Farewell, Summer!

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On the last morning of Summer,

The last chrysalis glistens,

Bejeweled with dewdrops,

Sparkling in the dawn.

 

One last time, its golden gems,

Hinting at treasure within,

Glimmer, then darken

As Autumn’s shadow falls.

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Emerald fades to dull brown

While mystery unfolds inside.

Jewel-case turns translucent

Then releases its gift.

Chrysalis Emerging 9

Newborn wings flex, testing strength,

Pumping life into those limbs

Instinct draws her to sunshine

And to her maiden voyage.

 

On the last morning of Summer,

The last chrysalis glistened.

She soared away on Autumn’s breeze

Into ancestral skies.

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Dragonfly Blitz!

When a friend came to pick me just before sunset yesterday evening, we were both amazed to find the air thick with dragonflies. They were everywhere, and as we rode to our destination about five miles away, the dragonfly blitz continued. While it wasn’t unusual to see more than the average number of butterflies and other insects around my home (certified as both a monarch way-station and pollinator habitat), it was absolutely freaky to still be surrounded by dragonflies within such a distance. Both of us are nature-lovers and rather mystical, as well as being science-oriented. As we rode through swarms of dragonflies, oohing and aahing, we pooled our collective knowledge of entomology and myth, trying to make sense of what was surely a once or twice in a lifetime phenomenon. Was it an omen? Some sort of environmental disturbance? By the time we arrived at our destination, a bookshop/coffee bar located on an escarpment that is known for its singular weather conditions, no more dragonflies were to be seen.

Curiosity in full kill-the-cat mode, as soon as I got home I hit the internet, heartland for every kind of information/misinformation, and searched “dragonfly swarm”. There were several good articles but all at least three years old. Eventually a news item popped up, showing a weather radar map featuring huge blotches that were, yes, dragonfly swarms (along with other insects and some birds). The radar image of the swarms extended from Indiana, over Ohio, into Pennsylvania. There it was, even more intense than anyone could imagine!

Having worked for several years in the Entomology Department of Carnegie Museum, I already knew quite a bit about dragonflies but never heard of such a huge swarm. There are two reasons why dragonflies swarm: 1) migration; 2) prey. Or both combined. Almost everyone has seen a relatively small swarm hovering over a pond or even the backyard grass, stalking for food. The tri-state cloud, though, was a truly exceptional event. Indeed there was a weather front moving in, rain on the way after a few days of hot weather. Sometimes insects get trapped in a weather front, providing a feast for dragonflies. It was also right at dusk, when prey is most easily seen by dragonfly eyes because of the position of the sun on the horizon. At summer’s end, too, termites and gnats hatch in great numbers, favorite foods of the gossamar-winged predators.

Any combination of these conditions could have caused the dragonfly blitz. All science aside, it was a glorious sight. There is so much news lately about an “insect apocalypse” that it was heartening to see so many feeding on what must have been thousands of bugs. Something was right with the world for a change.

A few fascinating facts about dragonflies.

1200px-Dragonfly_9-13-05_Morro_Bay,_CA_cce2-dragonfly-3829-9-13-05-20x16The ones we saw swarming were most likely darners, obviously named for their resemblance to darning needles. Some common nicknames for them include “Devil’s Darning Needles” after a folk belief that sassy children have their mouths sewn shut by dragonflies while they sleep, “Snake Doctors” based on a legend that dragonflies protect snakes by stitching up their wounds or even bring them back to life, and in Norway they are called “Oyenstikker” which translates to “eye-poker”.

Despite these weird nicknames, dragonflies are harmless and among the most beneficial insects to humans. In half an hour an adult dragonfly can eat its own weight in bugs. Their favorite foods are mosquitoes, gnats, flies, ants, and termites as well as (unfortunately) butterflies and moths. Sometimes they even eat other dragonflies.

One amazing feature of the dragonfly is the ability to hover. Having two pairs of wings enables them to do this and makes them the strongest flyers of all insects. They can even hover in strong winds.

