Friday, 28 July 2017

Shadow Dancing at Lughnasadh

"Would that our endangered and dangerous days be remembered, years from now, as a time when some gathered and rose up and, truant no more, learned their lives. Th​en our learning together will begin to be tethered to something vast and thrilled​,​ and burdened with purpose."  Stephen Jenkinson. 

I have been dancing with shadows. The last of the July sun casts them strong and clear, they feel magical, small black doorways into another world entirely. A world of rarely glimpsed truths told boldly and brave but obscured by what we think we know.

Deep in the shadows is often where we are told the truth lies and often where we are most afraid to look.

But is the truth in the shadows really? Or is that very same truth often blazing, brazen in plain sight, but so much harder to see there - mostly, I suspect, because we simply don't want to see it. Do we ascribe the dwelling of truths to the shadows because we are more prepared to see them there, or because they are easier to ignore there?

 We say that doubt casts a shadow, and that it is in the shadows that our culture hides it's ugliest faces.

Our destruction of nature is baring it's poisonous fruits.  Mankind's destruction of nature, our destruction of nature. The sun here is very hot, the wind very very cold, there is no real ambient warmth most of the time.  This is not how an English July is supposed to be.

Be full of gratitude, if you are reading this then your life is honey sweet indeed in very many ways.

What shadow do you cast?  Where does it fall?  Do you block the sun from another?  Is there anything in that shadow that is not yourself?

In a dark time, the eye begins to see, 
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;   
I hear my echo in the echoing wood— 
A lord of nature weeping to a tree. 
I live between the heron and the wren,   
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den. 

What’s madness but nobility of soul 
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!   
I know the purity of pure despair, 
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.   
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,   
Or winding path? The edge is what I have. 

A steady storm of correspondences! 
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,   
And in broad day the midnight come again!   
A man goes far to find out what he is— 
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,   
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light. 

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.   
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,   
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I? 
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.   
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,   
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

By Theodore Roethke

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Creating Beauty, Being Beauty

A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
It's loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quite for us and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quite breathing.

John Keats

I have always loved to make things, and it has always mattered to me that these things be beautiful as well as useful.

In fact I've consistently had a bit of a 'thing' about beauty, believing it to be incredibly important, and then occasionally over the years wondering if in reality I'm just superficial and attempting to convince myself otherwise.

But then I remember the teachings that are held to be true in many cultures, in particular I'm thinking of the Mayan (have you read Martin Prechtel's books? They are full of wise and heartful lessons in so many ways. I heartily recommend them to you) and the Celtic (and I'm sure there are many more), that say that beauty is part of how we thank the Divine for the gift of our lives, being beautiful is part of our job: the things the Spirits love best are music, dancing, gratitude, smoke, love, grief and beauty - these are they ways we 'pay' for the privilege of that gift - the ways we say 'thank you'. Thank you that I live, thank you for my life, thank you for the interwoven indivisibility of all of which I am a sentient part.

Thank you for my consanguinity with all others who have blood, my sharing of breath with all who breathe (human, animal, trees, plants), my being with all that is.

There are so many ways to say thank you, and it seems that gratitude and beauty are two sides of the very same thing. We say thank you through the creation of beautiful objects, and the celebration of beautiful things like simple food,

Straight out of the ground or straight out of the oven...

And beautiful friends

Or the acknowledgement of the beauty in the ordinary - although how something as exquisite as a daisy can be thought of as ordinary is sometimes beyond me. Things seem so often to be valued by their rarity rather than by any more satisfying measure of beauty.

Such as how they smell, (if only you could smell this!)

Or just how gloriously, stubbornly, uniquely, bovine they are!

"Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?
And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?
The aggrieved and the injured say, "Beauty is kind and gentle.
Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us."
And the passionate say, "Nay, beauty is a thing of might and dread.
Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us."
The tired and the weary say, "Beauty is of soft whisperings. She speaks in our spirit.
Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow."
But the restless say, "We have heard her shouting among the mountains,
And with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions."
At night the watchmen of the city say, "Beauty shall rise with the dawn from the east."
And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say,
"We have seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset."
In winter say the snow-bound, "She shall come with the spring leaping upon the hills."
And in the summer heat the reapers say,
"We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves,
and we saw a drift of snow in her hair."
All these things have you said of beauty,
Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied,
And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.
It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,
But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.
It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,
But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears.
It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw,
But rather a garden for ever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.
People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.
But you are life and you are the veil.
Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
But you are eternity and you are the mirror.

