A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Through the tree?

Saturday November 10-, 2007:

Carolyn Hillier’s dreamy music mingled with the incense and the drifting muslin of the veil through which we moved to enter the main room of the temple. I arranged myself on a sheepskin, leaning against the wall and allowed the ambience of the place to sink in.

Nearby, a small child whispered with it’s mother and another infant suckled contentedly. Beyond the veil, voices whispered explanations and instructions. Outside, the hubbub of the Glastonbury Experience and the customers of the Blue Note Café came to me in a fluctuating wave of disconcerting babble. I breathed deeply the incense and let myself float away on Carolyn’s voice.

I was a baby, suckling needily, desperately hungry. Small and vulnerable, I clutched the warm breast, lest I be torn from it.

I was the mother of the babe, tenderly cradling her, feeling her need with a fierce and protective love.

She was an adult, a wild and demanding lover, body pressed close, hungry lips seeking mine, drinking me in.

Old beyond old now, she breathed her last breath, her body frail and brittle. Tenderly, I closed her eyes.

All was still, all was dark. The earth cradled me and I was rocked to sleep for the last time.

Alone now, I walked on the grassy hill. In front of me, an old tree, three trunks growing from a bulbous root stood waiting, the sky beyond it blue and inviting. Kneeling before it, I gave thanks for it’s beauty before climbing through.

“Where do I go from here”, I thought to myself as I stretched and shifted. “What awaits me in the land through the tree?”

This pilgrimage is ended, but I move forward in the world beyond the tree. Blackbird Owl will sing again, but that is all I know right now.

I got up and crawled over to the alter to light a candle, sending my prayer on the tip of a flame to be transformed, as I have been transformed through this journey.

Blessings to all who have read this blog.

Blackbird Owl

Farewell to the hills

Saturday November 10, 2007:

It was another good day for hill climbing. Sunshine peeked intermittently between clouds driven across the sky by the still brisk northerly. We had been given permission by the owner to walk Challis Hill. Unfortunately, the gate over which we needed to shin was covered in barbed wire so we persuaded a kind resident of the nearby Ashram to let us through over his fence.

In single file, singing as we went, we walked through a copse of sweet chestnut trees, up a steep grassy slope to the beech trees. From time to time, my companion stooped to gather up feathers scattered in the long grass.

Picking our way through dried ewe poo, we reached the summit and sat down to rest. To my left, the dragons back of the Tor rose up above us, ahead, beyond a stand of bare branched trees, the Somerset levels stretch. To my right, lay Wearyall Hill, the swan’s neck facing away from us. The dying stand of beech trees stood to our right and behind us, beyond some houses and far in the distance, rose the Mendip Hills.

I lay down, face to the ground, spread out on the pregnant belly of the goddess. All was quiet, but for the wind shifting the trees below us.

She stood in front of me, tall, white and noble. Half horse, half woman, she was bare-breasted, her long white hair streaming over her shoulders, her horse body strong, muscular and gleaming. I climbed upon her back and we rode hell for leather across the countryside, moving as one. Then she became a huge white bird, soft and downy beneath me, her powerful wings beating fast as we soared above the hills. Then I was falling, falling, landing in soft dark mud, where I lay safe and cocooned, and never needing to move again.

But I did need to move, because I needed to dance. I leaped up and my companion and I pranced round the hillside singing:

“Ride on the dawn of a new day.
Fly with the dreams of the future.

And we whirled and whirled, with the wind as our dancing partners, skipping over the ewe poo, circling the summit coming to rest still and quiet on the land, to drink tea and give thanks before moving back down the hill.

The hill fell away sharply and the great roots of the old trees stretched their gnarled limbs out to trip us up. The wind blew bristly and the branches waved and I began to sing to the trees:

“With your feet in the earth and your head in the air,
The wild wind blows through your dancing green hair.”
Some trees had fallen, their great trunks lying amongst the grass, their roots bare. We climbed amongst them, laying hands gently on their old old bark in sorrow at their falling. But already, things had begun to live in them and their wood would be used for something else. I began to sing to them:

And as time goes on and the world turns round
You fall to the earth and you feed the ground.”

Moving down towards the sweet chestnut copse, my companion began to sing the Reclaiming chant in honour of the hill:

“When we are gone, they will remain, wind and rock, fire and rain.
They will remain when we return, the wind will blow and the fire will burn.”