Their eyes are amazing too. Compound eyes give them a 360 degree view of life. Their eyes are composed of 30,000 ommatidia, mini-eyes that each has their own cornea, lens and retina. They can’t see as clearly as we do but can see ultraviolet and polarized light which helps them navigate.

Dragonflies have six legs but can’t walk. They perch instead. Their legs are rounded into a basket-like shape that makes it easy to snare and eat prey while on the wing. Rarely does anything escape.

As for the omen meaning of dragonflies, naturally they symbolize the ability to change course quickly and adapt to circumstances with balance and poise. Seeing a dragonfly is supposed to mean transformation or change is coming, since they are creatures of metamorphosis. I’m not sure what a massive swarm of dragonflies can signify, though, except perhaps amplifying the usual interpretations by thousands, a mind-boggling omen to contemplate.

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Green Witchery at Woodstock

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Fifty years ago, that was me, third from the left, perched atop a painted bus and hearing Santana jam for the first time in my life. Very few, if anyone, had heard of him then. I kept asking the guy next to me the name of this band and for some reason, probably because he was in an altered state of consciousness, he wouldn’t speak it above a whisper. So I kept asking, not quite hearing, and he kept repeating in that mysterious whisper, as he was invoking a secret sort of spell. I was duly enchanted.

Attending this festival was part of my ongoing transformation in what I am today, a Green Witch. I was 18 years old and had fled my parents’ home for the third and final time, in search of my own path. Woodstock was an affirmation of all of my starry eyed ideals  – love, peace, and freedom.  Since then, I have participated in many Pagan gatherings and festivals over the decades, still yearning for that vibe. Sometimes I found it. Sometimes I was deeply disappointed.

On this fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock, I look back, look down at my feet firmly grounded, and look ahead. There’s no use trying to go back, as much as I’d love it. I wonder how many Woodstock “veterans” are left, since we’re aging, fading, and dying off. All we can do is take whatever gifts we received from the experience, carry them on with us, and pass along the best of them to whoever we believe will wield them well.

The vision was to save the world. Today it’s more vital than ever.

We are stardust. We are golden…and we’ve got to get ourselves (and our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren) back to the garden.

Ochfochlach for Blodeuwedd

 

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As an introduction to my Ochfochlach (an 8 line bardic poetry form), I offer a simplified synopsis of Blodeuwedd’s tale from the Welsh Mabinogion.

Forbidden by his mother, Arionrhod, from wedding any mortal woman, Lleu obtains the help of his wizardly cousins, Gwydion and Math. They create a wife for him from the flowers of Oak, Broom and Meadowsweet. She is called Blodeuwedd or “Flower-Face” and true to her flowery origins, she is as fair as the blossoms of May. With the requirement of marriage done, Lleu becomes sovereign of the land.

After awhile, Lleu must go away on a sovereign’s business, leaving his elvin wife alone. A hunter, Gronw, appears on the doorstep seeking shelter and he and Blodewedd fall deeply in love at first sight. They plot to murder Lleu, even though, as it happens in many Celtic legends, he is invincible unless caught in very specific circumstances.

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The plan is for Blodeuwedd to coax Lleu to demonstrate this combination of highly unlikely situations in which he can be killed. Trusting his fey wife, who pretends to be afraid he might be murdered, Lleu shows her just how ridiculous her fears are by acting out the whole scenario before her eyes.

A bath is prepared on the banks of a stream, then covered with thatch, so it is neither indoors nor outdoors. Lleu climbs to the rim of the bath and poses confidently with one foot on the back of a goat. Given the once-in-a-lifetime chance, Gronw, who has been lurking nearby, casts the specially made spear and pierces Lleu’s side. The deed is done and the two lovers are free to be together.

