A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The crocus thief

In December, when the nights had drawn close and black about the world as it lumbered towards the darkest night, I planted crocus bulbs - amongst other things. In the depths of my depression, I needed many different ways to remind myself that the dark clouds would pass and the sun would return; the delicate softness of early spring flowers is always such a sensual reminder to me.

Well the world did indeed turn. Like a great bear shifting in her sleep, she rolled over and began to twitch, like you do just before you fully wake. On one such day, I discovered that soft and silky blooms had indeed poked up from the soil. Little snowdrops, winter-flowering pansies and the permanently cheerful daffodils had all begun to stretch, yawn and start to open.

But where were the crocuses I wondered? In my back garden, many lay sad and unmoving in the soil, beheaded or nipped by some hungry creature. Where others had been planted lay empty holes.

Saddened, I planted some crocus flowers, some around the garden and some in bowls on the garden table, the better for me to appreciate them. Lest they be lonely, I also planted more winter-flowering pansies and hyacinths. How lovely to run my fingers through their damp, silky petals; to imagine their delicate and resolutely cheerful colours against the darker green of the still slumbering garden.

Two days later, drawn to the garden by the new sense of light, by that imperceptible change in smell that comes at this time of year, I went to the bowls to stroke and admire the gentle flowers. To my horror, I found the plants cast this way and that, and great gaping holes where the crocuses had been!

I marched round the garden muttering darkly.

"Was it you who stole my crocuses?” I demanded of the birds as they swooped across the garden with their thwoh-thwoh-thwoh-thwoh-thwoh-thwoh wings fluttering in the cool morning air. Cheerfully they sang their innocence as they went upon their way.

"Was it you who stole my crocuses?" I enquired of the neighbourhood cats, stalking across the fences at the back. I imagined them raising proud denying heads as they pawed indignantly away.

Shouldn't the rest of the garden animals be in their beds, still sleeping? I sulked, thick lower lip jutting out in resentment. After all, despite the change in the air, it was still winter. Only after Imbolc should they shrug off sleep and appear, blinking in the light of the new day, roaring hungry for their breakfasts.

"Oi, was it you squirrel, who snuck out of bed to steal my lovely crocuses when you should have been a-sleeping, I snarled belligerently?" Silence. No creaking or rustling of branch or twig to say that squirrel had even moved. No thundering of paws on the fence or sounds of the charging of a small determined little body through the thicket that is the honeysuckle barring his progress could be heard. If it was squirrel, he did not own up to it.

Carefully, I repacked the pots with their flowers, rearranged the bulbs to cover up the gaping hole left by the purloined crocuses. Patting down the soil, I wondered whether global warming had driven the squirrels to criminal behaviour, or whether it was something I had done. Had I not installed a proper sense of manners in the garden creatures? Was I a negligent garden owner or did the other neighbourhood squirrels lead mine to the bad? Should I have put temptation out of paws way beyond chicken-wire?

I imagined the squirrels, a possy of surliness, hanging out amongst the ivy on the disused railway line behind the house, bored, hungry and unloved, their fur matted and unkempt, their gleaming eyes roaming around for things to eat. I imagined the neighbourhood creatures pointing at them, scuffling past them handbags clutched to chests, looking nervously over their shoulders. Were the squirrels indeed to blame or was I too falling victim to the culture of youth er, I mean squirrel-dissing?

So do you have any idea of who stole the crocuses?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Guiding Dog - Parliament Hill, London

Thursday January 17, 2008:
The west wind pushed damply against us as we walked up the steep path to the Hill’s summit. The threatened rain had not materialised; the sky was a high opaque grey against which the trees in their Best winter aspect stood out starkly. Against the wind’s howl, a crow cawed. Somewhere nearby small birds high up in the tree tops, chattered as though shivering with the cold.

A year ago today, my father had died. I had come to Parliament Hill to commemorate him.

