A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Epona and the Handfasting

Saturday April 28, 2007

The ivy flapped against my cheek as I picked my way slowly down the steep path to the circle of oaks. I had fashioned the crown from the excess of ivy crawling all over my lovely garden and its green tangy smell filled my nostrils. I was feeling very green and alive.

In the oak-grove, the trees were in new leaf. All was held, the city sounds fading into the distance as we gathered and made our circle.

I had offered to invokeEpona. Closing my eyes, I imagined her, white against the greening of the leaves and the shadows beneath the trees. A distant soft foot-fall, the sound of her blowing through her nostrils as she emerged, her white mane rippling gently in the breeze. Was that a woman in the shadow beside her, or was she both a woman and a horse? She shifted and tossed her head.

Far away, I heard many voices chanting, echoing in the early summer air.
“Epona ride with me,
Epona won’t you ride with me?
Epona, we shall all be free”.

I heard her hooves pounding on the earth as she ran, eager to win the race. I felt the exhilaration of her victory as, despite being heavy with foal, she beat them all. I saw her running into the sea, and it foaming around her white main or hair. I saw her emerging; birthing her foals and new that she was here.

My mind returned to a previous encounter with a horse goddess. In my dream, I had been walking on the heath. I had come to Boadicea’s mound and had climbed the fence. As I Walked through the trees, I caught a glimpse of something white against the shadows. Emerging into a clearing, I saw what at first seemed to be a white horse.

She was half horse, half woman. The height of a tall woman, her long silver white hair framed a strong, ageless face. She was bear breasted and shapely. Her lower body was that of a white mare.

Back in the oak-grove, we moved and circled, chanting and clapping as we took it in turn to leap the Beltane fire. In turn, we let go of what we no longer needed and made our Beltane wishes. In our protective circle, lovers renewed their vows and I knew that I had something I must do.

My fingers touched a ball of green wool I had pocketed earlier when making my preparations for the ritual. I had not known what I wanted it for back then, but now I did.

Stepping forward I asked the group to witness my self-handfasting, my dedication to true self-love, to working to be the kindest of companions to myself as I continued to grow and change as I journeyed with the goddess. I called upon air to bring me truthfulness and clarity of mind, fire to bring me passion and transformation, water to bring me compassion in flowing love and earth to bring me the solidity to manifest my purpose in life – to fight for justice and freedom from oppression in my sphere of influence. If I wanted respect and honour for the oppressed peoples of the world; I must respect and honour myself first.

I offered my wrist to be bound three times round with the green wool. As the knot was tied, in the distance, I swear I heard a horse blowing quietly as it stood and watched.

Untidily but enthusiastically, clutching brightly coloured ribbons, we wove in and out of each other, weaving our dreams and wishes into fruition along the tall shaft of the maypole. Taking hands, we spiral-danced through the oak-grove chanting our Beltane song. The voices echoed around the trees, growing louder as the energy shifted, until we raised the cone of power, sending our wishes born upon its song out into the world.

At last we were still and quiet. Epona moved through the trees shaking her mane as I acknowledged her presence and thanked her. The circle now opened, we were released to a haphazard summer picnic. Sitting on the ground with the hot sun beating down on our faces, we feasted on the bounty of the green, green earth. Sated at last, I handed my crown of ivy leaves to a companion, and got up stiffly from the ground and began to make my way out of the oak-grove and back up the hill, our Beltane song still playing in my mind.

“Jump the Beltane fire with your heart’s desire,
Let the smoke inspire your love.”

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Afon Glesyrch valley (Esgairgeiliog)

Saturday April 21, 2007

I am touched to the heart by the generosity of my pilgrimage companions in sharing with me the places sacred and personal to them. Often they are not the spectacular monoliths or grand monuments, but a simple spring by a green river or a dishevelled beach on the North bank of the Thames. Be they simple or spectacular places, I honour my companions for allowing me to visit.

These are their “sit spots”, the places they go to be in sacred space. Here they find stillness and solace. Here they mark the seasons, their various rites of passage in their development as spiritual people. Here they work out how to shift problems and here they manifest healing for themselves and the world.

