Thursday, 29 December 2016

Bring Back Twelfth Night!

I hope you have had a lovely Yuletide and are enjoying your holiday.
     I know that a lot of people will have had to go back to work already, that is one of the drawback's of industrialisation - factories work continually, so people have to work continually to keep them going. And because they are working, they expect services to be working too. And everyone has to buy stuff, so shops have to be open.
    And, of course, there are some things that need continual attention - you can't stop looking after children, the elderly or animals, they still want caring for and feeding. Police, ambulances, medical staff and fire services etc will always have to be ready to leap into action as and when necessary.
     However I still feel that it is a shame that the tradition of the twelve days of christmas is largely forgotten, and instead we really have the two days of christmas and then everyone can't wait to start ripping down their decorations and getting 'back to normal'.
     We all know the song The Twelve Days of Christmas:
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree

    Even if we are not always entirely sure just how many Lords-a-leaping or Swans-a-swimming were given on which day.
     Incidentally when I worked for the Straven Knitwear factory in Alford (Lincolnshire) many years ago, my Christmas party piece involved the local Louth Standard newspaper. I would open the paper at the classified adverts pages and give a rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas based on items from that section.So you might get:
Twelve bales of hay,
Eleven ladies stockings,
Ten tractor seats,
Nine best meat pies,
Eight trays of eggs,
Seven brace of pheasants,
and so on .... A modern version could make use of Google Adverts.
     The midwinter festival was always a celebration that went on over an extended period of days.
     The Romans had Saturnalia which went from the 17th to the 23rd of December then ran into further celebrations including Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun on the 25th.
     This evolved into our Twelve Days of Christmas - although there is some dispute whether these start with Christmas day, or with Christmas Eve, or even with Boxing Day. But it is generally thought that Twelfth Night will cover the evening of the 5th of January, the eve of Epiphany when the Wise Men took gifts to the infant Jesus. And in Italy that is the night when Befana flies through the skies on her broomstick, delivering gifts to every child.
      Midwinter in a farming community is a time when there is minimal work to do on the land. The harvest has been gathered in and there is a glut of meat and stored fruit and veg - some of which might be showing signs of going off. So rather than sling it out, make the most of it with a time of extended feasting - there is a lot of meat on a single animal, pig, sheep or cow, enough to feed a whole community. So why not have a feast and invite all the neighbours in.
     Of course it is a myth that everyone was on holiday and that no-one was doing any work. Who was doing the cooking? The serving? The washing up? The preparations for the next feast?
     And of course the animals still needed feeding and cleaning out and milking, even if they were in stables and fields near the home, rather than out on the hills.
     In Victorian times (and into the 20th century) butchers and bakers would be open and busy on christmas day. In 'A Christmas Carol' by Dickens, on christmas morning Scrooge instructs a boy to go and buy a large turkey from the butcher to send to Bob Cratchett and his family. And the bakers were open to produce the daily bread and also their ovens were often where families would take their christmas poultry to be cooked.
     But it was still twelve days when fun, feasting and friendship were emphasised. Culminating in the last great feast on Twelvth Night itself.
     As this was the last day of this mega-festival, Twelfth Night was the climax of the festival, and a night when all inhibitions were cast aside. Masters and servants exchanged places. The ruler of the feast was chosen by whoever found a special token (usually a bean) in the Twelfth Night Cake. And whatever orders were given by the King and Queen of Twelfth Night, would be carried out with great laughter.
     So maybe the twelve days of mid-winter sloth is a myth.
     But how on earth have we managed to forget a great excuse for a party?!
     Bring back Twelfth Night! says I.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Bird Spottering

We have just got back from a quick trip to the shops - bread and milk were running low, and we fancied a little trip out anyway. Or as Graham would have it the pile of christmas food had diminished to slightly less than mountainous, so we had to stock up the lower slopes again.
       On our way into Hessle we have two supermarkets we visit just across the road from one another. Aldi at one side, and Sainsburys at the other.
       We turn off the dual carriageway, and turn left climbing on the road which bridges over the railway line, and there we head for Aldi's on the right side of the road. And Graham says to me, 'What are all those men doing with big camera lenses?' And sure enough, on the left pavement, beneath a leafless tree, are a cluster of greater-coated, bird spotters. Cameras at the ready and pointing up into the tree where a number of nondescript small, greyish birds are perched.
     We turn right and down the hill into the almost empty Aldi's car park.
     Almost empty but for another and larger flock of greater-coated and flat-capped bird watchers. This group appears to have even larger camera lenses then the previous lot. Some even have tripods, and one chap has a portable camouflage cloth with him, but the camera is already camouflage colours.
     Their attention is trained on a rowan tree, heavy with yellow berries, where more of the smallish, nondescript greyish birds are grabbing berries then returning to the other side of the road to eat them in the first tree.
     'Go ask them what they are.' I suggested (although I must admit that sounds more like an order).
     Graham returns, 'Waxwings.' he says
     By the time we had shopped in Aldi, and then Sainsbury, the pavements lining the street were becoming packed with a whole irritation of bird-watchers. Who were definitely twitching.

There is an online entry which says - although it may be just a suggestion - that the collective noun for a group of birdwatchers is a convulsion.

     Waxwings are apparently not a native bird, but a winter visitor from the continent. And a group of waxwings is called an irruption.
    This picture comes from the RSPB website

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas Breakfast

For the last thirty odd years we have never had christmas dinner on christmas day.
      This started because we were expected to visit Graham's parents, and laterly his mother, where we would be regaled with plates of shop-bought 'treats' (mince pies, pigs in blankets, sausage rolls, biscuits, buns, pork pie etc) nothing home made or cooked hot food. If you were unlucky, the mince pies would be microwaved so that the inner temperature would melt plastic and burn flesh on contact, and was served with squirty cream.
     We were given a time of arrival, and we had to be there on the dot. Five minutes late and we would be told how long grandma had been waiting for us to arrive, five minutes early and 'nothing' was ready. To the extent that one day when she went into hysterics about us being early, that I simply left. We were not treated to that performance again, thank goodness.
    However this meant that Graham decided that if we couldn't have a proper christmas dinner, then he would ensure that we have a magnificent christmas breakfast.
     This started in a small way. As I have mentioned before, I am from Lincolnshire, home of the famous Lincolnshire sausages, so we always made sure that when we visited my home county, we would visit our favourite butcher (Jackson's of Louth) and buy several pounds of their sausages, which we could put in the freezer. So that come christmas, there would always be Lincolnshire sausages, a taste of home and a link back to my parents and the christmases of my childhood.
     However the simple christmas breakfast of sausages with an egg and toast has expanded a bit over the years so that now, as my Uncle Bill (Bullivant) used to say 'the table groans' with the weight and array of bowls and dishes. Graham makes a breakfast that would feed a football team if they were all peckish and brought doggy bags to take home with them.
     This year there will be eggs, toast, Lincolnshire Sausages!, baked beans, tomatoes, potatoes sliced and fried, black pudding, bacon and mushrooms - oh and this year's newest addition parsnips! Graham likes parsnips. This is not a breakfast for the faint hearted or those on a diet! This is a breakfast proud of its bacon grease and butter!
     All these foods will be arranged in dishes on the table, and everyone will serve themselves, so that your breakfast can be exactly what you want it to be. There will be four of us this year, Mike and our grandson Eden will be with us for breakfast (and afterwards presents will be opened).
     This is a breakfast which will sustain all those who partake for the WHOLE of christmas day. There will be no need for a turkey and its trimmings, just the odd top up of a liqueur chocolate or a Ferrero Roche will suffice.
     Excuse me I think I need a bit of a lie down after that.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Witch Ball