We stood at the summit of the hill. The grass beneath us was matted and smeared with the mud churned by a thousand paws and the stout boots of their owners. Below, to the east, a small lake glimmered in the morning light.

The glory of that famous London skyline spread out to the south, pierced by thrusting cranes, the buildings hiding the snaking river running in it’s midst. Behind the buildings rose the Crystal Palace Arial and beyond it, the Surrey hills.

In the west, suburban London lay behind church spires and the Royal Free hospital. Beyond a belt of lacy winter trees, in the north lay more houses.

All around me lovely crazy London lay, as though cradled in a bowl of pale hills. This city held and sustained a myriad tongues, a network of communities interlocking and distinct, often comradely, sometimes unfriendly. London, my London lay below me and I imagined its beauty and felt proud to be a Londoner and the daughter of a Londoner.

Turning, I called the directions and cast the circle. My rattle gentle against the wind, my companion’s drum beating a steady rocking beat. I called the beings of the heath, the spirits, the creatures and especially the energy of the dogs to come and be with me as I held a space in remembrance of my father.

I began to walk around, turning and returning, snaking back and forth, meandering in a slow purposeful dance. I was a rivulet of spring water, making its cautious way down a hill, a stream pushing through the turf, a river carving through the clay. I was the snaking mighty Thames flowing down to the sea. I was leaping salmon plunging my way through its grey running waters.

The woods were thick and almost impenetrably tangled with briars and low growing shrubs. Yet I knew I had to force my way through for there was a place I had to be. In time, scratched and bruised, I saw the soft flicker of firelight, dark bars of tree trunks in front of it. Creeping curiously now, for I did not want to be seen, I snuck quietly up to the edge of the clearing.

In the clearing burned a small fire. Around it, a group of men hunched, quietly talking, and their hands busy working. Roughly dressed, they were thin and bowed. Yet there was a purposeful dignity in them.

In the firelight, I saw the lineless one to another, for they were obviously related. As I watched, the fire sparked up and I saw that each bore some resemblance to my father, here one had his nose, there another had his chin. My father’s people sat before me. I crept out of the shadows and drew close to them.

I was welcomed. I sat by the fire with them, in companionable silence as they worked and I studied them closely, feasting on the similarities and differences between them and my father. I felt their kindness and I felt safe.

In time I said goodbye and got up, stepping away from the fire. Leaning against a tree, I watched the circle of men.

I was still for some time, not wanting to be too far away from them, yet knowing that I had to go. Then I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and turning, saw a honey-coloured Labrador walking towards me. As she drew close, I saw that she was a mother, she was old and a little stiff but very purposeful. She came to me and poked her mussel into my hand. I stroked her velvety head and she leaned it against my thigh.

We turned and walked through the wood. I followed her as she led me along my lifeline into the future. She led me through the pilgrimages I was beginning to plan, to moonlit nights and sun filled dawns. She led me through great winds, dancing fires, flowing waters and through the great woods and hills of the earth, on and on through my life.

The words danced into my head, on the tongue of the drum beat, held by the gentle rattle and I began to chant to myself:

“Guide me as I walk
Protect my every step,
Stay with me always,
Stay with me always.”

And with this prayer upon my tongue, I became conscious of my stately dance. My feet led me circling and circling till I formed and stepped the figure of eight, the affinity sign, the number of this year, the shape of a curvy woman. I stepped circling diosil and then widishams, invoking and banishing, led by the dog that would never leave me.

In time, my feet were still. The drum was silent and the rattle quiet. I stood and listened to the singing city muffled by the heath.

From my heart I spoke out my thanks for the gift of the dog and for my continued journey with the goddess, for the beings who witnessed this gentle dance and the heath itself for holding me as I moved. In prayer, my companion and I remembered the murdered women of Ipswich, the Tottenham gang rape survivor who had been viciously burned by acid, the lovely robin’s boy who so bravely led a community to rise up to protest the murder of those five young women, and my dead comrade in struggle, still socialist after all these years. I gave thanks for my father who helped make me who I was and whose death deepened my relationship with the goddess. My companion remembered her elderly cat Arnold, he who was the May chick slayer and who was now moving slowly towards another place. The wind caught our prayers and sent them blowing across London, as we opened the circle and began to walk back down the hill.

