New book release …

Keep it Simple … with Melusine Draco

Although the Romans introduced many plants into Britain, it was the Emperor Charlemagne who actively encouraged the spread of herbs and spices throughout Europe; decreeing that each city within his empire should have a garden planted with ‘all herbs’. The foreign emperor’s edicts, however, did not reach as far as Britain and during the Dark Ages it was left to the monasteries to preserve and augment the legacy of herbal knowledge abandoned after the fall of Rome.  Fortunately for posterity, at the Dissolution of the Monasteries c.1536, some valuable books and manuscripts on the subject found their way into private libraries.

Dr Richard Aspin searched through 17th-century recipe books to find out more about the herbal medicine found in Shakespeare’s plays because locally harvested wild herbs were the foundation of medical practice in England of the time. Some plants were cultivated in kitchen and herb gardens, but they differed little from their wild equivalents. Exotic herbs – that is, plants from overseas – were beginning to play an increasing role in the English pharmacopoeia, but whether native or exotic, ‘Simples’ – ‘those medicinal substances that nature provided without any human intervention’ – still formed the basis of Elizabethan domestic medicine.

In Shakespeare’s time there was a London street, named Bucklersbury (near today’s Mansion House), so noted for the number of apothecaries who sold Simples and sweet-smelling herbs that in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Sir John Falstaff describes the dandified fops of his day as ‘Lisping hawthorn buds that smell like Bucklersbury in simple time.’

William Fernie also made rare mention of the ‘green men’ [and women] who were first licensed in the Elizabethan Wild Herb Act to gather herbs and roots from wild, uncultivated land – but it was an occupation that had been going strong since the late 14th-century. A new kind of medical herbalist had evolved – the apothecary – who purchased plants collected from the countryside by these wandering herb collectors. In Green Pharmacy, Barbara Griggs records that during the 17th-century herbs could also be bought direct from the herb women in Newgate Market or Covent Garden.  According to Fernie:

‘Coming down to the first part of the present [19th] century, we find purveyors of medicinal and savory herbs then wandered over the whole of England in quest of useful Simples as were in constant demand at most houses for the medicine-chest, the store-closet, or the toilet-table.  These rustic practitioners of the healing art were known as ‘green men’, who carried with them their portable apparatus for distilling essences, and for preparing their herbal extracts.  In token of their giving formally officiated in this capacity, there may yet be seen in London and elsewhere about the country, taverns bearing the curious sign of The Green Man & [his] Still

The Green Man & Still was a tavern originally situated at 335 Oxford Street, London and was also a coaching inn (a 1792 map shows it at the entrance to a stagecoach yard), the starting point/terminus of several stage coach routes out of London.  Although the original tavern closed and re-located, it retained the Green Man & Still name as late as the early 1920s. Another Green Man & Still is recorded at 161 Whitecross Street, Clerkenwell in 1789 run by one Peter Richardson/ victualler from Sun Fire Office records held at the London Metropolitan Archives. It closed in 2006 and remained empty until it became a coffee shop in 2011. The ‘Green Man’ became a popular name for English pubs in the 17th-century (when the Distiller’s Company Green Man & Still heraldic arms were still in common use), although most inn signs tend to feature the familiar foliated face of church architecture; while the ‘green men’ of Elizabethan times probably merged into the cunning-folk tradition and faded into oblivion.

The confusion between the two grew from a simple misunderstanding. Julia Somerset (Lady Raglan) only published one article on folklore in her lifetime, which appeared in the journal Folklore – formerly The Folk-Lore Journal (1883–1889) and The Folk-Lore Record (1878–1882) – and it almost certainly had a more lasting influence than anything written by her folklorist husband. She claimed to have investigated the supposed mythic-ritualistic origins underlying popular cultural motifs, but her focus of study was the foliate head seen everywhere in European medieval church decoration of the eleventh to sixteenth centuries. Before Lady Raglan’s intervention, this figure had been anonymous. She gave him a name: the Green Man.

The Green Man largely disappeared during the neo-Classical period and Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, although this time also saw the rise in popularity of the related figure of Jack-in-the-Green at May Day festivities (and rather mysteriously having a particular association with chimney sweeps in the early years). Leaf-covered Green or Wild Men had been appearing in town pageants for centuries, possibly as live representations of the Green Man of church architecture, but the first attested appearance of Jack-in-the-Green was as recent as 1775. Indeed, one might have expected the Green Man to disappear completely in this age of science and rationality, and for a time he seemed to have done just that. But he has never entirely faded away … [The Enigma of the Green Man]

In Memory, Wisdom & Healing; The History of Domestic Plant Medicine, Gabrielle Hatfield has gathered together material from manuscripts, letters, diaries and personal interviews to produce a detailed picture of the use of domestic remedies in Britain from 1700 to the 21st-century.  And although historians have neglected this captivating subject, her extensive research caused her to make an extremely important observation:

‘How far have we misinterpreted the role of the ‘cunning man’ or ‘wise woman’ of the past?  Perhaps many of them were the equivalent of this informant’s aunt: well versed in plant medicines, and therefore able to help family and friends in time of sickness; just this and no more: there may have been no ritual or magic in their home medicines.  This is not to deny the existence of magical and ritualistic practices in medicine. To deny this would be to fly in the face of evidence.  What I am suggesting is that family plant-medicine was relatively free of these elements. Indeed, the use of native plants in self-help medicine in this country may have been the one constant thread in the history of medical practice.  Magical and religious and astrological practices associated with physic waxed and waned in popularity, but the use of ‘simples’ remained constant: a standby for country people in times of illness.’

Knowledge was handed down orally and only rarely were written records kept for posterity in rural communities. And, as Gabrielle Hatfield also observes, what few records there are on the subject have usually been written by those with no direct experience of country remedies.

‘Such writing tends to treat fragments of information as curios, of a rather quaint nature, to be collected together like a collection of dried butterflies.  This not only removes the information from its context, it also tends to lead to a condescending attitude towards the users of such remedies.  The very word ‘folk’ has come to have a patronizing ring to it, and too often accounts of folk medicine concentrate on the bizarre and fanciful.  Taken out of context, and sometimes even quoted quite wrongly, this has built up a picture of folk medicine as a collection of odd and anachronistic rituals, practiced by the ignorant and superstitious.  In reality, domestic [plant] medicine was a necessary tool for survival … and it is our loss if we dismiss this wisdom too lightly.’

Up until the 18th– century, botany and medicine were closely allied but they subsequently drew apart and developed as separate disciplines.  This is not to say that the old herbal remedies disappeared: traditions were kept alive in many rural locations, and in some countries they never fell from use.  In Europe the day-to-day use of herbs remained more widely practiced than it did in Britain. Mrs Maud Grieve, whose famous herbal was published in 1931, did much to promote the renewed interest in herbs in Britain in the 20th century.

Witch’s Book of Simples: The simple arte of domestic folk medicine by Melusine Draco will be published by Moon Books 25th March 2022 : Paperback  ISBN 978-1-78904-789-9

In the Presence of God …

In The Wind in the Willows Mole asks Rat if he is afraid in the presence of the ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, and Rat replies: ‘Afraid! Of Him? Oh, never, never! And yet – and yet – I am afraid!’

Those who have grown up with Pan as a playmate would know exactly how Ratty felt at that precise moment. Back in those days it was possible for a young child to disappear into the woods with only a dog for company for hours on end without there being a hue and cry raised in its absence; and it was on those woodland rides and pathways – summer or winter – that I often encountered Pan.

The day would be peaceful and calm with a soft breeze whispering in the treetops, and the whole wood alive with bird calls. The woodland floor would be carpeted with bluebells in the spring; or summer sunlight filtering through the overhead canopy; crisp, dry leaves crackling underfoot in autumn; or the frozen quiet of a late winter afternoon as a fiery sun began to sink in the west, casting long shadows beneath the trees. Then, almost imperceptibly, there would be the sound of muffled footsteps following quickly in the undergrowth. Your pace quickened and so did that of your stalker. A suddenly flurry of old dried leaves would be picked up by a passing zephyr and flung into the air like a mini-whirlwind. All the hair on the back of the neck would be standing on end, heart thundering in the chest, breath almost impossible to take. Then you turned to confront this persistent intruder only to find … nothing. The wind died away, carrying with it the faintest sound of laughter and a voice in your head saying: ‘Gotcha!’

I knew this experience long before I was ever aware of who had been with me all those years ago, and he still catches me out from time to time. Out with the dogs in the woods or the lonely lane when there’s no one else about, Pan will still be up to his old tricks. The long track stretches away into the distance; sunlight filters through the trees on either side and suddenly there’s that sensation of someone coming up behind, ready to pounce. The old panic is there and you turn to confront … nothing. I’ve long since learned to laugh with him, but I can still hear that laughing voice saying: ‘Gotcha!’

For those who practise their paganism in the safety of numbers, or behind closed doors, then perhaps there is much to be feared from this most ancient of gods; but for those who have grown up with Pan for a playmate, the reaction is probably more in keeping with his gentle compassion. For Pan is all things to all who follow him – from the laughing pastoral deity to Pan Pangenetor, the cosmic All-Begetter. For all his complexity, however, once we’ve encountered Pan in his natural environment, our own response will probably be the same as that endearing little rodent from The Wind in the Willows:

Afraid! Of Him? Oh, never, never! And yet – and yet – I am afraid!’

Pagan Portals: PAN – Dark Lord of the Forest and Horned God of the Witches by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books : ISBN978 1 78535 512 7 : 84 pages : UK£5.99/US$9.95

What people are saying about Pan:

Alan Riachardson, author of biographies of Dion Fortune (Priestess) and Bill Gray (The Old Sod): As you read this, Pan is opening his strange eyes with those lucid, rectangular pupils, which give him huge peripheral vision. He is observing you very quietly. Look up from the page, look around. He is here, now. Believe what I say! Also be aware that at this same moment there is an Inner Pan within your psyche who yearns to be aware of things from this wider perspective, who aches to take you toward the dark recesses of your mind, and the wild, tangled undergrowth of your unconscious. As you make your own antic path into the Wild Woods in search of the Great Pan, your nape hairs might prickle, you might see things at the new edges of your vision and strange realms might open up. If you have a frisson of fear – you are on the right path. Keep going. There is light and love there too, in abundance.

     Melusine Draco’s book is filled with pleasing seeds and roots that she has collected from obscure, musty corners of the mythological and literary forest. Just brooding upon them ensures that they will be planted and grow in your consciousness, often in startling ways. And if you ever find yourself on hilltops in Wiltshire and see an elegantly ageing and once-handsome chappie chanting: ‘Io Pan, Io Pan, Io Pan, Pan Pan!’ then you’re probably hearing me putting to good use the practical evocations she gives.

Sarah Beth Watkins, author and publisher at Chronos Books: A fascinating and interesting read packed full of historical and mythological information and knowledge. Draco has researched her subject well, illuminating Pan as never before. His mystique and folklore jump off the page and make you yearn to find him in the forest! Draco is a well respected instructor in British Old Craft and she shares her wisdom in her many books on traditional witchcraft and magic. This latest book richly adds to her collection. A must read for those interested in learning more about the Horned God with practical exercises to enhance the reader’s consciousness along the way. Enter the woods – if you dare!

  Pan & Hecate FB page | FB 
Just finished this book and I highly recommend it. I’m a polytheist so I don’t believe in one overall horned god and I’m happy to say this book can appeal to all. I’ve studied Pan’s lore for many years yet there are pieces of lore in this book I have not seen and also insight that made me stop and think. Great book.

