Monday, 1 May 2017

May Day Fire Festival

Beltane blessings to you, and "Up The May!" - the cry goes out across the land, the fires are lit, the flames are jumped and the wheel of the  year turns.

I brought cakes

and managed to get in quickly enough to actually eat one before the many children saw them, at first feeling slightly triumphant but that was followed by feeling just-plain-mean as it was clear that I hadn't made enough to fill every belly that had a cake-shaped hole in it.

It poured with rain, hailed, and nearly put the fire out. The word Beltane means 'bright fire', so it was a close run thing, but the day was saved!

I've been thinking about fire a lot lately.

To the Celts the clearest way to convey the 'shaman's map' was (is) to say that our world is made of three realms; Land, Sea and Sky.  These are often expressed (all over the world) as being like a tree: the Trunk is this world, the Middle World, The Land. The branches spread out into the Upper World, The Sky, and the roots delve down into the Lower World, The Sea.

This idea is also very beautifully expressed in the Triskele. This potent ancient symbol carries many meanings simultaneously, but more than anything else it expresses the Triple Nature of all of reality as the Celts saw it and continue to see it.

In fact the image of the triskele is far older than the culture that we call the Celts. One of the earliest examples of it in the west is carved into the stone at the entrance of the passage tomb at New Grange in Ireland - about which I have many stories, but I think I'd better save them for another time, as I've already somehow strayed from the point.

So - Fire - first out of the Void I'm told; the creative spark, the beginning of everything. Our world is a place between two great fires - the Sun herself and the fire at the centre of the earth. Why is it not present in this map? Where is fire in the world which is Land, Sea and Sky?  It seems to me that it's everywhere, because it is inherent within everything - it is the heart of the matter. Strike flints or crystals together and you will get a spark, turn a hard wood inside a soft wood and you will soon kindle a flame. Fire is perhaps the clearest metaphor we have for Spirit. When we want to invoke the sacred we light a flame. So when we light the fires at Beltane, we are bringing the Fire that is inherent within everything, bringing The Spirits, right into the heart of what we are doing.

May heart and heart align and bring forth the Spirit Fires, may these enlighten the bright half of the year for you. Happy Summer, Happy Beltane.
Up the May!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Sprung Springing

What a year it's been so far; its as if I've been on some crazy circus ride that's had me spinning round whilst jumping up and down, whilst juggling, twirling a hoop on my left ankle and breathing fire! At least no-one's made me wear a sparkly spandex suit - yet.  Perhaps a more appropriate analogy would be that I feel like one of these lambs, dashing about the field; jumping, leaping, prancing, skittering, whizzing around for no good reason other than that the sun is shining, their bellies are full and it's fun!

Really what I've been doing is making, making, making. Beautiful things for people who describe exactly and precisely what they would like,

or things for people who let the Spirits decide what's right for them. I love this one - it was an epic, a Green Man on the face of the drum and Celtic knot-work all around the side. Fergus really excelled himself, The Green Man was an image he'd been wanting to put on a drum for a long time and although this is the best picture I've got of it, it in no way conveys the power of the image or the gravitas of this particular drum when you are in a room with it. It was made for a man who, it turned out, is a true Kelt.

I have also sometimes made beautiful things just because they need to be made, or at least I need to make them. This is the shed skin of an grass snake I think, although I'm ashamed to say that I can't actually remember, it was a gift given many years ago and the details have faded.

I've been running workshops too, where participants have made some extraordinarily beautiful things; like this little hand, burned into the inside of the wooden hoop of a drum with a pyrography tool,

And this rattle; the creator amazed by how proud she was of what she had made. I love it's simplicity.

I've been teaching workshops in a new venue, which I also love. Green Hill Arts in Moretonhampstead is a great place to work; lovely room, lovely people, lovely location. The room I use is beside and above the actual gallery (which is well worth a visit). To get there you walk through the church yard, lovely in it's own right, which is next to The Sentry, which is a field belonging to the people of Moretonhampstead. It's for playing and fairs and story tellings and whatever else you want to do in a field, and it's adjoined by other fields and a labyrinth of footpaths and bridleways that lead all around the beautiful green-that-is-getting-greener of Dartmoor.

And at the end of the day, I've been gardening in every spare second - outside each night until it gets completely dark.  If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that this (and every other) season, is my favourite season of the year.

All the tidying and planting has been overseen by my faithful old helper.

I rediscovered some old steps, they only lead up to a hedge, but I've cleared away years of fallen leaves and transplanted a rose (which I'm happy to say has survived the experience and seems really happy in it's new home) and we can now sit on the bench in the morning sun. This is the first part of the garden that the sun greets as she rises and I have had a few blissful morning cups of coffee surveying the newly tidied and planted scene below me before I get to work.

The windmills are there to keep the marauding crows and pigeons and probably a few others off my peas! And yes, if you are a proper gardener, you will have noticed that my pea sticks are too fat, but they were what I could find last night at about 7.30, so they'll have to do!

