New release:

In the good old days, the harvest festivals began in August (Lunasa – ‘beginning of harvest’) followed by September (Meán Fómhair) and October (Deireadh Fómhair) translated as ‘middle of harvest’ and ‘end of harvest’ respectively. Harvest was one of the most sacred times of the pagan year and the Harvest Home or ‘in-gathering’ was a community observance at the end of the harvest to celebrate and give thanks for the bounty with all its attendant celebrations, including the singing of the traditional folksongs like John Barleycorn. Celebrating the harvest is still the holiest time of the Craft year and Lammas celebrates the coming of harvest-tide with its decoration of corn sheaves, fancy loaves, berries and fruits – all leading up to the Autumnal Equinox (or Michaelmas) that marked its zenith with the eating of the traditional goose and the raucous festivities of the community harvest suppers and country fairs.

The internet is awash with all sorts of harvest ideas from across the world but not under one title. Harvest festivals are believed to be the oldest form of festivals around the world. They are a way of thanking Nature for the bounty it offers in the form of new crops. They are a celebration at the time of year when all the crops have been harvested, and people celebrate to show that they are grateful for all the food that has been grown. Given the differences in climate and crops, harvest festivals can be found at various times throughout the world because the ‘tradition’ of celebrating the season of harvest as a festival has been around for eons. Ever since mankind began cultivating produce for self-sufficiency and subsequently business, the agriculture culture has been given its due importance.

Different cultures around the world have their own distinct ways of celebrating this harvest season at different times of the year, depending on the regions where crops are cultivated and the differences in climates. However we choose to celebrate the harvest, it is important it is carried out in a spirit of community and sharing and if this is the re-introduction of this integral pagan festival, then it needs to include all ages. Children were an essential ingredient of haymaking and harvesting and anyone who had ever taken part in these rural pursuits, probably still have warm memories of those seasons in their hearts.

Pagan Portals: Harvest Home – In-Gathering: How to Survive (and Enjoy) The Autumnal Festivals by Melusine Draco and published by Moon Books : ISBN 978 1 80341 110 1 : 84 pages ¨UK£6.99/US$10.95 : Published 26th August 2022

“This is yet another useful, informative, and charmingly written guide from Melusine Draco. With the usual sprinkling of humour and lively writing, she takes a comprehensive look at Lammas/Lughnasadh and the other months of the harvest. The In-Gathering: How-To Survive (and Enjoy) the Autumnal Festivals has everything the reader needs to know about celebrating the important harvest season. Brimming with history, folklore, customs, recipes, traditions around the world and so much more information and ideas of how to celebrate, I heartily recommend it. This is a book that will certainly be going on my own bookshelf.” Harmonia Saille, Pagan Portals – Hedge Witchcraft, Hedge Riding, and Hedge Magic 

Breath of Spring: Beltaine

From time immemorial the seasonal sequence has arrested the attention of mankind and aroused an intense emotional reaction in all states and stages of culture and types of society extending from the Upper Palaeolithic in prehistoric times to the highest civilizations of the ancient Near East and the Graeco-Roman world, with repercussions on the subsequent development of custom. Belief and behavior in the intervening ages, not least in the folk-cultures in Europe.

     The reason is not far to seek.  Everywhere and at all times the means of subsistence have been the primary concern and from this fundamental requirement recurrent seasonal periodic festivals have sprung, and by constant repetition they have assumed a variety of forms and acquired divers meanings and interpretations.  But since food has always been an essential need it is in this context that the observances have exercised their primary functions. [Seasonal Feasts & Festivals]

In Scotland and Ireland, the ancient Celtic practice of lighting bonfires at the beginning of May as part of a sacrificial rite lingered on until the 18th-century in the observance known as Beltaine.  The name derived from the Gaelic tein-eigin – ‘need-fire’ and the practice of lighting sacred fires, often on hill-tops, at the beginning of the second division of the Celtic year was for the purpose of stimulating the sun as the life-giving agent at the commencement of summer.  Thus on the Eve of May Day, branches of rowan of buckthorn were fastened to the houses and cattle-stalls to keep away malevolent spirits, and the gorse was set on fire at the break of day to burn them out.  ‘Home fires were extinguished and rekindled with appropriate ceremonies – the antiquity of which custom is indicated by the use of earlier methods of fire-making by friction, tinder and flint and steel being employed for the purpose, according to Professor E O James.

When the Beltaine bonfires had been lighted from the need-fire, branches were lit and carried into the houses to ignite the new fires in the grates.  In the Highlands of Scotland this was the only occasion when the peat-fires were put out and relighted (by the friction method) like the annual renewal of the sacred fire in the temple of Vesta on 1st March by the Vestal Virgins.  That the Beltaine fires were regarded as cathartic and regenerative is suggested by the custom of driving cattle through them to protect them from disease.

April’s showers will hopefully have given way to rich and fertile earth, and as the land becomes greener, there are few celebrations as representative of fertility and/or regeneration as Beltaine.  Festivities typically begin the evening before, on the last night of April. It’s a time to welcome the abundance of the fertile earth, and a day that has a long (and sometimes colourful) history.  This spring celebration is all about new life, fire, passion and rebirth, so there are all kinds of creative ways we can set up for welcoming the season.

There are many different ways we can celebrate Beltaine, but the focus is nearly always on the fact that it is a major Fire Festival and we need to find ways of incorporating this into our celebrations. A fire pit is primarily ambient/atmospheric, although it can have some warming properties, depending on how powerful it is and how large. It’s one of those lovely features for people to gather around in the evening, since it’s pleasant in cool, balmy, or even slightly warm weather. Only in downright hot temperatures does the mere look of fire cause discomfort. However, since fire pits are mainly ornamental, if weather is truly frigid or there’s a lot of precipitation, a fire pit doesn’t really do much to combat the weather and may actually get damaged.

Having a fire pit in our garden will ensure we can enjoy the outdoors for longer when the sun goes in and, really, who doesn’t enjoy sitting and looking at an open fire? Covid restrictions have hopefully been amended, so now we can begin to think of having the family over for a big celebratory ‘Beltaine Bash’. If we haven’t already invested, a fire pit is a great item to have in our garden for those Fire Festivals, so we can continue with a much-needed me-time behind the garden-gate once the sun’s gone in. But what to choose? There are lots of designs but before using your garden fire pit, ensure it’s in a safe location and away from any combustible surfaces.

  • Make sure that the location is safe and there’s nothing hanging nearby that could catch fire.
  • Position your outdoor fire pit in the middle of your patio, so you have plenty of room to move around it safely and it’s not too close to combustible surfaces, grass, trees, plants or shrubs.
  • Make sure that it isn’t too close to your property or sheds/summer houses.
  • Don’t light the fire pit under a gazebo or other covered area.
  • Check the wind direction before lighting.
  • Take fire safety precautions. For example, have a fire extinguisher, fire blanket or at least a bucket of water/sand nearby.
  • Keep children and animals away if they are unsupervised.
  • When you have finished with the fire pit, ensure that the fire is completely extinguished. Cover the fire pit with a suitable lid to contain any hot embers and prevent ash from blowing around.
  • If you have chosen a fire pit that doesn’t have legs or which gets very hot, you may need to protect the surface underneath.

On the evening of 13th May, those of traditional British Old Craft observe the Beltaine ritual in compliance with the old Julian calendar, or we may choose a weekend nearest to the 31st April in harmony with the general pagan community.  The rite can be as simple or complicated as we like to make it but the basic component is fire, which can be a roaring summer bonfire, a smouldering fire-pit or an open patio fire-basket.  We’ve even taken part in a rite where the fire was contained within a metal bucket with holes knocked in it! 

Whether as part of a group, or a solitary working, fire should be an integral part of any Beltaine ceremony.  Again, the purists would say that the fire should be lit as part of the ritual but there’s nothing more embarrassing that being stared at by a group of people eagerly awaiting a cheery blaze while the fire-maker fumbles about with damp matches and even damper kindling that refuses to ignite.  Beltaine should be a joyous occasion but this kind of enforced gaiety is on a par with those who insist on still holding a family barbeque in the garden when it’s pouring with rain because it’s been planned for that day!

In modern parlance, in our rites we are basically asking for health, wealth and happiness in the coming days of plenty, i.e. a summer – with plenty of food = health and wealth plus ‘mirth and song’. The holiday celebrates spring at its peak, and the coming of summer. This holiday is associated very strongly with fertility/regeneration, but for pagans how does this translate into a generic meaning that all our guests can relate to?

To put the matter in a nut-shell – regeneration is an ambiguous term with diverse meanings. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to be regenerated is to be ‘re-born; brought again into existence; formed anew’, no doubt an accurate usage but one that is arguably too narrow. More appropriate is another meaning the OED suggests: ‘restored to a better state’ – spiritual renewal or revival.  Most definitions of regeneration, however, have been driven, over many times and places, by concern about ageing and the desire, at best, to reverse or, at least, to modify its perceived ill-effects.  And as  Robert Cochrane once observed, there had been no cause for a fertility religion in Europe since the advent of the coultershare plough in the 13th century!

The May Pole dances are survivals of ancient rituals around a living tree as part of the spring rites to ensure fertility. Over time it usually became a tree trunk of the correct height, age, and type (usually pine or birch). Some writers claim that the tree represented masculine energy, and the ribbons and floral garlands that adorned it represented feminine energy.  While those ribbon-weaving dancers are either pairs of boys and girls (with girls taking one colour of ribbons and boys the other), or a group of multiple ages where younger dancers take the inside of the circle and older dancers the outside; either way, the maypole itself is a splendid reminder that spring has sprung and regeneration has begun.