Rose Pettit | Insights Into Books 
Pagan Portals – Pan: Dark Lord of the Forest and Horned God of the Witches by Melusine Draco introduces us to Pan and his many gifts. We are given a short ancient prayer or ritual to Pan to in order to ask for visions or gifts of prophecy or even theatrical criticism all of which fall under Pan’s areas of expertise. We are shown the history of Pan through Ancient Greece to his transformation by Christians into the devil and also his journey to Britain and our modern times. We are shown hymns to the god Pan. We are given a lot of information about Pan. I enjoyed the magical exercises at the end of each chapter designed to bring us more knowledge of Pan and his energies. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the Pan, his history and magical practices that could be used to connect to him. I acknowledge that I received this book free of charge from NetGalley in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

M Orlando | Amazon 
A thoroughly enjoyable journey through Pan’s forest of legend and myth as expressed through art, literature, poetry and spiritual beliefs from ancient through to modern times. As always, Melusine Draco’s fine scholarship and insightful perspectives elevate what might have been a dry academic study to that of intriguing discovery. Also appreciated are the author’s inclusion of personal experiences connected with the Dark Lord. Highly recommended!

Ionia Froment | Goodreads/NetGalley 4/5 stars
From the start, I was impressed with this book. The author did a fantastic job of researching the material she used as sources, including many passages to prove the points she was making. I liked her informative writing style and thought this was a really interesting look at pan through the ages and different cultures. A lot of times, books like this can quickly become redundant and lose my interest, but this one didn’t. I enjoyed reading this and felt like I learned quite a bit from it by the end. If you are interested in the horned god, this is a book that you don’t want to miss.

Mat Auryn |  Melusine Draco’s Pan: Dark Lord of the Forest and Horned God of the Witches is a fantastic little introduction to one of the most beloved gods in paganism and witchcraft. Exploring Pan throughout history, mythology, literature, religion and the craft, Melusine traces Pan from classical era history to Christianity’s adoption of his image for that of their Devil. She showcases Pan in his role of the Horned God of the Witches in the writings and beliefs of Margaret Murray, Dion Fortune, Robert Cochrane, Nigel Jackson, Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner and more. Melusine also shares some of her personal gnosis and experiences with Pan in this book and she isn’t shy to delve into both Pan’s free-spirited and joyful side as well as his darker wild side.
     The book touches on Pan’s myths, his home of Arcadia and his companions such as nymphs and satyrs. The book is full of a wide variety of classical prayers, paeans and hymns to Pan, including some that I’ve never came across. One of the things I found the most interesting was her comparison of traditional prayers to Pan versus certain Catholic prayers of the Church. Melusine does a great job of providing accurate historical information on Pan without the dry and boring writing style of academia scholars. Falling just barely under 100 pages long this book can easily be read in one sitting and is perfect for those of you out there with limited time to read or that might just have a short attention span.
Dawn Borries | 
I found this book to be a fascinating read. The author opens with The Orphic Hymn to Pan. She talks about the Coven of the Scales, of which she is the Principal Tutor, they worship Aegocerus ‘the Goat-God’ and not Cernunnos. Ms. Draco puts forth the question, “How did the pre-Olympian Deity find his way into traditional witchcraft of Britain?” No other foreign Deity has been added to Traditional British Old Craft, so why Pan? Ms. Draco goes into some great depth on the history of Pan. She does this in a way that is very smooth and never a dry read. It is interesting to think that because in early times art was a way of teaching, the early church was able to pick Pan as a stand-in for their Devil. People didn’t know how to read, so the church used art to teach them what to fear and what to love. So, they had to change the landscape. You can’t fear a scruffy looking being playing the pipes surrounded by half-naked beauties in a lush green valley. The church changed his surroundings.
     Ms. Draco writes about the resurgence of interest that lasted into the early 1920’s. Here she talks about some of the writings that many pagans grew up reading or having read to them by their parents. One of these stories is that of The Wind in the Willows By Kenneth Grahame. “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” is very much the story of Pan appearing to the characters of the story. He looks like a protector of the wild places. The way this piece reads you feel a closeness to Pan that is calm and beautiful. I also learned all the different names of the different types of nymphs from this book about Pan. I find that the history of Pan, in all the different ways he was seen, to be fascinating. It becomes an attractive subject, in such a way that if you would let it, it could quickly become a rabbit hole for you to fall down.
     Ms. Draco’s book Pan: Dark Lord of the Forest and Horned God of the Witches is both entertaining and educational for those Pagan’s seeking more knowledge of an old God, that seems older than even the Olympian Gods. I look forward to reading more of Ms. Draco’s books and in learning more about the ‘Goat-God’.

Dawn Thomas (Reviewer) | NetGalley 
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. The author begins with a detailed description of Pan and horned gods along with their association to Satan and the Devil. She also discusses the outlaw of Paganism and whether there was a continuation of it through modern times. She provides an image of Arcadia which was Pan’s home but was described as other places in mythology stories. If you are interested in Pan and his story, you will enjoy this book. Although it is a short book, it contains thorough research on the subject.


with Carrie West

Yes, of course you do, my dear!  But it’s not as easy as that, is it?  I mean … the first question we’re going to ask is: Why?  And we don’t want some time-worn cliché about nature-worship, goddesses and finding your place in the Universe, either.  When we ask what you expect to gain from studying traditional British Old Craft, what we do expect is a response that shows some forethought has gone into your decision and that you’ve bother to find out a little of what it means to belong to the Elder Faith.

In truth, an Old Craft witch is judged on his or her natural abilities with the Craft.   Not on their proficiency in each individual talent but the application of how they approach each separate sphere of learning and how each method or technique moves onto the next.  Neither are we impressed by a Who’s Who-type listing of those who have inspired you – particularly if they are American with no formal knowledge of our Tradition.

It is not unfair to claim that witches are born not made with their natural abilities pre-programmed.  It is also true that many people discover these latent talents in later life, having been around the pagan block a few times and subsequently we can help them recognise and develop these special gifts.  Neither does this mean, however, that we favour those who have built up an impressive collection of esoteric merit-badges from a wide variety of ritual magic and revivalist Orders.

A good candidate for prospective witch-hood will have a sound appreciation of the natural world; and awareness of natural tides and energies and have a good understanding of the history of Craft.   Some of our members have completed their training in other disciplines of magical practice, which they bring with them to the group.   Our teaching methods explore traditional British Old Craft magic, aiming at both solitary practitioners and group-working – providing a safe way to gain a solid grounding in practical Craft techniques. 

Hopefully, we provide a broad-based introduction to basic Craft magical techniques that will prevent beginners from being deceived by those with lesser expertise than themselves because we offer an accessible and structured foundation course providing sound guidance for those wishing to explore different areas of Craft practice before committing themselves to a particular Path or Tradition.  That is why we operate two forums – one, a public facebook page for pagans from different disciplines (Coven Café Culture); the second an invitation-only group for more advanced students and Coven members – for discussion and debate.

Most people learn about magic and witchcraft from books, and they learn alone. Their magic remains a very personal and private thing.  This has one very major drawback, however … where do you go to ask those niggling questions, or check whether you are working safely and efficiently? 

Carrie West

For more information concerning Coven of the Scales tuition go to our website at where you will find further details about traditional British Old Craft on our Blog page.



Well … it’s coming into Summer, so what better time to mention Christmas, eh? Not that I’m actually going to write about Christmas but rather those seasonal celebrations that mark the different stages of the Old Craft year – either as minor or major Sabbats, depending on your Tradition. In Coven of the Scales we mark the turning of the year at the Vernal Equinox (spring); Summer Solstice (summer); Autumnal Equinox (autumn) and the Mid-Winter Solstice (winter) as important fire-festivals.

The Vernal Equinox, whether the opposition likes to admit it or not, controls the dating of Easter each year … and Easter as we know was named for a pagan goddess! In 325 the Council of Nicaea decreed that Easter should be observed on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox (March 21). Easter, therefore, can fall on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25. It must have been a pretty riotous bash because the bishops rewrote the Bible for propaganda purposes. The feast day of John the Baptist (24th June), was established by the Church to honour of the birth of the saint, which the Bible records as being six-months before that of Jesus. Conveniently, this coincided with the major celebration of the Mid-Summer Festival, or Summer Solstice on or around the 21st June which allowed it to correspond with the official birth day of Jesus that would henceforth be celebrated on the 25th December (the Winter Solstice).

The Summer Solstice heralds in Mid-Summer’s revelries and I’ve just submitted Sumer Is Icumen In: How to Survive (and Enjoy) the Mid-Summer Festival to Moon Books for consideration. When it comes down to research, it’s amazing just how much of the authentic Mid-Summer celebrations have been suppressed – having been fiddled around with to coincide with the Church calendar’s St John’s Day. The Swedes are the only ones who appear to thoroughly enjoy their midsummer celebrations and so we suggest we take a leaf out of their flower wreaths and bind them in our hair …

Fortunately, the Autumnal Equinox still retains most of its pagan heritage intact and Song of Harvest Home is currently in preparation. The Winter Solstice , of course, has already been dealt with in Have a Cool Yule, while Now ‘Tis Spring … brings us full circle with all the old festivals reclaimed for pagan celebration.

That severe bout of conference fever that inflicted the delegates at Nicea turned the whole (of the Christian) world upside down. The Emperor, Constantine brought together bishops from all over Christendom in order to resolve some divisive issues and ensure the continued unity of the church – and they must have thought they’d never be found out. Today, those Nicea chickens have come home to roost and there’s a pagan fox in the hen house!

Still on an avian subject, the second book in the Ignotus-Arcanum series, Talking to Crows is now in publication, following Sacrifice To the Gods and Hag Stones is currently in production. Several interesting titles are in the various stages of preparation and these handy little how-to books will build into a useful and unique library for traditional British Old Craft … and they don’t take very long to write, either.

Have A Cool Yule: How-To Survive (and Enjoy) the Mid-Winter Festival by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books in their Pagan Portals series. ISBN 978 1 78535 711 4 : 82 pages : Price UK£6.99/US$10.95 ; Available in paperback and e-book format

Book news … new release

Talking to Crows: Messengers of the Gods

By Melusine Draco

‘Talking to crows’ is said of those who have some presentiment or foresight in Sicilian folk-lore. It is believed that to those who can understand them, these black birds, garrulous creatures they are, communicate the latest news on the doings of human beings, since they have a clear view – a bird’s eye view – of the whole. They have also been around for a lot longer than human beings and, perhaps not surprisingly, long ago developed the reputation of being messengers of the gods in many different cultures across the world.

The best way to introduce ourselves to Corvidae is by feeding them. Some may argue that corvids are wild creatures and by feeding them, we encourage an unnatural dependence. With most wildlife, this is an excellent philosophy. But most corvids and humans have been living side-by-side for centuries now, and researchers like Marzluff and Angell (co-authors of In the Company of Crows and Ravens) point to many instances of cultural co-evolution between us. This relationship has been arguably symbiotic for quite a while now. Certainly, after all this time together, our lives and histories have become closely intertwined. They’ve watched people come and go for years; people who may have watched them right back.

Don’t try to get too close. These are wild creatures, after all. Our goal shouldn’t be to tame them or make them into pets. Even after years of friendship, a corvid will be skittish and standoffish, and it’s better this way. They are never going to come running for a fuss, and their standoffish attitude is probably a major reason why they have thrived as a species for so long … but if we’re interested in them, we have to learn to appreciate their charms from afar.

