Sunday, 29 March 2020

Good therapy for these strange days- making smudge sticks

What are smudge sticks? Simply a bundle of dried herbs that have been wrapped together into a stick, light the tip, blow out the flame, and allow the fragrant smoke to waft through a space or around the body. The term “smudging” refers to a ceremonial or ritual practice of burning herbs to purify and cleanse a space or other people. Burning herbs and using aromatic smoke in ritual has been practiced since ancient times, it spans many different cultures worldwide.
Why Use Smudge Sticks? Using smudge sticks, or smudging, as it is called, is a way to connect to plants and herbs in nature-focused, spiritual practice.
Burn white sage or cedar when feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed.
The aroma and sight of the smoke swirling around has an almost magical effect at easing tension and enhancing peaceful energy.
Each plant has its own properties, so there are many reasons to make a variety of smudge sticks.
For example, white sage is often used to cleanse and purify.
Cedar is used to boost positive energy.
Mugwort is used for dream work and divination.
Lavender is used for calming and de-stressing.

How To Use Smudge Sticks Simply light one end with a match, lighter, or candle. Hold the bundle in the flame for a few seconds, once there is a flame, wave the smudge stick or gently blow the flame out to release the aromatic smoke.
Wave it around a space, or over/under an object that you want to purify or charge.
You may need to relight the smudge stick several times. Some herbs (like catmint or Russian sage) will burn until the stick is completely used up, while cedar and many others need to be re-lit frequently during use.
 Have a heat-resistant container nearby when using smudge sticks for resting the stick between burnings.
Smudge Stick Making
1: Gather The Herbs
Use a pair of pruning shears to cut what is needed.
Any time of year is fine for harvesting evergreens like cedar and pine. For everything else the best time to harvest is when it is in bloom in spring or summer.
2: Pre-Dry
Before you can wrap most herbs into a smudge stick, hang them up to dry slightly for a day or two.
The hers should just be starting to dry but not be crispy. There should be enough moisture left to wrap them up without pieces crumbling off.
Typically, herbs are ready within 24-48 hours after harvest.
The exception is evergreens like pine, cedar, cypress, and juniper, which can be wrapped up into a smudge stick immediately.
Be sure to wrap the string extra tight when working with evergreens as the smudge stick will shrink in diameter slightly as they dry.

 3: Bind Them Up
Tying up smudge sticks is the trickiest part. Here’s how to do it:

a: Tie the bundle together about an inch from the base. Make sure it’s a tight, double knot. Be sure to leave a couple inches of string at the base. You’ll need this extra couple inches of string later. Natural cotton embroidery or any natural, untreated thread or string that is strong enough to pull tightly around a bundle of herbs.
b: Wrap the string tightly around the base several times.

c: Tightly wrap the string up the bundle of herbs, moving up in a spiral being sure to keep all of the plant material going in the same direction.
d: Wrap the string around the top a couple times, and then work your way back down toward the base of the smudge stick
e: Wrap the string around the base a few more ti6: Tightly tie the string together (the piece you have been wrapping around the smudge stick to the couple of inches of string you left when you tied the first knot.) Make sure it’s a tight, double knot.
f (Optional): Trim both ends to tidy up the smudge stick.

4: Dry Completely
After you wrap your smudge sticks, hang them back up to dry completely. This process may take as little as a week or two, or as long as 8-10 weeks (especially if working with cedar, pine, cypress, and juniper).

How To Store Smudge Sticks
Perhaps the best way to store smudge sticks (after they have been thoroughly dried) is to place them in an air-tight, glass mason jar out of direct sunlight.
Keep smudge sticks separate from each other. Store all cedar smudges together, don’t put a variety of smudge sticks together as the aromas tend to blend with undesirable results.
Use up your smudges within one year.

