One CD in my collection played only at Yuletide, for no more than a week, brings me to tears for all the Winter Festivals gone past in since I was twenty. Music to make me weep. The disc only came to me a quarter of a century ago, but it pulls all the memories from the twenty plus years before, the tears flow blurring vision through which I see like yesterday the Yuletide I became engaged to my first husband, and then the Christmases we shared for a year over a quarter of a century. Music to make me weep. The scene changes to the first Yule after I met my second husband, shared three thousand miles a apart on the phone all Christmas Day the same meal, and the same video after, and the first one we were together a year later after his two young daughters moved this at time to Ireland, after the ten years in England and Orkney, then the Yule alone, after he left me for another. Music to make me weep. Finally, six years ago in Bath, the three cats and I with the man who became husband three, a big house in the city and in then the years since after the big house to our place in the country, a home to share a life to cherish a time of gratitude. Music to make me weep. This CD has taken me through three lifetimes since I became an adult, in such different places all of which the music slips into my memory holding tenderly the remembrances of joy and gladness, gingerly those of loss and pain; for this is the power of music, to elicit emotion, to recall events, to jostle free recollections of times and people past and gone, present and here, into the future and yet to be this CD will take me through those Yuletides as well. Music to make me weep. The CD is Celtic Christmas II: A Windham Hill Collection
Road Kill Speaks to Me
Yesterday, we went on a rare venturing forth to the Willow and Wetlands Centre no too far from us to get a couple of baskets. On the way, driving across the Somerset Levels we passed two creatures who had met their ends in road accidents. They were both young animals in their first, and sadly, last year.
We came across the badger first, in the middle of the road. The energy/spirit of this poor creature was still hovering around the carcass. As we came towards it, she gave me her name. This often happens and, when it does, I know that there is a service that I can perform. Using her name, I gathered her energy/spirit and together we went to the portal for badgers entering the Summerlands. Once there I made my request known, to open the way for her to cross through. The portal opened and arrayed before us were numerous Badgercestors who called to the young one and welcomed her to the badgercestral sett. I nodded my thanks and I returned to the car where I had been sitting and which had moved on.
Not long after we came upon a squirrel. This one was harder as his energy/spirit was resentful and angry, his energy was running around his mangled body chittering and scolding as his tail swayed in the wind on the roadbed. This one I called to me and quietly told him it was time to move on. That’s when a terrible grief and sadness came upon me. He stopped being angry and became still. Then his sadness broke like a storm. He lamented that he never got to live his first autumn, never got to build his own drey, never got to cache acorns, never got to plant a tree.
It was so terribly sad to hear all this regret wrapped in such small quivering bundle of energy/spirit. Using the name he gave me I finally scooped up his energy/spirit and carried it to the squirrel portal to the Summerlands. Following the same procedure as with the badger, I called to the Squirrelcestors who bid him forth to them with gentle calling. They assured him he had a place in the squirrelcestoral drey and the that there would be tress to plant in the Summerlands, for that is what squirrels do there.
As I removed myself from these experiences, I offered thanks that I am able to offer this small service to the little furred and feathered ones who lose their lives on the roads, thanks I am granted to know their names and use them to help them move on. I record all of these names and at Samhain remember them.
Rites and Rituals
For a good number of years now, I’ve found myself much less interested in, and inclined towards, orchestrated and scripted rites to do any sort of ritual. It simply doesn’t suit me, my spirituality and spiritual practice like it once did. You see, I went from being a fairly high church Episcopalian/Anglican to being a low church Pagan.
Over the years I have tried to follow proscribed and prescribed Pagan rites and rituals – in my case Druidic ones – and I simply can’t do them. The wording always felt trite and often has no real poetry, the cadence of the language fell flat, having grown up with the Collect form that remained essentially that of Thomas Cranmer, the formulae seemed forced or like they are trying too hard. I just never felt authentic casting a circle or calling the quarters, though in the days when I was making a concerted effort my mind would wander and I kept thinking that the beginning of the Book of Common Prayer from the 1970s in the US was doing sort of the same thing – ‘Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and blessed be His Kingdom now and forever.’ Four parts that felt a lot like the circle casting using the four quarters. That being an aside.
Even though I attempted to write my own rites and formulate rituals to follow, I found that I had lost my taste for them. After all, I don’t belong to a Grove or any longer to Druid group that uses scripted rites for ritual. When the Druid group to which I do belong gathers, and we do so very infrequently, we are called together to be present in the space and place with simple words spoken from the heart. Those words hold our time out of time, as it were, and we sit in silence for the most part, individuals speaking or singing in the safety of the shared space. At a time when the one who gathered us in our time together senses that it is time to move back into ordinary time and space, the person says a few closing words and the time together ends.