Besides, get real, most humans view crows as ominous, murderous evils (or at best, rats with wings). For centuries, crows have played the bad guys in the stories humans tell themselves, and I’m sure those crows have noticed the eye daggers most people shoot at them, how cars veer to the shoulder to intentionally run them over. Why wouldn’t that distrust be mutual from a creature with this level of intelligence? So crows will take their own sweet time deciding if they trust us or not … but once they know who we are, they’ll never forget. At first, they may give us the cold shoulder and ignore our offerings, but don’t take it personally. Remember that paranoia is all about survival, but patience and vigilance will eventually pay off. If we pass the test, they will decide to trust us. [Joanne Fonté, How To Make Friends With Crows]

We can also see how there are various attributes that are associated with all members of the Corvidae family but that there are also subtle differences between each of the species. All are monogamous and loyal, although some are more aggressive than others; all have a highly developed intelligence while others often display anti-social habits. When we begin ‘talking to crows’ we are entering into a mystical dialogue with Otherworld by being sent spiritual messages showing us a symbolic image of a corvid, either a physical bird or the spiritual image of one in the guise of a totem.

These messages are words of wisdom and advice, and they can help us to identify talents we are not using, or the negative beliefs and thought patterns that are holding us back. Once these messages are understood and applied to our lives, they can be a valuable source of direction as we progress on our spiritual journeys. Birds reflect a strong symbolism. They encourage us to aim high and realize our goals despite the challenges we might face as we chase those dreams. They can also be a motivation to deepen our spirituality even more because they help us explore our devoutness and push the boundaries. Although some may represent good omens, some, unfortunately, do not. Which is why it is important to know which of the species we encountered before we get in a state with worry – we need to be able to interpret our sightings accurately. [Birds: Divine Messengers, Angela Wansbury]

Fossil records suggest that modern birds originated 60 million years ago, after the end of the Cretaceous period about 65 million years ago when dinosaurs died out. And, since prehistoric times, people have probably looked to the heavens for signs; and since birds fly, it makes sense that people would have perceived birds as messengers of divinity. After all, a bird’s-eye-view is significantly more omniscient than any earthbound perspective. Birds know what the world looks like from 30,000 feet high; they have seen the insides of clouds, so looking to birds for perspective makes an odd kind of primitive sense.

And, wouldn’t it be convenient if all we had to do to find answers and guidance in life was to walk outside, look up at the sky, and ‘read’ the birds flying overhead, especially if black meant always bad and light or brightly coloured birds always meant good – but of course, nothing is that simplistic. For example: What does it mean if a crow follows us? It doesn’t necessary mean some highly significant or mystical message. It’s more likely that the crow recognizes us for some friendly reason. If a crow follows us, it feels a connection to and/or curiosity in use for some reason. Maybe we fed that crow once before (or we look like someone who did) … because we’ve learned that corvids have the power of recognition for humans.

Or if a corvid shows no fear of us, it may be something to pay attention to for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the bird is trying to tell us something. Either it is just the bird’s interest in us (maybe we looked familiar – maybe it is hoping for food), or perhaps it represents someone else’s interest in us – a deceased loved one, an ancestor, or just the universe, trying to connect with is for some reason. See the incident outside the bookshop at the end of Chapter 4.

  • There are two kinds of bird signs: impetrative (sought after, asked for, or requested) and oblative (unasked for; coming out of the blue like a bolt of lightning!). So ask yourself: Is the bird bringing us an unasked-for message from the universe? Or is it answering a question we’ve asked – explicitly or implicitly?
  • Seeing a bird is not going to give us a clear answer. It’s no magic 8-ball (a fortune telling gadget shaped like a classic pool eight-ball; filled with water and containing a multi-face dice, with each side featuring the answer to a question – and who thinks those are really magic!?). A bird’s colour doesn’t necessarily make any meaningful difference whatsoever. 
  • And the millions of corvids that exist aren’t on the planet simply for the purpose of providing humans with messages from Otherworld because they have a difficult time as it is merely staying alive! We need to establish an affinity with the birds in our immediate vicinity, because there is little point in claiming a raven or chough as our personal totem when we’ve never encountered one in the flesh. Similarly, I rarely see a carrion crow or jay, but the ‘hoodies’ are regular visitors – as are the magpies and rooks – and I talk to them on a regular basis.
  • And what better way to affirm this affinity than with a tattoo. A bird tattoo meaning is deep, and primarily stands for freedom, independence, and fearlessness. Some people who choose to get a bird symbol inked on their body tells us something that is individually unique to that person, and his or her experiences. They often relate to one of the following:
  • Spirituality, higher understanding or a connection to the being supreme
  • Self-sufficiency, self-actualization or the power of self-direction
  • To enhance perspectives or capabilities, like agility, lightness, buoyancy, and the ability to rise above adversity.

Birds that represent freedom can mean mental autonomy, spiritual self-direction, and independence from the hindrances of physical capabilities or freedom of any other choice.

Let’s be honest … anything can be symbolic if we want it to be and everything in Old Craft is linked in some way to sigils and symbols, allegory and analogy, metonym and metaphor. This is the language of witches.

Members of this large, adaptable family live in habitats ranging from treeless tundras where land is flat to mountain forests. They live in deciduous forests, where trees shed their leaves, and coniferous forests, with cone-bearing evergreen trees. Corvids range in deserts, grassland steppes where there are few trees, and on the edge of rainforests, where heavy rain produces much growth. In addition, they live in cities and small villages. They are always our close companions and who more able to communicate news from Otherworld, should we choose to listen?

Talking to Crows: Messengers of the Gods by Melusine Draco is published by Ignotus Press UK as the second in their Arcanum series : ISBN 978 1 83945 968 9 : 104 pages : Price £6.85 : Available in paperback and e-book format. Order direct from

Distance Working

with Carrie West

Distance coven workings are a completely different matter for us because these are being set-up on different channels.  These are usually implemented when members move away but wish to remain part of the mother-coven, or to include members who have completed the formality of the foundation course and live in a different part of the world – even in a different hemisphere.  The basic intention or focus of a Sabbat working, however, remains the same and any Coven member worth their salt can extract the salient points of the group ritual and adapt them for solitary working proving they understand that the reason for the working is …

  • To re-charge the ‘group-mind’;
  • To empower individual members;
  • To re-charge pouches and personal ritual equipment;
  • To focus the members on being part of a working group;
  • To reinforce the meaning of a particular Sabbat;
  • As an affirmation of loyalty to the Tradition by the sharing of bread and salt;
  • And as an affirmation of faith and trust in the Ancestors.

All members of the Coven are welcome to attend the Sabbat both in person and at a distance but once again this requires a great deal of effort on the part of the Dame and Magister to get things organised.  We’ve often set up a distance working and wondered if we’re playing to an empty theatre, since there’s nothing coming back on the astral!  This is doubly annoying because we’ve taken the time to prepare the ritual/pathworking/exercise aimed at members of all levels (which ain’t easy) and no one’s bothering to come to the party – because if we were being left to our own devices, then rest assured we’d much rather be going for something with a lot more ooomph! and pushing own magical boundaries on a personal level.

It is possible to sychronise a ‘live’ Sabbat with those far, far away but again this takes a lot of physical, mental and magical organisiation.  The ‘script’ has to be compiled and circulated with time allowed for any points to be clarified because, despite many years of study, there are those who still don’t get it.  Like the regular excuse: ‘I couldn’t do [time and/or date] so I waited until the next Saturday, is that okay?’  NO! it bloody isn’t! If the Sabbat had been arranged for a certain date, time and location at your local working site and you’d missed it … would you expect to turn up a week later and still expect us to be there???

If we’ve arranged with the Dame-Magister to sychronise our working with that of the Coven, we will propably be working to a pre-set time-table so that power-raising can be co-ordinated with a view to contributing to the re-charging of the group mind-set.  Be assured that it may take some time before we notice any tangible results but records should be kept in our magical journal and provide regular feed-back or we may find ourselves out of the loop.

It is possible to adapt group rituals for solitary workings if we know our Craft – and members should try as near as possible to emulate the Sabbat working by repeating the Dame’s Compass-casting,; the Magister’s invocation and the Invoking (and Banishing) Pentagrams, followed by the Dance/Chant in order to raise energy within the personal Compass … if there is room. In order to transfer any surplus energy to the group at the end of the ritual, hold up both hands facing North (in the direction as the Coven Stang) and visualize pushing the energy in that direction.  The Compass should be closed down in the normal way by saying …

Kinship to kinship; blood to blood,

May there be peace and honour between us now and forever. 

Hail and farewell. 

… followed by the customary ‘cakes and ale’ or whatever you choose to use to earth yourself after the rite.

This is an extract from our limited edition publication Round About the Cauldron Go …

Camp Fire Coven

by Carrie West

Fire is the focus of our Coven meetings – either as a symbolic fire-pit in the garden, or a more ambitious cooking fire in the great outdoors where we celebrate a fire festival with a shared meal around the glowing embers.  Fire gives light and warmth but it is also extremely destructive if not properly contained – its symbolism is wildly varied depending on the circumstances of its use and creation.  Within Craft it is seen as the only one of the four elements we can create for ourselves and therefore it is the link between gods and mortals whether generated by a roaring bonfire or the light from a single candle flame. 

Needless to say, it is necessary to take some form of precautionary measures in hand in order to guard against inadvertently causing wild-fire because not every coven is fortunate enough to have a former fire-chief amongst their members!  And while controlled fire can be beneficial for the environment, one caused by flying sparks or an inadequately extinguished bonfire can be devastating in a season of very dry weather. Ideally, all witches working outdoors should hold a Craft equivalent of the scouting fire-safety merit badge, since one coven of our acquaintance regularly lit their bonfire with a whole box of fire-lighters and a bottle of white spirit!  It’s a wonder the whole wood didn’t go up in flames and them with it.

The cauldron is, of course, a traditional witch’s possession.  The originals were made of cast iron and used to feed the family group; while small reproductions are now used to burn loose incense on a charcoal disc, to make black salt (used in banishing rituals), for mixing herbs, or to burn paper spells (with Names of Power or wishes written on them). Cauldrons symbolize the Old Lass and when miniatures versions are placed on an altar they represent Elemental Earth because used in this capacity it is a working tool. There are numerous myths and legends cast around this most functional of coven equipment and whilst the symbolism is all part of our folk-heritage, our version wasused for the purpose for which it was intended: to cook enough food for a large group of people – to symbolize plenty.

In truth, genuine cast iron, three-legged pot-bellied cauldrons are rare indeed and they weigh a ton. A witch-friend was lucky enough to have a monster gifted to her and decided that this authentic vessel would be used to celebrate the next fire festival.  Now their working site was a wondrous place but getting to it could be likened to a commando assault course.  By the time this weighty vessel had been lugged across two fields and over a small ravine, half the contents had been spilled (to the benefit of the local wild-life) and the Man in Black was developing definite homicidal thoughts towards his Lady.  The exercise was not repeated and after that single outing the cauldron stayed at home beside the hearth filled with logs, dried grasses and flowers.

Our acceptable alternative is the army field-kitchen ‘dixie’ (that Phillip remembers from his scouting days) and like many army terms ‘dixie’ is of Indian origin, from the Hindi degshi for cooking pot.  These are large three-gallon oval pots with lids and can literally contain enough to feed an army!  Dixies are available from army surplus stores and websites at only a fraction of the weight and cost of an antique cauldron – witches have always learned to adapt and improvise – and a dixie is perfect for outdoor cooking.

