Urban Pagan in Somerset

Urban Pagan in Somerset

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Summer is i'cumin in

"Oh, do not tell the Priest of our Art,
Or he would call it sin;
But we shall be out in the woods all night,
Aconjuring summer in!

And we bring you news by word of mouth
For women, cattle and corn
Now is the sun come up from the South

With Oak, and Ash and Thorn!"

Beltane began early for some of us with a celebration at Caer Corhrain in Kent. A big thank you to Lynn Gosney and Touch the Earth for being such excellent hosts. On saturday 24th april we gathered on a truly beautiful day, family, friends and children to welcome the beginning of summer. The beginning of a week of celebrations which will end for us on May 1st.

And if we began as strangers, we were friends at the end of the day!

Beginning with a leisurely picnic with stunning views of the countryside around us and children playing. We built the fire for the evenings sweatlodge and prepared the circle. The women retired to choose the Queen of the May and make the flower garlands for the maypole, the queen and each other. The men - to choose and make the Green Man and choose the Oak King. To beautiful singing the women proceeded back into the ceremony carrying the huge flower garlands and escorting Sarah our fantastic Queen to meet her King. At the same time the menfolk drumming and singing met us at the maypole.

Then came the time to find the hidden Green Man, to whoops and calls the children ran crazily round the garden to find him, at last discovering him behind a garden summer house. He was brought out where the children delighted in ripping the greenery apart to cries of 'wake up summer!' And so released the spirit of the summer!

A toast of Mead and sharing of the Bread and an offering to the Great Mother calmed things down but just for a brief moment. Then came more fun with rounds of dancing round the maypole to the wonderful playing of Touch the Earths music, tying the Queen and King together.

The evening drew on and the sun began to lower on the horizon. Finally and with some reluctance it was time to leave - with my little Rhiannon falling asleep on my shoulder as those who were to lodge began their preparations. To the echo of music a final touch to the day was a lone balloon drifting in the distance, as we wended our way home...Blessed summer to all.....

Summer is a-coming in
Loudly sing cuckoo
Groweth seed and bloweth mead
and springs the wood anew
Sing cuckoo!

Ewe bleateth aft-er lamb,
Calf loweth after cow,
Bullock starteth, buck farteth,
Merry sing cuckoo!

Cuckoo, cuckoo!
Well singest thou cuckoo,
Nor cease thou never now!
Sing cuckoo now, Sing cuckoo!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

'Im putting a man on the moon....'


AFter a lovely couple of weeks off from work I went back today. At first it seemed a shame with the weather so lovely, but it wasnt long before I got back into the swing of it. I manage a school kitchen and although sometimes its heavy work, I really enjoy it. I love cooking, and being responsible for making sure the children eat good, nutritious and tasty food is really satisfying. I have about 200 children on average who eat school dinners in my school. There is something really fundamental and earthy about feeding nourishing food to others that seems to satisfy some basic instinct deep down. Since I started work there I have had some nice compliments from the children and some of the parents too which is rewarding in itself.

I cook fresh bread every day and most of the dishes are cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients rather than the awful 'turkey twizzler' stuff that was on offer in many schools a few years back.

I do a main meat course and a vegetarian option. A carbohydrate - maybe potatoes, rice or pasta. There is usually an interesting salad and several vegetables on offer. A fruit dish of some kind - and I do love offering a variety of fruit maybe in a platter. The bread is sometimes plain, sometimes with other interesting additions. Cinnamon and dried fruit is one of my favouritss to do. And there is a cooked pudding of some kind. Nothing beats a freshly made rice pudding with a fruit sauce.

My staff come in later than I do, which gives me a lovely period of time to cook alone. This time early in the morning is special to me. I have wonderful views of the countryside from the windows.
I like to visualize the life force and energy of the earth in the vegetables and food as I prepare them. Making the bread is very meditative although I use a bread mixer for the heavy kneading, I still do a little manual kneading and create the loaf shapes. Maybe a plait or a cob loaf.