Among the many who flitter among the hedgerows at dusk, my heart is a blackbird; singing. For the purposes of blog-continuity I should be saying that it is a starling - just because it's been a starling who's been filling the garden with his effervescent cadences for the last few days; this fine fellow has been standing in the branches of the maple tree, puffing out his chest and positively hollering out his repertoire of strange bird folk songs, hurling hymns of joy and courtly hankerings into the warming air, morning and evening, sounding as if he is attempting to seduce the sun herself - "stay a moment longer, stay that I may sing to you, stay" - but I can't be a starling, because I am a blackbird.

I have loved every kind of black bird my whole life and have felt their presence always; it was no surprise when we moved here to discover that our house shelters a little way down a hill, most of the way up which stands Raven's Tor.  Named so because it looks like a raven's head, but also it is the site of a raven's nest. The ravens fly around the valley kronking and kraaking, their wings making a rushing-of-feather-in-wind noise as they fly past. I know no other sound like it, it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and my singing blackbird heart erupt into a joyful cacophony.

This morning as I sat on my newly positioned bench I heard the first cuckoo far off in the distance. Yay, it's official, the swallows are here, the cuckoos are calling and summer is a-comein' in. Which means that when it snowed this afternoon, turning all that I could see of the high moor white, it felt a little disconcerting. Here in Britain we're on about the same latitude as New Foundland, it's only the Gulf Stream that keeps us so warm usually. As the ice melts in the Arctic the Gulf Stream is cooling. Sad and Strange times.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Spirit of The Drum, Words of The Pythoness


I am that serpent-haunted cave 
Whose navel breeds the fates of men. 
All wisdom issues from a hole in the earth: 
The gods form in my darkness, and dissolve 

From my blind womb all kingdoms come,
And from my grave seven sleepers prophesy.
No babe unborn but wakens to my dream,
No lover but at last entombed in me shall lie.

I am that feared and longed-for burning place
Where man and phoenix are consumed away,
And from my low polluted bed arise
New sons, new suns, new skies.

- Kathleen Raine

It is a well known fact that the beating of a drum, between approximately 4 and 7 hertz (cycles or beats per second),  has the potential to alter our state of consciousness and that when we align honed intention with this altered state of consciousness we can step out of this reality and behind the 'veil' that separates this world from The Other.

In short, with a drum in our hands, we can find the door to the house of the spirits, we can open that door and go in. We can communicate with those we meet there, listen to their wisdom, receive their teachings and healings, and if we are of a particular type, perhaps give voice to those spirits in this reality,  This is the work of the Pythoness, Pythia or Oracle.

It is a partnership with Spirit.

"The drum was the means our ancestors used to summon the goddess and also the instrument through which she spoke. The drumming priestess was the intermediary between divine and human realms. Aligning herself with sacred rhythms, she acted as summoner and transformer, invoking divine energy and transmitting it to the community." Layne Redmond

Plutarch, the Greek Philosopher and writer who was himself a priest at Delphi (AD 46 - 120) wrote in his 'Moralia' (De Defectu Oraculae 51 - On The Decline of Oracles) of the Delphic Oracle: "Whenever, then, the imaginative and prophetic faculty is in a state of proper adjustment for attempering iself to the spirit ... inspiration in those who foretell the future is bound to come;"

"In some lands, the prophets - Merlin or Moses, Thorbjorg or Fedelm - operated independently of any setting, but in the Mediterranean, the emphasis was on the oracular site and the deity who resided there. Although we know the names of a few of the men who served as priests at Delphi or thespodes at Claros, the prophets and pythias themselves remain anonymous. What mattered was the origin of wisdom, not the channel through which it was received."  Diana L Paxson 'The Way of The Oracle'.

All are agreed though, that the crucial preparation for the Vate, the Pythia, the Pythoness, the Oracle, is to "Know Thyself" (as was written above the entrance to the temple at Delphi).  Whether one's service was to a particular liminal location, a deity, or a tradition, the first steps of the journey must include becoming a man or woman who knows exactly who they are (particularly necessary so that they may also recognise when they are who they are not), to become balanced, whole, so that the connection to the Divine, the Spirits, may flow through unhindered. Here again the drum can help us, being the primary tool for a practice of shamanic journeying which can indisputably help us speedily along the path to gnosis.

The great oracles of the past have been silent for many generations, their sacred sites reduced to tourist traps, their teachings unheard. But right now it seems that the moment for re-connection has arrived. In her wonderful book 'If Women Rose Rooted' Dr Sharon Blackie tells the tale of the demise of the Well Maidens, initially through the rape of one of them by the King. "It was his duty to keep the well-maidens safe, for they were the Voices of the Wells, and without the wells the land would lose it's heart. But Amagons wasn't much of a man for duty, and the day came when he broke faith". She then sends out a cry, one which is echoed all around the world at the moment, in many voices. "We were the Voices of the Wells, we can take up that old mantle. We can take up our golden grails again, and offer their life-giving drink to the world."

