Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

Month: October 2022

Happy Calan Gaeaf!

One of the lanterns my husband has made this year

All the little ceramic pumpkin-shaped lanterns are scattered throughout the house, ready to light at dusk this evening. The real pumpkins have been carved and placed by the outside doors in welcome… a solitary broomstick leans against the wall of the front porch – a visitor, perhaps? The basket of sweets is ready in the hall for the children to come knocking. The Ancestor Tree stands proudly, fluttering many paper leaves on which are written the names of the beloved and dearly departed. The whole house is redolent with the cinnamon aroma of apple crumble cake.

For this is Calan Gaeaf – the Celtic ending of one year and the beginning of  a period of rest and recuperation at the darkest time before the beginning of the next. It is also one of those special occasions when the veils thin between the worlds, between here and there, us and ‘others’, and we can more freely mix with life on all levels.

For me, this has never been a festival of fear and horror but inclusivity and love – ALL are welcome at my hearthside, ALL shall be honoured and cared for. All I ask is that who or whatever joins me and my family this next three days does so in a state of peace and love.

This evening we shall celebrate with the Ancestors Dinner where we all sit down around the table but with at least one extra place set for those from beyond the grave in the Summerlands. This night they may return and join us for one merry evening of loving remembrance and know that they are still held in our hearts and never forgotten. Other years their presence has been tangible and we are always ensured company during this particularly delicious but poignant meal.

Tomorrow we gather with dear friends to light the Winter fires and assess our past year, give great thanks for all that we have achieved and gently open ourselves to the rich delights of rest within the shadows and candles flames of winter… the possibilities of what might come next. And we wait… wait for the knocking at or door and the excited babble of children’s voices as they enact a custom so old that its origins are lost in the mists of time.

But they must not tarry too long out on the dark village streets or else they run the risk of being pursued by Hwch Ddu Gwta, the ferocious tailless black sow who lurks especially at gates and styles and will catch any unwary traveller and carry them off to be plunged into the depths of Ceridwen’s sacred cauldron!

On the third day – the 1st November and the also the first day of Celtic winter – we shall walk out into the woods and greet the new season, connecting with the wild energies of the wind and rain and the treasured gift of being able to be still and rest and regenerate.

Finally we shall return home, draw close around the warm fire and munch on hot buttered crumpets and spicy ‘soul cakes’ while drinking copious amounts of scalding hot tea.

However you celebrate the ending of the year and the beginning of winter, I truly hope that you find much satisfaction and love in your heart and can turn your face joyfully towards the next great occasion – perhaps the most important one of all – the return of the Light at Midwinter, for out of darkness even the smallest spark shows bravely…. but for now, simply enjoy the shadows.

The First Storm of Winter

A wealth of tasty crops and healthy food to be enjoyed throughout the winter.

What a night that was! Gales lashing the trees to a frenzy and howling around the house from all directions and then the advent of an electrical storm, the likes of which I have never seen in the United Kingdom before. It lasted for nearly three hours – silent, ominous, threatening – great blinding flashes of bright white light which flickered and soundlessly exploded around our valley and across the furthest mountain tops.

In days of yore, I might have been forgiven for thinking that this was an indication of the outpouring of the Wild Hunt led by the mythical Gwyn ap Nudd as their horses streamed across the dark skies, their hooves striking sparks from the clouds as they gathered speed. In the old days it was the souls of the recent dead which they reputedly went to gather in, but with so much personal trauma and dread currently permeating our rapidly failing society and such a weight of chaos and dysfunction in the abilities of our political leaders I am tempted to reflect more deeply on just what Gwyn and his gruesome band of shades might actually be collecting up. Certainly, there is much about our way of life which is out worn, out dated and in desperate need of clearing away and replacing.

The year grows old, the seasons turn… in less than a fortnight we shall celebrate the Celtic new year and the ending of the old worn out cycle of 2022, and the beginning of a period of quiet, of stasis, of reflection and assessment on what has come to pass this last twelve months. A the dawn breaks on a new day, the savage winds have completely died away and the all the lightening has flickered and flashed away – now peace, stillness and quiet reign once more.

I look out on our little back garden and our fruit and vegetable patch in particular. Last week there were still heavenly scented sweet peas blossoming at the top of their vines and scarlet nasturtiums (which I grow as part of our salad patch to include the leaves and flowers  in our salads) had scrambled from ground level up inti the gooseberry bushes. There were even some pale pink roses left in bloom by the old back gate.

The last flowers of summer?

Now, the land has taken on a somewhat more battered and serious demeanour.

