Wytch Hazel Cottage

Anglo Saxon Heathenry And Old English Folkways

Old English Spring Traditions

Humans have revered the hare for thousands of years and early hunters believed that the hare was a worthy kill due to the challenge of catching such an agile and swift creature. As centuries passed, a belief that the mysterious hare was from the Otherworld grew strong and as a result it was treated with such caution that it was taboo to eat hare in many parts of Europe including Wales, Germany, Breton, Switzerland and Denmark. Even Julius Caesar observed this behaviour among the Celtic people of Britain. In some regions just saying the word ‘hare’ was not tolerated and this went on right up until the 19th century. There is even a story of a Germanic tribe that once descended upon Rome at the very same moment a hare was seen dashing towards the city walls. On seeing the Teutons running behind the hare, the Roman soldiers immediately abandoned their positions.

The most well known story, however, which portrays the otherworldly attributes of the hare comes from the Iceni tribe and their goddess Andraste. Whether this goddess took the actual form of a hare is not known, but the Greek historian Dio Cassius, recorded that this war goddess was invoked by their queen Boudica before they revolted against Roman occupation.

“Let us, therefore, go against [the Romans], trusting boldly to good fortune. Let us show them that they are hares and foxes trying to rule over dogs and wolves.” When she [Boudica] had finished speaking, she employed a species of divination, letting a hare escape from the fold of her dress; and since it ran on what they considered the auspicious side, the whole multitude shouted with pleasure, and Boudica, raising her hand toward heaven, said: “I thank you, Andraste, and call upon you as woman speaking to woman … I beg you for victory and preservation of liberty.”

It appears in this case, that the hare was divine and possibly even revered by the Iceni tribe.

To understand the reasons behind why an animal is reviled we need to go back to the time of the Christian conversion and more often than not the trail leads back to a deity. With the arrival of Christianity, layer upon layer of superstition and fear were applied to these primal gods in an attempt to erase them from history, especially if they could not be moulded into the Christian mythos. An example of this comes from Germany with many tales of ghostly hares causing mischief particularly three legged ones. Yet, despite attempts to erase this sacred creature, the symbol of the hare has endured across the centuries hidden within the arts of folk medicine and magic.

Further evidence of the hidden symbolism of the hare can be found in Leicestershire. For there was once a tradition called ‘Hunting the Easter Hare” which took place on Easter Monday. A hare would be hunted then chased towards the Mayor’s house, after which a fine banquet was enjoyed with the hare being the main dish .

The Hallaton ‘Hare Pie Scramble’ has unknown origins, but a piece of land was once left to the rector of Hallaton village in order for him to be able to provide two hare pies and twenty four loaves for the local community on Easter Monday. Hares are not in season after March so mutton, steak and veal would have been used instead. Straight after morning mass the pies were blessed and all the food was shared among the local folk. In the afternoon a procession led by a man with a hare topped staff made its way to a place called Hare Pie Bank, that was situated on the south side of the village (in ancient times this would have been perceived as a sacred boundary). Once there a game of bottle kicking began.

The bottles were actually not bottles at all, but wooden casks two of which were filled with ale and the other which was left empty. Two teams of men, one from Hallaton and the other from the nearby village of Medbourne had to kick the casks over a water boundary of two streams. A full cask was thrown up in the air first and then fought for, followed by the empty one and lastly the remaining full one. The winners shared the ale between them which they received at a ceremony at the market cross. This tradition survives today and still takes place on Easter Monday. It is believed that the hare pie tradition goes back as far as Anglo Saxon times as part of a spring ritual sacrifice to a deity for a successful springtime sowing and autumn harvest. The bottle kicking tradition may go back even further than that, possibly  representing the symbolic struggle between winter and spring.

The name Simnel was applied to all cakes that were baked throughout the duration of Lent. Early Christians decorated these cakes with a figurine of Jesus or the Virgin Mary which gave them religious significance. On Simnel Sunday, young people would visit their parents with gifts of cakes and trinkets especially for the mother. Called ‘going a mothering’, this tradition eventually became Mothering Sunday. The word simnel which can also be spelt symel, simnell and simbling is very closely related to the Old Saxon ‘symbel’ meaning feast or banquet. These richly decorated cakes are very likely remnants of cakes eaten by the pre-Christian Anglo Saxons during celebrations, such as festivals that took place during the month of Solmonath. The Venerable Bede wrote that, ‘Solmonath can be called the month of cakes, which they offered to their gods in that month’. Simnel cakes made from fruit, spices and marzipan could at one time only be found in Lancashire.  Geoffroi Gaimer’s Anglo Norman story ‘Lay of Havelock the Dane’, written in the late 13th century, even mentions Simnel cakes.

