A Swedish Midsummer

This weekend just gone was my second Midsummer in Sweden. And, like every celebration ought to be, it was deeply, gloriously, refreshingly magical.

Midsummer in Sweden is a big deal. At this time of the year – the VERY FUCKING HOT time – in northern Sweden, the sun always remains above the horizon. In the South, it only sets for a few hours. This can prove to be a pain in the arse if you don’t have yourself a pair of black out curtains, as I have come to realise.

Swedes are so massively enthusiastic about Midsummer, you could almost say they become manic in the approaching days. It’s sort of crucial to just go with it, else you’ll be seen as a kill joy. As well as being an ancient pagan festival, Midsummer is the launch of the LONG summer break, which the majority of Scandinavia enjoys.

Everyone is flitting around trying to get things done, before the nights start to get longer, and the cold months start to creep back. This includes tanning the shit out of themselves.

Midsummer celebrates fertility and in gardens across this northern land you’ll find a phallic looking Midsommarstång (Midsummer Pole) erected.  A Midsummer Pole is a beautiful thing, decorated with foliage, masses of summer flowers that have been harvested from the fields and the forests and patriotic yellow and blue ribbons.

Food is central to the celebrations…namely potatoes in various forms. If you celebrate Midsummer, it’s inevitable that you will, at some point during the festivities, fall into a potato coma. It’s so worth it.

This year, like the last, we made the four hour journey to Middle Sweden to spend the weekend with the man’s family in Hagfors, AKA the small town in the woods…woods that are populated with moose, bears and wolves, as I relish pointing out at any given opportunity.

I had been dreaming about Midsummer for weeks, though predominantly  the potato and anchovies dish Jansson’s frestelse (Jansson’s Temptation) and Jordgubbstårta (strawberry cake.)

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The journey to Hagfors is through miles of farmland and thick forest. I always say a little prayer to the universe before we set off, asking if we can have the privilege of having a glimpse of the forest king – the moose.

The universe clearly doesn’t like me that much at the moment though, because I’ve yet to see a moose to gasp at.

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The style of the Swedish home is something really special, especially Sebastian’s family home. It had an air of tranquility about it that I  haven’t felt anywhere else. It’s virtually impossible to be pissed off when you’re being washed with light.

Woman of the house Pia has exceptional style, and I appreciate it that she appreciates   Swedish author and illustrator Elsa Beskow. Every month this frame receives a new interpretation by Beskow.

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Sebastian took on the task of creating the Midsummer Pole this year…I helped by snipping some greenery off a few bushes. The pole never did get it flowers though, turned out we were too busy inhaling potatoes…

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…and stopping the latest member of the family  – a Maltese puppy called Ozzy – taking off our fingers with his adorable needle teeth.

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I’m not much of a drinker, so preferred to just look at my glass of strawberry cider.

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Midsummer is very much about the Strawberry Cake.

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With Sebastian’s dad living in the woods, when we visit we’re regularly reminded of the fragile line between life and death. Even on a blissful weekend like midsummer.

We always pass this ancient moose skull at the end of his road, and there is usually something recently dead when we arrive. In this instance it was a lizard that had met its fate at the teeth of the lawn mower. We also stumbled across a newly shed snake skin among the flowers.

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On the way home, enticed by a sign offering a view of a rune stone, we pulled off the main highway and ventured through the narrow country roads.

When we finally found it, it turned out that it was no ordinary rune stone, it was, in fact, the Järsberg Runestone, one of four in the region of Värmland and one of the best known stones in all of Scandinavia. Discovered in 1862, it dates way back to the 6th Century. Needless to say, I was pretty psyched.

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The road home.

NOTE: If you’re interested, you can read about my first Midsummer here on my archived blog The Girl With Cold Hands.

My Friend Bud

I will forever see myself as having been a truly fortunate kid, because we always had dogs in the family…including a precious border collie cross springer spaniel called Sally.

In her later years, she would take herself off to one of our neighbours house where she’d settle herself down by the fire, and be fed Weetabix by the tolerant old lady who lived there.

However, when my dad would whistle from the back door, she’d hurry home for dinner. I can still remember her floppy spaniel ears waving in the wind as she trotted down the back lane. So obedient she was, so beautifully loyal.

But she was sick towards the end, her body riddled with cancerous tumours, which I could feel when I’d bury my bare feet in her long fur at nighttime, when we were sat in front of the fire. I can recall her last day, how I fed her some of my Snickers ice cream bar. It was hard to look into those hazel eyes while she wolfed down the cold treat.

Yesterday I saw Sally again in the eyes of Bud, a friend’s one year old border collie. Intelligence, loyalty, happiness – his eyes and sublime face brought back what I’d lost when I parted ways with Sally.

For the few hours I was sat in my friend’s living room, I felt a calmness like I haven’t been capable of feeling in a long time. My anxiety was thousands of miles away, and all I was in possession of was joy of the very purest kind. I daydream about when the man and I can bring a dog into the family…I day dream about the genuine joy it will infuse our lives with.

