Saturday, 31 October 2009


Every year I hope I won't need to do a post about this, but every year I'm annoyed again by the ignorance and lack of understanding about this important Pagan festival. We had a Hallowe'en Party at our Home Ed Group which several families chose not to attend because they don't do Hallowe'en. OK fair enough, but then of course my children come to me and ask "why couldn't x and y come to the party? They say they're not allowed to celebrate Hallowe'en, why?" And what do I say without saying that x and y's parents are ignorant?
So, to reiterate. Samhain (pronounced sow-in or sow-een or varieties thereof depending on the part of the country you live in) is the pre-Christian festival which was around 31st October. It was the new year, which meant it was a liminal time - ie a time which was neither the old year, nor the new year. Liminal times are times between times, neither one thing nor the other, and as such they are sacred and special. Things can happen then which cannot happen at other times. It was seen as a thinning of the barrier between this world and the next world, hence it being a good time to scry into the future and try to find out who you'd marry and so forth.
Due to this thinning of the barrier it was also seen as a time when evil spirits might be around, hence disguising yourself in some kind of costume to escape, and having things around (such as scarily craved pumpkins these days) which would frighten away anything nasty.
The main part of Samhain however is a festival of the dead, common to many cultures and similar to the current one in Mexico which is completely sanctioned by the Catholic Church there. This is a celebration of death as a part of the cycle of life. It reminds us that this is usually the point of the last of the harvest, and the point at which weather deteriorates so much that we have to stay indoors more. It's a time for remembering loved ones who have died, and for honouring our ancestors. It reminds us that it's growing darker, the year is hurtling towards the winter solstice and that it's a time for going inwards, going dormant, planning and assessing rather than action.
It was the Church who added all the most 'nasty' elements to Samhain and made it Hallowe'en - All Hallows Eve. Which is ironic considering it is now the Church who seems to object to these elements. When the Church started taking over, it deliberately placed its important festivals on dates which were already celebrated in order to absorb those festivals into itself and replace them with its own as it demonised the previous festival. So, the Church placed All Saints Day on what had been New Year's Day around 1st November and because you couldn't have anything unholy around on All Saints Day, Samhain became All Hallows Eve - the night when all nasty and evil things came out to play in advance of All Saints Day when they couldn't. This had been a very small part of Samhain before this and now the Church emphasised this part only and blotted out all the other aspects of the festival, which are the most important to Pagans today.
Of course, popular secular celebration of the event focuses on the dressing up and the trick or treating, which grew from the 'trickster' element of the festival - winter festivals quite often have a trickster element, such as the Roman Saturnalia which turns everyday life on its head with masters serving slaves. Trickster gods such as Loki and Pan and Robin Goodfellow are not generally evil, merely mischievous and playful, though they can have a nasty edge. They embody some useful fun during the dark, cold and dangerous months of winter, and also echo reality with their unpredictability and occasional cruel edge.
I don't object to people celebrating the secular aspects of Hallowe'en. It is similar to the way most people celebrate Christmas - not being Christian and with no intention of honouring the deeper, spiritual meaning of the festival. What I do object to though is Christians being all self-righteous about Hallowe'en. They invented it, in its modern form, so it's ironic when they object to it, without even apparently knowing its history. And they are ignorant of its true spiritual meaning for thousands of modern Pagans. I'm sick of apologising for one of the main festivals of my faith and sick of being defensive about it. Christians wouldn't object to Eid or Diwali in this way, so why my festival which their Church had such a hand in trying to destroy?
This is not a post to attack Christians, it is a post to attack ignorance and intolerance. If I have managed to inform just one person, I'll be happy. But I'm not keeping quiet about this any longer.
Happy Samhain everyone!

Friday, 30 October 2009


I am passionate about breastfeeding. Neither of my children have ever had formula milk and they never had breastmilk from any container except my breast either. My 4.5 year old is still breastfeeding at least once a day. I say these things not to be smug or implicitly criticise anyone who did things differently but because I am really proud of them as my own achievements. And I also want to link to this article telling the truth about breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding.

Many women I've known have talked about the pressure to breastfeed and feeling angry about that, but I actually think that most women are lied to about the reality of bottle-feeding and many would be shocked and upset to learn the risks they are running for their babies' lives.

I don't think more pressure is what's needed. I think there needs to be more support and sharing of experience if problems are encountered, more support allowing women to take the time they need to feed their babies, more normalising of breastfeeding which is after all the normal way of feeding an infant rather than the highly artificial and unnatural bottle feeding.

Having watched a programme in the evening on a channel with adverts recently, which I haven't done for a while, I've been shocked at the kind of baby milk advertising that's allowed. After all, so many people boycott Nestle for just such promotion in developing countries, maybe we need a boycott of the people who make and show these adverts here.

The answers aren't simple. The reasons women don't breastfeed are social and economic and cultural. many women think they 'can't' breastfeed when they encounter a problem which can actually be solved with the correct advice, but they don't get the correct advice.

I'm not going to go into all the reasons here that are covered in the article, and before anyone flames me. Yes, I know breastfeeding isn't always easy, particularly in our culture where we don't grow up subconsciously learning how to do it from our mothers, sisters, aunts and friends. I know it can be hard to get support and I know their are special circumstances in which bottle feeding is necessary, in which case it is a lifesaver.

