A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Monday, November 08, 2010

14 the Ancestors Fire

Saturday November 6, 2010: Kit Hill, Cornwall

I am dancing with the stress of going away for a rest or staying and facing the music at my leisure. I decide to chance it. Grumpily, I charge out of the house and climb into the tardy taxi. The driver tells me to cool. I want to hit her.

As soon as I am on the train, I feel myself relax. I sit back and snooze over a book.

Emboldened by my solo train trip across Europe, I opt to take buses to get me closer to my final destination. I stand on the kern side with an "I'm-catching-a-bus" purposeful look on my face and hope that no one thinks I’m plying my trade. I also hope that the bus stops! It does.

We wind through the Devon and Cornwall countryside, autumnal sun slanting through the windows buffs my cheek warmly. I remember the tall banked hedgerows of this part of the world and imagine their darkness against the light sky, their outlines jagged and somehow primeaeval. I am feeling very happy and sit with an idiotic smile on my face.

Successfully I change buses and arrive at the rendezvous point. My companion and I walk boldly up the busy b road and climb the rough track to her house on the hill.

I am here to make ancestor fire. Over tea and cake, we agree on what we will do. The sun sinks low and casts a pink glow across the gorse and bracken shrouded hill outside. The weather is auspicious.

After dark, three of us gather at the little fire pit at the end of her garden. The fully sighted one (for my other companion who is the guardian of this land is also visually impaired) tells me the stars shine between the clouds. There is no moon for the new moon won't rise for at least another 24 hours.

Expertly (And I am rather proud of this, I lead the building of the fire. We cast a circle and as we do so, the rain begins to fall.

Undaunted, we wrap ourselves in blankets and set to lighting the fire. With songs of fire and general encouragement and a replacement of all the damp kindling, the fire catches and begins to snap and pop.

We settle down beside it, for it has stopped raining and the stars are out again. Wrapped in blankets against the coolness of the night, huddled and still like old crones, we are silent. I listen to the fire and the sound of the hill all around me.

A heavy footfall, something approaches and stops beyond the hawthorn. All is still. Another movement, slower and more hesitant, and I feel warm heaviness leaning against my knee. She wines in the back of her throat as she maneuvers herself under the blanket. The old lady wolf has come to join me. Together, we shelter against the wet night.

I sink into the stillness. Thoughts come and I bat them away. The fire crackles. The wind, firm and determined now puffs the fire into lively action. Gouts of smoke invade the shelter inside my blanket. The wolf and I sit still and enjoy its smell, allowing it to pervade our whole bodies, like being ritually cleansed.

The rain starts again and I draw my blanket close around us. Like two content and companionable old ladies, she and I sit, huddled by our dancing fire, our two companions similarly clad and sitting.

"Stormy weather, weather the storm" I think. “Now what does that mean?”, I wonder silently.

I think about hard times, like 1979, it feels like we are going back. It's time to resist, organizing and fighting back, I think. Oh but do I have the energy, I worry.

In the distance, something shifts in the undergrowth. The presence is benign and I feel easy with it. There will be time in the coming dark to rest and plan.

Is that metaphor of the dark for another reason too? Are we going into the dark politically, setting back the hands of time and marching back to a poorer, angrier place of class resentment and false jealousies?

We talk of what the fire has bought us and the ancestors who have come to share this space with us. Can I make a pyre of my fears and give them to the flames? I don’t know. I am scared for the future.

The wolf leans heavily into my thigh. I stroke her velvety head, feeling the bones beneath the skin and her fragility. At least this time, I’ve got magic. I am older and wiser and not without influence. I am settled in myself and confident. Surely I can find a way to use my skills to feed the opposition? Surely I can use my wits to find another way forward?

Whispering my thanks to the she-wolf, I pull back the blanket and the driving rain bares down coldly. Efficiently, we open the circle, pack up and leave the fire to fizz in the downpour. With some difficulty for the terrain is rough, we return to the warmth and shelter of the house.

Beyond the dark window, out on the hillside, the animals tread the hill. My old wolf walks amongst them, as spirit and earthly horses blow gently to each other in the dark night.

13 The whispering ancestors walk – Hamstead heath

Sunday October 31, 2010:

“Hello, it's Tinkerbelle" says the well-modulated voice down the phone. "Ok," I think to myself, this must be one of the Euro Faeries, I was warned they'd be coming along.

"Hello Tinkerbelle" I say with commanding aplomb. We set to negotiating where to meet in the pub.

I never know who is going to turn up to the ancestor walk. I hold this space as a public ritual every Samhain and its pot luck who will appear. It's never a dull moment though.

We get to the pub and I remember the email from someone's Dad, a Quaker with pagan leanings and a witch daughter, who has said he is coming. For some reason known only to himself, he's chosen to reveal that he weighs 20 stone!

“We’re looking for a fat bloke called (name withheld)” I say to my companion.
"That's me." rumbles the bloke from the next table. We fall to talking over our mutually unhealthy meals.