The same can be said about hot cross buns (from the word bous meaning sacred ox) which some say are also likely to be a remnant of a much earlier pre-Christian observance. No doubt the church realised that they couldn’t stop people from offering cakes to their gods, so they absorbed this tradition into the Christian faith by adding a cross on top of them.

The symbol of the cross is much older than Christianity and Germanic people carved crosses onto ancient bridal and boundary oak trees (boundary oaks were a Saxon institution). An oak tree that grew near Dahl in Germany was at one time visited by newly wed couples who danced around it three times before carving a cross onto its trunk. Dr Thomas Kuhn, an American physicist, philosopher and historian believed that the cross was the original symbol of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, which was used at one time to bless marriage unions. In the Poetic Edda’s Thrymskvitha, Thor dressed in a wedding gown has his stolen hammer placed on his lap.

Whether the cross symbolised Mjolnir or not we just don’t know, but we do know for sure that the oak tree was sacred to Thor and that hammers were used to consecrate weddings and also births for example. Interestingly, there is a Thor’s hammer pendant that was discovered in Iceland dated to the 10th century and it is in the form of a cross melding the pagan and Christian faiths together. Perhaps hiding the pre-Christian faith in plain sight?

For ease of conversion during Europe’s Christianisation, the early Church incorporated many of our pre-Christian customs and traditions into its own. The Church realised it could not stamp out the folkways of our ancestors entirely and conversion by sword and fire could only go so far. So despite their Christian veneer, the Old Ways are still with us today; if you know where to look.

Sources:

A Dictionary of Superstition, 1989, Oxford University Press

The Moon Myth and Image, 2003, Jules Cashford

The Easter Hare, 1892, Charles Bilson

Origins of English History, 1890, Charles Isaac Elton

Ploughtide Traditions

The very little evidence we have on how our northern European ancestors celebrated the return of spring, dates back only as far as the Medieval period. We can assume, however, that due to these festivals being closely connected to the agricultural year, that these rites have been passed down from generation to generation, in one form or another for thousands of years. Even up until the 1950’s, when these customs disappeared, there was still a deep desire to sow a successful harvest.

The timing of these spring festivals varied greatly and depended entirely on location and seasonal transitions; unlike today where most people who follow a nature based spirituality celebrate all on the same day, no matter where they are in the world. Our ancestors, however, having a much closer connection to the land, waited for the subtle signs before commencing their rites.

During the Middle Ages, the Christian church and its religious calendar appear to have taken control over these rites and the Plough Sunday and Monday celebrations always began with the local priest blessing a brightly decorated plough covered with ribbons and bows. These blessings would then have been said for whoever worked the land, as well as for a fruitful harvest. In the religious calendar ‘Plough Mundy’ or ‘Hansel Monday’ in Scotland, was traditionally the first Monday after the Epiphany (Twelfth Night). This date marked the beginning of the agricultural year and the end of the Christmas season.

Ploughtide was the time when farming tools were mended, cleaned and sharpened. The land having laid dormant since the last harvest was now ready to be ploughed. Everyone had to go back to work after the Christmas period with women returning to their spinning on St Distaff’s Day. Funnily enough St Distaff was never a real person or saint and a distaff was actually the name given to a spinning tool. It was customary on this day for men to try and steal the women’s flax and burn it; after which the women would pay the men back by throwing water over them!

After the blessing of the plough, thirty to forty men would assume the role of the oxen and pull the plough out of the church and into the village. Going from door to door the men would shout, “Penny for the Plough Boys”, as they collected money for the church. Other donations such as food was gratefully received especially as they would not have been paid during the Christmas holiday.