Safe in the car again, my companion read me the passage from Kathy Jones’ book, “In the Nature of Avalon” where she describes the landscape as the goddess.

“As many people have noticed, the great mother appears in the form of a giant woman lying on her back on the flat Summerland meadows of Glastonbury. In this goddess image, her head, shoulders and right arm sink back into the earth as the folds of Stonedown, the lower hill on the North Eastern side of Glastonbury Tor. The Tor itself is the great mother’s left breast, reaching up to the sky with an erect nipple created by St Michael’s Tower, visible from miles around. And just like any woman who lies on her back, the great mother’s right breast has slipped round to the side, becoming flattened and not so visible as the left, but still there.

Challis Hill is the mother’s pregnant belly, a soft and dreamy hill filled with all that is new and awaiting birth. Wearyall Hill is her left leg with it’s knee slightly bent, the foot sunk down into the earth near Bride’s Mount, while her right leg is tucked under as St Edmund’s and Windmill Hill. As she lies on the earth, the mother goddess continually gives birth to the Town of Glastonbury from her vulva beneath Challis Hill.”

Now all that remained was to visit the Goddess Temple, and I would be done.

Reflections at Little St Michael’s

Saturday November 10, 2007:

Morning was still young as I slipped out of the back door of the Little St Michael’s Retreat house and slowly made my way up the steep terraces. The garden rose up in banks of many steps (all without handrails) bordered by a range of plants. Carefully, I climbed, searching for a patch of sun that I did not find – I suspect that the house was in-between me and the sun.

I sat down on the steps and cast my circle. Giving thanks for the night passed by, I turned my mind in meditation to the astrological reading my multi-talented companion had mistressfully executed over a hearty breakfast the day before.

This is the time of endings and beginnings she had told me. The transformation will be deep, spiritual, about expansion and growth with an underworldly connection. My mind and perceptions are sharpened and deepened. I will probe deep, see underneath the stuff. I will undertake at least some of the journeys voluntarily.

I will reach my highest growth this year through reflection. This is about my inner world, meditation, a world of being as opposed to a world of doing, she explained.

The flow of the water is definitely in the direction of change. I may find that my ability for tact and diplomacy is heightened this year, gentling some of those raw and ruthless Scorpio edges, she suggested.

Changes in relating, in relationships, in values and ethics and money as well will occur, she continued. It’s an updating of hopes and expectations around relationships and social situations. I’m likely to be attracted to people who will go with me to deep places, who will help with my changes.

This year is about shedding, but there’s an excitement, restlessness, a desire to make change. If there have been changes that I’ve needed to make for a long time but haven’t, this is really a good year to do it, she concluded.

I sat and remembered the journeys made through this year, how they evolved as the year turned and the changes wrought in me as a result. I remembered too that this was the year of the death of my father and all that had brought with it.

I recalled the beautiful places I had been to, the simple pleasure I found in just being with a big old tree, or playing with a pebble on the beach. I smiled to think of the mad scrambles down well-dodgy paths and how the only thing I could do was to trust my companion and pray that I wouldn’t fall.

And as for those companions, the mixture of friends and strangers who have willingly adventured with me, what could I say? They helped me to make my dream of a year and a day pilgrimage to the goddess become a reality. I cold not have done it without them.

I offered quiet thanks up to the birds singing above me, knowing they would take the message on. But what else would you expect from Blackbird Owl? Listen to the birds and you will hear my thanks coming to you on the back of a sweet song.

And now it was over. Today was the beginning of something else. Today, I would meet the goddess on a hill and in a temple. MY focus for today would be “what is next for me? The only other question remaining being, how was I going to get down from here? Eek!

New Moon bath dance

Friday November 9, 2007:

At the end of a perfect day, warmed by wine and good food, I sat wrapped in thick robes by the now filled healing pool in the Challis Well Gardens, and listened to the water gurgling into it. Held by the dark lady in that moment of waiting for the moon to return, I meditated on the stillness of the night before the coming of the first silver sliver glimmers, heralding a new cycle.

I have plunged into the cold water. I swam fiercely against the heavy tide relentlessly flowing against me. Battling for all I was worth, I put my head down and struck out. My refuge was the rock where the serpent lay waiting for me.