My “sit space” is my rowan tree and the alter at her foot in my garden. Every day I am at home, I stand and pray, observe the festivals and work magic beside her. I stroke her slim and graceful trunk and branches, finger gently her delicate new leaves and frothy blossom, I revel in her beauty. In turn, silently she hears me out, brings clarity when I am cloudy minded, comfort when I am grieving. She shields me from harm for she too is an aspect of the goddess as protector.

I limped after the stiffly walking dog up the road out of the village. Sheep dozed in the fields on one side and an ordered Forestry Commission plantation covered the hill on the other. The gate at the top of the part leading down to the river crossing was almost off its hinges. The bridge wooden, narrow and rickety, the little river shallower than it ought to be at this time of year, rushing busily underneath.

Retrieving the dog from the water, we crossed and followed the river to a ford and a stream joining it. Here was a moss covered rocky outcrop, sheltered by the canopy of an old oak leaning across the little stream. The dog tumbled back into the water and we sat down to be.

The sun dappled the rocks and mossy grass. On all sides the valley rose enclosing us. The dog splashed happily, the stream bubbled, the birds sang and in the distance sheep bleated. And in this moment, just for now, the land seemed to hold me in a gentle embrace and I felt truly loved.

I breathed deeply. Stretching, I raised my face to the warm sun feeling its energy fill me. Stiffly I rose and knelt on the wet grass and dipped my hands into the water. It felt coolant soft. My companion handed me a piece of wet river slate. I traced its layers with my fingers, smoothing away the water drops tenderly.

Behind us, the hill upon which covens had been used to meet in days gone by rose steep and wild. My companion reached up and picked a sprig of new oak leaves. I stroked their new curled softness, giving silent thanks to the sheltering tree.

It was time to leave. We gathered ourselves together and took a different route back. Stepping carefully across tree roots and slate boulders, we walked through yet another field of sheep. The dog found a nice juicy ewe poo and began rather disgustingly to eat it. Another stream babbled enthusiastically in a small ravine guarded by another old Oak. Sheep quietly watched us as we left their territory. Kindly, the hills looked on and I wished yet again that I didn’t have a train to catch and a revolution to organise back in the world!

The Torrent Walk (Afon Wnion)

Friday April 20, 2007

The sun was still warm as we squeezed through the kissing gate and down onto the rocky path of the Torrent Walk by the Afon Wnion. The river tumbles amongst rocks in a series of small waterfalls and pools in a beech lined little ravine. Constructed by the Victorians, it offers a pleasant scramble beside the river and on this sunny evening was dappled and cool.

Rocks and roots ridged the treacherous path between small flights of uneven steps. The river bubbled and gurgled beside us as we picked our way carefully down, the dog running before us plunging into every wet ditch she could find.

I climbed a bank and sat on a bench breathing in the pungent wild garlic scent. The river sang to the birds who sang back. All around us, beings watched without curiosity as my companion walked back along the path to see if he could find the car key he had accidentally dropped earlier. Feeling certain that he would, I sat back and drank in the peace of the place.

The beings of the place watched from the shadows. They were calling me to the water. The river being some feet below us down a steep rocky bank, we decided to walk on. Down some more steps and an ankle turning scramble along, wild garlic edged the path. It was in flower, adding sweetness to the pungency. We gathered some to add to our evening meal and stumbled on.

The path finally came closer to the river’s level. Below us, under a steep bank, there was a small river beech. Scrambling with little dignity down upon my bottom, I settled down to play with the pebbles.

The dog, with a bark of delight, plunged straight into the water and began swimming vigorously. She whined and sang in a wordless doggy kind of yodel which soon turned into a gargle as she stuck her head under water.

It seemed to me that the beings laughed. I certainly did, for she was so full of joy and was so very ridiculous too! I sat and fingered the pebbles, picking out the neatest and smoothest of them. My companion yelped as he dipped his feet into the freezing water. The dog swam about, dashing out from time to time to shake herself all over us as though to say “ooh it’s all lovely and wet”.

The sun shifted and the air cooled. It was time to go. The dog was finally persuaded to come out of the water and we set off up the rocky path to the bridge.

But the river was still calling me. I climbed up onto the stone parapet and sat warming myself in the last of the sun’s rays as my companion went to fetch the car.

Birds sang and the river whispered as it flowed beneath my feet. “Come in, come in” it called.