The money that was collected paid for the ‘Plough Candle’ which would burn before an image of a saint. The burning candle was believed to bless all of those who worked the land or who were connected with it in some way, such as the threshers, the reapers, the carters, the smiths and the millers.

The Plough Boys always wore white clothes that normally consisted of a shirt that was worn over a waist coat. Their arms and shoulders were covered in colourful ribbons tied in large bows and their faces were disguised under layers of black earth, soot or red ochre. On their heads sat a tall hat with small bunches of dried corn which fell to the ground when they moved.

The procession was accompanied by an old woman or a young boy dressed up as one, called the ‘Bessy’. Someone else would be dressed up as the ‘fool’, covered in fox fur, a hood and a tail. This character also carried a pig’s bladder on the end of a stick. It is believed that the character of the old woman might possibly be a remnant of an ancient mother/crone goddess from the Roman festivals called ‘Compitalia’. These extremely old festivals honoured the spirits of the family and home and could take place anytime between Saturnalia and 5th January.

It was traditional during Ploughtide to damage the front garden of anyone who refused to make a donation by using a plough. If this act of vandalism took place during Ploughtide it was not seen as a punishable crime.

The celebrations lasted several days and consisted of music, dancing around the plough and intricate sword fighting plays (folk plays that enacted a symbolic death and resurrection of one of the characters; a remnant of an ancient fertility rite). The dances were usually only performed by the farm workers who hoped that their high jumping would determine the height of the grain.

In Scotland, there used to be a rite called the ‘Streeking of the Plough, where the workers would symbolically wrap up a portion of their food and tie it firmly to the beam of the plough as well as pour some of their drink (normally whiskey) over it. The food that was tied to the plough was not to be touched or removed. This was seen as an extremely important custom to ensure a prosperous ploughing, sowing and subsequent harvest; perhaps an offering to the goddess. In Cairney, after the first furrow had been ploughed, bread, cheese and milk porridge was given to the ploughman and the first slice of cheese was always offered to the herd boy. The consistency of the porridge had to be just right because if it was too thin, then it didn’t bode well for the next season’s crops.

Good Friday was seen as a very unlucky day to start ploughing the fields in Scotland. This superstition was so strong that eventually all Fridays were seen as unlucky.

In Whittlesey, as part of the Ploughtide celebrations, a ‘straw bear’ man, completely covered in straw was led on a string and made to dance in front of every house in return for money. It is believed that the ‘straw bear’ represented the spirit of the corn bestowing its favours on every household and therefore ensuring a plentiful harvest. It is still a custom today and you can find plenty of photos online.

There is a strange tale that tells the story of a man and a boy who were in the fields ploughing one day when they both heard a little cry coming from a nearby copse. They stopped what they are doing and ran towards the sound where they found one of the little folk sobbing that he had lost his pick. The farmer searched for the tool and eventually found it for the little man, who rewarded them both with cheese, bread and cider. The man eagerly ate the food, but the boy does not because he was wary of the gift. As time went on a practice known as The Cake in the Furrow evolved and people began leaving offerings in the fields at the beginning of the ploughing season and some believe that this is how Plough Monday came to be in Worcestershire.

The Anglo Saxons, according to ‘De temporum ratione’ written by the Venerable Bede, named the month of February ‘Solmonath’; the month of mud or the plough (depending on how it is translated). People would offer cakes to the gods at this time of year, leaving them in the furrows. The only other time they did this was at harvest time ‘Hlaefmaesse’. It is interesting to note that they thanked the gods at the time of sowing and at the time of harvesting.

The Anglo Saxons also had a charm or blessing that they performed to encourage a plentiful harvest on a barren piece of land or to reverse a curse that had been placed on it. The aptly named ‘Field Remedy’ or ‘Aecerbot’ is a long complex ritual that requires specific list of ingredients to cleanse and heal the land. If you want to learn more about this incantation, then you can see it here http://www2.hawaii.edu/~kjolly/field.htm.  You will notice that there is a mixture of pagan and Christian elements within it.

