A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Savernake Forest

Wednesday May 23, 2007Holly and Hawthorn lined the track. Sun splashed brilliantly in runt of us. Birds high in the forest’s canopy belted out their joyful songs.

Great skirted beeches green or copper watched us as we walked. Here and there, the path entered a wide sunny clearing. Twice, the charcoal burner’s paths crossed ours. A squirrel darted up a nearby oak tree, another lunged deep into the nettles fringing the wood.

We were searching for the King and queen Oaks. The map said that we’d find them on this path, about half a mile in. We’d been walking now for nearly an hour. Oaks there were, but not those ones, and not at the apex of six small paths that met deep in the forest. Tired, we turned back.

The Turkey Oak had its own sign. It was a magnificent tree, folded and gnarled but wide and solid too. Climbing over a large fallen branch, we settled down at its base, facing towards the west.

Birds called to each other across the tree tops. Small creatures scurried through the undergrowth. Bees hummed and circled. In the distance, a cuckoo called, gently, experimentally and then more strongly.
I breathed in the damp woody smell and caught the sweet aroma of the lavender incense. Was that wood smoke I could also smell? My eyelids felt heavy and I leaned back against the strong trunk.

In a shaft of noonday sunlight, a small figure stopped to watch. Indistinct in the shadows, it soon darted off. Swinging leaves moved and a face appeared, nodded and was gone.

Birds stopped singing and the wood fell silent. The strong trunk of a nearby tree merged into the body of a tall man, the branches his antlers, the roots, his hooves. The light shifted and he was gone. A cuckoo called across the tree tops.

There in front of me was a huge brown skirted green haired figure. As tall as a tree, she surveyed the forest calmly and majestically. In her hair, a small brown birds sang a piercingly loud song. And then she was gone and I was staring at a great beech tree swaying gently in the breeze.

The forest sounds all around me spiralled and merged into a tapestry of song, rustlings, creaking and the silence of the standing and watching trees. And in the peace that fell upon me as I listened, I remembered my chosen sister Tina whose death brought me to the goddess. She had loved trees and I had found comfort in their company after her death.

We walked back through the singing wood. I was full of gratitude for my dead chosen sister. I wanted to sing out loud, because she too loved singing and had a pure light voice. Her favourite tree in London had been a tall skirted beech in Highgate Woods. Here was abundance of magnificent beeches. I would find a tree to sing to.

Beside the wider path leading back to the road, a large green beech tree called to me. I circled it and lent against it. Remembering how she would always take my hands and place them on the trunks of trees, I stroked this full skirted, round columned beauty as I sang the song I wrote for Tina after her death.

“Sunshine shimmers through the leaves; the air is warm and soft.
A gentle breeze is dancing through the meadow’s grassy tufts
High above a blackbird flutes, around me hum the bees.
In my heart I hear you Tina singing with the trees.

Rain upon the gritty pavement, dampness on my face.
I push my way through dripping tangled urban leafy embrace.
A gust of wind, a crackling back, dances round my knees.
In the gale I hear you Tina singing with the trees.

Earth is for the physical, your body soft and round.
Water the emotions and the love that still surrounds you.
Air is for your intellect, so powerful and strong.
Fire for your spirit dancing joyfully in song.

And I hear Tina singing with the trees

A thousand years this olive tree has stood her sturdy ground.
Ten million years the wind and rain has weathered her surrounds.
A hundred years from now it doesn’t matter where I’ll be.
In my dreams I’ll hear you Tina singing with the trees.

We gave you all the love we could, but it was not enough.
In the end, you felt alone, your road was just too rough.
By yourself, you made your choice; you found your calm release.
In my blood I’ll hear you Tina singing with the trees.

Earth is for the physical, your body soft and round.
Water the emotions and the love that still surrounds you.
Air is for your intellect, so powerful and strong.
Fire for your spirit dancing joyfully in song.

And I hear Tina singing with the trees
And I hear Tina singing with the trees

I held the tree in a grateful embrace, giving thanks to the goddess for Tina’s life and the path I had taken because of her. Wiping away my tears, I turned to walk back down the road, the sun warm on my back.

Wayland’s Smithy

Tuesday May 22, 2007

We had trudged up steep hills and across sheep scattered fields and we still couldn’t find it! The sun grew low on the horizon and the birds began to sing their evensong. Riders were out in the late evening sunshine. Everyone we asked pointed us in the same direction.

As they said we would, we found the 5000 year old long barrow amongst a circle of beaches, on the other side of a corn field, beyond a stand of poplars, hard by The Ridgeway, just down from The Uffington White Horse.

The beeches circled the mound protectively. I wondered who had planted them, as they could not have been more than about fifty years old. As we walked into their shelter, I felt held in a leafy loving embrace.

