ou can feel her coming. She’s not subtle. The chill bite in the air hurts your lungs, makes your eyes water, and nips at your bare skin, turning it bright red. Frost and ice cover every green thing and every trace of water. Then a soft grey blanket covers the sky like a gentle reprieve followed by a strange silence and softly falling flakes of pure white snow. Then you know An Cailleach Bheara has arrived. She shakes her grey wool shawl and it snows. She strikes her staff on the ground and everything nearby freezes, frost splaying outward like cracks in ice. Neither benevolent or malevolent, she is a force of nature.
“Why is my face so dark, so dark?
So dark, oho! so dark, ohee!
Out in all weathers I wander alone
In the mire, in the cold, ah me!”
~ From the tale “Beira, Queen of Winter“
I like to appease the old one-eyed, blue-faced crone when she comes to visit as I figure it’s better to be friends with such a force than to face her icy wrath. She likes whiskey, but her arrival this year surprised me and I had none. A hot cup of honeyed rose congou tea spiked with a good dark rum left on the window sill seemed to work in a pinch. I think it helped to serve it in a tea cup from the lovely Nikiah painted with horned owls sitting in bare branches and a sly fox. The biting cold left the air but the beautiful snow remained. Not enough to cause trouble, but enough to inspire delight in the winter season and make people’s hearts sparkle in anticipation of the winter solstice and christmas.
The beautiful snow and my beautiful new kitchen certainly inspired me this December. Since I took the month off from my on-line shop to move house and unpack, I was able to cook and bake and cook some more once the broom was hung by the door and the hearth candle lit. I made wild mushroom soup with bacon and beer, pork tenderloin candied with chocolate-orange port and honey, roasted acorn squash and persimmon soup, beef and chanterelle mushroom pasties, candied pears tossed into salads, roast chicken covered in grainy mustard and bacon, and, of course, the desserts. I baked persimmon spice cake, ginger snaps, chocolate whoopie pies, shortbread, and crafted homemade chocolates of rose petal & vanilla bean, candied ginger & bee pollen, swirled into delectable dark Belgian chocolate.
My belly grew and grew, not from all the rich food, but from my little one growing inside – getting bigger and bigger with only two months left until the baby’s arrival. With morning sickness seemingly behind me I was able to meet with friends, catch up, and exchange gifts. The Poisoner and I had our first dinner guests to spoil and I had a professor and an artist visit to discuss flying ointments, psychoactive herbs as ritual incense, books, and musings on ancient history.
There were farmer’s markets and christmas markets and now we are well stocked with vinegars, syrups, jellies, jams, pickled veggies, herbal teas, and dried wild mushrooms. It warms my hearts to find so many delectable edibles made with wild local plants at the markets – salmonberry, huckleberry blackberry, elderberry, dandelion, Nootka rose, Oregon grape, sea asparagus, and more wild mushrooms than I can name! It was inspiring and many came home with me for the Poisoner and I to cook with.
December marked the conclusion of The Pagan Bundle project. Many heartfelt thanks to all those who purchased the bundle and to those who donated more than its value. Thanks to you, eight people (all independent self-employed authors, artists, and musicians – including myself), were able to able to enjoy a yuletide season free of financial worry and strain when we’d normally be pinching pennies and unable to visit loves ones. So, from our hearts to yours — Thank You!
Other wonderful things that happened this month included an extended version of my “Breaking Tradition” article and some of my artwork being published in Aeon Sophia Press‘ new Thirteenth Path Journal (now sold out) as well as an epic interview I took part in with Patrick Bertlein of the awesome and long-running Heathen Harvest Magazine – “Closer to the Garden Once More: An Interview with Sarah Anne Lawless“.
And, if you didn’t hear about it last month, I also did a podcast interview with Chris Orapello (of Infinite and the Beyond fame) on his Down at the Crossroads show. We tackled serious issues within the greater Pagan and magical communities while managing to still have fun at the same time. His podcast features interviews with lots of cool people and I highly recommend it. I had a great time and hope he’ll have me back on in the future for more mischief.
You can listen to the interview here: Episode #39 – Sarah Anne Lawless
With all the best kinds of chaos going on, all of a sudden the winter solstice was upon us and it was time for the Poisoner and I to celebrate our first Yule living together. There was freshly fallen snow on the ground and covering the beautiful yew trees lining the yard. I brought clippings of fragrant evergreens indoors to decorate our new home and to banish evil spirits and energies: blue spruce, western hemlock covered in tiny cones, noble fir, red cedar, yew, holly, ivy, and bright red firethorn berries. We brought home a little sacrificial Yule tree and, after smudging and thanking it, decorated it with beeswax candles and traditional Scandinavian straw ornaments of suns, hearts, wheat sheafs, and julboks. After the season is over I turn the tree into incense, cookies, syrup, and wood to carve so I don’t feel so bad about not having a live tree.
We hung our stockings over the fire, both of us having better memories of “opening” stockings over presents from our memories of childhood christmases. And then the morning was upon us. We brewed coffee and tea and then exchanged gifts. Stockings full of chocolate, oranges, and little goodies. A parcel sent from my parents back at the farm was full of home made preserves of apple butter, apple jelly, peach pit jelly, vinegars, oils, porcini salt, and alder wood smoked salt. There were cooking knives, artist pens and pencils, and illustrated books of Scottish fairy tales. My mother is very talented at putting together beloved gift parcels!
Under the tree were beautiful little calendars for the new year from the lovely Rima Staines and the Old Farmer’s Almanac (one of the most “pagan” calendars I’ve found – especially for the green/kitchen witch). There were gorgeous large yew wood trivets to protect my dining table from hot foods and there was a stack of hunting and foraging cookbooks to be inspired by: Pacific Feast, Whole Larder Love, and Hunt, Gather, Cook by the awesome Hank Shaw. The Poisoner gave me epic gifts of Christian Ratsch’s gigantic and heavy Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants that I’ve been coveting for a while as well as a perfect blue and white beer stein from Germany for me to enjoy my favourite craft beers out of after the baby is born (and hopefully some home made beers too as I gifted the Poisoner a book on brewing!).
We feasted on goose liver pate spread on oven-crusty bread, apple wood smoked cheddar, pickled cucumbers and turnips, and freshly baked bacon-maple cinnamon buns (oh my goodness!) I made while we surveyed our loot. We ate with our spirits and ancestors and felt our loved ones were close through their cards and gifts even though many were far away. We avoided the big community Yule rituals this year, and thus most of the illnesses going around, and didn’t feel a bit guilty about it! It was a wonderful lazy weekend of feasting and watching movies snuggled with warm blankets in bed.
I hope that whichever day you celebrate the season on, that it was full of family, friends, love, laughter, good food, good drink, and more than a small amount of mischief. A blessed Winter Solstice and a happy New Year to you all!
Now to prepare for Hogmanay…