Midsummer Musings

Re-posted from last Midsummer (2011)

The early morning sun, high in the North, burns a blaze of fiery orange as he rises above the crest of rocky, densely forested hills to the East. A haze hangs over everything; the dogs are listless from the get-go, the air is redolent with new mown hay, and even the robin seem too lazy to sing his usual morning song. I’ve been at work for three hours now, and done not half of what I usually accomplish. I’m sweaty, a little grouchy but deeply blissed out at the same time – it’s a humid, pre-storm morning in the Gatineau Hills, squarely between the Fairy magic of Midsummer and the glorious revelry of Lammas.

We had a lovely and magical Midsummer this year. Alex drove me around looking (in vain) for St.John’s wort, but I did gather a little yarrow, and plenty vervain, cinquefoil and rue… made a solar cross myself from vine in our back yard (I’ve made many before but purchased the materials)…started all my rose work….a lovely time. I miss having a circle with fellow Pagans, but I never let that stop me from deep celebration and attunement.

A few Midsummer pics:

Solar Cross in Eastern window

At Midsummer, reflection on purification, reinforcement of protection, and above all, fairy-magic.
It was a good one, this year, and I hope yours was as well.

Mallow and White Pine

The name of this blog refers to the two plant allies I am working with this year – although they have long been friends, and I trust and love them deeply, this is the year I decided to honour their Medicine and deepen my relationship, by working with both as Allies. For those who might not know what I mean by that, more later. For now, a simple introduction to  the Medicine.

White Pine (Pinus strobus) was my first ally, when I started working in this way with plants and trees.It was Susun Weed’s writings that started to shift my relationship to plants from “things to get constituents out of ” and  magical correspondences, to the way I relate to, love and understand them now. For many years I fancied myself a bit of a herbalist; to be fair, I had walked around this area for a decade with my Peterson Field guides and  well worn copies of John lust in my backpack – I could tell you the common names (and a few Latin) of most of the usual field and roadside plants – and add in a couple f uses as well. I proudly made mullein ear oil for the dogs and a blend of chapparal, echinacea and I-forget-what now, that I got from Jeanne Rose’s section on herbal help for animals. I could certainly tell you what storebought and usually trendy herb to get for your arthritic dog, or your own upset tummy…I had a dozen herbals and a pretty expansive knowledge of magical uses. The store I worked in, lat 1980s, had a line up from Acacia to Yohimbe, in glass jars right in the front window(a pretty bad place, if I may say so in retrospect). In my work with dogs, I’d grown accustomed to using the same dozen commercial herbs over and over. Plus, I had a working knowledge of about 20 Essential Oils, mostly blending them into formulas for such thing as anointing candles at Beltane or Yule.

I had no idea how much there was to learn.

I can’t recall just why I started the ABCs of Herbalism  with Susun, but it was at a time when I felt I needed to ground my magical practise in something immediate and lived – “magic” per se felt like it was becoming a little abstracted and remote, whereas I prefer a green Witch, Earth Path kind of approach, weaving magic into cooking, caring for animals, even cleaning and organizing my home, and Susun’s straightforward and down-to-earth method of teaching appealed to that. I started with the idea of an Ally, rather hesitantly – what could I say to a TREE? It’s weird to look back on that now and wonder, whatever was I thinking, I mean I spoke with ancient deities, the Fae and Spirits of the Land all the time, but still somehow saw plants as inanimate objects. It goes to show how deeply our attitudes toward life and the Green World really are inculcated! As I found out, it was not so much what I could say to a tree, but of course, what he said to me, and how my process of hearing unfolded..

And so I started thinking about just this one tree, in a different way. Doing the daily breathe-with exercise. Speaking to him, learning his ways. Slowly making medicines – pine needle tea and vinegar,  salve from overflowing resin and needles infused in almond oil, baking crushed needles into shortbread and quickbreads (with varying results). I learned as much as I could about the species (I’m good at things like that) learned to make things with needle and resin (I’m ok at things like that) and then I waited for some gnosis to strike me, so I’d *get* this “plant shaman thing.” (I am terrible at waiting).

I won’t try to sum up such a long and lovely unfolding of  relationship here. I’ll just make a start with the first thing I really *saw* –  and I’ve practised augury of various kinds for decades – I needed something concrete and unmistakable to wake up, an I think the Pine-being knew that. So one morning several years ago, I was out poking around the edge of the property – where my one White Pine presides, and found this on the ground in front of me, unavoidable, plain as the day.

you can’t see it here, but this was a perfect length and shape (forked end) for a stang. So now it looks like this:

Well, actually it’s been further stripped and sanded, and is awaiting  adornment (I don’t make enough time for this aspect of my life) but I don’t  have a newer photo, and this one has my beautiful cat Sita Mari in it, plus my Temple door and groovy Qabalah print (from my BOTA days). . So it shows the gift of pine..that started opening me to hearing plant spirit speaking.

