In her late sixties now, kneeling before the Iron box glass-fronted, soot stained, she opens the door, She faces the remnants of an old fire’s ashes left by he, who the night before, wove the magic of metal on metal striking the spark to open the flames, but he is not present now, on a cold afternoon when she and the night-black cat desire the comfort and warmth of the dancing flames. So, on her knees, she cleans the glass, the cloth taking the soot to itself and leaving the way clear to see the fire’s glory. Rolling up lengths of newspaper, and wringing them like wet rags, the deeds and misdemeanors of days past squashed and rumpled, are placed carefully on the ash-bed, a bit of thin kindling added, and cotton ball teased and pulled apart complete the preparations, awaiting only the striking of metal to metal. Spark, spark, sparksparkspark and the kindling catches, now she feeds the slightly larger bits of wood, and last of all the fire logs, and the door is closed, secured as flames dance. Time to give thanks for the gift of fire, and begin the vigil so the flames do not splutter, glow brightly, die – for this is her true job, to maintain the fire for the day to take off the chill, to gladden the heart, to challenge the cold of winter, until the night comes and in time the fire is allowed to fall away into glowing embers and at finally to grey ash for the night. Until, the morrow, when fire is once more coaxed to life in the iron box, glass-fronted, soot stained.
Molten crimson velvet sloughing ash delicately grey, irregular pulsations, silent throbbings, vermillion to black. Fire. contained in an iron box with a viewing glass, appearing tamed – illusion. Flames lick. Flames dance. Flames reach and retreat in yellows, purples, oranges, blues, radiating heat, drying clothes, removing moisture. Fire. Held. Contained, barely. Always like the sea untameable, wild, unpredictable, Fire grabbing the air, pulling to itself wood, devouring, all the while random sparks ascending, in hiss, spit, crackle. Flame consuming, irreverent, uncaring tumbling down fireworkings, a cascading aurora in a box, mesmerising magical, menacing, drifting in place needing no sky for its dancing. In reality, we know so well now, fire is a predator, consuming and violent, yet also the paradox when contained, fire can be friendly, warming, comforting.
In the hand
cool to the touch,
a side polished to a high sheen,
a side smooth and dull,
bark in textured edges
still present in mineral form.
From the land of lemurs,
black and white,
the aye-aye and sifarkas,
too long ago to comprehend
this tree may have known
the swinging and resting
of these creatures
on branches hung with
tangles of vine,
wood into stone
a different mode of being,
a different form of existing,
a different sort of appearing,
no longer a branch
wherein the fluid would rise
awakened from the ground beneath,
called up into the canopy.
Stone from wood,
mineral emerged from zylum and phloeum,
patterned rings blurred in alteration
from one material to the other,
longevity a challenge to decipher,
but its beauty not dependent
on its age in life or from death,
wondering how it died,
what disaster felled or befell it
to bring it from tall standing
to resting on its side.
The story of its existing and its perishing,
may reveal itself in time
through meditation or contemplation,
journeying in thought and imagination,
until the breeze can be felt,
in its twigs and branches,
the creatures of the day or night
swaying or climbing,
hiding or feeding
on its fruit or foliage,
may any revelations be the way
to reach beyond the present material
to touch by mind or heart
a time before humankind
came into the Madagascan forests
leaving trails of ruination and destruction.
In the past few weeks there have been many things to think about and so I’ve not been doing as much writing. It’s been a matter of consciously processing ideas and experiences, coming to terms with new ideas and ways of being, different ways of perceiving events and incidences/co-incidences that have been presented to me recently.
Some of them I have tried to write about, realising only after agonising for what seems like hours, but in truth is only moments, that it is not time to articulate for myself and communicate them for others.
I find this immensely frustrating. Often infuriating, but I have to trust the process of revelation and its inherent timing.
There is one thing I can share, and will keep sharing now and then . . . I have a new mediation focus: The elements. This discipline came to me as I was sitting looking at my altar in an unfocused way a little over a week ago. I noticed that I had been gathering bowls that represented the elements, collecting them not really consciously. Some I’ve had for many years, but most have come to me in the last year. It seemed no accident; such things seldom are for me. I knew as the recently acquired ones began arriving they represented elements, but had no idea how I’d use them, beyond how they looked and resonated with me visually.
When I discovered there was one bowl for six days of the week, I had to delve deeply to discover for me what was the missing element, what in the early days phlogiston was to those trying to understand the processes of life and nature. At last I realised that what holds the world together for me, though I understand much of the science, is Mystery. At that point I immediately picked up the Iona bowl off of my altar and knew this was the missing element, the one that holds the whole cycle together. So obvious it was hidden in plain sight before me.
I dowsed to choose the day for the meditation both morning and evening.
Sunday: Mystery, a bowl thrown, fired and glazed on Iona, a place of mystery for me.
Monday: Fire, I picked this one up last year at the village Folk Festival.
Tuesday: Metal, from a charity shop for a few quid, and its song when thumped is wonderful.
Wednesday: Wood, I got this last winter, its Yew my favourite turned wood.
Thursday: Air, this one came the same day as Fire.
Friday: Earth, this one is very heavy, rough and substantial.
Saturday: Water, the most recent addition and to me a perfect representation.
So, I began the meditation cycle last week and recorded the uses or significance of the elements. The lists are quite long. Things taken for granted every day, year after year suddenly have links and connections of amazing complexity. Whilst an individual element may be the substance to an item, it is only by employing products of others that enables humans to craft the various items. All things are linked.
