Thursday, 27 October 2011


Samhuinn  last from sunset on the 31st of October until sunrise on the second of of November. It is the start of the winter season.  In the Christian Calender the night of the 31st is called Allhallows the eve of All Saints Day a celebration for all those saints who do not have their own name day.  Followed by All Souls a day to celebrate the lives of all Christian dead.   These days were collectively know as Hallowmas.   Pope Bonifave 1v's  aim was to make these day holy and move away from the superstitions and  pagan belief that the margins of the otherworld parted to enable the dead, spirits and evil monsters to walked on earth on Halloween.  The Catholic Church in the 8th century was attempting to accommodating and sanctify the beliefs of the pagan converts to Christianity  .

The Celts believed that on the eve of Samhuinn  the boundaries between the living and the dead  dissolved and that the world of the past present and future merged together.  It was time when Celtic Druids would be helped by the spirits to make predictions about the future.  For those who died in past year it was a time for their families and community to celebrate their memory and also  to honour  all their ancestors.  

At Samhuinn wood was collected from every house in the community and a huge bonfire was lit to celebrate the lives of the dead and at the same time  to welcome those  who were born that year into the community.   The light of the fire  also would drive away any malicious spirits or sprites.  The fires in the houses would be extinguished at sunset on Halloween's Eve until the just before sunrise when every household would carry embers from the communal bonfire home to light a new cooking fire which would burn all winter.  This would make the home happy and free from any lost spirits.  The embers where brought home in lanterns made out of turnips sometimes called Jack 'O' Lanterns, perhaps after the lights that flickered over the peat bogs which were known by this name.

Early 20th century Jack 'O' Lantern
Some communities in Ireland would put a carved turnip lantern outside there house to scare of evil spirits.  A candle was placed inside and would be kept burning from sunset  until sunrise on Halloween   One of the visitors that they may have been wanting to ward off was stingy Jack a figure from an Irish folktale.  Jack trapped the devil twice on the second time  Jack only released the devil after he extract promises from him that the devil would never bother him again.  When he died he was refused entry into heaven because of his mean and evil ways, while the devil  still  smarting from Jack's s trickery would not let him into hell.  Stingy Jack had to roam the darkness of limbo. The devil threw at Jack a coal from hell and Jack put it into a turnip lantern to light his way.  At Halloween he wanders the world again looking for a home.

There are so many old customs around Samhuinn it would take pages to recount them all.  Samhuin, however is a time reflecting on mortality, the passing of relationships, and other life changes.  It is a time to remember to celebrate the lives of of recent dead and the older ancestors.  With the boundaries  of time suspend it is a time for divination,  I consult the I Ching, at  sunrise on the First of November.  If I look back at my journals to this date, I see that  over the years on Samhuinn I have reflected on life changes, meditated  and made plans for the future.   This year I will do the same.and I will a enjoy the candlelight, firelight, folk tales and customs of Sumhuinn.  It is also  a good time to order seeds for the spring to come, and look forward to the the return of the light.

With Reiki blessings and light
Happy Samhuinn
Merry B

Monday, 24 October 2011

The Battle of the Tansy

Over the past few weeks I have been dividing perennial herbs and plants. The first herb I tackled was the tansy growing near my shed at my plot. It had been in the ground for three years and had grown large. The Tansy grows to over a metre high and screens my sitting area from the path that goes across the top of the plot. But this year buffeted by strong winds it flopped over the path despite the being supported by a wood tripod.

On the Friday before I took on the Tansy I had been watching Carol Klein on Gardeners' World lift and divide perennials effortlessly.  So I took my fork and dug deep under the plant but it did not budge, a friend came along and started helping, then Mick came and offered to help.  Mick is a giant of a man, he was able to lift it slightly but it still stubbornly refused to shift.  An hour later and with enormous effort the plant lifted from the ground. The tansy came up so suddenly Mick fell backwards onto a black current bush.  I now have lots of cuttings!

As seen on TV I used two forks to try prise the tansy apart. The forks got wedged in the plant and would not come out .  My friend, Jenny managed to get  the forks out and break off two small pieces off the Tansy.  I then resorted to a saw but it was not strong enough for the job. So another friend, John brought a tree saw over and we managed to divide it at last into six pieces.  I kept two, Jenny had two, John has one  and I gave the last piece to  a person on a neighbouring plot. It had taken about fours hours all told to lift and divide the Tansy.