The grass-covered mound was surprisingly long. Small megaliths guarded the entrance. Three dark low stone lined chambers lay inside it. We crawled into the larger of the two side chambers and sat down.

I laid out the alter and quietly cast the circle, breathing deeply the mingled odours of incense, sage and earth. Sitting on the ground, amongst dried leaves and twigs, I felt deeply at peace and very safe.

Only the birds continued their song to the sinking sun outside. The evening breeze rippled the leaves. Inside all was silent, bar our breathing, low and even.

I climbed down into a small chamber and sat down. In front of me, in the shadow, stood a figure. Her face and body up lit by some kind of golden light. It played across the planes of her beautiful brown face, gilding it with copper.

“Who are you” I asked her, over and over again. She looked back at me silently and the golden light played across the plains of her strong face and powerful body.

The light changed and I saw myself in front of me, naked and still. I gazed in surprise and watched my body change into that of another figure, another woman, half horse half woman. Now she was standing and held a large wheel, and now she was made of flowers. She was tall and thin, she was small and round. She was a giantess; she was a figure neither male nor female. He was the horned one and then she the veiled crone. ON and on, the figure transformed and moved into a thousand representations of the goddess.

The figure was gone. I was alone. I knelt down where she had stood and gave thanks. I thanked all those who had come before and the deities they had brought and worshipped here. I honoured them for the wishes they had made, the spells they had wrought and the ceremonies they had performed. I felt that the goddess was present and I prayed that all humankind might learn to love and protect the earth.

Laughter echoed in the beech grove outside. Voices, mingled in casual conversation dulled the sweet beauty of the birdsong. For a moment I wished them gone.

I picked up a drum and began beating a heartbeat rhythm. The chamber threw it back to me, magnifying the rhythm as I beat more strongly. I began to sing:

“The stones are bones, the stones are bones,
The stones, the bones of Mother Earth.
Deep in the ground, deep in the ground,
We hear the Mother’s heartbeat sound.”

Voice and drum faded into silence. Stiffly we crawled out, yawning and stretching, emerging into a red sunset. We were roaring hungry and it was definitely time for dinner!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Uffington White Horse

Tuesday May 22, 2007

Under Bright blue skies where the red kite flies
On the round green hill, rides the white horse still.

The field was dotted with black sheep, too busy heaving their heavy wool-laden bodies after their skipping offspring to bother with us. The hillside was a sea of lovely yellow buttercups amongst the green. Below and all around, a patchwork of coloured fields green, brown and yellow spread out before us. Above, the white horse, a fluid chalk line amongst the grass, rode on.

It was one hell of a climb. We puffed and pushed our way up, pausing frequently to brush sweat from our eyes, rest our sore knees and to gasp ragged lungfuls of clear sweet air. The high blue sky was flecked with the wispiest of clouds. Into its empty brilliance, the distinctive silhouette of a red kite flew.

Crawling on hands and knees onto a bank above the rump of the horse, I sat down to rest. It felt as though we were on the very top of the world. The sense of space, the way the earth fell away beneath me bought me a moment of vertigo. Lest I fall off, I lay down, belly to the ground and breathed.

The drum throbbed with a steady beat. Behind my eyelids, the bear lumbered off and I followed. Where we went and what we did, I have no idea. All I could do was follow the drum beat.

Then I was on the top of a high hill. The space all around was inviting. Tentatively at first and then with more confidence, I broke into a trot, then a canter and then a gallop. Before I knew it, I was flying across the hills so fast that I thought I might fall off. Remembering all of a sudden that I was not a horse, I stopped and sat down on the grass.

Above my head a large bird swooped. In the distance, lambs bleated. I sat up and began to sing, - correctly this time,

“Epona ride with me,
Epona let me ride with thee,
Epona we shall all be free!”

The drum beat faster, like a great horse galloping across turf. Our voices echoed back to us across the hills. All hail, the great white horse riding still the land, I thought as I fell into silence once more.

Swallow-Head Spring

Tuesday May 22, 2007

Between the West Kennet loch Barrow and Silbury Hill, where the path turns, stands an oak festooned with all manner of coloured ribbons and other offerings. Here marks the place of the now hidden ancient sacred Swallow-Head Spring.

The tree stands in a sea of lively looking nettles. Safe passage is provided by a narrow pathway of trodden undergrowth. Beyond, more nettles, docks and brambles, jostle shoulder to shoulder with near waste high cow parsley and couch grass.

I was at that other spring, the white stones glistening in the sunshine, the gateway between two trees beckoning. The river called me and I waded through the nettles and dove in.

I was a salmon, somersaulting and diving, leaping and rolling in the cool clear water. Beneath the waterline, hidden in the riverbank a city of chambers and tunnels ran. Darting in and out, curious to know what there was I thoroughly explored the network of openings. Always however, I returned to the shining water of the open river.