Plants To Use For Smudging
Just about any plant can be used for making smudge sticks, but some just work and smell better than most.
Sage (Salvia sp.)
Sage is one of the most popular smudge stick materials. The common name itself is associated with wisdom and spirituality.
White sage (salvia apiana) is THE quintessential smudge stick herb
When feeling stressed or anxious, lighting a dried leaf of white sage calms  and shifts energy quickly. Common kitchen sage (salvia officianalis) can be used as well.
Symbolism: Purification, cleansing, wisdom.
Harvest: Harvest kitchen sage anytime,  or wait until it flowers to incorporate the blossoms into the smudge.
Cedar/Arborvitae (Thuja sp.)
Cedar is, perhaps, the second most commonly used smudge.
Cedar is considered a sacred plant in many cultures.
The scent is a wonderful, sweet woody smell, and cedar wood is a good alternative to palo santo wood.
Symbolism: Cedar is said to cleanse and purify, while boosting positive energy in a space.
Harvest: Any time of year is okay for cedar
Smudge Tips: Unlike some other smudging herbs, cedar won’t stay lit, simply use a tealight candle and hold the cedar smudge stick over it until it produces smoke.
Be sure to let a cedar smudge stick dry for at least 6-8 weeks before use.
Mugwort/Croneswort (Artemesia vulgaris)
Mugwort is often used in dreamwork and divination, but can also be used to purify and cleanse. Also known as “Croneswort” or “Dreamwort”.
Symbolism: Dreaming, purification, wisdom, divination.
Harvest: When in bloom – late summer, early autumn.
Smudge Tips: Better to burn mugwort outdoors, the smell can be strong and lingering when burned in small spaces. With mugwort, a little goes a long way.
Be sure to incorporate the floral stalks into the smudge stick for the best aroma.
 Juniper (Juniperus sp.)
Juniper is another evergreen that is great to use in smudge sticks. It’s a common landscape shrub and tree.
Symbolims: Abundance, protection home and property.
Harvest: Anytime. Late summer if you want to include the “berries” in the smudge sticks.
Smudge Tips: A juniper smudge stick can take up to 6-8 weeks to fully dry before it can be used.
Pine (Pinus sp.)
Pine has a sweet smell when burned and produces a lot of smoke due to the resins in the twigs.
Symbolism: White pine (Pinus strobus) – Peace, releasing grudges, prosperity; Black pine (Pinus nigra): Protection, good fortune, prosperity.
Harvest: Anytime.
Smudge Tips: It is tricky to get started, use a tea light to relight it. However, once it get going it smokes well without needing to be re-lit.
A pine smudge stick can take 6 weeks or so to fully dry before it can be used.
Cypress is another evergreen that is great to make into a smudge stick.
Symbolism: Cypress is associated with death and the underworld/afterlife, so it’s a good plant to use when letting go, releasing, or doing any ancestor work
Harvest: Anytime.
Smudge Tips: A cypress smudge stick can take up to 6 weeks to fully dry before use.
Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
Russian sage has a wonderful musky/minty smell, and once a dried smudge stick is lit, it burns until you either put it out or the smudge stick is used up.
Symbolism: Wisdom, knowledge, resilience.
Harvest: When in bloom – typically mid-late summer.
Smudge Tips: Russian sage can get a bit sticky when you work with it, so wash your hands well with soap afterward.
Catmint (Nepeta sp.)
Catmint is another common garden plant that makes a wonderful smelling smudge stick, and is super easy to burn.
It is related to catnip (also in the genus Nepeta), which can also be used in a smudge.
Symbolism: Affection, rejuvenation.
Harvest: When in bloom – typically late-spring.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
According to myth, the Trojan War hero, Achilles, was taught to use yarrow to treat his soldiers’ battle wounds. Yarrow was an important healing herb for soldiers in ancient times.
Yarrow has a mild aroma and burns  quickly.
Symbolism: Healing, protection.
Harvest: When in bloom – late spring/early summer.
 Lavender (Lavandula sp.)
Lavender is a popular smudge herb that can be combined with other herbs (like sage) in a smudge stick, or used alone.
Lavender has a distinctive, floral aroma that promotes relaxation and sleep.
Symbolism: Peace, love, harmony.
Harvest: Anytime, or after it blooms in you wish to incorporate the flowers into the smudge stick.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Trip to Coria and the castle of Trevejo in the Sierra de Gata

A beautiful spring day for a trip to the Sierra de Gata in the north west of Extremadura. An area which borders Portugal with some spectacular mountain scenery and intriguing ancient villages.
The oak woods are just coming into bud, mountain streams, spring flowers and vast views. 
Our first stop was Coria which is just to the south of the sierra, a bustling town with a long history due to its situation in fertile valley of the river Alagón.
 Before the Roman conquest of Extremadura it was known as Caura, during Roman times it was an important trading post surrounded by a wall with 20 square towers and four gates, it is a magnificent example of Roman defence architecture from the 2nd though 4th centuries, preserving some original funerary steles.

