A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Circle of Peace (Sissinghurst)

The Kent countryside was a riot of greens in the early summer sunshine. Formal and neat, the summer flowers burst over the constraining paths in an excess of colour, texture and perfume. We were at Sissinghurst Gardens to mark the anniversary of the death of our chosen sister. It was a perfect summer day.

I climbed the tower and stood on its parapet. I needed to sing and this was just the right place to do it. AS I had done once before on the top of this tower with my chosen sister years ago, I sang “tower of Strength”. The breeze snatched my song and tossed it out over the trees and hedges, down to my waiting companions below.

From this high vantage point, my companion described the grounds. Her attention was caught buy a curious little enclosed garden amongst the formal beds and paths. A small grass circle, edged with grass lay in the centre of the garden. The hedge was segmented at the quarters with entranceways. It was just the right place to do a ritual.

Time had passed. The sun was hot. The grassy circle was cool and quiet. Through the four exits, vistas of garden could be glimpsed, composed like paintings, framed by the box hedge. We sat on the moisten grass in its forbidden centre and cast our circle and called the spirits of the place to be with us.

Footsteps passed beyond the high box hedge, voices exclaimed over the beautiful flowers. Two blackbirds called across the clear sky to each other. In our circle of peace, all was still and quiet. I breathed quietly and allowed my mind to drift.

The fountain, shimmering with water, seemed smaller than before. The central grassy circle had four gateways, one set at each of the four directions. Through each I glanced a different landscape. I dipped my finger in the water and brought it to my lips in a gesture of reverence and self blessing.

I got up and walked across to the northern gateway. Stepping through, I found myself on a mountainside, amongst great rocks and boulders. All was still under a dark night sky and a bright moon.

I stepped back into the circle and moved towards the west gateway. Here, under a sinking red sun and a darkening blue sky, a river curved in front of me, flowing quietly down to the sea.

Through the South gateway, bright flowers raised their faces to the fierce midday sun. Amongst them, a small fire danced palely in the brilliant light.

The gateway to the east brought me out on a cliff top above a quiet sea lit by the soft gold of the rising sun. The sea-breeze flicked at my hair experimentally as I stood.

I returned to the centre and knelt down by the spring. Tracing the contours of the delicate sculpting, I gave silent thanks for the beauty of this place.

My companion spoke. Stretching and yawning, I shifted my cramped limbs. The blackbirds called to each other across the quiet space. Outside the hedge, people walked and talked. I was back in the everyday world, in the circle of grass in the middle of the gardens at Sissinghurst.

I breathed deeply and stroked the soft grass. I felt full of gratitude. I had learned to be still in nature. Whether in the everyday world or in my inner journeys, I had found comfort and a growing sense that I had at last come home to the goddess.

WE closed the circle and got up to go. I stroked the smooth grey river stone I had brought with me, placing it tenderly on the grass as a remembrance of the stone snowdrop spring of my dreaming.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Her Bench

Figures leaned busily over the bench, gladly cleaning away the effects of a year’s weather upon varnished wood. Fingers picked and probed between the slats, nails scraped at the inscription, hands rubbed and scrubbed until the wood shone light and clean once more.

The breeze twisted and entwined the scent of sage with the damp sharpness of the wood as the seat was smudged. Candles placed in a circle about the bench flickered palely. A stone was set at the north and a bowl of water at the west. Soft curling delicate rose petals scattered across the seat, trembled in the breeze. The rattle’s sharp staccato cut through the quiet air as the circle was cast.

Voices, ragged at first then growing stronger sang.

“I am a tower of strength within and without,
I am a tower of strength within.
All burdens fall from my shoulders,
All anxieties fall from my mind.
All fears slip-away, slip-away,
All fears slip from my heart.
Let every shackle be broken,
Let every shackle be broke.
I am a tower of strength within and without,
I am a tower of strength within.”

Into the silence of the ending of the lovely Judy Small chant, birds sang high up in the wood’s canopy. On the other side of the playing fields dogs barked and owners commanded. Somewhere in the distance the London traffic rumbled. The group round the bench stood and remembered, and then as one, moved over to the great copper beach.

I was alone now. I sat down on the log at her feet which had been flattened into a convenient seat or was it an alter? I leaned against her skirted shins and breathed in the scent of the wood.

She towered over me, her great branches canopying me. I closed my eyes and allowed the sounds and smells, tastes and touch of the wood to hold me in a gentle light slumber. I felt safe and protected. Was this why she loved this tree so much? I hoped so.

The low warm sun streamed gold through the trees. I walked between them, following the path that snaked its way along. How fabulous to have the woods to myself!

Here it was cool and quiet. I felt softly regarded rather than overtly watched. I walked with a lightness and a gentle awareness at the edge of my perception. There was nothing to do but just be here now.

As I turned a corner, the western sun touched my cheek with its warmth. And there, in its full light, was the bench.

She lay stretched out, her head twisted slightly, her glasses awry, the book she had been reading loosely held in one limp hand. She was fast asleep, peaceful and relaxed.

I stopped, my stomach lurched, tears pricked at the back of my eyes. I called her name, started forward but then she was gone. In her place, a young man, eyes closed against the light, head thrown back to greet the sun, sat basking in the warmth of the evening sun, his dog asleep at his feet.

The light shifted and the figure on the bench was an old woman, her head nodding gently as she dozed. Then she was a contentedly absorbed small girl, legs dangling, feet hardly touching the ground. Now she was a man in a business suit, a woman with untidy hair and baggy old jobbing bottoms. The seat’s occupants moved and changed with every gust of the little breeze that was beginning to blow.

I glanced down the path and saw at the foot of the nearby hornbeam tree, a figure, sitting quiet in reflection, prayer or sleep. Moving through the wood, I saw that each tree had someone at its feet and each bench, its quiet occupant. The wood was simply being and allowing the humans to be too.

My hands touched the curved truck. My fingers followed the drapery of her gown. I stood up and began to explore her. I reached up and stroked curves and crevices, buttocks and breasts, cleavages and cracks. The tree patiently aloud my loving touches and I remembered the first time she had been introduced to me and by whom.

She towered above me, this copper-haired enchantress, her skirts flowing down to the ground, her roots burrowing deep into the moist earth. She threw her branches out, as though to hold up the sky, dappling the light, sheltering me as I moved around her.

I leaned against her, resting my cheek on her rough bark and breathed deeply of her woody warm smell. There was no way to say thank you other than to silently appreciate. This, my dear dead chosen sister had brought me to. Her dying had changed me forever. In my grief I had turned to the trees and found the goddess and for this, I was profoundly grateful.

Reluctantly, I moved away from the tree. It was time to leave. I walked carefully across the circle where we had scattered her ashes. The kind afternoon sun licked comfortingly at my cheek, and the trees softly regarded me as I moved back towards the busy world outside the woods.