When the spear strikes Lleu, though, he turns into an eagle and flies away, nevertheless wounded. His loyal cousins, Gwydion and Math, track him down and heal him. They also track down Gronw and Blodeuwedd. Gronw is killed and Blodeuwedd is turned into an owl, a creature of the night, banished from daylight forever.

There are countless interpretations of this myth, depending on which character’s viewpoint is adapted. It can be argued many different ways, but there is no right or wrong reading of it. My “Ochfochlach for Blodeuwedd” is my personal response.

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She wants to be flowers but you make her owls…” from “The Owl Service” by Alan Garner.

Conjured, created, blessed and cursed,

Not woman, not flower, but fantasy first,

Man-made beauty, wizard-nursed,

Alive! With loving heart.

Given in marriage, heart untold,

Wedded but willful, heart so bold,

Punished and banished, heart of gold.

White wings unfold, dark Art!

 

Art Credits:

Blodeuwedd by Yuri Leitch

“Blodeuwedd Meets Gronw” by E. Wallcousins (“Celtic Myth & Legend”, Charles Squire)

“Little Blodeuwedd” by Tammy Wampler

 

 

The Many Herbs of Beltaine

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Beltaine is the time of year when we celebrate the return of life to the Earth after Winter’s long sleep. The celebration can be seen everywhere. Animals and birds call for their mates and tend their nests. Eggs hatch, green shoots emerge, trees and flowers begin to bloom, and new generation rises from the joy of it all. Maypoles spring up across the land, symbolic of the creative energies now rampant in creation.

As a green Witch whose birthday is within a few days of this sabbat, Beltaine has always been my favorite time of year. I especially enjoy renewing my herb garden, brushing the blanket of leaves and dead stalks aside to see what survived and sowing seeds of the coming year’s delights.  Finding appropriately symbolic offerings and altar decorations is an annual quest for many celebrants.

And so Google is bombarded with search requests for “Beltaine herbs” and the like. Books on the subject may also be consulted. The results can be overwhelming, In a recent experimental online search, everything from All-heal to Zinnias came up.

What exactly are the herbs of Beltaine? The best advice is to look around you and find what is in bloom now, taking only small token sprigs and leaving the rest of the flowers to produce their seeds.

However, be very cautious and sure of what plants you are picking. Many years ago, when I was just an innocent Witchling wandering the fields in search of Beltaine flowers, I brought home bouquets of a lovely flower that I thought was white yarrow. Eventually I learned that this was actually garlic mustard, a nasty invasive plant that is taking over meadows, fields, woods, parks and even backyards, overgrowing the native plants upon which the residents of these places depend on for their natural habitat. Nowadays I still pick garlic mustard, but with the intention of destroying it.  And with every pluck, I laugh at myself for my foolishness and wonder if the Goddess was pleased with my accidentally dreadful offerings. (Yarrow on the left, Garlic Mustard on the right below)

Another example of a Beltaine herb-gathering run amok happened at a public gathering where women were making garlands to wear in the ritual. Merrily weaving greens and flowers from the surrounding fields, suddenly someone noticed that their friend was blissfully creating a wreath mainly composed of poison ivy! How embarrassing.

Back to the trusty Google search as a reference source – not so trusty when used to hunt for reliable information about the sabbats in general, let alone which/witch herbs are appropriate. A search launched just before the writing of this article brought up some puzzling results, including the culinary herbs of paprika, curry, and radish! What these have to do with Beltaine is perhaps a mystery into which I have yet to be initiated. Many of the plants on the lists have not yet risen from their wintry beds in my locale (Pittsburgh, PA, USA) , such as ferns, which are only now unfurling, and roses that normally bloom  here in June.

Again, it is wisest to use what is growing in your area, as long as you are absolutely certain it is safe and really does represent the intent and spirit of Beltaine.

Hawthorn is the best-known Beltaine significator. In fact one of its nicknames is “May”. The fragrant, lusty-scented flowers are a perfect emblem of the season. Many consider it bad luck, though, to bring them into the house because of the connection with faery.  This is one of the trinity of faery tree lore, the Oak and Ash and Thorn.