I sniffed the air, wrinkling my nose like an inquisitive dog, my sense of smell heightened. And in the distance, behind a house, I heard a blackbird sing out loud and proud, cheerful in the morning air, piercing the dull sound of the rattling engine of a nearby lorry, and my heart was lightened.

Walking with the lone wolf – London

Monday December 31, 2007:

It had been raining, a slow soft drizzle which moistened the surfaces but didn’t really soak. My neighbour next door had Jules Holland on, but the window was closed so it wasn’t so loud. I put my big black coat on and stuffed the pockets with things that I thought I would need, a sage smudge stick, a lighter, rattle and so on. Earlier that evening, I lit incense and placed a candle in a lantern on my garden alter.

Fireworks were beginning to charge recklessly across the sky, I took no notice as I cast my circle.

The sweet smell of white sage wafted through the cool wet air as I circled the garden. Cleansing, and purifying, I made ready to meet the old blind she-wolf who always came when I needed comfort. Leaves brushed tenderly against me as I walked, the gravel crunched beneath my feet. All was still.

Come feather-bright, light of dawn, the optimism of a new day, the insubstantial ness of berth with its important life-giving purpose. With them came the perfume of the damp garden, mingling with the incense, a cocktail of calm.

Come spirit of fire, dancing, spiralling, flickering and shimmering in the dark, the place of purification, consumption and transformation. With it came the energy and the amber light of the internal fire.

Come water that enfolds, embraces, cradles and caresses, the soft shaping, ever flowing love. With it came nurturing, forgiving acceptance.

Come, the stones that are the bones of the earth, the great trees that watch, the place of manifesting of power made real. Solidly, the earth’s great roundness came, always full.

I called the above, the below and the all that is, stirred by the great ladle of existence into being, as the wheel turned again. The garden drew in closer to me, quiet and attentive.

“I journey with the lone wolf into the year 2008,” I whispered as I shook the rattle in a gentle soft rhythm.

The woods were quiet and deserted. Against their black straight trunks, the red glow of a distant fire danced throwing their shadows hugely across my path. Winding in between them, I crossed into the opening and the dancing fire, but it was not to its side that I was bound.

Beyond, the shaggy old yew tree stood, burnished by the fire, the great hollow at its belly deep and dark. I stooped and entered into the amber glow that was the hollow.

The chamber had not changed. The fire glowed in the square hearth with a great mantel like a straight brow looming over it, the shining cauldron gleaming on its hook above the small but determined flames. I moved and sat down near it.

Out of the shadows she came, walking slowly and stiffly, following her nose till she was at my side. Leaning her great grizzled head against my knee, she whined deep in her throat. I reached out and touched her head, stroking with one finger the velvety skin above her eyes.

She shifted and moved, walking towards the door. I put my hand on her back and followed her out of the hollow, past the fire and into the woods.

She led me to a great old tree, tangled with leaves and stems and indicated that I should sit beneath it. I sat down, with her at my feet and waited. The rain dripped, the ground beneath me was chill. I was cramped and uncomfortable but I knew I needed to stay here. She sat, her head resting on my foot.

I watched the gloom, the laden sky that seemed to press down upon my head; its blue grey darkness change to a duller steel as the days moved on. I was board and anxious but I kept watch as there was nothing else I could do. And the days span on and eventually, the sky changed, growing silvery then the palest of blues, till the golden sun nibbled at its edges.

Slowly we rose and began to walk. We walked through woods, across fields, up on heathland , over rutted grass, boggy tuffets, muddy tracks, our feet snatched at by briers and brambles, always reluctant to let us go so that we had to tear our feet away. Scratched and bleeding, I pushed on and on across the never-ending terrain.

