I was so lucky this weekend, Jo and Roy and Jennie came round to help move a mountain. Over the past couple of years prunings – like whole trees! – and clearings have built and built and built into a mountainf stuff at the end of the garden. It needed moving, the wood that is good for the fire chopped up, the brush burned for woodash, and the earth that’s actually been made from the “stuff” barrowed to the many flower beds who need it.
We did it. The heap for burning is all built, I hope to set fire to it tomorrow when the winds are supposed to die down for the day. Half the earth has been moved to beds, the other half has still to be done, I hope to get it done this week.
The resulting space is fantastic. There’s a beautiful young oak tree – a gift from a dear friend with a fantastic garden in Porlock – at the near corner of the space. You can see it now, no longer hidden by its background. I have space for another polytunnel – and it arrived (in kit form) this afternoon. we have space for 4 more big compost bins that we desperately need and working space for composting. And easy access to the field for more burning space … and walkikng out to the woods across the way.
I did it! I got the dahlia tubers into pots today so they should come up early and flower all summer long. I’ve got 3 Bishop of Llandaff and 8 assorted cactus. I have to have Bishop of Lllandaff, living where I do, in the birthplace of the first Bishop of Llandaff, our Merlin-figure, Dyfrig of Madley. He’s the hero of the novel I’m writing at the moment. and I just love the cactus dahlias, so wild and exotic.
I was lucky in that I have the old soil from the potato bags. Seeds don’t need much nutrient as they have all they need within them, tubers do it in spades :-). The dahlia tubers are still half in hibernation and need to come out gently. I put some damp earth in the bottom of the pots then some dry earth from the potato bags which I used to fill in and cover them. then I popped a plastic bag over the top of each pot and stood them in trays in the scullery which is cold but doesn’t freeze. That way the tubers can wake up slowly, gently feel their way back into flowering life. I won’t need to water for a wee while but I’ll check them every day.
The old potato soil was given a dose of Prep 500 over the past 3 days so the tubers have that to help them as well.
Tomorrow and Saturday are leaf days so I’m going to sow cabbage and lettuce. Sunday and Monday are fruit so I’ll be sowing my first tomatoes of the year … watch this space 🙂
Another fantastic afternoon in the garden. Cleared the rubbish from the Alchemy Garden – about 5 wheelbarrow-fulls of good compost material, I’ll put that in the bin tomorrow. Also carved – I mean pruned! – all the honeysuckle, aquebia and climbing rose on the arched walk out from the french windows that borders one side of the Alchemy garden. Now I can see what I’m doing!
Lots of stuff coming up already, bulbs of course but also the beginnings of the herbaceous plants. The forget-me-nots are going great guns, tough little buggers but so lovely when you get that haze of blue in a few weeks time. Pruned the roses too. Everything seems nice and healthy.
The nettles are doing well! When and where don’t they? Lots of hand-weeding there to come but I need the soil to be a little less frozen to make it easier!
We did the 12 days stirrings of 500 from 26th Dec to 6th Jan, including all the flower garden as well as the fruit and veg. You can sense the vigour it’s given to the soil and the soil-life.
We’re in a no-no period right now so clearing up is all that should be done at present as the soil-beings are cheerfully working away and don’t want us to interfere! However, Sunday thro to Wednesday are all root days in the Northern Planting Time so I hope to get some early seeds sown then. Will post what next week. Will do a 500 stirring again too on one of those days. I usually do one to prep the seed compost before using it, so likely Monday – have friends round on sunday but the might like to stir so wait and see. Collected mole-hills yesterday – the best seed-growing material when mixed with sand. You don’t need rich soil for seeds as the seeds have all they need within them. Potting on you need more food.
My robin-friend from yesterday came to supervise my work – she said I was doing OK (wipes sweat form brow!). it is so delightful to have a robin companioning me as I garden, very special birds – at least for me 🙂
One of the big things in the western world at this season of Sun-Return is Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus which is derived from St Nicholas.
An advertising campaign by the Coca Cola Company in the 1930s made our current image of Father Christmas almost universal although it was fairly ubiquitous by the late 19th Century. With an expansion of global exploration in Victorian times, travellers returned home from visiting the Sami of Lapland with the story of flying reindeer, spread the tale all over central Europe. We had long forgotten our own British traditions and no longer did reindeer roam the land as they had. They are back again though now.
