Happy solstice!

Yay, the longest day of the year! I love Litha, and that it’s in the weekend is very fortunate (though I usually celebrate sabbats in the weekend). I’ve got some wonderful things planned, cause now I actually have time on the solstice itself!

For me, most important is being outdoors as long as possible during midsummer. It won’t be nice weather, but I hope it at least stays dry. Or that it only starts raining when I’m back and can enjoy the rainfall from inside or from our balcony rather than from my bike. I would have planned to go walking during Litha, but coincidentally we (colleagues and I) are celebrating the end of the school year. And we’re going rowing! I think the last time I was in a canoe was when I was 11 or something like that, during a very rainy vacation near the Loire (France). My mother and brother went to the middle of the river, decided it was too scary and went back, but my dad and I had the best time! So I’m really looking forward to canoeing again with friends. It’s bound to be hilarious… and difficult, probably.

Going on the water tomorrow and remembering the rainy vacation in France really made me wonder about Litha symbolism. I mainly celebrate the warmth of the sun, using yellows, reds and oranges on my altar. But earlier this week I saw a video by Pagyptian, one of the people I follow on YouTube, about Litha and water, as opposed to fire. It really made me think, so I’d like to share it with you.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? We need the balance of water to keep the fire from burning us. And thinking of summer activities, going to the beach is probably one of the most prominent ones. I was inspired, so my altar now has reds and yellows, but also some sea shells 🙂 I’m also making a sun out of red and yellow paper and skewers. It’s currently drying, but when it’s finished and turned out well, I’ll make a post on how to make it. I really like the effect the skewers give as sunrays.

As always, food is a rather large part of my celebration. I had planned to try and make small pineapple upside down cakes, but my pineapple isn’t ripe yet. So I’ll make banana bread and a mango-nectarine salad (love soft summer fruits!). I’ve got cherries as well 🙂 Bottom line is that I’ll be eating wonderfully sweet fruits all day an that I’ll be enjoying the longest day! What do you have planned for midsummer?

 

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Here comes the light!

Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap

Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The winter solstice has past, meaning the sun is on its return! Though I enjoy being indoors with my husband, cozy and warm in our house, I prefer the days to be longer. Many of you will probably experience the same problems I have getting out of bed in the morning. In summer, I can be up at 7 (not that I do), but in winter I have to get up at 8 and I’m still sluggish at 9. All creatures seem to have that, though, saving energy. When I’m snug in my bed, I can totally imagine retreating for the winter.

But, on the other hand, it’s so nice outside! The most beautiful images of the dawn with the sun so low. When we have snow (which we haven’t had yet and probably only will have in the new year), it’s a winter wonderland outside. It reminds me of paintings by Pieter de Bruegel. I want to go ice skating, build a snowman, throw snowballs and really generally have a good time! Which I will, no matter what.

The best part of Yule and Christmas alike is spending time with your family. Tightening the bonds whilst sitting together by the Christmas tree. Exchanging gifts and (for us) celebrating my grandmother’s birthday. Enjoying the food everyone brought, but not for the food itself, but for it being made by your family and eaten together.

So light the candles and enjoy the season! Brightest blessings!

Blessed Samhain!

I want to wish you all a blessed Samhain!

Last weekend, the clock was turned back, meaning it is now darkening at about 6. As a ‘dark’ time of the year, I associate it with death, ending, which is why today I have honoured those who have passed on. On my cabinet, I’ve placed photos and objects of my ancestors, lit a candle and meditated a bit. Not very spectacular, but quite enough. Samhain is also a good moment for divination because, as some people like to say, ‘the veil between the worlds is thin’ at Samhain (hence also the connection to the ancestors and afterlife). Which meant for me that I practiced a bit with my rune set, because I am still learning 😉

Halloween is not yet very big in the Netherlands, but more and more people like to carve pumpkins and organize trick-or-treating for the children. Since we live in an apartment 3 floors high (and I like to display pumpkins if I carve them), I’ll be cooking with pumpkin tonight. For the first time ever, so fingers crossed! And I’m making another dish as well, just in case…

Should you have time and you are looking for some craft ideas connected to Samhain (which is obviously not limited to this day only, but, in my opinion, is a seasonal thing), try looking on Pinterest for ideas. I found great ideas for food, ghosts in the yard, pumpkin carving designs (including pagan themed carvings) and seasonal decoration. What I would like to do myself is to make an ancestor cloth. Last year I told you how I have started genealogy, researching my family tree, and I’ve always admired the huge tapestries or papers that show someone’s lineage. It just looks amazing! I would like to make something similar, but then a whole lot simpler 😉

In addition, I would like to make a small, portable shrine out of an old book. This is easier than it might sound, since it is quite similar to making a treasure chest. You have to cut out a center portion of the pages and glue them together, so you have a sort of box. In it, you can place small items, for example jewelry, an old watch or letters that have belonged to the deceased loved one. Just to add to it, I would cut out a center of the front and paste the subsequent page to it with only three sides. Are you visualizing (I don’t have a picture, sorry)? Yes, it would be a kind of envelope you might put something in. And for me personally, a photo inserted there would make it a more personal shrine, indicating whose it is.

