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Posts Tagged ‘garden’

I wanted to use my patio table as a temporary altar to do some work under the full moon. I had forgotten the potatoes I harvested and left there (oops). Then I realized this was perfect! My magic could tap into that fertile potato crop energy. With a clear sky, a bright moon, and a chorus of crickets, I set to work with the help of the potatoes that I lovingly tended for several months. I still have some dirt under my fingernails to prove it! My time outside with the moon and my spirit allies was fantastic. One of the best solo rites I’ve performed in awhile. I felt so connected and in the moment. It’s exactly what I needed.

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Full Moon Rite with Potatoes – Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019

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My old herbal stash. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019

In what seems like a never-ending quest to better organize our small home, I decided an herbal cleanse was in order. I mean that very literally in that it was time go through my old trunk of herbs and sundry. I’ve learned over the years that there is an optimal way to store dried plants. They also lose potency, especially if you intend to use them as food, drink, or medicine.

As a younger Druid-in-training, I had so much to learn. I frequently bought interesting baggies of herbs at metaphysical shops. I had a favorite stall at the Sterling Renaissance festival, and I tried to buy one or two samples every year. I clung to these purchases like talismans of witch cred. Simply having them made me feel more magical, at least for a moment. I seldom did anything with the herbs. I occasionally made an herbal sachet or dream pillow, but most accumulated in the trunk. Even as I grew, however humbly, in my Druidry, folk magic, and herbal know-how, the trunk has followed me around. An item of nostalgia.

Until a few days ago.

I went through it, examining each specimen, remembering where I obtained it. Some were from witchcraft shops no longer in existence. Some came from my very first herb garden. There were rose petals from a young man I kissed one summer long ago. Oak leaves picked up and crushed… because I never had any of those trees where I grew up, so I collected whenever I could.

I put many of the ancient herbs in my compost pile. It seemed appropriate to return these dead plants to the Earth. They can help me grow new herbs in the future. As I worked, I developed a composting prayer:

 

Stem to soil
Bark to brown
Wilt to worms
Break it down! 

 

(I did put a few herbs in the fire pit which was probably not the best idea as they made a lot of smoke at first!)

I did keep a few things: plants that, now that we’re reacquainted, truly are appropriate for talismans rather than consuming. I have some mistletoe, which is steeped in lore, and is not something I’ve encountered in my own surroundings before. I also have a dried fly agaric which I’m very fond of. I rediscovered some chunks of dragons blood purchased at a shop in Salem, MA, and I even have a baggie of shed Arctic fox fur (an animal sanctuary sold little samples of it as a way to raise funds). I mean… you never know when you’ll need these things, right?!

As someone who converted to a polytheistic path over several years, it can be fascinating, humbling, and hilarious to look back at my journey. I prefer keeping my herbs in glass jars now, though I do need to improve my usage and not horde them so much. I also strive to grow or forage for most of what I utilize, but I’m not above buying a hard-to-find specimen from a trusted source who ethically harvests plants.

Do any of you have old herbs stashed away in baggies, forgotten or horded for some unknown purpose? Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate how you work with herbs and do your own herbal cleanse!

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Newly cut roses for Airmed. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

Summer is here, and that means I’m in and out of my garden multiple times a day. Gardens take work, but it’s a relaxing, uplifting labor or love. I often find myself lost in contemplation. I thought about how it’s a perfect metaphor for my religion, but then I realized that it is my religion. Although my Druidry is culturally focused on Irish traditions, it always comes back to the land I live on.

In Druidry, we honor the Ancestors. Most of my ancestors lived in Europe, with a great many coming from the northern parts – Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany, and Norway. I think of how they interacted with the land (without romanticizing it). I study the plants they worked with, their land-based symbolism, their agricultural cycles, and how they interacted with land spirits. Some of my ancestors moved to the United States to seek new opportunities. I know that some came here to farm, to brew, and cook. I delight in learning how they did things and adapted to North America. I look to the ancestors of this land I now live on. I try to learn about and respect how the indigenous cultures live and work with the land. I try to learn about the spirits in their traditions so I don’t insult them. I strive to honor them in my own way with acknowledgement and my efforts to restore native species of plants to my yard. I try to keep abreast of issues that are important to the tribes who live in Upstate NY. It’s a never-ending effort of respect for the land and the people who lived here first.