In time, the turmoil of water at a weir brought me tumbling into a cool, round pool. I swam to the bank and, back in my own form, climbed up onto it.

Before me stood a child sized creature whose triangular leaf shaped face festooned with leaves grinned at me knowingly. Then the light shifted and it became some waving cow parsley, all white and frothy. The breeze ruffled the tall plants and all around from amongst the nettles and docs, triangular, leaf bedecked faces peeped out and were then gone.

On the breeze, strange music came to me. I began to dance and all the creatures of the undergrowth danced too. The summer air echoed with our laughter.

Footsteps and voices close now on the path behind us interrupted my dream. I lent back against the tree and stroked the bark unconsciously as I breathed in the freshness of the midday breeze. I was filled with a sense of longing and of sadness.

Consciously connecting my feet with the ground, my back with the rough bark of the tree, I anchored myself back in the world. WE thanked the folk, the tree and the hidden spring, collected up our things and edged out amongst the nettles back onto the path.

West Kennet Long Barrow

Tuesday May 22, 2007

Built more than 5000 years ago, West Kennet Long Barrow stands amongst water meadows and corn fields. Four chambers are arranged symmetrically leading from a small central passage, with a fifth larger and rounder chamber at the end. Modern architects have laid concrete blocks on top with sky lights cut into them. The barrow, lit from above is therefore quite light.

The country lanes were verged in white. Cow parsley frothed across the meadowland, nodding and bobbing in the breeze. The air was filled with the scent of green freshness and bitter herbs. The poplar trees clapped and rattled, sounding uncannily like water bubbling across pebbles. High in their branches, Robins’ blackbirds and crows chorused cheerfully.

We crossed the river Kennett, clearly and gently flowing between the patches of algae and weeds. A moorhen bobbed a greeting. The Green corn rippled in the breeze. Behind us, skirted with wooden huts, Silbury Hill sat huge and conical, its flat top distinctive against a blue sky.

The barrow was flanked by huge stones, standing like massive uneven teeth. We squeezed past, ducking our heads, climbing in turn into each of the small chambers, until we arrived at the larger rounder one at the end.

My hands were everywhere, examining the great stones standing solid and firm. I sought out the places in-between where smaller ones had been balanced cleverly, to fill up the space. All around, little offerings; stones, feathers, beads and coins were tucked into little nooks and crannies. We were enclosed within the womb of the earth.

The drum beat insistently. The rattle’s voice wove in and out. The stone was cool on my cheek, holding me with a mother’s firm hand against my shoulders and side as I leant into the rocks.
The clearing was green. The stones around the spring, white and shining with water in the light. The blackbird led me through the forest to a tree which I climbed. At its top, the blackbird flew off and I followed, soaring high, stretching out my great powerful wings, swooping over the landscape below, laid out like a map, seeing every fine detail with my hawk’s sharp eyes.

Below me the stones made a distinct pattern of circles. In and out of these, hundreds of people, ant-sized and silent from this great height, wove in and out, drawing with their dancing bodies, a beautiful pattern of spirals on the earth below.

The sun moved and I swooped down, landing in the empty field outside the barrow. Standing in its shadow, for the sun was low in the west, I prepared to enter, taking one more look around at the megaliths, the wooden palings and across the meadow in the far distance, the cut-off cone that was Silbury Hill.

I moved inside and lay down on skins to sleep. In the night I dreamed, but I don’t know of what. In the morning, I rose with the answer to a question, clear in my mind.

From beyond the chamber, a crow cawed. Voices intruded, coming nearer. The stone was cool. I stroked it with my fingers, tracing its rounded shapes, probing the nooks and crannies, breathing in the cool damp air.

A man strode into the chamber with a camera. My companion explained that we were nearly finished and would he mind waiting. He wandered off again and we were left alone to share our journeys and to say our thanks to the stones.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Beech Grove Avebury

Tuesday May 22, 2007

Due to repair work being done by English Heritage, part of the great monument at Avebury is closed off to the public right now. It was therefore necessary to make an elicit dawn raid to get to the part of the monument we wanted to visit.

We shinned over a locked gate and picked our way carefully through the field. The exposed roots of the grove of beeches cascaded chaotically down the bank, like a wooden waterfall. The trees themselves full skirted in their curving and columned trunks, reached green leaved tangled branches to the sky. Beneath their shade, sheep grazed, sure footed amongst the perilous root clogged slope.

Three great trees stood, the space between and beneath them relatively sheep poo free. I sat down leaning against the wooden skirts of one great beech dame and listened to the birds singing. The sun was already hot and her fingers were probing the shade of the grove. All around us, the incurious sheep grazed.