As glamorous as it sounds, al fresco witchcraft is not practical without a lot of preparation. After many years, however, we eventually got it sussed – one arrives at the site well in advance, lights the fire and sets the pre-cooked stew to heat up – by using a tripod and a hanging pot.  Supper was often transported in insulated containers to keep it as hot as possible and emptied into the cooking pot so that the delicious smell greeting the coven made all the extra effort worth-while. Perfectly adequate tripods and pot sets can now be purchased from Amazon at a reasonable price.  Purists, of course, will insist on doing everything from scratch on site but unless the coven members have cast iron stomachs they’ll still be sitting there waiting for the ‘feast’ when the sun comes up. But it’s a guaranteed way of causing Irritable Witch Syndrome in even the most resolute of coven members.

Camp-fire cookery is an art in itself and since the whole idea of a Sabbat gathering is to generate power, the Dame and Magister need to be able to organise seamless rituals that aren’t marred by catering problems. Nevertheless, by synchronising our own Coven rituals with the days of the Old Calendar we are drawing down the power of the Ancestors to re-charge the ‘group-mind’ of the present Coven.  By utilising power that has accumulated down through the centuries from successive generations of witches who gathered together to celebrate their Sabbat/Esbat on this very day over hundreds of years, we are ensuring that Old Craft survives into the next century. Kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood’… linking those that are kindred by token of a common ancestry and a united by a blood-bond to the Ancestors.

Extract from Round About the Cauldron Go … by Phillip Wright and Carrie West, a limited edition title published by Ignotus Press UK – not available on general release.

The (Inner-City) Path

by Melusine Draco

The (Inner-City) Path was inspired by Chet Raymo’s book of similar title that chronicled his own daily urban walk to work and observing the seasonal changes with a scientist’s curiosity. As often happens, I began thinking ‘what if’ there was a complementary book written from a pagan perspective for when we take to our local urban paths as part of our daily fitness regime or dog walk. And, as if arising from this external creative impulse The Path began to unravel in the mind’s eye … based on several urban walks that have merged together over the years to make a chapbook of the seasons and to offer a glimpse into the pagan mind-set that can ‘find mystery under every leaf and rock along the way’, or caught in the murmur of running water, and to act as a simple guide to achieving a sense of well-being and awareness so that even in the city’s throng we feel the freshness of the streams’ as per Longfellow’s ‘Prelude’ …

Summer – the Path of Flowers

Since prehistory, the Summer Solstice has been seen as a significant time of year in many cultures, and has been marked by diverse festivals and rituals. According to the astronomical definition of the seasons, the summer solstice also marks the beginning of summer, which lasts until the Autumnal Equinox (22nd or 23rd September in the Northern Hemisphere, or 20th or 21st March in the Southern Hemisphere). Traditionally, the Summer Solstice is seen as the middle of summer and referred to as ‘Midsummer’. Within the Arctic Circle (for the northern hemisphere) or Antarctic Circle (for the southern hemisphere), there is continuous daylight around the Summer Solstice.

The woods of The Path with its scattering of fading bluebells, horsetails and ferns, have a primeval feel about them as spring descends into summer; and when the trees are full of leaf, it is easy to image that we are tramping through Wildwood even though we are never more than a few hundred yards from our village or town. The urban woods along The Path are somewhat unkempt and before the wooded path opens out into the meadow there is a sturdy oak which is exposed to the full force of the westerly winds. The branches on the windward side break the gusts: the trunk and the dark, sturdier branches don’t give an inch, the smaller branches and twigs sway but a little. Then a branch breaks off … Next to the oak is a silver birch that sways

and bends with the force of the summer storm …

Later, we recall the buffeting of the wind and feel so much empathy for the two trees that we can almost experience or perceive what forces were at play. We can feel the resistance and stiffness of the oak, and how futile this resistance is when a branch gets broken off. With the birch, we can feel how it surrenders itself to the wind and how supple and pliable the tree is. We can attribute resistance to an oak and pliability to a birch and if these concepts are correct, then we will be able to recognise them in all the different parts of these trees. We will see it in the leaves (the tough, unbending leaves of the oak and the light rustling leaves of the birch) and the seeds (the heavy acorn with the hard shell, the light birch seeds which carry on the wind) … [Psychology Today]

It is the Ash tree, however, that has a host of folklore surrounding it. The ash along with the oak is one of the last trees to come into leaf and according to country lore, the one that comes into leaf first, gives us an indication as to what the weather will be like for the summer: “Ash before the Oak, you can expect a soak, but Oak before the Ash, expect a little splash” The fascination of the ash tree traces its roots to the ancient times. The Druids believed that it had the ability to direct and blend the masculine and feminine energy, using a branch of the ash to make their staffs. The staff then acted as a connection between the realms of the earth and the sky. A staff of ash is hung over door frames for protection as it will ward off evil influences; while ash leaves can be scattered in the four directions to protect the house against negative and psychic attacks – but despite its traditional role in protecting against witches, the ash is also extensively used by them.

The ash is often found growing near sacred wells and it has been suggested that there is a connection between the tree and the healing waters of the well (possibly iron contained in the roots and leeching into the well). The tree itself can sometimes supply ‘holy’ water as the bole of the ash often has a hollow in it like a shallow bowl; the water that gathers in this is well known for its healing properties. This could be a good example of a ‘bile’ – a sacred tree. Sailors also believed that if they carved a piece of ash wood into the shape of a solar cross and carried it with them then they would be protected from drowning. A solar cross, consisting of an equilateral cross inside a circle ⊕ is frequently found in the symbolism of prehistoric cultures, particularly during the Neolithic to Bronze Age periods of European prehistory.

The oak, birch and ash are common tree along The Path and we should make an effort to recognize and understand the lifecycle of these three sacred trees that are tightly bound into our folk-, country- and Craft-lore. As we leave the woods and step onto The Path that borders the meadow our attention is caught by the plants that adorn the verge of hard-packed earth and stones: daisies, dandelions and filmy cow parsley. Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), grows in sunny to semi-shaded locations in meadows and at the edges of hedgerows and woodland. It is related to other diverse members of the Apiaceae family, such as parsley, carrot, hemlock and hogweed – and often confused with Daucus carota which is known as Queen Anne’s lace or wild carrot and mistaken for several similar-looking poisonous plants, among them poison hemlock and fool’s parsley.

From where The Path exits the woods it is only a few minutes before we come to the plank bridge over a brook fringed with forget-me-nots. The plank bridge is one of our favourite places to dawdle with the pond on one side and the brook making its way back into the woods on the other. On one side the water lies dark and deep in a languid pool where dragonflies and nymphs hover over the still surface (perfect for scrying); and from this bridge the slope of the water meadow basks in late summer sunlight and autumn mists since the surrounding ancient woodland was cut back for agricultural reasons. ‘It is widely acknowledged that a landscape of open fields, trees and brooks is what humans consider most beautiful,’ observes Chet Raymo.

In the water meadow we can find an olde English favourite: Meadowsweet from the Anglo- Saxon meodu-swete meaning ‘Mead sweetener’. The plant’s herbal uses had a base in scientific

fact; in common with many other folk and herbal remedies, in the 19th century, chemists isolated salicylic acid from meadowsweet to use as a disinfectant that not only made rooms smell better but helped the fight against bacteria. It was one of the three herbs considered sacred by the Druids: the others being vervain and water mint.  Creamy, perennial of damp waysides, meadows, marshes and woods, this tall plant flowers from June to September, and with a heavy fragrance, the flower heads are frequently visited by bees attracted by the heavy scent which can be so evocative of summer days in the countryside. In spite of this fragrance, however, the flowers produce no nectar. Insects, however, don’t realise this but their visits serve to fertilise the plants which are heavy with pollen. A peculiarity of this flower is that the scent of the leaves is quite different from that of the flowers, the leaves having a heavy almond-like aroma whereas the flowers have a strong sweet smell.

Meadowsweet was historically known as Bridewort because it was strewn on the ground at hand-fastings for the bride to walk on (wort is an old word that means herb or root) and it was also used in wedding posies and bridal bouquets. Meadowsweet was also spread on the floor in medieval times to provide a nice smell and deter insects. This plant was given to Cúchulainn in liquid form and it was said to calm his fits of rage and outbreaks of fever and it may be for this reason that another name for meadowsweet in Ireland is Cuchulainn’s Belt or Crios Conchulainn. It is also associated with death as the scent of its flowers was said to induce a sleep that was deep and fatal. However, in County Galway it was believed that if a person was wasting away because of faerie influence then putting some meadowsweet under the bed ensured that they would be cured by the morning.

All along the water courses most Willow species grow and thrive and this theme is reflected in the legends and magic associated with these trees. The willow muse, called Heliconian (after Helike), was sacred to poets, and the Greek poet Orpheus carried willow branches on his adventures in the Underworld. He was also given a lyre by Apollo, and it is interesting to note that the sound-boxes of harps used to be carved from solid willow wood. The willow is also associated with the fey and the ‘Wind in the Willows’ is said to be the whisperings of a faerie in

the ear of a poet.

Willow was often the tree most sought by village wise-women, since it has so many medicinal properties, and eventually its healing and religious qualities became one and the tree became called a ‘witch’s tree’. The willow is associated with enchantment, wishing, romantic love, healing, protection, fertility, death, femininity, divination friendship, joy, love, and peace. Placed in homes, willow branches protect against evil and malign sorcery. Carried, the wood bestows bravery, dexterity, and helps to overcome the fear of death. If we knock on a willow tree (‘knock on wood’) this will avert evil. A willow growing near a home will protect it from danger, while they are also good trees to plant around cemeteries and for lining graves because of its symbolism of death and protection.

Willow can also be used in rituals for intuition, knowledge, gentle nurturing, and will elucidate the feminine qualities of both men and women. When a person needs to get something off their chest or to share a secret, if they confess to a Willow, their secret will be trapped. Also, wishes are granted by a willow if they are asked for in the correct manner. Willow leaves, bark and wood add energy to healing magic, and burning a mix of willow bark and sandalwood during the waning moon can help to conjure spirits. Uses of willow in love talismans include using the leaves to attract love. The tree is linked to grief and in the 16th and 17th centuries jilted lover poems were written that included reference to the tree. In Irish folklore it couldn’t be more different as it was called sail ghlann grin or the ‘bright cheerful sallow’. There it was considered

lucky to take a sally-rod with you on a journey and sally withies were placed around a milk churn to ensure good butter. It was believed that the charcoal left behind after burning willow could be crushed and spread on the back of an animal as a way of increasing fertility and even restoring hair.

Needless to say, country folk have long been familiar with the healing properties of willow. They made an infusion from the bitter bark as a remedy for colds and fevers, and to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism. Young willow twigs were also chewed to relieve pain. In the early 19th century modern science isolated the active ingredient responsible, salicylic acid, which was also found in the meadowsweet plant.

As we follow the brook back through the wood along a different pathway, in the sunlit glades swathes of foxgloves stand tall above the bracken. A well-loved plant, the whole foxglove plant is extremely poisonous, but provides a source of digitalis used by doctors in heart medicine. The foxglove was believed to keep evil at bay if grown in the garden, but it was considered unlucky to bring the blooms inside the house. The name derives from the shape of the flowers resembling

the fingers of a glove – ‘folk’s glove’ meaning belonging to the Faere Folk and folklore tells that a bad faerie gave the flowers to the fox to put on his feet to soften his steps whilst hunting. In Irish folklore it was said that if a child was wasting away then it was under the influence of the faerie (fairy stroke) and foxglove was given to counteract this as it was known to revive people.

