Isn’t there something lovely about watering plants in the evening just before dusk? Which is what I was doing the other evening, quietly contemplating how the colours stand out as the scent of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme wafted in the evening air. (Bet you are singing Scarborough Fair in your head right now).
Mr Henry Bluebell Smudge, my black and white cat, sat watching me from the garden table, how trusting I thought. I was tempted to spray him when suddenly someone knocked on the side garden gate, causing me to jump and subsequently doing just that! Poor Henry yowled in anger and sped inside. Dreamies for him tonight I thought as I opened the gate to find our new vicar Joel, rocking on his heels and beaming.
Have I mentioned Vicar Joel? I might have done; he sees our Moot group and me in particular as a challenge. He arrived in the village a few months ago around Imbolc, with his acoustic guitar and bright flowery shirts under his dog collar.
He is of indeterminate age, with earnest piercing blue eyes and is always beaming at everyone, or everything, with a permanent bemused look on his face. Or perhaps that look is reserved for me and our Moot.
‘Come in! I’ve just watered the cat’ I said. Joel looked at me enquiringly, ‘Is that some ritual you do?’ he tried to smile. I reassured him it was an accident offering him tea or perhaps some of Flo and Billy’s homemade elderflower wine, which he hastily declined; memories of the fete were still very fresh in everyone’s mind. He said that tea would be most welcome and could he have a moment of my time.
Now, I am always suspicious when someone wants a ‘moment of my time’, but with tea made, I invited Joel into my living room, after I had taken the precaution of turning my statue of the Horned God around to spare Joel’s blushes. Although his cheeky bum was twinkling at us, the statue’s, I mean, not Joel’s.
Joel cleared his throat, ‘Erm I was wondering’
Me: in my head, ’oh dear Goddess what is he wanting?’
Joel: ‘Erm, if you would be interested in coming along to our weekly afternoon group, to help organise it’
Me: in my head, ‘not on your Nelly!’
By the way, who is this, Nelly? What has she to do with the price of fish?
Joel gave a little cough he was waiting for an answer.
‘I’m sorry I’m busy that afternoon’
‘I haven’t mentioned what afternoon’
‘Didn’t you? Erm.’ My turn to erm now.
‘It’s on Thursdays’
‘Oh well then, Thursdays I am always busy all day!’
Joel looked downcast, I almost felt sorry for him. He went on to tell me that Mrs Finch who organises the afternoon crafting group had resigned after a ‘little’ disagreement with Mrs Branch, who has refused to take it over, which is surprising seeing as she takes over everything in the village.
Well now, this was another matter entirely, crafting is right up my street. I could rope in my Moot group, they all like crafting and painting, and it was even better because Mrs Busybody, know-it-all, Branch, wouldn’t do it!
Mrs Busybody, know-it-all Branch is, it is fair to say, my Nemesis.
Mrs Busy… you know the rest, Branch, thinks I am a devil worshipper and that Christ will strike me down for the Heathen I am! Not just me, but the rest of my little Moot group of jolly Pagans.
Ooooh one in the eye for Mrs Branch I thought!
Yes, I know I am a tree hugging Pagan and Goddess worshipper, but sometimes, just sometimes, I am not all warm and fluffy knickers! Especially where Mrs Branch is concerned.
‘I’ll do it!’ I exclaimed, sign me up. I’m your woman.’
Joel went away with a little skip in his step, a very happy vicar.
So, after rounding up my Moot group, those who were available on an afternoon, which was pretty much nearly all of them. We all trotted down to the village hall on Thursday, carrying our boxes and baskets of crafting bits and bobs.
Joel introduced me to the group who were sitting in a circle looking expectantly at me, if not a little nervous. I am, after all, known as the Witch, and he left us to it.
‘Hello! Let’s get the kettle on and we can start’
I had decided that as Lammas was on its way, we could make corn dollies. Billy and Big John had collected corn from the fields, assuring me that they had asked permission from the farmer. Dippy Daisy was flitting between our little group of blue rinsed ladies, showing them what to do, Big John was barking instructions to the few men who had turned up, whilst Flo and Bobbie made more tea and handed around homemade biscuits.
I sat back thoroughly enjoying the afternoon chatting and crafting. Thankfully Raven couldn’t help out, I say thankfully, because she is, as I have said, rather intense, and can be rather off putting, or to be honest, frightening.