As is the wont of Christianity, our pagan customs have pragmatically been adapted and integrated into their Christmas traditions and so hidden from their true origins and meanings.
The Pagan Shaman
Father Christmas is an ancient pagan figure, coming from the shaman who is also the gift-bringer for the season of Sun-Return … the time of the solstice when the sun appears to stand still for 3 days and then move on again. What happens is that the sun, for the three days, appears to rise at the same point on the horizon for the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th of December and then, on the 25th, appears to move on to the next place on the horizon. Our ancestors, all over the world, observed this, along with the fact that from the solstice on the days again begin to get lighter heralding the spring. They rightly celebrated this season, as we still do. It’s good to know the origins of the celebration which are as old as humankind, perhaps some 600,000 years.
Father Christmas is special to many folk, especially children. The traditions which he is about come largely from the European shamans and wise-folk. For instance …
In the Nordic tradition, the red-and-white dressed Father Christmas is a knowing-one shaman-figure carrying Wotan’s energy. The word shaman – from the Turkic word šamán, also used in the wider Turko-Mongol and Tungusic cultures in ancient Siberia – mean “one who knows”. I use it because it’s currently reasonably well understood all around the world. One of the words for it in my own Celtic tradition is Awenydd, but that is very unknown to most so I tend to stick with shaman.
The red-white-black costume of Father Christmas goes way back in the Celtic tradition to the triplicity represented by the 3 Cups …
The Red cup of Lordship
The White cup of Fostering
The Black cup of Self-Forgetfulness (i.e. ego-restraint)
It also relates to the fly agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria. This is “fairy mushroom” we all know from many beautiful drawings and paintings, the characteristic red mushroom with its white dots. It is a vision and dream-making mushroom but needs to be eaten very carefully and the best way to take it is one which probably turns the stomachs of many modern folk. You watch the reindeer eat the mushroom and then collect their pee … then you drink reindeer pee! The reindeer changes the constitution of the mushroom so that it is no longer so poisonous but still retains it’s magical, journeying qualities.
Siberian Reindeer have a particuar prediliction for the fungi in question and can behave very odl under their influence. The Sami actually feed the reindeer the mushrooms, then collect the Reindeer’s urine as this not only contains the full hallucinogenic strength of the Fly Agaric but much of the mushroom’s toxicity is removed by the Reindeer’s digestive processes.
So there is one connection between Father Christmas and the reindeer … and flying.
Most shamans of the Northern Hemisphere ate it ritually. Its shamanic use can be traced to the Lapps, the Siberian nomadic peoples (Samojeden, Ostjaken, Tungusen, and Jakuten), and the North American Indians. In many mythologies, storm and thunderstorm gods are associated with the fly agaric mushroom. The thunder and lightning can be how it appears as you begin a fly agaric journey through the spirit worlds.
The Germanic thunder and fertility god, Donar or Thor, drives his goat cart through the air, bringing thunder and lightning as he throws his hammer in the clouds. Thunderstones (meteorites) fall to earth where they inseminate the ground and make mushrooms grow, especially fly agarics.
The fly agaric journey is one ecstasy, knowing and knowledge. The Nordic tradition says the fly agaric mushroom grows where Wotan rides on his horse through the clouds with other members of the wild hunt, at the time of the winter solstice. Wherever the froth of Wotan’s horse fell to the ground, the ground would become “pregnant” and nine months later would sprout fly agaric mushrooms, at the time of the autumn equinox. The story sometimes says that the fly agaric mushrooms grow from a mixture of the blood (red) and froth (white) of Wotan’s white horse. The wild hunt is drawn to the mushroom, calmed and put in a good mood with incense. Wherever it finds nourishment, the wild hunt becomes guardian of house and farm. For us in the Celtic tradition this is Gwyn ap Nudd and his white fairy hounds with their red eyes and ears. He rides at solstice, through to 12th Night – The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper is wonderful story that tells of this ride and what it’s about.