So plenty of things to do, but most important: celebrate in any way you feel comfortable with! Blessed Samhain!

Guided Mabon meditation

Meditation is a wonderful technique, not only to relax, but also in magical working. For me personally, at this moment, I’ve only worked with visualization. Making pictures in your mind and focusing on them is a very powerful tool and actually one most people already learn to employ naturally during childhood. Many games involve imagination and visualization, and children are very good at it. I used to play a game where someone else would lie on the ground with their eyes closed and I’d tell a story and at the end of the story they were allowed to open their eyes again… it took me years to realize I was actually doing a guided meditation.

Guided meditations are my favourite, and on YouTube, you can find literally hundreds, if not thousands. Sometimes the voice sounds a bit weird, but just try to ignore that and listen to the tale (or search another if it’s too distracting). A few days ago, I found a guided Mabon meditation. A soothing voice, the symbolism and images that belong to the equinox and just long enough to be comfortable. As it says in the description, it is meant for Mabon, but much of the symbolism is also generally fall-related, so obviously you can enjoy it now as well.

There is much more to find, all different kinds of treasures online, so if this one doesn’t suit you, there are lots of other options. Let me know what you think!

Sifting through cooking magazines during Mabon

Today, I celebrated Mabon, the autumn equinox. The days are clearly shortening and the weather is markably changing. Actually, today was the first day without rain in at least two weeks. Mould was seriously beginning to develop, cause there wasn’t enough time for things to dry.

Mabon, for me, is mainly about counting your blessings, looking at the harvest of the year and giving thanks. Obviously, I got married this year and feel blessed with my wonderful husband. Which newlywed wouldn’t feel that way! My dad is changing his drinking habits, and this is really improving his relation with my little brother, who still lives at home. It had been going worse and worse with them.
My dad has a girlfriend, and my brother doesn’t like her. Dad stays at her place during the weekend and seems to want to move there… Add to that financial problems and the drinking, and you van understand why my dad and brother were (verbally) fighting constantly. I’m so grateful this isn’t happening that much anymore 😀 And though I still worry about my dad’s health (he’s so skinny I’m almost afraid to break something when hugging him), I know he’s changing his drinking.

Of course there are many other things I count amongst my blessings, but these are most prominent.

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Mabon is also associated with the harvest. Yes, this is both actual and spiritual, but my mind immediately goes FOOD! Lovely, hearthy, earthy dishes using the products of mother Earth. This week, I’ll probably eat beans once, since, yay, I can harvest some beans I’ve grown indoors. Probably about 5 to 10 actual beans… But hey, I’ve grown them myself 😉 I don’t have any pumpkins yet, so I think I might have done something wrong, probably something with watering. My green fingers are not that green.

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Well, then I can better just cook. I really want to try out new things, and I’m dying to finally try out pumpkin. Where to find new recipes? I usually find them in magazines about cooking. The grocery stores have free magazines, and I’ve collected so much and barely ever used them.  So my Mabon activity really consists of sifting through the magazines and cutting out recipes I like. I’ll sort them and make a special cook book pasting them in. Then I’ll make little cards with the names and we’ll draw a new one every week. Really, it’s a very simple way to plan meals and plan in new things. When I’m done, I’ll post what my new cookbook looks like!

So this is what I did at Mabon. What did you do?

Merry Lammas!

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Some pics of my Lammas preparations, since I’ll be celebrating mostly tomorrow.

Lammas preparations

Lammas is just around the corner! And what better way to celebrate a harvest festival than with food? Today and tomorrow will be entirely about making food and during a BBQ on Friday we can actually enjoy what I’ve made. And to set the scene, the weather forecast is sunny with 32 degrees Celsius. A perfect summer setting.

As the first harvest festival, for me it’s about summer fruits and veg, seeds that spread to enable new growth during spring and the celebration of the bountiful earth in general. I’ve taken a walk earlier this week as part of my walking challenge, seeing cornflower, poppy and chamomile together (planted there), making a wonderful mosaic of colours. I hope I’ll be able to collect some seeds and grow some of my own next year! On my table is a vase with (to me) enormous sunflowers as a sign for spring and my fruit basket is filled with apples, pears, peaches and mango… strawberries I keep in my fridge, obviously.

