A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Greenwich Park Motherstone

Not to be confused with the one I recently visited in the Pencili Mountains, the Greenwich Motherstone is part of an installation in the park which used to include a drinking fountain of local spring water. It has been carved and a bowl of similar material set in the stone. The stones abut a small hill dotted with holly and other trees.

The installation is no longer a drinking fountain. The lead pipes were considered not to be safe. It would be a sad and neglected spot if it weren’t for local Pagan’s taking care of it. A number come to clean and fill the bowl with Glastonbury Challis well spring water.

I climbed the hill above the stones and lent against them as I cast the circle. My companions held the space below in front of the stones. The stones held me competently and I felt safe. The wind allowed our candle to remain lit and the incense to spiral around the stones.

I sat down on the grassy hill and felt the sheltering presence of the stone at my back and the hill before me. It was warmer here and I breathed gently into the stone and the earth.

Water dripped from the arched ceiling into the ankle-deep pool in which I was standing. It was very dark. The passage was narrow and low. I had to stoop to get through.

I trailed my fingers on the stone walls, following the tunnel as it led out into a wider chamber. In the gloom, something darker loomed above my head. I waited quietly for my eyes to get used to the dark or for something else to happen.

He was tall. He had horns and he was very dark. Something shifted and a light shafted down from above lighting up the figure. His skin shone warm against the darker shadows and I felt rather than saw him move.

Water dripped from his cupped hands. I moved closer, and gasped as I caught the freezing drops in my hands.

I looked up into a face both stern and kind. The features were still although the hands were cupped to catch water. I was not sure whether they had been like that before I felt him move. The dark stone of his hands shone black where the water dripped.

I was back on the hillside. The motherstone was supporting me. I lent back and allowed her to hold me. I began to sing a Chant:

“We shall never, ever lose our way to the well of liberty.
And the living flame it will rise, it will rise again.

In time, the tune moved into another and other words came:

“The motherstone is holding me,
The motherstone is holding us.”

And I remembered the tall dark presence of the horned one and thanked him for allowing me to explore the mysteries of this place that was very much his as well as hers.

All was still. A park cart transporting tourists rumbled noisily past. I clambered stiffly up and closed the circle.

Greenwich Park Burial Mounds

At the top of the park, surrounding a weeping fir tree of some kind and edged in a rather casual way by oaks, are a number of different sized ancient burial mounds. Grass covered, dissected by paths, they undulate gently, like a green velvet sea frozen in time.

At the top of the hill, the Artic wind was ferocious. We ducked under the sheltering branches of the huge old weeping fir, and shivering, set out our alter. Pointlessly, we attempted to light a candle, but the wind was having none of it!

Many of the spirits of this land are winter goddesses. They rode on the brutal wind, dancing around us as we stood braced against the old tree. The wind howled and thrust itself at us before subsiding back to a persistent insidious sharpness.

I began to walk round and round the tree. Step by step, I moved across the soft ground, ducking to avoid being brained by overhanging branches.

And soon my feet were following another path. This was an ancient path, trodden many times and for many years, long, long ago. I walked slowly, single file with many others. A mournful song rose from the front of the column and made its way back to me. Softly at first, I began to sing, measuring my steps to the beat of the song.

We were carrying our dead. WE were the dead. WE were walking to our graves and we were in chains. Still, we trudged and sang, trudged and sang, for it was the only way to find the energy to put one foot in front of another.

It was night. It was cold. I was scared, so scared. My chest filled with grief and I keened out my pain, for I had lost everything I knew and loved.

The circle was hard to make a hole in. My stick held it up for the others, but I could hardly support it and my arm shook with the effort.

WE walked out onto the mounds and I began to traverse each one, gently moving down into hollows and then up onto summits. And as I walked, I felt drawn to sing. I was called to sing songs of courage, endurance and hope. Self-consciously at first and then with more boldness, I began to sing:

“Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won.
Many stones to form an arch, singly none, singly none.
And by union what we will, shall be accomplished still.
Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.

Still marching with the spirits of the past, I felt the earth gently holding me, as though guiding my steps. I began to sing:

“I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.
I wish I could break all the chains holding me.
I wish I could say all the things I should say.
Say it loud; say it clear for the whole round world to hear.

Well I wish I could be like a bird in the sky.
How sweet it would be if I found I could fly.
I’d soar to the sun and look down at the sea.
Then I’d sing, ‘because I’d know-how it feels to be free.”