The Visigoths established the Diocese of Coria, it was conquered by the Moors in the first quarter of the 8th century renamed Medina Caura, it remained on the border between Moorish and Christian lands during the 11th and 12th centuries until reconquest by the Christian king Alfonso VII in 1142. The Alba family were granted the lands which include Coria in 1472 and continued as an important influence until the 19th century, sadly the Alba palacio opposite the cathedral is in a very dilapidated condition, now home to pigeons and cats.

The catedral de Santa Maria de Asuncion was built on the site of the former mosque in a variety of styles during a period of 250 years beginning in the 15th century in Gothic-Renaissance style. The stone carving is a magnificent example of work by Manuel de Lara Churriguera and Diego Copín de Holanda

The stone bridge below the cathedral was built in the Renaissance but it stands over a riverbed that is dry since 1590, when the Alagón river was naturally diverted from its course as a result of a powerful flood.
It is a pleasure to wander around the quiet streets of the walled town coming across other interesting sites such as the Royal prison and the Ecclesiastical prison, the convent of Madre Dios and castle tower which was built by the Dukes of Alba in the 15th century when they were given control of Coria by the Royal family.

There is an attractive restaurant and café with a garden and terrace in the old Bishop's palace which is now a hotel next to the Cathedral
 From Coria it is another 40kms to our destination, the castle of Trevejo. The journey takes us through some lush scenery, stunning countryside with one big blot on the landscape, a town called Moraleja, really incredibly ugly with a 2km stretch of the most unfortunate examples of 60s and 70s cheaply built shops and houses, just ignore it and move on.
 On a winding mountain road one glimpses the castle high up on the right before entering the village of Villamiel, it's just 2 kms further to the tiny hamlet of Trevejo now inhabited by just 24 people.

The village is absolutely charming, seems to have been organically created to blend perfectly into the wonderful scenery, it almost distracts from the looming castle ruins on highest point of the rocky outcrop. We explore the almost deserted village, just seeing a few inhabitants.

The houses are well kept and tiny gardens thrive with flowers and herbs. There were at least three Casa Rurales, I suppose they get busy in the summer when it might be cooler up here. We were happy to have this lovely little world to ourselves. The walk up to the castle is easy, there is a small church on the way with a separate bell tower and some interesting graves cut into the rock.

The castle is so gothically romantic, ancient lichened walls festooned with ivy, crumbling coats of arms, mysterious stone inscriptions, fabulous views and lethal drops, love it.

The castle has the predictable history for Extremadura, it was built on the remains of a Moorish fortress dating back to the 12th century. The fortress changed hands throughout centuries, from Alfonso VII, Christian King of Leon and Castile, to different military orders. Due to its strategic location, it played an important role during the War of Succession against the Portuguese. It was later destroyed in the 19th century during the Peninsular War by the Napoleonic army in retreat. The remains that can be seen today date from the 15th century.

It was quite hot and strenuous clambering around the ruins so we made our way back to Villamiel for a drink and snack before moving on San Martin de Trevejo, another fascinating village in the Sierra de Gata which even has its own language, La Fala, a blend of Castellano, Portuguese and Gallego.

The streets are cobbled with a central gutter where there is a constant flow of water. Charming old houses with overhanging eves, a central plaza with arcades and a fountain, some cafés and restaurants, a super retro bar that looks like it's been there since the 50s complete with aspidistra.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Las Carontoñas de Acehuche on the fiesta of San Sebastian 2020

The fiesta of San Sebastian on January 20 is celebrated in a particularly bizarre fashion in the small village of Acehúche near Caceres. The carantoñas are wild creature characters, mixing paganism with Christianity as they prowl around the village dressed in grotesque costumes made from a patchwork of hides, horns and tusks from sheep, cows, goats and wild boar, the headdress is particularly gruesome with plenty of gore. They revere San Sebastian, an early Christian martyr, in remembrance of the legend that after he was tortured and killed by his fellow Roman soldiers his body was not devoured by the wild beasts of the forest. Arriving eventually at the village church, a procession takes place with the statue of the saint bound to a living orange tree, local twist. There are explosive rifle volleys, confetti and rosemary strewn in the streets. The carantoñas precede the saint performing a ritualistic dance and reverence along the route together with pipes and drums, the girls of the village are dressed in their best finery, some flirting goes on between the hideous beasts and the beauties.

This year it was really freezing cold even though the sun was shining in a blue sky, we did not linger but left with colourful memories and confetti in our clothes.

Here's a video I took in 2014, 6 years ago already, nothing has changed!


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