I was diving down, down and down into its cool silvery green depths. I lay on my back floating upstream, watching the refracted images of the overhanging trees, the dappled sunlight and the blue sky above as they shimmered through the water above me. I let the river take me till, wanting to be in control; I flipped over and swam faster and nearer the bank.

There was the dark hole, a tunnel under the water line. I darted into its mystery and followed it as it curved and moved along and around the bank. Crossing water-filled chambers, I moved into other passageways leading me on.

The water became thick with mud. I slowed and began to move differently. Soon I was undulating through the thick cloying earth which began to hold me firmly until I rested still, enclosed and quiet at last in the dark.

The world turned. Time moved on. I began to move, to wriggle then slither and finally, pushing out from the mud into clearer water, to swim again. I was swimming back to a light shimmering through the dark water.

And now I was back in the silver green river. Dark tendrils, a lighter brown patch and two green eyes met mine, gazed and were gone. I recognised the river goddess I had met before. Back up the river I swam, back to the bridge. Like a dog, I leapt from the river, shaking the water off my coat, ran up onto the bridge and to the parapet.

Moving my stiff limbs, I stretched and began to hum with the wind in the trees, a song to the river.

Moel Ty Uchaf (The highest House on the bare hill)

Friday April 20, 2007

Set on the side of the Berwyn Mountains, beneath the Cadair Bronwen (the chair of Bronwen) is a small, low circle of 53 standing stones. All around, the mossy grass is mown to golf course smoothness by the sheep that graze there.

Beneath a high blue sky under streaming sunshine I stumbled along the steep path. My companion had brought his ancient auburn “bitza” bitch who, despite her age, was not finding it as rough going as I. The rock strewn track led steadily upwards through a flock of mildly curious grazing sheep. Ewes watched disapprovingly and their fluffy offspring lay basking in the April sun.

Out of breath and sweating, I stopped to rest, turning to face the way we had come. The earth seemed to drop away and, with the high arching sky above, I felt as though I were standing on the edge of the world. Quietly, my companion described how the river Dee curved below and the bare mountains encircled us. The sweet vanilla scent of gorse flowers drifted on the wind, mixed with the sourness of freshly laid ewe poo and the rank odour of the dog’s breath as she panted beside us. Swap the sheep for goats, add the tinkling of goat bells and we could have been in Greece or Spain, so hot was the sun. I breathed it all inn then turned to march resolutely on.

The landscape was deserted. In time we struck away from the rocky path and up across the green hillside, the moss springy and soft beneath our feet. And then, there in front of us lay two circles of brown grass amongst the spring green, like giant coffee mug scorch rings one set like a finger ring with the shattered remains of what looked like an old burial chamber. I reached down to touch the grass –one leaf was moist and smooth the one next to it was rough and brittle. We walked through the circles towards the stone circle.

The solitary lead stone was warm to touch. Silently asking permission to move closer, I stroked its rough surface. It felt okay to go and on and we cautiously approached the circle. A blackbird somewhere close sang a welcome.

My companion and I walked in silence around the perimeter. The stones were set edge to edge, with some spaces. There were one or two small gaps but really only one real way in. I sat down outside the stones and waited, for it was not yet time to enter.

The wind was stronger here. I strained to hear the song of the blackbird but could not. Other birds called somewhere off in the distance. From time to time, the wind carried to me the contented baaing of sheep further down the hill.

Stiffly I rose and began to walk around the outside of the circle. I touched each stone, stroking it, running my fingers across it’s contours, for I wanted to greet each one separately. And as I walked, bent and shuffling, edging my way around, with no particular plan in mind, I called silently to the elements. I called to the wind, to feathery thoughts and sudden illuminations like a breath of fresh air to come and be with me. My hands held the warm stones and the sun’s energy, it’s intensity and passion entered me through my skin. I felt the waters beneath the earth flowing and moving onwards as the blood in my veins pulsed. I held the ancient stillness of the stones with the palms of my hands and felt steadied. The circle was complete. It was time to enter.

I moved inside, at first near the stones and then spiralling inwards to the centre, a round depression with some stones haphazardly placed roughly at it’s centre. Something called me to sit down. There were no words, I just knew I had to touch the earth and be silent with her. I sat down on the edge of the central depression facing west, hands flat on the turf and waited.