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“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”
― Josh Billings

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“Dogs are minor angels, and I don’t mean that facetiously. They love unconditionally, forgive immediately, are the truest of friends, willing to do anything that makes us happy, etcetera. If we attributed some of those qualities to a person we would say they are special. If they had ALL of them, we would call them angelic. But because it’s “only” a dog, we dismiss them as sweet or funny but little more. However when you think about it, what are the things that we most like in another human being? Many times those qualities are seen in our dogs every single day– we’re just so used to them that we pay no attention.”
― Jonathan Carroll

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“The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.”
― Charles de Gaulle

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“I believe in integrity. Dogs have it. Humans are sometimes lacking it.”
― Cesar Millan

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Calling On The Moon In My Time Of Need

I captured this photo over a week ago. I was feeling creatively dead, and of 300 or so photos taken during a three hour walk in the woods, this was the only one I kept.  The others were so freaking bad I felt embarrassed to keep them on my memory card and deleted them fast.

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I’ve always thought it to be beautifully eerie to be able to sight the moon during daylight hours. After I captured this shot, I stood and watched her for about ten minutes. She made me feel kind of alright and had me shrug off my low mood.

I soon found myself thinking about a book my mother used to own when I was growing up. She might still have it tucked away in a dusty cardboard box somewhere where the ghouls gather at the back of the attic. (Seen as though I’m here, I might as well have a look and see if I can unearth it.)

It was called Moon Moon. Written by Anne Kent Rush and published in 1976 it was a magnificently heavy, passionately researched book all about the moon and the relationship women have with her. While it might be a bit outdated, if you’re interested in moon worship it’s a must-have.

When I got home – I could still see her from the kitchen window – my curiosity was ignited and I went in search of moon quotes. Here’s some of what I found…

“There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls. ”
— George Carlin

 

“If the moon smiled, she would resemble you.
You leave the same impression
Of something beautiful, but annihilating.”
— Sylvia Plath

 

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
— Mary Anne Radmacher

 

“She didn’t quite know what the relationship was between lunatics and the moon, but it must be a strong one, if they used a word like that to describe the insane.”
— Paulo Coelho

Wyrd Things For Wyrd People

My shop A Living Witch is a treasure trove of wyrd things for wyrd people. Some of the things I part ways with have been found during thrifting adventures…

I was on my way to the library the other day when  my heart said ‘stop by the thrift store…’ Never one to ignore my precious organ, I made a detour. Once inside, my sixth sense led me to the home ware section, where I found three Konge-Tinn napkin ring holders in immaculate condition. I scooped them up, knowing that I’d found something very fucking special.

My research told me Konge-Tinn translates to King’s Pewter, and this special, Viking era pattern circulating the holders had been in use – and celebrated in Norway and across the world – since 1958. One source told me these date back to the 1960’s…though another one said the 1980’s. Either way, they’re probably the most epic looking napkin ring holders you’re going to find. Buy them here!

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As well as thrifting for my shop, I also made things. We’re hardly out of winter and already I’m missing it’s chilly breath on my neck. To cope with my loss, I’ve been wearing snowflake earrings, so I can always carry a little bit of winter with me.

I’ve always thought it magic that no two snowflakes are the same, and that singularly they’re so fragile, but when collected together are powerful beyond imagining.

This earring set, composed of two unique pewter snowflakes, embodies the fascination, and respect I hold for the crystals of the cold.

I made three sets to sell for other winter craving creatures. You can find them here!

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On Mondays We Walk For Wellbeing

It didn’t matter that I’d only caught five hours of sleep, this morning (I was writing about reasons why home birth is best until 3am…and watching YouTube videos of bear attacks. I have an odd fascination with people meeting their ends at the jaws of animals…) outside was too beautifully gloomy to miss. I was just as lucky last week too.

I’d like to say I know the forest well, but eventhough I’ve been navigating it for over 12 months, I know I’ve only just started to scratch the surface.

I try to have all of my senses awake when I’m out in the forest, but often my mind wanders to places I’d rather it fucking didn’t, and I find myself wanting to back track to take in everything again with a clear head.

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The finely spun spiderwebs were so finespun, that I could only see them when I angled my head a certain way.

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I’ve trudged past these views hundreds of times before. But they always have a new magic waiting for me.

Spring has started to shake herself awake – all the signs were there. My mittens remained tucked away in my bag, and the birds were so ecstatic it was catching.

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The frogs have come out of their winter hibernation, and are making babies…by the thousands. I haven’t lost that childlike sense of wonder when it comes to frogspawn. I still crouch down to get a better look and am mystified by the little jellied embryos.

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Much of the time, the forest requires you to have your adult head on…to be wary of where you are standing and to not loose your bearings. But there are times that it also lets you drop the weight of adulthood for a while, and recapture what it meant to be little, curious and open to magic.

Wild Blueberry Smoothie

I have always loved food, but at the age of 14 I developed anorexia, and for the next decade and a half, food food was my enemy.