We came to rivers; somehow fording them, soaked and tired, we stumbled on, toiling up yet another sharp incline and edging our way down the other side, this time, spying a yellow gold path below, to which we made a bee-line.

Midnight struck as I stepped onto the path, its loose stones crunching beneath our feet as we trudged along it, up a hill, circling up and round the cone shaped hill till we reached its summit.

And there below us lay London, the river snaking like a serpent through its midst, the tall buildings glowing in the sun, and when night fell, glimmering under a dark sky. The bustling packed city was full of energy. Oh how I wanted to continue to serve it. This was my purpose.

And when I came to understand what I wanted, we walked through the woods, past the fire to the hollowed yew, bending low to climb in, flopping exhausted down in front of the fire. The cauldron was steaming. I got up and looked inside it, reaching for a ladle so that I might stir it.

A bowl lay on the hearthstone; I reached for it and poured some of the cauldron’s contents into it. Bending, I placed it beside the she-wolf, gently guiding her head with my hand. Slowly, she began to lap.

When she had done, I refilled the bowl and would have raised it to my lips had my eye not caught the movement of a figure in the darkest corner of the fire place. It was she! I offered up the bowl but she indicated that I should drink it myself. When I was sated, I sat quietly by the fire, the she-wolf at my feet and the lady in the opposite corner. There we stayed, content and at peace.

My mind was drawn to the future and I looked into the fire, searching for something that would sustain me through the hard things I had to do. The flames leapt cheerfully and I thought of bravery, of courage, like the merry flames of a small fire. This is what I needed to go forward with because the road would not always be easy and I would need courage to cope with it.

I did not want to leave. The world lay outside beyond the yew tree and I had to face it. I got down onto my knees and stroked the she-wolf’s head. She raised her head and lent it against my thigh and I stroked her gently. Deep in her throat she growled a contented growl and my heart turned over with such love, I felt the tears prick at my eyes.

Rubbing my eyes, carefully I rose to my feet. I bowed to the lady sitting quietly in the corner. I bent to stroke the she-wolf, who stirred but did not get up. I walked quietly to the door, ducked under the opening and out into the clearing.

The fire had burnt down to glowing red embers. It seemed pale in the light of the coming dawn which silvered the eastern sky beyond the dark trees. I walked quickly through the silent wood and back to now.

Sitting amongst the dripping leaves I listened to the sharp cracks and bangs of the fireworks bursting across the London sky. From beyond the garden, canned applause and then singing came to me from a television. A car rumbled in the distance and I imagined the millions of people lining the great river, their faces turned to the sky to marvel at the brilliant splashes of colour bursting across its darkness.

I picked up the Orgam oracle cards and chose one to help me this year. I got gooseberry, and I remembered that I had two planted somewhere in the garden and wondered where. The Gooseberry meant ancestral wisdom.

I thanked the goddess for the gift of my dream and the wisdom it had given me. I thanked too the old she-wolf, and all the elements that had been here, the spirits of the place and opening the circle, got up.

I scattered flower petals on the place where I had sat and made a silent commitment to come again and sit and wait for the wisdom of the garden to come to me when it had a mind to. How lucky I was to have it.

Missing the solstice – eastern promenade – Thames, London
Saturday December 22, 2007:

In the dark heart of the night,
Beyond the pain of yearning,
A soft and gentle light shines bright,
The wheel is turning.

My plan had been to greet the actual point of the solstice on the river bank. Too excited by the ritual with the boys in the woods to sleep, I stayed up most of the night. At four , I woke from a fitful doze and got up and got ready to go.

Five minutes from the river, I rang my companion to alert her to what time I would be getting to the Prospect of Whitby, the pub hard by the little beach we were going to. She did not answer. I left the cab and waited in the shadows for her to appear, ringing from time to time, growing more and more concerned for her safety each time she could not be raised.