In Druidry, we honor the Deities. I honor the Tuath Dé Danann, with emphasis on Brigid, but also a lot of work with Airmed, An Cailleach, An Dagda, Angus, Lugh, An Morrígan,  and Manannán mac Lir. They are mostly deities of cultural elements, but they also have strong land associations. Many have lore-based connections to plants or animals. Their sacred spaces are based in the land, sea, and sky of Ireland and surrounding countries. How can I connect with them in Upstate NY? The Celts migrated in the past, so I believe I can connect to the deities just as they did*. One way is by respectfully creating shrines on the land where I live. One of my favorite, most meaningful offerings are the plants I grow.

That brings me to the third arm of Druidry – honoring the land spirits. I’m mostly focused on the actual spirits of this place – seen and unseen. When it comes to the unseen, I’m specifically referring to the spirit of the soil, the trees, the overall forest here, etc. Not really the Good Folk, but that is a big gray area (see link below)**. When I interact with the tools and ingredients my ancestors knew and loved, I also interact with the land. I must consider what is and isn’t invasive and damaging to this land. When I visit cemeteries to honor the dead, I also honor the land they are becoming. As I grow food for my family, I know that I will go into the soil and contribute to the cycle one day. When I erect shrines for the deities, I work with the land. When I create spiritual tools, I strive to respectfully wildcraft what I can, and then use materials ethically obtained. I avoid working with certain objects due to mining, over harvesting, etc. When I lead rituals with my grove, we are interacting with an older cultural tradition, but also integrating it with the rhythms of this land.

It all comes back to the land. Gardening, and the many other ways I work to live in better harmony with the earth, is me living my Druidry. As we move into more challenging, uncertain times, I pray that my relationship improves and helps me and my family adapt.

 

*The topic of immigrants interacting with deities from another land is a huge topic best for another post.

** Are land spirits and fairies the same thing? Here’s a great discussion on that huge topic.

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Happy green moss growing between the cement slabs. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

One of the reasons we bought our home is because we loved the back patio and garden area. However, we are not keen on how the stones were placed. There are large slabs of cement with wide gaps in between. Previous owners put gravel in the spaces, but it doesn’t stay, especially during winter. I am constantly toiling to keep the plants that grow between the stones at a manageable height. It makes me feel bad, but I do pull plants that get too high. Last year, around early autumn, I transplanted my hanging strawberry plants and their babies into the ground to start a strawberry bed. As I dug, I felt guilty for displacing some moss. I moved it into the patio area between the cracks. I was inspired by one section that had some moss in it. I thought it looked nice and wanted to experiment. Months later, you can see how well the moss took to its new environment above. It’s spreading its fuzzy green wings.

Newly transplanted moss. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

Some neglected pots of soil developed their own layer of moss. I decided to move them to the patio cracks. Grow into a happy patch, little moss! Of course, I  seek their permission first, then sing to them as I give them an offering of water to help them settle into their new home.

A naturally occurring cushion moss in a patio crack. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

Some mosses have happily developed here on their own. They like the sandy, acidic soil and partial shade. Check out this gorgeous, verdant cushion moss! Many of these specimens, undisturbed from my refusal to use weed killers, are cheerfully releasing little spores to spread some fuzzy love.

Nettle (center), moss, and wood sorrel. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

As with any garden work, I  learn more about the land and the other plants that are growing here as I work and explore. The more I learn about Japanese gardens, the more I’m intrigued with the idea of transforming the land but working to do so in a way that maintains harmony. When you slow down instead of hack and slash everything without observing, you may miss blessings from spirits all too willing to work with you.