I stepped into a grassy hollow on one mound and felt the earth beneath me shift as though better to hold me. I knew that a network of ancient underground streams honeycombed the earth beneath the mounds. I imagined them like the tracks of the earth’s tears.

It was time to go. Curious dog-walkers noticed us and then turned back to their animals. We moved slowly back to the tree, and closed the circle.

Our feet and wheels led us to an ancient oak standing sentinel by the path leading to the mounds. I touched her pitted and gnarled trunk. It was rough but warm. I lent into her and was sheltered momentarily from the biting wind. She offered an unconditional, warm reassuring embrace and I felt comforted and renewed.

Breaking the chains

Winter has not yet finished with us. After a week of glorious gentle spring weather full of high skies and cheerful little breezes, a rowdy wind has been tormenting the tentatively emerging poor unfurling leaves. The March gales taunt and jeer at the signs of spring, laughing in the face of the soft and furry buds and shaking the poor daffodils and narcissi crossly. The wind-chimes in the garden rock frenziedly as the wind wrenches off handfuls of bare twigs and scatters them callously across the paths.

When we planned the Greenwich pilgrimage, we had foolishly hoped the weather would be warmer by now. Still, it wasn’t actually raining, even if the Siberian wind breathed icily in our faces. At least the Park was quiet. Only a handful of the usual collection of dogs, adults and small children pattered along its ordered paths.

Two-hundred years ago trans-Atlantic slavery was abolished by the UK parliament. This was not the end of the exploitation of poor people, (many women and girls are still trafficked into sexual slavery every day), it is however a potent reminder that trading human lives for whatever reason is wrong and that to make a stand can make a difference as was the case with the Trans-Atlantic Slave-Trade.

Our pilgrimage to some of Greenwich’s ancient and sacred sites would be made in memory of all those who have been enslaved. Our workings would be dedicated to breaking the chains that bound them, whether they lived now or in the past.

The hare and the challis

A Flower-faced goddess
As young as the sun
In the heart of the maze
Greets the leaping hare.
Ostara Blessings!

The green room was softly lit. In the centre of the alter table, daffodils “liberated” from a local park bowed their heads coyly, seeming to smile into the long green vase in which they sat.

The drum pulsed, at first a heartbeat leading me to the doorway beyond which, the green sword stretch velvety and verdant as a springy thick pile carpet. This night, the evening after the midnight balance point of the Equinox, I was here to follow the hare wherever she might lead me. My quest, to meet the goddess and to learn what might be learned.

As I stood waiting the call, I turned over in my mind the dull ache that is disappointment in having yielded to a habit not yet broken. I wondered if my journey would bring me wisdom to understand what this was about and courage to face this addiction.

The drum sounded the running beat and I pelted through the gateway onto that expanse of greenness. But the field was empty. Where was she? And as I thought this, something gold moved across just outside my field of vision, I turned and saw her, and she was indeed “haring” across the open grassland. Something inside me shifted, like an erupting joyful fountain, and I took chase.

We ran across open spaces, scrambling through hedges, down little paths between fields and the edges of woods. My feet hardly touching the ground, I danced across the landscape, diving through bushes, brambles, between trees and across streams, fleet and surefooted as the happiest of happiest young rabbits. The sun shone, the sky was blue and the air cool and fresh.

We came to a bank. The hare dived into a hole and I pulled up abruptly, panting yet laughing.
“Oh shit” I thought, examining the hole for surely it was too small. Determined to follow, I got down on my hands and knees and began to crawl in. It was a tight squeeze, but I did not care.

The warm darkness smelt earthy damp, edged with the sharp greenness of crushed new grass. All was silent but I knew it was also waiting. I wriggled through, feeling my way with my nose, which surely was a little bit whiskery. Hmmm. But no time to think of that now, I continued to scrabble forward until I saw the light of the tunnel opening.

Emerging into the light, I looked around and saw the hare sitting patiently on the grass at the edge of a lake, looking out to a small island. Knowing that’s where we were destined, I had only a moment to wonder how we would get there before I realised that we had already arrived!

The undergrowth WAS TALLER THAN ME. Great flowers bent to peer at us as we pushed our way through. It was tough walking and I quickly began to feel tired. We twisted and turned until soon I had lost all sense of direction. All I knew was that the sound of running water was getting louder and closer and the curious flowers were scrutinising us as we passed them.