No one knows for sure where these specific festivals originate from, however, there is one theory that points to the Danes. There is a possibility that the Danes could have bought these traditions over with them when they settled in England. The only regions where there is evidence of this type of festival being celebrated is in the north east of England and the east Midlands; regions that were under Danelaw. I highly recommend that you read the research of Pete Millington who goes into great detail and discusses the similarities and differences between the old Danish customs and the old English ones. If you do not have the time to read the whole paper then I suggest that you just read ‘Discussions’ and ‘Conclusion’. You can find it here http://petemillington.uk/ploughmonday/Origins.php

Plough Monday is believed by many to have heralded the start of the ploughing season. I am of the opinion, however, that this was only the case for southern Europe because the earth would have still been far too hard to plough effectively in northern regions. Perhaps rituals were performed well before the ploughing season so as to have plenty of time to prepare before the earth had warmed up. In some areas ploughing would have actually taken place in the autumn.

Sources:

Chambers Book of Days by Robert Chambers (1864)

The Every Day Book by William Hone (1825)

Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton (2001)

The Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs by Weiser Francis (1958)

The English Year by Steve Roud (2008)

De temporum ratione by Bede (725)

The Goddess Brigid And Imbolc

Imbolc means “the belly of the mother” or Oimelc “the feast of ewe’s milk” and its celebration falls around 1st February each year. This festival of light also known as Disfest and Candlemas is a time that balances between two worlds. We can still see and feel the fingers of winter resting on the land, but if you look closely enough there are signs of the promise of new life breaking through the fog and ice. The time for awakening is now. All of our dreams and aspirations that have been gestating over the past season are ready to break forth and are searching for the nourishment of the sun. The period of contemplation and inner workings has come to an end and our determination and drive are now needed to create momentum.

Our ancestors, like farmers today, would have been busy with the lambing season, as well as mending their ploughs ready for working the soil in preparation for planting. Moreover, it was a time for them to give thanks to the Gods and spirits of the land for not only future harvests, but for having kept their families and livestock safe during the bleak winter months.

Many modern day pagans honour Brigid at this time; who is a goddess of midwives, blacksmiths, poets, fertility and healing, as well as corn and cattle. She is known by many names and there are just as many myths and legends about her too. Brigid is a fire goddess who lights the hearths of the poor and who kindles the flame inside of us; the nourishing flame that sustain us in difficult times.

Brigid is a Celtic goddess who was absorbed into the Christian faith as Saint Brigid of Kildare, Ireland, during the sixth century and as Bride in Scotland. She is also associated with the Goddess Brig of the Brigantes, an ancient culture in the North of England. Personally, I believe that there are traces of her much earlier than this and you can catch glimpses of her during the time of the Picts and even as far back as the Neolithic.

This time of year was very important to the Celtic people and they had many customs and traditions that were handed down the generations.

Doll like figures of Brigid called Brideog used to be fashioned out of barley. This sheaf traditionally had a shell or small crystal over the heart and represented the guiding star of Brigid. A talisman of protection and prosperity it was believed to bring good fortune for the coming year. The doll was often greeted and blessings were asked of her. During the winter the doll was returned to the fields or forests once the shell or crystal had been removed.

Goddess Brigid was said to visit people’s homes at Imbolc, so in preparation for this, a small bed was made for her out of a box or basket. By welcoming Brigid to stay overnight our ancestors were symbolically asking that her gifts of fertility and healing be bestowed upon the household. The hearth was also dedicated to Brigid; it was a sacred space for food preparation, family gatherings and a source of warmth and light.

Brigid’s cross and sun wheel were symbols of sympathetic magic and were used to encourage the sun to grow in strength again after the harsh winter. These were also protective charms for thatchers.

It was customary to leave some bread, cake and milk for Brigid with a candle in the window so that she would know to come in. Another custom was to throw a sheaf of oats or some bread or cake against the front doorstep on the eve of Imbolc to drive away hunger during the coming months and an offering of hay, grass or corn was also made for Brigid’s cow.

In some areas of Britain a procession of young people would accompany Brigit around the village on Imbolc Eve to beg alms. Brigit was normally a girl dressed in a costume or simply a doll. If it was a group of girls they would dress in white and sing and dance as they went from house to house. They were known as the Bride Maiden Band. In some villages, boys dressed up as girls and known as Biddy Boys went begging from door to door. This idea was probably to emulate Brigid’s good work as she was known to collect clothes, food and money for the poor. People would give cheese, eggs, butter, biscuits or money because it was thought that this would encourage a good harvest, prosperity and good luck.

