Danu's Cauldron: Wisewoman's Ways, and Wild Fey Magic

Living in a sacred landscape, walking between the worlds in the veil of Avalon Glastonbury. Where the old gods roam the hills, and the sidhe dance beneath the moon...wander into the mists with me and let us see what we may find...

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Danu Forest

Danu Forest

Danu Forest is a wisewoman in the Celtic Bean Feasa tradition of her ancestors. You could call her many things- witch, seer, walker between the worlds, healer, druid, priestess, teacher, writer, gardener, herbwife, stargazer, faery friend, tree planter, poet, and wild woman. Danu lives in a cottage near Glastonbury Tor in the midst of the Avalon lakes, in the southwest of England. Exploring the Celtic mysteries for over 25 years, and noted for her quality research, practical experience, as well as her deep love of the land, Danu writes for numerous national and international magazines and is the author of several books including Nature Spirits, The Druid Shaman, Celtic Tree Magic, Gwyn ap Nudd and The Magical Year'. She teaches regular workshops and online courses and is available for consultations, including healings readings and other ceremonies.

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Beltane is nearly here, and I think most of us are feeling a certain change in the season- in nature but also in our daily lives, its been a long winter metaphorically and spiritually and we find ourselves emerging into a new time wondering what the future holds. I always take my signs and omens from nature- and at this time the main sign to look for in the UK and Ireland at least, is the hawthorn blossom. This year it is flowering a little later in my garden than other years, but its not far behind where I’d expect. Traditionally it flowers for Beltane ( May 1st) - some folk only celebrate Beltane on the full moon when its in blossom and I like this idea, there’s a lot to be said for astronomical dates for the cross quarter days, but following the organic flow of nature seems to suit me best.

Hawthorn is a tree associated with faeries. Most ‘fairy thorns’ are isolated hawthorn trees, marking ancient places on the land, or where the energy is particularly special- these are favoured places for faeries and can act as access points to the other world, but Hawthorn also has a place in the Irish ogham lore, where it is the 6th letter H for Huath / Uath meaning frightful or horrible. The Ogham alphabet serves as a mnemonic device for a whole host of lore and can be very useful in magic and spiritual training. Hawthorn’s lesson can indeed by frightful. In the texts called the Bríatharogaim ("word oghams") which explain the meaning of each ogham name, Huath the hawthorn is described as  Condál cúan-  ‘pack of wolves, or pack of hounds’,  Ansam aidche - ‘Most difficult night,’ and Bánad gnúisi - ‘Whitening or blanching of the face.’ These point to a time of challenge, of facing our fears or other ordeals- yet hawthorn is also associated with such folkloric figures as the May Queen, (its known as Queen of the May) and connected to ideas of romance and eroticism. The great teaching here is all about undergoing challenges and how if we come through ‘a difficult night’ we may find we know ourselves better, becoming the true of heart, worthy of the May Queen, the sovereignty of the land and our own souls. In this way the hawthorn teaches us about sovereignty, and how that comes from within, through right action with ourselves and others, and how becoming worthy of that divine union with sovereignty means we need the wisdom of the heart most of all- wisdom born from experience and compassion. This isnt fluffy stuff, but it is beautiful, born from hard work, and deep care. It is by this heart’s wisdom, that we gain access to the otherworld and its blessing.

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A lot will no doubt have already been said about the festival of Imbolc, and the goddess Brigit, but what is often overlooked is how many prayers, blessings and charms there are in our traditional lore to honour and work with her. 

At this time, a ritual 'saining' or blessing of yourself and your home is especially important and can bring a fresh, clearer energy into your psyche and your space.

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This year astrologically the autumn Equinox falls upon the 23rd of September, bringing with it longer nights and the gradual shift towards winter. Leaves fall, berries and nuts come to fruition and here in Avalon it is apple time. The name Avalon, the British otherworld, often geographically said to be here in Glastonbury in the Somerset levels, comes from the word for apple, which in the Celtic tradition symbolises the wholeness and healing of the soul, the sensual delight of being alive, of the human lived experience, without shame or sorrow. It is said to be a place where nine priestesses dwell, attending to a great otherworldly cauldron, symbolising the goddess of the land, who goes by many names, yet there is also a god of Avalon, Avalloc who is its guardian and keeper, father of the famous enchantress Morgan le Fay.

Avalloc is a mysterious figure with only a few mentions in the traditional literature, but a walk in the misty damp orchards of Avalon, on a September morning have much to teach about his nature. Gentle, elusive, a little wistful, I see him often as the orchard keeper of the soul; round apple face wrinkling with kindness and wisdom, sun tanned and weather beaten and full of juice, an irrepressible vitality and sense of wellness, an unassuming delight in being fully and physically here. The mythology and folklore of apples is endless across the globe, but always it brings life and sensual presence, even in the Christian mythology where it brings sin or the knowledge of good and evil, the apple leads us on to the next stage of our soul’s development and growth. It reminds us of our potential as well as the lesson of becoming at peace with what we already are.