If you are fortunate enough to have a Hawthorn near you, you can do this simple but potent ritual on May Eve. Get a ribbon or strip of cloth in the color that matches your intentions. Generally red is for passion and energy, green for abundance or fertility, yellow for joy, purple for spiritual growth, and white for peace and purity. Or use whatever color means something to you. Meditate on your wish as you hold the ribbon, then ask the spirit of the Hawthorn to help make it come true. Remember, you must do your part in manifesting it as well. Then say your wish out loud and hook the ribbon onto one of the tree’s thorns. Be careful because Hawthorn can be wicked, although a small blood sacrifice may add to the magic! Don’t forget to leave a thank-you offering under the tree. Honey and milk, or crumbs from the sabbat cake and a splash of wine are always acceptable. (note: make sure your ribbons are biodegradable!)

May the greenery and flowers of Beltaine bring you blessings of the season!

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Gardening By the Moon (Part 2)

PHASES OF THE MOON. Woodcut designed by Hans Holbein the Younger from Sebastian Munster's 'Canones super novum instrumentum luminarium,' Basel, 1534.

In the first part of this two-part article, I wrote about the effects of the Moon on plant growth according to phases. Now it’s time to dig into the next area – gardening by the Signs of the Moon.

The Moon goes through an entire round of the Zodiac in about 28 days, a lunar month or what I like to call “moonth”, spending approximately two and a half days in each Sign. If you keep your Moon calendar handy, one that not only shows the phases but also the Signs, you can plan your gardening activities in harmony with the best possible times.

The 12 Signs are either fruitful and barren, according to their elemental nature – Fire, Air Earth, or Water – as follows:

Aries: The first of the Fire Signs is also a barren sign,  being hot and dry. This is a good opportunity for weeding and pruning to cut back growth, especially if the Moon is also waning.

Taurus: Earth Signs are generally the best time to plant root crops. This Venus-ruled Sign is productive and moist,  second best for planting seeds, and transplanting. Taurus favors whatever grows in beauty, such as sweetly scented flowers. If you have a potpourri garden or are planting, cultivating, or harvesting material for perfumes, adornments, or other pleasurable purposes, Moon in Taurus smiles upon this.

Gemini:  Cut herbs, roots, or other plants when the Moon is in an Air or Fire Sign and you can be sure they will dry nicely. This is another good time for weeding.

Cancer: The most fertile Sign, this is the best time for any kind of planting or transplanting, since Cancer is a fruitful Water sign, ruled by the Moon. It’s also a good time to irrigate and fertilize. If you are pruning to encourage more growth,  or grafting, do it now.

Leo: This is the hottest of the barren Signs, ruled by the Sun, an excellent time to kill weeds or garden pests, especially on the waning Moon. The art of topiary or shaping shrubs is favored by Moon in Leo.

Virgo: The Virgin of the Zodiac is also a barren Sign, even though an Earth Sign. Moon in Virgo  signals time to work the soil, plow, till, or cultivate. Stir the compost. Flowers and vines come under the rulership of Virgo, especially medicinal plants. Divide and transplant perennial flowers when Moon in Virgo comes in the third quarter phase. Rid weeds and pests when in the fourth quarter.

Libra: A semi-fruitful Sign because it is Venus-ruled, but also an Air Sign, which is not very helpful except for planting flowers, herbs,  and vines. Flowers picked when the Moon is in Libra last the longest.

Scorpio: Fertile and fruitful, second only to Moon in Cancer for seed germination and rapid growth. Moon in Scorpio is best for sturdy plants and vines, good for transplanting. Tomatoes, corn, and squash are Scorpio’s favored crops. Graft or prune in the third or fourth quarter Scorpio Moon to slow growth or promote fruit. Prune, water and fertilize in the 4th quarter.