After this epic struggle I decided to  not to tackle anymore plants for a few days.  However they did needed lifting and dividing, so eventually, I decided to divided the Comfrey. I was not sure if I had  the strength to tackle this huge plant.  Armed with a fork I started to work underneath it immediately a  huge clump came out so quickly I nearly fell over.   I was expecting a lot of resistance from the roots!  The next plant was the golden marjoram which I always divide and put in the cold frame for winter. I gave it a gentle tug and it came out. So did the garlic chives,thyme and eau cologne mint.  These  I split  potted up and watered and put into the cold frame. The fennel has already been cut down so I left it in place. The last plant I wanted to move was a michlmas daisy which was put in at the bottom of the plot as a tiny cutting and now had grown to a fine plant.  It was easy to move to another place where it could be seen better when it was flowering  next the autumn. I still have some plants and herbs to pot up  for winter. But the majority are moved into new places or safe stowed in the cold frame.

The borage and purple Cosmos are still flowering and compliment each other.  Tthere are   large clumps of pot marigolds and  there are many plants of feverfew, which  has white flowers and lovely fresh green leaves.  One of the lemon balm plants is also flowering.  All these plants will continue to flower until the first hard frost.   They will be a wonderful support for the bees to help them survive the harsh weather of the winter ahead.   Except for the cosmos these plants have seeded themselves and will  be up and flowering in early Spring. Hopefully the Yarrow (achillia) will also set seeds.

My plot is a wonderfully peaceful place to be and at this time of the year because a large  number of plot holders disappear from late Summer until they pop up again in Spring.  Pops and I enjoy being there in Autumn and Winter.  The winter sun gives me a wonderful boast and I enjoy meditating on the plot in Winter. I  also like to dig and feed my  soil, trees and plants during these months.  I will  be pruning some of the fruit trees, and fruit bushes,  I will be donning gauntetse to cut back the blackberries as my plants are not thornless.  The raspberries are autumn fruiting and will not be pruned until February.   I hope  to get my plot looking neat and tidy before next Spring when my herbs and flowers will grow where they want.   The vegetables have to grow around them because flowers and herbs rule on my plot!

With Reiki Blessings and light

Merry Rambler

I give information about how to grow and use  herb here

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Wiilow - a lesson in patience

I have been growing willows on the border of one side of my plot for two years now and they are reaching skyward. Before the good weather at the end of September and beginning of October many of the leaves were turning yellow as the willow were slowly becoming dormant. The process of settling into their winter sleep has stopped and the green leaves are sparkling in the sunlight. I am enjoying these wonderful Indian summer days but I am also impatient. Why?   I want my willows to become dormant so I can begin coppice them and create some living willow structures.
If I cut the willows now the whips will grow new leaves and be weaker and will not root as well when they are planted.  In the dormant state they will root well. I must wait patiently for the weather to grow colder so I can begin my willow projects. I have been looking at the whips and have several sturdy 3 year old whips which I need to create a living seat and a woven table. I would also like to make an arbour if I have enough strong willows.   Hopefully my seat will look as good as this on made at Willow Works!  The uprights are planted about 12 - 16 inches deep (35 -45 cm).  In spring the uprights will begin growing again.

In November I should be able to begin creating the willow projects I have decided upon.  In the mean time I am collecting the tools I will need and deciding on the site for them to be placed.  It is exciting to anticipate the making of these craft objects.

Willow has been coppiced and used for furniture making, fedges, for frames, pea & bean sticks  for centuries. In Scandinavia there is research into the use of willow as a fuel in biomass power stations and it has the advantage of absorbing the carbon dioxide created when electricity is generated.  In addition willow will grow on poor boggy soil where other plants would struggle to survive.  In  the Netherlands willow and alder have been used to to protect polders from erosion by the sea for hundreds of years. One recent  use of Willow fedges  in Europe is to buffer noise and pollution along motor ways.

I am using them to create craft objects on a very small scale but it feels good to be going to coppice and harvest willows as my ancestors did and make use of them productively on my plot and for gifts for my friends.  By spring my willow hedge on the plot will have begun growing again and provide shelter for insects, mice and birds.  As well as  the flowers providing nector for the bees.  It will also give me a crop of new willow whips for more projects at the end of the 2012. I will blog next month about how my willow crafting has gone.

With Reiki Blessings and Light

See also Willow 6th February 2011