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Ogahm: Iolo – Yew

I – Iolo: Yew

Samhain & Winter Solstice

Metal – Lead

Planet – Saturn

  • I am the tomb to every hope
  • Death & Rebirth

Iolo is one of the five vowels of the ogham tree alphabet, representing our letter I.

Yew Cauldron

Yew is the longest lived of all British trees, holds great knowing and wisdom. It’s been the coffin-maker’s tree for ages. It was also the tree of weddings, the bright red yew-berries were thrown as good-luck charms over newlyweds, offering their sweetness.

Normally I would talk about this tree at Samhain but I saved it for winter solstice this year. Here in Britain this year we have snow, lots of it, an unusual occurrence for us for the past 20+ years. Now global warming is really cranking up the winters are changing and becoming more severe. No-one knows yet how the new patterns the Mother is making in the weather will pan out, we may get a set of hard winters and then a set of wet, soft ones … we must wait on her and see what she gives.

In case you didn’t know, Solstice is 21st December. Astronomically this may be slightly different each year but for purposes of celebration many folk stay with the 21st. this year we had the added blessing of a blood-moon this morning. The energies were amazing where I lived but I couldn’t physically see much because there was a high mist covering the whole sky. I could sense the covering of the moon, the eclipse, but not see it with my physical eyes.

The 21st is the beginning of the solstice period, the period of three days when the sun appears to rise at the same point on the horizon. This is very well marked at Stonehenge, and at other less well known stone circles. Our ancestors knew …

The three day period of apparent standstill ends with the sun appearing to move forward, rise in a slightly different place on the horizon on the 25th December. In our tradition it’s called Sun-Return and signifies the birth of the King. In early mediaeval myth here in Britain this became the birth of Arthur but before that it was the birth of the Mabon, the eternal child who brings us the journey of the soul. It’s not surprising that the Christians took it up and used it for the birth of their winter king who – like all puer eternis – shows us the soul journey.

Sun-Return is the day the sun begins to move again after the 3-day standstill of the Winter Solstice; i.e. 25th December, and is a symbol of birth out of death. Archaeologists still seem to like to say our ancestors would have been afraid the sun was never going to come back but this is a highly denigrating view. You only have to watch the sun return one year to see it will. If you’re particularly fearful then maybe it takes two or three years … so you’re probably aged five or so when you’ve got the hang of it, especially if your parents take you to rituals and give you the stories.

Besides, people who could build such accurate time-pieces as Stonehenge and the other circles would hardly be so dumb as to not know about the seasons, that would make no sense at all. Sometimes we appear to have gone backwards in our common sense and be trying to pull our ancestors back into the childish habits of thought many people live in now.

Yew’s watch-words are “I am the tomb to every hope”.

What does this mean? What is a tomb? The thesaurus offers the following …

  • Ossuary Grave Sepulchre Mausoleum Burial place Charnel house Necropolis,

A place where things/people are buried after they have died. In the case of ossuary it is a place of bones, a charnel house where the relics – the bones which take perhaps millions of years to decompose – are stored. The word necropolis refers to a city of the dead, a physical vision of the place where the ancestors live. It makes some sense of the habit the Christians picked up of “relics of saints”, the bones. They again use the idea from the far more ancient pagan tradition of keeping a small part of the body an ancestor had once worn as a link back to the ancestors. Unfortunately they mostly don’t know about this tradition and meaning, however the innate human knowing does usually get some sort of a handle on it.

But why the tomb of hope? This can sound frightening to many. Hope … what is this? The thesaurus offers lots of possibilities for this word …

  • Confidence Expectation Optimism Anticipation Faith
  • Chance Likelihood Possibility Potential
  • Desire Aspiration Dream Plan Wish Goal Yearn Long Look forward to

Hmm … what do you make of all that?