Sun shafted across the tightly cropped soft grass and crows called high in the sky. I was surrounded by tall trees, all of them full skirted with graceful drapery, their leaves and branches a festival of green. My goat led me through glades and groves, avenues and circles.

From every tree peeped a face. Some were extraordinary mythical creatures, others recognisable animals. We emerged into a green clearing, a small spring at its centre, surrounded by white rocks. I knelt to drink and then sat back to rest.

A blackbird stalked across the clearing and stood in front of me. His song rang out and I knew that I had to follow him. We moved through more trees until we came to a bigger clearing. In the middle stood an old, old oak tree, twisted and gnarled. It seemed to shift and there coming out of it or instead of it was the Lord of the Wild Wood, Cernunnus, great horns and all.

I gazed up at his stern but not severe face, as he stood and regarded me with what felt like mild interest. The blackbird and I bowed down and then found ourselves drawn to the great hooves. I sat down at his feet and found myself leaving against the gnarled roots of the oak.

I sighed with pleasure at the beauty of the morning and into my mind came the words of the hymn, “Morning has broken”. Without realising it, I began to sing.

“Sweet the rain's new fall sunlit from heaven,
like the first dew all on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,
sprung in completeness where his feet pass.”

I looked up. The landscape was white. Snow covered all. The tree under which I sat, The Lord of the Wildwood himself was white, snow clad and glistening in the winter sun. The world shone and I was silenced by love of it all.

I got up and began to follow the blackbird through the snow. We walked and walked and the season changed. It was early summer again and the beech trees were that zingy bright green. The creatures in the trees nodded and winked at us as we passed. It was a beautiful day and my heart was singing.

Nearby, a lamb baaed and tugged at the grass. A heavier hoof shifted and its mother moved close protectively. Crushed grass, freshly dropped ewe poo and the early morning freshness mingled with the sweet incense. On the Swindon Road, the traffic picked up speed. A crow cawed and the wind rustled the leaves. In amongst our three trees we were held safe. I lent back as though leaving into the skirted legs of a huge woman. What a way to start the day!

The Mary Stone

St Mary Magdalene, Winterbourne

Monday May 21, 2007

After the rain, it was a beautifully soft evening. Rooks cawed and blackbird’s fluted in the still light sky. The little church sat in neat gardens. At its eastern end, a megalith lay prone, its head near the church wall and its feet pointing at a hollow sycamore by the churchyard gate.

The Mary Line, running from Cornwall through to Bury St Edmund’s, ran straight through the church, along the MEGALITH, into the hollow sycamore and on towards West Kennet and Silbury Hill. The air fizzed and everything sounded brighter and sharper to me. We sat down upon the stone and cast our circle.

I was in a neat garden, not unlike this churchyard, but edged by dark, twisted olives. By a rocky wall sat a dark young woman in red quietly weeping. I moved away from her, wanting to leave her privacy for she seemed to be deep him her grief.

Over by a gate stood an old tree, its centre hollow. Inside, the core was a twisted cord of two serpentine pieces of wood, with a third, decayed and furry behind. It moved and swivelled, turning and spinning with itself in a never-still flowing grace. Was this the core of the old tree or two snakes in a sensual dance?

My goat appeared and disappeared into the tree. I Moved closer and stepped into the tree’s hollow belly, squeezing past the moving serpent core and climbing down into a hole at the back. I wriggled like a snake, shifting my weight from side to side to propel myself through the narrow passage. Eventually I slithered down and out into a dark and gloomy round stone chamber.

Grey light edged a half obscured exit out into daylight. By its light, I saw that a long flat stone, strewn with discarded cloths occupied the centre of the cave. Other than this, the space was empty.

I moved towards the opening and squeezed past the rock at the entrance and out into daylight. Outside, on another rock sat the woman I had seen earlier in another garden. She was not weeping now, but rather sitting, haloed with joy, in quiet and peaceful contemplation. I sat down beside her and joined her silent meditation.

A blackbird sang its flowing evening song. The rooks caw-cawed in response. The stone beneath my bottom was cold. The sweet smell of burning lavender and sage mingled with the dew drenched grass smell of dusk.

I got up and walked over to the tree. Reaching in, I touched the snake-like core, following its progress with my fingers in a tactile journey of praise and thanksgiving to the goddess, this beautiful place and that unknown energy that is the Mary line, waving and spiralling its way sensuously across the country. I thought of the weeping and then meditating woman and the empty tomb in that other place. We are all motivated by love. What matter what we call our gods, their stories are often similar. To love all existences and in turn love our own, (as the old Druid prayer says) is what matters now.

The Lady of Avebury

Monday May 21, 2007

Gentle rain fell as we walked through the stones, the high grass soft and damp against our legs. In the distance sheep baaed and the traffic on the Swindon road shwooshed steadily along.

