A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Saturday, June 26, 2010

6 Solstice Faerie fire – Battle, East sussex

Sunday June 20 and Monday June 21, 2010

“A ring of hands connect
Enclose and hold the Solstice fire
From Dark to dawn
From light to dark and back again
They turn the wheel of life.”

The evening air is gently warm. My companion says that the sky above is partly covered in soft cloud and the half moon is beginning to sail between the trees. It will not rain tonight.

I totter precariously upon the jagged ruts carved by a heavy wheel into the soft earth of this field embraced by trees. Here amongst the folds of East Sussex, within sniffing distance of the sparkling sea, I join radical faeries to make a queer spirit circle to honour the sun.

The fire is already roaring. It’s the solstice fire I have dreamed of, burning merrily and fragrantly into the falling night. I sit down by it and get out my knitting!

Gathered together, we take each other’s hands, breathe as one and call the directions and the spirits of the land to be with us. Our intension is to take the dusk to meet the dawn with a fire to celebrate the sun and all it brings to us for now and for the coming dark.

I think about the sun dying at Solstice and the gift of energy to the growing world. Still the sun will shine for the rest of the year, though the days grow shorter. Its heat will nourish all growing things; feed them so that they may feed us in the winter months. Until the cold days of winter are upon us, we can still celebrate being outdoors under a kind sky with a cheerful fire to keep us company.

The faeries are jovially chatting away. I let my irritation leave on the evening breeze and allow the circle to be. Someone is drumming. A song starts. The first of our fire repertoire unabashedly misremembered unites us all.

“We will rise up from the flames,
Higher and Higher and Higher.
Fire’s strength we will reclaim,
Higher and higher and higher.
We are the witches, who will never be burned (never be burned again).
We are the witches
Who have learned how it is to be free!”

I struggle to remember the other ten verses and then let the anxiety go. This is not a choir rehearsal! It’s a celebration and it doesn’t matter if the songs are not perfect!

Into the soft drumming, I remember a fire chant. Taught by a friend as we coaxed an illicit fire on Hastings Naturist beach into being, under a fierce wind. It’s a short chant with a complex rhythm and everyone attempts to sing it, producing their own variations on the theme in a counterpoint of bold uncertainty which brings life to the chant.

Make of my heart a burning fire, fire.
As from the Sun, the moon, the stars,

I sit and knit. The fire sings. We sing. Around us the land is putting itself to bed. In the distance an animal cries, piercingly, plaintively, wildly. Is that a fox, I wonder, or a querulous dog? I stretch my ears beyond the singing chattering circle as the voice of the wild cries to the night.

I dredge another fire song from my memory and give it to the circle. Three dykes, all of us enthusiastic singers lead our fae brothers in the song.

“Fire, sacred fire, burning through the night
Come to me in the dreamtime, bring me visions of light.
Circle round, spiral down to these arms open wide
Healing light, burning bright, dry these tears that I cried.”

The night moves on. The drums fade into silence and then are enlivened again by another hand. Someone starts a song and the circle takes it up. In the distance, beyond the voices, I hear an owl hoot.

The fire crackles and spits. The soft ashy thud of a branch submitting to the flames blows a fragrance of resin sweetness to me. I breathe in deeply and see in my mind the wood uncurling, letting go of resistance and falling deeply into the energy of the fire.

We sit in silence. The fire sings to us. The owl calls beyond the tree. Something else shrieks, a game bird perhaps or a lost seagull confused by the lightness of the night sky?

Soft feet pad on the grass behind me and I know that the folk are present too. I incline my head, stretching out the edges of my closed eyes without turning to “look”. In the shadows, they move and I am sure I can see their eyes shining in the firelight.

What has fire to teach me, I ask myself, my fingers twisting and turning the wool as the shawl, blanket thingy I’ve been knitting for two years, slowly increases in size? Another log rolls over and gives itself to the fire. I imagine the flames licking hungrily at the wood, consuming, transforming, purifying all.

Putting my knitting down for a moment, I reach out to the fire and draw its heat towards me. I spend a lot of energy effecting change in the world. This is my Work, I know. But sometimes I struggle to transform that which cannot be transformed, wasting vital energy that could be used for something else. I am often engrossed by the stupidity of everyday inaccessibility and exclusion, so that I’ve no umph to fight the bigger fight. I give to the fire that sense of frustration and ask it to help me let go of the frustration of exclusion.