A traditional magical protective talisman for the home is a Witch Ball
     These were once found in many homes, particularly on the coast where they would hang in a window looking out to sea. They were placed there both to ward off evil fortune and keep the fishermen safe, but also in a way to act as a guide home on a stormy night.
     Witch Balls come in a variety of forms and sizes.
     At the coast a Witch Ball is often a glass fishing float. Glass was once an expensive and magical substance, when molten it can take many forms, and be blown into bubbles which will float on the sea. These fishing floats were once common objects, tied to the edges of the net to mark its position under the waves. Or fastened to the end of a string of lobster or crab pots.
     Even more magical was mirror glass. In order for glass to become a mirror, it has to have silver bonded to its back, and this process was originally a dangerous and mysterious process known only to alchemists. The technique involved Silver Nitrate a very volatile substance, which in the process of silvering can quickly start to give off poisonous fumes. Not to mention having a tendency to explode. So making mirror glass was a dangerous and expensive process and even small pieces of mirror were treasured.
     Some times the small pieces of mirror glass were fixed to the outside of a fishing float, making what we call a glitter ball, or disco ball, these days. A ball which reflects the light as it moves in the slightest breeze, making splashes and spots of twinkling sparkles everywhere.
     The first time I read about a Witch Ball was in the children's fiction book 'An Enemy at Green Knowe' by Lucy M Boston, where an evil Witch in disguise is trying to get into the house (Green Knowe, where Tolly lives with his grandmother and assorted ghosts), but cannot enter because there is a protective Witch Ball in the hall.
     The Witch Ball in the book is described as a large sphere of fragments of mirror glass. We are also told that the mirror will refuse to reflect an evil magician or Witch, but will reveal their demonic familiar spirit. (Incidentally this book also introduced me to the magical script known as Passing the River)

   We have two large Witch Balls in our home, one in the hall and one in the living room, but unlike the glitter ball type, these have been mirrored internally.
     The hall one is silver and positioned to reflect anyone I open the front door to. The one in the living room is a beautiful, deep blue. A protective, healing and calming colour, to constantly refresh the magical atmosphere.
     At this time of year you can see Witch Balls everywhere, in every colour you can imagine. They are the silvered glass baubles we hang on our christmas trees.
     So keep your eyes open for a fine, large one that appeals to you, and save it to hang in your home. Either in the hall to protect the entrance to your home. Or to hang in a window, reflecting away negative vibes, stray nasty thoughts or evil wishes and curse - and to invite in loving, protective and peaceful energies.
     And to guide and welcome home a loved one.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

St Thomas Traditions

The feast of St Thomas traditionally falls on the 21st of December, which is very often the Winter Solstice. It is probable therefore that many of the spells and traditions now assigned to the saint were at one time simply associated with the magic of the Solstice.
     From now until Christmas Eve were known as the Rough Nights, when demons and evil spirits were banished from homes and farms. In some places the banishing was done by making loud noises, cracking whips, banging on pots and pans and shouting. In other places incense and holy water was carried around the home, yard and stock sheds, the holy water sprinkled everywhere, the incense wafted into every nook and cranny.
     In Germany it was the tradition to make a special fruited loaf today, but in the middle of the kneading process, the baker should run out to their orchard and embrace every fruit tree.This would ensure that there would be an abundant crop the next year.
     St Thomas is sometimes called 'the Brewer' as all the beer brewing for the christmas celebrations should be completed by now and in Norway it was the custom to visit friends and neighbours to sample the results.
    In many parts of Europe there would be a school holiday today, very often ensured by the students 'barring' the teachers from the school. There are records of boys in the 19th century using pop guns to fend off their teachers.
    In Bohemia there is a tradition that St Thomas flies across the sky at midnight in a fiery chariot,  and lands in the local churchyard where he calls all souls named after him to rise from their graves. He then blesses the souls of the dead and they return to their graves. This is an obvious Pagan tradition which has had the christian saint inserted to substitute for the God, who would have originally called the dead from their graves to join him in his wild ride across the Winter sky.
     There are traditional spells associated with St Thomas' night. These are usually divination to help reveal who your future spouse will be.
     Climb on to a step, then into bed. Now remove your shoes and throw them at the door, some say you should have your back to the door and throw them over your shoulder. If they fall and lie with the points towards the door it means you will marry in the coming year.
     Sleep with your head at the foot end of the bed and with an onion wrapped in a handkerchief beneath your pillow to gain a dream of your future spouse.
    A more detailed spell says that you should take a little yellow apple and stick two long pins through it, so that they cross through its heart. Wrap the apple in your left stocking and put this bundle under your pillow. Then say the following spell out loud:
St Thomas, St. Thomas, the shortest and least,
Show me who my spouse is, this night as I sleep.
Show me where he lives, his work or his wares,
And know I will love him if ugly or fair.
St. Thomas I ask that you help me in this
And we'll seal our love bargain with a sweet, loving, kiss.

Then get into bed and say nothing more - and your dreams will be ominous!
     You can also pray to St Thomas tonight to help you stop oversleeping and getting up late. Possibly because when the days are at their shortest, you want to make sure you make the most of whatever daylight there is.

Friday, 16 December 2016


At the moment I am reading 'Mother Tongue' by Bill Bryson, which is a tour of the English language and its origins.
     As I said in my post on books, I love reading. I love words, but spellings don't always stick with me. Mind you, it isn't surprising when you read stuff like:
the word 'colonel', a rank in the British army. This was originally a French word, 'Coronelle' and when introduced into the language was spelled in the French way. However after a century or so, somehow the Italian spelling 'Colonello' became more popular, or fashionable, and this evolved into our word 'Colonel'. So we have an English word which is spelled in an Italian way, with a French pronunciation.
     We also have to remember that much as we would like to imagine that spellings are either right or wrong, sometimes there are two or more correct ways to spell the same word, ie both spellings are in the dictionary.
     One of my favourites is 'broach', which many people spell 'brooch', but according to the dictionary both spellings are ok.
     Also of course the language is continually evolving with new words being invented all the time, and there is a whole new way of spelling words now, known as 'text speak' which has developed with the use of mobile phones and text messaging.
     This is something many of us use without a second thought. I have caught myself saying 'Lol', which was not originally a word at all, but a quick abbreviation for 'laugh out loud'.
     I don't actually use a mobile phone. My son has given me one of his old ones to practise with. So far it sits, fully charged, on a shelf and occasionally whistles forlornly at us. But I have picked up some text speak from playing World of Warcraft, where it often crops up in chat.
     In this latest form of spelling, brevity is king and words which can be shortened are mercilessly hacked down.
     In light of this, I don't think I need to worry too much about whether I have the right number of double letters in 'necessary'. Incidentally the predictive spelling thingy is not all that helpful at times, and can give some strange results - and don't get me started on the spell checker! I suspect most people who write about specialist subjects find the same problems. Magical terms often get 'adjusted' and sometimes I don't realise until I'm glancing proudly over something I've 'published' without spotting the mistake. Scrying is a good one, the spell checker has no idea what that word is. And of course you have to make sure that you have it checking English English, and not USA English. I remember being told off at school for writing 'color' but that was largely because I could never remember which side of the 'l' the 'u' went, was it coulor, or colour?
     So I will instead try to celebrate the eccentric nature of my spelling, and just carry on writing.
    And enjoying the writing.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

For the Love of Books

I love books. And I have loved books as long as I can remember.
     I can't remember having to learn to read. I just know that as soon as I could read, I would read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I remember reading Jane Eyre when I was very young, because it was the only book in the house which I hadn't read, I remember it had very small print, and how sad I was when Jane's friend died.
     I read quickly and I remember what I have read. Although for some reason spellings have never stuck with me.
     Because there were never enough books around as I was growing up, I would re-read favourites, sometimes many times over - The Hobbit was one of those, although The Lord of the Rings never grabbed me in the same way - and they were never boring.
     We had a Mobile Library visited the village, fortnightly on a Tuesday. It parked near the War Memorial at the bottom of Chalk Lane, and there was always a crowd of people waiting to return books and pick up more. We were allowed six books at a time and I always picked my full allocation.
     For some reason my dad wouldn't let me and my sister have any Dr Seuss books, so these were a guilty pleasure to be devoured while in the Mobile Library.
     I discovered my first spell book in that Mobile Library, a chunky book called 'Black and White Magic' which fascinated me with its ancient spells and invocations. One I remember was an extract of an ancient Babylonian call to the God of the Winds:
Come hither, my Lord,
Let down your locks, so long and flowing.