Its interesting how people react to what I do for my job. I have had a variety of different reactions. Some people see me as doing something quite 'menial'. Its not the most glamorous job and certainly not paid very well its true, but its a very important job I think. I have had contempt and condescension too - from some who dont know me or my background, life experiences etc and make assumptions! Assume I cant be particularly bright or intelligent doing such a laborious type of job. I dont suppose they've ever considered I do it from choice!!

Some people see it in a similar way to me. Its important - our children need good food for healthy growth and development etc. Its as important I feel, as teaching. A child given a good meal at lunchtime is more likely to continue into the afternoon with more energy and the ability to concentrate. For me personally it fits around my family too. There arent many jobs where I can be at home with my children in the school holidays. My youngest daughter attends this school too, and I get to see her at lunchtime which is lovely. Some people I have met understand the importance of what we do. Others dont! They dont see the value or what we do in the kitchen. I have learned to let go of my reactions to the ignorance I sometimes come accross. Its not my problem - so I wont pick up their baggage.

Its the same with other less sought after jobs.

Bus drivers, or cleaners and dustman for example. Where would we be without them? As a society they are all important parts of the whole.
It reminds me of the story about president kennedy when he was visiting the moon landing project and asked a cleaner 'and what do you do?' the cleaner replied - 'I'm putting a man on the moon'.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Slow Time

Its easy living in a town or city to get caught up with a faster pace of life. some people thrive on it and love having something to do to fill up their day. I wonder if this is something to do with age sometimes although Im sure there are many 'older' people out there who would disagree!! I have found as I celebrate another birthday that Im more interested in being rather than doing a lot of the time. Finding time to smell the roses or that 'time to stand and stare....I have long been a follower of slow time. In fact there is a good book called Slow time by waverley fitzgerald (lulu.com) written in an enjoyable and thought provoking workbook way that advocates a way to slow down and 'recover the natural rhythm of life.

Some time ago in 1986 Carlo Petrini started the slowfood movement after being appalled that a macdonalds opened near the spanish steps in Rome. Promoting local food in opposition to fast food outlets. And there is so much more to enjoy and appreciate when taking the time to create a nourishing tasty meal, maybe picking some salad leaves from your own garden or window box. Much more enjoyable than grabbing a burger.

I want to live in the now rather than rushing ahead to catch up with the future and not enjoying whats going on right in the moment. That doesnt mean I dont look forward to things. I think its more about appreciating what Im doing and have in my life here and now. And when I do that, still working towards things I want to change in my life, works so much better too.

When I was desperate to move from my flat to a house with a garden, I went through a time of feeling down and miserable and couldnt enjoy where I was there and then. I didnt decorate it or make it my own space. Wouldnt stamp my personality on the place because 'it was silly to make the effort when I didnt want to stay there'.
I had previously had plans to create an outdoor space on my balcony, grow some plants and a place to sit, but my yearning for another living space made it too much of an effort.

It was when I let go and decided to enjoy my home and make it reflect who I was that things began to move for me. I forget it now and then - in fact just recently. I went away for a few days break to Hastings and had a lovely time of exploring the Sussex coastline and countryside. It is when Im in the country that I mostly long for my cottage in a quiet village or by an evocative wild coastal setting.
Making my potions, keeping chickens and living the life of the local wisewoman. Ahhh - my dream! The pace of life and the energy I can feel from the earth in these green and peaceful places are a panacea for me. Its easy to forget my good intentions to be in the moment when I return home and sometimes find myself yearning for such a way of life. I stop enjoying what I have already created in my present situation.

This time as I explored the villages in Sussex and walked the seven sisters near Eastbourne, I thought about my own home and what it offers me. I remembered my house is in a little estate on top of a hill called Spring Lane Estate. Just a few miles down the road from my home there are ancient woodlands. I have access to all the countryside I want - I just have to walk there whenever I wish. And I live in a place with great history that sits upon an ancient area. What riches! My own home is small but I have once again begun to change it - decorating and making it part of me! And My garden is a postage stamp - but my bare feet stand on the grass outside and I can connect with the spirit of the earth and the spring here. I have planted apple trees and prepared a vegetable patch ready for my seedling plants. I have hung the summer bunting in the garden to welcome the summer and will erect my portable maypole for dancing in a few weeks time. Maybe one day I may have my witches cottage in the woods. Or maybe Im already living in it?