Given that May Day celebrations are all about expressive dancing and celebrating, the Puritans in 16th and 17th century New England labelled the rituals ‘bacchanalian’, which naturally led to the banning of the celebrations during that time.  Luckily May Day festivities made their way back into the modern era and remain a symbol of the wondrous shift from the dreary cold season to the lively warmer one. We can find today’s most dedicated revelers in Scotland and Ireland, where they recognize Beltaine or Gaelic May Day, or in the United Kingdom and Bavaria – where the maypole is painted in their region’s white and blue and adorned with representations of the local craftspeople and trades.

The tradition of the Maypole Dance has been around for a long time – it’s a celebration of the fertility of the season. Because Beltaine festivities usually kicked off the night before with a big bonfire, the Maypole celebration  usually took place shortly after sunrise the next morning.   Young people came and danced around the pole, each holding the end of a ribbon. As they wove in and out, men going one way and women the other, it created a sleeve of sorts – the enveloping womb of the earth – around the pole. By the time they were done, the Maypole was nearly invisible beneath a sheath of ribbons. If you have a large group of friends and lots of ribbon, you can easily hold your own Maypole Dance as part of your Beltaine festivities. 

In some regions, however, a different maypole tradition existed: the carrying of highly decorated sticks with hoops or cross-sticks, or swags attached, covered with flowers, greenery or artificial materials such as crêpe paper.  This tradition is known as garlanding, and was a central feature of May Day celebrations in central and southern England until the mid-19th century and is a more practical adaptation that we can use within our Craft celebrations as a lead-up to Old Beltaine.  It can even be hung on the front door where the Yule wreath will later mark the Mid-Winter Festival.

The Beltaine/Oestra Bash

The Beltaine bonfire festival is really incomplete without a meal to go with it.  For this occasion celebrate with foods that honour the earth but probably the most wide-spread tradition is that of ‘Scottish Bannocks’.  It is a form of flat bread, the same thickness as a scone cooked on a griddle or fried in a pan.  Today it may also be baked in the oven for about twenty minutes.  In parts of Scotland, the Beltaine bannock is a popular custom. It’s said that if you eat one on Beltaine morning, you’ll be guaranteed abundance for your crops and livestock.


4 oz (⅔ cup) medium oatmeal

2 teaspoons melted fat (bacon dripping is good)

Pinch of bicarbonate of soda

Additional oatmeal for the kneading

Pinch of salt

¼ cup hot water

Mix the oatmeal with the salt and bicarbonate of soda in a basin, then

make a well in the middle and pour in the melted fat. Stir around, then

add enough water to make a stiff paste.  Scatter a board or table thickly

with oatmeal, turn out the mixture and roll into a ball.  Knead well with

the hands covered in oatmeal to prevent sticking.  Press down a little

and keep the edges as regular as possible.  Then roll out to a ¼ inch

thickness, and shape by putting a dinner plate on top and cutting round

the edges.  Sprinkle finally with a little meal, then cut into quarters or

less.  Place on the warmed girdle, or pan, and cook until the edges curl

slightly.  In Scotland they were finished on a toasting stone, but a

medium hot grill to crisp the other side is adequate. [A Taste of Scotland]

Oatcakes are very good with fish, especially herrings, either smoked or fresh, with raw onions; also served with soups, butter-milk, or with jam, honey or marmalade for breakfast. Bannock is also a main staple of many indigenous communities in Canada because it’s a simple bread that can be cooked in a pan, in the oven or over a fire. Top with butter, nut butter, jam or even melt a cube of cheese inside the dough.  During Beltaine a bonfire is kept going all night long. Pieces of bannock are thrown into the fire as an offering.

Froissart, the 14th-century chronicler, writes that the Scottish soldier always carried a flat plate of metal and a wallet of oatmeal, as part of his equipment.  With a little water he could always make himself an oatcake over a wood fire, which contributed to his remarkable stamina.

Loaded with beef, potatoes, and lots of vegetables, this dish celebrates winter and welcomes spring. It’s warm and hearty, yet fresh and bright.  And, at this time of year, when the days can fluctuate between spring-like with clear skies and warm air to cold and chilly rainy days that feel more like February, there’s still justification to slow cook something cozy and savory for Beltaine. With the shifting weather, we never know if there’s a last chilly day around the corner and this slow cooker beef stew has the best of both seasons. With tender beef cooked low and slow in a rich gravy along with spring veggies and plenty of fresh herbs, it’s a set-it-and-forget-it recipe that simmers all day in your slow cooker.


1 tbsp vegetable oil
500g beef diced stewing steak
1 tbsp flour
700ml beef stock
1 carrot, thickly sliced
400g Jersey Royal potatoes, cut into wedges
1 leek, thickly sliced
100g Spring Greens (or Baby Leaf Greens), shredded
25g pack fresh parsley, chopped

Pepper and salt

Preheat the oven to 180C, gas mark 4. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the beef until browned. Stir in the flour and seasoning and cook

for 1 minute, add the stock and bring to the boil. Stir in the carrot and

potatoes. Transfer to an ovenproof casserole dish (or slow cooker), cover

and bake for 1 hour. Add the leek and bake for a further 1 hour until the

beef is tender Add the greens and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley

and serve with plenty of crusty bread [Waitrose]

Beltaine festivals, both in ancient times and today, are commonly accompanied by a large feast. Traditional Beltaine celebrations would set aside some food and drink for the aos sí as a nod of respect.   Since Beltaine used to focus on livestock, perhaps it’s not a bad alternative in providing an enormous ‘cheese/ charcuterie board’ with a wide variety of cheeses and cured meats for the occasion, together with a large wicker basket full of fresh bread and crackers. And best of all, this has something for everyone! From different types of cheese to sweet and savory snacks to crackers and cured meats, the best cheese boards leave no one behind.

Select the cheeses. Try to include a variety of flavors and textures by selecting cheeses from different families (for example):

  • Aged: Aged Cheddar, Gruyere, Gouda.
  • Soft: Brie, Camembert, Goat.
  • Firm: Manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Edam.
  • Blue: Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton.

Use cheese markers to label cheese so everyone knows what they’re getting and bring cheeses to room temperature before serving in order to bring out their true flavor.

Add some charcuterie…aka cured meats. Prosciutto, salami, sopressata, chorizo, mortadella or paté are all good options.

Add some savory. Think olives, pickles, roasted peppers, artichokes or spicy mustards.

Add some sweet. Think seasonal and dried fruits, candied nuts, preserves, honey or chutney.

Offer a variety of breads. Sliced baguette, bread sticks, and a variety of crackers in different shapes, sizes, and flavors.

Finish it off with some garnishes. This is a great way to give your cheese board a seasonal touch. Use edible flowers, cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs, celery or grapes to give your board the look and feel you want.  [Lemon Tree Dwelling]

Now is the time to begin preparing your Beltaine celebrations and we join in wishing you all the joys of the season. MD

New release

Incubation & Temple Sleep

Anyone who is interested in dream interpretation will be familiar with the works of Carl Jung and his allegorical dream-scapes of the collective unconscious. In truth, the allegorical expression of ideas pervades literature, art, music, religion, politics, business, and advertising – as well as everyday speech. For the magical practitioner, the immense richness of the allegorical tradition was thoroughly mined and exploited by no less an individual than Aleister Crowley himself, whose grasp of classical understanding knew no bounds.

Jung saw dreams as the psyche’s attempt to communicate important things to the individual, and he valued them highly, perhaps above all else, as a way of knowing what was really going on in that individual’s mind. Dreams are also an important part of the development of the personality – a process that he called ‘individuation’. If dreams are sometimes difficult to comprehend it is because we need to understand that dreams express themselves through the use of symbols; of symbols, he wrote: “A symbol is the best possible formulation of a relatively unknown psychic content”.

He also voiced his opinion that the dream is ‘a spontaneous self-portrayal, in symbolic form, of the actual situation in the unconscious and we can see that by treating the dream images as symbols, with the images all representing elements within the dreamer’s own psyche, and by asking for the dreamer’s personal associations to the dream, as well as amplifying other images with relation to archetypal themes, we are able to understand a dream and what it may be trying to communicate to the dreamer. [Man & His Symbols]

Similarly, the concept of magic is also communicated by a whole host of signs and imagery – where nothing is as it seems. The magical world is concealed behind a veil of analogy and allegory; similes and metaphor; sigils and symbols; praxis and motif; illusion and allusion; myth and legend – all of which is a complicated shorthand for the techniques of magic and its practices. The amount of knowledge needed to understand esoteric symbolism can border on staggering for the uninitiated at times, since the knowledge and science they represent is not taught outside of esoteric circles for a valid reason; in fact, in almost every instance what people have been taught is often the exact opposite of the truth. And symbols and sigils, allegories and metaphors, are used as esoteric concepts because of the amount of encapsulated knowledge they represent, which is not always easily explainable to the layman.

Some theories propose that myths began as allegories for natural phenomena: Apollo representing the sun, Poseidon representing water, and so on. According to another theory, myths began as allegories for philosophical or spiritual concepts: Athena representing wise judgment, Aphrodite desire, and so on. In this context, these figures are allegories, representing symbolically abstract concepts, or Muses, goddesses of the liberal arts … Their presence in connection with a library, for example, could allude to the pursuit of virtue through the study of the sciences and arts.

By entering our consciousness as ‘symbolically abstract concepts’ these classical entities do not in any way infringe on our belief in whatever godhead is pertinent to our personal faith, path or tradition when it comes to dreams and divination. When referring to an individual, it generally means a person or personified force, who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist. Often filmmakers talk about a certain actor being a muse – meaning the actor inspired a movie. Writers, painters, musicians, and other artists have muses and if we are searching for inspiration in any of the sciences or arts, we could do worse than call upon any of these classic ladies for originality.

