The meandering thoughts of a modern-day hearth witch.

Thursday, 25 February 2010


Oh how I love this woman’s writing. Alice Hoffman paints landscapes and sculpts characters, for the reader to become entangled with. Her stories are earthy, deep and thrum with a resounding heartbeat. As I read them I always feel, simultaneously, like I am experiencing both the sensation of a tingling summer breeze in a foreign place and the warmth of knowing I have returned home. Truly magical.

The River King did not disappoint, although it did not enthrall me quite so much as THIS ONE, which succeeded in capturing the ferocity of love, with a retelling of Wuthering Heights at its heart, and THIS ONE which was both brutal and beautiful at once. 

I am looking forward to being captivated by the next. 

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Looking out of my window

My seasonal obsession with snowdrops was surpassed this morning by the glimpse of lemon-yellow through my upstairs window. ‘Oh my goodness! Already?!’ I exclaimed, springing out of my chair and grabbing my camera. Convinced my eyes were tricking me – it must just be a piece of litter, I reasoned – it was not until I got close to the edge of the field that I believed what I thought I had seen.

Primroses.  Now don’t get me wrong; the snowdrop will always hold a special place in my heart. But these beauties filled me with glee. Their delicate petals were sprinkled with dew drops as I crouched alongside them in the morning sunshine; I could only hope my trusty macro lens would capture their fragility.

Around thirty shots later, I still wasn’t satisfied. It would seem no matter what angle I tried, I couldn’t quite do their beauty justice. No still image was enough to demonstrate this little wonder of nature. 

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Going bananas!

I thought I would post a simple recipe for banana cake: the perfect way to use up overripe bananas that you wouldn’t otherwise eat. This quick and easy recipe makes a deliciously moist cake with next to no effort.

You will need the following ingredients:

2 very ripe bananas
4 oz butter or margarine
6 oz sugar (most sugars will do, I use unrefined caster sugar)
8 oz self-raising flour
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp honey

Pre-heat the oven to 180˚c (gas mark 4)
Grease a 2lb loaf tin.
Mash the banana in a bowl and keep to one side.
Cream together the butter and sugar.
Break the eggs and beat into the mix.
Add the vanilla essence, cinnamon, honey and mashed banana.
Fold in the flour gently.
Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the oven for 40 minutes.

Enjoy with a cup of cinnamon tea or a mug of hot chocolate. Perfect for a Saturday afternoon!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Brightening my desktop today...

...are these glorious tulips. B surprised me with them a couple of days ago and they add a cheery spot of colour to my workspace.

What a treat to look up amidst the flurry of coursework marking to see these gems blooming. 

Smiles all round. Note to self: must take care not to be over-generous with grades!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Rune of the week

Although I don’t often use tools for divination, preferring to focus my craft on visualisation and healing using herbs, candles and crystals, a friend blessed me with a beautiful set of runes carved in pieces of amethyst. Occasionally, I will have a particular question that I wish for a little help with, and I will cast the runes for inspiration and guidance. I do not consider this practice as one which presents ‘the answer’: I often find, however, that the process of thinking through the various aspects that the runes ‘suggest’ will help me come to a decision.

I was not planning to do a reading today, although there is a significant question about the next steps on my path which has recently come to the forefront of my mind. As if reminding me that they are there to help, my little velvet pouch of runes came tumbling out of my desk drawer as I was searching for a notebook. Five of the stones spilled onto the floor and I took it as a sign that these particular runes could offer guidance with my question.

My favourite rune was the first to present itself and it is the meaning of this one I will share with you today.

Gyfu (or gebo) : The literal translation of this letter is ‘gift’.  It is an auspicious rune, representing love, partnership, forgiveness and gifts (meaning either presents, windfalls or abilities and skills).
This rune advises the reader to show compassion, declare love without fear and embrace the gifts of partnership.  As forgiveness is perhaps the greatest and most difficult of gifts to give or receive, the rune reminds us that true union cannot exist without it. Any gift presents the individual with the choice to accept or reject: if you accept you must be prepared to give in return.  Furthermore, the rune encourages the reader to be discriminate in giving; you must decide when and to whom it is suitable to give.

If this rune lands face down, it advises to think twice about romance and partnerships as gifts which are presented may not be what they seem. 

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Make do and mend

Recycling is so much more enjoyable when you get the second use out of something. I take my cans, bottles, plastic, paper and card down to the local recycling centre; I take old clothes to charity shops and pass books along to friends. However, knowing I have got as much use out of something as I possibly can, rather than discarding it because it is getting worn or tatty gives me real pleasure.

My parents and grandparents' generations embraced this ‘make do and mend’ attitude wholeheartedly, yet it is something that a lot of people today have little concept of. It seems to me that many are too eager to have the next model, the newest piece of technology, the latest design and simply throw away those which no longer fit with their forward-thinking aesthetic. As a country we waste so much and it is rapidly becoming a real bug-bear of mine.

This week’s small step towards wasting less was inspired by the growing collection of empty jars in my kitchen cupboards. These come in handy for mixing salad dressings in, storing pins and buttons or adding a sweet shabby-chic touch to the house, dotted about with tea-lights in. Taking this one step further, I thought I could make them into longer-lasting lanterns, by melting down some old candles and a little wax I had spare in my craft box.

I simply melted the wax into a liquid, using a glass measuring jug sitting in a heated water-bath on the hob. The wicks were taken out of the old candles carefully (you can buy full lengths of wick from any good craft shop if you prefer) and tied in place within the jar. The melted wax was then poured in and left to cool until set.

Et voila! Recycled candles in recycled jars. 

Simple pleasures

After a day spent spring cleaning, crafting and pottering around the house, this is what I would love to be doing.