I have been working with a small group of women for some years now, bringing the oracular, vatic, pythic services of The Pythoness out from behind the veil, out to where she can be of service.

In this work, the drum is my ally and friend. "There was drumming in the hills around Edinburgh. A 1684 account published in London to prove the existence of witches and spirits describes a lad named 'The Fairy-Boy of Leith in Scotland' who took his drum every Thursday night to a hill between Edinburgh and Leigh. Here the 'boy of the fairies' beat his drum while men and women passed through invisible doorways into another realm.." - Tom Cowan 'Fire in the Head'.

So I thought I would share some of them here with you.

In the hopes that you might be inspired to take one up too. If we remembered "that once upon a time we sang with the tongues of seals and flew with the wings of swans, that we forged our own paths through the dark forest while creating a community of it's many inhabitants, then we will rise up rooted like trees." (Sharon Blackie, 'If Women Rose Rooted')

And if we rise up rooted in Earth, then who knows what wonders we can bring about - speaking on behalf of those who currently have little voice, or those whose voices are not being heard.

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Invitation

It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon...
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.
I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.
I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.
It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.
I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments

By Oriah © Mountain Dreaming,
from the book The Invitation

Monday, 30 January 2017

Imbolc and Getting Lost and What I Found

We've been making and creating and tidying and dreaming in green and the mostly yellow and white petals of what looks like it could be the soft whiskered nose of an early spring. We have been raising our faces to the sun and the sun has been smiling down on us, making floods and puddles magically disappear and birds sing at the top of their warbling lungs.

The Snowdrops have turned up right on time, and so have the first of the lambs and the calves.
This chap is looking pretty pleased with himself, and rightly so. There's a fine crop of his descendants skipping around the fields in the morning mist.

Have I already told you that I love sheep? I don't really know why, it's not a rational thing, but when is love ever a rational thing? Perhaps it's exposure at an early age to the joys of bottle feeding lambs. Or perhaps it's just that their furry faces always look so very friendly, I can't imagine a sheep ever looking judgemental, I'm sure no sheep ever voted for anything other than the common good.

I'm constantly in awe of their capacity to withstand the weather, whatever the dance between Earth and Sky, bucketing rain, blowing a hoolie or simply frozen solid; sheep simply stand there, munching away, until the moment (as any sheep farmer will tell you) that they suddenly decide to keel over and die, for no particular reason. It is said that sheep die for fun, just because they can. But mostly they don't.

I followed a sheep track out onto the moor last week, wending my way along the ribbon of tiny hoof prints. I deliberately allowed myself to be lost for a while, it was a strange but beautiful feeling walking a familiar landscape from an unfamiliar direction, taking feral and seemingly random turnings at this hillock or that patch or gorse as the track led me, losing that sense of time which is somehow marked by the known and the predictable.

I was in a part of the moor that I know pretty well, so I mean lost in the most minor sense of the word, but bimbling about with no guide but the sheep track for a while, brought me a whole new perspective. It reminded me about trust, and the importance of knowing where you're going, or not, which seems particularly relevant at this time of the year when most of us are thinking about new beginnings, new projects, new directions, planning what we'll plant for the growing season..

There are large and obvious land marks, not least of which is the ancient stone circle of Scorhill

This stone circle - when you are reflecting on pathways as you follow sheep tracks across the moor - is the Ancestors, It represents all we think we know, the certainties we take for granted, our moral, ethical, social compass.

We are living in incredibly uncertain times, the ground is shifting under our feet in strange and possibly frightening ways all over the world. So perhaps we're all a bit lost, there doesn't seem to be a map for where to go and what to do when everything is trundling ever more quickly down the hill to hell.

 The moon rose as the sun set and I wondered if this circle has a particular alignment to either of these great heavenly bodies, I don't know. Perhaps you do? There will doubtless have been a reason that these great stones were hauled to this sport and placed in exactly the places that they stand. We no longer necessarily know what that reason was, but we trust that it was good enough for the people of the time.

It seems to be a commonly held belief that the great structures of the past, those that still mark the land, were placed there for sacred or ceremonial purpose. We believe, I believe, that these structures come from a time when people listened to spirits much more than we tend to. Not only the disembodied spirits of the otherworld, but those of river and raven, sea and shore, tree and timeless tumbling brook. There is a beautiful polarity in living this way, there is always a signpost, a path, always a guide to the next step and yet there is also the freedom of not necessarily having the big picture, the whole of the map, When your intention is to live in harmony with nature, you don't need to know much about the distant future, you just need to listen to what is needed here now.

 I'm not at all suggesting that we should all stick our heads in the sand, or under our wings, or anywhere else that hides our view of the mess were in, but I am suggesting that looking at the signposts and considering the next step and only the next step is sometimes more empowering, emboldening perhaps, than trying to take the long view. Perhaps we need to get a little lost, so that we can find our way to somewhere unexpected, somewhere we haven't been before.