In Greek mythology, the nine Muses were goddesses of the various arts such as music, dance, and poetry. Blessed with wonderful artistic talents themselves, they also possess great beauty, grace, and allure. Their gifts of song, dance, and joy helped the gods and mankind to forget their troubles and inspired musicians and writers to reach ever greater artistic and intellectual heights. The Muses were the daughters of Zeus and the Titan Mnemosyne (Memory) after the couple slept together for nine consecutive nights. There was a muse who created the inspiration for every aspect of artistic and scientific thought, and the ancient Greeks believed that by communing with the actual Muses, they could achieve great things:

  • Calliope, traditionally the most important (beautiful-voiced and representing epic poetry and rhetoric), she inspired Homer as he wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey and was normally depicted with a writing tablet in her hand. Calliope was the mother of Orpheus, the great musical hero of Greek mythology, and Linus, the inventor of rhythm and melody; their father is often named as the Olympian Apollo.
  • Clio (glorifying and representing history) was sometimes referred to in her capacity as ‘the Proclaimer, glorifier and celebrator of history, great deeds and accomplishments’, she is often represented with an open parchment scroll, a book, or a set of tablets.
  • Erato (lovely and representing singing), she is the Muse of lyric and love poetry, particularly erotic poetry, and mimic imitation. In the Orphic Hymn to the Muses, it is Erato who charms the sight and since the Renaissance she has mostly been shown with a wreath of myrtle and roses, holding a lyre, or a small kithara, a musical instrument often associated with Apollo.
  • Euterpe (well-delighting and representing lyric poetry), was Muse or patron of lyric poetry or flute playing and her attribute was the double-flute. She inspired the development of liberal and fine arts in ancient Greece, serving as an inspiration to poets, dramatists, and authors (such as Homer). According to tradition, ancient Greek musicians would invoke the aid of Euterpe to inspire, guide and assist them in their compositions. This would often take the form of a prayer for divine inspiration from this minor goddess.
  • Melpomene, patron of tragedy and lyre playing. In this guise, she was portrayed holding a tragic mask or sword, and sometimes wearing a wreath of ivy and cothurnus boots. The name ‘Melpomene’ is actually derived from an ancient Greek meaning, ‘to celebrate with dance and song’. In the early days of her worship, she was considered to be the Muse of singing. Over time, the way the people viewed her changed and she became the muse of tragedy; in some traditions, she remained the muse of both, depending on which custom you adhere to. In most works of art, she is usually shown holding a mask, which is the symbol for tragic theatre; it is usually speculated that she represented tragedy after the Greeks invented theatre and regularly performed tragic plays. She became the Muse of Tragedy during the classical period of ancient Greece.
  • Polyhymnia (depicted as very serious, pensive and meditative, and often holding a finger to her mouth)), the Muse of sacred poetry, sacred hymn (representing hymns to the gods and heroes), dance, and eloquence as well as pantomime. In the Classical era, when the Mousai were assigned specific artistic and literary spheres, Polyhymnia was named Muse of religious compositions. In Bibliotheca historica, Diodorus Siculus wrote, “Polyhymnia, because by her great (polle) praises (humnesis) she brings distinction to writers whose works have won for them immortal fame…”
  • Terpsichore (delighting in dance), the Muse of music, song, dance and chorus. She lends her name to the word ‘terpsichorean’ which means ‘of or relating to dance’. In the Classical era, Terpsikhore was named Muse of choral song and dancing, and depicted with a lyre and plectrum. According to the traditions and beliefs of the ancient Greeks, a dramatist writing a play or drama – including the songs for the chorus – would invoke the aid of Terpsichore to guide and assist him in his work. The invocation took the form of a prayer for divine inspiration from this Muse. The theatre was an important and primary form of Greek entertainment and plays were often combined with music and dance. Plays consisted of three major parts: the prologue, the chorus and the scenes. In Greek drama, the chorus, or the singers, told the story, not the actors. Actors used gestures and masks to act out their parts and changed roles by changing masks. 
  • Thalia (blooming and representing comedy), was crowned with ivy, wearing boots and holding a comic mask in her hand. Many of her statues also hold a bugle and a trumpet (both used to support the actors’ voices in ancient comedy), or occasionally a shepherd’s staff or a wreath of ivy. Patron of comedy who, according to the Greek poet Hesiod, presided over idyllic poetry She was the mother of the Corybantes, celebrants of the Great Mother of the Gods, Cybele – the father being Apollo, the god related to music and dance.
  • Urania (a heavenly being representing astronomy). Like the other Muses, Urania is depicted as a beautiful woman and generally draped in a flowing cloak. The globe and the compass are used to identify her in ancient art she often gestures towards them with a short staff. This likely reflects the connection between astronomy and navigation in the ancient world. As goddess of astronomy, she could read the stars better than anyone else and watched the movements of various celestial bodies in order to predict the future. In fact, her namesake was Uranus, the primordial Titan who embodied the sky – and her grandfather. This was a very powerful concept in Greek mythology, as the sky was a place of divine power. Zeus, for example, was also a being associated with the sky. As the granddaughter of Uranus and daughter of Zeus, Urania’s role as the Muse of astronomy is not inconsequential. She contained some of the power and authority of her forebearers.

The Classical Muses were believed to live on Mt. Olympus where they entertained their father and the other Olympian gods with their great artistry and extensive knowledge, but later tradition also placed them on Mt. Helicon in Boeotia where there was a major cult centre to them; or on Mt. Parnassus where the Castalian spring was a favourite destination for poets and artists. On Mount Olympus, Apollo Mousagetes was, in a certain sense, the choir leader of the Muses, although his attachment was not limited to music, as he fathered many children with his musical ensemble! Calliope was the mother of Orpheus, the wonderfully gifted lyre player whose father was said by some to be Apollo himself.

Although bringers of festivity and joy, the Muses were not to be trifled with when it came to the superiority of their artistic talents. The nine daughters of Pierus foolishly tried to compete musically with the Muses on Mt. Helicon and were all turned into birds for their impertinence. The Thracian musician Thamyres (son of the nymph, Agriope) was another who challenged the Muses in music and after inevitably coming second best to the goddesses was punished with blindness, the loss of his musical talent, and his singing voice – the subject of a tragedy by Sophocles. The Muses also acted as judges in another musical competition, this time between Apollo on his kithara and the satyr Marsyas, who played the aulos given to him by Athena. Naturally, Apollo won and Marsyas was flayed alive for his troubles.

Hesiod in his Theogony claimed that he spoke with the Muses on Mt. Helicon, and they gave him a luxuriant laurel branch and breathed into him their divine voice so that he could proclaim the glory of the gods and their descendants. Thus, the simple shepherd was transformed into one of the most important poets in history. Hesiod also states that the Muses were created as an aid to forgetfulness and relief from troubles, perhaps as a balance to their mother, (Mnemosyne), who personified memory.

Since the Muses were goddesses of the arts, how did astronomy get wrapped up in all this? We don’t generally consider astronomy, or other sciences, to be artistic … but that’s not how the Greeks saw it, because to them there was no firm line between art, science, and philosophy. In their endless search for universal truths, the Greeks found all of their disciplines could be based on the same moral and logical principles. Each of the Muses became a goddess associated with one of the arts. Eight of them mastered arts closely connected to life on Earth. One, however, set her sights a little higher. That was Urania, the Muse of astronomy who was obsessed with the sky and the study of the stars.

In ancient Greece, music, and by association the Muses, were held in great esteem and music was played in homes, in theatres, during religious ceremonies, to accompany athletics, provide rhythm during military training, accompany agricultural activities such as harvesting, and was an important element in the education of children. For example, Themistocles, the great Athenian politician and general, considered his education incomplete because he could not play the khitara. Throughout the ancient Greek world musical festivals and competitions were held in honour of the Muses and philosophical schools bore their name: the Mouseia. [World History]

Invoking the Muse

Mary Ann Burrows, for example, is an artist, poet, author and life coach who recognizes that the poetic tradition of invoking the Muse has a long history in which this ethereal being is synonymous with the creative voice. ‘Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire …’ (1.6-7) is a quote from the 1600’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, by John Milton. In these first lines, Milton is not only stating the theme for his very long poem, but he is also asking for heavenly guidance and inspiration. This was the first invocation of the Muse by Milton in this poem, although he continues to ask for guidance a few more times. The most interesting thing being that Milton was blind when he wrote these ten books and over ten thousand lines of verse – Paradise Lost was recited by him to his daughters.

 A prayer or address is made to one of the nine Muses of Greco-Roman mythology, with an invocation beginning the epic poem and serving as a prologue to the events to come. The poet asks for the inspiration, skill, knowledge, or the right emotion to finish a poem worthy of his subject matter. Homer began his two epic poems with an ‘Invocation to the Muse’ as in this invocation from The Odyssey, where he asks for inspiration …

Speak, Memory –
Of the cunning hero
The wanderer, blown off course time and again
After he plundered Troy’s sacred heights.
Of all the cities he saw, the minds he grasped,
The suffering deep in his heart at sea
As he struggled to survive and bring his men home
But could not save them, hard as he tried –
The fools – destroyed by their own recklessness
When they ate the oxen of Hyperion the Sun,
And that god snuffed out their day of return
Of these things,
Speak, Immortal One,
And tell the tale once more in our time.

Greek writer Hesiod claimed in his work, Theogony, to have spoken with the Muses who blessed him with divine voice and a once simple shepherd became one of the great ancient poets at the pleasure of the gods. Dante had at least six invocations to the Muses in The Divine Comedy. Chaucer called upon the Muse in three of his poems. Plato also saw poetic inspiration as a sort of instability but a necessary evil for creating lasting works of literary art. Ever since the beginning of storytelling, writers have invoked ‘the muse’ to help them tell the stories in their minds and as modern-day writers, poets and creators this helping hand is available to all of us. Although writing poetry has changed dramatically over the years, one thing that has remained crucial to people is the belief in themselves and the ability to choose one’s own influences. Simple enough, right?

So what happened to the Muses?

Did they abandon us?

The Muse is an energy and a force that is still available to all of us to call upon.