One such remedy was the juice of twelve leaves taken daily. It could also work for adults, such a person would be given a drink made from the leaves, if they were not too far gone, they would drink it and get sick but then recover. However, if they were completely under the spell of the faerie then they would refuse to drink. An amulet of foxglove could also cure the urge to keep travelling that resulted when anyone stepped onto the faerie grass, the ‘stray sod’ or fód seachrán. In Ireland it is also believed that the foxglove will nod its head if one of the ‘gentry’ pass by.

And it’s not just in the woods and fields that Nature is lush and tropical and green, because as The Path takes us passed the allotments, we can find the lushness reflected in the vegetable plots and gardens. In the overgrown orchard some of the old trees are still capable of producing a good crop after the warm, damp start to the year. With our newly discovered vision we relish the sight of all this bounty that is the result of sore backs and chapped hands during the cold and wet of the seedtime. As harvest approaches, we can appreciate the fruit of their labours by proxy since friendly gardeners often have surplus stocks that they gladly share with their neighbours.

Exercise: A Sense of Contemplation

Don’t get carried away by a new-found enthusiasm but commit to contemplate today – and only today. It is not necessary to commit to contemplation tomorrow, or every day for a week, a month, a year because over-commitment is a sure-fire recipe for procrastination. If you have the opportunity for five minutes contemplation today – contemplate today. If you have the opportunity to contemplate tomorrow – contemplate tomorrow. Contemplation is the action of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time. It is not a relaxation exercise or meditation but while it may contribute to us becoming more relaxed, this is simply a side effect. Contemplation is profound thinking about something and here we select something from the natural world where we can sit and stare – for example – at bees on a clover patch, lavender plant or butterfly bush (buddleia).

Doctorates in Bioenergetic Medicine and teachers of the ancient Egyptian healing and spiritual tradition, Meredith McCord and Jill Schumacher tell us that in ancient Egypt the humming sound of the bee was said to stimulate the release of super hormones known as the ‘Elixirs of Metamorphosis’, as the sound also resonates the ventricular chambers in the center of the brain, which are filled with cerebrospinal fluid that acts as a cushion for the brain’s cortex, providing basic mechanical and immunological protection to the brain inside the skull. The good doctors claim that the humming sounds of bees also resonate and stimulate various other structures of the brain, including the pineal gland, pituitary gland, the hypothalamus that link the nervous system to the endocrine system, and amygdala, which is responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and


Five minutes contemplation in the company of these small creatures can open up worlds that we would otherwise not bother to think about – and it’s an added incentive to create areas in our garden that are bee-friendly for our own benefit, too. Invest is a couple of bee boxes to encourage queen bees to lay eggs and repopulate your own garden next spring.

The Wild Larder

We can also treasure the time spent alone foraging. The repetition of gathering wild food allows the mind to relax – we can’t fret about household chores and work when we’re out there stocking

up our wild larder. The creamy-white flowers of the Elder can be found in woods, hedgerows and waste places and as Richard Mabey writes in Food For Free:

…to see the mangy, decaying skeletons of elders in the winter, we would not think the tree was any use to man or beast. Nor would the acrid stench of the young leaves in spring change your opinion. But by the end of June the whole shrub is covered with great sprays of sweet-smelling flowers, for which there are probably more uses than any other single species of blossom…

Elderflowers can be eaten fresh from the shrub on a hot summer’s day and have the taste of a frothy ice-cream soda; while the flowers separated from the stalks make a remarkable sparkling wine. Dipped in batter the flower-heads can be deep-fried and served as fritters to end a summer meal. The berries are small and green at first, ripening to deep purple clusters that weigh down the branches. These are made into wine, chutney, jellies and ketchup.

Any witch worth her salt, of course, knows that the elder is also known as the ‘poor man’s medicine chest’ due to the wide range of herbal remedies that can be got from the shrub. The flowers are utilised to raise the resistance to respiratory infections, and ointment made from elder flowers is excellent for chilblains and stimulating localised circulation. The flowers are also used in hay fever treatments for their anti-catarrhal properties. Medicinally, both the berries and the flowers encourage fever response and stimulates sweating, which prevents very high temperatures and provides an important channel for detoxification. To cure warts, rub them with a green elder twig which should then be buried. As the wood rots so the wart will disappear.

The (Inner city) Path: A Simple Guide to Well-Being and Awareness by Melusine Draco is published in Moon Book’s Pagan Portals series ISBN 978 1 78904 464 5 : 78 pages : UK£6.99/US$10.95 in paperback and e-book format.

The tides of Summer: Calan Haf-Beltaine

With Julie Dexter – Dame of Coven of the Scales

The whole essence of traditional British Old Craft is closely bound to the natural tides that govern our planet. When we organised our own Coven activities, these were focussed on drawing down an elemental power to synchronise with the traditional Sabbats and Esbats, thus ensuring the Coven developing a ‘group mind’ of its own that nonetheless periodically needs to be recharged via group ritual.  This also explains why Old Crafters synchronise those rituals to coincide with the Old Julian calendar that links us directly to the power of the Ancestors rather than any contemporary ‘wheel of the year’. Kindred calls to kindred, blood calls to blood. The modern Gregorian calendar is now thirteen days out of alignment and will be fourteen days adrift from 2100 – but magically a miss is as good as a mile!

A witch needs to be on familiar, operational-terms with these times and tides of the witch’s true year – not just the solar and lunar tides but the oceanic, earth and atmospheric tides that can also enhance/affect our magical workings.  We must also understand that some tides are more beneficial than others for recharging the ‘group mind’ of the Coven so that we as individuals can draw upon these currents of elemental power to energise our own spells at any time. This elemental power is marked in the charting of the stars, and while the stars are not generally used as sources of power they can also act as a celestial barometer for the calendaric ebb and flow.  This is the witch-power we channel when we work magic – either singly or as a group – and it makes sense to take these various different tides into consideration and utilise them to our best advantage whenever we can.  There’s nothing to stop us from working against the tide but this is self-defeating when it is easier to go with the natural flow of Nature and the cosmos.

These natural tides can and do affect the way we live, work and think although we may not be conscious of the power they have over this little old planet of ours; ask any midwife, who’ll tell you that there are more births when there’s a full moon. By understanding when these tides occur may shed a light on why we may react differently at times without knowing why; it may also explain why we can be magically/psychically hyper/receptive at certain times and not at others.

Lunar:  All of us are so familiar with the moon cycle that nothing really needs to be added, except that we have added one or two lunar exercises throughout the text that might prove useful.

Solar:  According to NASA, solar activity is indeed currently ramping up toward what is known as solar maximum, something that occurs approximately every eleven years. This same solar cycle has occurred over millennia and although the explosive heat of a solar flare can’t make it all the way to our Earth, electromagnetic radiation and energetic particles certainly can. Solar flares can temporarily alter the upper atmosphere creating disruptions with signal transmission from, say, a GPS satellite to Earth causing it to be off by many yards.  Solar activity can also affect the strength of oceanic tides. 

Solar winds affect the Earth by the intense clouds of high energy particles that are produced by solar storms. When these clouds, called coronal mass ejections, make their way to the Earth in three-four days, they collide with the magnetic field of the Earth and cause it to change its shape.

Solar wind disrupts our magnetosphere because as the wind flows toward Earth, it carries with it the Sun’s magnetic field. It moves very fast, then smacks right into Earth’s magnetic field – causing a shock to our magnetic protection, which can result in turbulence.  If we are strongly affiliated to Elemental Fire we may find it advantageous to familiarize ourselves with this solar cycle and see whether it does affect us on a metaphysical level.

 Oceanic: An ocean tide refers to the cyclic rise and fall of seawater. Tides are caused by slight variations in gravitational attraction between the Earth and the Moon and the Sun in geometric relationship with locations on the Earth’s surface. There are generally three types of tides: diurnal – one high and low tide each day; semi-diurnal – two high and low tides each day; and mixed – two high and low tides each day of different heights.

And if we earn our living on the ocean, we’d better know how to read a tide table. Around the world, most coastal communities witness sea level rise and fall multiple times every day. The effect can be quite dramatic: on certain days, there’s a 53-foot difference between the low and high tides in Canada’s Minas Bay Inlet. Working fishermen, divers and ship captains must take fluctuations like these into account and for this reason, governments release tables that predict the heights of future tides for different corners of the oceans.

The ocean isn’t the only body of water that experiences its own tides. Lakes undergo them as well, but on a much smaller scale. For example, the mightiest tides on North America’s Great Lakes are only 0.4 inches high.  If we are strongly affiliated to Elemental Water we may find it advantageous to familiarize ourselves with this oceanic cycle – even if we live nowhere near the coast -and see whether it does affect us on a metaphysical level.

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 and density.  Several studies have found evidence that a rise in temperature or a fall in barometric pressure, which often accompanies a thunderstorm, may trigger a headache or migraine. While some people cite simply a ‘change in weather’ as their trigger, and others can pin down more specific weather changes like high or low temperatures, humidity, sunlight, wind speed, and dew point.  During a storm, cold and warm air collide, creating an extreme difference in barometric (or air) pressure. In addition, sferics, which are electromagnetic impulses produced by lightning, may also trigger migraines. If we are strongly affiliated to Elemental Air we may find it advantageous to familiarize ourselves with these atmospheric tides and see whether they do affect us on a metaphysical level.

Earth: Unbeknownst to many of us, the ground beneath our feet experiences tides of its own. The phenomenon goes by many names, including ‘land tides’ and ‘Earth tides’ but no matter what we call the process, it’s caused by the same forces that generate our better-known oceanic tides. High ocean tides – at least in most parts of the world – happen twice a day. While this is happening, a similar cycle unfolds within the very crust of our planet. To a miniscule degree, the ground level itself rises and falls every day in accordance with the moon’s whereabouts.

“The motion extends through the whole of the solid earth, not just the crust, but is largest at the surface,” explains geophysicist at the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  A recent geological survey investigating the link between the fortnight cycle, land tides and seismic activity along California’s San Andreas Fault explained that when the Earth’s crust flexes in the direction of the tidal pull, this puts a stress on any tectonic faults that cut through the rock. If the combination of the tidal stress and the pre-existing tectonic stress is just right, this can set off an earthquake. They also found that the rate of low-frequency ‘quakes’ increases right before the fortnightly cycle enters its solar/lunar alignment stage.

Nearer to home, a nationwide survey by a team from the Ordnance Survey and the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory showed that parts of Britain ‘bounce’ by four inches twice a day and the most wobbly counties are Devon and Cornwall.  The movement is caused as tides ebb and flow twice daily and the deformation of Earth’s crust varies across the country. The East is much more stable than the West because when the tide was in, the extra weight of water on the continental shelf pushed the adjoining crust down a few inches. At low tide, the Earth springs back and since tidal ranges are greater on the south-western side of the British Isles that is where the biggest bounce can be found.  Devon, Cornwall, Pembrokeshire, the Western Isles and southern Ireland, had the biggest range of movements – more than four inches, twice a day. Satellite measurements have shown how the British Isles are tilting upwards, with Scotland rising by about two millimetres each year, and the South-East declining by a similar amount. This movement of bulges, inflations and wrinkles, can be seen from an altitude of 500 miles.  If we are strongly affiliated to Elemental Earth we may find it advantageous to familiarize ourselves with these land tides and see whether they do affect us on a metaphysical level.