     My fascination with books continues to this day - and luckily Graham enjoys books too, as our home is packed with them. There are books in every room.
     My main problem is often finding the book I am looking for, as I tend to carry them around with me and put them down in odd places.
     Incidentally the same applies to pens and specs, and has led to me having pens and pairs of glasses dotted around the house, so that there are always some to hand. Occasionally these form 'drifts', accumulating in certain places. Graham counted five pairs of specs (of different strengths, I hasten to add in my own defence) on the table where I had a jigsaw puzzle under construction.
     I go through phases of what I am reading and I always have a pile of books on the go at the same time, a variety and cross-section of many interests, to pick up as the mood takes me. Sometimes it is fiction which could be 'chick lit' (I love a romance with a happy ending), magical research, reference, biography, historical, sf, fantasy or even comedy.
     Sometimes I like to just dip into a book and read from wherever it has randomly opened. At other times I will read straight through from cover to cover. Graham laughs at me because with fiction I often read the end of the book first, to make sure that I want to read the book which leads to that particular ending.
     My argument is: do I want to invest in getting to know and love a character, only to discover they end up being miserable or die at the end? Mind you that doesn't always hold true.
     One of my favourite recent fiction books is 'Me Before You' by Jojo Moyes, and that is a real tear jerker.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Stop Fiddling About!

Yes, I am returning to one of my pet hates: Why is it that modern technology has to include fiddling about?
     Today we shall be bewailing the fiddling about of those who provide the programmes we regularly use.
     Today I visited the website of a friend of ours, Wicani Collies, a site I visit whenever I need a fix of pictures of many fluffy dogs. But I noticed straight away that it looked different to the last time I visited, and seemed much more difficult to navigate around.
     'Twas then I found the 'News' page with the entry from my friend asking what the provider of her template had done to her website. For some reason things have been changed, with no warning, and suddenly the system for updating, maintaining and creating her website is totally different. Things are in the wrong place and text isn't with the photos it is meant to belong to.
     I've found the same thing myself with Facebook for a start, it tweaks and fiddles with things, such as: Raven is and always has been a Mail Order company, suddenly it won't allow me to describe the business as such. I can be 'Other' - very helpful, I don't think! - or try and find a category which vaguely covers a bit of what we do. I settled on 'Bookshop' although we do not have a shop, and books are only part of what we do.
     For years I have used Microsoft Publisher as my programme for creating catalogues and Newsletters etc. But suddenly when I had a new computer with Windows 7 on it, my old Publisher CD was ignored and so I am having to use a free, cut down version which is nowhere near as versatile as my old, out of date version - and which, incidentally, I paid £150 for!
     And while we are at it: Windows, please stop updating yourself and making crappy changes.
     I was more than happy with Windows 98, it did everything I wanted - and ran my Publisher CD too!
     I love clip art and like to pop appropriate little pictures in my publications. But since I got the newer version of Windows, I can't access many of my old pics. 'Oh, they are an out of date format.' says my son, nodding sagely.
     Well, thanks for that, whoever decided that no-one uses whatever the format is that I do or did use!
     I don't like fiddling with technology, I am happy when I have got something working ok, so please, technology, stop fiddling with me!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

A Lincolnshire Feast

     I am a Lincolnshire lass, born on the Greenwich Meridian in Louth.
     Lincolnshire is the second largest county in England and one of the most rural and sparcely populated. The Lincolnshire dialect is said to be the nearest to the Anglo Saxon language and has many unique words and phrases: a hodmadod is a snail, if someone is hirpling about, that is a cross between a limp and a hobble, and a tall person can be referred to as a great long tetherum.
     At one time great swathes of Lincolnshire were marsh or bog and this is reflected in place names such as Maltby-le-Marsh and meant that communities were isolated and it was not a good place for strangers to travel if they didn't know the safe paths to take.
     This in turn meant that Lincolnshire developed its own foods and ways of eating them too.
     I saw on the TV the other day that Lincolnshire Sausages had been denied protected status, which would have meant that only sausages made in the county of Lincolnshire would have been able to call themselves 'Lincolnshire Sausages'. To be honest I was not surprised at this as there is no one traditional recipe for these delicious pork treats. Every Lincolnshire butcher has their own recipe, closely guarded and unique. All I can say with certainty is that those bought in the supermarkets are but a pale and insipid imitation of the true Lincolnshire butcher's sausage, which are spoken of with nostalgic wistfulness by anyone who is a true sausage connoisseur.
     I make my own version which has to have good sausage meat, plenty of chopped sage and a good amount of black pepper. But the proportions and the extra 'secret ingredients' will vary from maker to maker. Some of the possible additions are parsley, nutmeg and a pinch of mixed spice.
     Another Lincolnshire speciality is Plum Bread which is a sort of cross between a fruit cake and a loaf. The fruit has to be soaked over night in cold tea, which plumps them up and gives a nice moistness to the end result. I would imagine that originally dried prunes would have been used, as these are dried plums, but these days it is more likely to be sultanas, with possibly some mixed fruit and candied peel. It is eaten sliced, buttered and with cheese. And is delicious.
     The Lincolnshire Christmas Cake was also a much richer and denser creature than the sponge-cake-with-fruit that passes for a fruit cake these days.
     It had to be made a couple of months in advance and was so stuffed with fruit (soaked in alcohol!) that is was mainly fruit held together with a matrix of cake. The cake was kept in a tin and regularly 'fed' with brandy, dark rum, or whatever spirit was to hand. I remember my mum with a long skewer poking holes in the top of the cake then drizzling brandy into the holes. The brandy both preserved the cake and meant that the flavour was rich and very boozy.
     I can still see Aunty Laura bringing the cake to the table, decorated with a layer of marzipan and covered in royal icing made to look like snow. And cutting slices no more than 1/4 inch thick - and yes they held together - of the rich, black cake. It was an acquired taste and very strong and bitter. The icing and marzipan providing a hint of sweetness. It was not really a cake that children liked, but the adult faces lit up when they were handed a slice, and offered a slice of cheese to go with it.
     Lincolnshire High tea was also rather special and I suspect unique (unless you know different).
     In a farming community meat and potatoes are plentiful and cheap, but fruit and sugar rare and costly treats. So the way we eat our meals today reflects our farming roots. We eat our savoury meat and potatoes first, filling up on the cheap part of the meal, and follow this (possibly) with a sweet treat, the smaller portion of the expensive fruit and sugar.
     But a Lincolnshire High Tea turns this on its head.
     We start with fruit and cream, with bread and butter. I realise this might sound strange to many people. I know Graham was a bit dumbfounded when my mum presented him with a bowl of strawberries and cream, then offered him the plate of sliced bread and butter.
     But just try it. Crush the fruit up into the cream with a fork so that the juice, cream and sugar all combine. Then dip a slice of bread and butter into the liquid, pile some fruit on it and take a bite. It is heavenly.
    The Lincolnshire High Tea shows that you have wealth and status by allowing you to eat the expensive fruit and sugar first, while you are hungry and likely to eat more. However this is craftily offset by giving you (cheap) bread and butter at the same time. We aren't daft!
     When you had eaten your dessert, the table would then be set with the savoury course. In this case sliced ham or other cold meats, salad and more bread and butter. If you were very lucky you might have another Lincolnshire speciality, stuffed chine.
     Chine is a cut of pork from near the back bone. It is sliced across the grain and the slices filled with finely chopped parsley, then cooked and sliced afterwards so you have a meat with stripes of green.
     To be honest it is one of those foods which you either adore or can't stand - and it was never one of my favourites. But my dad, sister and Graham all love it.
      Earlier I mentioned eating fruit cake with cheese and just recently I saw an episode of the antique programme 'Flog It' from Grimsby, where the presenter Paul Martin was offered Plum Bread with cheese and he remarked that he had never eaten fruit cake with cheese before.
     This is one of those combinations made in heaven. Any fruit cake can be used, and yes you can butter the cake too. Use a cheese such as Cheddar, Red Leicester or Wensleydale.
     Fruit cake with butter and cheese, Lincolnshire High Tea and a pork based economy .... I was never destined to be skinny!

Monday, 14 November 2016

While the Cat's Away .....