All was quiet by the pub. I could smell the dank slightly rotting smell of the river not very far away. I did not know what I would do if she did not turn up. I began to cry.

It was eight minutes past six, the exact time of the solstice. I fumbled for the phone, and as I dialled, a bird began to sing over to my right. I listened to its liquid joy and was moved, my tears falling fast because it seemed that he was singing to lift my spirits and I was very touched to hear him.

Somehow, the tears pouring down my face brought release. I allowed them, and my inconsolable sobs. Like a small child who has lost her mother, I cried, and cried and cried

As I wept, my mind turned over the alternatives open to me right now. Should I Stay? Should I try to find the beach? Should I go home? Should I ring a friend who also lived near and get him to come and get me?

Mid text, my phone buzzed and it was my companion, apologising for oversleeping and explaining that she had a bad cough and had not slept. We agreed to still meet and I leant back against the pub’s wall to wait.

From time to time a van rumbled by. Once a lone jogger panted past, I stepped further into the shadows so that he would not see me, glad that I was dressed in black.

At last there she was. WE hurried down onto the dark shore and cast a circle. Peeling off my gloves, I reached down and picked up a big stone. I cradled it in my hand, exploring its greasy surface with my cold and numb fingers.

Tensing my muscles, I flung it violently into the river, tossing after it, my sadness. It plopped satisfyingly into the water and was lost for ever. I reached down and picked up another and flung it and my addictions after it. Another stone followed and then another and another. Behind them went my grief, my self-hatred and depression. My companion began to toss what she no longer wanted with stones she picked up into the water. Eventually, we were still.

We sang to the river our song of the light returning and then waited quietly while the city sang back to us in its rumbling and sirens. The river surreptitiously crept closer and we shuffled back, then began to sing of the birth of the sun as we picked our way carefully across the rubble that was the beach, taking our circle with us for a walk along the river bank.

We moved back onto the streets, keeping close to the river. A robin began to sing high up to my left. His cascading song was soon answered by another and I raised my face to their song as we walked through the archway made by their rippling music.

We moved on, through a park, past a man and his dog out for a pre dawn walk. We stood by a rail to listen to the tumbling of the water in the weir.

My companion relayed the story of Joan Peterson, the Witch of Wopping. I listened, wrapped in the atmosphere she span as we walked along. The tall concrete blocks of new builds stood side by side with old warehouses, edging the wharfs. All was silent bar the occasional bird and the distant hiss of tyres on tarmac. The river sometimes at our side, sometimes behind the buildings flowed on eastwards as we walked to wards the dawn.

WE stopped to lean against a rail and listen to the river. The dark buildings lightened as the sky changed. We came in the end to a look out point on the river which curved away on both sides, and rippled under the boards upon which we stood. At this point, the river was almost circling us.

My companion described the scene. The light in the sky was pink. Slithers of gold edged their way between the tall walls of the watching buildings, the sky showed blue in patches, cloudy in other parts. The river gave back the colours as it shimmered beneath us. We waited and the sun came up. The night had ended. Our work done, we gave thanks for the beauty of the day, we opened our circle and moved purposefully through squares, past fountains and across streets, heading for the great tower of Canary Warf and breakfast.

Dark and light Yule dreaming - The magic Wood, Hertfordshire

Friday December 21, 2007:

Mist spiralled the trees as we walked through the dark wood. The boys scampering ahead, looking for the perfect place. We came to halt in a small clearing beneath a tall oak.

Standing before the tree, I cast a banishing circle. It was time to journey through the dark wood to the place to lay down our loads. I drummed a heartbeat and said:

“The wood is dark. Fog weaves between the trees. The moon pokes fingers of light between their branches, lacing the path you are walking down with silver. The ground is soft beneath your feet and the place smells of that earthy, slightly mouldy smell of a damp wood at night.

You are looking for your special tree, the one with the old gnarled bark and the hole in its base. The woods are quiet.

Suddenly, something runs across your path. You stop and hold your breath, following its progress with your eyes, not daring to move anything. What is it? A small creature scurries away, crashing through the dried leaves. You walk on, following the path, keeping a look out for that tree.

The quiet of the night is shaken. Above your head , the twigs crackle, a bird sings out. What is that bird? You stop still, the better to listen to his song. When it is ended, you move on once more down the path.

Rounding a clump of low bushes, there it is, the gnarled old tree, the one you have been looking for, sits waiting for you on the edge of a small clearing. You look at it carefully and se the darker place at its foot which is the hole. It looks awfully small, but the magic of this tree is that somehow , you will be able to get in whether it be because the hole is big enough or you have temporarily grown small.

You get down on your hands and knees and crawl in. Oh, it is so dark inside, and oh it’s much, much bigger than you thought it would be. It’s a big chamber and in the centre is a spiral stairway leading downwards. You put your foot on the first tread and look down into the black hole before you, then you step forward and down, down and down for ever and ever and ever.

Your legs begin to ache but you step on and on. Eventually, you stand on the bottom, on a trodden earth floor, in a large chamber with earth walls. You are way down deep in the ground and it is incredibly dark and so quiet.

You move on through the chamber, following the earth wall with your outstretched hands. The chamber becomes a tunnel and then is so narrow you have to squeeze your way through, which you do, arriving in a small round chamber with a little flickering fire in one corner.

You look around and, in the shadows, you see her, dark and still. You go over to her and kneel and lay down your load. She gives you something in return, what is it?

You stay a while kneeling before her, being with her, receiving love and comfort from her. Then it is time to go. You get up, bow low in thanks and leave, retracing your steps through the narrow opening, the long passage leading to the big chamber and the spiral stairs which you climb. Up and up and up you go, your legs hurting with the effort until you come out at the top, get down on hands and knees and crawl out into the open air.

The wood has changed, the sky has lightened and the birds are all singing. It is nearly dawn. You walk back through the wood, past the tree where the bird sang, past the bit of the path where the creature ran in front of you, back to the clearing, to this tree and to our small circle.”

The boys shifted and drew closer. One by one, we gave to our circle the thing we had come to leave. The circle received our sadness, arguments, conflicts, worry and bad things. I beat the drum faster and we called out that which we no longer wanted, chanting for it to be gone, growing louder an louder to send it away, echoing into the night. And then it was over, in the silence, I opened the banishing circle and began to sing.

“Light is returning,
Although it seems the darkest hour.
No one can hold back the dawn.”

“I have another song like that” said the older of the two boys. He began to sing of how the dark and the sadness is going and the light and the happiness is coming. When he had finished, he shuffled up to me and flung his arms around me in a spontaneous gesture of thanks.

We lit our makeshift fire, a biscuit tin with tea lights in it. It shone in the gloom, lighting up the tree and the ground around it. We cast an evoking circle to begin our light Yule celebration.

Each held our found object, our gift to another in the circle. I asked us all to gaze at the fire or imagine it and think about the thing, the quality or feeling we most wanted for ourselves, to really feel it in our body whilst watching or imagining the flames. When it was strongest in us, it was time to give it to the object we held. Taking the stone I had chosen, I held it cupped in my hands and blew sharply three times into it. The rest of the circle followed suit.

“The best gift of all is to give something that you prize dearly to someone else” I said. In turn, we turned to the person on our right, gave them the object and explained the quality we had given it. Self love, happiness, understanding and love were sent round the circle.

I beat the drum and began to sing:

“Celebrate the birth of the sun.
Light the way oh Lucina.
Dance around on Sabbath night.
Blessed be the great mother.”

We jigged about singing until it was time to stop. Opening the circle, we put out our biscuit tin fire and set off for a dark and brambly tour of the woods, to visit trees that the boys found special and wanted to show me.

