Cedar Ring Mama

Taking My Cues From Mother Earth


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Preparing for the Festival Of Courage (Michaelmas in Fairyland)

This year I am working to tie together the lessons for my 3rd grader, first grader, and kindergartener.¬† I am calling it “Whole Family Homeschool”… where “one room schoolhouse” meets Waldorf education. ūüôā I will have to post the beginning of our year’s container story soon, as it will help make sense of the chapter below.¬† But, rather than get so far behind in typing the stories out that I procrastinate forever (lol), I will share the first two days of our Michaelmas week stories.¬† As a bit of a background, each of my three children has been given a special book whilst on a mission in fairyland- my kindergarten daughter has The Real Mother Goose, my first grade son has An Illustrated Treasury of Grimm’s Fairytales, and my third grade son has Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy. These books have been given to them to help them meet the challenges they will face on their missions in lands of fairies, elves, gnomes… and of course… the land of humans!

*Day One*

There was spicy note of celebration in the air.¬† Everyone in the Elemental Realms was hurrying to finish their day’s work early and some were already preparing for festivities.¬† Cirrus, Arlo, and Tula were very wide-eyed all day, watching and waiting as the sense of anticipation, palpable and intoxicating, grew and grew. After a satisfying lunch of beech nut stew and blackberry pie, Tula’s book began to glow.¬† The boys watched excitedly as she opened it, straight down the middle as she had been shown, where a ribbon marked its center pages.¬† The pages began to flutter, then flip this way and that, until they finally settled.

Cirrus began to read the rhyme aloud to Arlo and Tula.

Jack be nimble, jack be quick,

Jack jump over the candlestick.

Jack be nimble, Jack be spry,

Jack jump over the apple pie.

Jack be nimble, Jack jump high

Jack fly up into the sky.

As they watched, daring fairies and mischievous elves began to dance about and hop over what appeared to be flaming boughs of goldenrod, and when they had tired of this, wee fairy pies.¬† Finally their jumping contest took to the air as they shot straight up, so quickly that they flew up above the page top and could not be seen til they gleefully descended again.¬† Arlo’s tummy fluttered a bit as he watched, and Cirrus immediately began to take running leaps at the nearest stand of goldenrod to see if he could make it over.¬† Tula giggled and shouted “I want to try, too!”

Cobble soon appeared and grunted in the grumpy way gnomes often do.¬† “Preparing for the Festival of Courage, I see.¬† Take care you don’t land in the thistles beyond”, he warned, pointing to a thistle patch just past the goldenrod Cirrus was about to throw himself over. And then, to their awe and delight, Cobble took a running start and launched himself through the air, defying all laws of Gnome Gravity, and cleared a single goldenrod plant that was at least four times his height. Tula giggled and Cirrus’s jaw dropped.

“Didn’t think I had it in me, did ya?” he boasted proudly.¬† I was a champion in my younger years I’ll have you know.¬† Won the Goldenrod Leaping Trophy three years in a row!” He dusted himself off, and sat upon a large toadstool nearby.

“Goldenrod, you see, is a very special plant.¬† While other flowers of its ilk blossom from bottom up upon their stalk, goldenrod buds from top to bottom, like a candle burning down.¬† Tonight the fire fairies will set all the goldenrod plants aglow, and they will burn like candles.¬† Tomorrow the humans shall wonder why almost all the goldenrod has faded away, but it is time, you see- time for all things to return to rest and pull inward.¬† It is time for flowers to fade and the days of light to dwindle to their lowest.¬† Lights out early for the animals, the elementals, the humans.¬† Now facing darkness can be scary for anyone, just as looking inward and facing your very own self can be daunting.¬† We all have parts of ourselves we aren’t quite sure we are happy with, things we want to change.¬† A Festival of Courage celebrates each one of us turning inward and making changes we know we must make. Of course being fairies, elves and gnomes we can’t accomplish any such task without merriment- and so the goldenrod leaping contests have become a tradition.¬† Nimble Jack was a fairy boy of long ago who set records yet to be beaten today, for fearlessly jumping over the highest and brightest blazing goldenrods.¬† That is where the rhyme comes from.¬† And then of course, their is the pie jumping contest… now that is my favorite part!” he said, patting his round gnome belly with a smile of satisfaction.

