A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Salmon and the river Diva

The PHD lives in the middle of a forest in Carmarvanshire. She spends a lot of time wandering around in it and has many favourite places for working. So when I requested a forest and waterfalls, she knew just where to take me.

Astonishingly, the sun was out again! It fingered the spaces between the trees as we walked into the forest. We followed a stream, bubbling and gurgling its way down from the mountain. All along its banks, other springs spouted and gushed and the air was thick with the sounds of flowing water. The birds sang in the sunshine and all felt good with the world.

We crossed a narrow bridge - prompting a song – and made our way to a bench amongst the trees overlooking the stream. Here we settled comfortably and cast our circle, the PHD drumming and I using her rattle.

I was in the water, swimming like a fish – hey, I was a fish. Leaping and flipping into the air, I dove down into the water and under the stones at the bottom.

There an interesting crevice had caught my attention and I squeezed through it and found myself in a dark underground tunnel. Curious, I swam down and into a small chamber filled with water. There was nothing here so I swam on. Soon I discovered that the rocks and earth under the stream were honeycombed with little tunnels; the mountainside was riddled with them. I swam on and on, enjoying the architecture, the shapes like the inside of a body almost or a secret labyrinth.

In time, the dark thinned and the water grew ever so slightly salty. I swam into a big cavern and noticed that I seemed to have metamorphosed again as I now had a human upper body, although I still had a tail instead of legs. There was a rock sticking out of the water, I slithered onto it and sat and looked around.

The cavern was high. There was an archway and a tunnel lit by grey light leading out to open air. Something jogged my memory and I began to suspect that I had been here before. I caught the movement of something leggy and grey out of the corner of my eye, but when I turned to look, there was only the tunnel beyond the arch.

Then I saw her. She was carved into the wall, sitting in a half lotus position, holding in one hand a lotus root and with her other hand held out. Kwan Yin sat watching me and as I looked at her, she moved, began to unfold her legs and stand.

Her hair was falling about her shoulders and her face had lengthened. She stepped forward and I saw it was the river diva I had met at winter solstice on the Thames, only she had more colour. Her hair was brownie grey rattails and she was pale skinned, but her eyes shun like jade green pebbles.

She bent and reached into the water, pulling out a flat, round edged grey river stone which she presented to me. Then she was still and back on the wall. Kwan Yin was watching me again. I gazed back at her and there was such a feeling of love in my heart that I felt the tears prick my eyes. Had I dreamed the change? I was not sure. But in my hand I held the little river stone so it must have been true.

Bowing low to Kwan Yin, and acknowledging the other one also there, I dove back into the water and made my way back to the river.

Sitting on the bench I began to sing:

“The river is flowing, flowing and growing.
The river is flowing down to the sea.
Mother earth carry me, your child I will always be.
Mother earth carry me back to the sea.

The moon she is waiting, waxing and waning.
The moon she is waiting for us to be free.
Sister moon shine on me, your child I will always be.
Sister Moon shine on me, until I am free.”

It was time to go. We opened the circle and collected our things together and made our way back to the car, for I had a train to catch.

The Sea, the Sea!

I was hankering after the sea. We drove to Tenby where it was possible to get down to the shore without having to climb huge piles of steps.

The sky had cleared and the horned moon was out, grinning down at us. The cliffs loomed above us covered in an abundance of plants and small trees. The dark, dark sea was rough and tumbling eagerly.

I cast a circle and the PHD began to drum. I called upon the creatures of the sea to be with us and to sing with us this night. The invocation finished, the clouds parted and displayed stars twinkling down at us.

I was singing to the sea. A gentle song in Cornish, a chant to call the mermaids. The sea rose and fell, surged forward and withdrew, fierce, determined and yet somehow playful. I sang louder and the waves began to dance. Rushing together, eager to get there first, two waves collided and crashed over my feet, I jumped back, but not before they’d soaked my trousers to the knee!

The PHD put some welly into her drumming. My rattle song was swallowed up in the sea, along with the invocation to the mermaids. It didn’t matter, I shook my rattle more and more vigorously.

I was the seagull, calling to her mate. Riding above the crash of the waves, my voice soared high into the night sky. The waters began to foam. Another unseen wave chafed at the shore determined to get me again, finally collapsing with satisfaction on my poor longsuffering boots! I jumped back again, laughing and dancing with delight as I hooted into the night.

The air was electric. The PHD gasped and exclaimed. There were bright darts of blue lightening and behind the crash of the waves, thunder boomed. We were whipping up one hell of a storm!

Words came to me and I sang out again and again.

“We greet the sea, we meet the sea.
The lady is the sea , as strong as strong can be.
The moon shines down, the moon grins down “

My song played with the drum, taking the rhythms across the beat. I danced as I sang.

Then we were at the very edge of the sea. Our feet webbing, legs moulding together as we dove amongst the waves. Down and down we swam, tossed around on the waves, leaping out into the night then back down deep, to dart amongst the rocks.

The cave yawned and I followed the creature that was the PHD into it. She swam about looking for something and so did I. She came face to face with a beautiful creature and so did I. We each reached out, she to discover a mirror, the beautiful creature her, and I, to discover a carved head, the face mine.

Chasing each other in and out of rocks and crevices, we finally surfaced, leaping out of the sea and landing on the shore, dry, ten toed , two legged and human.

The PHD drummed on and I danced on. I sang to the sea and the sea sang back as she tossed each wave at our feet as though to say “here, this one’s for you” and “take that you cheeky so-and-so!”.

It was time to channel the energy we had raised. We danced anew, whipping up a cone of power which we sent out over Wales specifically to help the earth to heal quickly as possible from the wounds inflicted by the installation of the gas pipeline.

It was time to go. The beat slowed and stopped, the rattle silent. The sea bubbled and surged still, creeping closer an closer to the cliff with each swell.

Reluctantly, we said our goodbyes and went in search of chips and a convenient bench upon which to sit eating them. And then it started to rain.

Waun Mawn Standing Stones

High on a mountain side in the Preseli Mountains, we found a wonderful Motherstone. Roughly nine feet tall, she stands almost totally surrounded by water, in a small pond. There is a little causeway in front so it is possible to get up close and touch her.

From another angle, her large round bum can definitely be seen and felt. From behind it looks as though she is carrying a child in a rucksack on her back. She gazes out serenely over mown rough mountain grass, clumps of marsh grass and vicious gorse bushes.

The Bridal Path was pitted with rain filled potholes. As we walked across the deserted mountain, we passed two stones sitting companionably side by side, a low boulder upon which the wind had carved a face and another tall stone which seemed to be watching our progress. All around, the mountaintops were shrouded in low cloud and the air was damp with the promise of rain.

Standing on one leg on the causeway (for it was very narrow) I reached up to touch the Motherstone. She stood patient and forbearing and I felt a bit like an importunate child. Still she was not absolutely discouraging, though I most certainly wouldn’t dream of messing with her!

Casting a circle, I Called to the spirit of the stones and to the mother goddess. I called to the creatures of the mountains and the energy of those who had worked here, especially those who honoured mothers. I set the intention to give thanks to mine and to work to help her thrive and prosper in the aftermath of her husband’s death.

Spreading out a blanket, I settled down with my belly to the earth, in front of her. The drum beat rocked me into a dream and I travelled back through my mother’s blood line to know something of the burdens and the joys of my ancestors .

There were circles of people dancing. There were fires and drumming and a lot of noise. I was being carried towards it.

The lake around the mother stone was really quite a pond. They laid me down at the mouth of the causeway. From where I was, I could see the motherstone. She stood solid and reassuring.

My body seemed to rend apart. Something was pushing and shoving from within. A spasm seized my whole torso and somewhere close by, an animal screamed in terror.

Waves of nausea and sharp pain encircled me and I howled my agony as hands rubbed at my swollen belly, stroked my thighs and cradled my head. My hips reared and I kicked out, trying to roll away from the hands but they held me, rocking me, calling encouragement as I sweated and gasped.

The drums grew louder and the pain swelled until I felt totally engulfed in it. Surely I would die? The beat and the spasms united as one and the chanting voices seemed to hold me as with one final heave, I was free. I lay limply, fighting for breath.

Her cry was a thin wail, like that of the vixen. Frenziedly, I reached out, calling for her, for although this was the first time I’d ever heard it, I knew that cry. Something small, warm and wet was put into my arms. I held it to me and the small mouth reached for the engorged heavy breast and began to suckle.

As I held her, it came to me that I would do anything in the world to protect her. This warm little mewling sticky bundle was a part of me. The motherstone seemed to smile. She stood still in her little lake watching me and my baby, now wrapped and warm, still held by many gentle hands.

The drum beat slowed. The dancers disappeared. The wind touched my cheek and I felt the soft rough grass under my hand. Lying quietly, I gave thanks for the dream and sent that fierce mother’s love, back to her whose it was and offered a silent prayer of strength to my own mother.

Certain that I was loved, I felt at peace. Rising, I closed the circle, gave the motherstone a little slate blue clay shell and returned to the car.

Carreg Coetan Artur

In the middle of a grove of new bungalows reminiscent of an Australian soap, on the outskirts of the little coastal town of Newport, Pembrokeshire, we found the remains of an ancient Druidic burial chamber. No need to treck up windy mountains to get to this old ruin. You could just pop in on your way back from the shops!

The remains are a few stones (including a top stone) which create a small shelter in which to rest for a while. It sits quietly and unassumingly behind a high hawthorn hedge in the middle of a grassy square. To get to it, you just need to go through a simple unlocked wooden gate.

Seagulls, crows and blackbirds called to each other in the peace of the little close. The February afternoon sun was warm on our backs as we bent to enter the chamber. Inside it was clean and dry. We spread out our blankets and settled down to dream.

We hadn’t thought to be here long, so had only come armed with incense and our rattles. Inspired by the gentle enclosure of the space, I cast a circle and called to the spirits of those who had lain here and those who had come to share grief – for I felt very strongly that this place had witnessed many tears. I set my intention to work for the dead that I had known and loved.

Our rattles shushed and crackled in a steady pacing rhythm. I was walking up the beach from the sea. Sand crunched beneath my feet. The sun was low and the sky darkening to dusk. I circled the small mound till I found the entrance. Crawling inside, I lay down.

I was searching, searching, searching. I needed to take home my dear blind friend who had killed himself last year. I knew he was lost and vulnerable, confused about what was happening, even though his act had been deliberate.

His madness and his brilliance had been a dangerous but potent mixture making life at times for him and others close to him almost impossible to stand. His pain was no more but I couldn’t rest until I had taken him home.

I found a ruined terraced house in a Northern steel town. In the rubble in the coal-hole, there he was, just a cindery old black ball, the size of a football, just sitting in the corner rocking and humming agitatedly.

I took him in my arms and cradled him, sang to him, told him I was taking him home. At first he struggled – perhaps he was confused. After a while, he became still and quiet.

The boat rocked gently as we floated back. It crunched upon the beach and I got out. I settled the cinder ball carefully so it would not move and pushed the boat off again. I waited quietly, still singing softly to him as I stood in the shallows until the boat disappeared over the horizon.

I was a little stiff. The rattles shushing continued, like the crunching of sand or the gentle dash of waves upon the shore. I began to sing:

“Call to the ancestors beyond the trembling veil.
Wisdom is in their breath, their bones, their blood and spirit.”

Quietly, I named the dead I mourned and the PHD named hers. The stones took and held our prayers with silent tenderness. I reached up and touched the top stone in silent thanks.

Outside, seagulls keened high up in the sky. We closed the circle and crawled out to the gentle caress of softly falling rain.

The defiant Mountain

We had been searching for a circle of standing stones somewhere not far from Trecastell. According to the map, there was one three miles south of the village. We just had to find the Roman road, and then take a track across the mountain. Easy-peesy!

Five miles back down the road, we had passed protesters camped in the path of the giant gas pipeline that was gouging its way rapidly across rural Wales. As we drove, we caught glimpses of groups of engineers in the distance, measuring and calculating, making ready the red earth to be ripped apart, backs bowed against the driving rain.

Several false turns later, we found the road. We drove through waterlogged ruts and potholes, newly carved into the red mud by something heavy and determined. On the hillside, pink sheep lumbered about damply.

The sky was low over the mountainside as we drew up by a gate. A friendly engineer pointed the way over the mountain in the direction of the standing stones. Archaeologists were digging all around the site, charting the history hidden in the soil before allowing the pipeline through. I climbed under a large plastic cape and began to troop across the mud.

The mountain was flat topped, like a huge defiant fist. We marched stoically and stickily across her knuckles, struggling to keep our balance in the quagmire. The rain drove on.

There seemed to be a time to stop, a point when the land banked gently. The ridge of tuffety grass was firmer. We stood and the PHD described the view.

Below us, a U shaped lake lay grey under the slate sky. All around, mountains hid their heads in the clouds. Dotted cross the hillside, small clusters of archaeologists, tiny as ants crawled carefully across the mountain’s belly. Where they were digging, red gashes appeared amongst the grey green.

Steadying myself, I began to cast the circle. I called to the energy of the land, the spirit of the mountain and to all who reverenced her. I called to the hooved ones, the crawling ones, the flying ones and the ones who swam in the water below. The wind tossed the soft shushing of the rattle and the stronger tones of the drum into the air and a flock of starlings began to circle above us.

The land was filled with people. They processed slowly, following each other without noise. It seemed that each stepped in the footsteps of the one who went before, for the earth was precious to them. Under then, the earth rocked gently as though rocking herself to sleep.

Breathing into the red earth, I opened my chest and let out a peon, a war cry against the desecration, a cry for the mother that is the mountain being dissected and probed in preparation for a savage renting that might take years to heal. I howled my protest at her violation and the PHD drummed faster and faster, joining her voice with mine as we keened into the swirling wind driven rain.

The beat slowed and I found words. I sang them out, roaring my rage, casting my appeal out to the sky, the land and the wind.

“Let not the earth bleed, let her blood red soil be whole.”

On the wind, a crow cawed; the drum and rattle beat like protesting wings. We danced upon the soaking grass and the mountain held us. The beat slowed and we became still, our voices quietened till they were nothing but silent breath. The energy returned to the waiting mountain. We were done, the circle was opened. We walked back slowly to the car.

Exchanging pleasantries with the engineer by the gate, we asked where the pipeline would go. He said that it would not go through the stones but across the mountain, pointing at the place where we had worked.

Pencelli Ancient Yew Grove

It was raining! Well we were in Wales after all. We headed east, to the Brecon Beacons, where the sky looked lighter. Passing high hedges of holly, we found the church, nestled amongst the circle of ancient trees by a winding and rushing stream. We were in a coomb, surrounded by mountains, under a grey but hopeful sky. As we walked towards the gate, a blackbird called as though to say “over here”.

Maybe a dozen old yew trees surrounded a mossy burial ground, still scattered with ancient and broken headstones, half buried abandoned family tombs, their railings bent and discarded. The watching crows cawed harshly, as we moved silently from tree to tree.

Reaching out, I stroked and caressed the trunks, tracing the shapes of flowing columns, their rounded cavities carpeted by a velvety pety kind of soil. The shapes were beautiful. Chambers, fissures, shelves and arches, carved by nature’s aging process, for all the trees were hollow.

Then we were standing in front of a very old lady yew indeed. She was bulbous and whiskery, solid and magnificent. Clambering over her high roots, I discovered a human sized chamber, with pillars, shelves, nooks and crannies and all manner of secret hiding places. Tucked away at the back, was a space big enough to sit in. I climbed in and settled down to dream.

The PHD drummed a slow double beat as I cast a circle. I called the beings of the place, the spirits of all who had worked ceremony here, those who came to worship, seek comfort and to remember. I rested my cheek against a smooth column of wood and felt the tree settling around to cradle me gently.

I moved within her, curled and resting. I became long and sinewy, like a serpent, and then felt myself merge and become the tree itself till her trunk was me and I was her. I breathed quietly and the tree moved in and out for the trunk was my ribs.

It was dark. There was a fire and a circle of quiet people. They moved carefully about me and my sister trees. The light changed and a solitary figure sat, back resting against my flanks gazing nowhere, quiet in prayer or meditation.

A sad, shuffling group of people came, their heads bent, carrying a small box. Then a single woman, weeping, holding a bundle.

It was dark now. The figures circled in and out of the trees, solemn, yet joyful. Another group, this time carrying a big box, lowered it carefully into a yawning hole. Then others came and heaved and set big stones. And the trees grew, as I grew. The moss covered the stones and they crumbled.

The beat was faster now. The circle moved with speed through the trees. Above the rushing water, the cawing crows, the fluting blackbirds, something deeper boomed, shaking the tree, silencing all.

In the stillness, the she-wolf came and laid her old head on my knee. I stroked her gently and sighed deeply. She moved away and I uncurled myself from the centre of the tree and returned to the present. Quietly, the PHD spoke of words that had come to her as she drummed and I dreamed.

Repeating the words over and over again to myself, a tune came to me. I began to sing.

“Earth, air, fire and water, all dance as one.”

Over and over again, I sang, with the PHD joining me with drum and voice. Then the words changed …

Stroking the tree at her very core I sang

“She stands watching the world go by, love is in her gaze.”

The tree seemed to like this, I could almost here her rumbling deeply along in a sort of arboreal bass. The words changed again and I sang out joyfully

“The old lady tree holds me, loving me for me.”

And I felt her holding me and knew that I was safe. Time passed and our voices faded, the drum beat stopped. Climbing reluctantly out of the tree, I encouraged the PHD to take a turn.

I picked up the drum; beat a fast beat, holding the space as she slipped away on her own dream. The trees watched whilst the old lady Yew held her. Above me in the high branches, the crows and blackbirds mingled their song and the little stream rushed on vigorously. A gentle breeze stroked my cheek and I settled into my hips, moving with the beat.

The PHD cawed like the crow (the signal that she was done) and I slowed and steadied the beat. Together, standing amongst the old lady yew’s roots, we closed the circle and made ready to go.

Circled by the watching trees, we walked carefully on the soft moss back to the gate. There was one more thing to do before we left. Slipping into the church, I placed a piece of the old lady yew’s bark amongst the cut flowers on the alter. A symbol of the old religion joining the new? Was it defiance or unity, solidarity or supremacy? Who knows?

Go West?

It is necessary to get some respite from pain. It was therefore with a considerable sense of relief and a slight twinge of guilt, that I took myself off to Wales for another pilgrimage to meet the goddess in wilder places. As I sat on the train, I set my intention to find some release from the sorrow I was carrying and which was connected with my father’s death. I acknowledged that I wanted also to get some space from the emotional ramifications for my relationship in the past and today with my family too. There had to be a way of settling into an easier space with it so that I could again function.

The Purple haired Druid (with locks now somewhat pinker) fetched me from the train and drove me off into Carmarvanshire, my base for the next few days. As we wound through the countryside, I felt my whole body relax and settle as I allowed myself to forget all the turmoil of the last few weeks and to truly arrive and be cradled by the soft hills, dark forests and jagged mountains of this very beautiful if somewhat damp land.

We had no actual plan, but a list of possibilities. We aimed for particular sites but were not fussed if we ended up somewhere else – something incredible always happened.

Badly needing to rest, I found myself consciously forcing myself to be in the moment, not worrying about what I would do but allowing myself to maintain some kind of focus for the primary purpose of my visit, to encounter the goddess wherever she chose to meet me.

And I found her! I found her in an old Yew tree, on a flat topped mountain which was standing in the path of a gas pipeline ripping through Wales. I found her in a burial chamber on a green surrounded by modern bungalows, as a majestic standing stone on top of another mountain, in the dancing wild sea and in a quiet forest by a bubbling stream.

Back now in the real world (or is it?) after 36 hours of frenzy, I have pushed aside my daily commitments to spend time here telling you all what happened. Slightly anxious that my memory will fail me, as it seemed to do after my father died, and frustrated that the tape on which I recorded notes of the different events lies somewhere else – in a car park in Carmarvanshire perhaps, I sit nervously before the computer. Time to cast a circle and ask the goddess to be with me as I do this. So that’s just what I’ll do.

The alter is set with the objects I bring on my pilgrimages. The piece of “devil’s toenail” stone sits next to the granite-like, slightly flattened egg shape piece of rock I sometimes use as a talking stick, in the North. The swan’s feather given on my initiation last year sits with the earthenware bowl holding the smudge and the stick incense in the East. A white candle, tied with a silver ribbon (a gift from the winter solstice) sits with the glass containing a tea-light in the South. Both dance brightly warming and perfuming the air. The blue spiral bowl of moon water sits next to the metal shell, also filled that is my travelling challis in the West. I’ve laid out the small purple alter cloth (a silk bandana,) put the egg shaped rattle, the ball of purple wool (used for tying offerings) and the small leather medicine pouch in the centre. All is ready.

I call the feathery winds of inspiration, memory and innovation, optimistic like the dawn light to come, be here now! I call the dancing flames of passion and intention, creativity and transformation to come, be here now! I call the flowing, shaping, caressing and embracing waters of self love and confidence to come, be here now! I call the rocks and stones, earth and plants, the power of manifesting, the doing that delivers to come and be here now! All above and all below and all connecting in air, fire, water, earth, bring to this place a remembrance of the magic of pilgrimage and let it flow onto the computer now!

So mote it be.

And I reach for the Druid Oracle cards, call for animal medicine to help me write this blog well, shuffle and cut the cards and pull out the Boar, the qualities of warrior spirit, leadership, direction and know that it's time to start and there is no stopping me now! I place the cards on the alter, between North and East, between manifesting and inspiring and open a new word doc.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Children of King’s Square Gardens

We had decided to do a little ritual of some kind in one of London’s many green spaces. Someone had noticed Kings Square Garden in EC1.

The wall was chest height. I wondered if I would make it over. Something seized me and I scrambled over gleefully. But one of us couldn’t make it. It was too hard for her. I felt so sad, for I was losing a playmate and I know she would have been fun. Eventually, we agreed to go on without her.

The garden was neat. Paved paths led helpfully across it. Seats flanked a flower-bed. More paths led invitingly to children’s play areas.

This was the first time I had joined the group – occasionally meeting to celebrate the moons, and sometimes going to green spaces in London to meet with the beings.

We sat down on the benches and enjoyed the cool evening quiet. Unlike some other places the group had been to recently, this was a happy place and I felt contented. After a while, knowing there were swings, I persuaded my companion to take me to them.

It was a bit of a squeeze getting my bum between the big chains that held the wooden seat, but I managed it. Soon I was swinging and swooping. I was seven again, cheerful and agile, adventurous and dreaming as I swung, happy and free.

The beings of the square laughed like small delighted children as they watched me playing. I began to sing and they liked that too.

Called by my companions back to now, I eased myself stiffly off the swing and tottered off to investigate other childish delights. The spring bouncy thingy (heaven knows what it is called for I have never encountered such a thing) was a bit scary. I was okay when clinging on unsteadily. As soon as a human playmate got on, it got too rough and I found myself greeting like a slightly frightened child.

But chocolate comforted me and I sucked it quietly as we walked around the gardens again. Young birch trees sat with old Japanese Willows, holding the space and watching. With more difficulty, I climbed out of the garden and stood waving and calling my goodbyes through the rough Iron Gate, thanking them for the lovely play and promising to be back.

Tube Creatures

The tube train hopped and shuddered as though on it’s last legs. I sat sweating, my heart sinking; would I ever get to my destination? My pulse shifted and I considered whether I was edging into claustrophobia – something I do not suffer from. I decided to cast a circle.

It was very hard. The directions just would not bring themselves to me at first, slipping away as my thoughts flitted off all over the place. I grew burning hot and took off my thick coat.

At last, the circle was cast and I asked that my journey be safe. As I thought this, the train hopped, juddered to a stop, panted a bit, as though it was a lumbering animal all out of breath and then rocked slowly forward.

Behind my closed eyes I saw them; triangular faced, goat eared, smiling grey blue beings. They were slender shapely creatures; narrow-hipped like greyhounds, with a big bushy fox tail. They ranged themselves along side the train as though to escort it through, almost like a guard of honour.

As they moved, I checked them out. Something had caught at the back of my mind, something odd. Then I noticed: they had only three legs, two at the front and one centrally placed at the back. They moved forward hopping, bums in the air.

The train began to move again, this time smoothly and gently, gradually picking up speed. The creatures suddenly ascended, and I realised that they had wings! I could see them in my minds eye, now on top of the train, mouths stretched in a grin, tongues lolling. The train drew into the station and I am sure I heard, above its shuddering and sighing, the sound of high pitched and happy baying and the pitter-patter of their little hooves on the metal train roof.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Boar’s Gift

For the second time in the last two weeks, snow has again blanketed my garden. On Thursday night, I walked carefully through its brittle crunchiness, drawn by its icy persistence, to stand and dream beneath my rowan tree. I had been thinking of my mother and my twin brother, wondering how they were getting on with the aftermath of my father’s death.

I cast a circle and called upon the goddess to witness my working. The night smells crept closer. Somewhere on the edge of my nasal consciousness, I caught the ashy dustiness of wood smoke. I sent out a prayer on it’s tendrils that Mum and twin brother would find strength and comfort in the old woodland that they were the guardians of and that the trees would give them (and me) strength to go on.

I stroked the slender trunk of the rowan tree beside me. Behind my closed eyelids, the olive tree in the Spanish garden trembled softly in the breeze. Bending low, I searched and found the entrance, wriggled down and moved through the tunnel emerging into bright snow woodland, it’s black bare trees, edged with white, standing stark against the snow and the silver grey sky.

I walked through the woods, the way I had been other times. Before long, the path wound and rose to a steep high bank. My feet slipped and slithered in the half melted refrozen snow. I clutched at icy saplings and overhanging branches, showering myself in freezing water. Eventually, with a great effort I pulled myself onto the plateau above.

There, surrounded by trees, was the old tumble-down cottage, its cracked and peeling door firmly closed. Its upper windows, opaque and cobwebbed were sullenly dark. The downstairs one, glowed with flickering orange light lit by the hearth fire within whilst smoke slowly spiralled up from the chimney.

The ground before and all around it was smooth white. Nothing had gone this way since the snow fell. I stepped soundlessly across the clearing.
Knowing it would be unlocked; I pushed opened the cottage door and entered. Wood smoke, herbs, spices with an undertone of damp dog edged with mould, assailed my nostrils. Breathing deeply, I closed the door and walked towards the inviting fire. I sat down and stretched my cold fingers to it’s heat. Gazing quietly into it’s glowing embers, I began to feel the blood return to my hands and face.

Suddenly the kettle shrieked. Taking it from the flames, I set it down in the hearth and went in search of something to make a drink with and a vessel to put it in. On a set of shelves in a nearby dresser, were a jumble of jars and bottles and a stack of thick clay mugs. I gathered what I wanted and returned to make my tea.

Tossing a handful of curling velvety leaves into the fire, I breathed soft sage and stirred another handful of the herb into my mug. Inhaling deeply I felt myself ease and settle gently into watchful stillness, my hands nursing the mug.

And as I looked deep into the fire, from the corner of my eye, I caught a movement from the dark alcove. Emerging into the warm light, the old blind she-wolf edged cautiously forward, nose feeling the way. She sniffed my foot, my knee and my outstretch hand. Reaching forward with her head she rested it on my knee, groaning deeply in her throat with contentment as I stroked her bony old head.

After a while she shifted, as though to say “we’ve got things to do, come on”. I placed my now empty cup on the hearth and rose to follow her, hand on her back, not wanting to lose her.

She led me out of the room into the cold, dark corridor, to an ancient old oak door leading to the back of the cottage. Heaving it open with some difficulty (for it was stiff and reluctant) we edged through and out into the snow again.

The moon was up, the shadows of bare tree branches patterned the snowy carpet as we moved slowly forward between the trees. As we walked, they leaned closer to us and the wood became dark.

Bending under a snow laden branch, I followed the She-Wolf into a moonlit clearing. In the centre stood a dark still shape. As I moved closer, I saw it was a great tusked and whiskery black boar standing stolidly, head forward listening and watching us as we approached.

Was this an emissary of the goddess, I silently asked myself? The old she-wolf, move carefully towards him. The She-Wolf comes to comfort and guide me, like a parent, I remembered. Is he here to stand with me in these times, as a silent witness? The boar grunted, sniffed the she-wolf without curiosity or so it seemed, snorted once more in my general direction and turned and walked back amongst the trees.

The moonlight shon down upon the snow. A sweet, cloying and somehow unpleasant smell wafted towards me upon a sudden brisk little breeze. Where he had been, lay a steaming, dark, glistening fresh turd.

Snow slipped casually from the branches, the wood seemed to crackle and pop like a small hearth-fire. I threw back my head and roared with laughter. The trees bounced it back again, echoing it across the sky.

The She-Wolf returned to my side. Leaving the boar’s gift for the crawling creatures of the wood, together we walked back to the cottage. I knelt by the fire, fed it more wood, stroked the wolf in farewell and made my way back through the trees to my garden, still chuckling to myself.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Sunday February 4, 2007

Taking Him Home

The drum beat fast. I sat slumped against the wall, breathing deeply into my stomach.

“I journey to take the soul of my father home”, I murmured under my breath, three times.

I ducked under the olive tree and emerged into the shrub lined path. As I walked, the bushes fell away and I found myself on the pavement opposite Charing Cross. A blue-grey pigeon bobbed and hopped in front of me, so I followed him.

High on the ridge above the sea, the pigeon hopped across the woodland burial ground to my father’s still brown and bare grave. Bending, I peeled back the earth, like a duvet and climbed down.

My father seemed confused and dazed, just like he had been, the last time I had been with him in life. Quietly, I explained to him that he was dead and that I had come to take him home. “Yes daughter” he said. He seemed to understand and be ready.

The pigeon picked him up by the scruff of his neck and flew off into the air. The dogs, who had been slumbering quietly at my father’s feet, rose and climbed out, and I followed too.