I climbed out. He surrounded me, not touching, but making a circle of his body in which I sat.

Time moved slowly on and my mind ranged through my life. I meditated on what it meant to be alone, its positives and negatives and how I reacted to that state. I loved living and being alone, I revelled in that autonomy but yet, there was something else, something painful in that very self-sufficiency, a real loneliness I had refused till now to acknowledge.

I held that thought and felt discomfort. Society expected single people to be miserable and lonely; this was not what I felt. I could be happy in my single state but yet still feel alone in that self-sufficiency. Partnerships would not necessarily alleviate this.

Wrestling against wanting immediately to turn this revelation into some kind of positive affirmation about being complete within myself, I made myself stay there and be with this new knowledge. I sat in my pain, the serpent waiting quietly, literally holding the space in which I sat.

And in time, I came to know what I needed to do. I needed to truly acknowledge the loneliness of self-sufficiency and to wash away that pain so that I might learn from it and move on. And in acknowledging the loneliness of that self-sufficiency, the shame of it left me. This was just another part of my humanity and it was okay to feel this way.

Murmuring my thanks to the serpent, I reached out to stroke him curled quietly around me. He moved under my hand, circling me once more before sliding into the darkness, an indication that it was time too for me to leave. I dove back into the water and was carried on the purposeful tide of the spring down to the garden.

I stood up, stripping off my robe and strode down towards the pool. Stepping neatly in, I gasped at its coldness.

“I acknowledge the loneliness of self-sufficiency. I let go of the shame of it,” I said as I knelt down and rolled in the water, joyously splashing myself. The water flowed over my body and I began to sing cheerfully:

“Water wash me clean, water wash me clean
Let me leave behind the things that no longer serve me”

Now I was out of the pool and scampering back to dry towels. My body zinging, I rubbed myself dry, threw on my thick robe and processed behind my companion down through the garden.

Alone, I walked between the two shaggy old yew trees, their branches the arch of a gateway and as I did so, the clock hands moved and the new moon took her place behind the clouds.

A new beginning, a new way of being, on this my 52nd birthday. I flung off my robe, kicked off my shoes and dance joyfully across the soft green lawn, flinging my arms in the air and capering like a small child. Laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, I twirled around and began to sing:

“Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me …”

Never one to miss an opportunity for public nudity, my companion ripped off her clothes and joined me. Together we span around the lawn under the watching trees, lit by the nearby street lights. In time our gyrations slowed and we stopped. I vowed to the moon, pulled on my robe and walked to the two great watching trees. Laying my hands on each, I silently thanked them for their witness, scattered offerings of dried herbs at their feet, bowed once more to them and turned to leave the garden.

Singing the Tor

Friday November 9, 2007:

It was a beautiful late autumn day. The sun was bright in a blue sky with scudding wispy clouds, the wind a brisk but not despotic Northerly, cold rather than icy. We sat on the bench in front of the rocks that was the entrance to the Tor labyrinth (which we were not going to walk today) whilst my companion described the landscape.

In the sacred landscape of Glastonbury, the Tor is described as the goddess’s left breast. As we sat this day, ahead and to our left, lay Wearyall Hill the swans’ neck or leg of the goddess, ahead and to our right rose the rounded mound of Challis Hill, the goddess’s pregnant belly. Nearer on our left, a stand of trees stood shaking in the wind. WE turned and climbed upwards.

Here at the beginning of the first level, the place of earth, the ground called me and I sat down. Here on the earth chakra, the energy is about grounding, money, physical security, being rooted on the earth. If we stay too long in this place we may get stuck in the mud. But before we moved, we sang to the earth, the first part of four songs by Jaana Runnalls

“Mother earth we feel you in our bones,
Walk in beauty on the land
Mother earth we sing to your stones,
Voice of power and healing hands.”

I lay back and let the earth hold me as though I was held on the palm of her hand whilst my companion sang to me a very long love song to the goddess.

Inelegantly, I clambered to my feet and climbed up more steps. Here at the second level, the place of water, the belly chakra, the womb I sat on the earth as it gurgled beneath me. This is the place of the flow of the waters of emotion, the waters of creativity. Not enough water and you get dried up but too much water and all boundaries are washed away. I sat and heard my blood flow in my veins and felt happy as our voices flowed into Yaana Runnalls water song:

”One drop of love, flows like a stream,
Flows like a stream to the ocean.”