For those who don’t know what a stang is, a good description can be found  here:  http://www.traditionalwitchcraft.com/Stang

Now it is years later and while I put aside the Ally work for a while, to focus on cramming as much book-learning into my head as possible(and yes, some medicine making and wildcrafting as well) I have come to immersion in the deep wisdom of the Ally. Althea had a great part to play in that realization, as did my Silver Maple tree…but enough for now. This blog is about process, healing, magic, beauty, and finding one’s purpose at whatever stage of life. It’s about perserverance and strength with a touch of softness, like both Mallow and White Pine. It’s about opening to spirit in places you had not thought were there. It’s about plants, animals and one woman’s journey.  May you find your own Allies and love them as I do my own.

Healing the Healer

The beeswax candle that stands beside the old bathtub is carved all the way around with leaves and flowers, its gentle, soulstirring fragrance wafting through the open window to the sky and birds beyond. Around it, she has arranged small but potent emblems of her connection to the Divine Feminine, the Source of her magic and mysticism. Every room in the house features some corner of this presence, from the  vibrant yellow and amber of the bedroom’s central shrine to the downstairs hallway table that seemed to decide it was an altar to the seasons, all on its own; to the small sacred items tucked into the large bookcase filled with cookbooks in the kitchen.. The bathroom, a sanctuary of  rare quietude and sweet relaxation, has the candle, and a little pot of amber salve made by a Sister; a tiny fluorite pyramid; many carefully selected crystals, an incense burner with the finest rose stick available;  a pouch of pine and juniper for incense. A few inches away sits a glass bottle with a well loved oil blend; pomegranate, rosehip, macadamia nut and a little blue chamomile for its extra healing power. A crystal dish holds sugars mixed with tamanu and apricot oils, to slough away the tired world and dry tired skin along with it.. In individual bottles, lavender, rose, neroli, clary sage and bergamot line the edge of the tub. An antique bowl holds fine French clay mixed with arrowroot, ground calendula and lavender, and rose.  A faint but stimulating scent of patchouli and vanilla from bars of exquisitely made soap fill one corner of the room. Dried hyssop in a bundle with rosemary,tied with white silk thread and consecrated to Matrona,  hang from above the small corner of indulgence. Rose and white birch hand creme graces the windowledge along with a broken, but cherished antique brass mirror.

Another antique, beloved amethyst glass,  holds a few sprigs of rosemary, juniper and one perfect  jonquil from the first blossomings of spring.

Tired and yet filled with the satisfaction of purpose and meaningful work,  the Healer climbs the stairs , leaving behind clients and courses and questions and  needy little fur-beings – to  curl into herself, into warmth and beauty and the soft glow of candles reflecting an owl’s call not far away.

Attention to both self and detail  build the Beauty element of the  herbalist’s way, bring its sweet essence alive and into the lived, day by day moments of  her world. Downstairs,  two long sideboards serve as cupboards for home made tinctures of all description –  yarrow, elder, Solomon’s Seal, elecampane and burdock, echinacea and ground ivy and plantain and goldenrod, vervain and St. John’s Wort and aspen, hawthorn and rose, rose, rose…elixirs of pine needle and rose petal and cardamom and elderberry –  dried leaves roots and flowers, lined up with care and love and an eye for the aesthetic. Bottles of infusing oil promise sweet massages, eased soreness, future salves, balms and perfumes.  Brand new dropper bottles, scales, beeswax and mango butter, vinegars and lozenges – downstairs is the healing she gives mostly to others…the partner with aching feet and skin rashes, the wheezing asthmatic cat, the sensitive dog who runs a little too hot for his best state of being, the old one with a fragile heartbeat, the blind horse who follows her and stops/starts at her least whisper of guidance. Downstairs are the stacks of texts and papers and binders and class notes and case studies and fresh plants, seedlings, twigs and branches and first aid kits and FOOD. It is work – a lot of work! but work lovingly and heart-fully undertaken with all her heart. Still, it can deplete and diminish if she is not mindful and willing to give back to her self.  The bathroom, the southfacing private bedroom with it’s long days of sun and  magnificent view of the heavens each night, the consecrated temple with the scent of sandalwood, cedar and rose seemingly  woven into every blessed and purposeful item – these are the places of nourishment and love she cultivates for herself alone.

But is it every really for us alone? The time and care I give to the small bits of beauty around me – to plumping of pillows and polishing kettles – is time that heals my Soul, restores my peace of mind and strengthens me – so I can continue my work, passing on healing love and care to others. The cup I carry my steaming herbal tea up to bed in is special and used only for that purpose.  If beauty is harmony, then the inner state I achieve with each quiet corner of space and time brings harmony to my very core and balances my world. As much as the herbs I infuse and partake of daily, the half hour of stretching or the insistence on regular sleep, Beauty in my environment nourishes my being on every level. Words, song, food, space and quietude, gentle fragrance – plus a few small sprigs of jonquil in bloom – balm for the soul  and spirit.