Summer Solstice

Today, 21st June, is the Summer Solstice – a date that holds great significance for many people. For me, I always reflect on it being the real start of summer and enjoy it being the longest day… and try to ignore the fact that it’s now downhill all the way to Christmas! 

Solstice, or Litha means a stopping or standing still of the sun – hence the longest day – and it is the time when the sun is at its maximum height. 

This date has had spiritual significance for thousands of years as humans have been amazed by the power of the sun. The Celts celebrated with bonfires that they believed would add to the sun’s energy. Christians placed the feast of St John the Baptist towards the end of June and it is also the festival of Li, the Chinese Goddess of light.

Like other religious groups, Pagans are in awe of the incredible strength of the sun and the divine powers that create life. For Pagans this spoke in the Wheel of the Year is a significant point. The Goddess took over the earth from the horned God at the beginning of Spring and she is now at the height of her power and fertility.

In England thousands of Pagans (and non-Pagans!) flock to ancient monuments, such as Stonehenge, to see the sun rising on the first morning of summer. At Stonehenge the Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone, set outside the main circle, align with the rising sun – which must be a magnificent site to behold!

As well as all the annual drama and news coverage of the celebrations at Stonehenge, many more Pagans will hold small ceremonies in open spaces, everywhere from gardens to woodlands.

Let’s hope the lovely weather holds and we can all enjoy the longest day!

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The power of three

Have you ever stopped and thought about the number three? No, neither have I much, but if we do stop to analyse, it is actually quite an interesting little beast.

While that old saying ‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd,’ has a negative slant, the fact that three can be a crowd is actually very useful when it comes to arranging flowers and planting in the garden. It’s also a very important number to remember when you’re writing…

In appearance, an uneven number of things, three, five, seven and so on, always gives a more random, ‘natural’ look. A farmer friend of mine planted all his daffodil bulbs two by two in a regimented march across his lawn and, oh dear, did it look odd! If he’d done little clumps of three it would have looked much better.

I always plant my perennials in clumps of at least three, and the same goes for bulbs. Flower arranging, which I am trained in and did a very great deal of earlier in my career, works a lot with threes and the triangular shape, and the science behind it and how our brain sees things is very interesting…

The ‘Rule of three’ is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes will be funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. And that sentence was itself an example of it!

Apparently, we are more likely to absorb information if it is written in groups of threes. From slogans – the Olympic’s “Faster, higher, stonger!” – to films, many things are structured in threes. Examples include the Three Musketeers, Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

When I’m busy writing – whether it’s an article, a book or this blog – (that’s another three!) the rule of three does come to me quite naturally after all these years. At the moment, as some of you will know, I am working on a novel and, when I am trying to create dramatic, impact I do sit and chew my pen – well actually my finger nails as I type everything – and put a lot of effort into producing the most concise, clever and crafty sentences that I can. A series of three creates a progression in which the tension is created, built up, and finally released.

Will I succeed? Or will time, tiredness and tedium get the better of me…? Only time will tell. I’ll keep you posted on the novel’s progress…!

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Here be Pixies!

Did you know we have pixies down here on Dartmoor…? Little people, or ‘Piskies’ as they are usually referred to, that stand no higher than your knee and live among the rocks and combes.

Numerous places are traditionally connected with their revels, one of the best known being beside the River Dart near New Bridge where grassy banks make a delightful picnic place for folk large and small.

Old stories often relate that pixies helped farmers by threshing corn, churning butter and keeping cupboards free of cobwebs, especially if a dish of cream was left on the hearth as a reward although their good deeds would stop if they suspected they were being spied on.

Dartmoor’s numerous rock formations shelter many a cleft and cave and one particular cave has long been associated with the little folk. Known as Piskies’ Holt, it stands on private ground at Huccaby Cleave. Sadly, today it’s out of bounds to anyone without a fishing licence but this was once a popular place where children would leave a shell, a pin or a piece of cloth as presents for the pixies. I read an article a recently where the writer had been given permission to visit the spot and there, on a rock shelf in the cave lay an array of tiny offerings, some obviously recent! The spooky, but beautiful, Wistmans Wood of stunted oaks on Dartmoor, home to many a pixie, surely…?

Piskies are not only found on Dartmoor there are stories from around the world relating to the ‘little people’. In Cornwall they are known as pisgies, in Somerset they are pixies and in Dorset they are called pexies. It has been suggested that in early times they were all fairies but in the West Country they separated off to become piskies, pisgies, pixies or pexies.

There are many ideas as to how piskies originated. It may be that the piskies are pagan spirits who because of their beliefs are unable to enter the kingdom of heaven. Or, more likely, they are early Christian inventions used to discourage people from worshiping their banished pagan gods.

Whatever the truth behind these little folk, the myth lives on and there are still people today up on the moor who will tell you they have seen them. I haven’t been so lucky, but you never know…!

Are there tales of ‘little people’ where you live? We’d love to hear your stories!

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