The water was a dark dark blue, almost a purple colour really. It mirrored the dark sky. The rocks were shiny black, like coal, jagged and rough but also weathered and smooth. The water was calling me but I was not sure I wanted to climb in. It looked bottomless.

The light shifted and I saw the dark mouth of a cave. I edged round the pool, (for there was not much room between the water an rocks) and approached the dark hole. I was scared but yet I knew I had to go on.

Back in the stone circle, the dog circled me purposefully. I felt safe because she was watching. I returned to the rocks and pool, I bent down and entered the darkness.

It was a small smooth cave, two low to stand up in. I crawled forward, following the passage with my shoulder and arm. I lay down on my stomach to wriggle into a kind of chamber which was only just big enough to allow me to shuffle around on my knees as I explored its contours. The smooth, cool rocks became a tunnel and I crawled through.

Dappled sunlight shifted across the dark rock walls. The cool breath of air licked my face and I pushed my way through greenery and out into a wood. The shuffling and panting I had heard in the back of my mind was louder. In front of me stood the old whiskery boar, breathing heavily as he fixed me with his small dark eyes. He turned away as though to lead me. Scrambling to my feet, I followed him through the trees. He stopped at the edge of the woods. I saw the mossy green grass of the hillside and the stones lit under the bright sun and moved forward alone and back to now.

My companion was outside the circle, leaning with his back to a stone. The dog lay panting nearby. I got up and moved slowly out and round the stones. I touched each one, thanking them for holding the space, for their gift of stillness, for the ever flowing water that is the symbol of love, the heat of the sun that is my energy and passion and the inspiration through the dreaming that I always find when I allow myself to be with Her. The circle was open. I felt at peace.

We ate our lunch under the clear blue sky; the hill was surrounded by an approaching haze. All was quiet. My companion and his dog lay down and slept. I sat listening to their quiet and steady breathing and soon began to feel drowsy. I needed to put my belly to the ground. The afternoon moved on, the soft moss cushioned me as I dozed.

The chamber was dark, larger than before or perhaps it was a different one? I was hanging, I’m not sure what by, it wasn’t uncomfortable, it was just odd. No one else was there. I was hanging and waiting, just waiting.

The dog snorted and got up. I stroked the mossy grass and then sat up. It was time to go.

Carefully, we clambered down the rocky path. Twice I fell, landing hard on my knees, but it didn’t hurt. The wind dropped as we moved down. The sheep followed us incuriously with their eyes.

Suddenly, another human being was in front of us. We stopped to talk – my companion had met him a few weeks before, somewhere else. The stranger was making for the stones and hoping to read and be at peace. We laughed about how the stones had made us drowsy and wished him a restful afternoon and then turned to walk back.

Soon too tired to go further, I sat on a bank by a jagged old hawthorn hedge covered in white blossom and waited for my companion to fetch the car. The wind sang through the barbed wire gate and I joined in, humming peacefully as the sheep baaed contentedly and pulled up the short grass with little tearing noises.

An Unfurling of Hope

When I left for Findhorn at the end of March, the plants in my garden were holding their breath, uncertain of what was to come. Only the most Tentative signs of growth were evident. A week later, every plant was unfurling, opening and pushing forth tender, yet sturdy leaves. Moist, yet cool to touch, each leaf felt fresh and strong. I imagined them gleaming, an optimistic new green, and the trademark of this time of year.

AS I stood breathing in the newness and allowing the gentle perfumes fully into me, I felt a settling of joy which brought me to tears for the beauty of it. Not given to such feelings generally, I was surprised but also relieved to feel like a human being again. For too long I had stood in the pain of the frozen north of my grief and anger, expressed over the death of my father, but really about so many other things too. For too long, I had danced in the dark place of my self-hate and internal revivification for the weaknesses of my flesh – the serial addictions which had taken turn one by one, to stand centre stage within my conscious and unconscious mind. So many times, I had resolved to shift them, standing at the dawn of new beginnings only to have each one shrivel and die as I returned to the old habits that had be bound.

My fingers gently stroked the cool, smooth bark of the rowan tree. I remembered the victories. Three years without a cigarette, five years since I allowed myself to toss sleepless at night, 18 years since I broke the destructive hold of alcohol, at first through total abstention and then into a place of allowing with judgment. Now I was facing the oldest and perhaps the most entrenched to shift – my compulsive eating. “You are set back by your failures on this (emotional) level”, the card in the game of Transformation played two weeks ago at Findhorn said. “How bloody true,” I thought as a fountain of despair overwhelmed me again.