And then there is the Greek story of Pandora’s Box. The story goes that

Pandora, whose name means “giver of all” or “all-endowed”, was the first woman on Earth. Zeus command Hephaestus, the god of craftsmanship, to create her, which he did using water and earth. The other gods granted her many gifts – beauty from Aphrodite, persuasiveness from Hermes, and music from Apollo.

After Prometheus stole fire from Mount Olympus, Zeus sought reprisal by handing Pandora to Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus. Pandora was given a jar that she was ordered not to open under any circumstances. Despite this warning, overcome by curiosity, Pandora opened the jar and all the evils contained within escaped into the world. Scared, Pandora immediately closed the jar, only to trap Hope inside.

This story is very like the creation of Blodeuwedd by Gwydion and with perhaps som of the same purposes. Hope is a funny, tricky thing. W often say things like, “my hopes were dashed”, “there’s no hope”. Hope can turn very sour and evil when we have pinned all our faith on it and it doesn’t come to pass as we expected … as we’d hoped!

This takes me to a gift I was given many years ago. One of my teachers told me he went into every situation “full of expectancy but without any expectations”. Do you get that?

He is open to anything that may come but without pinning his own ideas, wants, needs, expectations on it. He leaves room for the universe to be, he walks the universe’s path rather than trying to constrict the universe into walking the path of his own small desires.

So the watchwords of the Yew make some sense now?

If we bury our little personality hopes, desires, wants, then we make room for the big gifts the universe wants to offer us. The yew takes in these petty personal desires and composts them for us, buries them, allows them to decompose and go back into their constituent atoms so they can be remade anew into the good things that Life, the Universe and Everything really needs.

It also makes sure we don’t try to make everything live by our own scripts. We put space and boundaries around ourselves and allow others to be different. We can still grumble about the difference – inside out own space! – as long as we leave space for others.

So we put our hopes into the tomb the yew provides for us and go out to find the new path.

This is the death and rebirth thing of this time of year, of the going down of the sun and his/her return after the three days, to begin a new cycle, to begin the stirrings of springtime, of the herbaceous plants who demonstrate this so beautifully for us by dying down into the ground over the winter and then springing back up out of the soil as the seasons change.

Ponder on all this for the season of Sun-Return. I’ll talk more about the planet Saturn and the metal Lead later on today.

Darkness – Birthplace of Light

In Celtic tradition we begin our celebrations on the Eve of the feast day, in the darkness.

In my post Sun Wise I talked about the way the sun appears to go round in opposite directions depending on whether you live north or south of the equator. In either case it is the two poles, north and south, that are the places of darkness. They are the womb which births the light.

Whether or not the ancient Celts knew about the lands south of the equator, they were certainly bright enough to realise this fact about the sun. And they knew that the poles are the womb of creation in this way, the darkness before dawn.

Bosch's Hell

Christianity has made a devil of the darkness and many people are afraid of the dark, partly as a result of the innate myths perpetrated by this religion. The peopled it with nasty beings, all out to do you down, all the critters in Hieronymus Bosch paintings. This is not how it is at all, as the Celts and other shamans know very well.

The darkness is the darkness of the womb, of potential, of creation. The chrysalis where the caterpillar transforms into the soup of Life and then remakes him or herself into a butterfly.

Knowing this is why the Celts work from the pole, the place the sun never travels through, to the dawn, then the zenith ending at the nadir where the sun sets. As I said in the previous post, this is from the north round to the west in the northern hemisphere, and from the south round to the west in the southern hemisphere.

Midwinter is the shortest day of the year, as far as sunlight goes. At the poles, the sun doesn’t rise at all.

–       Remember, midwinter for the north is midsummer for the south! I’m writing from the place where I am, the northern hemisphere and Britain. If you live in the southern hemisphere then the same ideas apply but you transport them 6 months down the line.