The children smiled too, and were still and thoughtful for a moment.  Soon they were practicing leaping over goldenrod again.

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*Day Two*

“Cobble, must all of us leap over the goldenrod when the fire fairies set it on fire?” Arlo asked timidly.¬† Part of him wanted to imagine himself breaking new records, and part of him was a little scared.

Cobble grinned.¬† “Ah, when the night is upon us and the excitement of everyone touches your heart, it will embolden you lad.¬† Take courage from your friends.¬† But courage, you know, is not about having no fear.¬† It is about meeting your fear with grace, and understanding that fear is but an illusion, something that falls away when we do what we know, deep down here, is right” he said putting his hand upon his heart.

“I dare say Arlo, but your book seems to be positively glowing!” Cobble pointed to Arlo’s Treasury of Fairytales.

Arlo, quivering with excitement, set his brightly lit book down and it began to flip and flap, until it settled upon the Tale of the Four Skilful Brothers.  Cirrus abandoned his athletics and sat down to read the story to the two smaller children.

When he had finished, the three children and Cobble the Gnome watched as pictures appeared upon the pages where once words had flowed, illustrating the story.¬† The gently quivering page finally settled upon a magnificent giant of a dragon, curled up in the shape of a huge D.¬† Arlo traced the D of the dragon’s body on the page, and as he did his finger brushed lightly upon a beautiful crested shield that decorated the borders of the page, where knights in shining armor and beautiful maidens danced happily.¬† His finger tingled and the book began to shake and shimmy yet again, until three shields and swords shook free of the pages and landed all about them with a metallic clamor.

“Well I’ll be”, Cobble said.¬† All your accoutrements for the Festival of Courage.¬† My, but your swords and shields are very plain.¬† That won’t do- you’d best see the color fairies and ask for paints to add your crests. And while you’re at it, I dare say you might ask them to dye you some golden capes, for all the other fairy folk will be wearing them tonight.”

And so Cobble led the excited children to the village and brought them to a hut with a sign that read “Fairy and Elfen Dyeworks, LTD”.


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Dyeing Silk With Goldenrod (Michaelmas Capes!)

I can remember being annoyed with goldenrod when I first moved to the country.¬† It really dominates the September landscape, makes it hard to hike through our meadows, has a bad rap for causing allergies (the true culprit is ragweed),and did not seem to have much practical use.¬† Seven years later, I truly appreciate it- and not just because it dyes silk and wool a lovely, natural yellow- but for its essence and what it represents.¬† While goldenrod does have medicinal uses, it is also “The Bee Gold Rush”- offering our friends, the bees, a magnificent feast just when they need it most- before a long, cold winter.¬† While I am busy canning tomatoes and freezing corn, the bees are stocking up their larder with goldenrod nectar.

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If you spend some time with plants- meditating on them, sitting amongst them- I think it is possible to get a feeling for their work and purpose.  Goldenrod is a very giving, humble, and yet glorious plant. It is as though it has soaked up an entire summer of sun and then reflects it back to the world, standing tall and yet head modestly, slightly bowed- gathering all along the roadsides to greet passers by and create a celebratory gold-lined path on many of our country roads. It is also anti-inflammatory and diuretic, having a number of uses as a healing herb.

In Julia Grave’s incredible book The Language of Plants: A Guide to the Doctrine of Signatures, she talks about the difference between “a single, showy flower” and “a group of flowers giving an impression as if they were one flower.” The latter “often have to do with our comportment in groups, or the unification of all our sub-parts, of self”.¬† In North American goldenrod, single flowers are grouped into little flowers which are then additionally grouped into a rod.¬† This is a “double grouping process”

“It is the flower essence for children who seek attention from the group by acting in a negative way. It will enable them to act in harmony with the group without needing negative attention… In whichever variation, grouped flowers play on the theme of the individual versus the larger human context.”

