A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hunting for Hazel – Walthamstow

Friday august 22, 2008:

This small deciduous tree was considered by Celts to be the tree of knowledge and its nuts the repository of great wisdom. Many legends associate it with the salmon, for the Celts, the most sacred of fish.

Hazel grows mainly in hedgerows and is most commonly coppiced for its flexible and sturdy wood. The nuts can be eaten straight from the tree and are beloved by small animals and humans alike.

Hazel like the salmon is associated with speed. Its shoots and twigs are used for dousing. Esteemed as a plant of great virtue, hazel is said to be able to cure fevers, diarrhoea and excessive menstrual flow, although there are not many specific healing uses of hazel.

Perhaps the most healing aspect of the hazel is its atmosphere, which uplifts and helps the seeker to cast off the old and embrace the new. Ruled by mercury, hazel is associated with air, and the deities associated with it are Hermes, Mercury, Thor, Mac Coll and Aengus.

Hazel is used for divining, luck, fertility, projection and wishes. It provides the frames for many objects from baskets to coracles via benders and hoops.

I’d had a hard time finding any hazels to sit under this month. The land on which I camped with the queer pagans had only one small shrivelled example, and although there was a wood nearby with coppiced hazel, I never got there. I contented myself with eating hazel nuts, savouring their creamy sweetness and hoping to encounter a hazel before the month was out. And then I remembered Hazel Tina!

My dead chosen sister had loved trees. She had given a hazel tree to another member of my chosen family on the occasion of her move to a new house. Ten years on, Hazel Tina, as the tree was named was a multi trunked riot of velvety leaves and bendy branches, surrounded by Hazel Tinies which had grown around her. As the sun sank down behind the houses, I climbed into Hazel Tina and settled down to dream.

The wind blew sharply across the suburban gardens, shaking the trees and rocking me as I lay entangled with Hazel Tina. I lent my head against her rough bark and wrapped my limbs amongst her trunks and breathed.

The sweet fresh tang of crushed leaves mixed with the darker richer roundness of the fertile earth. The garden smelled sweet and autumnal.

I popped a hazel nut into my mouth. I sucked its sweet creaminess, a rich comforting taste which reminded me of my childhood. The garden squirrels had eaten Hazel Tina’s own fruit so the ones I now savoured were courtesy of the supermarket. Still they tasted good. It was enough.

From beneath my feet, a snake began to curl up around the tree and a second, coiled and rotated on the other side. The roots of the tree seemed to be coming up out of the ground and curling up about the tree in the shape of pale snakes. I felt a soft heaviness about my ankles and found a snake preparing to slither up my leg. I held my breath, fear and anxiety dancing with curiosity and disbelief. The snake changed direction and flowed over my feet to the trunk of the tree.

The wind seized the tree and I trembled with it, weaving my limbs further in amongst the trunks, reaching out curious fingers and stroking the velvety almost heart shaped leaves on the ends of their graceful stalks. Then behind the roar of the nearby North Circular, the wind brought another sound to me. A light voice, a tuneful voice, a voice I recognised sang. The tune curled in and out of the trees, wordless but joyful. Like a mist, it came to dance around me and I felt my own voice stirring in my throat. Softly, almost under my breath, I joined my voice to hers and we chased each other on the wind amongst the shaking trees.

And as I sang I thought about the seven years that had gone by since her death and my journey to this place. What would the next years hold for me in this time of upheaval?

I lay against the trunks, rocking with the wind and singing quietly. The tree swung and swayed and the leaves rustled softly. Across the garden, a pigeon cooed contentedly. I sighed and rubbed my face against the velvety leaves.

If only I could stay here for ever. Remembering where I was, reluctantly I climbed out and stood in front of Hazel Tina. Reaching out to trace her shape, I marvelled at the abundance of leaves and branches. Amongst her, ivy and privet laced their long stems; she was part of an untidy hedge providing shelter for all manner of garden creatures including humans who loved trees.

I found the hazel nuts and scattered them at her feet, popping the occasional one into my mouth and chewed on their dense richness. I hoped that the mice and birds would enjoy the bounty of the supermarket nuts, as they had feasted upon her own fruit.