I played the game of Transformation on the 3rd of April. 35 years ago to the day, I woke up to find the face of bob Dylan, on the poster over the mantelpiece in my bedroom, blurred into a series of shifting greys. The penultimate of a series of eye haemorrhages had unbalanced the delicate structure of my right eye. Within hours, I was flat on my back in a hospital bed.

For five weeks I Languished there before coming to my senses and demanding to be let out. After all, there was nothing to be done and I had my life to live. I was only sixteen and “o” levels were looming.

I think back upon that grey time (for colours had faded into insipient milkyness beyond the fog of swirling eye fluids, and remembered how others began to close in and limit my choices. I remembered the depression of sitting and feeling old before my time in the day centre for the blind. I wondered if I would ever get out again.

Then I remember learning to march along waving a huge long cane and the dawning realisation that I could get out and move around. I remember stoutly demanding to go back to school so I could sit my “O” levels. I remembered the hours of pouring over borrowed lesson notes for the sessions I had missed, knowing that if I didn’t do this, I would be lost. As the sun grew strong, I squinted in the painful glare and longed for cloudy days when I could see well.
That single-minded determination brought results. Against all odds, I passed the exams I was able to take, half of them with ‘A’ grades. Time went on and I continued to confront the obstacles. I went to Art School (studying to post graduate level), the first blind student at that time to have ever done so. I’ve gone on to be successful in most things I do, pushing aside others limiting beliefs on the way. So what stops me truly confronting my own? What can this journey with the goddess teach me about facing and learning from those demons?

All around is the evidence of trust and hopefulness in the burgeoning of the garden. There is no certainty that the temperature won’t drop and a frost return to destroy that new growth. The climate change that brings this golden sunshine may yet deliver that too. Yet the bluebells wave determinedly in the soft breeze as though to say “stuff you, I’m here now!”

And so I move through the year with the goddess, synching with the seasons. It’s time to allow this deepest of changes to grow within me and shift me forward. It’s time to take the learnings from my past and let go of the emotions. So stuff you compulsive eating, I’m here now and it’s time to let you go.

And with this in mind, I set out on another pilgrimage to meet the Goddess, this time to Mid Wales.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Watchers on the PowerPoint

Friday April 6, 2007

Two of us made our way up the spiral path to the PowerPoint. We were warm from the dancing and glad to be in the coolness of the moonless night.

Climbing through the trees, we entered the sheltered circle at the hill’s summit. We stood under a starry sky. Incongruously, police sirens mingled with the occasional hoot of an owl and reminded me of the night sounds of my North London home. We were hear to give thanks for the week and to say goodbye to the spirits of the land.

We called the directions and invoked the spirits. I walked slowly around the circle of rocks, tracing in my mind the journey I had taken this week. In time, I stopped walking and came to rest against the trunk of a large silver birch.

Leaning into its solidness, I allowed my mind to drift away as the beings of the hill came forward between the trees into the open. Indistinct but very present, they stood quietly watching, like silent witnesses to my reflections. I reached into my pocket and fingered the round stone I had picked up on the beach the day before. AS my fingers stroke, a deep stillness held me.

The tree and I breathed. The beings seem to mirror my repose. It was as though we were sharing a prayer. I offered thanks to the spirits of the place, the participants and to my personal angel for the week, the angel of faith -the leap of faith.

Reluctantly, I moved away from the tree and stood with my companion under the starry sky and sang. We sang a farewell to the trees, the hill and the land, our voices a counterpoint of simple weaving harmony in the stillness of the night.

Below us, a clock chimed midnight. It was time to go. We opened the circle and headed back down the hillside and out into the world.

Sleeping with the seals

Thursday April 5, 2007 (Findhorn Bay)

We had skittered and teetered across the shifting pebbles at the edge of a high tide. My ankles hurt and I felt tired. I sank down gratefully on the stones to rest.

The sea tossed the shingle as it moved in and out. A wind brought the salt fresh tang on its tongue. A spring sun warmed my left cheek.

