Wytch Hazel Cottage

Reclaiming Our Ancestral Folkways

Category: A Heathen Life

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.

The Importance Of Tradition

The British Isles were once overflowing with customs and rites that could be found weaved into the landscape and the rhythm of life itself. Isolated tribes sprung forth from camp fires and eventually formed close knit communities that shared the same values, traditions and worldview. Their art, story telling, music and ancestry were things they held dear and protecting them was paramount to the tribe’s legacy. By doing this they created a never ending line of ancestors that rooted them to a place of origin. They all knew who they were and where they came from and they were extremely proud of that.

The quickening tempo of progress, however, brought with it industrialisation and little by little the roots of each community began to erode and all the folk memories of our heritage and traditions with it. It was the church as well, in an attempt to stamp out pagan customs, that was also responsible for the decline of ancestral traditions. Christian churches were built over pagan temples, altars replaced pagan idols and Christian feast days were celebrated at around the same time as earlier pagan festivals. Gradually, although never entirely, the old gods were overthrown and an underground resistance appeared. The old ways were practised behind closed doors and our pagan ancestors did the best they could to pass on their folkways to the next generation until they too faded away.

Today we live in a society that encourages individualism and rejects collectivism. Many people listlessly roam from one thing to another, searching for something meaningful and familiar to feed their souls. They don’t know exactly what this is so they buy themselves useless gadgets and fashions, they over indulge and spend hours on social media, regurgitating other people’s opinions so they feel like they fit in. But those feelings of emptiness and yearning never truly go away and they ignore the truth that they are in fact homesick. They are actually missing their ancestral home. By separating themselves from their past and their heritage they have now become uprooted.

Marcus Garvey once said,” A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

In this day and age it is more important than ever to look back and reconnect the broken thread between ourselves and our ancestors. Once we lose our rich cultural heritage we become lost. We lose sight of our north star and can no longer see the path that our ancestors were guiding us along. If we don’t know where we come from then how can we know where we are headed and if our customs and folklore all die out then we lose the colourful diversity that makes up our heritage.

Psychologists have proven that having an intimate knowledge of our family roots and the history of our people is extremely important if we are to be well adjusted and self confident individuals. Understanding our past and knowing that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves fills us with pride and purpose. Traditions and rituals are part of our human story and provide us with an identity and a sense of place in the world. By sharing and experiencing these with others who have the same values and goals, we create a collective identity which in turn shapes our work ethic, our sense of community, our personal responsibility, our morals, empathy and how we respect one another. They also create strong role models and instil in us a sense of belonging. Traditions therefore have an extremely powerful way of replacing unhealthy and unnatural habits and mindsets that many young people possess today.

Thankfully, there are still many of us who hold our heritage dear and have a desire to preserve the practices of our ancestors and in doing so we stop them from disappearing altogether. By coaxing these ancestral memories back to life we are giving them a new sense of purpose so we can safe guard them for future generations. It is such a beautiful thing to be able to live and breathe our traditions and not have them stuffed behind glass cabinets in museums or hidden among the pages of musty books.

Appreciate your ancestral traditions and embrace them, for they are the accumulation of all of your ancestors’ knowledge and understanding of the world. Our traditions rise up out of our culture and if we don’t practise them then we lose them which in turn has us losing an integral part of ourselves forever.

Seek out your own heritage and be curious because your ancestors have so much to show you.

The painting depicts a traditional Morris dance and is called ‘The Thames at Richmond with the old Royal Palace’. It was painted in the early 17th century by an unknown artist.

Reinventing The Wheel

Stepping onto an earth based path from having previously been a Christian was very unnerving for me. I had absolutely no idea what to do to get myself up and over the invisible wall that I imagined was blocking my way. Even though I knew deep down that the faith I grew up with no longer served me, at least there was a safe familiarity about it; the routine, the boundaries, the expectations. All of these were ironically comforting. I didn’t have to think for myself because it was all done for me.

My free fall into unfamiliar territory was thankfully short and my discovery of ‘The Wheel of the Year’ gave me the structure and guidance that I so desperately needed. ‘The Wheel of the Year’ as many of you will know is the neo-pagan seasonal calendar that celebrates the solstices, the equinoxes and the four fire festivals; the latter being based on the agricultural year and Celtic mythology. Collectively, neo- pagans call these celebrations ‘Sabbats’.