Some stories say that Brigid had a magical cloak that possessed healing and protective powers and could expand for miles on end. The cloak’s colour was originally green, but when she became a saint the colour changed to white. It was said that if you left a piece of cloth outside on Imbolc eve then Brigid would bless it with the same powers of her cloak. This was beneficial for sick animals and would have been kept for the whole year until the following Imbolc when it would be blessed anew.

Brigid’s magical girdle or belt had the same healing powers as her cloak and the four crosses that were said to be embroided on it symbolised protection at all four cardinal directions. People would craft a long belt from straw and step through it three times, kissing it as they went through right foot first. This was seen as a symbol of rebirth and would ensure good health and protection.

In ancient times pilgrims would travel from afar to bring offerings and ask for blessings at sacred wells and springs dedicated to Brigid. Long before coins were thrown into the waters, brass rings, silver and gold were offered. People would bathe in the healing waters and dress the well or spring with flowers, leaves and pieces of cloth.

Brigid is not the only Goddess that is remembered at Imbolc. The Cailleach was said to gather firewood at Imbolc so she would have enough to see her through to the warmer months. Legend says that if the Cailleach wants the cold to last a bit longer then Imbolc would be bright and sunny, so as to allow her to collect firewood. So you can imagine how relieved our ancestors must have been when Imbolc was overcast and wet. It meant that the Cailleach was fast asleep and winter was almost over.

Being Mindful Of The Land

The majority of us who walk an earth based spiritual path have at its core several seasonal celebrations. This ever changing cycle of seasons guides us and connects us to the natural world beyond our front door; from times of fertile abundance to times of stark simplicity. Celebrating each turn of the wheel has helped me to forge my own rituals and traditions that are in tune with where I live. By celebrating this way I am now more aware of the subtle signposts that Mother Nature leaves for me to follow and despite the passing of time never ceasing to rest, each moment has become so much more enriched and appreciated.

Up until recently I believed that what I was doing was not only reconnecting me to the land that I lived on, but also to the creatures and plants that shared this beautiful British landscape with me too. However, four weeks ago, I started coming across more and more information on the worrying subject of the growing water shortages across the world. I wasn’t purposefully researching or reading about this topic, but it just kept popping up over and over again. What I have read and consequently learnt has changed how I view and live the changing seasons forever and I believe that it will do the same for you too.

We live in a world of instant gratification that allows us to have almost anything we want, whenever we want. There is no longer the need to wait patiently and anticipate anything anymore. If you want to buy a new dress, no problem; pin number at the ready. If you need to research for a college project, no worries; your trusty smart phone has all the answers; no dusty library books for you. If you fancy eating a tomato and cucumber salad sandwich in January, no sweat; it’s just another lunch break at the office.

On the surface, all of these appear to be your normal day to day mundane activities, nothing out of the ordinary you might say; but the way we live our lives today has consequences. So what could possibly be one of the consequences of eating that tomato and cucumber sandwich on a January lunch break? Sadly, if you are living in the northern hemisphere, an extremely tragic one. What follows is everything that I have learnt over these past few weeks.

There are tens of thousands of cargo ships on our oceans that transport fruit and vegetables to our ports everyday to feed our growing need to eat what we believe to be healthy fresh produce all year round. A single one of these large ships emits more pollutants into our atmosphere, in one year, than all of the cars on the planet put together. As for cargo planes, they are able to burn four litres of fuel per second, needing almost 250,000 litres for just one trip. Pollution is not the only consequences of us eating fresh food that is not in season.

Transporting these huge amounts of perishable foods requires gallons and gallons of water, which in the form of ice keeps everything as fresh as possible during these very long journeys. This means that we are taking water from communities that already have so little, especially as the process of growing fruit and vegetables requires huge amounts of water in itself.

California has suffered on and off for years from droughts and more often than not the fault of global warming is cited as the cause. Personally, I believe that the huge burden that California has to feed the whole of the United States with fresh fruit and vegetables to be a more sensible reason for its water shortages. Ninety percent of the broccoli that Americans eat comes from California: ninety seven percent of kiwis, ninety seven percent of plums, ninety five percent of celery, the list goes on and on. California is also the number one American exporter of fresh produce to Canada, Europe and China and it is now turning into a desert.