Meditations for the season of Sun-Return, the midwinter solstice, often call up these concepts of birth, and of death. TS Eliot’s words in his poem “The Journey of the Magi” are very apt – whatever your spiritual beliefs …

… were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Eliot hits the nail on the head with his usual acumen, “were we led all that way for Birth or Death?”. This is how it is for the shaman. He describes the death as “hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death” and so this transit of the year is for the spiritually aware. Change is like that and this change, from the going down into the darkness to the coming out into the light is just such a one. Richard Bach put it very well, “what the caterpillar calls a nervous breakdown, the master calls a butterfly”. However, we all know how hard it is to see that from the caterpillar’s perspective!

Eliot goes on to say, “no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods”. I find this very profound. On the surface we cans see the Christian pulling away the skirts from that which might contaminate. But go deeper. We all feel this as we grow and change, as we re-enter the womb, decompose and then recompose again, are birthed into, what is to us, a new world. We are no longer at ease with the way things were/are. We see friends and neighbours even as aliens, clutching at different beliefs to those we now have. Part of us often wants to crawl back into the womb so we don’t have to live in the new world in which we find ourselves … but we can’t. We have to continue, to live, to grow to change.

It can indeed feel like living in one of Bosch’s paintings. But contemplation and meditation, working the shaman’s way, asking one’s Familiars, one’s Totem group, asking all the elders of the world – all of creation, which is far older than us – to guide and guard and keep us through this time of change really works. It really does help. I do it myself every season and I help others to do it too.

Being brave enough to go down into the dark, to die to the past, to go into the womb of the mother and ask to be reborn … these are the good and beautiful things of this season of Sun-Return.

Sun Wise

at the going down of the sun ... In Celtic tradition we begin our celebrations on the Eve of the feast day, in the darkness.

The shaman works in Middleworld by weaving the colours of Life, the shapes and patterns of Living. It’s what we all do by being alive, by incarnating. We cannot not do this as long as we’re alive, every breath we take affects everything else – ponder on that, get the sense and truth of it into your bones, it will help you know the connectedness of all things.

Weaving the light is seen on all shamanic traditions – not always called that – usually through the medium of the directions: North, East, South, West, for us in the northern hemisphere. Probably South, East, North West in the southern hemisphere.

Why the opposite way round? Think about it. In the north we Celts begin in the place of darkness, which is the north for us. It’s the place the sun never goes to. For us the sun rises in the east, travels to the south for midday then sets in the west. The sunrises in the east and sets in the west wherever you are on the Earth. Because of the way the earth travels around the sun it’s impossible for it to be any other way. But whichever way we watch the passage of the sun the dark place will be at the Pole – north or south pole – the place where the sun never goes.

You may also have noticed that in the north deosil – which is what we call the path the sun travels, the god-path – goes “clockwise”. In the southern hemisphere deosil goes the other way around, “anticlockwise”. We only call it clockwise since we invented watches and clocks, a few hundred years back, not the ancient clocks of land markers, the stars and the stone circles. Clockwise is a modern term and invented in the northern hemisphere and should not be taken as gospel for everything, everywhere.

This makes a mockery of the common prejudice amongst new agers that it’s “good” to go around clockwise and invites the “bad” in if you go around anticlockwise. I was once told by an intense and autocratic “shaman” that if I went round anticlock the sun might fall out of the sky! I was so stunned that an apparently intelligent woman could say such a thing I never got to asking her about all the above … probably a good thing to let her be.

The prejudice for deosil over widdershins is a Christian fable, put up as part of their massive hard-sell of “the new religion” amongst the peoples of the northern Europe, and not one we should encourage to  continue now. It makes it very hard for people to understand reality – e.g. that deosil, sunwise, is the other way around for people living in the southern hemisphere. This, despite many of them having black skin and being shamans and magicians (thank the gods!) does not make them devils … which is what many of the Victorian missionaries called them. That (hopefully) is quite shocking to us now.

Weaving the patterns of Life means weaving in both directions.

Think about the act of weaving. You raise one set of threads – the even numbers we’ll say for simplicity – and pass the shuttle through the gap between the upper and lower threads, making a row of weaving. Then you drop the even-number threads down and raise the odd-number threads. Again, you pass the shuttle through the gap, making another row of weaving. The first row, you pass the shuttle from right to left (say), deosil. The second row you pass the shuttle from left to right.