ELLO" says a familiar light French accented voice. A slim form flutters down beside me in a cloud of silk, leather and elegance. Cool soft lips press against my cheek in greeting. I met this one at various London Queer Spirit Circles a few years ago. Our reunion is cheerful.

I'm just wondering who else is going to come when two young women move hesitantly towards our table.

"Is this the ancestor walk", one asks nervously. We welcome them to our cheerful gathered group and they ask anxiously if Tariq is here. My mind flits to secret assignations of a radical socialist bent and suddenly I feel rather grown up and sophisticated. However (laying waste to my fantasy revolutionary street cred,) I have to confess that I don't know who Tariq is. In one of those bizarre six degrees of separation moments which always fry my brain, my queer spirit friend appears to though. Apparently, amongst other things, Tariq is a Euro Faerie as well as being connected through art. The two young women are South Korean students at Central St Martin’s.

As we get up to go, Tinkerbelle marches firmly in and we set off up the leaf-slimed pavements to lose ourselves amongst the posh houses. In time, we find the heath and circle near the path to cast a protection spell and receive miniature rowan wands that I have prepared earlier for this very purpose.

With no difficulty, we locate the ash tree and cast our circle. A small alter with flickering candles is placed at its feet. The heath is relatively quiet under a cloudy sky.

We call to the ancestors and name some of those we will walk through the veil to meet. My companion and helper calls to the presence of our descendents yet to be born, so we can be connected by lines stretching into the past and the future at the same time.

"It's not just about blood" I explain, invoking ancestors of struggle who have died this year.

All is still under the tree. We are carefully and loosely connected with silk ribbon. My silk and leather companion of old takes the drum and leads us out of the shelter of the tree, through the veil hanging from one of its outstretched branches and onto the heath.

I place each foot slowly and carefully in the place left by the walker in front. The long grass cushions each footfall and I feel I am almost tip-toeing across a luxuriously thick piled carpet. We brush against thistles, bracken and assorted low growing Heathland plants as we weave our way across the heath.

Beside me, my dead comrades, my chosen ancestors move along on a kind of misty conveyor-belt. As I walk, I hear them say over and over again, tenderly, encouragingly and urgently,

"Go on, go on. There's still more to do."

I'm tired, I think. I don't want to go on, especially not without them. They were doing the things I couldn't do. I was doing the things they couldn't. Together we were a team, along with all the others we have lost along the way. How can I go on without my team?

"We are still here. We have not left you." they seem to answer my unspoken thoughts.

It begins to rain. The drops softly land upon my warm cheek. I breathe in the smell of the slowly dampening undergrowth. The gentle rain has cast a soft silent blanket over everything.

I walk on and they come with me. It is comforting to know they are there.

The rain slows and then stops. I feel the sky slide open to reveal the dome of the heavens, stars spread across its darkness. Can I hear their music? I wonder, stretching out my ears as though to reach for their song. The heath has grown quiet. A sense of ringing peace settles into my heart like the chime of the most beautiful singing bowl.

I feel my companion is looking around. I sense that he is connecting with something, observing reflecting and dialoguing. I feel the presence of a thin young man some way ahead. I nod to him knowing that this is my companion's recently dead 23 year old friend. Something changes in the something seems happier now, like there's been a shift. Silently, I thank the presence of the friend for I sense that my companion is a little more at ease with something.

We walk on. Slowly and lovingly, I lay the sole of each foot carefully upon the soft thick grass. It holds my foot safely as I shift my weight onto the other. I can walk like this for hours, I think as we turn. The air thickens. The misty presence of the comrades on the conveyor belt fades into the night.

The veil touches my face. I walk slowly through it, allowing it to trail across me tenderly like a soft caress.

We circle the tree and stand still in silence. One by one, we break the silence to say our own Names three times to confirm we have returned. We share our experiences and the stories shift my heart. I feel my own dead emerging back from the mist and sliding closer to the circle as though to listen too. I can hear the hiss of their wheels lightly crushing the grass, and their soft and even breathing and know that they are at rest.

I tie a red ribbon to the tree in honour of Socialist Dave Morris and a red bound rowan cross in honour of gentle Rowen Jade. We thank the spirits that walked with us and open the circle.

Coming out from under the tree, we return across the quiet heath. In the distance, the occasional shriek or laugh echoes across the dome of the sky. In the distance, Mallards quack madly to each other.

At the top of a hill on the other side of the woods that flank the path upon which we move, we pause to light a floating tissue lantern. I remember Rowen and the lanterns we launched at her funeral six weeks before. I hold its fluttering softness in my hands briefly and think of her frailty and how strong she was in energy, even when she could hardly breathe. I feel the heat of the flame begin to take; I remember her bright spirit and that I’ve got work I need to finish that she started. I let go and the lantern floats off glowing into the sky, taking my prayer for strength to continue the fight along with it.

Carefully I step down hill along the rain greesed pavement. A fragrant gust of warm air, it’s breath savory, meets me as I open the door. The pub is warm and welcoming.

The whisky heats me from within as we sit and talk. And yes, the mysterious Tariq has at last appeared! And so our night's work is complete and everyone is content.