Imbolc blessings

I want to wish you all a very happy Imbolc! 

Imbolc is one of the smaller, more intimate sabbats. As opposed to Yule, for example, or Beltane, I feel that Imbolc is a very personal sabbat that doesn’t require other people around you. I know that for many solitary witches it works like that for many of the holidays, but even though I’m solitary, the contact with others is a vital part of my celebrations. Just not for Imbolc. That is between me and the God and Goddess.

This afternoon I will walk to a birthday (okay, yes, others are involved, but that’s just a matter of timing, not ritual). I’ve already spotted snowdrops and some bright new leaves on trees and bushes and will be looking for that. Tonight, in the spirit of Candlemas, I will light a candle to symbolize new beginnings. I’ve already started the new year well with some goals for the new year and have become way more organized. Lighting a candle will give that a new boost and remind me of the times ahead of me.

I’m curious though. How do you celebrate Imbolc? And do you, like me, get the urge to start the spring cleaning as soon as Imbolc is upon us?

However you may (or may not) celebrate Imbolc, I hope you have a blessed day!

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!

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.

Narcissus and Echo

It’s Ostara today! Even though the temperature outside doesn’t really fit the time of year, it is genuinely the spring equinox. On this day, day and night are equal in length, and the sunlight will definitely take over from the darkness from now on. As we have more light each day, more and more flowers erupt from the soil, making the natural environment a colourful pallet during spring.

For me, I always associate Ostara with growth, with potential and obviously with fertility. The colours that belong to this sabbat are (for me) yellow, light green and purple, because of the daffodils and crocuses that are blooming. In the Netherlands, they are the most common flowers to plant on fields or on the side of the road, so I have enjoyed their colours since my early childhood.

Especially the daffodil reminds me of spring, starting out very small and that rocketing into the sky, the flower similar to a trumpet shouting out that spring has arrived. Therefore, I’d like to share the tale of Narcissus and Echo with you, a story that explains how the flower came into being (and why we call self-loving people ‘narcissists’. The story has been told in many different ways, yet I will tell you the tale as I remember it.

Narcissus and Echo

Narcissus was a young man, a hunter, envied by all other men for his beauty and strong appearance. One day, as he ventures into the woods, following deer, he feels he is being followed. “Who’s there?” he asks, but all he gets is an echo in return.

Or so it seems. For after a short moment, he realizes he has not made the feeling up, that indeed someone is following him. He calls out to his pursuer once again, urging him to make himself known, but again, his own words come back. Yet he can see a glimpse of a person between the trees.

A nymph has been following him. Echo, once a great singer until she tricked Hera, is only able to repeat the last words uttered by others. Incapable of producing her own speech, she could answer Narcissus’ questions only with his own words.

Echo, it appears, has fallen deeply in love with the beautiful young man as he passed her while hunting. Unable to call out to him, she decided to follow him, and take in the sight of his strong body running through the forest. When Narcissus eventually notices her, she makes it known to him that she loves him as much as one ever could.

How wrong she is! For Narcissus, proud of his own body and very much aware of his beauty, loves only himself, more than any other ever could. He rejects poor Echo, who wastes away after this, until only her voice remains. When Nemesis, goddess of revenge, hears the sad echo that was once a lovely nymph, and is told what happened by Echo’s sisters, she decides to punish Narcissus.

Unable to catch any deer, and tired from following them, Narcissus rests at a spring. As he drinks the refreshing water, his eyes catch an image of the water. He sees a young man, beautiful features, strong arms and lovely thick blonde hairs. Narcissus falls in love with this image, which is, of course, his own reflection. Nemesis’ revenge is sweet, as Narcissus wastes away of love for himself, mimicking how Echo wasted away.

After a short while, his body is gone, and all that remains is a lovely, yellow flower, its reflection clearly visible in the water of the spring.

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 fiancĂ©e 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!