A stone stood squatly before us. A woman’s profile defined, yet beautiful, carved by weather into it’s surface showed us a strong face, half smiling, surrounded by tumbling hair. I ran my hands lovingly over the contours, learning all I could about her with the tips of my fingers. This was the stone that we would work with.

We settled down on the sheltered side of the stone and cast the circle. Rain tenderly stroked my face as behind my closed eyelids I saw the stones, upright and light against the green grass. It was early morning, with a high pale blue sky and the summer sun beginning to shaft across the field.

I began to dance, gracefully and processionally – even though I was alone, between the stones. I snaked in and out of them, circling each one and moving on; until I found the stone I wanted and stopped in front of it.

She was regal. I knelt before her in homage. Tired after my dance, I curled up like a small child and rested, dozing lightly at her base.
A huge golden hair hurtled across the field and stopped in front of me. “I am the goddess” it appeared to say. It then leaped off.

The robin’s song cascaded across the quiet morning and he was before me, perky and hopping. “”I too am the goddess” he chirruped, bouncing up and down amongst the long grass. I laughed to see his little dance and blew him a kiss as he hopped off.

All was quiet. The rain pitter-pattered on the grass. The sheep baaed and the birds sang. Out of the corner of my ear, I caught the rustling of grass being crushed and smelled the sweet sharp odour of crushed stalks. Coming towards me was a huge snake, as green as the grass and a little grey like the stones. It moved in a never ending spiral, undulating gracefully through the high grass, until as suddenly as it had come, it had gone again, but not before it had let me know that it also was the goddess.

I laughed like a child and got up. Bowing again to the goddess in her stone form, I began to caper through the field, skipping in and out of the stones as though stripping the willow.

Sitting with my back to the stone, I heard movement through the grass in front of me and voices. Three strangers had come to see what we were doing. We talked of the magic of stones and the beauty of the place, of festivals at Henges and what drew us here. In time, they moved on and we were alone with the stones once more.

I was comfortable on the soft ground. I felt at peace. A small wind showered me with raindrop kisses and I clambered to my feet. It was time to go.

The Cat and the Chick

Sunday May 20, 2007

High on one of the deep windowsills in a North London house early in April, two wood pigeons came to roost. They built a nest and in time laid an egg. In the room beyond, an elderly very sick cat lived with his owner. Both waited with eagerness the hatching of the chick.

One day another window in the same room was opened. Immediately the ancient cat leapt out, across and onto the other sill, scaring away the attendant pigeon and snatching up the contents of the nest. Feeling very proud of himself, (for he was a very very old cat) he brought his prize back to his owner. A little velvety chick, its life hardly begun lay, twitching and trembling, terribly maimed. In a matter of hours, it died.

Shocked and distressed, the cat owner took the chick and buried it on Boudica’s Mound on Hampstead Heath. She scattered petals above the little grave and placed a log on top to stop wild creatures from finding it.

It had been a pleasant sunny afternoon, the first in a few weeks when it hadn’t rained. Hampstead Heath was crowded with adults, children and dogs. We walked across the grass, stopping from time to time to examine old trees as we moved. There had been no defined purpose in our walk, other than to enjoy the heath and the sunshine. As we walked, my companion told me about her ancient cat’s hunting episode.

We decided to visit the place of the chick’s burial and soon found ourselves clambering over the fence into the mound’s enclosure. Finding a log to sit on, I lent back against a tree and breathed in the damp, tart greenness, mixed with decay and early summer freshness. We were enclosed by trees and park railings. Outside children laughed, dogs barked and the Sunday afternoon traffic hummed quietly in the distance.

My companion spoke of how she felt about the chick’s death. I suggested that we go on a journey to meet the chick and find out what we could do for it. I called the elements and cast the circle.

Blackbird came to me and led me to a whole in the earth. He sat by whilst I crawled in and wriggled my way through. I came to a little chamber and found the chick lying there, tender and vulnerable, a soft and velvety grey yellow and very much, with it’s round head, little body and stumpy beak, a baby bird.
I sat with it, just breathing and being, connecting quietly. I asked it what it needed right now. It said that it wanted its parents to know what had happened and that the cat concerned was an elderly sick cat perhaps making its last hunting pounce.

Wondering how I was going to do this I went back and told the waiting blackbird. He said he would take the message and sing it across the skies. It would be picked up by other birds that would pass it on. In no time, the chick’s parents would know what had happened to it.

I thanked Blackbird, who opened his wings and flew off into the evening sky. Sitting against the tree, I heard a blackbird’s song echoing across the summer air and knew that the message was being sent. Our work done, we closed the circle and left.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Beneath the snake-haired oak

Bent on snatching an early-morning sanity building break, my companion and I slipped out of the still sleeping conference centre and headed for nearby Hinckley’s Wood (Long Ditton, Surrey). AS we picked our way carefully along the nettle fringed path skirting the wood behind the conference centre, I breathed deeply, letting go of tensions and anxieties. The loamy, damp, crushed foliage smell of an English wood in early summer filled my nostrils and I felt close to the earth and grateful.