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Recently I’ve been weaving water magic, and taking brief pilgrimages in search of depth. In the Celtic traditions, bodies of water, lakes, rivers and wells hold special positions as liminal places, where the realms of spirit may be easier to access, and where healing and wisdom can be sought. In the Irish tradition the otherworld and the gods are often found by journeying over bodies of water or on mysterious islands off to sea, as well as at the many holy wells and springs that are found across the country. In Wales it is similar, with lakes also holding this sacred significance, and the Welsh word for the otherworld, Annwn, or its older spelling, Annwfn, literally means ‘the deep place.’ Seeking depth, physically, in the dark ever renewing stillness of wells and wild waters, and the bright flowing of waterfalls on mountainsides I find my mind and my whole being refreshed and cleared of strain. I’ve found the stillness within which may allow new thoughts, new ideas, new insights to arise. The deep isn’t only to be found in the earth, or under water, it needs to be found in our hearts and minds as well, for transformation to come, for a new way of being to be born. So I’ve made a commitment to sit in silent communion near water and to place my feet in rivers and streams at least once a week, to seek healing, renewal, and new vision in these difficult times. To access the source of my soul and the soul of the land, and physically hold that connection in my body.

Meditating near bodies of water is always a special and useful practice. There is something in the sounds of water that helps us to change our consciousness even for a while, and gain access to those deeper parts within…making friends with the water in our bodies too, by drinking more water, and undertaking cleansing rituals that use water magically for change are also powerful. Try adding seasalt to your baths, and using vibrational essences, as well as making space for your emotions to be felt and honoured, with regular time set aside to keep in contact with yourself and your feelings. This is essential especially when life gets tough. Honouring the waters of the world with offerings is also good practice; sing to your rivers and streams, read them poetry, take time to pick up rubbish and get involved defending them from pollution. Buy green products that don’t pollute, walk your talk. But most of all, love them, spend time with them, build relationship with them, and healing will flow naturally. Honouring the waters, and seeking our own deep places, has its own simple magic, and sometimes that is the strongest kind of all.

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My spiritual and magical life has always been very much tied to the land. I’m very fortunate to have been able to explore some wonderful truly wild places, and to have made pilgrimages a great many times to a large proportion of Britain and Irelands sacred megalithic sites. These sacred monuments and enclosures were constructed thousands of years ago by our Neolithic, bronze age and later Iron age ancestors. Visiting and taking extended vigils at some of our most revered as well as some of our lesser known sacred ancestral sites has been central to my magical and spiritual training since I was a teenager.  To me, working and communing with the powers of place, the spiritual guardians of these places, has provided the most potent aspects of my instruction and I feel I have built up a close relationship with many ancient sites that are as personal and dear to my heart as my relationships with my fellow humans. Many of these places are small, lesser known sites well off the beaten track, but I’ve also been fortunate enough to foster a deep relationship with some of our better known and even famous megalithic sites, having spent time there and held ceremony within their enclosures for many years now. One of the most often misunderstood of these is also the most famous- Stonehenge.  I’ve been fortunate to have been able to have private access to Stonehenge a few times a year for quite a long time, more often than I have ever visited as a tourist. I feel blessed that it is so. During the heady days around the summer solstice I might well visit the stones more than once, and this year when the site is closed, I’m feeling a real sadness that my regular pilgrimage cannot take place. Visiting when you have private access is very different than the huge open public solstice gatherings, that are so famous, when thousands of party goers get to climb all over the stones and unfortunately leave a lot of rubbish behind. Equally, when visiting as a tourist, one is lead around a circular path and are able to only see the stones from afar, as it if were a circus attraction, or a paining in a gallery. Sadly, these two extremes are how many people see Stonehenge; as a place of wild revelry, from a distance on a paid tour, or saddest of all, from the window of a car on the A303 road, stuck in traffic, choking the air of this sacred place with petrol fumes.   

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Celtic power plants and spring green magic

It’s blossom time! Nature abounds and the fields, forests and hedgerows are full of plants that can support us at this point in the year.

Cleavers (Galium aparine) makes an excellent spring tonic to cleanse your lymphatic system. Can be juiced, and added to smoothies etc, or as a tisane or herbal tea, but I prefer to use it as a cold decoction- place the leaves in a jar of cold water, leave in the sunshine for a day, and leave overnight to drink the next day. Cooled in the fridge its a refreshing drink which tastes like cucumber. (Warning: Fresh Cleavers plant can cause a severe contact dermatitis for some people. If this is you, wear gloves when harvesting Cleavers. Strain infusions and tinctures of uncooked Cleavers carefully to avoid throat irritation.)

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We have all had times where the challenges that life brings to us feel overwhelming. For the most part, hopefully, these are brief times of illness or misfortune, but it is a fact that each of us will have to come to terms less often with times of real challenge and even with death. As we journey through our lives, we seldom find these things occur at convenient moments, when we feel strong and equipped to endure. At such times we realise that all our lives are constantly navigated through realms of unpredictability and the chaos of a multitude of lives and circumstances co-existing and intersecting with our own. How much power we have over our fate is often woefully small. Yet there is to be found, even at such times, a wellspring of resources within us and around us, if not to cure, then certainly to provide a balm for our distress.  

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