We moved quickly across the landscape until we saw the pigeon stop at a great tall yew tree. Standing at the foot, I craned my neck to see the pidgin fly to the top and then launch himself across the pale sky, up and onwards until he became a spec in the distance and then nothing.

Looking down at the foot of the tree, I saw the dogs had gone. I turned and walked away, alone but with a settled heart.

Thursday February 1, 2007


Lightly walks the maid in the sun’s first beam.
Winter’s keening grief, echoes, falters fades.
Bridget’s time is come.

Three dark clad women walked carefully through the trees to the place of working, under a full Imbolk moon. A solemn drum beat held the space as they moved on the dead and decaying leaves of last summer.

In my dream, I burrowed through the earth until I found the grave. There lay the remains of my father. I lay down next to him to wait.

Watched by him, I moved back through time to meet the seven-year-old little me, in her bright red pyjamas. A determined child, spirited, willing to cooperate but already knowing her own mind. Here she was, whole and perfect. The years spun by and I witnessed her change and grow. AS I moved with her through the years, I brought with me the essence of that whole and perfect seven-year-old.

Reluctantly leaving the body of my father, I returned to the leave strewn clearing, the drum and the dark swaying women. Opening my throat, I keened into the night, heard my grief echoed, fade and falter as I shouted the affirmation: I will no longer feel shame!”

The sensual scent of geranium steamed up from the bowl of hot water. Tenderly, my hands were taken and washed. I cupped my hands and poured water in a libation to the Goddess.

Curled on the big green chair, dressed in my soft white velvet, I listened to the dreamy voice talking of the young goddess climbing from her boat and walking up across the pebbles to the woods. Catching the story like a bouncing ball, I flew with her, like a bird above the trees. She swooped, her delight in life, a series of cheerful whoops. Like the seven-year-old, she was perfect. I reached forward and lit the tall silver candle, and affirmed my aim to hold myself in complete and unconditional self-love.

Earth Duvet

Friday January 26, 2007

Sleet splattered the windscreen as my funeral buddy and I crossed the motorway in disobedience of the Sat Nav in search of a toilet and breakfast. When we emerged from the cutsy little roadside caff some half hour later, the sun was struggling to push its way between the clouds.

Stark against the light sky stood the trees in their winter sparseness. Darker green and damp were the fields from recent serious rains and the snow of two days earlier. We meandered across country under a gradually clearing sky.

On the edge of trees, in a cemetery overlooking the sea, I took the weight of the cardboard box that held my father’s body. I felt him shift slightly as though moving to get comfortable and I pushed my arms under to hold him better. All four siblings shuffled uncertainly towards the open grave.

Warm sun licked my face as I turned to position myself. One foot toed the edge of the grave, and I marvelled at the straightness and sheerness of the cut. In the gentle breeze, a tender melody embraced the silent, watching people. The violin player (a cousin) bowed with tremulous tender strokes the heart-piercing tune. All four children bent and payed out the webbing strips, hand over hand, tenderly lowering the coffin.

Turning to face the waiting circle I said:

“Carefully we carry our father
Lower him gently into the earth.
Fifty years and more ago
He carried us, his children
Setting us down to sleep.
How the wheel of life turns.”

The wind touched my cheek softly, the two dogs whined in the backs of their throats as I led the simple secular funeral ceremony. Held steadily by the earth, the wide sky above and the wind rustling the grass and bare branches, I felt the earth shift as though to hold me up. In turn, we spoke quietly, solemnly, comically, emotionally and calmly of the man known to us as husband, father, brother, uncle, colleague, friend and neighbour.

I breathed the cool winter air and felt it fill me with peace, the comforting loamy smell of new turned soil inviting tenderness. Soon, the earth would cradle his body, hold it close, break it down and cleanse it. The soil, enriched and potent would grow flowers and trees. In turn these would feed the creatures of the land and sky and bring comfort to all who mourn the dead buried here.

In the distance, a bird piped mournfully. An old man grizzled his grief, inarticulate and indistinct. He cried for his colleague and friend, knowing how few of them were left, weeping perhaps in the realisation that soon, he too would be no more. I breathed into the earth to steady myself.

One by one we took a trowl of soil and, saying our goodbyes, sprinkled it over the waiting coffin. It was done. We turned to move away and allow the cemetery workers to complete the pulling over of the earth’s duvet.