In the distance, pre rush-hour traffic growled monotonously on the A road. Above our head, garden birds sang cheerfully amongst the trees. The neat cemetery beyond was quiet.

In a small clearing at the edge of the wood, overlooking the cemetery, a tall old oak stood. Her branches wound serpent-like, her canopy far-reaching and tangled. She looked like Medusa, my companion had observed. The earth at her feet was dry and flat. We pulled back the brambles and eased ourselves down, resting our backs against her rough trunk.

The traffic sounds receded and the birdsong grew clearer. I was moving slowly and carefully along a bramble-strewn grass following the old boar as he moved amongst the trees. It was soon after dawn but the woods were dark under the summer canopy. The white boar glimmered in the half-light.

I moved deeper into the woods, awkwardly shuffling after the now hurrying boar. I waded through knee-high nettles, constantly having to wrench my feet from the tenacious grasp of the brambles. It was hard work and my legs soon began to tire. Here the sweet-sour odour of crushed greenery was joined by the acrid smell of burnt wood. I wondered where there had been space to have a fire in this dense thicket.

The boar, light against the darkness stopped and turned as though waiting for me to catch up. Fearing I might lose him, I plunged forward following him as he pushed through a clump of shaggy pine trees into the clearing beyond.

The space was fringed by a mix of trees. In the centre stood the remains of a hut, burnt almost to the ground. Nothing stirred. The boar was nowhere to be seen.

Nervously I approached the ruins. The burnt wood smell was eye-wateringly strong here. I bent and touched the blackened stump that was the front wall, it was still warm. I stepped carefully over into the hut.

The ruin was complete. Furniture and fittings had melded into amorphous lumps of carbon. All was black and grey. A deep heaviness invaded my heart and I felt defeated and hopeless.

Then I saw it; a glimmer of gold in the corner, half hidden under something burnt beyond recognition. I knelt to touch it and saw it was a golden feather, perhaps five inches long. I withdrew my hand and just crouched gazing at it, marvelling at how it gleamed so brightly amongst so much dark ruin. And as I did so, into my mind came the image of the tall oak tree with the snake-hair. She was calling me.

I leaned back against the trunk. She held me and I felt her sway. I felt rather than saw her huge curling branches toss and shift as though she were nodding. I breathed deeply and noticed detachedly where my body finished and hers began. Beneath my bottom, I felt the earth flat and dependable supporting me.

At the edge of my hearing, something shifted, moved quietly, and breathed roughly, almost a snort. I turned my head towards the sound. It came now from the edge of the cemetery. I bowed towards it, knowing that the boar was there.

Behind me, the tree upon which I leaned, turned slightly and bent in stately acknowledgement of the boar. How beautiful the world is, I thought as, giving thanks for being part of it, for the beings and creatures of the wood, for the goddess as she came to me in all her many and varied forms, I got up to go. It was time to bring that love of life to the new day and my work in it once more.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The robin’s boy

A week ago, a young man of my acquaintance died aged just 21 in his sleep. A courageous and exuberant campaigner, last winter he helped lead a community’s defiant response to the murder of five young women in their town.

Three days after his death, I stood alone in prayer for him beside my rowan tree and felt the touch of someone’s hand on my arm and was comforted. I stroked a goddess shaped (or so it felt to me) pebble as I thought of that young man and asked the goddess in her form as a gruff old she-bear to come and be with him. She cradled him in her big clumsy paws and was solid and strong for his grieving friends and family.

Later, far away in Devon, other friends held a ritual to bring him support in his journey onwards. A robin came to sing, and one friend remembered the young man saying how perhaps the robin might be his totem creature.

Sunday May 13, 2007

The triple Oak

In the Druid tradition, the triple oak is regarded as a gateway between the worlds. Under a lightening grey sky, thirteen of us stood together in a bumpy Devon field. After what seemed like days, the rain had finally ceased. The world around us fresh washed and damp, smelt new and green.

The triple oak tree stood bulbous and mossy before us, skirted with nettles dancing in the breeze. Voices toned together as we held the space. “Aaah-oaw-wenn, Aaah-oaw-wenn”, we sang, the sounds rocking us into another place. And on the edge of my perception, I became aware of movement in the grass, random yet purposeful as though many things were shifting from foot to foot.

In turn each person walked to the oak, touched, looked or climbed into it. Our voices merged and separated, weaving into the constant rhythm of the rooks caw-caw. Somewhere nearby, a hen toddled, meditatively cluck-clucking along with the humans.

