A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Saturday, May 15, 2010

3 The hooves and the fire

Saturday May 1, 2010:

The sun is out! The world is washed clean. Everything shines. It’s a lovely spring morning.

We walk under the acid green canopy of new oak leaves through the trees. Dark holly stands amongst them. Our feet step lightly upon the soft forest floor.

We cast and call, invoke and invite. We are here to acknowledge the sweet desire that dances with wild delight and at the greening time to dance the dance of life.

Aphrodite steps softly upon the forest floor. In her footsteps, flowers spring up. The birds in the trees sing, their silver song arching above our heads. Our hearts are filled with the love that nurtures and respects all.

In the beat of the drum, Herne stalks through the trees and all the animals of the forest creep from their hiding place to follow him. Gently, he surveys the green wood with satisfaction.

“First I speak for those of us come to this feast damaged by what has been done to trample Aphrodite’s gifts into the sand, behind the mask of sexual passion, hides abusive power, and disrespect for life. I name some of that pain. I banish it now!", says my sister priestess.

She continues: When the powerful and the priests still fail to hear the tears of the children torn apart in their name:”
Together she and I say: “Aphrodite rages, Herne stamps his mighty foot, Ardhanarishwara the androgynous blazes, the spirits of the land and the wild ones howl.”

“In lands locked in war and violence, when women’s and children’s bodies are treated as things to be claimed and torn:
Aphrodite rages, Herne stamps his mighty foot, Ardhanarishwara the androgynous blazes, the spirits of the land and the wild ones howl.

Wherever bodies are for sale in unsafe or disease-ridden places, because there is no other way for women or children to survive, or because they were trapped or live in fear of violence:
Aphrodite rages, Herne stamps his mighty foot, Ardhanarishwara the androgynous blazes, the spirits of the land and the wild ones howl.

At all the exchanges, too many to name here, that use so-called sexuality to dishonour human bodies, and the bodies of other living things, in some of our own histories and the lives we see around us:

Aphrodite rages, Herne stamps his mighty foot, Ardhanarishwara the androgynous blazes, the spirits of the land and the wild ones howl.

In the name of life, love and honour, I claim their sacred anger, and I banish the pain and destruction of these things.” (Words by PB)

I hold a piece of paper to the flame. The heat snaps at my fingers. I drop it into the greedy fire in the banishing cauldron, and let go of the empty place and the reason why it was created and with it, my rage.

The air is filled with the acrid smell of burning paper. The smoke wafts away on the wind, along with all that we no longer want.

Hoofs pound the earth in the voice of the drum. And I say as I beat the skin

“I call to the white horse that runs throughout the country, the white horse that is half woman half horse, seen out of the corner of an eye in the shadows under the trees and then gone again. Hear her hooves beating upon the green sword. Hear her neigh of joy as she canters forth. See her, head held high, her main or is it her hair flowing in the wind as she gallops across the country. Hear her now, "Epona, Epona, Epona, let me ride with thee!"

And I run with her. I dance with her, we stream out from under the dappled coolness of the woods into open country, our manes flying in the wind. I dance my desires into life, my dreams into fruition. I cook my
wishes with the heat of my sweat as I run with her under the Beltane sun. I resolve to fill the gap left by what I banished.!

One by one, we jump the Beltane fire. It smoulders smokily. Beside it, our decoy fire, (tea lights in a shiny silver bowl) sits innocently.

We sing and dance, moving in and out of our circle with our May ribbons, weaving an intricate plat of hopes and desires, for ourselves, our community and the world.

And just as we are finishing, from out of the wood comes striding three fire fighters! They amble up to us curiously, come to see what all the smoke is about. We stop dancing and smile foolishly at them.

My companion’s point to our “fire” the innocent bowl of tea lights and the harmless gently puffing little fat bellied cauldron.

“It’s a £400 fine for lighting a fire in the wood”, says one of them.

“What fire?” we say, wide eyed an innocent. The fire-fighters laugh and wish us an enjoyable rest of ritual. They remark that it is a nice day for a walk in the woods and stroll back through the trees from whence they came.

The day is still warm. Though the sun has now gone in, the air is fresh and green. We drink sweetly fragrant berry juice and pass round delicious biscuits, fruit and truffles as we feast in thanks giving for the growing greenness of the land and the cooking of our desires.

Above our heads the birds sing on, as they gaze westwards to the glow that is where the sun hides. And I swear I hear a gentle crunching of twigs under hoof and the soft whinny of a horse just outside the grove of oak and holly in which we stand.

2 Singing in the rain!

Saturday May 1, 2010:

“Gorse shines flame bright, bluebells pooled at her feet.
Rainwashed green leaves are tightly beaded with May”

The sweet promise of spring has gone. For three weeks now, the sun has been shining; the air balmy; the plants have reached out cold limbs and burst forth. In the time between the last cold wind and today, my rowan tree has gone from thin bare branches shivering in the bitter wind, to leafy opulence in feathery greenness. She is fully clothed and spring indeed has come!