The path got a bit steeper as we climbed up to the third level, the level of the solar plexus chakra, the place of fire and of energy. Here was the place of vitality and the place of will. Too much fire leads to obsession and burn-out, too little, apathy, inertia, lack of courage. Knackered, I flopped down on the earth. We sang Jaana Runnalls song for fire. ”

Light the spark and kindle the flame
Watch the fire and release the pain.
Light a spark and kindle the flame
Watch the fire and release the pain.”

Feeling a bit perkier after singing through our entire repertoire of fire songs, I staggered to my feet again and we climbed on. At the next level, the heart chakra and in the landscape of the four elements, the place of air, the wind was certainly apparent. WE sat low down on the ground, lest we fly off the steeply sloping earth. Here is the place of higher emotions, of pure unconditional love. This is the clarity of the wisdom and truth that comes from the heart rather than just from the clever mind. This too was the wind of freshness. We tossed Jaana Runnalls words defiantly back to the wind.

“Breath sky, soul fly
Send our breath to purify.”

The wind danced about gleefully, thrusting itself hard against our bodies. WE could stand no more and clambering upwards and onwards, found the fifth level, the place of the throat chakra, and the place of speaking our truth. At this level is the place of Clair sentience, the place of intuition. But the wind roared and sang at us and, after flinging songs into its face only to have our words swallowed, we gave up and headed up and round the Tor to the sixth level.

Still the wind whooed and hooed at us as we stood, braced against it. Here we were at the brow chakra, the place of the third eye, the place to see things visible and invisible and sang to each other in the space, songs of intuition.

But it was no good; the sun’s warmth was masked behind the fierce northern wind. WE turned and walked the last stage to the seventh level, where I ducked beneath the winds arm and sat down in a bottom-shaped dip on the earth. This place, the crown chakra, is the level of her will, and aligning our will to hers. Here was the place of surrender to her will, connection with spirit and higher self.

Comfy in my bottom-shaped hollow, I surrendered to her will in the dream.

I was walking downwards, down into a ditch then down underground as though going into a Fogou, but never coming to its’ end. I was swimming in thick black water, like oil, the kind that coated me as I moved through it and I was not human. I sensed my big ugly head and gills and a small tail thrashing away through the thick goo.

The lake was black and shiny. I drove a way through it to the dancing light I saw in the middle which glittered on the black oiliness. It was a fire, on a rock rising sheer from the lake that left no room for anything else. But I had to get out of the lake; I could feel it eating me up.

I climbed into the fire, I danced with the fire as it burned me up and I became vapour rising in swirls and spirals from the greedy flames.

Up and up right up to the ceiling I went and the ceiling became strata’s of rocks and I, the smoke rising as though through a natural earth chimney. UP past the tall trees I went, rising to the top of a white mountain, landing on the snow at the top, light as a bird. I became a bird and soared down from its height. I circled the earth below me, spread out and spinning like a map, before diving down low and landing in another sunken path. I walked on and came to a gnarled and dead-looking ancient beech tree, its wooden skirts falling elegantly down to its roots. Tired now, I sat down to rest and felt at peace.

But we were only a little way from the very top. I got up from my comfortable seat and trekked up the last path to the tower. Here we called to the quarters, sang to the land laid out below us and then returned to the town, slowly picking our way down the steep stairs, heading eagerly for tea and crumpets.

In the embrace of the serpent – Challis Well Gardens, Glastonbury

Friday November 9, 2007:

The cheerful song of an unknown bird interrupted my dreams and called me to the garden. I leapt from my narrow bed and stumbled towards the kettle. My companion sleeping in the room above had obviously not heard her alarm clock. It was past dawn. It was my birthday. We were at the Little St Michael’s Retreat House in Challis Well Gardens, Glastonbury, and we had a day and a new year to greet.

The cool morning air caressed still sleep-warmed cheeks as we moved in silence across the garden. At the well head, we sat in quiet prayer.

I moved through my life, reviewing its significant events, acknowledging and accepting who I was and letting go of the negative emotions.

There I was, the quiet new-born, caring for nothing, doing nothing, surrounded by a knot of worried doctors and family, puzzling over what was “wrong” with me. Labels diligently presented by the medics were robustly rejected by my fiercely proud mother.