You go both ways in order to achieve a piece of cloth!

Let’s take another example from the physical world – DNA. One of the major points of DNA is the double-helix. Two spirals. Twisting around each other and exchanging the knowledge of the genes in order to create life and maintain it. It too spirals both ways.

Now an example from the past. The doctor’s symbol in the western world is the caduceus staff. This is a rod with two snakes twining up it, making a double spiral (double-helix). It’s been used for several thousand years and is associated with the Greek gods Apollo and Hermes, gods of wisdom, knowing and the transmission of knowing. In fact, Merlin is often associated with Hermes and sometimes even with Apollo, although his energy is far older than either of them. We humans tend to associate things with what we already know and, for many, the Greek gods are better known than our own Celtic ones, although the Greeks knew of us and respected our ways, calling us the land Behind the North Wind.

So the caduceus staff is another example of the fact that Life, in order to exist, travels its energy in both directions.

So going sunwise, deosil, in itself indicates going in two directions at once. It shows us that life, as Bilbo put it, is to go and to return. To go and to return is the journey of the shaman, the oldest form of spiritual path amongst humanity and still going strong now.

In this Eve of the solstice, the time when the sun appears to stand still for three days – giving us three days in which to contemplate the meaning of life – let’s think about this, take it into our skull-cauldrons and allow it to brew there quietly. On the day of Sun-Return (25th December, when the sun appears to begin to move forward again) the three drops of wisdom may leap out of the cauldron onto our thumbs so we can suck them up.

Biodynamic Course

I’m running a biodynamic course over 6 Saturdays in 2011 – Working with the Moon & Stars

1.      16 April – Using the Calendar. This first Saturday gets you going with understanding the basics of biodynamic gardening, what it is, what it does and how to work it.

2.      21 May – Prep 500. Using the horn manure preparation. We make the preparation today, bring a jam jar with lid and you can take some home for your garden

3.      18 June – Prep 501. Using the horn silica preparation

4.      23 July – Cow-Pat-Pit. Making and using this starter preparation

5.      1 October – Horn Stuffing. Making horn manure, preparation 500

6.      12 November – Composting. Using the compost preparations
Cost: £45/day or £250 if you book all 6 days together

Venue: Archenland – details of how to get here sent when you book

Time: 1030-1600

Lunch: bring a dish to share with everyone

Contact us to reserve a place for the series – get going with biodynamics, it’s organics with Oomph !!!

Wye’s Women

Elen Sentier & Jennie Russell-Smith

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Compost in the early winter

Paul beginning the leaf mould process

Paul is composting like there’s no tomorrow! And doing leaf mould. At present it’s just about getting the heaps together. We’re using Mausdorfer to each layer for now, when the heaps are big enough we’ll put the preps in and leave them to cook until March/April.

Again, we’re a bit behind – due to my shoulder op, Paul’s got to do all the other work until Midwinter as I’m not even allowed to push a mop around the kitchen floor. However, we’ll get there and we know we can rely on the preps to speed the compost along.

With leaf mould, if you run the lawnmower over them, chop them up and, at the same time, add a bit of grass in with them, the leaves go a hell of a lot faster. If you then add cow-pat-pit or Mausdorfer, then the compost preps, the whole thing can be ready by next autumn which is pretty good for leaves. As we’re putting both starters and preps on the leaf mould this year we wonder if it might even be ready before then – we’ll keep you posted here.

Elen Sentier

behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …

Wye’s Women Elen’s Books Rainbow Warriors

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Veg Beds in November

Stirring 500 with a friend

I’m a bit stymied on this work this year because of the shoulder operation. It was very successful but it means I can’t do any heavy gardening – like turning over the veg beds – until February. I’ll just have to manage! It will mean the beds will have to be done all of a rush in the late winter though.