Whereas California has the responsibility of feeding the United States, Spain has this honour in Europe. The country’s soil is being depleted of all of its nutrients. If you live in Europe, the next time you go to the supermarket have a good look at the fruit and vegetable labels. Nine times out of ten, when it isn’t the summer, they will say produce of Spain.

South Africa is another huge exporter of fresh produce and in three months time Cape Town will have completely run out of water. Residents are being heavily rationed and I dread to think of what will happen if it doesn’t rain before then. Is this another victim of the billion dollar fresh produce industry?

As you have surely realised by now, eating food that is not produced in your country and food that isn’t in season is not sustainable. How have we arrived at this point where we are not only harming whole communities, but the Earth’s resources, animals and plants as well? Industrial farming and all that it entails is destroying our beautiful planet. It is blurring the distinct lines between our seasons and turning them into one big mono season. What we are eating is also dulling our taste buds to the extent that we no longer know what real food tastes like. We have so lost touch with the seasons that we no longer know what crops naturally grow on our land, when they are naturally in abundance and when they are not.

Have you ever asked yourself why tomatoes are crunchy and taste like water when you buy them in the winter? It’s because these tomatoes are actually green and unripe. Even if they are grown in heated, energy guzzling green houses in Spain they are unable to ripen. So to fool us into believing that they are ready to eat, the tomatoes are sprayed with a gas called Ethylene which turns them red. Delicious!

Thankfully, all hope is not lost and each and every one of us can do our bit by mindfully eating what is seasonally grown in our own country. My family and I have been eating seasonally grown food from the UK for the past month now and the positive ways it has affected our lives far out weigh the superficial loss of not eating bananas, avocadoes and cucumbers. We actually haven’t missed eating them at all and we now have an even greater respect for our ancestors who did perfectly well without them too. So what are some of these positives that I am talking about?

By buying local and seasonal food we are supporting our country’s farmers and producers. We are getting food that is at its prime freshness and cheapest too. I have actually saved money, even when buying organic. An abundance of crops pushes down the prices.

With less ingredients to cook with I did start to panic a little in the beginning, but honestly I didn’t have anything to worry about. Mother Nature knows best and everything that is harvested at the same time of year all goes perfectly well together. It has also given me the opportunity to experiment and try out new recipes. Bubble and Squeak anyone? It’s a British classic!

Seasonal food is tastier, fresher (it isn’t days old before even arriving at the supermarket) and more nutritional. Food that is grown on the land where we live has all the minerals and vitamins that we need for that time of the year. Fruit and vegetables grown in the summer have a higher water content, perfect for hydrating us and are lighter to digest. The humble tomato which of course is a summer fruit contains Lycopene, which can actually protect our skin, to a certain extent, from the sun. Winter produce is more denser, grounding and filling, perfect for keeping us warm and satisfied. Like I’ve said before, Mother Nature knows best!

Buying seasonal food is a great way to connect with and learn more about our local landscape and all that live there.

Eating mindfully and authentically allows us to appreciate the food that we have because we only have it for a short period of time. There is no chance of us getting bored before anticipating the arrival of the next season. Even before deciding to eat only fresh seasonal food, we have always only eaten British plums, strawberries and raspberries due to the superior taste compared to the produce from Spain. Which means that for a very long time we have only eaten these during the summer or early autumn.

Growing and selling food seasonally brings local communities closer together and encourages people to try out growing methods such as permaculture which our ancestors would have practised and it heals the land. Consequently, we are not exploiting the Earth’s resources or marginalised communities.

Here are some ideas that you may like to try out that will help you to eat more seasonally too.