I lay down on the stones and closed my eyes. The pebbles nuzzled themselves into my body, settling into its shape. My head rested on round cobbles and I felt safe and supported. I closed my eyes and surrendered to the wind, the sun and the stones.

The sea came for me, slowly dragging me away. It gently rocked me as it drew me from the shore. I bobbed and rocked, cradled and enfolded in its coolness. The sun was warm on my cheek, the wind fresh on my skin.
In time, I heard the waves crashing upon a shingly shore. The sea brought me gently to rest on the stones of another beech. I lay back and allowed them to greet the shape of me, examine me and enclose me.

The salt smell was stronger here, overlaid with a sour fishiness and the sharp rotting smell of old seaweed. The pebbles shifted and I felt something heavy move slowly towards me.

I was surrounded. I could no longer feel the wind, and the sun on my face seemed warmer now. A heavy rasping breathing soothed me as I felt the presence of big creatures all around me. I reached out and touched rough damp skin. They were seals.

Gulls mewed overhead and the seals surrounding me hummed mournfully. Their sorrowful drone filled my thoughts. A huge sense of loss engulfed me. Salt tears slid from beneath my eyelids, and trickled across my cheeks.

The sun had moved. The air was cooler now. The seals shifted slowly away as a wave licked at my feet. Carefully, the sea came back for me. It bore me away and in time it laid me gently back upon the pebbles. Gulls cried sharply, echoing the mournful song of the seals and I woke from my dream.

My companion sitting quietly beside me said, “It’s ten to four. We’d better get going.”

The Cluny Water Beings

Monday April 2, 2007

Late in the afternoon, I sat on a stone bench by a man-made waterfall in the garden at Cluny Hill College, the Forres campus of the Findhorn Foundation. I came to make contact with the spirits of the place.

Birds sang cheerfully under a low grey sky. A soft breeze brushed my cheeks, bringing the faintest smell of sewerage with the bitter-sweet tang of crushed grass riding on its back. It began to rain. I breathed in its dampness and cast the circle.

I closed my eyes and allowed the sound of the rough playing of the water to hold me. Indistinct patterns crossed my eyelids, grey and greenish, almost translucent, with an edge and an overlay of leaves. Were those dark eyes gazing at me or were they the patterns and shadows of drifting foliage on the surface of the gently rippling water?

The breeze stirred the water. Yes, now faces were definitely there with dark eyes watching and inviting. I moved towards the pool’s edge and gazed down into their upturned faces.

I dove in. The pool was deeper than I had thought. Soft leaves floated across my face, touching all my exposed skin as I swam down into the water.

The floating shadowy beings beckoned me on. I followed, swimming deeper down into a tunnel and out into an echoing chamber.

The surface of the water all around me streamed with leaves, tangled hair and translucent triangular grey faces with dark eyes. Their bodies and limbs shrouded in foliage as they floated around me. Hands reached out to urge me forward.

Voices echoed in the chamber, voices calling me to them. I swam amongst them and felt gentle hands guiding me onwards towards a great silver light shimmering under the water ahead.

I was pulled under the water. I submitted, allowing myself to be taken, not fearing that I would not breathe, because breathing no longer mattered. Shimmering and shaking, a silver light seemed to weave its way through the water.

Slowly the voices reshaped themselves into a song, at first not recognisable and then clearer and stronger as I was drawn closer to the silver light.

“Water enfolding, shaping holding,
Ebbing and flowing set me free.
Water enfolding, shaping and holding,
Ebbing and flowing, take me home.”

I lay in the cool shaft of the silver beam, my body light as air. Drifting in its energy, I began to spin slowly and gradually floated back to the surface of the pool, the song still singing in my mind. Climbing out, I sat on the edge and stroked the water surface, my fingers moving through the drifting leaves. Softly I sang under my breath as a great sense of peace settled in my chest.

The rain had stopped but my cheeks were wet. I opened my eyes and stretched. The stone seat was very cold and I felt a little chilled. Far away to my right, a wood pigeon cooed contentedly. I opened the circle and gave thanks to the water beings for coming to me today.

Full Moon on the PowerPoint
Sunday April 1, 2007

AT last the night had fallen. So far north, it stayed light till well after 8 pm. The day had been sunny so the sky was clear.