But that was until the day before yesterday. It has been raining almost nonstop for 48 hours now. Fond ideas of traipsing through the warm dry heath land are forgotten as I put on my walking boots and pack my American Army cagoule! I put an extra layer under my green jingly jesters outfit and leave the house.

It is an hour or more away from dawn and yet the street corner blackbirds sing as though to say,”Merry May! “As the cab turns every corner. I open the window and stick my ear out, so eager am I to hear their glorious song.

By the bridge between the houses, a particularly loud blackbird is singing. I fold my hands, bow to him and blow him a kiss. I trumpet in response to his singing and call out “Morning Mr Blackbird!”

The sky lies low overhead. It’s not actually raining. All around us the grass, bushes and trees drip. Despite this, a bubbling chorus of birds are singing already and the east is not yet light.

I place a chaplet of exotic flowers upon my head and secure them with my hat. I jingle fragrantly and gently off up the Parliament Hill.

High up on Parliament Hill, the air is damply cool. London lies sleeping below us. Canary Warf is tinged with a pink expectancy although sunrise is an hour away still.

As is our way, we have a bit of a sing and dance. The ‘Obby ‘Oss skips about. We move on up to the circle of pines and dance in and out of them for some unknown reason singing “the Sky boat Song!” Ah the mysteries of public pagan rites on hamstead heath at dawn. Everyone very much enjoys the sing, as we all know the words and it is a jolly good tune!

The bench and the fence minus its nasty spikes doesn’t seem so daunting this morning as I easily slip over into Boadicea’s Mount. I stand under a prickly gorse bush, flaming with flower in the gloom of the dawn, my feet in a pool of English bluebells.

On top of the mount, we make our wishes, share chocolate and sing a welcome to the sun, rising now behind the clouds beyond the tall buildings of the city far below us. The air thins and I know that the sun is somewhere, imagine its warmth, bow low in salute.

Under the dove grey sky, soft as a pigeon’s chest, we dance across the heath. Stepping over the rivulets, treading carefully across the moist mud, we sing as we go. Everything is green as green can be. The may is mostly not out, except in warm sun catching pockets where it is frothed with the first opening of the flowers. Gorse shines fierily and little bluebells dance in the wind. The birds accompany us along our path, silvering the air with their song as we move across the soft yielding earth.

The heath is deserted. Aside from it being a Saturday, the heavy rain of the night before and the threatening morning skies keep all but the hardiest of dog walkers away. Rhined with rain, the new leaves of the oak woods shine acidly. Our path winds on between the trees, across the green, until we turn into a clearing where the Kenwood Well sits neatly in its marble setting.

We dance around the well and sing. We drink the waters, make blessings to each other and the earth, we sing some more and the birds sing too.

But it is time for breakfast. We leave the well and walk back across the heath. AS we walk, the sky lowers and it begins to rain. Our party-coloured apparel is soon shrouded in sensible rainwear as we walk beneath the glittering morning song of the birds.

Playing with Fire!

This year, I pledge to play with fire! As a blind person, playing with fire might prove to be a little more dangerous than to a sighted person. When I feel fire, I am close to it. Physically I can’t actually hold it for any time or it will burn me. I don’t know where it is exactly until I touch it.

That having been said, I feel a stubborn determination rise within me, like a fire snaking through my core. I say “Ok, so it’s going to be a wee bit more challenging – but when have I ever let that stop me?”

So here’s the beginning of my personal mythology about fire. Here’s what I’m going to try to do.

A fire for all seasons

Here, I invent my own mythology of the wheel of the year of fire. Like trees and birds, I reach out and take fire, shaping it to my own purpose as it allows me, following it around the wheel, starting at Beltane (of course).

But it’s Beltane now and why haven’t I started? This slowness, twinned with the slow greening of the earth this year is not, I learn with relief, me failing to get round to thinking of my quest (though of course it is true that I haven’t finished the preparation yet!).

A queer pagan colleague commented to me on Beltane Eve, that it didn’t feel like Beltane because the May was not out. The calendar says Beltane but the earth has not finished what she needs to do to prepare for the glory of the greening. AS I stand in the rain or shiver in the cold north wind in my garden, I know, it’s not time yet.

Now I don’t feel so bad about not having got started. The May in my garden is still not out 2weeks after Beltane. Well I can’t wait for ever so need to get down to it.

Beltane is the fire of desire, the fire of the growing summer sun. It’s traditional to jump the Beltane fire to grow those desires. As I begin, it’s also the time to learn to make fires.

Summer Solstice
The sun is at its hottest, lie in it! Create an arch or ring of fire which symbolizes the perfect “o” of the hot sun. Do night ritual from dusk to dawn using candles or even working with a fire all night bridging the darkness between sundown and sunrise. Light a beacon on a hill or make a fire on a beach.

The sun is in the grain, the grain goes to the bread to feed our bodies. Create bread baking fires. Build a hay box or clay oven and make bread. Ceremoniously make bread in my own oven. Visit a bakery where bread is made and learn to make the bread.

