Foraging in the woods for natural treasures

After so many days of rain, today I decided to ramble through my local woods and look for fungi. At first glance there seemed to be nothing but fallen leaves and saplings, until I got closer!

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Then I came across something very unexpected, an old rotten, fallen tree had broken open to reveal layers of honeycomb!

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You just never know what you might find!

 

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Once – A Poem on Nostalgia

I enjoyed writing this poem, as it allowed me to be shamelessly self-absorbed and to dream of my nostalgic youth, forgive me!

 

ONCE

Once I danced through the stars upon the planets of Holst

and upon Tchaikovsky’s lake as a little swan,

Barefoot on the carpet, I’d spin and spin

Until the hazy world was gone.

 

Once I looked out through diamond leaded windows

From the comfort of a paper Hundred Acre Wood;

Into the swaying heights of whispering evergreens,

Where in the velvet shadows the horned god Pan was stood.

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Once I dreamt of narrow country lanes,

A stage for the Man in the Moon’s delight,

Where troupes from Elfhame would go dancing;

Light and ethereal all through the night.

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Once there was an evening gilded in gold,

I went to collect pine cones at the end of the lane,

I thought of goblin haunted forests and cups of cocoa,

And thought I’d better head home again.

 

Once there were songs sold for sixpence

And partridges in golden pear trees,

Fine ladies on horses with bells on their toes

And sugar plum flits to the Land of Sweets.

 

Once there were days in laughing greenwoods

And cuckoos calling over trickling streams,

Hours spent in secret wild places;

Hours spent in quixotic dreams.

 

Once we had a visit from Jack Frost in the night

And I sat by the fireside under glittering fairy lights,

Kate Bush was on TV singing Wuthering Heights

And no one seems to know I’m still there in my mind

Never looking forwards; always behind.

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A history of Yuletide traditions

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The Pagan celebration of Winter Solstice or Yule is one of the oldest festivals known to man. Ancient people, the hunters and gatherers relied on the sun and the light half of the year for their survival. For hundreds of years the sun has been revered, worshiped and thought of as a God, something one could appease and pray to for it’s return after the long nights of winter. Bonfires or Yule logs were set ablaze as a form of sympathetic magic, to create light and warmth which imitated the sun and kept away the darkness of winter and evil spirits.

The Norsemen of Northern Europe saw the sun as a wheel that changed the seasons. It was from the word for this wheel, houl, that the word Yule is thought to have come. The celebrations of Winter Solstice are based around the turning of this wheel, the rebirth of the year when the sun begins to return for longer each day to warm the earth and make her fertile once more.

Many traditions that continue to this day have their roots in Pagan and Celtic customs. For the Druids, symbols of light and life in the increasing darkness were held as sacred, such as mistletoe, which grew from the sacred oaks through out winter, a blessing and a sign that life is evergreen and the sun would return again. This is the same thought behind the custom of bringing evergreens inside the home during the winter. Pines, firs, holly and Ivy would be used to brighten up the home, which led to the now common tradition of the Christmas tree.

The Holly and the Oak King

Two mighty rulers battle for supremacy as the wheel of the year turns, the Holly King and the Oak King. At the winter solstice the Oak King triumphs over the Holly King and rules over the light half of the year until Midsummer, at the Summer Solstice the Holly King returns to do battle once more. This time the Holly King is victorious, and reigns until the return of Yule.

Wassailing

An Anglo-Saxon tradition celebrated on 12th night, long before the spread of Christianity in Britain. Wassailing was a practice of going door to door singing and offering drinks from the wassail bowl, which evolved into modern day carol singing. There was also wassailing in the orchards of cider producing counties, where people would show gratitude and sing to the trees and offer libations of cider, which would encourage a bountiful harvest in the coming year.

Yule is a time for roaring fires, hearty feasts and sweet ale, festivities that bring joy, warmth and light that will dispel the darkness and bring back the sun. It is a time to take stock of the past year and plan for the new, and to partake in some of our oldest traditions.

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Photos from the Pumpkin Harvest

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of helping a very good friend of mine harvest his crop of pumpkins. This particular pumpkin patch to me is idyllic, nestled amongst fields on one side and woodland on the other. Here are a few photographs I captured that day.

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16th Century Woodcut for Samhain

Those old woodcuts of witches and devils that were printed in pamphlets and broadsides helped to start the terrible and all consuming fire that was the witchcraft delusion. Nevertheless, these primitive pieces do hold a certain charm, inspired by this charm I have been creating my own for each Pagan festival I celebrate.

October 1st seems a fitting time to reveal my woodcut style lino print for Samhain, one of the four main festivals celebrated in the Gaelic calendar, marking the end of harvest and the beginning of winter and the new year. Cattle were brought down to their winter pastures and people would take stock of their winter stores. It was a night when great bonfires were lit on hilltops to honour the sun, while the dead and otherworldly creatures walked the earth.

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The print has been hand carved from lino, depicting a female witch holding a grinning Jack o’ Lantern, standing at the foot of the imposing and mystical Pendle hill, surrounded by the graves of the dead, while a full moon looks on.