However, it is still the case that bottlefed babies are twice as likely to die in the first 6 weeks of life than breastfed babies. Twice as many! How many people learned that fact in their antenatal classes? The World Health Organisation considers formula milk to be 4th best for babies - so not even 2nd or 3rd best, in fact 4th best, their absolutely least preferred option. Baby junk food in fact. And the NHS spends £35 million a year on treating gastroenteritis in bottlefed babies. Maybe some of this should be covered in birth preparation classes so women can make a truly informed choice.

See La Leche League for help with breastfeeding.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Inspirational books

Well, Christmas is coming and I thought a list of inspirational books which people might want to add to their wish lists or buy for other people would be appropriate. So here goes:
So Shall We Reap by Colin Tudge - this is a detailed and educated look at the current food situation and how factpry farming is not only not the answer but is part of the current problem.
Permaculture in a Nutshell by Patrick Whitefield - this is a classic and inspirational book. It's quite short but packed with get-up-and-go. Makes you want to forage in a skip for old tyres, turn them into planters and use them grow tomatoes on your patio!
Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets by Joanna Blythman - another book which makes you more and more outraged as you read it, wondering why this kind of information is not mandatory in all schools.
Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement and Reproductive Wealth by Toni Weschler - this is another on the 'required reading list' for all women. If you're trying to get pregnant, not to get pregnant, or have ever worried you were pregnant when you were not, this is absolutely vital information. I consider myself pretty clued up on health and reproductive issues but I learnt so much from this book. I can honestly say that I probably wouldn't have managed to have my children naturally (if at all) without this book.
How to be Free by Tom Hodgkinson - I've talked about this book before and I still highly recommened it as a way of seeing our culture in a new way.
Affluenza by Oliver James - a psychological look at why everyone is so depressed these days despite being so well off materially. An interesting read.
Can Any Mother Help Me? by Jenna Bailey - a lovely, moving and fascinating read about a group of mothers from before and during WW2 who supported each other through a penpal circle.
And finally, one for the Pagans here: Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics by Emma Restall-Orr - a must-read for all thoughtful Pagans with an interest in philosophy.

Saturday, 10 October 2009


I love my Mooncup and I would never ever go back to using tampons or pads ever again. I know that some people haven't heard of them, some people find it hard to use them, but I can honestly say it's been a liberation for me. I have found I need to empty it far fewer times than I would need to change even a Super PLus tampon, and I no longer have to get up at night during the first few days of my period. It had a learning curve, sure, but then so did tampons when I first used them.

And for anyone who thinks they are expensive at £19.99, here's a bit of maths for you. I first used my Mooncup 6 years ago. Since then I calculate I've had 45 periods. Using 20 Super, 16 Regular and around 10 liners (all organic Natracare) at least, for each period cost me around £6.18 per period. Therefore, since 2003, I've saved myself £278.10 purely by using a Mooncup. (Plus my Mooncup only cost me £14.99 back then.) And my Mooncup should last me at least another 5 years, probably more.

And that's without thinking of the amount of rubbish I've kept out of landfill (or the sewers if you're naughty). So, for anyone thinking of taking the Mooncup plunge, or who had never heard of them till now, go on, try one, it could change your life or at least save you quite a decent amount of cash.

Thursday, 8 October 2009


And as the weather turns colder and the condensation starts running, my mind turns to insulation. We've really got to do something about insulation this year, but I'm totally at sea and don't know what to do for the best, plus we have about £25 spare to do it with, if that!
So far, I've just spent our 'spare' £25 on some reflecting panels to go behind our radiators so that we are not losing the heat we do have (not that I've switched the heating on yet anyway). But we have a much bigger problem - leaky double glazing, especially in the main bedroom where the window is actually misted in between the 2 panes. The only outside wall in the main bedroom gets really cold on the inside and then runs with condensation over night, causing damp and mould. We also get a lot of damp and mould in our bathroom, mainly on the ceiling. We have solid walls in our 1920s terraced house and no airbricks, but we have loft insulation and gas central heating with radiators.
Whenever I talk to people about all this, I get completely different replies, but all given absolutely authoritatively: more ventilation needed, more insulation needed, external insulation, internal insulation, better heating, more loft insulation. Given that most of these options involve serious building work and serious money, I don't want to get it wrong. I'm happy to save up for a proper solution but I have no idea which one *is* the proper solution. Can you get an 'eco' building/insulating company to come and give a free quote of what could be done to make your house more efficient? If so, how do you find someone knowledgeable and reputable?
I'm finding this all so frustrating as I know we could be more energy-efficient if I could sort this problem, and I don't want to keep on opening windows with the heating on just to get rid of the condensation. There has to be a better way!

Saturday, 3 October 2009


I have to share a great author I've discovered this year. I've gradually been working my way through many of his books and have been constantlyu blown away bu the sheer inventiveness of the polts and settings, the detail of the worlds he conjures up and the variety of characters. So, if you like 'hard' sci-fi, with a very surreal edge, but great rollicking adventures, I advise you to go and try Charles Stross - particularly Singularity Sky, The Atrocity Archives and Accelerando. Whenever I read his books I feel like my brain looks like the faces of astronauts who are undergoing heavy-g acceleration! But in a good way.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Check it out!

For those of you who have not seen it, here's the slightly adapted Pink Floyd song by the Children's Liberation Front calling for Badman to get his hands off our education: