A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Healing wild wood – North Norfolk

Thursday February 21, 2008:

The sharp wind had turned damp in the night. Clouds now eclipsed the moon as the sun had done before dawn. It had rained but was holding off now. We walked softly on the moisten muddy earth between old and wild trees.

This land, held in memory of a dead child, lay adjacent to a river. The earth sucked at our feet as we crossed small streams and rivulets which criss-crossed the land. We were looking for a rare black poplar.

And there she was, standing tall and furrowed on a small island surrounded by the little streams. There was no way over. It seemed as though she had barricaded herself so as not to be disturbed.

I could only stand helplessly on the other side of the water and imagine her, Hecate’s tree, and old and rough, oozing amber tears. I imagined her, an ancient raven, feathers matted and slightly ruffled, old beyond time, watching over the dark moon, the winter and death. I bowed to her and moved disappointedly away.

Walking along beside the reed beds, we slipped and slid over narrow bridges until we came face to face with a bird cage cherry, the great alder next to her entwining as though to hold her back. Sturdy cherry branches thrust themselves down into the ground, only to spring up in new growth again. Spider-like, she surreptitiously inch her way across the wood, spreading out as she went, like an irregular wooden web.

Passing an impenetrable blackthorn thicket, old and unkempt, it reached out a twisted limb and snatched my hat. I bowed to it, laughing as I carefully rested my beret from its grasp. I moved on, entering parts of the wood where deer had been recently, their musty smell lay thickly upon the air.

In front of us an ancient beech stood; great skirts columned about huge elephant-like feet. She/he towered over us as though to bar the way. Her gender a mix of male and female with his massive size and her curves, she/he was very queer indeed. The scent of deer here was overpowering and I felt the presence of the stag especially at her great base where deer were wont to lie sometimes as though they were an offering to the fierce god of the woods. I bowed and we moved on.

And now before us, a neat hollow oak tree stood, inviting a woody embrace. I squeezed in and was held by folds, bulges, columns and smooth curves, its ridges pressing into me. Reluctantly easing myself out, we moved on through the woods till we found, in a little flat place, an ancient field maple tall and bulbous and rather crusty. I climbed and explored the extraordinary shapes, complex and purposeful as a carefully calved sculpture, yet somehow ravaged and mauled by the passing years and beautifully natural.

So many trees and so little time. I was tired. I flopped down to rest on a fallen ash tree. Laying my hands flat upon her roundness, I allowed myself to feel the rhythm of her wood. Although she had fallen long ago, she still offered the creatures of the forest a haven in which to live. I thanked her for allowing me to sit dry and comfortable upon her.

Sitting still, I allowed by senses to hear the wood in all its rustlings, rattlings, shrieks and thumps. Imperceptibly at first and then more strongly, behind the musty orange sweet dark smell of the deer, the other forests smells eased closer. The resinous, leafy tang of crushed grasses and leaves mixed with the pungent mouldering soft flat odour of fungi, were held against the damp deep muddy dark perfume of the soft wet earth. I breathed deeply, filling my lungs with the exquisite odour and was calm.

I was filled with sudden joy and love for the wonder of the earth. I seized a small branch and began to beat a joyful tattoo upon the yielding earth. I raised my voice in thanks to the lord of the wildwood, he who protects the wild places and all who dwell in them. Keening into the wind, I called him to protect this place, a living breathing memorial to a little boy who lost his fight with Leukaemia and a place where sorrow walks with acceptance and finds balance and comfort.

The earth beat back our rhythms and the trees tossed my voice back to me. Somewhere, not far away, I swear I heard his footfall, his great presence, moving in and out of the dark trees. Turning, I bowed and then moved on.

A lightening tree awaited us nearby. Fifty years or more ago, an old ash had been struck in a great storm. Seemingly dead, the tree still lived in places. I touched her broken places, the angled trunks that had once been hole. Kneeling by her, I offered a prayer of healing to her.

Old customs said that if a sick child was passed through a split ash, she would be healed. My small self really wanted to crawl through. I saw her, red pyjama clad and frightened in the dark and knew that I had to do this for her. Carefully, I squeezed my way through.

Goddess help me remember the frightened little girl and forgive my adult self,” I whispered to the listening tree, “let her feel safe at last”. As I gave my prayer to her, something inside me shifted, and I felt lighter. Stroking the great split trunk, I whispered my thanks and gently scattered an offering of dried petals at her base.

AS I turned to move on, my companion suddenly cried out. She reached down and picked up a slim straight hazel bough lying at her feet. The staff she had looked for had found her!