I moved forward and climbed onto the tree. Leaning against the middle trunk, I closed my eyes and waited. Behind my eyelids, leaves shifted and shadows moved, green grey and translucent against the grass. The wind rustled the trees and I felt rather than heard the sound. My heart shifted and I caught the bubble of mirth, swallowed it with a tear in the back of my throat. I was confused. Leaning forward to hear better, I caught the smell of damp tree and moss, imperceptibly sour yet dusty, edged with the sweetness of rotting wood and the tangy sharpness of crushed grass.

Letting go of the focus, I breathed deeply and stroked the tree. Carefully, because it was slippery, I climbed down and stood and bowed at the unnamed energy that was both wildly exuberant and yet sorrowful. Stepping away, I tuned back into the call of my companions.

A blackbird weaved his voice with ours. Further away a song thrushpip-pipped and then, cutting across it a robin trilled. I turned and blew him a kiss as he continued to sing cheerfully. The hen waddled nearer, clucking contentedly as we took it in turn to stand at the gateway made by the triple oak’s trunks.

The energy shifted. All who wanted to have visited the gateway. The chant slowly drifted into stillness and, into the silence, a woman’s sobs rose into the space. On a sudden in breath, I felt her pain then breathed as she released her emotion into the gentle loving circle that was the space in which we had worked that afternoon. I felt my hands cup as though to support her, though I was not close enough to touch.

In time she was quiet and we opened the circle. Turning to walk away, I confessed to my companion, “I’m in love with that hen”, pointing in the direction of the quietly clucking little bird still waddling nearby.

Away with the faeries

Outside the house, there were people sitting on the benches laughing. Inside, I heard children shrieking happily and knew that I was not ready for such a rude awakening.

I asked for another tree under which to sit, and a companion led me to a rough old Scot’s Pine. In a pool of sunlight, flanked by nodding nettles, I set my back to its chipped old trunk and let myself drift.

The purposeful little black hen toddled in front of me. Hopping up onto the triple oak’s bulbous main truck; she turned as though to say “come on then, what you waiting for?” I climbed up after her and watched as she scuttled down into the grass beyond.

She turned to face me and I knew that she was wanting me to follow. I climbed down into the green glade to join her.

I was in another world. Gone was the quiet bumpy field. Here, the joint was jumping!

Every blade of grass, every leaf, was in perpetual motion. Everything moved too fast to distinguish what was going on. Oh how I wanted to dance!

And so I did …

“Tea’s up” bellowed someone from across the field. The rough old pine snagged at my jumper. I Shook myself and in my mind, determinedly tried to climb back into the dancing green grove. But it had gone.

Footsteps tramped through the long grass. “Do you want a hand to get to tea?” Asked another helpful camper. Declining, I sighed and breathed and focussed on the green still glade once more.

How transient it had been. That world had gone and I couldn’t get back. Joy melted into pain. It seared through my chest and my eyes stung. I sat and wept painful, painful tears.

Prompted by the memory of the green glade, I touched the green wool on my left wrist and recalled the promise I had made to myself at Beltane. Tempting as it was to be away with the faeries, I had a job to do in the world. My sanctuary was the promise to hold myself in unconditional self-love. The job I had to do in the world needed me to hold that space for myself.

I bowed in thanks to the folks that I knew were all around me here in this bumpy field. Rising, I steadied myself on the solid still trunk and rested my palms against its splintered bark and gave silent thanks to its solidarity. I turned to face the sun and prepared to make my way if a little uncertainly, towards scones and tea.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Beltane fire dancer

Tuesday May 1, 2007

The sun warmed me as I sat mantled by the Hornbeam’s spring foliage. I breathed in the soft delicate sweetness of the Choisier in front of me. My lids grew heavy as the sounds of the city receded.

The cool leaves stroked my skin as I crouched in the tunnel made by the shrubs. Dappled sunlight reached warm fingers through and stroked me as I moved. Hidden and safe, I explored the space around me.

An arch of leaves framed the light. Straightening up, I emerged into a shaded wood. The trees were tall and straight, the grass between them close clipped as though by goats, who were nowhere to be found. I walked barefoot on the mossy softness moving through the trees.

The orange-pink light deepened and darkened as the sun beyond the trees shifted to the West. Wood smoke drifted on the wind, laced with the sweet peachy rosy smell of garden flowers.

The clearing was filled with an orange flickering light. In the centre, a tall fire danced and spiralled yellow and red. The trees were bronzed in its glow, the shadows beyond them, deep and secret.

Drawing close, I felt an uncontrollable urge to dance. I shifted tentatively from foot to foot. I gazed deep into the fire and felt something settle within me. Mesmerised by the moving flames, I aloud my body to follow their movement and soon I was dancing like a crazy thing, whirling and leaping around and around the fire.