The gift, then, of the Muses, or one of their gifts, is the power of true speech,” wrote the great classicist, E R Dodds.

We all have a muse. My muse is different than yours. We can decide how we see it, or if we see it at all. I know that I have felt a deep connection to my muse during painting, writing, and meditation and that my muse is a force that connects me to this vast, limitless universal well of creative inspiration. I often wake up from hours of creative work and look at my painting, poem, or writing and wonder how it happened. This deep level of consciousness is there and available for all of us to tap into. I think that it’s our job to learn how to tap into our muse and be open enough within ourselves to receive Her guidance. Rather than waiting around for an idea to show up or for my muse to appear and drop off some really good inspiration, I have discovered a variety of ways to connect with Her that work better, such as the ones that I am about to share with you. [Mary Ann Burrows]

Nearer to home in English folklore and literature we have The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – the title an analogy that refers to elves whispering among themselves in the leaves of the willow trees as people walked or sat underneath. Figuratively, the wind refers to inspiration just as the willow is the symbol of creativity and inspiration for poets and writers when we pause beneath its branches. This tree inspires our creativity and encourages us to make the most of our talents. It helps us overcome our doubts and fears regarding our abilities and helps us take actions to fulfil our dreams. Just making sure we pause to listen next time we walk beneath the tree and it seems to whisper … Or similarly the ash tree from Llwyn Onn – a traditional Welsh folk song …

The ash grove, how graceful, how plainly ’tis speaking;
The wind through it playing has language for me,
When over its branches the sunlight is breaking,
A host of kind faces is gazing on me.
The friends of my childhood again are before me;
Each step wakes a memory as freely I roam.
With soft whispers laden the leaves rustle o’er me;
The ash grove, the ash grove again is my home.

How to Call Upon Our Muse

First and foremost – we need to bring forth a conscious invitation and hold a firm belief in their existence. After all, these are powerful entities of the Ancient World, as Mary Ann Burrows reminds us …

  • The most important step towards finding and invoking our Muse lies in the act of opening ourselves up to a belief in the mystic elements of something that we cannot see. Our trust in what we cannot touch is what ignites the spark of our Muse to come out and play; a relationship that takes time to foster and grow. Our particular Muse has been with us our whole life, waiting and available, however, she needs to get to know us, too. The best part about a Muse is that we are the one who gets to decide what she is and isn’t. If we don’t believe in her existence, she will never step out of the shadows. We need to have faith.
  • A daily ritual can include meditation, a prayer, a blessing, lighting of a candle, the polishing of a crystal, or playing music that signifies we are calling upon our Muse. Set aside fifteen minutes before we begin to create to ground ourselves, in order to centre our being, and create a connection with our Muse. It’s like a warm-up before going to the gym. It includes emptying our old thoughts and clearing out those old threads so that inspirational thoughts can come through.
  • Find a symbol. Some item that associates us with our Muse. A feather, a candle, a piece of jewellery, a crystal, an ocean stone, a seashell … we take our time to find the perfect item. We follow our gut instinct, pick what we are drawn to, and something that resonates. Keeping the item close with us whenever we travel, walk, meditate, work on our projects, or sleep. Setting the item in front of us during meditation.
  • Finding a sensual location – picking a physical location where we can sense a visceral energy. A place where all of our senses are alive and awake – where we feel very deeply and find it difficult to control or ignore those feelings that are not the result of conscious thought – under or near a willow tree, perhaps? Or by a rippling stream … or a large expanse of water where we can hear the wind among the reeds. It’s important to spend time in our special place of connection because this is a sacred space. This is where we want to return to in our mind when we are calling up our Muse at home.
  • Traditionally, the poets associated music with the invocation of the muse as sound shifts energy and opens our minds. It’s a welcoming mat and an invitation for our Muse. Do you like Bach or Rap? Only you know the answer to what makes your heart sing. Whatever calms our nerves and makes us smile, play this. This is a personal choice and it is ours to make.
  • If we’re having trouble connecting, it’s perfectly normal. It takes time. It’s also a sign that we need to further ground ourselves. Try to take a different path, walk a new way home, choose a different routine, find a different and new symbol or location to sit in. Meditate, have a nap, ask a question to find the answer when we go to sleep. Try something new and the blockage will disappear. Muses don’t suffer from writer’s block!
  • When your muse speaks, listen. Take note and use those inspirations. We all have the ability to invoke and connect with our own individual Muse – and to benefit from those otherworldly influences.

Similarly, in his Creativity Quartet Masterclass, Willemijn Brouwer expounded his own theory on divine inspiration: On Mount Parnassus, there was a spring that was sacred to Polyhymnia and the other Muses. It was said to flow between two big rocks above Delphi, then down into a large square basin. The water was used by the Pythia, who were priests and priestesses, for oracular purposes including divination …

Inspiration is a gift from the gods. Right. Let’s start our historical review with the Big Three: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. I will shortly mention the first, focus on the second and end with the third, and the words inspiration, madness, demons or demonic possession. The first word sounds positive to us, the other words not really. For the Greeks, they were all the same. Socrates talked about ‘the demon as a divine gift granted to a few individuals’. This possession by the gods Plato referred to as divine inspiration or divine madness. And Aristotle doesn’t have a different name for divine inspiration. But he is important because he is the founder of association theory, and if you know anything about creativity, you know about association.

     In Greek mythology, Zeus was the supreme God who had nine daughters. And if you created a poem in Ancient Greece, those nine daughters had something to do with it. It was Plato who was credited for explaining this possession by the Muses as ‘divine inspiration’. He argued that the Muses possessed the mind of a poet that brought him to the creation of poems. Plato only discusses the work of poets as a result of divine inspiration because according to Plato, the work of a painter was not divine. Because the painter was only trying to capture the beauty of nature. And because nature was already an imitation of the idea of nature, a painter was producing an imitation of an imitation. 

   Plato’s entire theory was based on ideas. He argues that there is an ‘idea world’ and that everything we see is an imitation of that world. If we transform his argument into contemporary language: a poet is creative and an artist like a painter is an imitator and ‘just a craftsman’ or worse, a Chinese copyist. Even though the focus of creativity was on poems, Divine inspiration was not only possible for poetry but also for other art forms that were not imitations of the idea world. [Willemijn Brouwer]

In Ancient Greece, if we had written a great poem, we were complimented for producing the poem but not for inventing or creating it. It was one of the Muses that gave us inspiration, and we should feel honoured about it. In Phaedrus, Plato wrote: “The creative poet needs divine madness: the madness of those who are possessed by the Muses: which taking hold of a delicate and virgin soul, their inspiring frenzy awakens lyrical and all other numbers; with these adorning the myriad actions of ancient heroes for the instructions of posterity. But he who, having no touch of the Muses’ madness in his soul, comes to the door and thinks that he will get into the temple by the help of art – he, I say, and his poetry are not admitted; the sane man disappears and is nowhere when he enters into rivalry with the madman.”

And in Ion: “The poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him: when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless and unable to utter his oracles.”

For Plato, there is no credit for the person himself in the creative process. If we came to an ‘act of creation’, we were simply lucky because the gods had chosen us. The fact that we had to translate the inspiration into a poem, was of no importance for him. This is where Aristotle differs in opinion. Aristotle gives credit to the person who created the poem where Plato did not.  According to Aristotle, thinking started with the person’s own thoughts. And thinking is a process of jumping from idea to idea: to associate.

Today we might scoff at the idea of the existence of the Muses, but the idea of inspiration in relation to creativity is very much alive. And also, Aristotle is not only the founding father of how we see science but also of the association theory. Maybe what we call inspiration today is actually an association as Aristotle meant it to be.  In modern parlance, creativity allows us to view and solve problems more openly and with innovation. Creativity opens the mind. A society that has lost touch with its creative side is an imprisoned society, in that generations of people may be closed-minded. Creativity broadens our perspectives and can help us overcome prejudices – even if we use Old World techniques to help us achieve our goals.

Incubation & Temple Sleep by Mélusine Draco – published by ignotus books UK as the tenth in the Arcanum series ISBN978 1 80303 454 7 : 100 pages : £6.85 : Order direct from the printer at a discounted price from

New release …

The Witch’s Book of Simples

The simple arte of domestic folk medicine

A Simple is a philtre derived from a single herb and was an important element among the natural resources of the parish-pump witch, wise-women and cunning-folk.  Simples are common kitchen ‘stuff’ that has been handed down through generations of country people in the form of family cures for everyday ailments.  Or as William Fernie wrote in his Herbal Simples (1897) “The art of Simpling is as old with us as our British hills.  It aims at curing common ailments with simple remedies culled from the soil, or got from home resources near at hand.”

These were no fancy recipes with magical formulae, and, often given as a tisane, the women of the household were able to use the remedies to treat common ailments suffered by her family. And, this elementary form of domestic plant medicine can be as simple as a cup of chamomile tea made from flowers picked fresh from our own garden to aid sleep.  This was the most elementary way to use medicinal plants since no fancy recipes or scientific acumen was needed as Simples were often given as an infusion or used as a poultice or compress.  But this element of traditional witchcraft has long been in the shadows …

As most of my readers will know, I have a fascination for odd and obscure historical facts that are hidden away in the millions of sources that outstrip and confound the confines of the Internet – it’s finding them that presents the stimulation and the challenge. Because if we merely rely on the regurgitated information of contemporary paganism not only does our mind become stagnant, but for those who follow the Craft of the witch, so do our magical abilities.

Over the years I have also incorporated a great deal of folk- cunning- and country-lore into my books on witchcraft with a view to preserving that knowledge for future generations. Much of what even those of my grandparents’ generation once knew is now lost because it was never recorded for posterity. True there are numerous pagan books written about similar subjects but it is obvious that a large number of writers don’t have the countryside in their blood and fail to reflect the magic and mystery of growing up in an uncomplicated rural environment. Strangely enough, these sentiments are often now viewed as some form of elitism but I prefer to go back to the roots of learning rather than consult something that has been cobbled together from different popular titles without any true grounding in Nature.