The forest had given us many gifts this day. Deep in thought, we walked softly on the land between the trees, back across the slippery narrow planks spanning quiet streams. All around us, the forest sat, beautiful, wild and tangled, offering in its wildness, a loving watchfulness.

“You can never be lonely in a wood,” I said half to myself, as we walked back to the car. “Thank you goddess for the standing people.”

The Ash in the Pine Wood – North Norfolk

Wednesday February 20, 2008:

The symmetrical and elegant ash, the lady of the woods stands gently on the earth, her feet deeply rooted in the ground. Bare and naked until spring has arrived, when all other trees are furled in green, at last her leaves come feathery and beautiful. She is the world tree, standing between heaven and earth. She is the serpent coiling from her roots, the symbol of the goddess and of lightening. She is strength in rootedness her elegant balance the link between the inner and outer worlds.

I walked between pine trees pushing skywards like temple columns soaring up into an arched green roof. My feet padded on the soft forest floor, every sound around me amplified, bounced and returned from whence it came.

In my dreams I had climbed the unclimbable straight trunks and swung across from tree to tree whilst the faithful goat waited below. Always, a hairy green paw would reach out for me; clasp me in a rough resinous embrace and the great green bear and I would lurch across the forest, our every footfall shaking the trees to their very roots, the birds falling silent in awe to watch our progress.

Today, the brisk Norfolk wind poked inquisitive fingers between the slim trees. My companion (the owner of the wood) had led me past her tipi, her little rough palace of magnificence (a half finished straw bail hut) into the little clearing that would eventually be her medicine wheel. Here, encircled by rowans, watched by the dark prickly holly, I sat down against a slender ash.

My gentle little egg rattles swished softly. I sat, wrapped in warm blankets, and waited, hardly daring to breathe.

Against my back, the slender trunk of the ash tree moves. She begins to rock me softly. I lean back into her embrace and allow her slowly to dance me.

I walk in the forest. Taller now than the trees, I reach up to hold the white dome of the sky, like a huge pale upturned bowl over their tops. Smaller again, standing on the soft dry floor, I see her snake-like, elegant, smoothe, pale and beautiful, watching me, inviting me to come close and dance with her again.

At length she grows still. I lean against her firmness, reach out and touch her smoothe bark. I feel rather than hear something moving to my right. The thin February wind brings a deep musty odour, mixed with the resinous pine. I turn towards the place and bow.

“Thonk-thonk, thonk-thonk, thonk-thonk” A damp drum heart beat echoes through the wood. My companion’s feet tread quietly through the dead bracken as she approaches.

I rise, reach out to caress the beautiful tree. Tenderly, I wrap a piece of green wool around a slender outstretched limb. Bowing my thanks, I leave her to her quiet circle of rowans and holly.

Later, having walked through the woods, we take branches and beat a tattoo on the soft ground, calling protection from the deer who wander the woods and the stag god to protect the place from those who would invade and spoil its soft green peace. The pine bough I hold is branched like antlers, smooth beneath its rough bark. I stroke it with tender fingers in gratitude and love for the great pine trees all around us and the deer that walk on the soft forest floor.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Snake at snow well – Greenwich Park and Blackheath

Sunday February3, 2008:

The motherstone lay in a curve of the land, a hill rising up behind her, an old holly tree standing sentinel. Slowly I dripped moon blessed water into her bowl as I offered up a prayer.

“Dark mother, I thank you for my learning’s on this painful journey into my new life after my father’s death. May the deepest depths of my despair herald the transformation to come. May I die to what no longer serves me and give birth to what shall sustain me.”

One by one, we stepped forward, offered our waters, lit candles and said our prayers. For we were saying goodbye with heartfelt thanks to the crone, the Cailleach, the dark mother who had been with us over the long nights of winter. We were making space for the little maid, the leaping lamb, and the silken snowdrops to return.

“Hecate, Cerridwen, dark mother set us free.
Hecate, Cerridwen, now we are reborn”

“Oh!” said our priestess, “there’s a robin in the holly tree!” And I imagined him; a splash of red against the dark shiny prickles, his bright eye eagerly watching the procession. Raising my face in his direction, I blew him a kiss in memory of the Robin’s Boy, he who had brought a community together in response to the murder of five young women. A man would stand trial this very week, accused of their murder.

Wind whipped bitterly about my ears as I tramped after the others up the steep hill to the top of the Park. Near the burial mounds we struck off across the grass to the dip in the round belly of the hill, the crusty naval of the goddess as she lies spread out on the landscape of south East London, hard by the great snaking Thames.

The Snow well was dressed in dead autumnal leaves. A small log lay rotting amongst them.

Like a tree, I stood still, my feet buried ankle-deep in dead leaves, my arms outstretched as I allowed the current of energy to draw up through my body. “This is for the trees” I said breathing in the life giving energy of the earth.

In my mind I saw myself, a woman strong, shapely and beautiful, branches held up to the sky curved like a great challis, legs sweeping down to bury long roots in the ground. And as I watched myself, I saw myself, half woman half tree; give birth to a silver snake. I felt it uncoil inside me and move through my body, watched it stream out from between my legs, flowed to the dip between my roots and coil like a silver snake in the centre of the Snow Well. It spiralled round and round before disappearing down deep into the earth.

Burrowing deep, it moved through the moisten dark soil. Down it pushed until it found an underground stream to carry it onwards towards the great river.

Her naval now was scattered with dried flowers. In the turf about her, three shimmering white snowdrops had been planted, all soft and vulnerable against the rough grass.

We moved off across the undulating body of the goddess, through a gateway out across a road. Moving across the edge of Blackheath, we trod single file along a narrow path, down treacherous gravel scattered steps, across another road and into a wide flat field circled by trees.

Here on the springy soil of Maidenstone Hill near Blackheath, we honoured the well beneath with songs, poetry and stories. Bridie crosses planted, rose petrels scattered, chocolate shared, we gave thanks for the season and the day.
Striding back across the park, I saw in my mind’s eye, a stern but kind face, dark eyes watching, horns shining in the evening light. I saw him run, hooves thundering across the hills, his dogs streaming about him. And as I walked, I swear I heard the hounds baying, or was it distant bells, echoing across the land. The dark mother’s stone, the snow goddess’s well, Bridie’s Hill and Herne’s hunting ground lay all about me. All was watched by the trees, the standing people who had been here before we ever came and would remain long after we had gone.

Bridie’s Bed

Saturday February 2, 2008:

The ice-hard wind of winter’s end,
Gently rocks the fragile flower.
My fingers laced in thick ewe’s wool,
I wait beside the Bridie bed.

On Imbolc eve, I had made and placed a Bridie bed upon a low stool in front of my gas fire (the nearest thing I have to a hearth) Gently, my hands had line the oval basket with a beige woollen shawl, folded a piece of tan fake fur, lined it with a milky creamy silk scarf, arranged to make a warm and soft little nest. My fingers feasted on the roughness of the wool, the softness of the fur and the smooth coolness of the silk as I turned down the edges invitingly.

On an offerings plate nearby, I had placed a tiny glass of water, a mini bowl of seeds, my travel alter in it’s small silk pouch, a round stone taken from a beach in Cornwall near the end of the last pilgrimage and a small piece of rowan twig, wound round with red wool. Making sure all was in place, I crept away to bed.

On Imbolc night, I sat down beside the Bridie bed. My curious fingers delved amongst the wool and silk, something was different. Surely this was not how I had left it?

We’re at winter’s end. Small flowers push nervous tips up out of the soil. The air is fragrant with their opening as they reach shining dew-blessed faces hopefully towards the pale returning sun.

In the fields, ewes heavily give up their new borns, huddle together against the bitter wind, their piteous bleets carried thinly upon its sharp tongue. Imbolc, Oimbolc, ewe’s milk, the year is still a bbaby, new, vulnerable but full of determined life. Beside the Bridie bed, I sit and dream.
The night is dark. I walk across the bare hills, She, the dark mother, crowned with stars is spread across the heavens. I am alone but not alone, I know that, yet I shiver in the biting wind that swoops across the hills and feel desolate.

I don’t know where I am going; I only know that I must keep walking. What I want is over the next hill or perhaps the one after that. I put my head down and tramp on.

Time passes. Surely I must be near? My feet have taken me up many a steep hill and down the other side. My knees shriek their protest once more as I top a hill and feel the full force of the wind on my chilled face.

Down in the valley, I am sheltered from the wind. I walk under a sky now dark and starless. I am weighed down with cares and move heavily.

At first, I smell them, coming to me on the night’s breath, grassy, decayed, sweet but sour. And then I hear them, frail bleets catching softly on the edge of my hearing. I turn to listen harder and notice a darker, dense and woollier place over on my right. Carefully, I edge my way slowly towards them.

And as I walk, the dark thickness grows grey and more distinct. Like a cluster of nebulous boulders at first, I soon see the outline of a flock of ewes huddled together for warmth. I move slowly towards them, following their soft bleating as though they are calling to me.

And then they are around me. Incurious pale faces, dark eyes watching as I move amongst them. I reach out and touch. Soft wool fills my hands and I lace its softness and curliness lovingly through my fingers.

As one, they move closer, sink down, I amongst them. I lie between them, held in a woolly embrace, cradled and safe. I sleep. They sleep. The dark sky canopies us.

There is a draft. What is it? I shift and reach out. Soft wall teases through my fingers as I struggle to sit up.

I look up. The black sky, a dark grey, silvers at its eastern edge, the hill over which I had climbed in the night, dark against the silver of the pre dawn sky. And as I watch, the hill is edged with gold and the tiniest finger point of sun pierces the loosened huddle of sheep surrounding me.

I rise and walk amongst my night’s companions. With gentle finger caresses, I thank them for their protection. They shift beneath my touch, heads down, purposefully breakfasting on the soft moist grass beneath us.

And then I am outside and walking away, across the flat plain, back to the hill behind which the sun is emerging. The grass beneath my feet shimmers with golden drops as the sun’s first rays light each blade. It is Imbolc and I walk from the shelter of the ewes out into a brand new day.

A clock on the gas fire ticked. The house creaked. I reached out and touched the soft warmth of the inside of Bridie’s bed, tenderly stroked the place that seemed different from when I made the bed the night before. “All hail the sheep that I will meet on my journeys this year”, I said as I got up to toddle off to my own bed. “And to you Bridie, and to all the infants so fragile but yet so strong, I send kisses … mwoiah!

watching Rowan

Friday February 1, 2008:

For a few years now, a lovely alter has sat at the foot of my rowan tree in the very heart of the garden. Several logs, (what was left of a huge laaylandia tree I had had to cut down (made the base, offerings from my various travels were strewn upon their rough tops.

At Samhain, I “planted” beside the logs a forked branch which had been cut from the nearby hornbeam tree during tree surgery). As the year moved through elder, I hung first a lantern, and then a shell. When the days shifted to Birch with the return of the sun, a holed stone on a red ribbon and finally a clutch of feathers bound in leather joined them. During my morning and evening prayers, it soon became my habit to gently touch these offerings, my symbols of the directions.

The year rolled into rowan’s time and I gathered small things to hang about the rowan tree. Soon, tiny chimes, a mini dream catcher and stone and glass beads like bracelets, graced her slim limbs and swung and jingled, dancing merrily in the boisterous wind.

On Bridie’s eve, which falls almost at the end of rowan, I stood honouring the rowan tree. Slim, smooth and graceful, arching branches like outstretched arms reached out; her bare branched beauty chiselling and separating the space above the garden alter. Below, on a round white saucer I had placed a ripe pomegranate, a seed-filled offering to the slowly waking garden.

The night was quiet. Earlier, I had sewn my Imbolc seeds with a friend and blessed the staff that had come to me at the end of the old calendar year and which was a symbol of the rightness of my journey to the trees. Its dark grey bark, creamy inner wood and columned shape spoke to me of beech, whilst its smooth bark slightly grained wood beneath said otherwise. Oval eyes spiralled around the shaft where branches had been cut from it invited my fingers to explore lovingly, the concentric circles of the grain.

Now I stood in prayer before the waiting rowan tree in the silent garden. Beyond it, the London traffic hummed contentedly. It was nearly midnight.

“Lovely tree” I said, reaching out and touching her smooth grace, “I pledge to pilgrimage to the trees this year, to the standing tree people who are your relatives and to all their spirits. I open myself to tree wisdom, and know I will be nurtured by strong tree trunks. I will dream and sing beneath sheltering branches and my words will honour the beauty of the trees and teach others to love them too. If they will let me, I will connect humbly with the spirits of the trees and I will worship the magnificence that is all trees, big or small, young or old. I pledge to love and protect the trees, for without you all, all humankind is doomed. I call to the element of earth, to hold me and ground me in this, my work for this year as I grow strong like the trees. Let my strength lead me to work in the world (when I am not with the trees) to work for love and respect for all peoples and especially to champion the rights of those whom others despise and would hurt. So mote it be!”

And it seemed to me that she shook her slim limbs as though to say “you’re welcome.” I bowed low and planted a kiss on her smooth trunk. Lifting the door of the lantern, I lit the candle that would shine throughout the night until the Imbolc dawn ... a symbol of my own eternal flame.