Wishing you all an auspicious Samhain!

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Search for the ideal place to be on Hallowe’en night

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Hallowe’en, All Hallows’ Eve, Samhain, Mischief Night, I love it in all it’s forms! The feelings I possess for Autumn, October and Halloween Night are unyielding. intangible and all consuming as soon a September comes around.

It seems as if a shift occurs on October 31st, everything becomes magical, mysterious and possesses a charming yet eldritch ambience. The mundane streets on which I walk daily become Lovecraft’s Arkham, buildings become imposing edifices guarding some terror, trees animated in howling winds seem to be whispering dark secrets, the moon seems to look down and smile, for it sees the spirits and creatures beyond the veil weaving into our earthly plane, it tells us to take shelter at home by the fireside, to take no heed of nightly noises, while only the foolish go out looking to be lead astray by flickering lights and sumptuous goblin feasts!

I am one such fool, a fool that loves old wives tales, historical traditions and customs. Halloween night is all about the dead, otherworldly beings, faeries and divining the future, all of which shall play a part in my Halloween this year.

It is said that if one stands at the crossroads on Halloween night, you may see funeral processions of those who will die in the coming year, or troupes of faeries who pose the danger of whisking you away to Elfhame.

It is said that if one looks through the window of a church on Halloween night, you will see the Devil preaching at the pulpit, and writing in his book the names of newly recruited witches!

So began my search, up and down the Lincolnshire wolds, for the perfect spot to be on All Hallows Eve, it needed a church, a crossroads and preferably a pub!

 

Day One – Clixby

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View from behind All Hallows Church, Clixby

It seemed like the perfect place to start! Behold! There were crossroads, hurrah! There was a pub, and just a jog down the road was All Hallows Church, aptly named!

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The church is redundant, and dates back to the 13th century. It is very small, as is it’s churchyard, and as I peeped inside it was all very quaint, two blue tits were flitting about inside from window to pew to font and back again.

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In a way the church was perfect, secluded, open, out of the way and surrounded by creepy waving corn fields, but the corn would be harvested by October, there wasn’t a pulpit for the devil to preach at, and the crossroads were far too busy to have atmosphere. On to the next one!

Day Two – Thoresway

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The name of this village captured me immediately, and happily it’s origins are just as interesting, according to Wikipedia the name may derive from:-

  • Old Norse Þórirs vegr = “way of a Viking called Thórir”, or
  • Old Norse Þórs væ = “temple of the god Thor”.

The village itself is enchanting, full of history and quintessential beauty. The church, St Mary’s dates from the 12th century.

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Notice the Norman archway peeping over the hedge

Opposite were some very interesting looking barns, reminding me of New England.

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A little way down the road is an old disused Victorian watermill, housed in this white building, it was open and I went inside, but I couldn’t get a good picture being up so close.

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A little further down from this is a field full of earthworks, evidence of some ancient settlement perhaps?

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Idyllic one might say, the crossroads were beautiful, so was the church, perhaps this is a good spot to be when the bell tolls midnight on the 31st.

Day 3 – Stainton Le Vale

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I visited this village because of my search for more secluded crossroads, hardly frequented farm tracks that fitted into my idea of where supernatural things may appear, also the church was right on the crossroads, as opposed to some way away like the others.

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The graveyard was beautiful, full of interesting gravestones and towering horse chestnut trees, but alas! Still did not possess the right ‘feeling’.

On the plus side, I’m sure any one of these place in the depths of night will take on another feeling, but for now, the search goes on.

 

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Grim’s Bronze Age Barrow Mound and the Viking Way

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Just half an hours drive out of town leads me to the rolling chalkland hills of the Lincolnshire Wolds, a place of serene beauty and some ancient hidden treasures. Today I visited a Bronze Age round/bowl barrow called Grim’s Mound, standing 110m above sea level, it is practically untouched and has never been excavated.

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The mound stands 2.6m high, to the left of the Viking Way

I walked down the track that runs between the wide expanse of golden harvested fields, surrounded by the buzz of a thousand grass hoppers, this track is part of the Viking Way, the name of this 147 mile track was coined in 1976 to ‘reflect the influence of the Danelaw in the eastern counties of Britain.’

Of all the ancient monuments you may encounter in Britain, barrow mounds are the most numerous. But why do they exist at all and what are they for? Primarily they were burial places, the custom of cremating human remains and housing them in bowl shaped earthen tombs was brought with the Bell Beaker folk around 2500 BC and was widely practiced throughout the Bronze and early Iron Ages. There are not as many remains interred in a round barrow compared with older Neolithic long barrows and it is thought that only the most important people would have been buried in one.

One theory suggests that they were not just funerary, but also used as territory markers, often being sited in the most visible places, high up and in open spaces such as heaths or fenlands.

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Looking from the east side of the mound

I sat atop the mound amongst the waving grasses, and tried to imagine the people who once walked there, who built the mound and who lay then underneath me, I also wondered if the barrow mound was a fairy hill, I knocked three times but no one answered, perhaps I needed to find the door first…

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