I have not gotten any further than this rough appreciation of what we do, how we use, what the purpose is of each item from these elements. It is how the elements presented themselves to me. Without fail as soon as I sat with the bowl images and words poured into my awareness, always in pairs, some with an obvious association, others paradoxical and challenging. I never pushed this or sit down to think: Okay, so what do we use you for? I simply settled with as empty a mind as I could manage, not easy as my mind is always chattering away, busy.
I will share the contents of these lists as I ponder them in the weeks ahead. Having a list as a prompt in no way will diminish for me the profound wonder of looking closely at the products and natures of the elements that for me make up the world, for I cannot see atoms. And I still marvel that as closely as I may hold the bowl there is always an atom unimaginably thin, a membrane separating us. And it is the same with holding one’s beloved and anything or one else. Also I know that the elements’atoms are always in motion, dancing, shifting and darting about within the bowls, and in us. To me this knowledge just adds to my appreciation for everything around me, and makes the knowing that arises from my meditations far richer.
Doing this even this little while, and not going deeply into structure from an energetic perspective has made me see everything with fresh eyes. Another aspect of my reawakening, my re-emergence, my ongoing journey of anamnesis.
First I want to thank my friend who is an administrator for the area RSPB for taking me on this wonderful adventure, since I don’t drive.
When we headed out from my cottage yesterday afternoon, it was a bit mizzly so we went to plan B – Swell Wood, plan A was Ham Wall. That’s for another day. It had nearly stopped when we arrived at the car park where there were only two cars.
From the time we opened the doors, and in spite of the road noise, bird song filled the air. Since the feeders were empty, she filled one of them with sunflower seeds.
Our first stop was the hide for the heronry. With all the leaf cover it took a few minutes to locate the nests. And, I forgot my binoculars so we shared. Saw several nests heard lots of calling from the treetops. Saw an egret nest and egrets flying off as well as heron. There were other little birds in closer as well.
We then walked around the top walk and at one point the road noise vanished. The atmosphere was magical. Once we’d made that circuit we took off for Scarp Trail, lots of up and then lots of down, followed by way more up to get back to the car.
All around there were delicate grasses, yellow archangel and remnants of bluebells, and one lone cuckoo-pint.
Saw Alfred’s cakes and for the first time knew what it was that I’d seen a few times before.
The ivy twisting around the tree trunks looked like Celtic knot work. I have wondered before if it is not where the idea for such patterns originated.
The views across the Levels were amazing. Hard to believe how recently they were under water for weeks and weeks.
I marvelled at the beetles on the green leaves, and what I think are musk beetles, though I didn’t get a photo.
When we got back to the car after filling a second feeder my friend moved the car to the other side of the car park and we waited to see who’d take up the offer of food. It didn’t take long for a pair of Chaffinches to arrive and work the ground for what had fallen from the holes in the feeder right in front of us. Then to the other feeder a Greater Spotted Woodpecker arrived. We heard some hungry noises coming from a hole in a tree before we were back at the car and figure this must be a parent bird.
At the same time a squirrel showed up with the Chaffinches and worked the ground. When the woodpecker moved to the closer feeder another visitor took over the second feeder.
For those brief few hours, I soaked up the tranquillity and the virdiditas. Tall trees reaching up to embrace the sun, which wasn’t much in evidence, linked like the ribs of a vaulted cathedral ceiling. Air slightly moist and smelling sweetly clean. It was an opportunity to relax and allow the spirits of the wood, on the edge of the Levels, to reach out to me as I opened to allow the connection and communion. There was the low strong murmur of tree speech all around me. I felt welcomed. I felt at home. I felt the presence of dryads and woodland sprites. I sensed the dancing energies of trees and of the bird life all about me. Chirrup, song, melody was all around me heard with my inner and outer ears. Vision, vista, beauty were everywhere I looked seen with my inner and outer eyes.
I was walking in Swell Wood and I was walking in The Wood, if that makes sense. I was there and beyond there. The magical nature of this small, magnificent gem of a woodland opened the portal for me to enter a Wood much larger and far more complex. I was moving in two realms, happily nattering away with my friend and at the same time communicating in silent presence with the greater energy of where I was, beyond where I was.
I was very aware of being on the edge of the Somerset Levels, a place of fascination and enticement for me. Although I am not able to get down into them without much travel and expense on buses, I love them. They are a place of particular mystery and wonder. There are connections I’ve not had the opportunity to explore fully, but I feel the pull. I it feel more strongly now. The gods and spirits of the Levels are calling me and I know I need to find ways of entering the openness of this landscape and meet them more fully. Yesterday, as we drove back through the spaces they inhabit I heard whispers and echoes reaching out to me, calling me to engage with them. It is another calling I am not going to be able to pretend I don’t hear for very much longer.
The deep Mystery of Willow is present in the Levels in a way that I sense is unique. Where I live I tiptoe on the edges of it, does this sound familiar? But I have not allowed myself, and also at some profound level of my being not been allowed until now to contemplate such a connection.
I have made deep links with Yew and Beech already, but Willow only by a gentle touch not mutually deep exchanges between self, being and presence. And it’s not only the mystery of the Willow; there is other mystery and magic there for me. There is something about the land itself, even beyond the surface and visible landscape that calls to me. From where I sit now it is ephemeral and insubstantial, but it is surely real, reaching out and pulling me to explore.
All of these experiences are intensifying my practice of Druidry, enriching my spiritual and religious path, as well as my self-understanding as a Druid. They show me I have so much to experience still and only hint at how deeply these realities and experiences will take me into the realms of the gods, the ancestors and spirits of this land who frame, shape and ground my life and being as a Druid, as a person.
All this wonder, enrichment, challenge, awareness from a brief journey to and through an RSPB reserve.