As part of the exploration of these various different tides it is necessary for each of us, as an individual, to go out and discover them for ourselves, simply because, as we are all unalike the various dissimilar locations in which we live can all produce conflicting results. We also have to take into account whether we are strongly influenced by the other Elements.  In Power of the Elements by Mélusine Draco, we are introduced to the concept of each Element having many other different facets influencing its purity or effectiveness. By using the Court Cards of our favourite Tarot Deck we can begin to identify with what causes those peculiarities that make us say we don’t identify with our own particular Star Sign:

Leo, for example, is represented by Elemental Fire and is identified with the Knight (or King) of Wands but his ‘family’ is made up of the Princess (the Earthy part of Fire) and the Prince (the Airy part of Fire) of Wands … and the Queen of Wands (the Watery part of Fire). Adrien, being an Aquarian and a professionally trained singer and dancer who, according to our the conversations is more geared towards the Watery Part of Air, while I’m an untypical Piscean wired for the Fiery Part of Water in my youth and the Earthy Part of Water in my later years. The current Magister of Coven of the Scales is a Leo and a former Fire Chief who obviously relates to the Fiery part of Fire; while the Dame is a Virgo and a lawyer who associates with the Airy Part of Earth. As they get older and develop magically, it will be interesting to see whether these ‘parts’ are subject to change.

We can see that this Elemental identification is very much an individual thing and it should be evident why no one else can make that identification for you since there are a dozen different interpretations for our zodiacal star sign: each often being diametrically opposite to the other.  This is the stepping off point … the going it alone stage … when we put all that we have learned into practice and start researching.  This is not a book for beginners and has been written for those who have advanced in the Craft enough to be looking at the next stage of their journey … learning … re-learning … and sometimes discarding old conventions of the Tradition while developing new perspectives. An essential part of this journey is that we begin to know ourselves. The Dame tells me that several members of the Coven have found the following path-working has assisted with this:

“At the entrance to the Temple of Delphi, occupied by the famous oracle, were the words “know thyself”. This sentiment would be important if you were going to listen to any prophesies the Sybil had to offer and make sense of them;  if you knew what your normal reaction would be to a particular situation, you could partially predict the outcome. If you wanted to change a particular outcome, then you would have to perhaps alter your usual type of reaction and, in doing so, adjust your own fate, so the ability to “know thyself” allows you to have a little more control of life.

 Getting to know yourself is not necessarily an easy task. As Melusine Draco says in The Path to the Mysteries, to change anything you need to change yourself first, and to do that, we first have to know ourselves – “..and that step is often the most frightening because many of us don’t want to face these facets of our personality or character that lurk in the shadows”.  The following path working is to assist us to know ourselves:

Sit comfortably and relax, closing your eyes if that helps you to focus. Feel any tensions slowly leave your body and breathe in for three breaths through your nose, then out for three breaths through the mouth. Repeat this four times or until you’re fully relaxed.

It is a clear, bright day and you are standing on the seashore. You can feel a slight breeze on your face and can taste the salt tang on the air. The sound of the sea coming up and down the shore is rhythmic and you can hear the seagulls shriek as they wheel overhead. You have no shoes and socks on and can feel your feet on the damp warm sand. You dig your feet in and can feel the grains scrunch between your toes.

You look behind you and can see cliffs and, over to your right is what seems to be an opening in the cliff face. You decide to go and explore: walking over the sand you can feel your feet sinking in to the sand as the firmness of the beach gives way as you tread on it. You reach the opening: It’s dark inside, but there is a blue/green glow towards the back of what is a cave. You clamber over rocks, your feet feeling the roughness, and see that the light is coming from a rock pool. It has a large smooth bolder next to it and you sit down. The bolder feels cool and hard under your weight. You smell the damp, seaweedy smell in the cave, which is colder than outside, and you can hear droplets of water dripping from the ceiling.

You gaze down in to the pool: it is a clear aquamarine and you can see fish swimming there and other sea creatures. You look for the bottom of the pool, but realize you cannot see the bottom. As you look in to it, the pool becomes darker and any ripples disappear. You can no longer see the sea creatures, since the pool looks like a dark sheet of black glass. You look in to it: What do you see? Look at the image. Is it you? Perhaps there is no image. Can you see anything to the left or right? Take some time to study what you see. After a while, a large drop of water drips from the ceiling overhead and in to the pool. The ripples disperse the darkness and the clarity returns, with the fish and sea creatures going about their business.

You clamber back over the rocks and walk back along the seashore, taking deep breaths of sea air. You stand at the seashore and feel the damp sand beneath your feet and the sun on your face, warming you. Take three deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, as before. Open your eye, if you had them closed, stand up, shake your hands and feet and ground yourself. Have some light refreshment to bring you firmly back in to the here and now.

     1. What did you see in the reflection, if anything?

     2. Did you see yourself?

     3. What does this mean to you?”

As you work through this book and do the practical work, you will find out much more about yourself as a witch and where your Craft is taking you.

Our Dame has selected this extract from the limited edition Ignotus Press publication, Round About the Cauldron Go … by Phillip Wright and Carrie West and it gives us a great deal of pleasure to be able to share snippets from our inner ways of working on the MD Blog because this book is not available for general purchase.

An Alternative Paganism

Regardless of weather,

The moon shines the same;

It is the drifting clouds

That make it seem different

On different nights


Zen and the Art of Positive Paganism by Melusine Draco

For the seeker of a spiritual mindset without the need for religious belief, the practical simplicities of this approach to animism make it very appealing to the Western perceptions with its twenty-first-century scepticism. Despite being around for millennia, Shinto has no founder, no scriptures and for a long time didn’t even have a name. The reverence shown by the Japanese toward Nature, however, stems from Shinto’s most ancient and fundamental belief that kami govern the natural world and inhabit every aspect of it – the rocks, trees, pools, waterfalls, the flora and fauna, and even natural phenomenon all have their own kami – or spirit energy. The world is inhabited by kami.

The sky, the flowers, the trees and the beautiful landscape speak to the Shintoist and Zen practitioner of beauty and purity. And so the animist in us looks upon such sights with reverence because we feel the awe in the presence of the pure loveliness of which we are so deeply aware … and the sacred essence, that manifests in all those multiple forms. Kami and people exist within the same world and share its interrelated complexity. Kami refers particularly to that power of phenomena which inspires this sense of wonder and awe [the sacred] in the beholder, testifying to its divinity. Nature is venerated and nothing is too small to be of importance.

And there were always the great festivals dating back to the Heian dynasty towards the end of the tenth century mentioned by Sei Shonagon in her Pillow Book: ‘the New Year and the Blue Horses in winter; the Hollyhock Festival in spring; the summer festival of the Iris, festivals for the Dead, for Chrysanthemums, for First Fruits, and, in October, the exciting Gosechi Dances …’

Despite the multitude of cultural, historical, mythological and purely national events, the Shinto calendar is still full of interesting holidays, rituals and festivals – some of which can easily be adapted to Western style celebration and observance without involving any religious commitment. Nevertheless, these practices can still provide a channel through which human beings are able to communicate with the festive spirit (kami) realm. The following are a few of the simple cross-cultural family or agrarian festivals that would easily adapt to the West because they often coincide with our celebrations of contemporary paganism and traditional folk-festivals.

Silently sitting by the window.

Leaves fall and flowers bloom.

The seasons come and go.

Could there be a better life?


In the New Year each house sets up two pines in front of the gate or doorway, one on each side. This decoration is called matukazari (‘pine decoration’) or kadomatu (‘gate pine’). In certain places, the decoration is limited to pine-trees only, whereas in others, bamboo and plum are used as well. This custom is several hundreds of years old, but its form has changed little by little during its long history. The reason why the pine-tree plays so important a part in the New Year celebrations is that its leaves are evergreen, and it withstands both heat and cold, remaining fresh and vivid throughout the four seasons, and attains an exceeding great age: thus it has the meaning of ‘prosperity unchanging forever’, and the pine-tree serves as the symbolic expression of this. From olden times, the pine has been chosen as the flower for January (Floral Calendar of Japan).

With the New Year also comes a series of personal and domestic festivals that are performed annually for the benefit of house and home. For example:

1 January Kakizome

This is the first calligraphy writing of the year in Japan but it is something we can copy on New Year’s Day in the West. Make a wish or charm for what you hope the year will bring. Create a simple poem containing words that echo your wishes. Write it in decorative script and add elaborate decoration as a border around the words. Slowly read your words and wishes. Then burn the paper in a fire-proof vessel and release the charm to the elements. Toast the future in sake or wine.

1–3January O-shogatsu (New Year)
Shinto shrines around Japan hold New Year festivals where visitors come to pray for good fortune and good health for the coming year. Similarly in Buddhist temples, visitors come to mark the changing of the year. If you have your own special outdoor place where you go for a moment of quiet spiritual contemplation, now is a good time to pay a visit.

8 January Dondo Yaki
Corresponds with the modern Twelfth Night celebrations when mochi (rice cakes) are toasted over fires of burning New Year decorations.

10 January Toka Ebisu

This is the first major festival of the year – Toka means the tenth day, and Ebisu is the god of good fortune in business and prosperity. Though centred on 10 January, this festival actually lasts for five days from the eighth until the twelfth and during this time thousands of visitors crowd into a shrine to conduct a simple ritual of prayer for ongoing success in their work and business. Ebisu is one of the Shichifukujin, the Seven Lucky Gods of Japanese folklore, who are traditionally associated with the New Year and is the only one of these seven whose story is home-grown Japanese. Many people buy branches of lucky bamboo grass, called Fuku-Zasa which has been blessed in a special ritual by a shrine maiden. They then buy more lucky charms and talismans, which they attach to the bamboo branch. These charms come in all kinds of designs, but two of the most common are treasure boats for wealth and red sea bream for future success. Why not buy a lucky bamboo ‘career’ plant for the garden (keep it in a pot as bamboo is very invasive) and add paper charms relating to your business or career as the situation demands.

14 January Seijin no Hi (Coming of Age Day)

This is a Japanese holiday held annually on the second Monday of January. It is held in order to congratulate and encourage all those who have reached the ago of majority (20 years of age) during the past year, and to recognise they have become adults. Festivities include formal ‘coming of age ceremonies’, as well as after-parties among family and friends. Although ‘coming of age’ ceremonies have been celebrated in Japan since at least 714AD  – when a young prince donned new robes and hairstyle to mark his passage into adulthood – the modern holiday was first established in 1948. Coming of age ceremonies (Seijin-shiki) reflect both the expanded rights but also increased responsibilities expected of new adults and offer the opportunity to celebrate a family member’s ‘coming of age’ if a formal celebration wasn’t possible on the actual birth date. Give a gift of some family heirloom that signifies your recognition of their attaining maturity – which is, of course, eighteen or twenty -one in the West.

16 Tokuwa no Tenjinsai

In recognition of the scholars in the family starting back to school or university, offer up a prayer to Tenjin, the Japanese god of scholarship and learning – or his Western equivalent. And make a small ‘good luck’ gift to aid their studies.


In this season of intense cold, the flower that blossoms in the face of the frost and snow is the utne (Prunus mume: plum tree), which has been held in great esteem by the Japanese people from ancient times due to the length of the tree’s life, the way in which the beautiful flowers unexpectedly come out from the old trunks having a charm of their own, the noble appearance of the blossoms, and the delicate fragrance which they emit in the depth of winter when nearly all other flowers are as yet asleep. The opening of the plum-blossoms may be said to be the first tidings of spring and the flower for February (Floral Calendar of Japan).

Many of the annual celebrations are fire festivals, just the same as folk-festivals in the West with a lead up to the beginning of spring.

1–2 February Kurokawa Noh
Ceremonial parades and seven sacred noh plays mark the beginning of the New Year, so why not restore the traditional family trip to the pantomime with a special high-tea or supper depending on the age of the guests?