I recently saw a witch post on social media about how plants and fungi she wanted to cultivate are suddenly growing in her yard! I feel as if I’m experiencing a similar blessing. I’ve longed to find nettle for years. I sought it in the hedges near my old apartment, where I was lucky to discover numerous other plant allies. Last year, I thought I found it, but was not convinced.Over the winter, I considered buying some seeds. As you may know from my Instagram, I recently found it growing along my fence! Yesterday, as I transplanted moss from a pot, I felt a sting. At first I worried I’d disturbed a bee, but nope! I quickly realized I brushed against a tiny nettle who had taken up residence in the pot along with the moss. Well hello there, wee one! Don’t worry. I’m not moving you anywhere. In fact, you can have that whole pot. Welcome!

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Like most Americans, I grew up hearing people moan about weeds. My grandmother, an avid gardener, was fussy. She didn’t want anything growing between the cracks of her sidewalk. When she still lived at home, she often poured boiling water over unwanted plants. Old fashioned, effective, relatively eco-friendly in terms of chemical use, but laborious. At the same time, she was the first to teach me about foraging and herbalism. She had a respect for the plant world, but wanted control over what grew where in her yard, as many do.  Myself included to an extent! My mother and father have been more relaxed about it. They prefer hand weeding and mulching, but don’t get hung up on dandelions and other diversity in the yard. My mother was always delighted to get bouquets of dandelions, and she taught us to make wishes when they went to seed. Her tolerance transferred to me, but magnified to a deeper respect for plants like dandelions – plants that not only are beautiful in their own ways, but very nutritious for us and pollinators like bees.

Since my early forays into gardening, I’ve been reading about herbs, and that also lead me to foraging. I’m in no way an expert. I have so much to learn about living in harmony with the natural world while also keeping my “territory” safe for my family and veggie patch. You can imagine my horror as I looked out my window to see my new neighbor spraying chemicals on the dandelions and clovers this spring. I’m, shall we say, friendly with weeds?

I actually dislike the word “weed,” but it’s easier than saying “plants growing where I don’t exactly want them.” I suppose I should just call them “wild plants.” The more I learn, walking through my yard is like browsing a grocery store. It’s not just “grass” or “lawn.” I can name much of the flora. Not all, and don’t ask me for Latin names… like I said. Not an expert. Weeding my veggie patch is an interesting mental process for me. It must be done. Just as I do not want fleas on my cats, I understand that my veggies will be less successful with too much competition. And yet, I have internal conversations like this:

“Oooh, lamb’s quarters! I’ll let you grow for now, but I’m coming back for you later. You’re going in a stir fry…”

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My sandy, yet flourishing, herb spiral.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2018.

I made a deal with the crabgrass today. I know it will die off in the autumn, but for now, its roots are helping to prevent soil erosion in my fledgling herb garden. The soil here is very sandy in places. I have my work ahead of me, but for this year, I’m accepting the crabgrass in the bare spots to keep things together when I water. I told the grass, “I’ll let you grow here for now, as long as you aren’t right next to the herbs. In exchange, you need to accept my haircuts!”  Yeah, I’d rather not have seeds settle in there.  I’ll plan to fill those areas in with something else next year.

I did tear plenty out around the lavender, though.

While my family is cultivating parts of the yard for food, we understand the importance of buffer zones for native species and pollinators. The back of our yard, right up by the stone border separating us from the cemetery, is filled with all manner of plants. I needed to see who was there before making decisions about what I want to do with that area. However, one corner is for the pollinator garden (or the “fairy garden” as my daughter likes to call it). We’ve dedicated it to the local spirits. Unless guided to do so, we are not taking anything from it for ourselves. I’ve since learned there are raspberries growing there. They are for the birds. We’ve planted bee balm, purple and yellow cone flowers, and lavender hyssop. Some other plants are starting to grow there, too. I’m carefully weeding so that the native varieties are able to flourish.