Now, the cheerful little girl was dancing down the stairs playing her recorder happily, tumbling down head over heels, landing with a thump at the bottom, climbing to her feet and doing it all over again. There she was, on a dull day in the garden, face set with concentration, patting into shape carefully rounded mud-pies, making ready to throw at anything that stood still long enough.

In the dark, a bewildered child in red pyjamas cowered, peering anxiously for the light she could not see. Later an older girl wriggled away from unwanted touch, morosely filling her mouth with food. Still later, sullen and surly, the teenager retreated into her bedroom, finding solace dancing alone to the radio. Later still, she laughed with friends as she gyrated around a dark room, not caring who she smacked as she moved.

Scenes shifting and moving one upon the other showed the teenager peering at a world gone grey and misty, daunted for a moment then determinedly striding on. And the years rolled on and she pushed into places where she was not welcome and made them welcome her, took up causes, argued and sometimes won but never gave up except when her views changed.

Spinning now, the incidents became indistinct as themes flashed through my mind, politics, work, friends, lovers, and the goddess. And all the time, growing ever more insistent, the well called to me to “come down here, come down here!”

I could resist no longer. I climbed down into the cold, cold water. I could see nothing as I struck out into the darkness. Soon, I could hardly feel my limbs, but I swam doggedly along down tunnels almost filled with water so that my head grazed the ceiling. In time, my hands touched dry cool rock. I pulled myself out onto its flat top and sat, shivering in the darkness, for I was naked.

Moving round to make myself more comfortable, my feet touched something soft. A thick rough old blanket was folded neatly on the rock. I unfurled it and wrapped myself in its scratchy warmth.

Water dripped from the ceiling, a sharp breeze blew in from the right. I knew where I was but this time; I could not see the smiling face of Kwan Yin carved into the rock in front of me. Neither could I see the sharp outline of the curiously ancient-looking watching crane and the grey sea behind him. I sat hugging myself waiting.

Something moved across the rock. My flesh crept and I shrunk into the blankets. A heavy weight slid across my knees. Cautiously, I reached out and tentatively touched it. Warm and dry against my hand, the huge snake moved peaceably around me till I was enfolded in the circle of its length, with it draped about my shoulders, waist and hips in a gentle but firm embrace.

It was still. I was still, held in its courteous embrace, for it sought not to impose itself upon me in anyway other than to be there, disinterested but present. At any point, I could push it off and it would go.

And into my mind came the words:

“Serpent of heeling,
Bring what is hidden,
Into the light of a bright new day.”

The song echoed around the chamber. The serpent leaned heavily upon me as though to reinforce the sentiment. I felt held and safe.

I turned the kaleidoscope of my life and a quiet truth slipped in, almost unnoticed as I sat musing. I do not need to accept other people’s limiting beliefs about my capacities, no matter how they try to impose them upon me. This is their “stuff” not mine! If I apply this to the most difficult parts of my life, the parts that have driven the compulsions and self-loathing, I would find release.

Outside above the well head, a lone bird began to sing a mellifluous morning song. Gradually, she was joined by others until the whole garden above was alive. I didn’t want to move. I wanted to stay there in the dark, wrapped in my blanket, the water flowing about me, the serpent holding me. But the birds were insistent.

Carefully I began to remove the blanket. The serpent slid from my shoulders and down onto the rock. Then he was gone and I plunged into the icy water, striking hastily for the well shaft and the freshness of the morning.

I got up and walked slowly around the well head. The early morning breeze ruffled my hair. Silently I thanked the well and the serpent and the birds for their presence and made to move off.

We climbed to the highest point of the garden where the early November sun touched us gently with it’s warmth. The garden fell away beneath us and amongst the traffic hum in the distance a pneumatic drill shouldered it’s way into the day.

But my morning ceremony was not yet complete. The well bubbled down a series of channels into pools below us. WE climbed down and found the nearly empty healing pool. Undeterred we stripped off and climbed in for the spring water poured into it enough for us to wet our bodies, if not be totally immersed. WE rolled like puppies in it’s freezing flow, yelping and gasping at it’s coldness.

“Morning!” it shouted at our warm bodies, “wakey-wakey!”

