Friday, February 23, 2007

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?


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