Friday, 9 April 2010

The promise of spring and all to come

Its like a switch thats been activated in my head. The turn of the season, the cycle moves on and Spring Equinox passes. I find just a few weeks before it comes I can feel the subtle energies and as the season rolls on I move into waking mode - leaving the winters hibernation. I stir and from feeling quiet and introspective, suddenly I am making plans. New projects, new ideas, new expeditions.

Im one of the worlds greatest procrastinators until the spring energy gets well and truly up my backside!! Then theres no stopping me! Unfortunately, time and everyday living, work etc sometimes gets in the way and all my great intentions, projects etc get put away until the year has rolled round again and its time to go to sleep for the winter.

So I have decided to keep my projects on this blog. I hope by making it public I am more likely to allow myself to do the things I want and achieve my goals this year before allowing them to fade away into the mists of the autumn.


I have always made a habit of celebrating the main seasonal festivals. At one time with an organised ritual, a large gathering of friends and family, other pagan groups and maybe a camp or picnic. More recently it became a lit candle, small solitary meditation and an offering. I enjoy both and intend to become a bit more active this year.

So apart from a few gatherings I have planned on attending I also have decided to be a little more formal in my own home celebrations. I used to get a little downhearted when people said they would come along and for various reasons didnt turn up. Apart from feeling this rather rude, I didnt value my own participation as much. Over the past few years if nothing else, my solitary situation has taught me the value of showing up myself even if no one else does. Its so much easier to make the effort to make things and take part in something when others are expecting it. So much easier to procrastinate when you are alone.

So this year - when I am celebrating regardless of who turns up.
1. I shall make a special wreath and hang for the festival - I used to do this and loved how they turned out.
2. I shall make more effort to decorate my altar for the season rather than just the candles and few objects I have on it.
3.I shall still invite friends to attend but the event does not depend on their attendance.
4. I shall get back into the habit of writing a seasonal or devotional song or poem
5. I shall write about the event on my website and make sure I have seasonal pictures to go with them
6 I shall cook a special meal or feast foods for the evening and have a small ritual with others or alone.

Apart from making the effort to take part in my own seasonal cycle. I want to explore more in life and learn some new things. Or develop others I have some knowlede of.

1. I used to play guitar and am extremely rusty!! I intend to get a new one (my old one has a hole in it!!) and relearn it again. Actually I quite fancy learning folk guitar too!

2. Now I am mobile again and have a small but dependable car I shall once again get my camping gear into the boot on a friday and whisk my youngest off for adventures and expeditions.
When I used to do this I had all kinds of fun including driving at midnight down to stonehenge for the summer solstice and offering little orange sponge biscuits to the great god Jaffa. (actually he was in disguise as a guard working there). The offerings were successful in getting him to turn his all seeing eye away while I climbed the fence to enter the henge with the druids for their dawn ceremony.

3. I used to be a loose woman! Actually I started dancing with a womens morris side from the village of Loose near maidstone. I didnt do it for very long but had such fun at the time. It was border morris which is a bit more wild and stick crashing type of dance. I feel ready to get my feet stomping again and have found a local womens side to visit. watch this space!!

Other projects will be added as I feel a desire to do them. Im not going to give myself a hard time feeling guilty if they dont come off - but I will give myself a stern talking to if I dont at least try them out!

So lets get going and explore this wonderful life. I dont want my headstone to read 'She had such good intentions.....'

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Living an Urban life as a Pagan

Previously published to my Witchvox website.

What does being a pagan mean to you? We know most people nowadays believe it originally comes from the Latin ‘Paganus’ which meant ‘Rustic’ or a ‘country dweller’ but what does that actually mean to us today?

Nowadays Pagans are usually seen as someone who follows an Earth based spiritual path - honoring the Earth; living harmoniously with Her, usually believing She has Her own individual consciousness. Other Pagan beliefs can include animalism, pantheistic worship and possibly believing in other beings such as faery folk, spirits and devas.