Those of you who get the Raven Newsletter (£5.00 sub UK and NI, £10 Eire and EU) will know that this week Mike and Graham are having a few days away in Robin Hood's Bay on the North Yorkshire Coast. This is one of our favourite places, so picturesque and a lovely calm and friendly atmosphere.
     They will, of course, also be spending some time in Whitby, just a couple of miles north. Graham has been doing research and has gone with a list of pubs and eateries for possible visits. I am hoping for a full report, with photo's! when they get back sometime on Thursday.
     They have just set off, but before they went I was given a whole load of do's and don't's by Graham, which can be summarised:
DO keep warm
DO eat stuff
DO NOT fall over anything and get hurt

I'm surprised I didn't get 'Don't talk to strangers, and don't get in a car with someone you don't know!'

     Mike said his wife Cherise had given him a similar list. My list to them, on the other hand, was 'Sod off, and have fun!'

     So now I have the house to myself. And a choice of computers - and I can even choose which side of the bed I can sleep on and roll over luxuriously instead of having to avoid flung out limbs.

   Life is good.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

On the Wrapping of Parcels

As a mail order company one thing we know about is wrapping parcels.
     This is primarily Graham's area of expertise, he has been doing it for over 27 years after all.
     When we wrap parcels of goodies, we are concerned about three things in particular:
1) We need them to get to the customer who ordered them
2) We need the goods to be intact when they get to their destination.
3) And we want it to be a pleasure opening the parcel.

     It would be easy to just drop everything in a box with some polystyrene shapes, or bung it all in a jiffy bag, and stick it in the post, but this is not our way.
    We have many times heard the pleased comment: 'I love getting your parcels, opening them is just like christmas!' and this is because we wrap each item with care.
     Very often items are individually wrapped in tissue paper, or candy striped paper, which all started from our desire to be sure that each item reaches its destination in good order. We don't want things knocking against each other and damaging themselves.
     But this also has the added effect that what you get from us is a package full of gift wrapped items, and which are great fun to open.
     Getting all the different shaped parcels in a single package can be a bit like trying to get one of those multi-shaped puzzles into its box, and sometimes there is no answer but to send out more than one parcel - leading to the labels 'parcel 1 of 2', 'parcel 2 of 2' and so on. And, of course, because we sell such a wide diversity of goods from books to dreamcatchers, we do sometimes get the classic 'brick and a feather' situation. This is an order which consists of something squat and blocky together with something long and narrow, or where there are wildly different masses, something heavy and dense with something light and fragile. Or the most challenging - something heavy, dense and blocky, with something long, delicate and fragile. In these cases the safest option for the goods is to send two or more parcels.
     Coming up to birthdays and especially Christmas, we've found that customers often treat themselves to one of our Surprise Parcels. We can tailor these to an individuals tastes or interests, so that you can have a parcel of gemstones, incenses or candles or a little bit of all sorts. As you choose how much to spend (plus p&p), these can suit all pockets too.
     These special parcels are often kept by the customer until their special day. I remember getting a letter from an elderly chap soon after christmas saying how much he had enjoyed his parcel of goodies as he lived alone and had no family, so this was the one time he got to open a surprise.
     We take the same care with every package we send out, so that whatever you receive, will (we hope) be a joy to open

Monday, 31 October 2016

Feast of the Dead

     Samhain is a very special time of the year. There are many festivals around this time and they often include remembering the spirits of the dead.
     In Witchcraft we remember all our friends, whether they are currently incarnate or not and also include those who inhabit alternate realms such as elementals and the Faery folk.
     There is a welcoming chant in some traditions which calls in all these spirits to join our celebrations, and includes the line:
"We call upon those who are yet to be."

     This recognises those spirits who are unborn, for one reason or another, so Samhain is an ideal time to remember those spirits who have not managed to come to birth in this world.
     Many women and families have experienced the loss of an unborn child, whether through miscarriage, termination or through an inability to conceive, or even through a phantom or Fairy pregnancy. Even though we do get on with our lives, we never forget these experiences, and those spirits do not forget us either. So today is an ideal time to welcome them to our festivities.

     Light a white candle, or a pure beeswax one, and place around it three black stones, three haematites or even three glass globs. These stones represent the tears shed for the unborn, so use which seem right to you - three stones found in your garden will be fine.
     Now light some incense, something floral, or a favourite, I would use some of our lovely Om Nag Champa for this.
     Then say:
Sweet spirit who we are yet to see
We remember and honour you.
We ask you to come and be with us, in friendship and love
To share our food and our fireside, and the magic of Samhain.
On this night which is between the worlds,
You are welcome
Blessed Be!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Ghostly Encounters

     Last evening I was sitting at one end of our sofa, with China our rough collie asleep at the other end and Graham in his usual position on the floor, watching TV.
     From upstairs came a very familiar 'thud' sound. The sound of a dog dropping off the spare bed and onto the floor. There was a pause and no further sounds, although having heard the 'thud', I was wondering how long it would take the dog to get downstairs and into the living room.
     Right on cue, the living room door creaked open. I was watching and instinctively leant forward to see the dog as it entered the room.
     Of course, there was nothing to see.
     But here we are, heading swiftly towards Samhain/Halloween, the time when spirits return to visit those they love. Plus it is now three months gone since Maeve died, and I've found that when a loved one dies you often get a brief visit just after death and/or then hear nothing until after three months have passed.
     If you have read my book 'Journeys to the Summerland' you will know that I usually encounter the dead in dreams or astral journeys to their realms, but I have also had experiences in this world too. Immediately after my dad died, I heard his voice comforting me, as any parent would, 'Don't cry, it's alright.'
     And our Yorkshire Terrier, Snag, settled himself in front of the fire and snored.
     Snag was quite an active member of the household for a while, one visitor reporting that when they tried to put their elbow on the sofa arm, they were warned off with a growl - that was Snag's favourite perch.
     I know that many bereaved people long for some sort of contact or message from their loved ones, and they may feel disappointed or bereft when there is no instant connection.
     From personal experience I would say: 'Give it time.'
     As you might imagine, when someone dies, the spirit has a lot of adjustments to make, including getting used to the idea that they are dead, and in many cases coming to terms with the fact that even without a body, life goes on.
     This is a generalisation, but something I have noticed time and again in my own and other people's experiences: it usually takes 3-6 months for the spirit to get through its own acclimatisation, enough for them to decide to pop back and see how their loved ones are faring.
     So coming up to Samhain I am expecting that we will get other visitations from various friends, relatives and pets.
     And I am looking forward to them all.

'Journeys to the Summerland' by Chris Sempers £4.50 plus p&p available from Raven

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Pagan Year Poem

We are currently working on our next mailshot and Newsletter (due out end of Oct) and I am also finishing off the Raven Almanack of Moveable Feasts for 2017.
     One thing I like to do is put a little seasonal poem at the start of each month, but finding something new or different is getting difficult, since I have been doing this for maybe 20 years or so.
     So I thought to myself; 'I haven't seen a Pagan version of this type of poem.' So I decided to have a go and see if I could come up with one.
     And here it is:


In January, dark and drear,
Resolve to have a magic year.
February, time of frost and cold,
Brigit's fest of bright Imbolg.
March with storms and winds so strong,
When day and night are equally long.
When April comes with many showers,
The Goddess' dance brings out the flowers.
May starts with Beltane fires bright,
And lovers in the woods all night.
June's for love and marriage vows,
The Solstice Sun is highest now.
And August is the feast of Lugh,
With corn to cut and beer to brew.
September leaves and nuts turn brown,
When equal night and day are found.
October darkens, magic grows,
Samhain meets, and pumpkin glows.
November ghosts and spirits sees,
The trees are bare and puddles freeze.
December brings the longest night,
Gifts given by Yule candlelight.