Reindeer, Sleighs, and Shamans
The idea of a great variety of reindeer sleighs flying through the air at Christmastime is common, carrying a laughing, red-and-white Father Christmas in the sleigh with his sack, his rod, and the presents. Every year this ancient shaman comes to Earth in his reindeer sleigh and lands on numerous roofs to descend down chimneys. Where does this come from?
Father Christmas is a pagan shaman from the distant European past – and the current pagan present. British. Gaelic, European and Siberian mythology all have a “heavenly wild hunt”. The Siberian ones are the most quoted now because we seem to have forgotten or mislaid our own ancient shamanic traditions. The Siberian shamans ride on reindeer sleighs through the air, up to the clouds. The world tree is their goal; this is where the magic reindeer are. The Siberian Tschutschuken say that the moon is a man on a sleigh that is pulled by two reindeer to Earth and can fly back up to the Upperworld like the modern Father Christmas figure. The Celtic tradition also revolves around the world tree, the source of wisdom.
The association of reindeer and shamanism is seen in the caves of the Ardèche, where wall paintings of reindeer, some thirty thousand years old, show our connection. As early as the Old Stone Age, reindeer were sunk in moors as sacrificial offerings – for example, in the Hamburg steppe of Meiendorf and Stellmoor and in Magdalénien (Pohlhausen 1953). This is the ritual context of cultic poles or stakes crowned with anthropomorphic mushrooms with dwarf caps. Sometimes, even reindeer skulls were placed on top of such sacrificial stakes. These often-neglected details show our association of reindeer with the mushrooms.
Yurt burried in snow
Down the Chimney …
Many shamanic peoples are nomads and live in portable homes such as yurts supported by a large beam of wood which stretches up to the smoke hole. At the Midwinter Festival, the Shaman wanting to enter a yurt buried in the snow would find the smoke-hole the only way in!
Siberian yurts have a roof supported by a birch pole with a smoke hole at the top. At the midwinter festivals of annual renewal, the shaman gathers the fly agaric from under sacred trees. Whilst harvesting the toadstools, she or he wears a costume of red and white fur-trimmed coat with long black boots – so carrying the colours of all three cups. This costume is very like the modern day Santa Claus. She or he then enters the yurt through the smoke hole, carrying a sack full of dried fly agaric, and descends the birch pole to the floor. Once inside, the shaman performs ceremonies and shares out the toadstool’s gifts with those gathered inside. After the ceremony is over the shaman leaves up the pole and back through the smoke hole.
Saint Nicholas is a legendary figure who supposedly lived during the 4th Century and known as the patron saint of children. He is said to brings presents on the eve of his feast day, 6th December – somewhat earlier than the solstice!
Most religious historians now agree that St Nicholas never actually existed, but was instead a Christianized amalgam of the historical bishops, Nicholas of Myra (4th Century) and Nicholas of Sion (d. 564) together with a number of pagan gods including the Teutonic god, Hold Nickar. Legend tells that Hold Nickar galloped through the sky during the winter solstice, granting favours to his worshippers below.
St Nicholas is associated with a number of miracles and stories to do with giving presents which integrate him into the legend of Santa Claus:
Green Man – Lord of the Forest
Bringing the forest into the home – like many of Christmas traditions – has its roots in the days when we all were pagans. At the solstice it’s traditional to bring armfuls of greenery into the home; put fir trees in a bucket and decorate them with baubles; hang holly and ivy over mantelpieces and picture frames, and mistletoe over doorways.
Note again that triplicity of colours – red holly berries, black ivy berries and white mistletoe, carrying the energy of the 3 Cups in a different way but always reminding us of our tradition, symbols of eternal life and renewal.
Dr Brian Bates, senior lecturer in psychology and director of the shaman research programme at Sussex University (author of the Way of Wyrd), said: “In the early tribal cultures of Europe there were huge midwinter parties, involving an entire tribal group, with a shaman taking centre stage wearing a crown of holly and ivy, representing the eternal life of ‘evergreen’ nature.” The Druids gathered mistletoe and hung it in their homes because of its miraculous powers. Even carol singing had its precursors in shamanic festivals. If you listen to the words and stories of the old carols you see the old myths carried forward in them. A myth is not a made up story, by the way, but a word for “belief system”. En-chanting, singing up the gods and goddess, is as hold as human voices. Older perhaps, I’m thinking of wolves howling here but some of you may find that too much to handle.