We sit on by the fire as the night sky begins to lighten. From time to time, a song breaks out, dances with the beat of a drum and then falters into silence. All around, quiet conversations move and shift gear. The air begins to thin.

An owl screeches. Another hoots. In the distance a golden arpeggio of song breaks into the coolness of the pre dawn air. A blackbird begins to sing.

I turn to hear him better and catch the owl hooting back. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard the blackbird and the owl duetting! Inside my chest I feel the two parts of me unite and move together as though to dance a little silent jig of delight and discovery. I feel my face split into the most enormous happy smile.

“Listen,” I say to the assembled company, “I can hear the blackbird and the owl singing together!”No one takes any notice, but I don’t care. I am whole and perfect and content. I’ve brought the dusk to meet the dawn and the sun is about to rise.

Later, on the 05:31 train to London from battle I sit amongst silent strangers. Half asleep commuters shield themselves with their newspapers from the reality of another day and the rest of humanity. I breathe deeply, and behind that warm alkaline smell of newsprint, I catch the softer smokier perfume of the fire.

“Blessed be the fire of our desire.
Blessed be her courage, blessed be our love.”

Ah, I’ve remembered that chant that has been on the edge of my memory all night. I hum it quietly to myself as I settle back in the train seat to snooze until London.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Pigeon's Gift

Tuesday June 8, 2010:

I settle in the shade upon a rough stone wall encircling an old olive tree. The stone is scratchy against my thinly protected thighs. I’ve been sun worshipping all morning and now it is a relief to be in the shade. I breathe and still my mind.

A brisk breeze dances through the orchard. It rattles the dry leaves of the olive trees. From time to time, they scatter narrow pointed leaves upon me as I sit. On the other side of the garden, a blackbird cheerfully sings. I tune into his song, a merry salute to the sun and the day. On the wind, the town clock comes dancing, chiming the hour.

Sunlight shines through the tall window and gleams upon the polished wood of the coffin. The floor is mat grey beneath it. Parallel Rows of pews, filled with still people, are ruled across the square space as though by a precise and neat hand, wielding a great ruler. . I see the dark heads of the chief mourners, bowed and still.

Organ music swells, the congregation rise and the big space is filled with their singing. High above them, I join in unseen and unheard by any of them. My soft dove’s voice is lost amongst the swelling song

A child, now adult stands and speaks of her mother. She speaks of shared moments, of how she is changed because of that mother's gifts to her. She is talking of love.

My fingers explore beneath the dried layer of leaves. They find hard ridged olives, gritty, impenetrable and tough. I can’t imagine these stone like fruits bursting forth with salty power in the mouth as they yield softly to an exploring tongue. But these little bullets when prepared and marinade in an ageless recipe do become moist and succulent. After a struggle to eat them, I have learned to love and enjoy them.

I dabble my bare feet in the cool grass. The wind teases the bottom of my kaftan. The air is sweet with the smell of newly cut grass.

Churches, even the most low church-like of the average c of e London church, have a certain smell about them. A slight whiff of dusty book pages, something floral perhaps and something else, hard to name. I flit across the ceiling, watching the congregation stand and sing, sit and listen. I watch the sunlight play on the polished wood of the still coffin, while a mother's children, grandchildren of blood and by partnership, rise, speak of her and then sit again. I look down on them, now orfanned though they be middle-aged, still, sad, waiting.

A delicate grey-white feather, born on a hidden draft spins, spirals and settles down upon the polished coffin. It lies gently trembling in the shimmering patch of sunlight.

The bells drift to me from the other side of the valley. The hour is up. In London, the coffin is bourn away by willing bearers. I watch the feather as it trembles, begins to lift and then is snatched up and tossed into the air, as the coffin slides into the hearse.

Farewell. Thank you for being a mother." I sing in my pigeon's voice. I circle above the figures gathered together on the pavement.

I shift on my uncomfortable wall. The blackbird has stopped singing. I strain my ears to hear his voice amongst the constant twittering of the sparrows, but he is silent. I pat the tree and getting up, begin to move towards the stairs. And as I ascend the stairs, I hear the gentle, mournful coo of a collar dove.

"Droo-droo-droo", it sings sadly. "Droo-droo-droo", I sing back.