Sadly my partner in crime and scrabble is away this evening and I don’t quite feel desperate enough (yet) to play against myself. 

B thinks that I love playing scrabble with him because I win every time. However, this is not quite the case. I enjoy our games so much because they symbolise a connection. Not only are we having fun creating memories together; we are also interacting, chatting and thinking.

Chaucer used the 'game of chess' as an allegory for love, but I think scrabble fits equally well. We anticipate each others' moves, think carefully about what the other person has written and respond accordingly - sometimes having to compromise. I'm not suggesting either of us is out to 'win' in our relationship but I like the fact that this particular game struggles to work without equal participation. If one of us does not put down good words, the other has difficulty playing as a result and the web of letters fails to grow.

Tonight, however, as I just have my radio for company and a glass of wine, it’s time to delve into a good book instead. These are simple pleasures that I feel moderately less guilty than normal revelling in – it is half-term after all. Bliss. 

Monday, 15 February 2010


It may still be chilly and grey but boy is there change in the air. An abundance of life is flourishing around us –steadfastly weathering those pesky February frosts that threaten to quash it. But oh no, it will not be beaten. Like Persephone, battling her way back from the Underworld, these little signs of life are defiant: Spring is coming.

This week I have watched the little flock of sheep that inhabit a small enclosure at my school very closely – they have a definite glint in their eyes and a frolic in their step as they charge about. What a change from their huddled ‘scrum’ stance of a mere week ago! On the farmyard, the rooster has taken to crowing louder than ever and chasing the lady hens. 

Everywhere you look there are signs of flora and fauna coming out of hibernation.

The hedgerow is teeming with signs of new life. It is joyous to see so much green again.

And in my parents’ garden my favourite tree is beginning to reawaken, reminding us of the perpetual cycle of life and nature.

Even little Cleo got caught up in the air of spring liveliness, bounding around in a flurry of madness, chasing leaves and sticks.


Saturday, 6 February 2010


I don’t normally do anything to mark Valentine’s Day; I don’t think demonstrations of love and affection are something we should feel cajoled into by people around us – particularly now that they seem to be defined by spending excessive amounts of money on meaningless gifts.  I am aware that I am beginning to sound like Scrooge so I hope the following will provide better explanation...

In a particularly artistic moment earlier this week, I felt that I wanted to take the time to make something special for my ‘someone special’. This was an organic impulse, sprouting from the simple desire to make him smile and put to work the creative spark which has been squashed beneath mountains of coursework marking, assessments and planning over recent weeks.  

The resulting gift is simple and cost nothing but the materials I already had in my craft box yet I hope it demonstrates my feelings.  I wanted to give him something which had careful thought and personal touch put into it and was created out of a love I feel on any given day, rather than when there is external pressure to show it. 

Thursday, 4 February 2010


It has been a funny old week. Change is afoot in my department at school, with new appointments being made and colleagues moving on. Unsettling as this may be, I have found myself taking a strange kind of reassurance from it; ironically it has reminded me that one thing we can be sure of is change itself.

At exactly this time last year, I took a giant leap towards changing my own life.  It was at the beginning of February that I applied for and was given my current job. Having begun planting and putting down the roots of my teacher training during the previous autumn, it was with the first signs of spring that I began to see the results and the pathway I was about to take began unravelling before me.

It comes as little surprise to me now that this time of year often brings new growth and development. As the seasons change, the light increases and the earth warms, we find ourselves waking up and taking our first steps towards the year’s goals.

It is this awakening that I celebrate at Imbolc – the midpoint between winter and spring. ‘Imbolc’ originates from the Celtic ‘Oimelc’ (‘ewe’s milk’); the festival which falls on February 1st or 2nd is so named because the life-giving flow of milk heralds the return of spring. This sabbat is in honour of Brigid, goddess of the hearth and bringer of fire to warm the frozen earth. 

Having no open fire in my cottage, this year I saw fit to create a symbolic hearth to which I could invite Brigid. This was a simple ritual, using materials I could gather from around the home and hedgerow.

Firstly, I chose the point in my home which I feel is its centre. The living area downstairs is actually the lowest point in the cottage and feels closest to the earth; this is where we naturally gravitate towards for comfort and relaxation.

I then filled the space with white candles, to represent the coming light. On a small table in the space, I placed a red pillar candle, which would represent the flames of fire and surrounded it with stones gathered over the years, to represent the hearth.

Now, I rarely cast a formal circle but as this was the first time I had called upon Brigid and the first time I had used this particular space for magick, I thought it would be appropriate. Previously I had used the wind vane in the farmyard to check my directions, however we have since discovered it is out of sync so my partner insists on checking North on his iPhone compass. Granted, this is not the most traditional method but it definitely comes under the heading of ‘practical magick’.

In spite of this preparation, however, my first attempt to cast a circle in a long while was not without its hiccups.  I really hope I’m not alone in being over the age of eight and still having to think hard about which is East and which is West. Not the best trait in a witch.  Having apologised to the elemental guardians and rearranged my incense and my water goblet, we could finally begin.

The ritual was a simple one; I asked Brigid to bless our home and hearth with her warmth and light and thanked her for the return of Spring. I then cast a small spell for a positive attitude and the creation of happy memories as the year unfolds. Finally, we gathered around our ‘hearth’ and ate a traditional Imbolc feast of roast lamb.

Later in the evening, long after it had gone dark, we used our hearth flame to light the candle of our lantern, which we took for a walk down to the nearby river. Placing an incense stick in the earth on the riverbank and with our lantern aglow, we had the four elements surrounding us once more. As cold as the night was, there was a warmth in that moment: one beautiful memory already created.
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