And now it was time to search out my own dinner. I bowed my thanks to her and moved back through the leafy evening garden.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wind dancing, the jigging willows and the drums – Broadoak, Dorset

Tuesday August 12 - , Thursday August 14, 2008:

The wind flung out its arms and charged across the field roaring. Seizing great big tents by the scruff of their necks, it shook them ferociously, dislodging pegs and ropes, sending damp occupants scurrying from under bright splashes of wet flapping nylon.

The slate grey sky hung low on the top of the hedgerow. The long grass bowed low by the weight of the insistent rain was knotted and matted. The elements were making their presence felt and the only thing to do was to join in the headlong riot.

Seizing my companion’s hand, I pulled him into the swirling, circling dance. We flung out our arms, throwing our heads back and began to sing to the wind. It snatched our song and tossed it high into the air. But it could not stop us singing.

A bird chirruped clearly in the teeth of the storm and suddenly there was stillness, a momentary lull in the gale before it began again, only this time not quite as strong as before. Had we appeased the weather spirits?

The marquee was dancing a wild fandango. Great flaps of wet canvas slapped and flipped. We sat in a circle, watching from the corner of our minds eye who knows what. I know what I found. A dark presence, with wild black hair, a swarthy face, a small fist clutching a light coloured stone which, when I accepted it, turned out to be heavy and a dull gold and which disappeared when I put it in my pocket.

But the wind called me outside. In a circle of willows, I danced with the central one. She perhaps about eight feet tall, waved and swayed frenziedly. I hopped about in front of her, reaching out from time to time to stroke her graceful limbs and feathery leaves. She was so beautiful; I didn’t want to leave her. But the circle of willows was calling me to dance.

I capered about the circle, playfully tousling the long grass, weaving in and out of the trees. And all around me, out of the corner of my minds eye, I saw small beings dancing amongst the long grass, as high to them as a forest. Lost in my dance, I forgot the time and would have remained there had my companion not dragged me back to the can-canning marquee.

The sweetly sour smell of crushed grass assailed my nostrils. I breathed deeply as my drumstick hit the taught skin of my remo. “Boom-boom, ha boom-boom; boom-boom, ha boom-boom …” sang out my drum. I began to rock as out of the depths of the marquee energies came to dance with the dancers and bears, stags, wolves, butterflies and all manner of creatures claimed the grassed dance floor.

Blackbird Owl soared up to the top of the marquee and looked down upon the scene. Dancers and their totems moved in a never-ending swirl of limbs. In the shadows other small creatures danced.

Blackbird Owl flew out of the marquee and across the field. The oaks in the centre swayed in time to the beat, the very hedgerows shimmered and in every corner, the folk danced in and out of the rocking branches. She circled the central fire pit and watched non-dancers, swaying and moving, their eyes on nothing and everything ahead of them.

Blackbird Owl called to the twilight, a crescent of sweet fluting that echoed across the field and made the dancing ones turn. Lowering her head, she soared back into the marquee.

“Boom-boom, ha boom-boom; boom-boom, ha boom-boom …” I rocked on my chair as the rhythm pulsed through me. And then, like a swooping bird, the drumming slowly diminished. Across the cross beats came the call to close and we came to stillness, only the rasping breath of the dancers punctuating the quiet air.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Pool of tears – Finsbury Park

Saturday August 2, 2008:

That dull sky was sitting on my head again. I couldn’t decide whether to boil and be dry or to be cool and damp. The choice was taken from me as the skies suddenly opened and spat warm globules of rain all over me.

Diving for the trees, my companions and I sheltered under a tarp, our backs against a teenage oak tree. The Reclaiming Lamas ritual was in danger of being rained off. Perhaps we should retire to a leafy garden with access to cover?

I stepped into the garden. A cool and untidy tangle of trees held me and I was pulled on and on down to the secret circle at the bottom. No matter the chuntering of the occasional passing train down in the cutting below, the traffic could not be heard, the trees around us looked on and held the space.