As you know Pagans may follow several spiritual paths such as druidry, witchcraft, shamanism, asatru and so forth. Believe in multiple gods or one, worship a goddess or god singly, or a balance of male and female polarity. Feel attracted to a variety of different pantheons and traditions from Celtic to Greek. Or they may just feel a spiritual connection to the earth alone without any other beliefs or practices. All are different paths within the umbrella of Paganism.

And how does such a person usually live? When following a spiritual path as a Pagan, we are usually expected to be living in the archetypal country cottage. Or maybe a small holding – growing vegetables next to a quiet field with the gentle ‘chuk chuk’ sounds of some happy free-range hens. Herbs are growing in the garden among a sprawling vegetable patch. Trees abundant with their apples, cherries or whatever fruit is in season. Through the fields that border the garden, you can see the hills and forests in the distance, or the atmospheric crashing of waves on a rocky coastline.

Or maybe we have built ourselves a straw bale or hobbit type house, with the roof covered in grass. Maybe we have a semi permanent Yurt or roundhouse, or wooden shack – self-built and wonderful with its quirky shape and decorations. It may have a solar panel or two installed too, or even a small wind turbine spins in the breeze.

Perhaps in the trees there are wind chimes and other meaningful hanging ornaments? A carved statue of Pan sits overlooking an unkempt pond, which attracts the insects loved by the organic gardener. An area designated as a meditation spot or temple has a pergola covered in a mass of honeysuckle and climbing roses. A simple stone table as an altar on which a half consumed candle sits along side some holey stones, crystals laid out to soak up the energy of the coming full moon and the solar rays gently dappling through the leaves of the drooping trees.

Aah... the wonderful life of the pagan! The country dweller. Spiritually sustained daily by such a picture of peace and tranquility.

Or maybe not

Maybe we are in a two up two down, little room to swing a cat, tiny terraced house in the middle of London or an apartment in downtown NY. The traffic non-stop passing by with its exhaust belching into the air. Or you might live 10 flights up in a concrete grey apartment block in the middle of some other town or city, with austere stairs climbing eternally up to your floor, or having to risk getting into a small, claustrophobic box like lift with the smell of unpleasant questionable aromas, to reach your home.

You might possibly be living in a bed-sit over a corner shop or pizza takeout in Manchester or Glasgow, listening to the wails of sirens in the night.

Not a romantic idea of the pagan is it? Though for most of us it is a truer picture of our lives, rather than the romantic image I just painted. Oh yes, there are the lucky ones that live that lifestyle, but they are not in the majority. And of course there are some who follow a pagan path that prefer to live in the towns and cities for a variety of reasons, not necessarily due to economics and what they can afford.

Some enjoy the accessibility of shops and social activities.
There can be ‘get togethers’ with other like-minded people to consider. Many towns and cities have adult education classes that cover more unusual subjects nowadays such as healing, crystals, reiki, permaculture and so forth.

I myself live on the edge of a city in Kent in the UK. I now live in a small house with a garden the size of a shoebox, but previously I lived in a first floor flat in Canterbury, with a balcony. I am lucky enough to be on the edge of the city so I do have access to the nearby countryside and also access to the benefits of city dwellers too. For two years I had to make do with a small concrete space to put pots and containers on for some connection to nature in my home environment. However I preferred to think of this as a challenge rather than something to worry about. It meant I had to put a bit more thought into my spirituality. A bit more effort into making sure I connect to nature regularly.

Now some of you may think this might be a bit of a ‘Pollyanna’ attitude. In fact I have been accused of this before. But surely from a spiritual perspective, looking for the strength I might gain from such a challenge is better than being bitter or complaining about the hand I had been dealt!

It also means looking at things from a different perspective. Whether we are in the middle of a field or a concrete parking space, we are still walking on our Mother Earth. We are still in contact with the elements even if some of the layers are man made. If there is a spirit of the stone, there must be a spirit of the tarmac!

Oh now I hear you laughing! This may sound comical but I believe it to be true. After all, the tarmac is still produced from ingredients that came from nature. Iron and steel come from minerals in the Earth. The watch you are wearing may be powered by quartz crystals.

Take some time to think about the things we have in our urban lives. The things we have around us; cars, roads, houses, supermarkets. What can you find in them that connect it to our surroundings and us? We can still celebrate our meals and thank the Earth for providing it, even if it is now cellophane shrink-wrapped and date stamped.