The moon was up and shining down on a snake of women walking in single file up the spiralling path to the summit of PowerPoint hill. To our right, the ground fell away sharply. Carefully, I placed each foot in the footsteps of the woman in front of me. From time to time, half submerged roots caught at me as I trod and stumbled, and then was steadied by the woman leading me.

We walked through an arch made by two trees; one had fallen into the arms of the other during a storm. Climbing carefully up the steep hill, we emerged from amongst a ring of silver birch into the circle of small stones set in the twelve directions of the compass. The stones had been laid and painted by a woman who had been guided to do so. They represented the symbols of a number of the world’s religions, as though to name the place in an ecumenical sense for all spirits, gods and goddesses.

The trees watched as, slightly awkwardly for we did not really know each other yet, we held hands and attuned. Dedicating our work to the opportunity to meet with the spirits of the place and to find and grow self-love, I called the directions and cast the circle. Each taking an animal oracle card, I invited everyone to journey with their animal and allow the land to speak to them. I began to drum quietly.

The circle of trees drew closer as though to watched more carefully. I closed my eyes and saw the kind faced cow inviting me to follow her. We walked through the trees and down the hillside across a grassy meadow. Lowing encouragement, she swayed in front of me, a gentle grace in her purposeful gait.

The sound of running water grew louder as we moved towards a rocky outcrop and then came to a bubbling spring and small pool. The cow lowered her head to drink and I knelt beside her, scooping up the fresh water in my cupped hands. It was cold and sweet. I felt it running through my body and felt renewed.

All was still as I knelt there. The land and the cow seemed to hold me without touch. I stood and gently stroked her head and she mooed contentedly and then turned to lead me back.

The circle of women reformed and we stood quietly as the moonlight lit each one of us. Gently, we raised our voices in song, honouring the shining moon above us.

“Under the full moon light we dance,
Spirit dance we dance,
Joining hands we dance,
Joining souls rejoice.”

Then one woman began to giggle infectiously. Catching the mood, we quickly closed the circle and tumbled our way (via a precarious shortcut) back down the hill.

The night train to Scotland (Friday march 30, 2007)

There’s something about trying to sleep on a train. I was making my way up to the Findhorn Foundation in Northern Scotland for a week of lesbians and spirituality and had decided to take the sleeper.

Findhorn is filled with magical energy. There is a lot of work done with angels and spirits of the land. The community is religiously tolerant.

It is unusual to find dedicated lesbian’s weeks in alternative communities. The alternativeness often doesn’t extend to the acknowledgement of, let alone the celebration of lesbian sexuality. So to find a course for lesbians on sexuality and spirituality was a very exciting and unusual thing.

All week I had been being run by anxiety. I dreamed of missing the train, getting there without my luggage and all manner of strange things that Freud would have a field-day with. Finally, I got myself onto the tube (which promptly got stuck in a tunnel).

I panicked, overwhelmed by emotions, and then remembered that I had drawn the dog from the Druid Animal Oracle, as my travelling companion. I called him up now an felt immediately comforted. Quickly casting a circle, I invited the creatures of the tube to sit alongside the train until it moved and speed it on its way.

Later, alone in a strange cabin, I wondered where everything was. This insistence on travelling solo was bad for my mental health! I felt somehow inadequate and began to cry again.

What was all this about, I wondered? Why was I so ready to come to tears? Something was pulling me to get to my journey’s end where I felt that all would be well. Reminding myself of the comforting presence of the dog, I sat back to wait for assistance.

The induction into the curiosities of a sleeper cabin over, I climbed beneath the thin blankets and tried to get comfortable in the narrow bunk. I was definitely a bit over excited. I wrestled with the blankets and sheets, nearly tumbling out of bed every time the train went up a hill or round a corner, but I couldn’t settle. Having remade the bed for the fourth time, I summoned up the concept of being cosy and rocked in the bunk, sleeping quietly whilst the night sped past the windows. I leant into the rhythm of the train …

Gulls screeched their welcome as I climbed sleepily from the train. A cheerful Scottish voice hailed me and I allowed myself to be escorted up the platform. The air was cool and fresh and suddenly, I felt light. I wanted to sing back to the gulls, but in deference to the feelings of the Scot rail employee, I desisted. He already had me down for a relatively normal looking member of the human race, considering that I was off to be away with the fairies as he called those who travelled to the Findhorn Foundation! Just a short train ride away and I would be there.