Shivering, we climbed out and dressed hurriedly, scurried damply through the garden to long-promised warm showers and breakfast.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Loving Lime

Hampstead Heath

Wednesday October 31, 2007:

Someone else was occupying the pine circle we had selected for the focal point of our working this evening. No matter, the rest of the heath, its hills and valleys, copses, paths and streams lay waiting for us. Our walk of attention, our promenade with the ancestors could just as easily be done somewhere else.

When my companion and I had walked these hills four days before, soft driving drizzle riding the blustery wind had plastered hair to skin, and jeans to legs. Rain had crept surreptitiously into trainers to chill unwilling toes. Under a low grey sky we high-stepped the long grass and thistles, and stroked the damp trees. This night, shod in walking boots, we walked under a clear sky with an old moon grinning crookedly down from the sodium splashed heavens.

We went to the gentle sheltering lime tree. Standing in a circle under the spreading boughs, we laid hands on her trunk and breathed in the green fresh gentle odour of her dampness. Patiently, or so it seemed to us, she listened to our simple prayers for the dead we wished to acknowledge. We touched her arching branches and with tender hands tied on our clouties. Each spoke out her intention and the tree lovingly accepted them. As we finished, a sudden little breeze caught the tree and she clapped her leaves together as though in ovation.

We moved and formed a line. Each woman touched the one in front of her; we swung off, our attention placed lightly in our feet. Taking the pace from the slowest one, moving with soft steady beat of the leading woman’s drum, we began to snake our way across the soft thick grass.

Out of the darkness and the quietness, they came, my father, grandmother and many friends and comrades now dead. They fell in beside me, walking, limping and rolling in solidarity as I wandered across the heath. And as we moved, I went back through my life, to the times when they were alive and knew that I was different because they had been in my life. This was their wisdom, their healing gift to me this night.

Slowly we moved on. AS I walked, I made a promise to hold this space on the heath each year at Samhain, so that others could find wisdom and healing in a walk with the ancestors. Returning to the tree, we quietly circled her, drawing closer, laying our hands on her trunk, joining each others hands to fully encircle her. And we spoke of our dreams and we sang to each other an the tree, the sheltering canopy holding our soft, harmonious voices.

I leaned into the tree and held her. A voice began, gentle at first then growing stronger as I joined her, the beautiful Sweet Honey in the Rock Song,

“Listen more often to things than to deeds.
Listen more often to things than to deeds.
Tis the ancestor’s word when the fire’s voice is heard,
Tis the ancestor’s word in the voice of the water.

Those who have died have never, never left,
The dead are not under the earth.
They are in the rustling trees,
They are in the groaning woods,
They are in the crying lands,
They are in the mourning rocks.
The dead are not under the earth.

Listen more often to things than to deeds.
Listen more often to things than to deeds.
Tis the ancestors word, when the fire’s voice is heard.
Tis the ancestor’s word, in the voice of the water. …”

And the tree listened, it’s canopy held us as we sang, shared our prayers and then opened the circle and made ready to leave. Ducking out from under her embracing boughs, we walked back down the path.

The young people in the circle of pines had been quiet for some time. As we approached, I distincly heard a voice calling out then the whole group chorused in unison;
“Merry meet, merry part …”

And as we drew close we joined in; and merry meet again!”

The group were a coven just finishing off their Samhain ritual. Bedecked in their long black cloaks, with fiery cauldron and pomegranate juice in challis, they told us of their adventure with a group of tourists on a Hampstead Heath Halloween Tour, who wandered right through the middle of their ritual at the most sacred part. WE offered them our pumpkin lantern, wished them Samhain blessings and made our way back to the world.

The Womb of Immortality

Tuesday October 30, 2007:

“Go now to a place of safety, a place of softness in which to lie and dream ...”

I snuggled down upon the sheepskins and pulled the blankets over my head. Burnt sage hung on the air, the wool smelled warm and dry, beyond the thick closed curtains an occasional car rumbled by. We were safe, held in the womb of immortality, the drum beat, like a heart beat rocking us into another world.

“My intention is to journey to meet the ancestors, to gain wisdom and healing…” I murmured as I began to breathe deeply.

I walked as part of a long line of figures, meandering through trees, curving across wide meadows, moving slowly, slowly down to the water’s edge. A swan sat quietly waiting, glimmering silver under the night sky, her reflection shimmering upon the barely moving water.

