Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Celebrating Spring in the Wild Woods

I recently spent a week at the wonderful Wildways on the Borle http://wildwaysontheborle.co.uk/ to celebrate the ancient Celtic spring festival of Beltane with White Horse Camps http://whitehorsecamps.co.uk/ The woods were burgeoning with spring growth, full of verdant green and delicate spring flowers in shades of white, blue & yellow.  I spent some of the time working in the camp kitchen.  We supplemented the food bought for the camp with fresh greens from the kitchen garden and from the woods - Fennel, Nettles, Wild Garlic, Dandelion leaves, Sorrel, Cleavers, Lemon Balm, Mint and others.  These were added to salads, soups and dips and were much appreciated by everyone sharing the camp meals.

During the camp we explored and celebrated our connection with plants, nature and the wild woods in various ways.  The well-known pagan historian Ronald Hutton gave an entertaining and informative talk about the traditions of Robin Hood and Maid Marian and their roots in history.  Ronald's partner Ana Adnam led a session called Fifty Shades of Green in which we all talked about herbs we feel a particular connection with at this time of year.   Then in pairs we stroked each other with sprigs of Fennel, Lemon Balm, Mint or Sage, feeling the gentle touch of the foliage on our skin and smelling the aromatic scents with our noses. 

For the heart of the camp we spent several days divided into smaller groups to do deeper work.  A group of men competed in challenges of skill, strength and wisdom to select someone to represent them as Robin Hood.  A group of women spent time living in the woods, eating wild food and learning skills such as archery, selecting someone to represent them as Maid Marian.  A mixed group spent time connecting with various totem plant and animal species in the woods through shamanic journeying.   Then we each created a mask to help us manifest our spirits to speak at a council of the Wild Woods.  The spirits of the Wild Woods shared their different ways of seeing the world and invited us as humans to share these ways and to learn to live in harmony with the wild.  This was a deep and powerful process.

The three groups rejoined to weave our energies together by dancing round a tree as a living Maypole.  On Beltane eve we kindled the Beltane fire and divided it into two fires to step through to empower ourselves for the summer to come.  This is a tradition practised by our ancestors who drove their animals through the Beltane fires to bless them prior to their journey to the summer pastures.  On May Day we did circle dancing in a meadow of wild flowers connecting with each other and the place through the meditative movement of the dance.   By drawing on the traditions of the past and spending time working together in a beautiful wild place we empowered ourselves to become stronger, wiser and wilder human beings.

Wildways at Beltane

For more photos see https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153320593512938.1073741891.657002937&type=1&l=4a9bfa3775

Following the camp I have spent time in our own woods near where we live for the first outdoor picnic and first night spent of the year, as the days become longer and warmer.  Members of our local druid grove came to celebrate Beltane in the woods.  We did a simple ceremony meditating in silence then making sounds with drums, voices & other instruments, feeling the energy of life rising through our bodies and rippling out through the woods.  I picked and cooked Nettle tops, Bramble shoots and Cleavers on the fire dish and tossed these with chopped boiled eggs in a little oil, herb vinegar, salt & pepper to make a dish to share for our Beltane Feast, plus an infusion of Nettles and Bramble Leaves.

 The woods in May

Fire Dish with kettle & Nettle & Bramble Leaf infusion

Nettles, Bramble shoots & Cleavers with boiled eggs

The light and warmth are bringing forth clusters of blossom on our Crab Apple and Bullace (Wild Plum) trees.  I made Crab Apple flower essence by placing a bowl of water collected from a local spring in the branches of a Crab Apple tree and floating some flowers on the surface of the water and asked the tree to bless the water with its essence.   I left the water to infuse in sunlight for several hours then poured it into a sterilised bottle using a funnel and muslin, half-filling the bottle then filling the other half with brandy to make a mother tincture.  This is for invoking self worth, valuing our own abundance and counting our blessings.  It can be used on the skin or in the bath to cleanse the skin and wounds.  It can also be taken in water to help lift a hangover.

Bullace Tree in bloom

 Crab Apple blossom

 Making Crab Apple Flower Essence

I also picked Ground Ivy which is in flower at the moment, to take fresh or dried in teas & infusions or as a tincture.  The tincture can be taken to improve appetite and digestion, cleanse the blood, tone mucous membranes and relieve ear congestion and tinnitus.  Infusions can be drunk or used externally as an eyewash for irritated eyes.  The infused herb is useful to encourage expectoration in chesty coughs and for urinary problems such as cystitis.   It is particularly useful for hayfever and sinusitis.  The fresh herb can be used as a poultice for bruising. 

 Ground Ivy

Ground Ivy tincture

Drying Ground Ivy in dehydrator

Ground Ivy infusion


'Letting in the Wild Edges' Glennie Kindred
'Practical Herbs 2' Henriette Kress
'Wild Drugs' by Zoe Hawes.

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