Even if we don’t catch, kill or grow our own food, it’s still important to teach our children where it all comes from originally and how it’s been treated. Do I really want to take into my body the meat from an animal that has spent its short life in distress? This makes many issues for us to consider.

Having a car I try to appreciated it - understanding its components are all made from natural things and is part of the Earth on which I live. It means I try to think about my carbon footprint on the Earth too - car-pooling where possible and only using where necessary. its convenience and time saving maybe – but am I as eco-friendly as I want to be?

My point is that being a Pagan is following a spiritual path regardless of whether you live in a field in the middle of nowhere, or behind the motorway in a block of flats, or an apartment in the middle of London, or New York or anywhere really. A pagan may drive a car, ride a motorbike or walk. We may live in a tepee, or in a brick house – none of that matters.

Paganism is many things. It is a spiritual path, a state of mind and a way of life that honors the Earth and all its inhabitants whether animal vegetable or mineral. We need to look beyond the generalizations and honor our connection to our Earthly home where ever or however we live. May the spirit of the breezeblock bless your home.

Spring is sprung

At last, the weather is still cold but the spring sunshine struggles through the clouds. I have been getting out and about for weeks trying to ignore the rain and cold and firmly believing eventually the spring weather would finally show - and here she is! Dont get me wrong. I love the winter too - I love the bare earth waiting and lonely places full of gusting winds and the greyness of the skies. But I love the cycles of our natural world.

I couldnt bear just one type of weather, I need to see, be in and revel in the different tides of our year. Spring must follow winter for me. Summer must come and then....aaah....the autumn. The golds of grain, the harvests and promises of things to come....and so the wheel turns...round and round.

Bank holiday monday - this was a lovely day for tramping round the woods. In the end we decided to visit a local natural park called Druidstone. It has some farm animals for the children to pet, but the grounds are a wonderful mix of untamed nature with statues and a magical feeling as you explore.

We spent a wonderful afternoon getting back intouch with life and being so grateful to be able to find such beauty close by.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Canterbury fairies still exist

Up at the crack of dawn to dress and paint faces for this mornings fairy parade through canterbury high street. a last tie of the fluffy ribbon and off we go.

it was going to be quite a busy day - rhiannon had been invited to a birthday party for noon so we were off to parade, zip off to the party, then back this afternoon to finish the festival.

And how wonderful to see so many fairies in canterbury dancing along to the very rhythmic drums of the pentacle drummers. dancing along with a fantastic group of luscious belly dancers from essex, rhiannon whirled and twirled and generally behaved like the Goddess loving little girl she is! We were watched by smiling crowds of shoppers as we paraded up to the top and back down again. Led by the pagan and proud banners, with dancers, fairies, witches and pagans, giants, various banners and a wonderful march hare. It seemed a shame to have to go, but a party for a 6 year old is most important and so it was off with the wings and away......

Friday, 2 April 2010

spontaneous v organised events?

In the past I have thrown myself into celebrating the festivals of the year with great enthusiasm. Gathering friends and strangers together to create a circle - indoors or outdoors depending on the weather. From a camp in the Essex countryside with people from all over the place, to small intimate circles of friends in a local park or field. Ive enjoyed all the different ways of doing this, but none so much as the small family gatherings of just a few friends and children. And lately, even just alone or with my children. Its so easy to get caught up in the organising and coordinating of an 'event'! Making sure people know what they are doing or saying at each given moment. It can be lovely to be part of a ritual - where it is crafted like a beautiful piece of theatre. Very moving and evocative. But it can also be wonderful to be spontaneous. To do things that the spirit moves you to do. Some planning is still ok here. I wanted to make beautiful eggs for the spring equinox so getting the eggs and blowing them, drying them and getting all the craft stuff together needed to be organised. As was the evening I planned to do it on, which still ended up with some of my best friends joining me in an evening of art and poetry. But I actually enjoyed this far more than any planned ritual, circle or other gathered event that I have attended or organised.

Mind you im still off to join the faery festival in canterbury this weekend. Each event carries its own pleasure doesnt it.