My journey along the path of seasons and ancestors was and still is a slow and appreciative one. I see the world through the eyes of a child, noticing the subtle changes of Mother Nature’s breath; subtleties that I never would have made the time to notice before because I was just too busy being busy. But now I make a conscious effort to stop and take note.

How could I have seriously believed that February was winter and that August was summer? Lambs take their first tentative steps in February among the snowdrops while crocuses burst through the frozen ground. These are the subtleties of spring. And as for August, how did I not realise that the leaves begin to turn and the mornings hold the promise of cooler days ahead? These are the subtleties of autumn.

As I have been celebrating each turn of the Wheel I have come to realise how much more connected I feel to the land around me. Each spoke of the Wheel gives me the opportunity to take stock of my life and to appreciate how far I have come. With our busy modern lives it is all too easy to lose track of time as we get caught up in the daily humdrum, forgetting that we are one with the world; the world that is right outside the kitchen window.

If we were to just take notice of the earth’s rhythms, her ebbs and flows, our five senses would explode into life. We would see the grass snake basking in the last rays of sunshine. We would hear the swallows as they take off for warmer climes. We would smell the musty damp leaves as they slowly decompose and become part of the rich soil. We would taste the bonfire smoke on our tongue and feel the crisp sharp wind on our face.

So this is how it has been for me for these past few years until this autumn when I didn’t celebrate Lughnasadh. My heart just wasn’t in it, there was no anticipation and this led to me feeling very disappointed with myself. I had never missed a seasonal festival ever; I loved them all.

Yet I came to the stark realisation that a change was needed. I had to start thinking for myself again and break away from yet another stale practice. Even following the ‘Wheel of the Year’ can deprive a person of a free flowing, organic and creative spirituality.

The traditional ‘Wheel of the Year’ has been a wonderful introduction to a pagan practise and I am grateful for the solid foundation that it has given me, but I no longer want to be comfortable, I no longer want to follow the crowd and just go through the motions. I needed a practise that meant something to me; to my land, my ancestors, my folkways.

My spirituality is a living breathing organism. It doesn’t want me to practice the same rite on the same day, year in year out. Isn’t that what Christianity is all about? It wanted me to go outside and be guided by the wildflowers, the trees, the standing stones and the streams, to follow the heart beat of the earth and allow it to show me when the right moment was to celebrate the transition between the seasons of where I lived. Spontaneous and unpredictable it needed to be nurtured.

This way of conscious living reflects entirely how our pre-Christian ancestors would have lived. People long ago were not enslaved by the clock and the calendar; instead they allowed themselves to be guided by the earth and the moon. Rituals were not rushed and the preparations took the time they took. Celebrating the arrival of spring on the Isle Of Man did not happen at the same time as celebrations in the county of Kent and so it should be the same for us today.

So now I am looking to reinvent my own wheel of the year at the same time as being mindful of the rhythms within the landscape that surrounds me. And if I happen to celebrate the turning of a season the day before everyone else or a week after everyone else then that is just fine. We all need to follow the beat of our own drum, as well as to remember that our ancestors celebrated more festivals and rites on their own than they collectively did with their tribe.

For the moment I am thinking about ways to personalise my year so that it will compliment my spiritual path as it stands today. To achieve this the following are just a few ideas that I would like to incorporate into my daily practise.

  • Research the folkways of my Celtic and Anglo Saxon ancestors and how they celebrated the turnings of the seasons.
  • Mark meaningful days to me on my calendar such as Joan of Arc’s feast day and days of remembrance for my kin and other figures that inspire me to be a better person.
  • Carve out time to explore and reconnect to my landscape, trusting in the natural signs that indicate when change is occurring in my environment and not just celebrating a festival because the calendar says I should.
  • Go for daily walks even in the rain.
  • Leave small daily offerings in the garden or out on my walks, such as native wildflower seeds, acorns, hazelnuts or homemade bread. These offerings could be for a deity, my ancestors or the land spirits.
  • Keep a field guide where I can write about my explorations, thoughts and impressions. A notebook that I can fill with sketches, maps, leaves and flowers. A place where I can observe and note down the weather, temperature, moon phases and the time that the sun and moon rise and set or even the return of the swallows that nest in the old barn behind our cottage. Poems, herbal remedies and rituals. A messy and wonderful keep sake of my spiritual journey.

If you are feeling that your spiritual practice has become stale and uninspiring then I urge you to give some of these ideas a go and let me know of the things that you do to keep in tune with the unfolding of the seasons. I would love to hear about them.

The photo is of the Boskednan Stone Circle in Cornwall

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.