5 Sun worshipping

Monday June 7, 2010:

I lie in the sun. Stark naked and smeared with sun tan cream, I allow my limbs to relax and stay where I leave them.

Softened by a scratchy old blanket, the earth beneath me holds me unconditionally. The bumpy thick leafy grass cushions me. The sun burns down, heating my skin. I am beginning to glow. I feel my bones sigh with thanks.

The gusty wind here is gentler, close to the ground. Yet it is still determined to make its presence felt. The mountains shape this valley and offer a bowl in which the wild wind can dance. It dances round and round. Days go by before it finds its way out, changes direction or gives up.

In the meantime, the wind tempers the heat of the sun. It plays with the fine hairs on my legs and arms. They tremble softly against my warm skin. I roll over to toast another part of me.

No, I can’t move! The sun has pinned me down to the earth. It demands that I lie back and think of nothing but how warm it is. Hotly, it breathes upon my willing limbs.

I imagine the sun, wildly flaming in the bluest of clear blue skies, so bright that it is unsafe to look. Now that I am blind, I am no longer tortured by the brilliance of the sun. All my young life, its glare sought to dazzle me, to cloud my poor sight with its brilliance.

For a time during the place between final diagnosis and the departure of my sight, I dreaded the sunshine. If the sun shone, and it was a gloriously yellow and green spring that year, I could see nothing. I would stumble slowly down the streets, moving from shadow to shadow, eyes streaming from the pain of the light. Dusk or the low cloud of a rainy day brought relief and temporarily I could move again with freedom until the sun next chose to come out.

And now I choose to lie in the fierceness of the rays, to willingly soak them into my skin. I stretch out in a gesture of submission to the sun. I feel its hot breath recharge my tired energy, warm me, loosen the stiffness of muscles. I roll over, luxuriating in the heat of the Andalusia afternoon. Nothing to do but to be here, still and quiet. This is the life!

4 My First Fire?

Monday May 31, 2010:

I am a bit scared of fire. It is unpredictable, and when at too close a proximity, harmful and dangerous. It is a singularly difficult element for someone like me who is blind, or so I believe.

I don't know how to make a fire." I say to all and sundry. I ask for fire teachers. On a dull Whit bank holiday Monday therefore, a fire companion and I meet in my shady quiet North London garden so that I may learn how to make fire.

When first I walked the pagan path, I had contemplated making a fire pit in my garden. Deciding that I was unlikely to make use of it by myself, I abandoned my plan and bought an aluminum cauldron instead. I thought I would make fires safely in this vessel. But such was my disconnect with fire, this only happened once, and only when someone more expert was there to make the fire.

So it is with some diffidence that I pick up the cauldron from its accustomed place at the foot of an apple tree, beneath a swinging witch lantern and take it to the path by the slate bench and my main garden alter.

My fire companion has bought kindling of various kinds. I have gathered twigs and bark from the garden, and bought out my store of twigs and wands of wood, gathered in my journeys over the years. I also fetch out the shredding file.

Waving a rolled up letter from the bank I cast a cheerful circle. I then set to folding old bills and confidential documents into "jacks", an intricate way of folding paper to lie at the base of a fire that I learned from my father. And as I do this, I suddenly realize that I do know something about how to light a fire!

I picture him, crouched down beside the coal fire in our plain square post-war council house. He carefully lays the jacks, places coals on top, lights the tail of one of the jacks with a spill he has made out of newspaper. He blows the tiny glimmer of light into being. It reddens, glows and begins to expand until little red, yellow and blue curling tongues of fire, lick at the coals, begin to nibble and then seize and possess first one shiny fissured black coal and then another and another until the whole bank of them upon their writhing, rapidly disappearing paper jacks are aglow.

My twin and I prance in front of the big French window, made into a mirror by the black night beyond. We watch ourselves dance, wrapped only in red and green towels, our backdrop, the crouching man who holds something to the fire, something in a spoon that he is warming. I see through my myopia, his shape, monochrome, black, white and grey against the red and grey fire surrounded by the neat grey tiled sureness of the plain and austere fifties mantelpiece.

