Sunday, November 16, 2008

Beyond the tender veil – Hampstead Heath

Friday October 31, 2008:

Dark and cold is the night,
Still and quiet is the earth,
Deep is the sleep of death,
Frail is the tender veil.

The night sky a dark dome sprinkled with stars curved over the rolling heath. We circled upon the grass to feed on the stillness of the earth, to mingle her energy with the starlight, embracing us in a shield of protection.

Halloween on the heath was busy. As we walked, revellers passed by us disappearing rapidly into darkness. Across the hill, others shrieked and laughed, and the air was tapestried with the sizzles and pops of exploding fireworks. Still the quiet undulating land called us to walk upon her softness.

Beneath the gentle spreading branches of the lime tree, we bound ourselves together in a snake and called to our circle the ancestors of blood, of place, of struggle and of love. Here when the veil between the worlds was thinnest, we walked through it in a slow walk of attention to meet and gain wisdom from those gone before.

Following a sombre heart-beat drum, the line of walkers moved slowly, placing our feet in the space left by that of the person in front. We snaked our way up and down the hillocks, between trees and bushes across the rounded belly of the heath.

Beside me, I felt the shadows come to walk, the grass flattening, the wind dropping as they moved close. AS We turned back upon ourselves a great presence came to move slowly beside me. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the glimpse of a great shaggy bear moving beside me on all fours. In my ear, I heard her low and ragged breathing growl, soft and comforting. Old beyond time and the world, she was steady in her movement.

And as we walked, I knew I could walk forever with her by my side. Deep was the feeling of comfort spreading through me, like a warm dry palm placed upon a fevered brow, a soothing gesture of compassion common to favourite grandmothers.

We turned again and I felt her slip away. I bowed my head in thanks and farewell and felt the cool evening wind upon my cheek again.

Back at the tree, we told our journeys stories. From one of my capacious pockets, I pulled a long sparkly glittery piece of ribbon and began to tie a fat flamboyant bow upon one of the yielding branches. “With this bow” I said, “ I honour the life and work of Paul Patrick, gay teacher, LGBT campaigner, flamboyant drama queen and all round brother in struggle.” To Seal my prayer, I threw back my head and committed to the lively heath a piercingly loud, best wobbly soprano rendition of “And this is my beloved” with lyrics appropriately perverted by an alter ego of blackbird Owl’s. As my voice soared into the dark night, I imagined Paul, lost in music, merrily and dramatically conducting my performance, his hands arabesquing wildly as I reached to wack the high notes inexpertly. My caterwauling done, I blew a kiss into the air, danced a little caper and bowed to the tree.

Each spoke our learnings from our journey our messages to and from the ancestors. The tree quietly accepted our prayers and gifts and we joined hands to embrace her and then each other before opening the circle to feast on miraculously produced goodies of all kinds.

Around us, the sky danced with stars. Fireworks soared into the night. The wind rustled the leaves and blew soft kisses upon our cheeks. We walked quietly back through the wild heath, still a turmoil of howls and hoots as others masqueraded and played with the spirits out to fiesta.


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