Julia also talks about the significance of the order in which a flower blooms.

“Most flowers along spikes bloom from the bottom up… they open their lowest flowers first… it is remarkable that Goldenrod blooms from above down… The whole gesture is one of preparing to go in after the outward gesture of summer... Blooming with a gesture of a warm glowing candle that burns downward, Goldenrod speaks of bringing in the energy.”

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When I see goldenrod now, I see a living, vibrant metaphor of my place in the cycle of the seasons; I remember to check in with myself and often find the busyness of autumn is truly burning my candle low, and I feel the stirrings of anticipation for the slower pace of winter.

To dye with it, you want only the blossoms, as leaves and stems will contribute a greenish tone to your dye pot. You can use the blossoms fresh or dried.  It is time consuming to strip the blossoms from the stems, so find a pleasant spot or some pleasant company and settle in!

Prior to dyeing your silk, you may wish to mordant it. This ensures the color stays vibrant and your dye job does not fade or rinse out. Some people use vinegar as a mordant, but I find alum to be more effective and the safest of the mordants.  Common consensus is to use 1/4 the weight of the item to be dyed worth of alum, and in my dye pot I generally do a few yards of silk with 1 tablespoon of alum and 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar.  Handle the alum carefully (do not inhale or eat!). It is also well-advised to have a reserved dye pot and not use your pot for cooking edibles if you use mordants in it. Enamelware pots (like those typically used for canning) make great dye pots.

To mordant your silk, add the alum and cream of tartar and enough water to completely cover your silk, with extra for evaporation, and let dissolve.¬† Then heat the water to a gentle simmer (do not boil- may ruin the sheen of the silk!) and allow the silk to soak for an hour.¬† Now, remove from heat and let soak overnight. When cooled, ring out but do not rinse. You can allow it to sit in a cool place for a few days and this will “set” the silk all the more.

The day before you dye, you’ll want to put your blossoms in the dye pot with enough water to cover the blossoms and silk you intend to use (do not add silk yet though), and extra to account for evaporation. Bring blossoms and water to a boil for 20 minutes; remove from heat and allow to soak overnight. You may wish to add tumeric or marigold if you would like a more vibrant yellow; I usually add a few petals of this flower (not sure of the name) that shoots up each year in our garden to herald September.

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Strain the flowers and add your silk to the pot (and perhaps some natural wool felt or natural roving if you wish!). Heat, but do not boil (this damages the sheen of the silk), stir well to distribute dye evenly and be sure silk is not folded up as this will effect dye distribution. After an hour, remove from heat and allow to cool.

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Rinse and dry- all done!

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Don’t forget to dry some goldenrod for later.¬† It will cheer you up and remind you of Indian summer during the dark winter.

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If you are dyeing a large piece of silk as I did for our nature table, this is a great tutorial on hand-hemming silk. If you are dying a pre-hemmed 35″ square silk and wish to turn it into a cape, you can simply tie two corners to fasten the cape or get fancy and fold one edge down about an inch or so, sew in place, and thread a finger-knitted yellow chain through the “sleeve” for a tie.