C P Sempers October 2016

Sunday, 2 October 2016


It is another lovely autumn day. So nice that Graham and I have been sitting outside our front door in the warm sunlight, and while we were there I suddenly noticed that the Honesty was ready for cutting.
     Honesty is a plant which seeds itself all over the garden, and although it has pretty pink flowers in the spring, it is mainly grown for its magical papery silver seed cases, which gave the plant its country names of Moonwort (because they look like the silvery full moon), Fairy Silver and Prick-Song Wort.
     The seed cases were said to be used by the Fairy folk as
currency, or as a deception, depending on your point of view. It was said that often musicians were asked to play for the fairies, and would be paid with pouches of fairy silver, a dream-like currency which vanished with the sunrise, and all the musician would be left with is a handful of Honesty seed cases.
     Prick-Song Wort is another musical name for the seedcases because they resemble the notes in a musical manuscript. In the Middles Ages musical notation was a little different to now, and music was copied by pricking each note with a pin through several sheets of parchment at the same time, the pin pricks then being encircled, and very much resembling the Honesty seed cases. So the music was called Prick-Song, and the Honesty was therefore Prick-Song Wort.
     Honesty is usually used as an addition to dried flower arrangements, simply because it looks so pretty. I remember when I was a very little girl helping prepare Honesty with Aunty Laura in Withern in Lincolnshire. We would carefully peel off the dried, brown outer cases from each side to reveal the satiny, silver inner leaf, and Aunty Laura would insist on us collecting all of the flat brown seeds, so that she could scatter some in her garden and give others away.
     The Honesty in our garden come from our friend Gran Walker from Alford in Lincolnshire. Many years ago now, she gave us some plants from her garden, she was another Witch and lover of herbs. We still have other plants she gave us including Tree Mallows and Lincolnshire Spinach, also known as Good King Henry. The Honesty seeds she gave us have scattered plants all around the garden and seem to particularly like growing in at least partial shade.
    Magically Honesty can be used in spells to gain money, increase cash flow and give you some spare cash in your pockets. It can also be used in dreaming spells, to banish nightmares and bring sweet dreams. It is, of course, a very special plant to the Fairy people, so it can be used to help communication with nature spirits, and to transport you in your sleep to the realm of Fairyland.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Michaelmas Magic

29th of September is Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and all Angels.
     This is one of the four Quarter Days spaced throughout the year when rent and debts were paid, loans and leases taken out and servants hired and fired. The others are Lady Day (25th March) Midsummer (24th June) and Christmas Day. Michaelmas is particularly associated with the legal profession and was the time when magistrates were elected.
     All the harvest should be gathered in by Michaelmas, so it was traditional to have a feast at this time, and in England a goose would be eaten, which is why there are traditional Goose Fairs around this time. This is said to have originated with Queen Elizabeth who was eating goose when news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada was brought to her - but as this happened in June and Michaelmas is in September, the tradition is obviously far older.
     In Scotland St Michael's Bannock or Struan Michel Cake was made. There is no recipe for this, it is a scone-like cake, made using all the different varieties of cereal grain grown on the farm and mixed together with sheep's milk. As the eldest daughter mixed the dough, she baked magic into it by chanting:
Progeny and Prosperity of Family,
Mystery of Michael,
Protection of the Trinity.
     All the members of the family should have a piece of the baked cake, and the whole cake should be eaten before the night was out.
     In Ireland a special pie was made with a ring baked into it, and whoever found the ring would be the next person to marry. In Normandy a special Mere Poulard Omelet is made at Mont St Michel, using eight eggs and lots of butter, it is said that this can only be cooked properly over a wood fire.

     St Michael the Archangel was the commander of the heavenly army in its battle against the rebel angels, led by Lucifer. It is said that today Michael triumphed and kicked Lucifer out of heaven. Lucifer fell to earth like a blazing star, and landed right in a prickly bramble bush, which he cursed as he crawled out of it. Because of this brambles should not be picked after today (or alternately after Old Michaelmas Day on the 11th October).
     Michael is a magical protector and patron saint of mariners and of horses and horsemen, so horse racing was another traditional activity today, particularly in Scotland, where local men would race their horses and place small bets on the outcome. There is also another tradition that today it was legal to 'borrow' a neighbour's horse and ride it all day, as long as it was returned, unharmed, by night fall.
     Crab apples are ripening now and it was the time to gather them. Girls would also use them to find out if their lover was true to them, by laying out the apples in a loft, in the shape of the initials of their boyfriends. When the apples were inspected again on Old Michaelmas Day, if the initials were still perfect, then you had a true love - but beware if any of the apples had gone mouldy!

A Crafty Love Spell

For those of you who miss out on the full magnificence that is the Raven Newsletter, which has just gone out with our latest Book Sale list, here is a spell which appears in the current issue.

     This spell is based on a medieval spell, but works equally well today.  And is particularly appropriate if you are a person who enjoys crafts such as hand sewing or embroidery.
     Cut out two heart shapes the same size, preferably in red velvet or felt. The hearts want to be around the same size as your hand. Sew them together but leave a small part unsewn, so you can turn the heart inside out and the seam will be on the inside. Now you will stuff the heart with any kind of filling, but if you can, incorporate something into the filling which comes from the person you desire. It could be hair, a note they have written, a piece of clothing cut up small, or if you have nothing else, write their name and date of birth on a piece of paper, roll it into a scroll and seal with red thread and red wax and pop that into the middle of the stuffing. Dried Twitch grass (couch grass or Witch grass) is traditionally used for this kind of spell as a stuffing.
     Now sew the heart closed. Then put it on your altar and work the rest of your spell naked by firelight or candle light.
     Sprinkle the heart with Consecrated Salt and Water and say:

The heart of my beloved is given unto me
His/Her name is [name] and this I know
When e'er I prick this blood red heart
Their love for me will grow.

     Now if you wear aftershave or perfume sprinkle a little of this on the heart, alternately use a Love oil or one dedicated to Aphrodite.
     Now take up some pins and stick them one by one into the heart and as you do so say:

[Name] your love and desire for me grows stronger

     When you have stuck all the pins in. Leave the heart on your altar over night. The next day take the heart and put it in your sewing kit. Use it as a pin cushion, but know that every time you stick a pin into it you are re-activating (and strengthening) the spell.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Dark Half, Light Half

     I was very tempted to subtitle this post 'or: Don't Mention Black Magic!'
     In the West some people get rather twitchy if you talk about 'working with Dark energies', but at the Equinoxes in particular, as Witches and Pagans, we are very aware of the balance shifting between light and dark.
     The main problem is that there is still a 'knee jerk' prejudice which sees: white is light is good and alternatively black is dark is evil. Whereas they may be opposites, but light and dark are complimentary and you can't have one without the other. Think of the Yin Yang symbol it is a circle which contains two teardrop shapes, one black and one white, the white teardrop has a black 'eye', and the black teardrop a white eye. This symbol graphically illustrates that these energies are complimentary, one cannot exist without the other, and each contains the potential of change into its opposite.
     I have personally been accused of being the Whitest of White Witches and also the Blackest of Dark Practitioners, both supposedly issued as insults. But as my teacher often remarked 'There are no such things as Black or White Witches, we are all shades of grey.'
     As we are just past the Equinox, let us see what that means. The Equinox is literally that time when the length of day and the length of night are exactly the same, or Equal, which is why the Equinox is also called the time of balance. However the Wheel of the Year is in constant motion, it doesn't stop, so the actual time of balance is a mere instant, which is why I prefer the idea of the Equinox as being a time of dynamic change.
     There are two times in the year when the Equinoxes occur: the Spring Equinox when the length of the nights is growing shorter and the days lengthening and the Autumn Equinox when the opposite it happening, the days are growing shorter and the nights lengthening.
     Because the nights are growing longer, this means that for the next six months there will be more hours of darkness than hours of daylight, and that is why this is called the Dark Half of the year. Not for any sinister reason, but simply because each day has less light than darkness. The further north you go, the more dramatic is the contrast between the lengths of day and night.
     However, please remember that I live in England when I speak of the Equinoxes in this way. I am referring to how they appear in the Northern half of the World. If I lived in South America or Australia we would just have experienced the Spring Equinox, and be heading into the Light Half of the year.
     So each year the Equinoxes demonstrate the nature of these Yin Yang energies: the light growing in one hemisphere precisely as the darkness is growing in the other. Each balances the other moment by moment, day by day and year by year.
    This is also why we refer to the procession of the seasons and the seasonal rituals as the Wheel of the Year, an ever turning succession of seasons and rituals, one blending into the next, until the Wheel has turned full circle and continues onwards.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

An Autumn Equinox Ritual

Here is a little Folk Witchery ritual you can use for the Autumn Equinox. In addition to your altar candles you will need two more candles, preferably one black and one white, but they could be one dark coloured and one light coloured, and a night light. The black or dark coloured candle will represent the dark half of the year and the white or light coloured candle for the bright or light half of the year.