Finally, special thanks must go to medical herbalist Tish Romanov of The Old Apothecary for giving The Witch’s Book of Simples the once over to make sure I wasn’t about to kill anyone, or that my brain hadn’t failed during the long years since I was first introduced to (and used) these simple domestic plant remedies … and for adding the warnings, cautions and dangers where applicable.

The Witch’s Book of Simples by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books ( ISBN 978 1 78904 789 9 : 188 pp : UK£11.99/US$18.95

Spring Equinox

Melusine Draco

The Elders of the Coven of the Scales and myself always view the Spring Equinox with a degree of trepidation since it usually brings with it the onset of personal turmoil and upheaval.  As the year begins to change we prepare to batten down the hatches until the storm of uncertainty has passed.  And, as we all appreciate, uncertainty is often centered on worries about the future and all the bad things we can anticipate happening. It can leave us feeling hopeless and depressed about the days ahead, exaggerate the scope of the problems we face, and even prevent us from taking action to overcome any problems until the Vernal Equinox has gone.

Canadian wellness coach, Kelly Spencer, observes that the Vernal Equinox is a time of rebirth for all life. “As winter places us in a life of more darkness, we rejoice more sunlight. With all of life dependent upon the sun, you can imagine the energy of celebration this time of year for all living species. Birds sing, flowers bloom, bees dance, and babies of all species are born. In ancient times, rituals were performed at the Spring Equinox and people would cleanse old energy. This is where our tradition of ‘spring cleaning’ came from! We feel more energized and want to plant seeds of vision in our lives or for our gardens. We may feel the urge to open the windows, clean and prepare for a new, warmer and brighter season. We might make plans to get outside more, develop a health plan for ourselves, or set some new goals to achieve, both personally and professionally.”

We also understand that there is a real ‘seasonal science’ concerning the varied affects on our body and mind so that we can all be more mindful of when transition from season to season wreaks its affects on us. In fact, it can affect all living creatures. Seasonal changes, including the increase in the amount of light is a signal to animals, plants and people, of the changing seasons. For some, changes of season can trigger a change in mood. During the winter many develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD), with some experts believing the shorter days, with less sunlight, upset the body’s internal clock causing loss of energy and lack of luster for life.

With the increase in light, as it hits the retina and enters the pineal gland and slows the production of melatonin, we may notice a change in the way we feel and the energy we have. As the melatonin recedes and the light begins to affect the brain, we can get a lighter ‘spring’ in our step, we become more alert and experience increase feelings of happiness. The fresh air, scents and visual displays of bloom and birth, feel good as we consume them with our senses.

But what can account for those feelings of apprehension that some monumental upheaval is about to occur – and it will invariably happen around the Equinox!?  There’s never been a satisfactory answer to this situation but a gentle read through Professor E O James’s Seasonal Feasts & Festivals (1961) provided another train of thought …

This related to the tradition custom of seasonal contests that had been an integral element for promoting fertility and conquering the malign forces of evil, especially at the approach of spring.  According to Professor James, this is apparent in the many ball games that had survived throughout the ages which originally had a ritual significance – not to mention local hostility.  Not infrequently these have occurred in the opening of the year, and have persisted in association with the carnival, revelries and merry-making.  The rites, however, belong to the Spring Festival rather than that of the Winter Solstice – Shrovetide customs looking forward to Easter, not backwards towards Yule.

In England it became the custom for parishes to divide themselves into two opposing groups at this season of the year, which usually coincided with Shrove Tuesday, to engage in ‘rough and rumbles’ such as those recorded in forty-two towns or districts,  and in which they have survived to within recent memory.  ‘Broken shins, broken heads, torn coats and lost hats’, we are told were ‘among the minor accidents of this fearful contest’.  A Frenchman who witnessed the scene remarked that ‘if Englishmen called this playing, it would be impossible to say what they would call fighting’.

According to one local tradition this violent event celebrated the driving out and slaying of a cohort of Roman soldiers marching through the town by unarmed Britons.  And to suppress the observance in 1846 ‘it required two troops of Dragoons, a large levy of special constables and the reading of the Riot Act to secure the desired result’. These regional ‘needle-matches’ or bitterly fought contests between two teams who bear each other a grudge,  aroused exceptional personal antagonism between the contestants.

Seasonal games and contests of this nature were almost universal in England and elsewhere in Europe at the approach or beginning of spring, until they were prohibited on the ground that they were dangerous to life and limb, and property, as indeed they were.  Is the astral turbulence surrounding the Spring Equinox a throw-back to the ‘good old days’ enshrined in our racial memory?  Because the mere presence of such violence in the astral realm is already acutely burdensome, and to be physically exposed to it is exhausting and debilitating

Uncertain times create waves in the astral realm: When the human mind doesn’t know what the future will hold, its natural tendency is to seek out some narrative to grasp on to, to make sense of, and identify with that narrative. Without meditative training, simply remaining in a blank, unknowable present is not how most of us cope with uncertainty. When understood in the context of a society (and, in general, all rules that apply to individuals apply to groups; as above, so below), this means that an uncertain material world (like say, the Covid pandemic) creates even more uncertainty in our collective heads, and all members of society feel a sense of change, and often of unease, like we know something is coming but aren’t sure what. This is what is meant by ‘something in the air;’ a collective consciousness comes to reflect this uncertainty, this sense of foreboding. It is like the calm before a storm. [Astral Harmony]

Both Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes universally represent a time when earth energies as well as our own bio-energetic systems are dramatically shifting gears, so our emotional and physical health can be quite sensitive, and we need extra rest and care to protect our life force and to help us stay steady.

During equinoxes, the Sun also exerts a stronger pull on the Earth than at the rest of the year, because of the alignment between the sun and the equator. Consequently, the water surface is strongly attracted by the Sun, which accentuates what we call ‘great tides’. To the meteorologists, spring is from March to May, and it is seen as a period of instability.  This is because the ground is warming up but the air is still quite cold, producing a bitter-sweet mixture of squally showers, fine spells and cold, frosty nights.  Just when the days appear to be improving, a deep depression can whip moisture-laden air down from the polar seas, hurling it across the countryside as sleet and snow.  After warm March days, when the blackthorn comes into bloom, there is often a sting in the tail of the month – the blackthorn winter!

In fact, the countryman’s observation for this time of year is ‘Beware the Blackthorn Winter’ – because although the blackthorn is in full bloom by now, its pale, softly fragrant blossoms are often matched by frost-whitened grass or snow-covered hills. The blackthorn flowers before its leaves grow, so we get a real contrast of white flower against black bark; blackthorn has a reputation as being one of the ‘witch-trees’ of the countryside, not least because we have to be very careful of its long (and very sharp!) spikes which can puncture skin very easily and the wounds have a tendency to turn septic. The blackthorn is depicted in many fairytales throughout Europe as a tree of ill omen but it along with the alder it is the totem tree of traditional British Old Craft.

WRITER@WORK – spring


The next book in the How to Survive (and Enjoy) titles is about due for publication in Sumer Is Icumen In – scheduled for 29th April which looks at reclaiming our Summer Festivals for our personal/family calendar.   Harvest Home – In Gathering and Breath of Spring have also been added to the Moon Books publishing schedule and so we now have a complete year of reclaimed fire-festivals.  I’ve also completed the final draft of the ignotus version of Hallowe’en & All That – which is a bit more startling than its Moon Books companions.

Lots of interest on TVWriters’ Vault for Temple House Archive and the Hugo Braithwaite Mysteries from television production companies looking for new series.  This is a long, drawn out process but these two fiction series have both attracted some interest … so fingers crossed.  Have also started on volume four of the Vampyre’s Tale and hopefully this can be added to the list.

Scaling down on all sorts of projects leading up to the planned move back to the UK in the autumn and, who knows, may be making room for some new ones.  I shall miss the Glen since it has been a wondrous source of inspiration over the years but being close to the sea may provide stimulus of a different kind.  Talking of which, Incubation and Temple Sleep is next in the Arcanum series and should be ready for release in April/May.

All these things are linked in with each other and who knows what writing changes there are in store for me in the coming months …

Book news …

Reclaiming some of the oldest and most sacred times of the year  

 with Melusine Draco

Have A Cool Yule : How To Survive (and Enjoy) the Mid-Winter Festival was published in 2017 and shows this festive to be a wholly pagan event, worthy of being acknowledged as one of the Great Fire Festivals along with Mid Summer, the seed-time and the harvest.  With all the different strands of pagan custom brought to the hearth-fire of the Mid-Winter Festival we all have something to celebrate in time-honoured fashion whether our Ancestors were Briton, Celt, Norse or Anglo-Saxon.  This title is slowly climbing the sales ladder due to its best selling time is restricted to a couple of months in the lead up towards Yule …

“As per usual and in great style, Melusine Draco presents a wealth of information about this historically proven pagan festival. Whichever way the reader chooses to celebrate… whether it’s a traditional family Christmas or a traditional Yule in the company of pagan friends or as a solitary – there is something for everyone. From a complete festival calendar with some simple rites and symbolism, to carol lyrics, recipes, gift ideas and feasting to the ‘art of using up’ and festive games; everything Yuletide is covered. And with generous doses of light-hearted good cheer and a sprinkling of dark humour, the author strikes a balance that is both useful, informative and entertaining. A charming little book.”  Sheena Cundy, Witch Lit author 

Hopefully this is about to change because the next book in the series Sumer Is Icumen In is due for publication on 29th April 2022 – because here we discover new and exciting ways of surviving (and enjoying) the truly pagan excesses of the Midsummer Festival. Here we can establish and instigate a new smorgasbord of traditions of our own for the purpose of celebration and observance and, in time, even though we must never lose sight of our authentic history, they may even be integrated into future pagan revels …

“So, you want to know about Midsummer? You can’t do better than begin here with this treasure-trove of how the summer solstice has been – and still is – revered all around the world. Melusine Draco is a fountain of knowledge, and wisdom, her books open doors and turn on lights to so many dark places that have forgotten and/or misremembered for far too many years, centuries even. And her writing style makes you laugh, makes you think, tweaks your brain and generally delights you. Definitely on my bedside reading list.”  Elen Sentier, author of Merlin, Elen of the Ways, Numerology: Dancing the Spirals of Time and Trees of the Goddess. 