Contrast in bloemen Schaduwspel Wandeling polder Leiderdorp Wesp op bloem

I love the sweet summer fruits the first harvest brings and plan to use them optimally: fruit skewers with mango and peach, peach and strawberry salad and compote made of pear and apple. Lammas or ‘loaf-mass’ is also a festival of corn and grain and the bread you can produce with it. Even though I have some corn for the BBQ, I’m planning to make the bread for the BBQ myself. It’s been quite a while since I last made bread, because I need almost the entire day for it, but the smell alone makes it worthwhile, not to mention the satisfaction of eating home-made bread.

Many people don’t feel comfortable with chanting individually, and I am one of them. I tend to feel insecure – am I doing it right – even though I know there is no right and wrong and there is nobody to listen to me. It feels weird because I’m not used to it. So rather than talking or chanting out loud, I say what I want inside or write it down, and conduct my own little rituals. Even though making the meal is already ritual, I read something very nice on a BBC blog, by someone who spent some time on the island of Mull in Scotland and celebrated the sabbats. It is a food altar! You make an altar on the ground with food, making patterns or a picture and leave it there, returning something to the earth.

lammas food alter

I’m planning to do something similar, though it may not be done exclusively with food, but perhaps also with some of the small stones I recently brought back from my father’s house.

For now, I wish you all a blessed Lammas and hope you may enjoy the earth’s bounty once again.

The Snowdrop – Hans Christian Andersen

With Imbolc my mind can only stick to one image, which is the snowdrop as the first sign of spring! Unfortunately I haven’t seen any around just yet, but I’m bound to look for them tomorrow. As I was thinking on how to pass the day, I realized I wanted to do something around snowdrops, and I found this great story by Hans Christian Andersen on About.com. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have!

The Snow Drop

It was winter-time; the air was cold, the wind was sharp, but within the closed doors it was warm and comfortable, and within the closed door lay the flower; it lay in the bulb under the snow-covered earth.

One day rain fell. The drops penetrated through the snowy covering down into the earth, and touched the flower-bulb, and talked of the bright world above. Soon the Sunbeam pierced its way through the snow to the root, and within the root there was a stirring.

“Come in,” said the flower.

“I cannot,” said the Sunbeam. “I am not strong enough to unlock the door! When the summer comes I shall be strong!”

“When will it be summer?” asked the Flower, and she repeated this question each time a new sunbeam made its way down to her. But the summer was yet far distant. The snow still lay upon the ground, and there was a coat of ice on the water every night.

“What a long time it takes! what a long time it takes!” said the Flower. “I feel a stirring and striving within me; I must stretch myself, I must unlock the door, I must get out, and must nod a good morning to the summer, and what a happy time that will be!”

ImageAnd the Flower stirred and stretched itself within the thin rind which the water had softened from without, and the snow and the earth had warmed, and the Sunbeam had knocked at; and it shot forth under the snow with a greenish-white blossom on a green stalk, with narrow thick leaves, which seemed to want to protect it. The snow was cold, but was pierced by the Sunbeam, therefore it was easy to get through it, and now the Sunbeam came with greater strength than before.

“Welcome, welcome!” sang and sounded every ray, and the Flower lifted itself up over the snow into the brighter world. The Sunbeams caressed and kissed it, so that it opened altogether, white as snow, and ornamented with green stripes. It bent its head in joy and humility.

“Beautiful Flower!” said the Sunbeams, “how graceful and delicate you are! You are the first, you are the only one! You are our love! You are the bell that rings out for summer, beautiful summer, over country and town. All the snow will melt; the cold winds will be driven away; we shall rule; all will become green, and then you will have companions, syringas, laburnums, and roses; but you are the first, so graceful, so delicate!”

That was a great pleasure. It seemed as if the air were singing and sounding, as if rays of light were piercing through the leaves and the stalks of the Flower. There it stood, so delicate and so easily broken, and yet so strong in its young beauty; it stood there in its white dress with the green stripes, and made a summer. But there was a long time yet to the summer-time. Clouds hid the sun, and bleak winds were blowing.

“You have come too early,” said Wind and Weather. “We have still the power, and you shall feel it, and give it up to us. You should have stayed quietly at home and not have run out to make a display of yourself. Your time is not come yet!”

It was a cutting cold! The days which now come brought not a single sunbeam. It was weather that might break such a little Flower in two with cold. But the Flower had more strength than she herself knew of. She was strong in joy and in faith in the summer, which would be sure to come, which had been announced by her deep longing and confirmed by the warm sunlight; and so she remained standing in confidence in the snow in her white garment, bending her head even while the snow-flakes fell thick and heavy, and the icy winds swept over her.

“You’ll break!” they said, “and fade, and fade! What did you want out here? Why did you let yourself be tempted? The Sunbeam only made game of you. Now you have what you deserve, you summer gauk.” “Summer gauk!” she repeated in the cold morning hour.

“O summer gauk!” cried some children rejoicingly; “yonder stands one- how beautiful, how beautiful! The first one, the only one!”