     First cast your circle, light your altar candles and get some incense going. A mixture of frankincense and myrrh would be nice for this ritual. Consecrate some salt and water and bless yourself and anyone else who is with you.
     Light the white candle first and say:
The bright days of Summer are fading,
The light retreats, the earth quietens.
     Now light the black candle and say:
Dark nights of magic now increase,
The nights lengthen, the spirits awaken.
     Now light the night light and put it between and in front of the other two candles and say:
I stand at the point of Power,
The crack between the seasons,
The balance of Light and Dark.
I face the darkness and step forth boldly
Knowing that I carry light with me always,
As I embrace the darkness and welcome its magic.

     Now is the time to do some divination or scrying. If you have a dark glass or an obsidian mirror, that would be very appropriate, alternately use black ink in water to create a scrying surface.
     When you have finished any spell work, bless some drink and food and have a little celebration within your circle while the energies calm down. Remember to save a little to take outside afterwards as an offering to the spirits.
     Then close down your circle.

Monday, 19 September 2016

I've got that Equinox Feeling Again

Well it is coming up to the Autumn Equinox again,
     The magical time of balance poised between the Summer and Winter, when the darkness is advancing and soon the nights will be longer than the days. A time that many people think of as balance and harmony.
     And can also be one of the most disruptive times of the year, as if the Powers feel the need to get all the crap they can out of the way, by dumping it all at once on us.
     You may remember last year when I had three posts up in quick succession talking about the powers of the Equinoxes and how it isn't always a time of balance and harmony, but that things that have been jogging along nicely can suddenly jump up and bite you on the bum?
    Well we have been working on our latest Newsletter and Mail Shot - this one is a list of One Off second hand books, all of which have had to be individually looked at and contents described, together with number of pages, whether hard-back, paper-back or whatever and notes about their overall condition.
     We got that finished at the weekend, which meant that we were hoping for a bit of time to chill and maybe have a day off.
     However on Friday the internet started playing up. Weirdly I can get on Facebook, my blog and anything on You Tube with no problem, but anything else either loads e...x...t...r...e....m...e..l...y        s...l...o...w...l...y or not at all. So we asked our son Mike (the Blog of Thog) if he would have a look at the computers and talk to our internet people for us.
     He spoke to a very nice lady called Laura for two hours on Saturday. She came to the conclusion that she did not know what was happening, would have to refer the matter to a more experienced engineer, but that it was THEIR FAULT - well, sort of, yippee.
    So today we were ready to set off with bags full of envelopes (the mail shot) to send out to our customers, stuff to put in the bank, and shopping to do. Jumped in the car, turned the ignition key and ..... nothing. Not even the exhausted whine of an engine attempting to turn over.
    Back into the house we went, and I rang the AA (this was 9 am) they told us we could expect an engineer around 10.40 as their priority is people who are in tricky or dangerous situations and, being at home isn't either of those. So Graham got out his big rucksack, loaded the mail shot into it and set off to hike the two miles or more to Ferriby Post Office.
    So, at least it gave me a chance to get on with some printing and catalogue requests I hadn't managed at the weekend. Graham arrived back before the AA man arrived and helped me with folding catalogues and stuffing yet more envelopes.
     When the AA man turned up and fiddled about with the car, his conclusion was that the battery was dead, (which to be honest was what I'd thought) so I bought another one from him, and we finally set off for the bank and shops.
     While I was waiting outside Aldi for Graham, a man tapped on the side window and indicated that I had a flat tyre.
     Luckily we were near Sainsbury's which has a petrol station and air line, so we re-inflated the tyre, finished shopping and came home.
     I am hoping that this is my share of Equinox disruption dealt with - but I am asking you to read that bit very quietly.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

How Do I Use This Oil?

One thing that I do a lot is create and blend magical oils. There are literally hundreds (probably thousands) of magical recipes out there, some of which are well known, others not.
     Most of the names of the oils seem to have originated with Vodun practitioners, and there are several which are said to have been created by Marie Laveau the famous 19th century Mambo from New Orleans, such as Van Van and Marie Laveau Peace.
     Because they are well known, some of these oils are part of a well established spell or ritual, or have specific spells attached to them. Others are more general purpose. You can buy books which give lists of oils, incenses and powders and a brief idea of the magical purposes they are used for. At Raven we publish Voodoo and Santeria by Merle Patrice (£2.95 plus p&p) which includes a lists of preparations together with magical uses for each. But all of this info should be just a starting point for your own imagination.
     I create new recipes every week, simply because customers ask me for a special oil for a specific ritual, magical spell, or to invoke a particular deity. All of these recipes are based both on my own experience and traditional magical properties of the essential oils and/or the plants they are derived from.
     Each oil can be used in a number of different ways, depending on what kind of magic you are aiming on performing:

Anointing a Candle: basically this is done by putting a little of the oil on your index finger and stroking this onto the candle as you chant a word or phrase which encapsulates your magical purpose. So if you were going to do a spell to increase your personal wealth, you could chant 'Money, come to me!', as you anoint the candle.
     The way you apply the oil to the candle can also vary depending on the magical working, or on your own beliefs. The traditional way to 'dress' a candle (anoint it) is to start in the middle of the candle and stroke downwards to the bottom, then from the middle upwards to the top.
    Another way to do it is to think about the purpose of the ritual and anything you wish to draw towards yourself, stroke the oil onto the candle from the tip down to the base, and anything you wish to get rid of or banish, anoint from the base to the tip.
     Some people will use a single candle on their altar to represent the purpose of the ritual, this is called the 'object' candle. At other times you may use a number of candles, or candles of different colours.

Anointing Yourself: again the way this is done depends on what you are aiming on with your magic. For good luck you could simply put some on your finger tips and touch a lottery ticket, betting slip or playing cards to activate the magic. To draw a lover, wear the oil as you would wear any perfume, a little on your wrists, throat and behind the ears, or wherever seems appropriate to you. To bring influence to bear on someone else you could put a dab in the centre of your palm, then shake hands with them, or touch something you know they will also touch, such as a door handle or even a piece or paper or a letter. In some rituals you can anoint the palms of your hands, feet and the centre of your forehead, so that you can embody the magical universe, or to awaken your own Witchy powers.

In a bath: you will only need a few drops of an oil in your bath water and I would use a little bubble bath too, to make sure that the oil disperses into the water and doesn't just stay in a blob floating on the surface. Used in the bath this makes sure the oil covers all your body and infuses your aura too, so you can become a money magnet or a love magnet. This is also a good way to use any oil before a ritual both to put yourself into the correct magical frame of mind, or to ensure that you will take the correct energies into your magical circle.

Anointing other objects: Sometimes it is nice to make a special pouch for your magical purposes, putting herbs, trinkets or other objects into the pouch, and these can all be anointed with the oil, or the fabric of the pouch can be anointed instead or as well.

Sprinkling the oil: this is often used to ensure that the whole of an area is suffused with a particular kind of psychic energy. Or you could make a large X with the oil across a path leading to an entrance to ensure that whoever uses that doorway will have to cross the X and therefore will be influenced by the magic you desire.
     Sometimes the oil (a few drops only) is added to a bucket of soapy water and this is then used to give a room or larger area a good physical cleansing while also infusing the area with the appropriate magical energy. This is often done if you are preparing a room for use as your magical temple or meditation space. You can use an oil of cleansing or of consecration.

Working with Spirits: In this case you might put a little of the oil on your fingers and then touch this to a talisman which represents the spirit, demon or deity. Or you might use it like a magical ink and go over your drawn talisman using the oil. Or you can put a drop on a deity statue as an offering.

     As you can see from the above, there are LOTS of different ways of using magical oils, and these will all add magic and atmosphere to your rituals. So don't be afraid to have a go.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Book Making

So what do you do on a Bank Holiday Monday, when the sun is shining and it is a lovely day to be outside?
    Do you? Well I have been inside making books.

     Actually this is a job I like to do either at the weekend or on a Bank Holiday, because it is a job that always takes longer than I expect it too, and during the week I feel under pressure to get on and deal with orders to get as many out as possible. There may only be one or two orders actually waiting for these books, and we can often send out the bulk of the order with just the odd book 'to follow'. But eventually the job has to be done, and today was it!

     I had printed out the pages and covers for the books during the week, double sided A4 sheets of paper, which have to then be cut in half to make a larger pile of A5 pages, with card covers, and of course the pages have to be in order too.

 We use a small, antiquated guillotine which I got from a Boot Sale years ago for the princely sum of £3.00

Here are all the book pages. Each little pile is a single book, but of course all the pages are currently loose .

These books are being comb bound, and the fab machine we use will first punch all the oblong holes down one edge of the pages. Of course you can only stick around 10 pages in at a time, so you have to be sure you are punching the holes in the right side of the pages, and that you lay them down correctly on top of the ones you have taken out, so that the pages stay in the right order.

Here is one book page set with the holes punched on the left side ready for the 'comb' to be inserted through the holes

Here the plastic 'comb' is being inserted through all the holes in one go. This can be fiddly to do, and you often find when you look at the back of the book that not all the ends of the 'prongs' of the comb have gone through all the pages.
This job needs both patience and attention to detail - and the ability to wriggle a recalcitrant prong through a hole only just big enough for it.

There we have the finished comb bound book.

And below the results of an hour's work, ten books nicely comb bound and ready for sale.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Where Has all the SF Gone?

22nd of Aug is the the birthday of Ray Bradbury, which of course made me think about all the fab stories he wrote.

     Throughout my teens and 20's I was a great SF fan, well science fiction and fantasy too. I had lots of favourite authors, because there seemed to be so much SF out there: Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, Harry Harrison, Roger Zelazny, Larry Niven, Ursula Le Guin, Fritz Leiber, Robert Heinlein, Tanith Lee.
     I loved the alien landscapes and alternate views of the universe they gave. I loved the way they stimulated and expanded my own imagination and there seemed to be so much endless variation within SF from straight adventure, to extrapolations on current scientific discoveries, to flights of pure sword and sorcery fantasy.
     I read of Elric of Melnibone, the exiled albino prince of a dying world - and by the same author (Michael Moorcock) I still love the Dancers at the End of Time books. Moorcock was a prolific author who wrote at a ferocious rate, a book a fortnight at one time, as if the stories were crowding through him, desperate to flood into the world. He was not afraid to poke fun at his own characters either, with Elric at the End of Time, being deadly and depressedly in earnest while the Dancers merely create battles and love affairs for their own entertainment and to fill the emptiness as they wait for the end of time. They try to cheer Elric up - a lost cause, of course - by giving him enemies to kill and epic battles to fight, then go home to tea.
     For pure fun and entertainment you could not fault Terry Pratchett, who had the ability to point up glaring faults in society and 'progress', inequalities and prejudices, while at the same time showing how crassly stupid these are.
     Ray Bradbury was the master of weird and macabre fantasy, but without descending into stomach churning gore. His stories piqued the imagination and recognised that sometimes our own imaginations can create a greater horror than those hammered home with bloody spikes by other authors.
     He was friends with Charles Addams, author of the Addams Family, and there are sometimes similarities in some of their ideas, the playfulness mixed with the grotesque, the families who see themselves as perfectly normal, which to us are both weird and scary.
     I remember a story in The October Country where two uncles run the local funeral parlour, where they drain the corpses of blood, and take the blood home for their family to drink. These are thoroughly modern (ish) and practical vampires, pillars of the local community and existing in plain sight with none of that nasty neck-biting - so last century. And the young son, the runt of the family, who cannot drink blood because it makes him sick, and has none of the magical or psychic powers of other family members, but his mother loves him.
     Golancz used to be the publisher I searched for in the local library, with its distinctive primrose yellow book covers. They introduced me to so many authors. So many different styles. I didn't like them all, but some I adored (and still do).
     So where has all the sci fi gone?
     I used to be able to buy it in Woolworths, shelves and shelves of paperback books with their, literally 'out of this world' covers showing strange planets and double sun rises. Twenty years ago I joined a SF and Fantasy Book Club and what a disappointment that was, the only SF on offer were stories based on Dr Who, Star Trek or Star Wars, the rest was all Fantasy. Has SF fallen so far out of favour that authors cannot write anything new, only add to existing franchises?
     Saddly my own collection of SF paperbacks vanished in a house move years ago, so all I have are memories.
     But, Oh! what memories !

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Hymn to Tehuti

This is a translation from Papyrus Anastasi III :

Praise to you, Lord of the House,
Holy Baboon with shining mane and pleasing figure,
gentle, charming, loved by all.
To him belongs contentment, for he is Tehuti
Who overwhelms the Earth with beauty!

His headdress is red jasper
His phallus is carnelian
Love gushes out of his eyebrows
and he opens his mouth to give life.

My home is sweet, since the Holy One entered
It has flourished and grown since
My Lord set foot therein.

May all receive his blessings
Be happy for me, my friends,
Behold my Lord! He has made me what I am
and my heart belongs to him.

O Tehuti, with you as my champion,
I will fear nothing

Thursday, 28 July 2016


For those of you unlucky enough not to be on the Raven Mailing List, and who therefore miss out on our Newsletter, here is an extract from an article on Sun Deities from our July 2016 issue


     Possibly even older than Ra is the god who was worshipped by the Akkadians and later Assyrian and Babylonians, Shamash.
    The main symbol of Shamash is a winged sun disc (the Egyptians had a similar symbol to represent Ra).
     Originally it was the moon deity who had precedence as the chief of all the gods, and it is speculated that this was because to nomadic peoples the moon and stars are more important as measures of time and indicators of direction. Once people became settled farmers then the solar deities became the powerful ones.
     Shamash is the son of the Moon god Nannar, which might also indicate the supreme power changing from moon to sun. He rides a chariot across the sky, driven by his charioteer, Bunene.
     Shamash is God of Justice, as the sun dispels darkness, so Shamash sheds light on a situation and brings the powers of justice to bear. As he dispels physical darkness, he also dispels the darkness of the soul and banishes demons and evil spirits. As illness was believed to be caused by the actions of evil spirits, it was Shamash who was prayed to for relief from the demons of illness.
     In later times he amalgamated other solar deities into himself - as Ra also can be seen to be both Ra, Kephera and Horus, who yet can be viewed as deities in their own right. So Shamash became thought of as part of a trinity with Ninurta being the Sun God of the Sunrise and Spring time, and Nergal the Sun God of midday and the Summer Solstice. In the same way as Ra aged, so did Shamash, becoming more the God of the Sunset who passed through the Underworld at night and was reborn at dawn.
     Yet even while he was in the Underworld, Shamash carried out his role as God of law and order, becoming the judge of the spirits of the dead.

Shamash, Great Lord, Merciful God
Who hears prayer, who grants life
On the servant who reverences you, have mercy.

Prayer to Shamash from a cylinder seal.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Intruder Allert

     It was a warm and sultry afternoon.
     Graham had taken China out for a walk, and I was in the living room, reading the Radio Times while ignoring the Formula 1 Testing session on the TV in the background.
     Then suddenly I heard the sounds of a helicopter, or some flying machine coming low overhead. This does happen regularly, so wasn't a huge cause for concern, although this did seem particularly loud and therefore close. The regular beats of the rotors were pulsing very close by.
     Hang on they were now being mixed with the sound of crockery and glass. And it wasn't outside, it was coming from the kitchen.
     Oh my Goddess! The back door to the garden was wide open, as it usually is from sunrise to sunset during the summer, there was someone in the kitchen - and they were ransacking the place!
     I hurried through to the kitchen,  hoping that my sudden appearance would make whoever it was take fright and run away. To be honest, the thought that they might not run away didn't occur to me.
     So I went in to the kitchen, expecting to see an intruder.
     And there they were!
    A pigeon was in the small window above the sink, a window stuffed with small tasteful nick-nacks in porcelain and glass, and was attempting to beat its way out through the glass while flailing madly with wings and feet and sending afore-mentioned nick-nacks flying and ricochetting around the kitchen and off the crockery stacking in the drying tray.
     It must have flown in through the open kitchen door and being a bird of little brain, and in a panic, instead of flying out again was trying to dig its way to freedom through the window.
     I tried to reach it, but I am only short and the nearest I could get to it was its tail. So I carefully tried pulling it towards me and ended up with a fist full of feathers.
    The pigeon looked sideways at me, and I looked sideways at the pigeon, and both of us decided there was no way I could reach it to get it outside. So I went for plan B - leave the kitchen, shut the kitchen door behind me (leaving the outside door open still) to make sure the bird couldn't get any further into the house and wait for Graham to come home.

    When Graham arrived home with China, It took him all of two minutes - including the swearing - to capture the pigeon (now in the front kitchen window) and put it outside on the lawn. It flew off none the worse for the experience - apart from the loss of a few tail feathers.
     So much for a peaceful Friday afternoon off work.

Monday, 4 July 2016

The Owning of Dogs

     The third of July is the start of the Dog Days, the heliacal rising of Sirius, the dog star.
     And on the 2nd of July, Saturday this year, we took our lovely girl, Maeve on her last journey to the vet. It was the last act of love and care we could do for her.
     Maeve was named after the Queen of the Fairies and she was a slender, yet strong and lively, blue merle, rough collie, with a mischevious sense of humour.
     Anyone who has owned dogs will tell you that each one is unique, with their own distinct personality.
     When you take on another dog, after the loss of one, you are never replacing the previous pet. Nothing can do that. It is like saying that a new baby would replace another child. Every child, and every dog, is a unique individual with their own likes and dislikes, and very much their own personality and sense of humour.
     After our previous dogs had died, our breeder friend Angela (Wicani Collies), asked us if we would consider giving a home to one of her adult dogs, China. It took us no time flat to say 'Yes! Please!' and off we went to meet China and possibly (? Who am I kidding!) bring her home with us.

     But China lived in the kennels with another adult female, Maeve, and when China was let out to meet us, Maeve came too.
     China and Maeve were as different as chalk and cheese. China is a happy, placid dog. Not the sharpest knife in the box, but solid, loving and always happy to finish off any food Maeve might leave. China was also the boss of the pair, even if it was Maeve who was the brains of the partnership.
     Maeve was a year younger, more slender and delicate in build and with a sharper, more Mercurial nature. She was shy and would hide from visitors, where China would push her way in.
     Maeve was also the dog who let us know if we had visitors coming, or if anyone was passing the house, or the birds were being too boisterous in the garden, usually by 'woofing' loudly, well away from the 'danger' and as near to us as possible.
     China's place was on the sofa, Maeve's place was on the floor. But this meant she had the opportunity to lie on my feet, or nestle up to Graham, since he also prefers to sit on the floor.
And if we were having supper, Maeve would be the one who 'helped' me to eat mine. To the extent that I would look at her and say to Graham, 'Tonight we will have a Marmite sandwich and some cereal to follow.' Then it was a bite of sandwich for me, and a piece for Maeve, and any cereal left over (of course, there was always some) would also go the way of Maeve too.
     One of her favourite games was not-letting-me-get-up-until-we-have-had-a-cuddle. And she loved having the top of her head rubbed while she pushed back against my hand making ecstatic, appreciative noises and nearly falling over.
    When she became ill, I asked Anubis to look after her, and as I write this I have an image of two dogs walking away. One a tall, slender, black, Egyptian hound, with a smaller, fluffy white collie trotting along beside him.
     Of course we are sad when they have to die. I have shed many tears for Maeve, as I have for other dogs and cats I have known over the years. But those tears are largely because I will miss her. I know that she is fine and happy in spirit.
     The joy of having her, and all the other creatures who have shared my life, far outweighs any sadness.
     All those who love their pets know: Our lives are richer and better for having known and loved them.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Summer Solstice Magic

I love the turning of the seasons, watching nature change with the waxing and waning of the year.
     I love that Witches and other Pagans mark the turning wheel of the year with special festivals. And I especially love the magic which twinkles through the year, and really pokes you in the eye around the festival times.
     This year (2016) we have a Full Moon on the night of the Summer Solstice. Full Moon and a Fairy festival together, how magical is that ?!
     So tonight would be ideal for a magical plant hunt. A night to gather fern seed, to turn you invisible, to wander unseen wherever you will. Or a night to drag a Mandrake Root screaming from the earth, and to create a homunculous, a magical servant who can travel through thick and thin and bring blessings, love, healing, or maybe the darker magics, as you desire.
     This is a night for being outside, with a bonfire, drinking wine with friends and toasting, 'The Old Ones!'. For wandering the wild places, haunting the Fairy Mounds and exploring the places where the Old Gods linger - will you run from Jenny Greenteeth, or stay and have a cup of tea with her?
     'But what if it's raining?' I hear you cry. Wandering the dark places, squelching through mud and cold is not so much fun, (not for us, anyway, but it gives the Old Gods a laugh).
     Then remember that tonight is sacred to Angus Og, Angus the Young, god of magical dreams. Through dreams we are carried to strange and magical places every night. We meet extraordinary character and have weird adventures in unknowable realms. With the help of Dream Angus we can pick a destination and travel to meet those who are not of this world. We can meet again those who have passed to the Summerland. We can explore the realms of the dead, or the lands of Faery. We can speak with spirits, angels, ghosts, ghouls and Gods.
     As we fall asleep we are at a magical crossroads which can lead us anywhere. it is the place where the Fairy Folk ride, their horses decorated with bright silver and tinkling bells, where the Witches cast spells, where Hecate waits, where the dead process, where Legba directs the traffic with his walking stick, where the black dog, Black Shuck or Anubis waits to guide you.
    The Web of Wyrd with all its threads and pathways is here, the Labyrinth with its Gods and monsters, it is the first branch on the Tree of Life climbing into the infinite beyond.
     Adventure awaits.
     If you are brave enough.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Plant Hunting

Once in the month and better it be when the Moon is full... Well actually it is the first Sunday in the month, when there is currently a Farmer's and Craft Market held in the Humber Bridge Car Park.
     I say 'currently' as we have been told that after December this year there will be no more Farmer's Markets here, as the car park is being 'developed' into a 'hotel and leisure complex'. This will be a huge blow to the thousands of customers and many stall holders who set up there each month. At times the car park is so busy with potential customers trying to find somewhere to park that you see cars slowly circulating the parking bays, waiting to pounce when anyone leaves.
     This is one of my treats, an outing we can do in relative ease with the wheelchair as all the surface is tarmacked. I rarely get to boot sales these days as most of them are held in fields, which the hard, narrow wheels of my chair just sink straight into.
     So anyway, in addition to our regular shopping of fruit and veg, and visit to the stall of proper Lincolnshire butcher's for some haslett (pronounced ays-let, not haz-let) and maybe some sausage rolls, we were on the look out for some plants to stick in our side garden.
     Now, our side garden is the coldest and shadiest part of the garden. All of the ground is beneath the canopy of our Wishing hawthorn - grown from a seed Graham picked from a bush over-hanging an ancient sacred spring. The canopy forms a huge umbrella over the side garden, and has been smothered in blossom for the last month or so. This means that only shade loving ie woodland plants have a chance of growing here.
     We have tried putting in mixed wild flower seeds, but they only seem to throw up jack-by-the-hedge, meadow cranesbill, nettles and sow thistles.
     Happily we have found a few plants which like the conditions, a lovely wild fern (I love watching its frondy leaves unfurl - and at mid-summer there is always the chance to collect some magical fern seed), ransoms (wild garlic with white pom-pom heads of flowers), blue bells and snowdrops. But I would like to put in a few more plants to add more interest to the area - and keep down the weeds. So I had a look on the internet and came up with a list from the RHS website.
     Of course all of these were given by their Latin names, which is lovely, and accurate, but doesn't mean a lot to me, so I had to then look up the Latin names to find out what I know them as.
     And found that most of them were lovely magical plants I know already, such as foxgloves (digitalis), lady's mantle (alchemilla mollis), lungwort (pulmonaria), sweet woodruff (gallium odoratum) and Solomon's seal (polygonatum multiflorum).
    So as there are always a few plant stalls we had a look there and managed to find some hollyhocks to replace the ones Graham had mown flat in the front garden, and some apple mint, which we always used at home to make mint sauce and popped in to flavour new potatoes as they boiled.
     We also managed to confuse one lady by asking for some foxgloves then picking up the plants labelled 'digitalis'. She had the same problem as me and hadn't realised they were foxgloves, 'My husband does the labelling.' she explained.