Autumn Equinox
The nights draw in. the fire in the woods is warming. That smoky sweetness of autumnal wood fires invites stories around the fire. Find a place where they still do charcoal burning. Work with the ancestral resonance about the charcoal fire in the woods and my father’s line which I only feel but don’t actually know.

Make and work with the fire of the ancestors. Go to bonfires like at Lewis – fires as funeral pyres, fires that burned those that society did not approve of.

Sleep beside the hearth fire on the longest night. Sit beside the fire and tell stories and sing songs to while away the long nights. An evening of stories and song by my humble gas fire!

The forge fire, perhaps visiting a blacksmith's forge. Work with metal and heat – perhaps spend some time with a silversmith? This is the festival of the crown of candles, make one and wear it in ceremony.

The earth begins to warm as the leaves and flowers unfurl and lift their heads to welcome the growing warmth of the sun. Construct a spiral or labyrinth of candles and dance or walk it just before dawn in ceremony.

Fire Craft

I suspect I’m frightened of fire, like I suspect that I’m frightened of passion and the extremes of emotions. In this year where I explore those dangerous places, I shall learn to make fires of different kinds.

Fire takes four magical forms - coal, flame, arc and star. My magical colleague Rash writes about them as follows:

“Ember or Coal – Our basic survival level of energy, we are born with this. It is more sustainable in comparison to the flame, arc or star, but not forever – it must be fed in order to become the flame.

Flame – represents our work, our intentions, food, sex, physical activities, and all things that need to be fed by a strong bed of coals. Flame and ember need each other to keep a steady, strong and sustainable flow.
Arc – the flash of inspiration and powerful insights, the strong energy of creative thought and action. This fire is also connected to the welder’s torch – it can connect two disparate things but cannot create or form the things itself.

Star – ecstasy, spiritual connection, and the ecstatic point reached in intense prayer and/or meditation, great sex, or wild dancing or running. Valuable insights and an extreme sense of connection to the point of feeling consumed by it, but are not sustainable. We cannot remain in star fire for long, but we can feed our human lives with it, raising the level of the basic fires of ember and flame. We can work to bring into our everyday lives, inspiration and creativity. Life force feeds life force.”

What will a year be like exploring these four fires? I sit with the thought and wait for illumination, which I know will surely come.

Fire walks are used in personal development work. They are marks of a rite of passage. We cross the burning coals from one place to another. The thought of doing a fire walk scares me (somehow I think that’s a good thing!!).

Can I really learn to play with fire? There are fire juggling courses. Chucking burning torches about might be a bit risky (ah-ah resist the desire to say, “ok so I’ll do it! ‘cause sometimes knowing what is fool-hardy and not doing it is good!) But I could wave a fire pole around though couldn’t I? So I need to go and ask clowning and fooling friends to help me identify a course.

There are many other ceremonies to do with different kinds of fire. My magical colleague Leaf told me about this one.

“Fire scrying is a method of divination sometimes used by Witches to see events of the past, present and future. The practice can be performed by burning driftwood by the seashore after the sun has set. (It may be performed in other locations as well by burning other types of wood.) After the wood is well burned, and begins to die, place a cedar log, a juniper log, and three good handfuls of sandalwood chips. Let the fire burn well. Then as the fire dies down again gaze deep into the dying embers. In the embers one can see scenes of the past, present and future. Sometimes they are actual scenes, but more often they are symbolic scenes needing interpreting. The fire use in this divinatory method is frequently called the "Fire of Azrael" as described by Dion Fortune in The Sea Priestess.

There is also an incense recipe if fire is not possible. Use equal parts juniper, sandalwood and cedar.”

Now as a blind person, I have an interesting relationship to scrying. Gazing into anything can’t be done for I physically see nothing. Sitting with fire and letting my inner sight free to wander is the way I usually do it. It’s the same for the gazing into a candle flame thang that is often done. I often use the proximity of touch to help me connect with that inner sight and perhaps, I can scry with my ears as the fire snaps and cracks.

My magical colleague Anne-Marie advises that “a great smokeless fire recipe is as follows; iron cauldron of any size (though the bigger it is the more fuel you need) and it is very effective in small form. Fill the bottom with Epsom salts or they may be called mineral salts here. Pour rubbing alcohol or maybe its mineral spirits here until you have a nice thin to thick layer above the salts. This fire burns very blue and lasts a long time.”

She also told me about the Druid Need Fire. “The Druids used a combination of 9 woods for a need fire. On the eve of Beltane the Celts build two large fires, created from the nine sacred woods, in honour of summer. The tribal herds were ritually driven between them, so as to purify and protect them in the upcoming year. The fires celebrate the return of life and fruitfulness to the earth. Celebration included frolicking throughout the countryside, dancing the Maypole, leaping over fires, and "going a maying". It was customary for young lovers to spend the night in the forest.'

The woods are;

And then there are the fire deities. Who are they and what could I do with each of them? Maybe I’ll find one for each festival and connect in that way?