The evergreen and the sun, the dark and light Yule – London

Wednesday December19, 2007:

We cast a banishing circle and took it into the frosty garden. Quietly, we walked through the dark Yule, our purpose to let go and leave in the old year all that which we no longer wanted. In the silence, I found myself moving through ivy clad tall trees, their trunks straight, layered with the frills of the vines as though decorated with dark lace.

Under foot the loam was firm, the walking easy. On and on I trod, the trees watching me silently, witnessing my sadness as I struggled to name the pain inside. At length, the path led me out and I stood leaning against the ivy covered three trunked stump of the old pine tree. I lent into its soft embrace for a moment, breathing in the tang of the wood and the smooth cool leaves and felt the tree’s forbearance.

Outside the kitchen door, I poured salt into water, listened to its soft cascade. I named my grief, sadness, depression and addictions and resolved to let go of them as the salt dissolved into the water. I opened the dark Yule circle and moved into the house.

The sage circled and cleansed me as I moved through the energetic birth canal into the warmth of our evoking circle. Candles around the room, their heat, like light blazing brilliantly in my mind’s eye. We sat around the alter, and took holly and ivy with which to weave our Yule wreaths.

My hands burned as I bent the stiff holly bough into a circle, fastening it with the cool dark ivy. I wove into my wreath the acceptance of the darkness, the dying to what really did not serve me and the need to rest a while longer. My hands throbbing, I ran the silky fluffy golden tinsel across my palms as though to soothe them. Winding it round and round the prickly and silky leaf circle, I imagined it shining brightly against the dark leaves as I wove in my hopes for the future. For me, the holly and ivy, the evergreen, symbolised constancy, the shining tinsel, the returning sun.

Our wreaths fashioned and charged with our wishes for the future, we sang of the returning light, exchanged small gifts, feasted and opened the circle.

Lucina’s Circle – London

Saturday December 15, 2007:

Outside, the busy Grays Inn road roared incessantly, as I imagined in the gloom of a winter’s afternoon, the glittering buses rumbling on, filled to the gunnels with shopping humanity.

Inside the seemingly insubstantial wooden building, all was warm busyness. In the kitchen, a group of children noisily cooked something which smelled a bit like Chile. In the children’s play room, thirteen adults gathered, perched on low chairs and earnestly discussed what we would do to mark the solstice in our own indoor ritual.

The ritual contents agreed, we began. Sage and camphor wafted over us as we entered the warm shining place and gathered in our circle. Stepping forward one by one, we named ourselves, declaring that we had come to “lighten our load”.

I called Lucina, she who visits the children on cold frosty nights, her head wreathed in a circlet of shining candles, glittering in the dark. As I spoke, I felt myself stretching out my neck and balancing my head, as though weighted down with lit candles. Behind my closed lids, circle upon circle of candles, wavering and bobbing through the dark, set on the hopeful heads of a never ending line of figures, moved into the room and encircled us.

We moved into the warm womb space to dream. Wrapped in my big old coat, I settled back, allowing myself to be guided by the voice, speaking from the other side of the circle.

It was dark in the woods. The grey purple mid winter sky hardly lit the path between the trees, whose bare branches were sketched against its slate light. High up in the trees, birds called their evensong, their wings whispering as they flew from branch to branch.

I walked through the woods, searching for the tree, wondering if I was coming the right way. And then there it was, old and gnarled, the entrance at its roots black against the darkness of the day. I stooped and climbed in.

Inside it was pitch black. But it was warm, and I was glad to be out of the chill of the twilight time in the woods. It was damp-smelling, a bit fungussy but yet alive and not unpleasant.

I felt my way around and found the carved shining handrail of a flight of steps. Carefully, I put a foot out and began to edge my way cautiously down.

My knees creaked as I moved. On and on, I stepped, down and down right into the bowels of the earth.