We truly are entering winter, but with good provision of crops from the land. Savoy cabbage, curly kale and broccoli thrive and will stand through the coldest frosts. There is still a patch of lettuce thriving in a sheltered corner. The last of the courgettes and beans have been gathered in and the rest of the tomatoes have just been picked from the greenhouse. Squirrelled away in our freezer are many pound bags of succulent mange tout peas, peppery kohl rabi  and green beans, not to mention all the fruit crops – currents, gooseberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, apples, plums, rhubarb – all now changed into cordials, wines, jams , chutneys and preserves in the alchemy of our kitchen, while in the herbal dispensary, many more plants, fruits and fungus dry or marinade in preparation for the coming chills and ills of winter when our immune systems come under extra strain.

I am filled with immense gratitude for all the wonderful abundance of the Earth, yet am simultaneously awed and humbled by the raw power and absolutely energy which Gaia so easily wields. The storm of yesterday evening so amply demonstrated this.

Just for now we shall make the most of the dwindling daylight, the softer rain, the last hours of golden sunshine when we can still feel the real warmth of the sun’s rays. Now is the time to pause, look about us and attend to the pressing needs of the Earth and all who dwell on her, for Winter is surely coming.

Autumn Abundance

Large wreath for my front door – not yet complete – and smaller one for a friend.

A few days ago, a couple of my dearest friends presented me with an early birthday present – a wonderful long, flat wicker basket which they found recently on Ludlow market. As soon as I clapped eyes on it, it was love at first sight! I could immediately think of numerous uses for it – lined with colourful napkins and heaped with fairy cakes for Hallowe’en or piled with crusty cobs of bread on the local market stall…

However, that was not its first assignment. Instead, the next afternoon I took it out into the garden to collect examples of harvest bounty with which to make an autumn thanksgiving wreath – lengths of green aromatic bay to form the main framework, bunches of acorn cups and beech masts, clusters of deep scarlet hawthorn berries, strands of flaming Virginia Creeper, sprays of purple and pale green hydrangea and tiny-leaved Escalonia with bright little orangey-red berries, and so on.

Me this afternoon, about to hang the finished article

With the assistance of my amazing basket I was able to gather and transport everything gently without crushing or crowding, and once I sat down to begin construction of the wreath it made my work so much easier and less fiddly.

And what a lot we have to be thankful for this autumn, for despite the drought in the summer, we have been blessed by bountiful crops and the countryside as a whole has blossomed and burgeoned into a prosperous wealth of rich rewards. As the plants droop and wither, dying back towards the land which has nurtured and supported them and will now shelter their roots or seeds through the resting time of winter, the trees are turning colour and the rich scent of decay fills the woodlands.

Complete and in place

I love to make a wreath to hang on the front or back door of my home – sometimes both. This one is destined for the front door which is sheltered by a little open-fronted porch which means that the fragile flowers will last much longer. They vary remarkably every year, depending on what is available and has done well. Yes, of course the wreath will gradually dry out or wither and some leaves and berries will fall – but in so doing it will reflect the season it was made to celebrate – a land gradually fading into shadows to dream again of the spring and rebirth… regrowth.

This is a good time to rejoice and give thanks. How might you acknowledge the turning of the season and the maturing of the autumn… the onset of winter?

May all your store cupboards be filled with tasty treasures against the shortages of winter… may you bask in the glow of the long-gone summer sun and taste again the rich flavours of the light half of the year… may the autumn treat you gently.


Our Autumn Equinox ‘thanksgiving table’ from a few years ago – just one string of lights and two candles – simple – none of which actually need to be lit.

Some people are asking “Will we be able to afford Christmas lights this year?” while others are asking, “Will we be able to feed our children next week?”

Am I really referring to my own community here in Wales? Can this be happening for real? How have we arrived at this terrible state of affairs?

If I was younger, I think that I would begin a revolution… or at the very least, stand for parliament… but as it is, I choose to work peacefully at grass roots level – hopefully with useful and comforting suggestions which will make the lives of others easier and pleasanter…and more authentic.

I have already begun to address the worry over feeding ourselves and our families with my little recipe and menu book, ‘Eat Cheap’: This booklet is freely available online or to download and print.  To get your copy please visit:

Audaciously, I now would like to address everything else, because it isn’t about what we have, but how we choose to view it and use it.

Many of us have been nurtured and raised in a social and economic system where endless quantities of everything are available, everything is dispensable, and nothing is valued. In the past it has been frequently referred to as the consumer or ‘throw away’ society. This has all come about as a way of falsely stimulating commercial markets. It is ruining the health of our planet and poisoning and destroying the environment in which we live, as well as taking away our peace of mind. We have been brought up to want more… and more… and more… to never really see what we already have and to be always looking into the far distance of what we might like next, more of, or instead of.

Now is the time to stop!

Look around your homes and truly assess what you already have. How can it be used to greatest advantage? How can it be re-vamped, done up, re-utilised? Use what you have to the very best of its – and your – ability. Make the most of what you already have.

Also, take good or greater care of what you already possess. Look after your possessions so that they will last for many years. Choose well and wisely when you do buy something new, with an eye to it lasting for a long time or being flexible to use in many different ways.