Sagittarius: Hitch the Centaur to the plow when Moon is in this Sign. Put the energy of this Fire Sign to work harvesting, spreading compost, or enriching the soil. Plant potatoes, onion sets and fruit trees. Harvest root crops and onions for storage.

Capricorn: Productive but dry, Moon in Capricorn is fertile for everything under the ground, such as roots, bulbs, rhizomes, tubers and stalks. Prune branches that need strengthened. This is the time for grafting, pruning to promote healing, and applying organic fertilizer.

Aquarius: The Moon in this dry Air Sign is excellent for gathering herbs, roots, or other plants to dry and preserve. It is also another chance to weed out unwanted growth and banish pests.

Pisces: The last of the three Water Signs is most favorable for root growth and of course watering. It is very productive and moist, second best for planting and transplanting in the third quarter phase. Prune, water, and fertilize in the 4th quarter. Sow seed for good root growth.

This is a simplified and very basic guide to gardening by the Moon Signs. As you experiment through the year, keep a journal of your successes and failures, being careful to note the lunar phases and Signs. The more you use moon-gardening methods, the easier it will be to fall into the rhythm of Nature’s year-round dance.

Note: I highly recommend Louise Riotte’s “Astrological Gardening” which has been my trusted handbook for many years. It is now out of print but copies are still available through Amazon and other booksellers and well worth the price! 

Gardening by the Moon (Part 1)

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People have been planting, cultivating, and reaping crops according to the phases of the Moon since time began. Many still see this as silly superstition, but it has been scientifically proven that Luna does, in fact, have a certain pull on our Earthly world. Probably the best-known influence is on the tides, which are always highest when the Sun and Moon line up at the new and full lunar phases. Not just the larger bodies of water but all water is affected by this. Moisture in the ground also responds to this force by rising. For example, seeds absorb the most amount of nurturing water when the moon in full, making the waxing moon time the best time for planting.

If you want to try experimenting with this, get a moon calendar.  The Old Farmers’ Almanac is a trusty source.

Since today is the New Moon in Aries, it’s the perfect time to start any new projects. To get started, here is a simplified guide to what to plant according to the lunar phases.

New Moon: From now until the Second Quarter, there is waxing light and the gravitational force will be pulling the moisture up from the ground. This is a good time for a balance of leaf and root growth, above and below ground. Plant crops that bear seeds outside their fruits, such as grains, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce and spinach.

Second Quarter: There is less gravitational pull during this phase but the light is still increasing, so it is favorable for general planting, particularly two days before the full moon for best results. This timing will make use of the upswing of energy. Plants that do well if sown in the Second Quarter are annuals that grow above ground with their seeds growing inside, such as beans, peppers, squash, tomatoes, peas and melons.

Full Moon:  At Full Moon time, lunar pull is strong and the moisture is rising in the soil. Right after Full Moon, the light begins to wane and energies decrease, making it a better time to focus on root crops that grow underground, like carrots, potatoes or beets, along with perennials, bulbs. Generally, this is the best phase in which to do any transplanting. Root growth is active now.

Fourth Quarter: This is time for resting, best for activities such as pruning, transplanting, harvesting, and cutting back plants to retard growth. To prune for increased growth, use the waxing phase.

Another dimension to gardening by the Moon is using the Signs of the Zodiac. The patterns of the lunar phases are generally agreed upon by all who use them, whereas the influence of the various Signs often differs among practitioners.

During its 28 day orbit around Earth, the Moon traverses the Zodiac, passing through a different Sign every 2 – 3 days. The Signs are divided into four classes according the Elements of Air, Earth, Fire, and Water in addition to each one having its own unique qualities. Generally Earth and Water Signs are considered fertile, good for planting and growth, and Fire and Air Signs are barren, best for weeding or pruning.

In the next part of this series, we’ll explore the Signs and delve deeper into what gardening activities to do on specific dates, so stay attuned to Green Witchery for more to come soon!