  • Visit farmers’ markets and chat with the growers. Ask them questions about how they grow their produce. More often than not your small local growers are using natural growing methods and not herbicides, pesticides or artificial fertilisers.
  • Go to farm shops.
  • Read the food labels of fruit and vegetable packaging to find out where they are grown.
  • Notice what fruit and vegetables are the cheapest. Cheap normally means plentiful and in season.
  • Have a go at growing something yourself: on your balcony, your windowsills or even on your decking. You can find space if you look for it.
  • Once you have your beautiful home grown harvest, learn new skills and make jams, chutneys and sauces. You can also freeze most of it too.
  • See if there is an allotment or community project in your area.
  • Subscribe to a veggie delivery service. These are usually organic and everything is normally grown within 100 miles of where you live.
  • Especially buy apples from your own country. In Britain, due to intensive farming, property development and many supermarkets refusing to stock home grown fruit; 60% of apple orchards have been destroyed since 1970. Three thousand varieties of apples and pears have been lost. This not only damages the wildlife and land, but also the livelihoods of family businesses that have been working the orchards for generations. Orchards are a wildlife haven for so many mammals and insects especially foxes, badgers, bees and butterflies. Of course we mustn’t forget the humble mistletoe too. 680,000 tons of apples are eaten in Britain every year and are the second most popular fruit after bananas.

I believe that what we eat and where our food comes from not only affects us on a physical level, but on a spiritual level too. How can we truly forge a relationship with the changing seasons and the land we live on if we are not eating its seasonal bounties? The concept of harvest has a completely different meaning when we choose to wait patiently to savour a juicy tasty ripe tomato in August for example. I definitely have a deeper connection and respect now, not only for the land itself, but for those who came before me and who hunted, gathered and harvested its fruits.

For the past few weeks I have only bought seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables grown in the UK. The exception for three out of the four weeks has been onions from Holland (drying onions in the UK after harvesting them is extremely difficult and sadly they go mouldy very quickly). This month I have bought cabbages, leeks, Brussels sprouts, cauliflowers, carrots, potatoes, kale, turnip, parsnip, swede, beetroot, and apples; all of which are UK grown. I have supplemented the fresh produce with organic dry beans, rice (I am looking into buying Italian rice) and tinned tomatoes. Canned and dry food has much less of an impact on the Earth than fresh produce from abroad and I am still doing my best to research about what comes from where. It isn’t always easy, but then change seldom is. It is a gradual process, but one that I know will definitely yield a positive outcome.

To mindfully shop for fresh seasonal food is possible. So let’s bring our seasons back to their former glory, heal the land and banish the mono season forever.

Wassailing Traditions

Wassailing has been associated with Yuletide for hundreds of years. The word wassail comes from the Anglo Saxon “waes hael” meaning to be of good health. This old custom took place at the beginning of the New Year when good wishes could be passed between family and friends.

Wassail is an ale which is seasoned with spices and honey and was served in huge bowls made of pewter or silver with perhaps an egg or two. The huge bowl was passed around with the greeting of “wassail” and was often taken to other people’s homes as well. This has now become the tradition of carol singing. The lord of the manor would often shout “waes hael” and the assembled crowd would reply “drinc hael” which means drink and be healthy. He would then give food and drink to them in exchange for their blessings and good will. ” Love and joy come to you and to your wassail too. And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year”.

Apple Tree Wassails are songs that were sung to the health of the apple trees. In some places this tradition took place on Christmas Eve and in others it was on twelfth night ( 6th January or 17th January before the calendar changed in England in 1752). For others, New Year’s Day morning had young boys “Apple Howling”, where they would beat the trees with willow sticks and sing rhymes.

It was tradition to sprinkle wassail ale around the base of the apple trees and to pour it on the roots of the largest and most beautiful tree, after which it was dressed with ribbons or strips of cloth. Pieces of toast soaked in ale were also placed in between the tree’s branches.

The villagers would then gather around the orchard, banging on pots and pans, making a tremendous noise to wake up the spirit of the trees and to frighten away any bad spirits.

Wassail songs were sung or chanted as a blessing to bring a good apple harvest the following autumn. Part of the labourers’ wages would have been paid in ale, so the owner of the orchard needed healthy abundant apple crops to attract good workers.

“Apple tree, apple tree we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sacks fills…”

In parts of the UK there are still places that practice wassailing, so keep your eyes open for these and join in the fun. If not you could perhaps buy a small fruit tree and adapt this tradition to suit you.

Finding My Way Back Home

August 2016

I am finally writing my very first blogpost. It has taken me a long time to pluck up the courage to do this, as ever since I have joined the online pagan community I have believed that no one would be faintly interested in hearing what I had to say.