All was going well, and corn dollies of various sizes and shapes were being created. The people who were a little anxious at first were relaxing and clearly enjoying themselves. The men seemed happy too. There was a lot of giggling from some quarters and guffaws from the men……
What a fabulous word guffaw!
Well guffaws there were aplenty.
A happy atmosphere permeated the hall, gentle happy people.
Daisy and I just exchanged a happy smile, when I noticed movement outside one of the windows. I crept across the room and sure enough lurking behind the buddleia bush, crouching down, was none other than Mrs. Branch!
I tiptoed to the front door gently opening it and creeping around the corner of the building. There she was peering into the window.
I coughed and Mrs Branch jumped. It was marvellous for a woman of her age and corsets to be able to lift off the ground, both feet too. She staggered a little once back on terra-firma.
She harrumphed, tossing her head and causing her hat (she always wears hats) to flap about a bit and marched out of the flower bed and past me and into the hall.
‘I demand to know what Heathen rites are being enacted here in our village hall!’ Her voice boomed; I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had heard her in the pub.
Everyone stopped what they were doing, they turned to look at her and for a split second there was silence. Then all at once everyone burst out hooting and guffawing with laughter. They were laughing so hard, tears running down their cheeks, a lot of thigh slapping went on and I thought I heard little Mrs Sweeting exclaim that she might have wet herself, which caused even more hilarity amongst her little group of ladies.
Daisy and I watched open mouthed, we exchanged glances, I was looking at the home-made biscuits as a terrible thought entered my head and clearly in Daisy’s head too. I grabbed the biscuit tin, I looked at Flo and Bobbie with raised eyebrow, they nodded back and they too began to laugh.
They had made happy biscuits! I ask you! Our one chance to be accepted in the village and they make happy bloody biscuits and stone the elders of the village!
It was at this point that Joel entered, clearly delighted to see everyone so happy until he saw Mrs Branch’s indignantly quivering bosom, he looked at me and happily accepted two biscuits from the tin I was holding.
Mrs Branch rounded on poor Joel. ‘This, vicar is what happens when you invite the Heathens into the village hall, chaos reigns wherever they go, need I remind you of the Church Fete?’
Little Miss Sweeting had come over to her, holding her corn dolly aloft. She exclaimed, we have made corn dollies to ward off evil and protect us, she wafted it around Mrs Branch. ‘Mine’s not working’ she giggled and twittered back to her seat to much hilarity.
Mrs Branch quivered and lifting her bosom higher as if it was possible, she complained about encouraging Pagan symbols to be made and bringing disrepute and the wrath of God to the village.
All through the diatribe, Joel had been munching on the biscuits as he now held the tin. He’s hungry I thought, oh wait……… too late he had eaten too many.
He barked with laughter spraying Mrs Branch and me and Daisy with crumbs. He was laughing so hard he was slapping his thigh to try to stop, every time he thought he had control of himself and he looked at her, he barked with laughter even harder.
I told Daisy to help Joel to a seat, away from Mrs Branch, and trying to calm everyone down, I suggested that we took some quiet time, and Mrs Branch might like to look at what we had made to assure her we were not making Pagan symbols but old country symbols.
I managed to get her to sit down, and began showing her the corn dollies, she sat with pursed lips and quivering bosom. She was beginning to calm down and acknowledging that the dollies were indeed quite inventive.
It was then that the group of men, led by Big John stepped forward with their corn dolly. I could only see the back, and was thinking it was rather large as they proudly turned it to face us, and they started once again to guffaw.
I will admit that even I gasped. I could see that Big John had been very busy, encouraging the men. He was an expert corn dolly maker and they had created a masterpiece, well, erm, certainly a piece…..
It was clearly John Barleycorn, set inside a circle, and he was proudly holding his scythe as he cut the last ears of corn, proudly I say, because a certain part of his anatomy was proud, very proud, very proud indeed!
Mrs Branch sat gulping for air, her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water.
She turned her steely eyes on me and pointing a shaking finger she told me it was all my fault, and then apparently lost for words, she stood and marched out of the hall, turning at the door and declaring that from now on she was going to ask Mrs Finch to return to the afternoon crafting group and bring dignity back once more. And with a toss of her head, hat flapping, she slammed the door.
And just like that we were no longer required to help the crafters of the village, but I understand that Flo and Bobbie are doing a roaring trade selling their homemade biscuits.
The vicar, it seems is a regular customer, as is diminutive Mrs Sweeting.
Blessings from Hedgewitch House.
Copyright © Christine Watts 2022