The hare led me into a small central clearing. A spring bubbled up onto rocks. Swaying above it, the most extraordinarily beautiful flower creature stood. She was one flower and a million flowers, tall and graceful yet many stemmed. In her leaves (or was it her hands?) She held a crystal goblet, blue and green and gold and translucent all at once. She bowed down and offered it to me, inviting me to fill it from the spring at her feet (or were they leaves?).

I knelt and filled the challis. Raising my eyes to what I think was her face; I poured some of the water onto the leaves at the bottom of her stem. Her head nodded imperceptibly (or was it the wind) and I lowered my lips to sip the cool fresh water.

Gentle and subtle was the taste – as water is always. I felt it reach into me, as though to say to every cell in my body “wake up, its spring!” and immediately I felt refreshed and full of life.

But I couldn’t move. I sat at the feet of the tall swaying goddess flower, wonderingly adoring her. She was so beautiful. Life was so beautiful.

In time, I caught the movement of the hare from the corner of my eye. It was time to go. Bowing low to the Lady, I got up and moved back through the flowers, retracing my steps to the gateway. Turning to thank the hare as I stepped through, I saw again, the empty green field. All was still … or was that something moving over by the hedge?

The beat slowed, returning me to now. I knelt by the challis at the west point of the alter, gently taking the lapis lazuli stone waiting there for me.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tall Trees

When I am upset, I go to the trees. Following my father’s death, in the last six weeks I have sometimes sought comfort in standing with and sitting under trees.

Needing a bit of arboreal TLC the other Sunday, I headed for Kew Gardens in West London. As my companion and I sauntered about, the tree people watched us indulgently, or so it seemed to me. As we walked, I wondered about the people who had collected all these wonderful trees. Whether their motivation was simply scientific preservation or something more deeply spiritual, I did not know. Whatever they had intended, the goddess was present here, and she had many different faces.

After eating our packed lunch on a damp bench in the wild woodland area near Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, we retreated indoors from the rain. But I was itching to get back to the trees and so as soon as the rain stopped, we made our way to a shaggy old Moroccan Cedar I had explored delightedly, earlier that afternoon and which was quietly calling me.

Despite the inclement weather, we did not have the place to ourselves. Adults clipped and clopped crisply along the nearby path and small children shrieked like seagulls as they chased each other across the lawns. I leaned against the trunk of the old tree, sheltering under one of its huge limbs and cast a circle.

The snappy little wind blew raindrops from the shaggy leaves and in an “I’ll have none of this nonsense” manner, extinguished the candle we twice tried to light. Still the incense danced on the whirling breeze, spiralling around me as I worked.

Resting my cheek against the rough bark, I called the spirit of the tree to come be with me. The Soft, slightly resin perfume of the tree filled my nostrils, over head, birds called to each other and jets segmented the sky on their way to or from Heathrow.

And behind my eyelids, the tall trees began to move, slowly and majestically, as though in an ancient but polite dance. It seemed to me, as they moved, that they inclined their great spreading branches towards each other as though to say “How do you do?” In a rather grave and formal way. Tenderly they seemed to watch each other, moving together and then apart, finding another tree being to greet and then moving on again.

The hard trunk that was supporting my back seemed to grow around me. I felt the tree move and scoop me up into its rough feathery branches, cradle me close as it too, like a great rough bear, began to move towards its fellows. Rocked by the motion, I relaxed and felt comforted.

Pungently, the smell of the wet earth came to greet me, mingling with the resin tang of the tree and the sharper smell of wet crushed grass. Voices and footfalls wove in and out of each other as another jet passed by. The rain began to fall in earnest.

My feet were on the ground. My back against a rough old trunk. I was sheltering under the armpit of a big old tree which had stood firmly, swaying only with the winds, withstanding storm and hurricane for decades. I stood up and walked around the tree, picking up a discarded branch and beginning to stroke her trunk tenderly, softly honouring her magnificence. Silently I thanked her for her unconditional love.

As I walked, the words of an old Grace, sung at my special school came into my head. The school was surrounded by tall old cedar trees. The song paid tribute to their presence as a sign of God’s love. I began to sing and the words shifted and changed.

Cedar’s round this country fair, tell the story of thy care,
And the trees who watch and wait, are the guardians of our fate.”

I sang out to the trees, the lungs of the earth; a tangible indicator of the earth’s well-being. Across the world, forests were being cleared and the consequence was disastrous for many communities. As I sang, I sent out blessing in thanks for those who made and kept this place and whose order and meticulous care continue to honour the trees.

It was time to go. I opened the circle and we made our way out from under the tree and back into the darkening February afternoon.