I managed to get some winter crops sown before I went into hospital and am allowed to do light weeding so I can keep the beds clean, no competition for my precious veg. the chinese greens are doing well, wonderful, tough plants they are that get going and keep going very well. The perpetual spinach will be sine too and the overwintering sprouting, broccoli, caulis et al are doing OK. The swedes and parsnips are amazing size already. As we’ve had a couple of frosts now they’re all very good to eat – winter stews are being added to the cookathons!

I didn’t get much winter salad into the poly tunnel before I went into hospital so I hope to get some going indoors and then gradually put it out for the spring. It’s far too cold to germinate out there now! As we’ve got leaf days in the NPT on Thu/Fri I hope to use them to sow some winter salad. I’ve been collecting old plastic boxes that the supermarket veg comes in for planting tubs, they’re very good and often already have holes in them, all I need now is something to stand them in to catch the water … a good hunt round the kitchen and scullery should find me something.

I also use the cardboard inners from toilet rolls as root-trainers – they come with the loo-roll and will decompose in the soil when the plants are transplanted so there’s no need to disturb the roots. Or to spend pounds on posh plastic (which won’t decompose and cost loads in energy to produce as well!) root-trainers from magazines and garden centres. I’m afraid I don’t subscribe to the spendaholic method of getting us out of recession!

I intend to sow some very early tomatoes, peas, beans – as I didn’t get the outside ones in the ground before hospital either! – for cropping in the polytunnel and greenhouse early next year. Not having had a greenhouse before I’ve not been able to do this for a long while, this year will be a bit of an experiment to see how it goes – have high hopes.

Elen Sentier

behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …

Wye’s Women Elen’s Books Rainbow Warriors

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New Strawberry Plants

Strawberry Albion

Gardening with the Moon and Stars still involves all the ordinary work J.

This month I’m catching up with the soft fruit. We needed new strawberry plants so I decided to go for a new breed – Albion ever-bearer – rather than just taking runners from the old plants as I have been doing. The originals came from a friend, and to him from his Dad, and so on down the historical line. They’re good strawberries, and I still have them in a side bed, but they’re the old style that just fruit Albion and have the fruit for 3+ months every year.

The plug plants have just arrived and been stored in a bucket of earth through the cold weather we’ve just had here. It’s still cold but the sun’s come out so I’ll be out there doing over the strawberry beds preparing to plant up the plugs over the next couple of days – making the best of the weather.

As part of this I’ll be giving the beds a dollop of prep 500, horn manure, along with compost, some well-rotted cow manure, rock dust and wood ash. There’s not a root day between now and the weekend but we begin the Northern Planting Time (NPT) today which means the Earth is again drawing energy down into the soil for the roots. Doing 500 in the afternoon, in the NPT even if not a root day means I get 2 out of 3 right and will help the beds and the plants along.

Today is a flower day, as is tomorrow, then it’s leaf until Saturday when It’s fruit from the afternoon on, and through Sunday. I won’t be planting up the strawberries until the weekend as I want to do them on a fruit day to enhance conditions for the new plug plants, give them the best chance of doing well. But I can certainly get their bed ready for them.

As we go into the NPT today I can do the work in the right season. What I’m aiming for here is to get as many things on the side of the new plants as possible so I’m going to

  • Plant them on their own day, fruit day
  • In the afternoon
  • In the Northern Planting Time

o   The last two are both when the Earth is pulling energy down into the soil which will help the roots establish well – vital for you plants being transplanted

I’m very much looking forward to eating the strawberries next year! Planting them now, in November, in the late autumn/early winter means they have six months to establish themselves and get to good fruiting size for next summer. You can plant strawberries, all soft fruit, in the spring but don’t expect much of a harvest from them in their first year if you do, they haven’t had time to get going. Planting now gives a better harvest next summer.

Elen Sentier

behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …

Wye’s Women Elen’s Books Rainbow Warriors

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