My fire companion instructs me in the laying of a good fire. I place the jacks and some loosely screwed up bits of paper at the bottom of the caldron. I lean thin twigs and then bigger sticks across it tee-pee style. We work slowly, purposefully, carefully arranging the most inflammable nearest the heart of the fire, leaving spaces for air corridors to feed the flames, building a structure by which the fire below will warm and ready the bigger twigs for their turn to succumb to the fire. Our finishing touch is three solid branches, as thick as my wrists.

Fires like to be sung to, I remember, thinking about a huge fire made for a long dance and how we night dancers sung to it as it slowly gained strength. With each rise of the energetic refrain, it seemed to me that the fire gathered pace and grew warmer. Before long it was hissing and crackling merrily and it was time to dance.

It is time to light this fire. On instruction, I strike a match and plunge it into the centre of the pyre. A thin trail of smoke immediately catches my nostrils; I breathe in and ask anxiously if the fire has caught. It has, I am gratified to learn.

We fan the flames with master card bump. I blow into the heat and begin to hear the first crackle as the small twigs catch. We sing to the fire.

"Blessed be the fire of our desire.
Blessed be her courage, blessed be our love."

The fire hisses and hums. I sit close, my hands in the heat above the flames, I conduct the fire, and I shape its heat, my dancing hands hot but safely out of reach of the leaping tongues of fire.

And in its heart, I see a small dragon, red and yellow, glowing brightly. Here at the heart of the fire sits the dragon at the heart of the molten earth. That place in the centre which is the red hot core. The dragon breathes, it's fire breath seats the weak points in the earth's crust and breaks through. Hot rocks spill out and roll down, consuming, destroying all in their path. Great gouts of ash burst into the sky and are taken by wayward winds to lie above the land.

The spring skies are empty for six days as aircraft are grounded. The fine ash, so insubstantial, so light it is tossed on the gentlest of breezes has this power. We stand beneath silent skies, rejoicing about the peace and worrying about how this will affect the way we are.

The fire spits and snaps as though to say "Pah, that'll teach you!" Under instruction, I gently stir the twigs and the fire bursts into a frenzied roar.

I shift my stool back slightly. I am hot. I take off a layer of clothing.

But the warmth of the fire is wonderful. I love its heat on my face. I breathe in deeply the resinous smell of burning wood. I toss a handful of incense into the flames. The fire rears up. My companion tells me that the flames burn more intensely orange as the incense is scattered amongst the merrily burning twigs.

The flames leap exuberantly above the top of the caldron. The perfume of the forest floor swirls through the smoke, which my companion describes as light and almost see-through. In the rising aroma, something spicy and something flowery wrestles with the green mossiness that is the base-note of the incense.

We begin to tell each other stories inspired by the fire. We speak of a strange forest of fossilized trees, shaped into fantastic beasts, some composites, and some known creatures. I meet a horse with a bird's head and have a conversation with it. I find a great bear of a tree and feel comforted by it. The fossilized forest, my companion and I walk to the edge of the cliff and greet the prancing sea, the waves dancing a galliard for our delight. We dance too, my companion, the stiff fossilized tree creatures and I.

The fire is subsiding now. We feed it and it climbs greedily out of the caldron. We sing to it some more and it hums and hisses back as though it is happy with the state of things right now.

"Circle round the fire.
Raise the cone of power.
Get what you desire.
So mote it be.
Weave the magic round the firelight,
Dance in circle all night long
Weave the magic round the firelight,
Dance and sing the witch’s song."

There isn't room to dance round the caldron, so I imagine myself doing it. I remember other fires and other dances, other voices singing along beside the fire in a dark field of tents. I hear the drums, skipping pulsating and joyful. I briefly contemplate fetching out my drum. But we're in a North London Garden at dusk on Whit Bank Holiday Monday and I don't think the neighbors would be too pleased. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I'd like to share that part of me with them anyway.

The fire is low and quiet. My companion describes how the embers glow. It is safe to leave. We say our farewells, and go.

Later, I sneak back into the garden and stand by the rowan tree with a cup of tea. The fire smokes quietly. I prod it with a stick and then drop some small pieces of dried bark in. The fire roars and rises up, the heat fierce. I step back anxiously, for there is no one to ask if the fire is ok. I step forward and begin to sing to it softly.

Make of my heart a burning fire, fire.
Light burst
As from the sun, the moon the stars

The fire hisses softly, gradually becoming quieter until I have to bend low to hear it at all.

"Goodnight." I whisper into the still warm caldron.