Finally, I was at the bottom. My feet held on compacted earth. I felt around me and found I was in a chamber whose ceiling I could only imagine, a long way above my head. I moved to find walls and found them, impacted earth, with rocks and stones embedded in them. I followed my hands stroking the walls and as I moved, little showers of earth were dislodged.

The chamber narrowed into a corridor. Then I was having to squeeze my way between two walls that had become a narrow doorway and into another chamber, this time more of a small round room.

In the corner , a red fire glowed. Beside it, a shape, darker than the walls sat still. I knew it was she and knelt before the shadows that were her shape.

Did she speak? I don’t know. I only know I felt tears come and allowed them to fall in the compassionate silence that seemed to be her. I must love myself, I thought as I reflected upon the darkness that had been my mind these last weeks. I must preserve myself, I commanded myself as my mind turned to the shadowy thoughts of self-destruction that had visited me of late. I must trust myself, I heard myself say inside my head as I remembered the jealous anger that made my relations with those I loved so very difficult right now.

She shifted and I knew I needed to reach out and cup my hands. She placed in then , a not heavy, palm sized warm, shiny stone – too light to be a hard stone, more like something fossilised. I touched its soft and shiny smoothness and knew it to be jet. Bowing, I thanked the silent figure, and wiping away my tears, got up to go, the piece of jet held close in my hand.

The staircase seemed to go on forever. My knees shrieked their protest as my leg muscles spasmed. Up I puffed, up and up, my hand following the smooth carved wooden handrail, until at last, I reached the top, and crawled out into the wood.

Night had fallen. The birds were silent now. The wind had dropped and all was still. I walked back through the wood, stepping lightly on the soft loamy soil of the path. I felt the trees watching me with simple compassion.

On a prayer, the words self-love came into my mind. This, I had struggled so hard to find within myself, but yet I wanted as my gift to someone else. I dropped the paper upon which the words had been written into the bowl provided. As we circled and sang our thanks for the meditation and for gifts that we shared, I lifted from the bowl a small piece of paper upon which the word “comfort” had been written. I let the concept settle softly in my mind as I led a song in celebration of the light’s return.

“Celebrate the birth of the sun
Light the way o Lucina.
Dance around on Sabbath night.
Blessed be the great mother.”

Holding hands we began to move, spiralling in and out, turning slowly together as our voices rose in joy and we danced. Outside, the night had fallen. The children laughed as they ate the product of their hard work. The dance over, we encircled our own feast spread before us on a low table, ourselves encircled by the still burning candles and honoured another turn of the wheel.

But I can’t stop …

The huge space in my heart left by not coming here with my stories and dreams is too much for me. I have the next pilgrimage concept in hand (oh and the next and the next and the one after that too and beyond … but more about that later). In this place of intermission, in this time of waiting before I begin again (than will happen about Imbolk time), I’m still dreaming and connecting and observing the wheel and my life that it turns. I want to share it with you and so I shall, in this space.

In deciding this, already I feel relief flood me and my heart lightens. For to tell the truth my experience of the turning of the year from the dark to the light has been bitter with pain and depression. Even though the buds poke their noses up out of the soil and everyone tells me the light stays longer and longer each day, I am still held in this sad place. To rite, to paint my words my dreams and journeys, my encounters with the goddess onto the canvas that is this blog is something I am compelled to do. To be blunt, I can’t help it, I have to do it! So, as I out myself as a words addict and helpless blog crazed soul, indulge me.

Oh and yes, last night I heard an owl hooting down on the disused railway line beyond my house. I was so entranced I forgot to pick up my feet and fell over! Today, walking back from whirling around on the heath … (more about that later too), I heard a blackbird sing out loud and cheerfully and it lifted my heart. I’ve not heard the blackbird sing for a while now and felt cleansed by his song. So I had to come back, and here I am.

So here are my dreams at Yule and what I’ve been doing today, to mark the anniversary of my father’s death.
Blackbird Owl