Consciously scale back on what you use, have, display and/or decorate your home with. Choose carefully. To coin one of my favourite phrases, make much of little. A single lighted candle in a darkened room has incredible impact. All too frequently we suffer from not being able to see the wood for the trees. A single strand of lights can show to far greater advantage and give a lot more sensory pleasure than a whole rat’s nest of intertwined coloured lights bombarding us senseless.

Perhaps we all really need to see what is in front of us… around us… and be thankful and appreciative of it? We cannot do this if we are completely overwhelmed and in sensory overload.

This year, put up less decorations but what you do use display mindfully, thoughtfully, and make the most of it. Look to sharing a selective little and engendering a deep appreciation of it. Even with small children you can achieve this by slowly, carefully building the anticipation and ‘magic’ of a situation, so that one candle, one bowl of holly, one small tree and one gift assume quite huge proportions – same amount of excitement and pleasure – far less effort and outlay – except in how we present it all and put it across to those around us – and for that we have to give the most precious and expensive gift of all – ourselves.

Going Crackers… Again!

These are quite small crackers and each one contains a ‘prediction’ for the coming year and a sweetie.

The beginning of October and yes, I am already planning my Advent, Midwinter and Christmas celebrations. No, it is most certainly not too early to be doing so. It is only just over two and a half months to the Winter Solstice and Christmas Day, with most of the celebrations actually taking place beforehand in the month of Advent. As I like to make most of my own foods, treats and surprises, it is never too early to make a start.

This autumn many of my ideas are revolving around crackers – the ubiquitous table decoration which frequently yields hoots of derision, laughter or groans of despair as images of paltry plastic tat, brain-cringing jokes and wayward paper hats spring to mind. Yet they are an integral part of our Christmas dinner fun.

Harking back to the original crackers which were developed by Tom Smith back in the 1840’s and 1850’s, crackers can be used for any occasion – not just Christmas – and can contain anything you wish from love letters to very expensive gifts. They can be colour/decoration co-ordinated with your surroundings or with themed contents for lovers of books, the garden and so on.

In the past, I have tried the better type of cracker with nice hats, good jokes and mottos and expensive gifts, but discovered, to my great disappointment, that they were still regarded as no better than the cheap, gaudy ones, and were largely discarded on the dinner table with little thought or consideration.

Now, my focus for Midwinter festivity is always inclusive communal activity and suggestions and encouragement as to how everyone might join in and give rather than passively sit back and simply receive.  I make my own crackers and fill them with interactive gifts, suggested activities, impertinent questions to ask fellow diners or philosophical suggestions and sweets. Sometimes there are no hats included; instead, revellers have to make and decorate their own as a pre-dinner activity – and the more sherry consumed the livelier the creations produced!

Making your own crackers can be a communal activity – just leave one end open to be filled and sealed later so that only you know what is actually contained within them. Crackers can be a little fiddly but are not difficult to make. Nor need they be expensive – you can make crackers form sheets of discarded newspaper (a ball of colourful Christmas twine and a length of tinsel cut up to make glittery pompoms completes the decoration) and fill them with jokes downloaded from the internet (or copied out of books from the library – get you kids to help you with that one!). If you really aren’t that ‘craftily’ inclined, buy a box of crackers and carefully open the end of each and insert a better gift and extra jokes. One of my favourite inclusions in crackers for any dinner table is a question to ask your neighbour – or to ask the assembled company as a whole – this can stimulate lots of interesting discussion and laughter and is a good ice-breaker for multi-generations of one family or people who don’t already know one another.

Crackers can be made and used for any season or occasion throughout the year – try making them from pale yellow or green crepe paper and decorating them with silk flowers for your Easter Sunday lunch table, or similarly themed for summer… try deep yellow, brown and red for autumn decorated with bunches of berries – real or synthetic – and filled appropriately, or orange and black ones for Hallowe’en… the possibilities are endless.

The key tip here is to make them well in advance, while you have the time to feel inspired and enjoy the process, then pack them away well covered and protected until they are needed so that they don’t become damaged, dusty or tired-looking in the meantime. It is absolutely no pleasure to anyone if you have all these wonderful ideas and then leave them until the last minute when they can become a horrendous chore to all concerned.

Have fun! Planning and plotting surprises and joy for others doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy ourselves too. If something doesn’t bring you some measure of satisfaction and pleasure, then don’t do it – find something (or someone!) else instead. Living our lives should be as nourishing and enjoyable as possible – why not? But that is a topic for another post another day!

If you would like to know more about the history of the cracker, click on the link below to read an excellent article produced by the Victoria and Albert Museum.,a%20twist%20of%20tissue%20paper.

Please note, ‘cracks’ for crackers can easily be purchased on the internet, and although they might initially cost you several pounds for the old measure of a gross (144), kept somewhere dry they will last for many years. 

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