The fire moved and changed and mirrored my dance. Was that a figure in the flames or just a trick of the light? She seemed to be a swirling woman, robe swinging and hair flying, all orange and crimson. I revolved around and around, growing closer to the flames as I moved until, I danced amongst them.

The flames engulfed me, licking and flicking my flesh but their touch did not burn. I turned and leaped and before I knew that it had happened, the fire dancer, swirling robe and flying hair had become me and I her.

In the distance, a child called “mama, mama, mama”.

The light shifted as though the world turned. The sun streamed gold in the first dawn rays and the fire paled against its fierceness and grew small. I slowed and then stopped until inside and outside I was still and quiet.

The trees called me to return and I moved slowly back and through them to the arch of leaves. Ducking down once more, I climbed into the green and gold dappled tunnel under the shrubs, pushing against the cool soft damp leaves as I moved.

“Mama, mama, mama” the child called with more urgency.

She was louder now. Once more the seat held me. The hornbeam’s leaves tapped against my cheek. A blackbird sang in the tall tree behind the garden fence. In the distance a car past slowly.

Two gardens away, a child whined discontentedly as an adult refused its demands. I stretched and yawned, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face. Picking up my now cold mug of tea, I headed back to the house to make some more.

The Jester and the ‘Obby ‘Oss

Tuesday May 1, 2007

The pre dawn air had a cool gentleness about it. The sky was moving from dark to greying as I climbed onto the back of my companion’s motorbike, clad in my Beltane green motley jester’s outfit. It was four am and we were going to join the “Obby Oss” procession on Hampstead Heath.

As we drove carefully through the north London streets, blackbird after blackbird lifted up their song to the coming dawn in an arc of liquid sound as though to say “this way, this way!” The cool wind bathed my skin beneath the bike helmet and I felt my face split into the biggest of grins ever. A milkman called a polite and slightly surprised “good morning” to us as we nosed past his float and I felt laughter bubble up inside me.

We strode after the dancing ’Oss as we processed up Parliament Hill. All around the birds were belting out their morning song and in the distance the ducks and geese chorused their “hello” to the Beltane revellers.

Standing on Parliament Hill with London spread out in the greying dawn before us, we sang a song to the summer and I felt as though I was on top of the world. At the pine grove, the youngest amongst us taught us to sing a German song about laughing in the fields for summer was coming, and a stranger approached and asked if he could join us.

The beings of the heath watched us from amongst the trees as we moved up to Boudica’s Mound. I was relieved to find that some more of the fence spikes had been sawn off. The scramble over had been made more dignified by the bench outside the fence and a strategically placed old tree trunk within.

Safely over, we gathered round the ‘Oss to remember our dead and make our Beltane wishes. The trees and their beings watched.

I was filled with an immense sense of joy. It felt to me that the land held me as I stood upon it. Amongst the trees, something shifted on heavy feet. At the very edge of my hearing I felt, rather than heard a large animal brething. In gratitude, I sang out a meditation to the land learned long ago in Glastonbury:

“This sacred land I walk upon, it is the body of the goddess.
I feel the earth beneath my feet, I walk her hills I walk her valleys.
And she reveals her body to me; it is this sacred land I walk upon.
And as you lay yourself before me, I honour you in all your glory.
I offer you my body Goddess, to dance your spirit through me.
This sacred land I walk upon, it is the body of the goddess.
I feel the earth beneath my feet, I walk her hills I walk her valleys.
And she reveals her body to me; it is this sacred land I walk upon.”

The sky was lightening; the sun was edging over the horizon. We climbed back over the fence and performed a salutation to the sun. quietly, my companion described the scene.

Backlit by the rising sun, the tall dark pine trees were gilt edged. The breeze prodded the dew wet grass into movement and the may flowers glimmered milk-white against the green. In the distance, the sun moved and tipped the very top of Canary Warf with gold.

And in my heart I sang to myself
“Morning has broken, like the first morning.
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird …”

Resolving to learn the rest of the words, I followed the ‘Oss as, carried by a new member of the group, he made his way cheerfully across the undulating heathland. We were heading for the Kenwood Spring.

The ground beneath our feet was dry and already beginning to crack. We had had no real rain for at least a month now. All around us, trees in their spring leaves shook in the gentle breeze, blossom drifting silently on the wind. The sky, apricot in the east, lightened, and as we rounded a belt of trees, the sun raised itself above the horizon in a golden gleam shafting across the green heath at our feet.

The spring gurgled cheerfully. We dipped our fingers into its rusty smelling coolness. Took spring water dampened hands and danced around it in clumsy merriment. A jogger passed and we called a May morn greeting to him. The city was stirring. The beings on the heath bowed and waved as we began to walk. It was time for breakfast.