And then I was riding her, gliding silently down the Ssssssssnaking River, past high banks, arching trees, across plains until the river flowed into the dark mouth of a cave and spilled itself into a small dark mirror-still lake. I dismounted and began to walk around the water, my footsteps loud in the silence.

In the distance, an old, old figure waited for me. As I approached, I saw him bent and thin, skeletal yet with skin and thin white hair. My father, stood in front of the only way forward, frail, almost transparent. I stopped dead in front of him.

“Daughter,” he whispered,”I always knew that if you made up your mind to go to the devil, you would do so in your own sweet way. Nothing I could ever say or do would have stopped you”

Beyond the familiar cynical wry words, I recognised for the first time ever the acceptance and trust that lay behind them. In all my rebellions, in all his barbed words, I had never noticed his confidence that I would be alright, no matter what I did.

And as I stood before him, I felt humbled. For thirty years, I had withdrawn, absented myself, disconnected, run away. Through all this time, he had always respected me, I knew that now.

“Daddy, I’m sorry I left you” I Whispered, my head hung in shame, my cheeks hot.

Silently, he shuffled aside, nodding to me to pass. I reached out to touch him, but he was gone. My way ahead was clear.

I walked down the tunnel and round a corner. There she was, almost bent double, old and frail but smiling still. Neatly she stood, feet together; hands clasped holding her shiny handbag, that air of polite mischief still evident.

“Ah, here’s my favourite grandchild! She smiled, then lowering her voice and looking to see no one was watching “the one I loved the most,” She nodded.

And I remembered her quiet understatement even in the midst of maternal disproval over one of my more eccentric fashion choices, “I always wanted a red-haired grandchild,” she had said mildly.

“I’m sorry I left you for so long, Grandma” I muttered through lips that didn’t seem to be behaving.

Nodding and smiling, she moved aside and was gone. The way again was clear.

I moved through a long dark tunnel and out onto the shore of a lake. There on a rock, sat a figure playing the guitar. Cocking his head to hear my footsteps, he cackled manically an strummed harder, lifting up his voice in song. My blind brother in struggle was serenading me with wild song!

I’m sorry I ran away from you, “I said, once more hanging my head. “It was so hard, so hard when you were crazy beyond reason. I was afraid.

It seemed to me that he was nodding. He turned his face to me and began to sing more softly. I heard the words but did not understand them, yet I was soothed. His hands competent upon the guitar, each note resonating from the tips of his fingers. I smiled to myself, and remembered my own ham-fisted playing and resolved to practice! Then he was gone and I was alone on the shore.

The trees were singing. They were all singing. The whole forest was a chorus of sweet music, lilting tune and strong words, which again I heard but did not understand. And in the middle, in a big curving copper beach tree, she stood soft and round, smiling face, glasses slightly crooked, singing her head off.

Lacing my hands on the tree, I felt the warm bark and stroking it whispered
“I’m sorry I left you. I was so afraid for you.

She sang on, smiling, her face shining with joy. I hugged the tree and thanked her, my dead chosen sister, for bringing me to the trees and to the goddess.

And now I was crossing a beach and climbing into a small bobbing boat. Lying down, I let it take me out to sea, round the headland, a flotilla of seals invisible but near. The pebbles crunched beneath me and I climbed out of the boat and clambered across the rocks, up the slipway to the top of a hill where I sat down, my back to a gnarled old tree. Edged on three sides by the foaming leaping sea, the land lay spread out before me, like the beautiful curving figure of a woman. I breathed the sweet air and allowed myself to be bathed in the liquid song of a blackbirds sitting in the tree above me.

The sun sank behind the sea and the air chilled. I returned to the boat, to the sea, the beach, moved through the now quiet woods, past the empty rock by the lake, through the dark and empty tunnels to the underground lake.

I was lying spread-eagled across a huge warm softly rising furry belly. A heavy paw clamped me to her. I lay still, safe and warm ... And time moved and I was conscious of every second, savouring it from this place of nurture. There was nothing to do but to be, just be, because I was loved and nothing else mattered...

And the breathing of my sleeping companion emerged from behind the receding drum. I rolled over, flinging the blankets off, rose and stretched, a laugh that would not be suppressed bubbling up, bursting out.

“Wakey-wakey” I called to my snoozing companion, “it’s time to be born!”