I am no pagan or occult expert; I possess no witchy credentials or have astral travel mileage behind me. I don’t even own a single animal skull. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did buy a plastic crow skeleton last Samhain and he has sat magestically on my bookshelf ever since.

I am just little old me. A girl who has found herself on an exciting path of spiritual discovery who wants to strip everything back to the bare bones so she can heal herself and others too who wish to come along for the ride. And I also want to find my authentic place in the world.

As a child growing up in the Christian faith, it was easy to feel part of a family, a part of something much larger than myself and it never crossed my mind to question any of it. Every Sunday and every Day of Obligation I dutifully turned up to celebrate with others just like myself year in and year out.

But I gradually became aware of a dawning realisation. I wasn’t like everyone else. I didn’t feel or believe everything that they believed. It wasn’t a one religion fits all scenario. I was going through the motions, but I felt numb inside. I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t just to keep the peace. And what had happened to my connection to God and the Virgin Mary? Did this connection even exist? Perhaps I had always been blindsided by the pomp and ceremony to even realise that it was never there in the first place.

I didn’t want to be here anymore. I wasn’t here for me. I was here for others. Even God didn’t want to be here.

The day I told my family I was no longer going to church anymore is a day that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Seven years later it is all water under the bridge. They have accepted it, but they don’t like it. They believe that I am still a Christian albeit one that no longer practices and I will never tell them otherwise because would hurt them too much. Of course this makes me sad that I am unable to share this part of my life with them, a part of my life that means so much to me and brings me so much joy and inspiration. I do my best not to dwell on it. I am blessed, however, to have a wonderful husband and two children who are as open minded and free spirited as I am. They are also walking their own unique paths in this life, discovering awe and wonder in the world around them and I am proud and excited to be a part of that.

Walking away from Christianity, was a lot easier than I imagined it would be, it was liberating and it felt right. Not once did I fear the fires of eternal damnation. The hardest part was actually filling the void that was left in its place.

Shortly after I had to move from the city to the countryside, a floodgate inside of me gushed open. A spiritual awakening was happening that was somehow miraculously triggered by my new environment. With no light pollution I could see the moon and the stars in high definition, even the international space station zipping over my head. While my hands were in the earth, I could hear buzzards and swallows calling from nearby. The Divine was here, but nothing like I had experienced before, except only as a child. Childhood memories came rushing back; faeries, spirits……magic.

There was something here more ancient than Christianity, even more ancient than time itself and it was calling me. I needed to know what it was, what it was called. So I read and researched, watched videos and researched even more, absorbing as much as I mentally could. I was like Neo and I was definitely plugged in.

July 2017

For many people who break away from Christianity, the realisation that the world is their oyster sinks in pretty quickly. I was no different and the feeling of euphoria was incredible, albeit overwhelming. Feeling like a child in a sweet shop I ‘travelled’ around the world picking a little something from every belief system I wanted and began tailor making my own spirituality.

At times I must admit this did leave a bitter taste in my mouth. The words “cultural appropriation” cropped up now and again, but I drowned them out with the excuse that I was a universal spirit, a part of the diversity that is life. I believed that just because I wasn’t a Native American or Tibetan Monk in this life, didn’t mean that I wasn’t one in a previous life time.  We were all part of the same spiritual soul family.

However, the unease of mixing different spiritual beliefs within my practice came back in full force. An understanding hit me; I was lost because I had cut myself off from my own ancestral roots. I was caught in the shining lights of exotic lands. I thought I believed that I was honouring my ancestors, but how could I be if I was off walking the Medicine Wheel and applying Buddhist teachings to my life?

Having an Ancestry DNA test confirmed my misgivings and gave me such clarity, that I knew exactly where I needed to look for spiritual and ancestral guidance. My own heritage. The land on which I tread is the same land as my blood kin and that is why I now follow a path of Anglo Saxon Heathenry.

I am not the same person I was seven years ago, not even the same person I was last month. My knowledge, understanding and spiritual beliefs are continuously evolving. My journey is changing who I am and this transformation is for the better.

I just wanted to share a little part of me and if you have stayed to the end of this post then I am truly grateful that you have taken the time to listen to what I have had to say. If I have touched or inspired just one person to break free and find the courage to step onto their own path of self discovery then I am content.