In the good old days, the harvest festivals began in August (Lunasa – ‘beginning of harvest’) followed by September (Meán Fómhair) and October (Deireadh Fómhair) translated as ‘middle of harvest’ and ‘end of harvest’ respectively. Harvest was one of the most sacred times of the pagan year and the Harvest Home: In-gathering was a community observance at the end of the harvest to celebrate and give thanks for the bounty with all its attendant celebrations, including the singing of the traditional folksongs like John Barleycorn. Celebrating the harvest is still the holiest time of the Craft year and Lammas celebrates the coming of harvest-tide with its decoration of corn sheaves, fancy loaves, berries and fruits – all leading up to the Autumnal Equinox (or Michaelmas) that marked its zenith with the eating of the traditional goose and the raucous festivities of the community harvest suppers and country fairs.  Due for publication 26th August 2002.

“This is yet another useful, informative, and charmingly written guide from Melusine Draco. With the usual sprinkling of humour and lively writing she takes a comprehensive look at Lammas/Lughnasadh and the other months of the harvest. The In-Gathering: How-To Survive (and Enjoy) the Autumnal Festivals has everything the reader need to know about celebrating the important harvest season. Brimming with history, folklore, customs, recipes, traditions around the world and so much more information and ideas of how to celebrate, I heartily recommend it. This is a book that will certainly be going on my own bookshelf.”  Harmonia Saille, Pagan Portals – Hedge Witchcraft, Hedge Riding, and Hedge Magic.

Our seasonal festivals begin with this Breath of Spring … to mark Imbolc/Candlemas on the 2nd February – which in turn marks the official end of the Yule celebrations and a traditional date by when all Yuletide decorations should be removed. Traditional witch, Evan John Jones, acknowledged that Candlemas is the first of the great Sabbats and the start of the ritual year, when it is time to let go of the past and to look to the future, clearing out the old, making both outer and inner space for new beginnings. Followed by the Spring or Vernal Equinox, Ostara and Beltaine to cover the months of spring before we prepare for the summer season … about to go into production.

“Melusine Draco opens up the festivals of spring in an engaging, informative and easily accessible way. An enjoyable read, with a mixture of poetry, history and mythology, customs (and even recipes), it builds a fascinating and comprehensive picture of the traditions of spring festivals, as well as tracing them back to their roots. MD really knows her craft and touches on things like the seasonal effects on the various star signs, while rich descriptions of solar alignments and folkloric practices keep you turning the pages. This will add inspiration to building your own traditions. Definitely one for my bookshelf.”  Krystina Sypniewski – author of Pagan Portals – Dream Analysis Made Easy

Here we look at surviving (and enjoying) the different seasons of the year in true pagan style and reclaiming them for our own use by realizing their importance from the high profile each has been given before being absorbed into the Christian litany.

Pagan Portals: Have a Cool Yule (ISBN 978 1 78535); Sumer is Icumen (ISBN 978-1-78535-981-1); Harvest Home – In Gathering (ISBN 978-1-80341-110-1); and Breath of Spring (ISBN 978-1-80341-188-0) are all published by Moon Books.

New release

The RATS! are here …

What, historically, do rats and witchcraft have in common? Firstly, they appear to be almost indestructible, and secondly, they HAVE put the fear of the gods into humankind like nothing else on the planet!

Rats have been our close neighbours for a l-o-n-g time and it’s not surprising that they have entered the spiritual lexicon of our superstitions, literature and customs. Because, if we Google ‘rats as spirit-totem animals’ there are some 883,000 results, which just goes to show there are lots of people who actually appear to feel quite positive about them! If we consult Wildspeak – an animal energies webpage – we find that if a rat’s characteristics were part of a human’s make-up we would probably like to have them as a friend!

Whatever humans have thrown at them, the rats have survived. They’ve taken on the might of the Supremist Super Power in the world – the US of A – and won. Who knows what these intelligent little beasties will inherit from their new career opportunities? As Robert Hendricksen observes, men have long compared rats to humans, with no regard for the possibility that the rat might find such comparisons odious, considering the record of our race.

Where they are not soiled by civilization, all rats – and especially the black rat – are beautiful immaculate animals. Unlike people, rats are always personally clean creatures who are continually grooming themselves and each other; they are transformed into ‘dirty rats’ only when they come in contact with man’s environment.’ Rats can also be more compassionate than man. Helpless rats are often fed all their lives by others … The rodents probably cooperate in ways that man can still only imagine. Judging by their many abilities, as well as their stupendous numbers, rats and their close relatives are already more the masters of the earth than man can ever hope to be.

All of which means, of course, that the rat is the perfect totem animal for a witch because the rat as a spirit animal that signifies restlessness and success. As a totem or spirit animal it may be a sign of being unsettled. It is also a reminder of the need to be shrewd in business affairs. The rat also demonstrates how to be resilient and survive despite extreme difficulty. This is through adaptability in both an emotional and physical manner. It has a year-round cycle of power.

Using spirit animals as guides can give us inspiration on how to behave and respond in our everyday lives. Sometimes an animal will make itself known to us at a time when this guidance will be most helpful to us. It is important to remain open to this happening in order to recognise when it happens. This open state of mind is also useful for assimilating insights and making real changes in our life.  Animal symbols may come to us in dreams or whilst meditating. Find out about the characteristics of these animals and think about how these could help you with situations in your own life.

RATS! Fear or Reverence by Melusine Draco is published in paperback and as an e-book by ignotus press : ISBN 978 1 80302 351 9 in the Arcanum series : 98 pages : UK£6.85 : Order direct from the printer at a discounted price from

Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore

Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore by Melusine Draco

Natural tides are an integral part of tradition British witchcraft because these are what empower our magical workings and personal spell casting.  Imagine drawing in the energies we’ve given out today. Pull back the energy that has gone into chatting, encounters at work, the distractions of shop windows, or the emotional pull of others. Ethereal meditation focuses on spiritual transformation. It is a form of conscious meditation that combines powerful visualizations and affirmations to help harness the flow of personal and environmental energy in our lives.  Here we use the natural tides of the Earth to help restore our body when we’re feeling exhausted, weary, and tired. We will feel more alive and filled with energy …

Natural tides are caused by the effect of gravity in the Earth-Moon-Sun system, and the movement of those three bodies.  Let’s consider just the Moon for a minute, and imagine the Earth completely covered in water. There would be two bulges of water – one towards the Moon and another on the opposite side. The rise and fall in sea-level is caused by the Earth rotating on its axis underneath these bulges of water. There are two tides a day because it passes under two bulges for each 24 hour rotation.  This is called the lunar tide.

The Sun also creates two bulges of water called the solar tide – this is about a third the size of the lunar tide. Two Bulges? What causes the one on the side away from the Moon? Most people think the Moon rotates round the Earth. In reality, the Earth and the Moon rotate about a common centre just inside the Earth’s surface. At this common centre, the two forces acting: gravity towards the Moon and a rotational force away from the Moon are perfectly in balance. They have to be otherwise the Earth and Moon would not stay in this orbit. The ‘tide-generating’ force is the difference between these two forces. On the surface of the Earth nearest the Moon, gravity is greater than the rotational force, and so there is a net force towards the Moon causing a bulge towards the Moon. On the opposite side of the Earth, gravity is less as it is further from the Moon, so the rotational force is dominant. Hence there is a net force away from the Moon. It is this that creates the second bulge away from the Moon.

The solar-tidal bulges are about half the size of those caused by the Moon. Like the Moon, gravitational attraction to the Sun creates one bulge towards the Sun and one away from it … These occur during full and new Moons when the gravitational influence of the Sun and the Moon line up with each other. Tides cause daily changes in water levels in many coastal areas. Factors such as local topography and weather contribute to the timing and height of tides, but the primary reason for tides is the gravitational attraction between liquid water on the Earth and the Moon. All objects on Earth experience tidal forces. However, the effect is most pronounced with water because, as a liquid, it is more easily deformed by gravity when compared to solid objects.

Basically, oceanic tides are very long-period waves that move through the oceans in response to the forces exerted by the moon and sun. Tides originate in the oceans and progress toward the coastlines where they appear as the regular rise and fall of the sea surface. When the highest part, or crest of the wave reaches a particular location, high tide occurs; low tide corresponds to the lowest part of the wave, or its trough. The difference in height between the high tide and the low tide is called the tidal range.

A horizontal movement of water often accompanies the rising and falling of the tide. This is called the tidal current. The incoming tide along the coast and into the bays and estuaries is called a flood current; the outgoing tide is called an ebb current. The strongest flood and ebb currents usually occur before or near the time of the high and low tides. The weakest currents occur between the flood and ebb currents and are called ‘slack water’ or ‘slack current’. In the open ocean tidal currents are relatively weak. Near estuary entrances, narrow straits and inlets, the speed of tidal currents can reach up to several kilometers per hour.

The solar cycle is the cycle that the Sun’s magnetic field goes through approximately every eleven years. Our Sun is a huge ball of electrically-charged hot gas. This charged gas moves, generating a powerful magnetic field.  Every 11 years or so, the Sun’s magnetic field completely flips. This means that the Sun’s north and south poles switch places. Then it takes about another 11 years for the Sun’s north and south poles to flip back again. The solar cycle affects activity on the surface of the Sun, such as sunspots which are caused by the Sun’s magnetic fields, and as the magnetic fields change, so does the amount of activity on the Suns surface.