Elsewhere in the yard, we also leave patches of clover alone for the most part. The previous owners had a big dog, and he dug massive holes around the yard.  Before we finalized the purchase, they helpfully filled those in for safety, but we had big sandy patches all over.  We let crabgrass and flowering plants take those areas for now and just let them go nuts.  It’s better looking than sandy spots.  I’ve noticed many happy bees, and they bring their joy to our veggie and herb patches. It’s a win-win!  In the meantime, I continue to study foraging, learning what I can eat, how it impacts everything else in the yard, and am even dipping my toes into permaculture.

That said, if we get something really dangerous, I’ll probably follow my grandmother’s lead and bring out the tea kettle…

 

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We already went to the cider mill a couple weeks ago. It’s become an important autumn tradition to my family since we moved up here. The apple cider and donuts are decadent! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2017

Today is the Autumn Equinox.  It was chilly when I went outside to perform my morning devotional.  The leaves are changing.  Apples are ready to harvest in Upstate NY.  Be that as it may, our afternoons have felt particularly summery lately.  It’s tempting to run off to the beach this weekend, but I think we’ll return to our favorite local cider mill instead.

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The oak tree starting to change over our work-in-progress compost pile. Time to toss more brown matter on top! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2017

We’re mostly settled into our new home. There are still some boxes to sort through and rooms to organize, but at least we’re all moved in! As with all of life’s great changes, moving has disrupted my personal practice. I’m only starting to reestablish my routines, but it’s been difficult when my altar is still in a state of flux. That said,  I have everything I need  to engage with my spirit allies and give gratitude. That’s a huge part of what the Autumn Equinox means to me – giving thanks for what we’ve harvested all season.

 

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My outdoor shrine at the moment. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2017

In the meantime, I’ve set up an evolving shrine in my backyard.  The yard is one thing I’ve “harvested” that I’m particularly grateful for. It may not be acre upon acre of forest, but it’s safe for my daughter and relatively private. I have shaded areas thanks to some lovely trees, and I have sunny spaces for a garden. I plan to plant a small grove of trees in the back. There is a lot of untapped magical potential in the land. As much of nature prepares to sleep, I’m excited to see what will grow in the spring. I look forward to working with the land to create even more fertile spaces for my family and the nature spirits who already live here.

I’m grateful to my little container garden. We had a good harvest of potatoes and snow peas this year. I also have a decent pot of sage, and even some dill. We grew more tomatoes last year; moving really distracted me from carefully tending the garden as usual. Still, I’m pleased with what we have and the lessons I learned.

Finally, I’m grateful for the house itself! Last year, I didn’t think home ownership would be in the cards for another decade. My husband and I have worked so hard paying off debt, managing our money, and making ends meet. I may not have much of a literal harvest this year, but what did come into fruition is pretty darn spectacular!

I hope my readers have a very blessed Equinox!

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As Lughnasadh starts to turn us towards the Autumn Equinox, and as it is the beginning of the major harvests, I find myself reflecting on the successes and failures of our little container garden. Each year, we learn more about our plant allies. Each year, through a mixture of experience and research, we recognize opportunities for growth and improvement.

I harvested several red potatoes this year. This is a better yield compared to last year! Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016

I also picked our onions and hung them to dry out a little. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016.

We gave offerings to the local spirits in gratitude for our bounty. Photo by Grey Catsidhe 2016.

Not pictured is the basket of tomatoes we gathered, mostly from my husband’s hydroponic buckets. In addition, I also gathered some basil and sage which I hung to dry. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to contribute to our own cupboards. 

I’m also thinking on my metaphorical harvest. I’ve had a fairly productive and joyful summer. My family hasn’t faced as many struggles this season. I have had more opportunities to do things that make my soul sing. I have room to improve, but the harvest is stil good. As we move toward Autumn, I’m already preparing a fall garden. I’m also making new goals – things to sew, books to finish, essays to write… May my next harvest be just as, or more, successful! 

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