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“Neither Was Their Place Found Anymore”- A Michaelmas Meditation

“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,¬† And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.¬†And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.¬†And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, ‘Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night’.” (Revelation 12:7-10)

This morning I mentioned to¬†my husband that it was Michaelmas Day, and he asked me to remind him of its meaning.¬† I told him the story of the angel who defeats the dragon and casts him out of heaven, and he remarked it reminded him of Greek Mythology instead of a Bible story.¬† Well, John, the author of Revelation was exiled on a Greek isle, Patmos, at the time he wrote it.¬† I’m sure he had Greek influences and cultural archetypes in his mind as he tried to unravel¬†his vision from¬†enigmatic mental pictures¬†to written word.¬† But the story fits remarkably well into the human experience, whether it is told by an ancient¬†greek-influenced exilee or if it¬†had been¬†told in our time in Hollywood¬†apocolypse¬†style.¬† It is a story of courage and defeating darkness, at a time when darkness seems to be advancing (in our part of the world, the hours of night are now longer than the hours of daylight).¬†¬† It is a story of banishing things which have no place- things that shroud us in negativity- and knowing that a darkness is going to follow (in Revelation, the dragon then comes to earth in a rage which wreaks havoc on humanity for a time- as winter does to the world around us).

Our outer work is wrapping up.¬† We have reaped and sown, and we prepare for an inward¬†journey¬†by taking courage and lighting a flame of hope as we begin… the Michaelmas candle symbolizes that¬†light of hope to carry us through a dark time.

I’ve been listening to Dr. Wayne Dyer’s “Excuses Begone- How To Change Lifelong, Self-Defeating Thinking Patterns” audio and it has been so helpful to me.¬† What are my personal dragons this Michaelmas?¬† Well, as I read the passage from Revelation¬†this morning, I knew exactly what they were.¬†¬†Those accusing thoughts.¬† I find it so interesting that it was announced “Now is come salvation, and strength… for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accused them before our God day and night.”¬† Heaven celebrates because no longer will its inhabitants have to listen to negative accusations against us!¬† No one is going to notice every mistake, point out each weakness, tear down and discourage, or plot against… and let me tell you, if I could get rid of the negative¬†internal commentary in my head that does the same thing, how freeing that would be.¬† How much more able I would be to enter into the strength and power of my life purpose and encourage those around me.¬†¬† How much more able to co-create beauty, peace, and joy in day-to-day life. What if, when a self-defeating thought crossed my mind I pulled out the shining sword of truth and said, “Neither is your place found anymore!”?

I struggle with feeling unworthy of my blessings, incompetent to hold everything in my household together adequately¬†(just because I have a good organizational chart doesn’t mean I always accomplish everything!), graceless with my children, and selfish¬†about my¬†expectations or requests of my husband.¬† I have struggled with not feeling deserving of the baby we are expecting; am I really doing a good enough job with the children I already have?¬†¬†But what¬†good does it do to¬†dwell on¬†these negative thoughts?¬† Will I become a better person, mother, or wife by focusing on my weaknesses or perceived inadequacies? No.¬†¬†Sometimes my house¬†gets neglected,¬†¬†a harsh word or irritated mannerism slips out, or I think about how tired I am before¬†thinking about how tired¬†my husband must be.¬† But who I am is not characterized by my mistakes; it is characterized by the way I get back up again and try, striving for better, renewing my mind with higher thoughts.¬† Thoughts that don’t revolve around myself!¬† Thoughts that come from a Higher Being and bring me to a better realm of existence.

Today we gathered goldenrod and yellow wildflowers to dye golden capes, made our dragon bread, lit our Michaelmas candle for the first of many long nights, and read Margaret Hodge’s St. George and the Dragon.¬†¬† I enjoyed our quiet celebration, and for once I appreciated that we are far from other families we know of who may be celebrating Michaelmas, so that it could be a quiet and reflective day.¬† The season of contraction and introspection is definitely at hand.¬† It is so easy to let¬†busyness and the expectations and opinions of others around¬†us sweep¬†us along a path that may¬†not be as sweet and cherished as the one we would find if we had the space and time to search for it on our own, and I feel that strongly as I go forward into the cold and darkness of a long winter… another chance to spark a flame that will carry me through a new year, find the vibration¬†of a new impulse, organize a regrouping of my soul forces.¬† The time of much doing¬†eases into the time of much¬†being.

The last of the blossoms are fading, and the little seeds are finding a place to rest and gather strength for a time as days grow short and chill.