2–4 February Setsubun Mantoro
At this twice-yearly festival in Nara, the shrine’s thousands of stone lanterns as well as its famous bronze hanging lanterns are all lit to magical effect; there are believed to be over 3,000 of them in the shrine precincts, many of them evocatively covered in moss. They are lit twice a year during the nights of the Mantoro festivals in (Setsubun) February and (Obon) August. Setsubun is the day before the beginning of spring in Japan, and literally means ‘seasonal division’, but usually the term refers to the spring Setsubun, properly called Risshun celebrated yearly on 3 February as part of the Spring Festival, Haru Matsuri.

In its association with the Lunar New Year, spring Setsubun can be and was previously thought of as a sort of New Year’s Eve celebration, and was accompanied by a special ritual to cleanse away all the evil of the former year and drive away disease-bringing evil spirits for the year to come. This special ritual is called mamemaki – literally ‘bean scattering’). The head of the household (traditionally the father) would take roasted beans in his hand, pray at the family shrine, and then toss the sanctified beans out the door, while the family say: ‘Demons out! Luck in!’ and slam the door. Beans are also used to deflect ill-luck of negative energies throughout Europe and this celebration coincides with the traditional Western Candlemas and Imbolc observations.

9 February O-tauesai

This rice-planting festival is a Japanese celebration of fertility. After the rice-planting ceremony, a ritual dance simulates a couple having sexual intercourse. Masked goblins also hand out ritual smacks with bamboo sticks to ‘drive the devil out’. Familiarise yourself with the spring planting traditions and customs from the county/country in which you live and inaugurate your own ‘fruitful new beginnings’ ritual.

12 February Hatsu Uma Festival
People pray for success in business to Inari (guardian of grains, especially rice and therefore business in general). Today, there is no need for a plentiful harvest since most people buy their food from the supermarket or via online shopping – but imagine what would happen if the global commercial growers suffered consecutive bad harvests. There would be a horror scenario of global proportions that would be a magnified problem of what our ancestors faced every single year of their lives! Offer a handful of rice to Inari.

19 February Hachinohe Enburi

This localised Japanese folk dance festival dates back to when people with no experience of farming were taught how to work in the fields through dancing. This is a good opportunity for a child’s introduction to growing things.


On 3 March the people greet the momo-no-sekku (The Peach-blossom Festival), when their hearts swell with a feeling that it is really spring. The momo-no-sekku is also known as hinamaturi (The Doll Festival), and is a festival for young girls. What must never be lacking in this festival is one or two sprays of momo (Prunus persica: peach) inserted in a vase. This also is a custom dating from ancient times, and has become one of the regular observances of the month of March. The festival is held in order to bestow blessings upon young girls, and the peach, in this connection, is said to have the power of driving away devils (Floral Calendar of Japan).

These spring festivals are performed for the benefit of the family and can be seen as a personal welcome to the new growing year. From around the first of February on the island of Okinawa and the end of March to early May, cherry trees bloom all over Japan.

1–14 March Todai-ji Shunie
Festival of water and fire. Priests conduct a fire ceremony every evening, swinging long torches in the air to ward off evil, while water is drawn from the 1200 year-old well and offered to visitors. Light outdoor lanterns to welcome the beginning of spring.

3 March Nagashi-bina.

An event that involves dispelling impurities and misfortunes by floating dolls away on water. In this rite, dry straw is woven into a boat, which carries a pair of male and female dolls to be cast adrift in the river. Girls float a pair of husband and wife dolls on the lid of a rice container together with some sweets to keep away misfortune and pray for good health. Nagashibina literally means ‘doll floating’ and refers to the ancient ritual, imported from Chinese Taoist and Yin-Yang theory (onmyodo in Japanese) which are at the heart of much of Japan’s ancient Shinto practices. In the ritual, these small dolls made of straw were floated down a river and out to sea, and each doll carried the ‘pollution’ or ‘sin’ of the person each doll represented; not too dissimilar to the Jewish custom of scapegoating adopted in European cultures. Purity, and its antithesis – pollution in a spiritual sense – is at the heart of many Shinto rituals, and throwing things into a river to be carried away to the sea is a fairly common concept.

3 March Hina Matsuri

Girls’ Day – also known as the Doll’s Festival – is to pray for the health and happiness of young girls and marked by families displaying a set of traditional hina dolls (often family heirlooms) in the house and serving special food delicacies that are ceremonially beautiful and delicious. Traditionally, girls in Japan invited their friends to a home party to celebrate this festival – which is an idea that can be adopted in the West.

6 March Otaue-sai
A ceremonial rice planting festival to mark the beginning of spring and traditionally features time-honoured kagura dances and bugaku court music. Sow the first seeds of spring.


It is the sakura (cherry) that is the queen of flowers in April, and it is so representative of all flowers in Japan:

The cherries of Yosino have blossomed –
The flowers of spring that are like the supreme ruler
How right we think it is that the cherry should be the favourite flower of the Japanese, for its splendour when it blooms and for its gallantry when it falls (Floral Calendar of Japan).

Again the festivals are focusing on the well-being and harmony of the home and family

1–30 April. Miyako Odori

This is one of the four great spring shows in the five geisha districts (hanamachi) of Kyoto, Japan. The dances, songs, and theatre productions presented in the framework of the Miyako Odori are performed by the maiko and geiko of the Gion quarter. The motifs draw from classical Japanese culture and incorporate everyday life as well as folkloristic elements. A good time to support a local theatre production or concert for a family night out.

First Sunday in April Obasama Festival

A spring planting festival that was performed in the hope of a good harvest ahead of the spring farming period. Plant the first of the year’s bedding plants or vegetables.


When the trees gradually begin to put on their summer attire, the leaves of the different trees first appear as a fresh, vivid green; then little by little they acquire a beautiful glossiness, just as if they had been brought back to life again. The weather tells us that summer has already come, but the calendar calls this month bansyun (‘late spring’). In Japanese poetical language the flowers of this month are known as yokwai (‘the left-behind flowers’), and in fact tutuzi (azaleas), huzi (wistarias), botan (peonies), kiri (paulownias), and honoki and taizanboku (different kinds of magnolias) flower one after the other as if they were trying to make up for being late (Floral Calendar of Japan).

The beginning of May is also a time for all manner of localised festivals and celebrations including puppet plays, parades and processions, storytelling and a range of other classical arts and festival amusements – all in keeping with the Western traditions surrounding May Day.

1–3 May Yotaka Matsuri

At the pre-festival, ando (large, magnificent paper lantern sculptures) light up the night. Believed to have started in the Taisho Period c.1652 to welcome the shrine’s kami and to ask for a bountiful harvest, decorative lanterns can be lit to accompany a request for prosperity.

5 May Tango no Sekku

This Boys’ Festival has been celebrated for over a millennium and was originally celebrated in the houses of warriors because it honoured boys’ courage and determination. Many of the symbols of this day are about having the character of a warrior and eventually this day became important to all households in Japan with boys. After WWII, Boys’ Day was toned down and the holiday officially became known as Children’s Day or Kodomo no hi. It was supposed to be a day to celebrate the health and happiness of all children but many still see it as Boys’ Festival. For those with children it can be celebrated as you choose – see 3 March.

8 May Yoshida Jinja

Offerprayers to the kami of cooking, eating and drinking. So celebrate with a home-cooked meal for friends and family.

Full Moon in May Uesaku Festival

Offer prayers to the kami for world peace with fires lit in the temple grounds.


Now, according to the calendar also, summer has really come. The earth is wholly covered with green, and all nature has put on its summer livery. It is in this month that, the grain harvest being over, water is run into the rice-fields, and the rice seedlings are planted. From about the middle of the month to about the middle of July warm, moist south-east winds blow from the Continent, and practically the whole of Japan is enveloped in the so-called tuyu or rainy season, during which we have spells of muggy, oppressive weather. The flower for this month is indubitably the hanasyobu (Iris ensata, var. hortensis: iris). This is a plant which is said to have originally grown wild in a small marsh in the mountains of north-eastern Japan, and that it was brought to Edo (the present Tokyo) some three hundred years ago and cultivated there. It is a perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the family of Iridaceae. Mention must be made of the syobuta (iris field) in the precincts of the Meizi Shrine, since it is the place where the hanasyobu is found in its greatest perfection (Floral Calendar of Japan).

June is the time for the major rice-planting festivals that date back more than 1700 years when women ritually plant rice seedlings in the paddy fields to the accompaniment of traditional music and rice-planting folk songs. This event was symbolically used at the end of the famous Akira Kurosawa film, Seven Samurai, with great effect.

Early-Mid June Chagu-Chagu Umakko (Horse Festival)
The Morioka region of northern Japan is famous for its horses and this festival was originally conceived by horse breeders who wished to pray for long and happy lives for their animals. It now features a parade of colourfully dressed horses ridden by local children with round 80–100 horses usually taking part dressed in konida costumes (worn by the horses of daimyo – feudal lords – in the Edo Period). The name of the festival comes from the noise made by the bells (chagu chagu) on the horses’ harnesses (umakko) and the event is designated as a national intangible folklore cultural asset. At the end of the parade, prayers are offered for a bountiful rice harvest and thanks are given to the horses.


Early on July mornings to stand by the edge of a pond and watch the lotus flowers open is an unforgettable summer experience. The hasn (Nelumbo nucifera: lotus) was originally a native of tropical Asia, but it has been cultivated in Japan from ancient times, and is seen growing in abundance in ponds in the gardens of temples and private residences (Floral Calendar of Japan).

July is the month for celebrating numerous fire festivals and folk traditions

6–8 July Iriya no Asagao-ichi
Iriya (morning glories) flowers are said to symbolise the beginning of summer and bring good luck. Every year, thousands come to the Kishibojin Temple area to buy morning glory plants from hundreds of street stalls. Plant the flower in the garden or large pots to act as your own annual symbol of summer.


The favourite flower for this month has been from ancient times the asagao (Pharbitis Nil: morning glory). Though the garden be, as they say in Japanese, ‘as narrow as a cat’s forehead’, if only the homeowner sets up this pot of morning glory in it and it blooms, they can appreciate the beauty of summer. The morning glory’s original home is in tropical regions, but in China there are records of its use as a medicinal plant 2,200 years ago, and it was introduced into Japan about a thousand years ago. As the morning glory has long been loved by the Japanese, it appears in many paintings and poems (uta and haiku) but because of its homeliness and its close association with the life of the common people, it does not often occur as the main theme, but is usually added as one of the natural features of the season (Floral Calendar of Japan).

The observances for this month are focused upon the ancestors and Otherworld activities similar to Hallowe’en in the West.

13–16 August Obon Mantoro

Obon (or Bon) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honour the spirits of the ancestors. This Buddhist-Confucian custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves, and when the spirits of the ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars. It has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and traditionally includes a dance, known as Bon-Odori. Kyū Bon (Old Bon) is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, and so differs each year. 

Among the traditional preparations for the ancestors’ return is the cleaning of grave sites. The welcoming fire (mukaebi) built on the thirteenth and the send-off fire (okuribi) built on the fifteenth and sixteenth are intended to light the path. Families sent their ancestor’s spirits back to their permanent dwelling place under the guidance of fire: this latter rite was known as ‘sending fire’ and the closing of the festival. One traditional custom to mark the end of the Bon Festival is the lighting of small paper lanterns containing a burning flame that are either set afloat on a river, lake or sea, or let go and float away into the night. Their light is intended to guide the way for deceased family members’ spirits to return to Otherworld.

Toro Nagashi is a symbol of summer with the soothing beauty of paper lanterns floating along the tranquil Sumida-gawa River and as Obon occurs in the heat of the summer, participants traditionally wear yukata , or lightweight cotton kimonos. This activity is traditionally performed on the final evening of the Bon and is a hauntingly beautiful sight; the peaceful custom is a gesture of respect for those who have passed away and gives participants a moment to think about their ancestors, loved ones or even past pets. The three-day Buddhist Obon festival is held in honour of one’s ancestors; Toro Nagashi is meant to be more of a joyful celebration than a time of mourning.


Gathering the flowers blooming in the autumn fields —
When we count them
their kinds are seven.

This is a poem written a thousand years ago, and from ancient times seven flowers, known as aki no nanakusa or ‘the seven herbs of autumn’, have been taken as the representatives of all autumn flowers, and have been much used as subjects of poetry and painting. All are plain, homely flowers, without the least trace of gaudiness. They are: hagi (Lespedeza spp: bush clover); susuki (Miscanthus sinensis: pampas grass); kuzu (Pueraria Thunbergiana, var typica: arrowroot); nadesiko (Dianthus superbus: pink); ominaesi (Patrinia scabiosaefolia: golden lace flower); huzibakama (Eupatorium japonicum: aster), and kikyo (Platycodon glaucum: bell flower) (Floral Calendar of Japan).

At this time of the year, graveyards in Japan will be densely covered in bizarrely shaped crimson flowers brightly glistening in the autumn sun. That’s the higanbana – red spider lily (Lycoris radiate) and the best way to enjoy their dark beauty is on a sunny, autumn day’s stroll through the rice paddies at O-higan, where the deep red flowers growing alongside the bright yellow rice fields ready for harvest make for a colourful contrast. R9ice farmers don’t put them there solely for aesthetic reasons, though. As with any amaryllis, their bulbs are poisonous and they are supposed to keep moles, mice and other hole-digging vermin that might damage the crops, at bay.


This the day of the Autumn Equinox and it’s a national holiday in Japan because from this day on (23 September to be correct), the dark of night will become longer than the day-light period and it’s time to get serious about the ghosts that haunt the long winter nights. Traditionally it is a time to take care of the unruly, potentially vengeful souls of the ancestors since higan translates as the ‘other shore’ – the land of the dead. Thus o-higan is the day to visit the family graves and to pray for the well-being of the departed souls; where old countryside graveyards will be densely covered with these bizarrely shaped crimson flowers  like violently shed blood rising straight out of the ground. Why not plant three or four bulbs in a large plot so that they bloom in time for the Autumn Equinox.


October is a month for fruits rather than for flowers. Apples, grapes, figs, kaki (persimmons), and chestnuts are the most important (Floral Calendar of Japan).

The Autumn Harvest Festivals are celebrated around the time of the rice harvest to thank the gods for a bountiful crop. There is no exact date, since it is varied and is only celebrated in the month of October.


Just as the sakura or cherry blossom represents spring, the momiji or autumn leaves, have traditionally represented autumn in Japan, and the pleasurable pastime of viewing autumn colours is called momiji-gari, which literally means ‘hunting the autumn leaves’. Japanese people enjoy momiji-gari, which is regarded as a seasonal event equally as important as hanami, or flower viewing, and both practices are deeply rooted in their lives. Originally the practice of viewing autumn colours is thought to have started off as an elegant pastime mainly enjoyed by the court and aristocracy in the seventh century. That changed, however, around the seventeenth century during the Edo period, when the custom spread to commoners and people began to hold sake parties and sumptuous feasts while viewing the beautiful autumn landscapes.

In general, the use of the term momiji is applied to all deciduous trees that produce autumnal leaves toned with a red or yellow, including maple, the Japanese lacquer tree, and the ginkgo. The term has also come to be used to represent the maple, the actual name for which is Kaede, because of the particular beauty of the leaves. There are many Japanese tanka and haiku poems about the autumn leaves and the joys of viewing them. The momiji tradition has also found expression in the noh and kabuki theatrical forms; kimono and obi sashes have also incorporated special traditional autumn motifs.

Like the cherry blossom, the momiji reaches its peak in a rather short time and then fades and drops off the tree. It represents delicate short-lived beauty that Japanese people are traditionally fond of, like a samurai, who has lived a short but honourable life. Autumn leaves peak and then fall, followed by the first snows of winter, completing the natural life cycle that Japanese have experienced for centuries. Make a habit of viewing this ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ wherever you can find it – and take the time to stand and stare.


The mountains become gay for a while with red and yellow hues; of flowers there is only the chrysanthemum to give colour to autumn as it dies. But the red foliage (momizi) of the trees and the chrysanthemums are able by themselves to make both the country and the garden as beautiful as did all the hundred flowers of spring. Places noted for their momizi or chrysanthemums are crowded with people, for November offers the last chance for outings in the year. Just as the cherry is considered to be the queen of flowers in spring, so the chrysanthemum is to be regarded as the queen of flowers in autumn. The crest of the Japanese Imperial Family is a chrysanthemum flower and as such is revered by the whole nation (Floral Calendar of Japan).

The beginning of November is the time for historical costume street parades, with festivals of dance and music to give thanks for the harvest, and a time to pray for family prosperity. It is also a time for a sacred fire ritual to banish evil spirits and anticipating the coming of winter with kagura dances, thundering taiko drums and bonfires celebrating the time when the gods landed on the earth.


We have finally reached the last month of the year, which, according to the Japanese calendar, is the first month of winter. Tya-no-hana (tea blossoms) and sazanka (Camellia sasanqua) are about the only flowers of this month. Tya-no-hana is the blossom of the famous Japanese green tea, and is white and very lovely; the blossoms have five petals and long yellow stamens. The leaves are gathered in May. The sazanka bears a resemblance to the camellia (tubaki), but it is quieter in appearance. The flowers are pale pink or white. It is cultivated in gardens, and is used for making hedges; in the south of Japan it is found growing wild (Floral Calendar of Japan).

13 December Preparation for the New YearPreparations for seeing in the New Year were originally undertaken to greet the toshigami, or deity of the incoming year. These began on 13 December, when the house was given a thorough cleaning; the date is usually nearer the end of the month now. The house is then decorated in the traditional fashion: a sacred rope of straw (shimenawa) with dangling white paper strips (shide) is hung over the front door to prevent evil spirits from entering and to show the presence of the toshigami. It is also customary to place kadomatsu, an arrangement of tree sprigs, beside the entrance way. This is in preparation for the New Year holidays. Decorations and sundry goods are sold at the local fair. Originally these year-end fairs provided opportunities for farmers, fisher-folk and mountain dwellers to exchange goods and buy clothes and other necessities for the coming year.

All cultures have their heroes and there are usually calendar days set aside to honour them, which are an important part of remembering our history and cultural heritage. For example:

14 December: The revenge of the forty-seven rōnin  Also known as the Akō incident – is an eighteenth-century historical event in Japan in which a band of ronin (leaderless samurai) avenged the death of their master. The story tells of a group of samurai who were left leaderless after their daimyo (feudal lord) Asano Naganori was compelled to perform seppuku (ritual suicide) for assaulting a court official named Kira Yoshinaka. After waiting and planning for a year, the rōnin avenged their master’s honour by killing Kira. In turn, they were themselves obliged to commit seppuku for committing the crime of murder. This true story was popularized in Japanese culture as emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honour that people should preserve in their daily lives. Each year in December, Sengakuji Temple, where Asano Naganori and the rōnin are buried, holds a festival commemorating the legendary event. There is a classic Kenji Mizoguchi film version of the story entitled The 47 Ronin.


31 December Ōmisoka

People do the general house cleaning (Ōsōji) to welcome the coming year and not to keep having impure influences. Many people visit Buddhist temples to hear the temple bells rung 108 times at midnight (joya no kane) to announce the passing of the old year and the coming of the new. The reason they are rung 108 times is because of the Buddhist belief that human beings are plagued by 108 earthly desires or passions (bonnō) and with each ring, one desire is dispelled. It is also a custom to eat toshikoshi-soba in the hope that the family fortunes will extend like the long noodles.

It should be obvious from the small selection of festivals mentioned above that the Japanese do – and always have – placed great emphasis on showing reverence for their ancestors and cultural heritage, while some tend to be more devoted to family participation. Even if we are not taking part in any religious tradition, we still need to observe certain personal devotions in order to make a statement of who we are – even if it’s only for ourselves.

When things flourish they begin to decline

At midday the sun starts to set

When the moon is done waxing

It starts to wane.

The Kensho Moment: Exercise

At the turning points of the year in spring and autumn, if we focus our attention on the wonders of Nature, we are also synchronising with the various folk-traditions for both East and West. These are the times when the changing natural tides influence spiritual and mystical matters all over the world.

Vernal Equinox (Shunbun no Hi) is a public holiday in Japan, usually 20–21 March, although the date of the holiday is not officially declared until February of the previous year, due to the need for astronomical measurements. Vernal Equinox Day became a public holiday in 1948 and prior to that it was the spring date of Shunki koreisai dedicated to the imperial ancestors and to the kami collectively. Like other Japanese holidays, this holiday was repackaged as a non-religious holiday for the sake of separation of religion and state in Japan’s post-war constitution.

  • This is the time for observation and silent contemplation in a natural landscape; ideally while ‘flower viewing’.

Yet Summer Solstice, or Geshi as it’s called in Japan, passes relatively unnoticed except for the ritual bathing in the sea to purify body and soul as the sun comes up between a pair of sacred rocks known as Meotoiwa. This ritual Geshisai takes place at daybreak every year at Ise – famous for being the home of Ise Jingu, the most sacred Shinto shrine in Japan representing as they do, the union of Izanagi and Izanami, the two Shinto gods responsible for the creation of the Islands of Japan. The sunrise is seen just at the midpoint of the two rocks for one week before and after the solstice; only during these weeks, the sun appears to come up from behind Mt. Fuji in the far distance, if the weather permits – but the chances of seeing beautiful sunrises there are not high because it is in the middle of the rainy season! This small shrine with one of its torii gates standing offshore is a popular tourist attraction. Meotoiwa is actually the shrine gate for the divine stone Okitama Shinseki located underwater about 700 metres offshore, which is said to be a holy rock, of the god of entertainment, Sarutahiko no Ookami.

  • Make a point of getting up early to watch the sunrise – even if it’s only from the bedroom window with a cup of tea – and bathe in the morning glow.

On 22, 23 or 24 September the Autumnal Equinox is celebrated as a national holiday in Japan and known as Shubun-no-hi. The exact day can vary due to astronomical observations, so the date for the following year is usually announced in early spring. This was originally known as the Autumn Commemoration for the Imperial Spirits (Shuki koreisai).

  • Legend has it that the scent of the red spider lily (higanbana) will bring back all the beautiful memories of the dead for one last time, before they disappear when they cross the Forgotten River. And their blooming represents the changing from summer to autumn. The transient beauty of the flower recalls those who have departed from this life but live on in our memory.

Even the Winter Solstice, Tōji, does not go unmarked in Japan, even if it is small-scale – the most well-known activity is taking a bath with a type of citrus called yuzu in the water. Although the power of the sun is weakest at this time of the year, it becomes stronger from this day and it is said that the fortune of people rise from this day.

  • Find a peaceful place to watch the sunset on this shortest of days and wait quietly for owl-light to descend to create that ‘time between times’ so familiar to those pagans in the West.

Be empty, be still

Watch everything

Just come and go.

Pagan Portals Western Animism: Zen & the Art of Positive Paganism by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books  ISBN 978 1 78904 123 1 : 80 pages : UK£6.99/US$10.95 : Available in paperback and e-book format.