Atmospheric tides are ubiquitous features of the Earth’s atmosphere. They are the persistent global oscillations that are observed in all types of atmospheric fields, including wind, temperature, pressure, density, and land height.   Tidal oscillations have periods that are some factor of a solar or lunar day. Atmospheric tides have been studied for many years, since they are evident in both surface pressure and magnetic observations that date back to the early part of the twentieth century.  Atmospheric tides are further characterized by their sources.

The Moon’s gravity forces the lunar atmospheric tide, while solar atmospheric tides can be excited in several ways, including the absorption of solar radiation, large-scale latent heat release associated with deep convective clouds in the troposphere, the gravitational pull of the Sun, and as secondary waves due to nonlinear wave-interactions. The restoring force that acts on atmospheric tides is gravity, so tides are a special class of buoyancy or gravity waves. Solar atmospheric tides are generally larger than lunar tides and dominate the tidal motions in the middle and upper atmosphere, that is, the  stratosphere, mesosphere and thermosphere. [NASA]

Earth tide is the displacement of the solid earth’s surface caused by the gravity of the Moon and Sun. At ground level, atmospheric tides can be detected as regular but small oscillations in surface pressure with periods of 24 and 12 hours. The largest body tide constituents are semi-diurnal, but there are also significant diurnal, semi-annual, and fortnightly contributions. Though the gravitational force causing earth tides and ocean tides is the same, the responses are quite different.  In coastal areas, because the ocean tide is quite out of step with the Earth tide, at high ocean tide there is an excess of water about what would be the gravitational equilibrium level, and therefore the adjacent ground falls in response to the resulting differences in weight. At low tide there is a deficit of water and the ground rises. Displacements caused by ocean tidal loading can exceed the displacements due to the Earth body tide. Sensitive instruments far inland often have to make similar corrections. Atmospheric loading and storm events may also be measurable, though the masses in movement are less weighty. Volcanologists use the regular, predictable Earth tide movements to calibrate and test sensitive volcano deformation monitoring instruments. The tides may also trigger volcanic events. [Wikipedia]

The pole tide is the response of the ocean to incremental centrifugal forces associated with the Chandler wobble – a small deviation in the Earth’s axis of rotation relative to the solid earth.  It amounts to change of about 30 ft in the point at which the axis intersects the Earth’s surface and has a period of 433 days. This wobble, combines with another wobble with a period of one year, so that the total polar motion varies with a period of about seven years. The tide has a potentially important effect on the period and damping of the wobble, but it is at present not well constrained by observations.  In regard to ocean tides in particular: the South Pole is on land so there are no ocean tides; and the North Pole is frozen so it is hard to see the Ocean tides! It is true that tides tend to reduce with increasing latitude, but there are many other factors including the shape of the coastline. [Navipedia]

Tides have an effect on the atmosphere surrounding the Earth and can be used magically to our advantage to enhance our rituals when each individual tides is at its highest/strongest. Here’s an energizing yogic meditation we can do for just thirty seconds that will fill our body and mind with a smooth, natural energy. This is also great for increasing our immunity and clearing our mind. Try doing this in the morning or mid-afternoon to fill ourselves with an intoxicating natural buzz as we plug into the natural tide.

While this is a simple meditation is also a mental practice that allows us to connect back to our physical bodies, slow down, and calm our thoughts when they are racing or frantic. Like all forms of meditation, doing even a quick exercise can train us to press pause on our swirling thoughts and focus, even for a few seconds, on the moment.  The internet can help us to pinpoint the apogee of the tide on which we wish to focus, so that we can concentrate on that precise moment in time prior to engaging in any magical working.

Once we have discovered how to syncronize our routine with the various natural tides by consulting any one of a number of apps or local tide charts available we can literally drop into the exercise anytime, anywhere. If we’re stressed at our desk, or even slipping into negative thoughts while at the gym, we can sink into this mini-yoga exercise any time we feel the need.

  • First things first, get comfortable – whether we choose to cozy up on a couch or step outside into the sunlight. Keeping our feet firmly planted on the ground can be helpful for greater connection and grounding.  On the go or not at home? No problem.
  • Take a few deep breaths . . . like, all the way down to your belly (four seconds in, four-second hold, and four seconds out is a good place to start). Without trying to change what we observe, let’s simply notice the sensations in our body. Do we have clenched shoulders? A tightened jaw? Tightness in our neck?
  • Simply observing what we feel may be shocking once we stop and notice just how tense we’ve been without even realizing it. Once you’ve become aware of sensations, take notice of a few other things like:

The temperature of our hands

The feeling of clothing against our body

The ground under our feet

The smells and feeling of the air around us

  • All of these objective observations can help increase mindfulness – like when it feels like as though our anxiety is taking control. Gently allow our body to relax, from head to toe.
  • Start by relaxing the facial muscles and jaw, neck, and shoulders. Even our tongue and throat might be holding anxiety, so let them go limp. Continue to breathe deeply as we relax all the way down to your toes.  Think of nothing.
  • New to meditation or finding this all a little abstract? As with all types of meditation, there’s no right or wrong way. So if sitting in silence with yourself feels good, you’re doing it right!
  • We can always take it up to the next level and go for five to 10 minutes, or longer! This is a good way to begin our day, self-sooth over your lunch break, or wind down before going to sleep.  Or even focus our thoughts prior to beginning a magical working.

Let this pure thought, the recognition of our pure existence, center you and draw you deeper inside. To find our place of peace in our mind. To be at our most calm mindset and think clearly. Think of this practice as an exercise in meeting our invulnerable core. It can give us the strength we need to open up to our own vulnerability without being overwhelmed by it and connect with the Universe as it manifests in natural tides and rhythms.

Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books ISBN 978 184694 426 0 : 150 pages : Price UK£9.99/US$16.95

Add to our family tradition …


Although Candlemas is a Christian holiday celebrated on 2nd February that has aspects in common with Imbolc – although it is referred to as Candlemas in accordance with the  tradition British Old Craft tradition. Its celebration can be traced to 4th century Greece as a purification holiday and a celebration of the return of light. The modern celebration of Imbolc is considered a low-key and sometimes private affair concerned with reconnecting with nature. Since it’s a climate-specific holiday, some followers of the Wiccan religion adjust their celebration of it to correspond with a date more appropriate to the coming of spring where they live. Others embrace the symbolism of the holiday and keep to the 1st February celebration.

Since the Victorian era, it is customary to remove Yuletide decorations on Twelfth Night … but up until the 19th century people would keep their decorations up until Candlemas Eve.  If this custom wasn’t followed, it was believed that greenery would not return and vegetation would not grow, leading to agricultural shortages and subsequently food problems. Even though Christmas decorations are now less about foliage and more about baubles, glitter and tinsel, many people still adhere to the superstition which they ascribe to the modern Twelfth Night on the 5th January. This 17th century poem by Robert Herrick gives us a better idea of what sort of greenery was used prior to the introduction of the Victorian Christmas tree … In his ‘Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve’ he wrote …

DOWN with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe ;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas Hall :
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind :
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected, there (maids, trust to me)
So many goblins you shall see.

In his longer ‘Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve’, he added:

       DOWN with the rosemary and bays,
           Down with the misletoe;
       Instead of holly, now up-raise
           The greener box (for show).

       The holly hitherto did sway ;
           Let box now domineer
       Until the dancing Easter day,
           Or Easter’s eve appear.

       Then youthful box which now hath grace
           Your houses to renew ;
       Grown old, surrender must his place
           Unto the crisped yew.

       When yew is out, then birch comes in,
           And many flowers beside ;
       Both of a fresh and fragrant kind
           To honour Whitsuntide.

       Green rushes, then, and sweetest bents
           With cooler oaken boughs,
       Come in for comely ornaments
           To re-adorn the house.

Thus times do shift; Each thing his turn does hold ;
New things succeed, As former things grow old.

In fact,Herrick (1591-1674) wrote at least four poems concerning Candlemas.  Likewise, ‘Upon Candlemas Day’ shows the day itself had its own entrenched traditions:

END now the white loaf and the pie,
And let all sports with Christmas die.

Finally, in ‘The Ceremonies for Candlemas Day’, he wrote:

KINDLE the Christmas brand, and then
Till sunset let it burn ;
Which quench’d, then lay it up again
Till Christmas next return.
Part must be kept wherewith to tend
The Christmas log next year,
And where ‘tis safely kept, the fiend
Can do no mischief there.

This latter poem recalls the tradition that Christmas greenery would be burned and the Yule log allowed to burn down completely, but that a portion should be held back to start next year’s Yule log fire (and as a good luck charm against ‘mischief’). The ashes were to be spread over the land/garden to ensure a good harvest and the Yule log for the next year would be chosen at that time.  Candlemas was also believed to be a good day for weather forecasting (it falls halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox): If it was a sunny day, there would be forty more days of cold and snow. This belief has carried into folklore tradition around the world, and one olde English rhyme says:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
But if it be dark with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.

All this Christian overlay merely confirms what an important festival this was for our pagan forebears and, as such, it became the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary in the church calendar. The Christian feast-day commemorates the ceremony performed by the mother of Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem forty days after the birth of Christ in fulfillment of the Mosaic Law requiring the cleansing of a woman from the ritual impurity incurred at childbirth.  The convenience of having yet another important pagan festival falling within the ‘nativity cycle’ meant that Brigid easily became a Catholic saint! In the early calendar, on that morning, many candles were lit in the church, symbolically driving out the darkness. In the afternoon, there was feasting all round, with much music as Candlemas Day marked the formal end of winter. 