'On Beauty' by Kahil Gilbran 

Recently I was privileged to hear the Dine Elder Pat McCabe speak - and she touched on the idea that we are here to be beautiful - that to her when she gets up in the morning she gets dressed as an act of gratitude and celebration of being alive; she looks down at the ground and offers a thank you to Mother Earth who gave her her body and then upwards to Father Sky who looks down on her and co-created her. She said (and I'm fairly certain I'm quoting her accurately) "I'm pretty sure that Father Sky doesn't care how much I weigh, but he loves to see me celebrate and decorate myself".  I found this really touching, I hadn't really considered that decorating me could be as much an act of gratitude as decorating what I make (and I'd like to point out here that the gorgeous paintings on my drums are done by my husband Fergus, not by me, I only make the drums and rattles - so I'm claiming a part of the creation of their beauty, but by not means the majority of it).  And I'd like to invite you to come with me on a journey of gratitude and beauty - one that feels pretty revolutionary in these times where beauty is defined so narrowly by mainstream western media.  I've taken to wearing what the hell I like and to shouting down the voice that says I'm too old, too fat, too English, too whatever to wear whatever it is. It's fun, it's full of the joy of being alive, full of gratitude for the gift of my life and the gift of my body, and I love it.

So come with me - be Beauty, be Gratitude. Be full of the joy of being alive!

The water's warm......

and there are cakes. ;-)

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

May Recapitulation

The May Queen is crowned and Bel, Celtic god of Fire, the Sun and of Summer has arrived, at least temporarily! It's from his name that we get the word Beltaine. 

By his side walks Bridgit, Bride; she has reclaimed the year from The Winter Hag, The Cailleach, and will rule over the light half of the year. She's here, in the flowers, and the smiles of the bearers of those flowers. 

Perhaps it's him in particular that we honour with this symbol of the masculine. 

May's blossoms have been spectacular, the orchard has been drenched with the smell of fruit trees in blossom, it makes my heart sing and a small corner of my busy little human mind has already started plotting all the delicious things that can be made with fruit and stored for winter, whilst another corner of that same mind mutters about counting chickens and hatching. 

And speaking of singing and hatching; there have been some strange and beautiful and sometimes sad sights here recently. The strangest has perhaps been this young female blackbird who took up residence on the bench and was not to be moved. She was there for some of every day for a week, standing her ground. She's gone now, hopefully having found less obvious places to sit. There are plenty of cats here, each of my three neighbours has three cats, so sitting on a bench in broad daylight is probably not the wisest course of action for any avian. 

There has also been one VERY successful male blackbird strutting about the garden; every time I've seen him he's had his mouth full. I'm pretty sure that he's been one among many, but perhaps they've all been successful at different times and I only notice each of them when they are emanating pride and 'look at me I'm a savage hunter feeding my babies with my trophies' vibes. 

There have clearly been some nests that will not be producing any more birds this year; always a poignant reminder of the tiny tendril of light that is life, so easily extinguished.

As are empty eggs with yolk marks in them, a sure sign that they were emptied by a predator, rather than the emergence of a fledgling. Although obviously if this was a blog read by badgers and foxes this would be a delightful sight telling tales of happy full bellies and a good night's endeavours.

I found a blackbird fledgling by the side of a wall, a bit discombobulated after his first flight. Luckily the cat's hereabouts didn't find him before he remembered he could fly. 

Perhaps this was his egg? It's broken open on the side you can't see and as clean as a whistle inside. 

All month the hedgerows have been full to bursting with good things to eat for everyone. 

Sorrel (above) and Wild Garlic (below) being two of my absolute favourites. 

They make a wonderful addition with Pansies, primrose flowers and Violas to a really beautiful and delicious salad. 

 At the end of May Day's celebrations here, when everyone has gone home and the quiet comes back to the valley

After the hilarious duck race, 

Fergus and I bimble home, up thought the woods. 

past the Wray brook on it's way to join the River Bovey, 

along a well worn path, by bluebells, taking care not to offend the fairies by picking any. 

Under the roof bosses of the cathedrals of trees. 

 Past the unspiraling of Spring in all her glory. 

Out into the yellow and green fields of summer. 

And then home. 

Where there always seems to be a reminder - that there is so much to love in the world, so much worth protecting, so much worth taking into consideration with every choice we make. 

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!