taliesin, the archetypal Bard, the goddess Ceridwen brews a potion to create the Awen, the three drops of inspiration sacred to Druids.

In brewing this potion, Ceridwen follows a recipe she got from the Pheryllt, gathers herbs and ingredients, mixes them in a cauldron (essentially just a large cooking pot) and hires Gwion, a local lad, to stir the broth. Well, this is cooking!

And if something as simple as cooking can bring about the Awen, then surely cooking can be every bit as Bardic, as Druidic, as any other creative art? Perhaps I’ve been too literal, looking just at what the ancient Bards did and trying to follow them instead of looking for the spirit of Bardism, that opening to creativity. I’m no professional chef, but I find being in the kitchen very inspiring.

The Awen flows in different ways for different people I guess. I hope that this helps me get my head around the Bardic course a bit more, and maybe the idea of finding your own Bardic art might be useful for other people who just don’t resonate with the whole poetry and song thing. Whether it’s art, music, gardening, cooking, science, running, theoretical mathematics, whatever you find brings out your creative self, follow that.

By the way, the recipe for the courgette gratin in the picture is from BBC Good Food, and can be found online HERE.

Still from "Ratatouille". Image from pluggedin.com

Still from “Ratatouille”. Image from pluggedin.com

 

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Making mead (and bread)

Mead and bread

Mead and bread

One of my favourite parts of Druid Camp was a brilliant mead workshop, complete with tasting and making sessions. I wasn’t able to do the making due to numbers, but I thoroughly enjoyed the tasting (of course) and learned a lot about the process of making mead in the process.

It turns out that mead seems to be surprisingly easy to make, I had expected it to be far more difficult: the sort of thing that requires an alchemist’s lab set up of funny shaped bubbling tubes.But apparently honey and water will naturally ferment if left alone anyway, which probably explains how mead was discovered in the first place!

Mead is often used as a sacred drink in Druid rituals (as well as in other traditions) so I love the idea of making it myself instead of buying it in. A lovely Druid Camp attendee we met shared the recipe from the mead making workshop, and I had to try it out!

The recipe is:

Using a two litre plastic bottle. Fill with one litre of water. Empty a 1lb jar of honey into a measuring jug, rinse out the jar with boiled water and add to honey in the jug. Then top up the jar to 800 ml with more of the boiled water, mix well and add to the cold water in the plastic bottle. Then add half a teaspoon of yeast and plug with an airlock of some kind. You can use a balloon with a pin prick in to let out the carbon dioxide. Leave in a dark place for 6-8 weeks or until the mixture stops fizzing and goes clearer.

For the yeast, I used baker’s yeast, which gives a lower alcohol mead (probably around 11%). For a more potent brew, you can use brewer’s yeast or even champagne yeast.

We also made sourdough bread, which took AGES but was so worth it!

I must say, I’m enjoying this new turn to a practical, hands-on, “hearth and home” expression of Druidry.

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