In the pagan Celtic world it was Imbolc, the festival marking the beginning of spring that has been celebrated since ancient times. It is also a cross quarter day, that midpoint between the Mid-Winter Festival and the Spring Equinox; the name deriving from the OldIrish imbolg meaning ‘in the belly’, a time when sheep began to lactate, their udders filled and the grass began to grow. Imbolc was a time to celebrate Brigid, as the goddess of inspiration, healing, and smith-craft, with associations to fire, the hearth and poetry.  Also called Là Fhèill Brìghde, it corresponds to the Welsh Gŵyl Fair y Canhwyllau as a traditional festival marking the beginning of spring; it was widely observed throughout IrelandScotland and the Isle of Man.  Local festivals marking the arrival of the first signs of spring may be named after either the Cailleach or Brìghde, while some interpretations have them as the dual face of the same goddess.

Là Fhèill Brìghde, is also the day the Cailleach gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that, if she intends to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on 1st February is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood to keep herself warm in the coming months. As a result, people are generally relieved if Là Fhèill Brìghde is a day of foul weather, as it means the Cailleach is still asleep, will soon run out of firewood, and therefore winter is almost over.

The Cailleach is a divine hag, a creatorix, weather and ancestor deity while Brigid is a sort of Celtic Athena, with very similar functions. Although most often presented as a mysteriously veiled, ancient woman, the Cailleach is also said to take on the guise of many different beasts and birds as she travels around the rugged landscapes of her homeland.  The Cailleach Béara is said to be one of the most ancient of mythological beings, appearing as an old crone who brings winter with her blackthorn staff when she appears and who wields incredible power over life and death.  Her ability to control the weather and the seasons meant many communities looked upon her with a mixture of reverence and fear.

Candlemas, then, is the re-awakening of the Old Lass within Old Craft belief and also coincides with the Roman Festa Candelarum, which commemorated the search for Persephone by her mother Demeter, Persephone having been kidnapped by the King of the Otherworld, Hades. As Persephone was no longer in our world, darkness was everywhere, so her mother used a torch in her search, and in the end obtained a decree that her daughter would be on Earth and Olympus for two thirds of the year (the light period), and in the Other World (Hades) for the other third of the time (winter season). The festival of candles symbolizes the return of the Light. 

During medieval times, peasants still carried torches and crossed the fields in procession, praying for purification of the ground before planting. In the early churches, the torches were replaced by blessed candles whose glow was supposed to take away evil; villagers and townsfolk would later take the candles to their houses to bring protection to their homes and family.  During the evening, an especially large candle would have been lit while the family gathered around waiting for a celebratory feast, during which plans and promises to be kept through the new season would be discussed and debated until it burned out. It was also customary at sunset to ritually light a candle in each room of the home in honour of the Sun’s return. Not surprisingly, in 1543, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, banned candles on Candlemas Day because the rites were seen as superstitious, i.e. pagan!

In traditional British Old Craft, however, Old Candlemas/Old Imbolc now falls on the 15th February due to the changes in the calendar. Imbolc is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and there is evidence it has been an important date since pre-Christian times: at the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara the rising sun at Imbolc illuminates the inner chamber; the sun also illuminates the chamber at Samhain.  Our Neolithic ancestors were obviously acutely aware of this time of the year, as were the Celts and the later settlers in the Ireland, each seeming to adopt some of the traditions and beliefs of the previous/existing culture. 

In county Meath there are two important Neolithic solar alignments to Imbolc.  Firstly, on the Hill of Tara, at the Mound of the Hostages a Neolithic passage grave has an entrance directed towards the sunrise on the 8th November and the 4th February, the start and end of winter respectively. As the sun rises it squarely illuminates the back-stone of the chamber for about a week. The stone engravings are illuminated, not by the sun beam directly, but its diffuse reflection from the back stone.  Simultaneously in Cairn L on Cairnbane West, Loughcrew, the sun is shining into the monument to perform what can only be described as a carefully choreographed ballet. At the instant of sunrise the first rays of light are focused on a free standing white pillar stone and nothing else. The light is seen to visibly move from top to bottom in a matter of seconds and then swing from left to right where it is then focused onto a ‘mirror’ stone which throws the diffuse sunlight into a dark recess illuminating one of the most accomplished pieces of Neolithic art in the world.

This is the only time when the carvings can be seen without the aid of a torch. All the fine detail being revealed in a very dramatic and stunning way. The sunlight then falls on an angled stone and again within a matter of seconds is seen to shrink and disappear as the sun moves higher in the sky outside the chamber. Curiously the central motif on the Mound of the Hostages stone and the Cairn L stone are remarkably similar, sharing images of nested concentric circles.  From these ancient rites we can see how they identify with the Old Lass and her awakening, not to mention their association with the Mysteries of the Elder Faith.

In Witchcraft: A Tradition Renewed, Evan John Jones acknowledges that Candlemas is the first of the great Sabbats and the start of the ritual year, when it is time to let go of the past and to look to the future, clearing out the old, making both outer and inner space for new beginnings.  In ancient Rome, on the eve of Candlemas all the home fires would have been put out, cleaned out, and re-lit being symbolic of the returning light of the Sun. In Old Craft, and in keeping with this symbolism, a broom made from the three sacred woods symbolic of the three-fold aspects of the goddess (the handle from ash, the brush from birch twigs and the binding cord from willow) would be placed by the front door to symbolize sweeping out the old and welcoming in the new.

We are now preparing to move into the bright half of the year and those four great fire festivals that are marked by the Equinoxes and Solstices of the solar year, together with the four traditional celebrations of Old Beltaine, Old Lammas, Old Hallowe’en and Old Candlemas making up the eight Sabbats of the witch’s year that will be coming round again. The fire festivals occur at the beginning of each quarter of the solar-tide cycle, with Candlemas marking the end of the reign of the Holly King and heralding the first stirrings of the bright tide of summer of the Primal Goddess. 

Add To Your Family Tradition

Although the festival of Candlemas – aside from the church litany – has lost much of its significance, it is not difficult to realise just how significant this time was for our pagan Ancestors.  Perhaps it’s a good idea to clear out the fire-pit in the garden and take it as an opportunity to burn the Yule greenery with a reciting of one of Herrick’s poems as the winter air is perfumed with the fragrance of burning twigs.

And, our Christmas tree is great fuel for an outdoor fire. Cutoff the branches to use as kindling, and cut the trunk into logs. Pine is not recommended for burning indoors, as its creosote content makes for sticky, sooty fireplaces but it’s perfect for keeping us warm while we’re enjoying a Candlemas evening outside. The greenery used to decorate our home for the Christmas season has also served its purpose, and the bonfire from burning them also celebrates the light and warmth of the Old Lass returning to the world on one of the darkest (and often one of the coldest) nights of the year.  If we removed our decorations at Twelfth Night, keep them dry in the garage until Candlemas Eve.

Once again, Fire is the most important aspect of this celebration because it symbolizes bringing the light of the Old Lass back to the world and the start of the Old Lad beginning to relinquish his power.  Ideally, our inside working space should be flooded with candle-light, and we’ve found the best method is to place collections of tea-lights in plain glass holders on large glass or silver trays.  This gives off the maximum reflection and the trays can be placed safely at different levels in different parts of the rooms.

This is also time to reclaim another pagan tradition that has been absorbed into the church calendar without us realising it.  We’re given free rein to pile our plates high with thin crépes or thick pancakes, slathering them with a selection of sweet and savoury spreads and toppings. It’s a truly joyous occasion but have you ever stopped, mid-chew, to wonder why we eat pancakes every Spring? Let’s bring you up to speed about this religious tradition of and give you the low-own on the true origin of the custom.  Nowadays, Pancake Tuesday, more formally known as Shrove Tuesday, falls forty-seven days before Easter. The day is always followed by Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent whereby Christians traditionally fast for forty days.

Shrove Tuesday marks the last day before Lent – a period of forty days whereby Christians traditionally fast or give up certain foods. The forty days represent the time that Jesus spent fasting in the desert where he resisted the temptation of Satan. In the past, families would traditionally prepare to fast by using up all the ingredients in their kitchen. These would usually consist of eggs, milk, and flour – everything you need to make a good pancake!

But … 

For many people worldwide, a pagan Candlemas has a particular smell: not just the scent of lighted candles but also the fragrance of pancakes being cooked for family and friends.  Candlemas pancakes should traditionally be made with wheat flour from the previous harvest. Stacks of them can be prepared without fear of famine, since the fields would soon be regaining their golden colour.  There was even an old saying that held if you ate pancakes on Candlemas Day, you would be ensured a good harvest in the coming year.

It was also commonly believed that the blessed candle would protect the house from lightning. A superstition concerning the beneficial virtues of this object suggested that a piece of blessed candle placed beneath the threshold of the house would ward off maleficent witchcraft. Candlemas announces the coming of spring and daylight has already increased by one hour. According to a saying: ‘Candlemas sun announces spring, flowers and joy’. This day is also important for bee-keepers because it is believed that a clear and limpid sky on Candlemas foretells a beneficial year for bees.

In our Celtic countries, it has always been a tradition to make pancakes at Candlemas. Another saying goes: ‘If you want to avoid infected wheat, pancakes at Candlemas do eat’. This custom dates back to the day when new maids and man-servants were hired. To celebrate this and alleviate their sadness about being separated from their family, the mistress of the house took up her frying pan and treated her new staff and the rest of the house to pancakes; a great celebration at the time. This feast was also the opportunity to eat the surplus wheat from an earlier sowing.

When we eat pancakes at Candlemas, all the candles in the house should be lit, which is easy to understand when considering the etymology of the word: in vulgar Latin festa candelarum  means ‘feast of the candles’.  Candlemas! Candles that drive back the darkness of winter are lit. Candlemas brings to mind clarity and light. The six dark weeks are past; winter is fading. Candlemas is a prelude of the coming spring to which humans aspire and hope will be a liberation, a new beginning …