Food had the power to make the number on the scales increase and my bones disappear from the surface of my skin. It had the power to make me feel like my existence was pointless. It had the power to make me want to give up on life.

I didn’t want food anywhere near me.

For year after year, I ate the same food at the same time in the same room. I was terrified of even the slightest change, I felt lost without my routine. Two rice crackers with peanut butter instead of one rice cracker with peanut butter? You’ve GOT TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME.

Eating food that hadn’t been scheduled into my day was a terrifying prospect, and it was something that happened once in a blue moon.

In my mid-twenties, when my recovery started for real, re-feeding my body and reaching a weight where my head was more me than my illness, I slowly re-kindled my good relationship with food.

Foods and drinks that had been forbidden for years were slowly re-introduced, then, I started to explore new tastes with more gusto. I treated my body with respect which not only meant eating healthily but also treating it without feeling weighed down with shame. I found something of a balance and once again felt comfortable eating.

Smoothies were one of my discoveries when I came back from my anorexic exile, and since then I’ve been trying to find a smoothie that’s not only medicine for my body and soul, but that tastes like it should be a bit bad for me. A smoothie that is thick, creamy and deeply, satisfyingly sweet.

If I had it my way, I’d be out trawling the cafes of Sweden, hunting for sorceress or sorcerer of smoothies, but seen as though I’m on a tight budget I’m trying to make the most magic of smoothies myself – one that can give me all the goodness of mother earth while still satisfying my 32 sweet teeth.

Wild Blueberry Smoothie

Ingredients For 1 Big Serving

< 250 ml semi-skimmed milk (you can make it with any milk actually…)

< 1 frozen banana

< 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

< 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

< 2 handfuls of wild blueberries (we collected ours last summer)

< 1 handful of oats

Directions

< Blend everything together, pour into a tall glass, sit down with something good to read and enjoy slowly.

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I have been eyeing up Mason drinking glasses for months, but haven’t the cash to splurge on some. So, I went into DIY mode and made my own using an Apple Mos jar that was going to go into the recycling bin.

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Of all the smoothies I’ve poured into myself over the years, I have to say that this one is probably one of the best. Like, the second best smoothie. Seriously. It’s that good. It’s just sweet enough, ridiculously thick and creamy, and there’s enough of it so that I was left feeling really, really satisfied. The fact that I’d picked the blueberries myself, washed and de-stalked them made the experience that much more magical. When I was done, I felt like I’d swallowed a forest. Can’t ask for much more than that.

 

On Mondays We Walk For Wellbeing

There’s one reason I will leave the apartment without having brushed my teeth first and that’s mist. If it’s a misty morning when I wake up, all plans previously made are shot, and I’m out the door with terrible morning breath and granules of sleep stubbornly tucked into the corners of my eyes.

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This morning when I tumbled out of bed, and discovered there was the remnants of a low hanging mist outside, I felt my heart break a little. I should have been up at 6.23am instead of nearly 9am. I should have been out to catch the spiderwebs before the dew evaporated. I should have I should have I should have.

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Still, I didn’t waste what mist was still there, and catapulted myself outside with my camera. I walked the trails I’d already taken a hundred times before, but you wouldn’t think it to see the way I stopped every few paces to stand, slack jawed and silent, breathing in the cool air thickly scented with fir, and the irresistible tang of freshly cut wood. I never take it for granted that we live on the edge of the forest and can be with the trees as soon as we step out of the apartment block.

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I struggle massively with racing thoughts (thoughts that won’t be quiet), another symptom of my bi-polar disorder and going into the forest is one of the only ways that I can actually calm my mind down. Though it isn’t easy. I have to remind myself to breathe and to notice what’s around me instead of getting trapped in my head.

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As soon as I manage to break away from the chaos in my head, I notice everything…like the last of the dew decorated spiders webs, the catkins breaking out, the illuminated bark of the birch trees. I think to myself ‘I want to notice everything all the time…’ then the chaos will start up again, and I’ll lose my ‘sight.’

But I know what true freedom tastes like and I know I can have it. Another chance to hold onto it is always just a moment away.

A Living Witch Photographs…Winter’s Ghost

Most people come into my life and leave without me misplacing so much as a breath. Few come into my life and have an impact so tremendous that, for a while, I forget how to breathe. They tattoo an imprint on my soul and, when I feel I’ve lost the magic that is life, they help me to find it again.

Erzabeth Svedlund is one such person. She’s a powerful single mother, a beautiful creature and a creative extraordinaire who will do anything for her art…she will cover her naked body in pigs blood when temperatures are below freezing. She will climb to the top of treacherously positioned rocks. She will give her whole self to the moment so I can capture it as a memory forever.

For this shoot, we had a vague idea…’something Laura Palmer…something…white wig….something make the most of the snow…something.’

We thought that winter had left us for real, but when he came back for a brief visit it was all systems go and we sped into action to make the most of his return. Here’s what we captured.

* I will be uploading a full album onto Facebook soon with many more shots…*

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