Someone had created a magical circle of logs. At the centre, a small shrine scattered with stones, shells and other offerings held the space. We cast our circle and the spirits of the garden watched.

The insistent drum beat rocked the trees and challenged the magpies, who clattered back. “My intention is to journey to harvest my grain and let go of the chaff …” Three times, the journeyers spoke out their intension and then the drum beat pounded like the hooves of a cantering stag on the sloping meadow of a curving hillside.

I was in a cave. A fire danced bright. I stood by it but it offered nothing except a sense of enclosed comfort. I moved out into a green space, a leafy tree-lined glade with a carpet of mossy grass encircling a white stone clad pool.

Someone tenderly lowered me into it. I lay, bathed in the warm saltiness. Hands gently cupped water and dribbled it upon my head. Carefully I was turned and the water scooped up washing my skin clean. Overwhelmed with the tenderness of the act, I began to weep great hot salt tears of grief and sadness. Slowly the pool filled to brimming.

Soft firm hands took me and pulled me out. I lay on the grass in the sun, my fingers trailing in the warm salty water. There was nothing to do but be.

The sun shifted, slanted low across the clearing. I sat crouched behind a cool leafy bush, watching. In the warm orange glow, a small grey squirrel came running, sniffed at the water, turned on hind legs as though to survey the trees an then darted off. I sat still leaning into the shrub, my naked skin softly caressed by their cool gentle heart-shaped leaves. Oh if only I could stay here for ever.

I wondered what my chaff was, the thing that had served me and that I no longer needed? There was that white clad round still pool, the pool of my tears. Could I let go of that? If I could only spend more time sitting in bushes, resting in quiet and green spaces, listening to my heartbeat, listening to the birds and the animals and the very sighing of the grass, surely I could. Then I would feel renewed and could let go of the tears.

And the drum beat slowed to a heartbeat. And I found myself sitting on a log in a leafy cool and quiet North London garden playing a drum. A gust of wind blew the smoke from our fire around me. I breathed its evocative sweet yet pungent smell and sighed, feeling my heart revolve contentedly.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Holly Queen - Queen’s Wood

Sunday July 27, 2008:

It was cooler under the trees, yet the dampness of the thick air still clung to our sticky limbs. On the edge of a grove of young hollies, we sat down to make our circle for our early Lamas celebration.

My companion read from The Spiral Dance, By Star hawk:

This is the wake of Lugh, the Sun King who dies with the waning year, and the Corn King who dies when the grain is reaped. We stand now between hope and fear, in the time of waiting. In the fields, the grain is ripe but not yet harvested. We have worked hard to bring many things to fruition, but the rewards are not yet certain. Now the Mother becomes the Reaper, the Implacable One who feeds on life that new life may grow. Light diminishes, the days shorten, and summer passes. We gather to turn the Wheel, knowing that to harvest we must sacrifice, and warmth and light must pass into winter."

We cast the circle and sat quietly under the prickly bough of the holly tree. From another grove, the sound of a flute moved in and out of a steadily beating drum. Leaves shifted in the breeze and childrens voices echoed amongst the trees.

Sunlight and shadows fell across the tangle of scattered leaves and twigs beneath the tree. At its base, a darker pool seemed to suck the sunlight in. I watched in fascination, noting with a sense of detachment the different greens, browns and greys that made up the forest floor. Leaves rolled over with each gust of wind as others scratched at each other in the boughs above.

It wasn’t a big tree. My fingers would touch if I encircled it. The darkness at the base moved. Something was slowly curling around the tree. I stared closer.

A dark head began to rise. Two shining yellow points like dappled sunlight faced me then were gone as it turned. Slowly the darkness began to encircle the trunk and I saw against the green grey of the bark, a shinier long smooth green body of a snake, as thick as the trunk, spiralling carefully up the tree.

I held my breath as the elegant head disappeared amongst the holly leaves. The trunk was completely entwined, embraced and held. It was beautiful. The snake and the tree fitted. The dark green against the mossy grey green, the shiny body against the rough bark . Just perfect.