These words did the Flower so much good, they seemed to her like warm sunbeams. In her joy the Flower did not even feel when it was broken off. It lay in a child’s hand, and was kissed by a child’s mouth, and carried into a warm room, and looked on by gentle eyes, and put into water. How strengthening, how invigorating! The Flower thought she had suddenly come upon the summer.

ImageThe daughter of the house, a beautiful little girl, was confirmed, and she had a friend who was confirmed, too. He was studying for an examination for an appointment. “He shall be my summer gauk,” she said; and she took the delicate Flower and laid it in a piece of scented paper, on which verses were written, beginning with summer gauk and ending with summer gauk. “My friend, be a winter gauk.” She had twitted him with the summer. Yes, all this was in the verses, and the paper was folded up like a letter, and the Flower was folded in the letter, too. It was dark around her, dark as in those days when she lay hidden in the bulb. The Flower went forth on her journey, and lay in the post-bag, and was pressed and crushed, which was not at all pleasant; but that soon came to an end.

The journey was over; the letter was opened, and read by the dear friend. How pleased he was! He kissed the letter, and it was laid, with its enclosure of verses, in a box, in which there were many beautiful verses, but all of them without flowers; she was the first, the only one, as the Sunbeams had called her; and it was a pleasant thing to think of that. 

She had time enough, moreover, to think about it; she thought of it while the summer passed away, and the long winter went by, and the summer came again, before she appeared once more. But now the young man was not pleased at all. He took hold of the letter very roughly, and threw the verses away, so that the Flower fell on the ground. Flat and faded she certainly was, but why should she be thrown on the ground? Still, it was better to be here than in the fire, where the verses and the paper were being burnt to ashes. What had happened? What happens so often:- the Flower had made a gauk of him, that was a jest; the girl had made a fool of him, that was no jest, she had, during the summer, chosen another friend. 

Next morning the sun shone in upon the little flattened Snowdrop, that looked as if it had been painted upon the floor. The servant girl, who was sweeping out the room, picked it up, and laid it in one of the books which were upon the table, in the belief that it must have fallen out while the room was being arranged. Again the flower lay among verses- printed verses- and they are better than written ones- at least, more money has been spent upon them. 

And after this years went by. The book stood upon the book-shelf, and then it was taken up and somebody read out of it. It was a good book; verses and songs by the old Danish poet, Ambrosius Stub, which are well worth reading. The man who was now reading the book turned over a page. 

“Why, there’s a flower!” he said; “a snowdrop, a summer gauk, a poet gauk! That flower must have been put in there with a meaning! Poor Ambrosius Stub! he was a summer fool too, a poet fool; he came too early, before his time, and therefore he had to taste the sharp winds, and wander about as a guest from one noble landed proprietor to another, like a flower in a glass of water, a flower in rhymed verses! Summer fool, winter fool, fun and folly- but the first, the only, the fresh young Danish poet of those days. Yes, thou shalt remain as a token in the book, thou little snowdrop: thou hast been put there with a meaning.” 

And so the Snowdrop was put back into the book, and felt equally honored and pleased to know that it was a token in the glorious book of songs, and that he who was the first to sing and to write had been also a snowdrop, had been a summer gauk, and had been looked upon in the winter-time as a fool. The Flower understood this, in her way, as we interpret everything in our way. That is the story of the Snowdrop.

Time with friends and family

Yule and Christmas traditionally stand for the return of light and hope to the world. Candles are lit, songs are sung and we feel happy because the longest night has passed and the days will lengthen again.

For me, part of the tradition is to spend time with family and friends. Enjoying eachothers company, sitting cozily together with the light of candles and small lights in the Christmas tree. Eating together, all different dishes in a variety of settings. Yesterday we had dinner with three teams of my club, where 2 of us cooked the entire meal. They have been doing this for 6 years, and traditionally, the food is only just edible. In the invitation therefore, they refer to it as a ‘contingency plan’. Yesterday was no different. The two ladies had made paella, but as I don’t like fish, I got macaroni instead, which was cooked to a mash. Dessert was OK, though it didn’t work out exactly the way they planned. Yet, even though the food wasn’t very good, we all had a great time dining together, talking and laughing all night.

Today I will dine with my in-laws. I have no idea what we will get on our plate, as my mother-in-law refuses to tell anything, but it will be great. In addition my fiancée and I have bought “the nightmare before Christmas” and we’ll try to convince everyone it is fun to watch 🙂 Christmas day we’ll spend time together at home and gourmet with my little brother (yes, little, even though he is way taller than me by now and likes to call me ‘dwarf’) and my grandmother. The 26th we’ll all make something nice and spend time with the family, unwrapping gifts and hopefully eating nice things.

Lots of things planned around Christmas, but all around a central theme: spending time with family and friends. I hope you will all have a great time! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!