However, you celebrate the solstice do think of the ancient ways of humanity, where we have all come from. The old ways that celebrate the realities of the turning Earth, the patterns and rhythms of the Sun which enables Life, the seasons that give us food, beauty, challenge and delight. Whatever modern religion you currently profess, spend a moment with the Old Ones, who are the ancestors of us all. That way, we really do bring love and peace and understanding across the whole world.
Archenland, our home, is Demeter certified so every year we are inspected to make sure we are still working along sound biodynamic lines and principles. We had our annual inspection today.
Having Richard, the inspector, round is always delightful if rigorous! We know him well but that doesn’t stop him asking poking questions and making sure we actually walk our talk – which is just how it should be. The Biodynamic Association, Demeter, is always concerned that all its members actually do practice biodynamics and do it properly. They give us a set of forms to complete which ask questions about …
What we grow
What outside input we do – like manure, compost, rock dust, calcium, lime etc.
What seeds we use – they must be at least organic and preferably biodynamic
What animals we keep, if any
What our crop rotation is
How wildlife friendly the garden is
What our pest control systems are
What composting we do
And … the most important … when we have put the preps on the garden during the past year
The fundamental part of biodynamics is putting the preparations on the land and in the compost. If you don’t do this you’re not working biodynamically. The planting calendar is secondary to using the preparations. We keep records in the diary of all the stirrings we do and which beds – particularly in the case of prep 501 – we spray. It’s very useful to us as well as necessary for the inspection.
Paul also keeps detailed records of what goes on each bed, each year, in terms of …
Chicken manure – quite rare for us to be able to get
Pig manure – currently scarcer than hen’s teeth but I would like to use it, am hopeful to have a source for 2011
Homemade weed and vegetable compost
Bokashi compost & juice
Worm compost & juice
Basalt rock dust
Calcified seaweed & liquid
Local authority green manure
Nettle tea feed
Nettle tea aphid killer
Horsetail tea fungus treatment
It’s a long list but it’s all good stuff!
Richard-the-Inspector likes to walk round the garden too – interesting this time as it was, as he put it, a winter wonderland out there with best part of a foot of snow covering everything. He wasn’t able to see much but did scrape off some snow and note the good condition of the soil beneath, commenting on the good use of organic matter to retain soil friability even under these harsh conditions. We can still dig leeks without breaking them!
Richard is interested to hear how we’re finding using the rock dust – we’ve been doing it for nearly four years now – and pleased that we notice how the veg beds that have had it produce stronger, healthier plants than those that haven’t. It really seems to add to the good effect of the preparations. We were talking about how there is no “magic bullet” but learning to work all things into an integrated whole makes the difference.
Mind you, the one thing we would never drop is doing the preparations, on the soil, the plants and in the compost heaps.
We’ve been doing more cow-pat-pit and Mausdorfer this past couple of years, partly because I’ve been in and out of hospital so much with the joint-replacement operations. This has meant not only has Paul had more to do in the garden but less time to do it in because of looking after me. Using these multi-preps – each of them contains all 6 of the compost preps – has helped get compost made and, by using cow-pat-pit directly on the land, has improved the beds without all the hard work of digging in compost. Richard asked if that meant we weren’t bothering with compost. Oh no, we said, we’re still making it and still find using real compost makes even more difference than just using the cow-pat-pit, but you always have to adjust your life to your circumstances and do the best you can. The two multi-preps have made it possible to do more biodynamics than we would have otherwise been able to because of me.
That’s something that Richard understands – doing the best you can.
Demeter isn’t the Spanish Inquisition! They very well understand that Life happens. Part of Richard’s job is to know when the people he’s inspecting really are doing their best and went they’re skiving. I strongly suspect that the number of skivers in BD is extremely small but I would never say we are a perfect lot without any failings!
People who decide to go for biodynamics, like most organic gardeners, do it because they feel it in their hearts not for any other reasons. We do it because it makes our hearts sing … and there is no better reason in the world for doing anything.
It was a good, thorough and rigorous inspection … we passed muster 🙂