And as I gazed, the two became one, the dark lightened and before me the tree, became a soft ivory green-tinged curving body of a beautiful woman with sharp jagged green hair. I gazed deeply into her dark eyes and was lost.

”Be angry when you have cause and not before you need to be. Be angry and let your anger burn like the hottest fire and then let it die. And when it is dead, let it go, for if you don’t, it will consume you.”

I bowed to her in acknowledgement. The breeze shook the leaves and in the space left by a swaying bough, I caught the glimpse of a dark horned head silhouetted against the light sky before a branch swung two obscure it again.

Carefully I picked up a fallen holly leaf. I stroked its sharp prickles, allowing it to puncture my skin, feeling it draw blood.

“I stand between hope and fear, in the time of waiting. There’s nothing to do but to be here now then is there?” I said to my companion, opening the container of cherries and offering them to her. I picked up two, tied them together by their stems and hung them on a holly branch which bowed with their weight. They swung heavily on their twig. I imagined them, read against the dark green, curved against the angular leaves. An early harvest for the holly tree, a summer whimsy heralding the winter bounty to come. Tenderly, I stroked a swinging globe and turned to feast upon our small shop bought harvest.

Following the waters - Greenwich Park

Friday July 25, 2008:

I lay on my stomach in the shade of the holly tree near the Motherstone at Greenwich Park and listened to the world beyond. The sun pushed thick hot fingers through the sticky air. Beads of sweat coursed slowly down my neck. I breathed deeply, allowing the dark, sharp holly smell to fill me.

I was swimming. It was cool. The water was quite deep as it ran cleanly through the dark tunnels. I cleaved through it, moving strongly, lithely and elegantly. Only the sound of my limbs entering and leaving the water could be heard, echoing against the arched brickwork. The growing light lit dark gaping mouths in the curved walls on either side and sparkled on the moving water flowing from them into the larger channel in which I moved.

I found myself staring out of an arch onto a green hillside. The water flowed on into a dark tunnel under the earth. The only way I could swim on was to continue under water. I climbed out and stepped through the opening into the dazzling light of a summer’s afternoon.

A rolling meadow fell away to the banks of a great serpentine river far down below. Beyond its grey glittering expanse, green hills rose in the distance. Near the bottom of the hill stood a jagged holly tree, its dark leaves, shiny, its boughs glittering with light green beads that in winter would turn blood red. The water was calling me back.

Curiosity got the better of me and I slipped back into the cool flowing water took a huge breath and dived deep down through the submerged tunnel into the gloom. At a place where the darkness was opaque, another arching doorway led me out on to a steep hill to a scene of utter desolation. Blasted grey grass, scuffed into cindery patches lay silently under a gunmetal grey sky. Nothing moved, the curving earth seemed to have died. Where the holly tree had stood was a blackened stump. I sat down amongst the ashes and wept.

A sharp breeze blew across the bare hillside. The wind disturbed the ashes. I looked down and saw, poking out from amongst the blackened leaves, a little green shoot, and the tiniest of curling leaves slowly unfurling before me. And there was another, and another. Before my eyes, the stump began to sprout delicate shoots which pushed out towards the grey sky, uncurling hopeful tender leaves to sit and shiver in the wind. The tree was alive!

Beneath the earth, the waters rumbled, calling me back. I got up and bowed to the tree and climbed back down under ground.

The light under the water shimmered red and gold. I swam towards it and emerged into a high domed chamber, in the middle of which was a snapping, crackling fire of holly wood and leaves. I couldn’t help myself, I had to dance. The energy of the fire had me leaping amongst its flames. My dance became lighter, softer and gentler. I leaned into the heat of the fire as it rose, allowing myself to float up towards the daylight, to drift across the green hill until I came to rest, belly down beneath the arching sheltering fierce boughs of the holly tree.

“Mummy, I can smell joss sticks”, said a small Childs voice just beyond the curtain of hanging holly leaves. I breathed deeply and allowed the dark green leafy odour wreathed in burning lavender to bring me back to the present. I lay spread on the ground, by belly to the earth, my legs scratched by fallen holly leaves. The world outside was calling and I wished it would go away.