There is another Pagan group to which I belong that has quite proscribed ways of doing things, at least on the surface, to be in communion with the group’s Goddessess, but again they don’t work for me. This same group has a series of guided meditations that can be undertaken at particular times. Again, I don’t get on with guided meditations, I tend to use them only to get to another ‘place’ then I wander off, usually following some calling from my usual guides. It’s not an act of wilful rebellion, it’s just the way these things work for me.
That said, being a person who no longer uses or desires to use written rites, I have developed a pattern of actions, a ritual, for the morning. It has happened spontaneously and it is one that feels right.
I get up about 0530 and get dressed. I get the food ready to take out to the feeding bowl in the orchard, put on my wellies and head out the back door. I head across the garden toward the west and through the gate into our little orchard. On the way I fill a watering can with water to replenish the water bowl near the feeding bowl and I make my way to fill both. I notice the wildflowers at my feet – bird’s foot trefoil is now blooming amid the buttercups and clover. After I fill the respective bowls I take the food container and watering can back to the orchard entrance.
Walking to each tree, most are still very small, being barely more than sticks when the arrived, and greet them in turn. I say good morning. I tell them how grateful we are that they are at home in our orchard. I make a fuss, if you will. When I come to one of the seven original trees I tell them how wonderful it is that they are making apples or plums and how amazing they are. I do this until all thirty trees are greeted, plus the two white birches and the four trees still in pots at the edge of the orchard. I also greet the badger who is buried near the birch trees.
After I have done this I stand where the front door of my shed will be at some point, at the bottom of the orchard. Facing north, I raise my arms to upward and draw down the energy of the morning into me and ground myself. Then raising my arms again, I chant the ‘Laude’ from Bernstein’s Mass, addressing to both God and Goddess. Finally, I chant to Pomona, who introduced Herself to me as a Goddess of the place where I live – dah, all those apple orchards! I chant to Her to ward and guard the trees of our orchard, and the ones close around. I ask her to bless the trees with fruit and give them strength to be resilient in the face of the changes in climate we are enduring. I have no set tune, no set words, just what feels right at the time, different every day.
When I am done, I walk back into the garden and do my morning watering on the east side of the property and in the front. When I water the garden, I chant to St Fiacre – patron saint of gardeners. He doesn’t seem to mind a Pagan chanting his name and asking his blessing on the garden. It usually takes me an hour to ninety minutes to do all of this.
Before I go to bed, I always look out my bedroom window, again to the west and north, and watch the stars, saying thank you to the day to the world outside my window, facing the orchard and the garden right under my window.
So, whilst I have not written rites, I do have rituals that work for me. Simple. Flexible. Sincere. They are rite-less rituals and that suits me just fine, and they will change with the seasons. What I do now in the summer will not be what I do in the winter, except for the last one of the day, because I think it is vitally important to express my gratitude to this amazing world we live on, for its gifts and abundant blessings, which more and more I am coming to realise we don’t appreciate enough, as a human species, to protect and cherish as we should, and indeed must if we are to survive. My humble thank you, I trust is heard and received with grace.
Today is a special day for me. Seventeen years ago I arrived in the UK never to leave again.
After I fed the cats at a little after six this morning I went up to my study and looking out the window I saw in the field behind the house across the road a sight that brought tears to my eyes.
The Mists of Avalon – the wisps of misty cloud that rest in the early morning on the Somerset Levels this time of year. I was overwhelmed by the knowing, deep and resonate well beyond mere knowledge, that living in the house we moved to four weeks ago was finally home.
Feelings of intense gratitude swept through me. After living in places from one end of the UK to the other,from the Devon coast to the farther reaches of Orkney, I am a last home.
Home. The place of my deepest truest belonging. Home. The space to set down proper roots. Home. Where I will welcome friends from all over to share with me the magic and wonder of Avalon. Home. Where the dining table will see feastings. Home. Where I will at last know the settled rootedness I need to do my work. To write and to create. To be fully myself. Home. Haven. Shelter. Harbour. Anchor. Home.
Therefore, on this anniversary day of my coming to the UK and at last having come my settling place, I say to the gods, ancestor and spirits of the land who brought us, led us, here to this wondrous place: Thank you. I will endeavour to the best of my ability to fulfil the tasks you set before me.
There is joy. And there will be more.
Packing to Move House
We are in the process of packing to move house. For me it’s my tenth move in nearly 17 years, for my husband it’s his first in as many.
I have more little, fiddly things to carefully wrap, preparing them to be boxed up until the place for them is ready. These will not be the things in the house, but in what I am calling my Sacred Shed at the bottom of the garden. I am hopeing it will be in place by Winter, it will be insulated and have power so myself and my special bits will be comfortable.
What is striking is finding some little thing that sets off a cascade of memories, some happy, some sad, some bittersweet. People and pets gone, dreams shattered and ways convoluted to get to where I am now, where I firmly believe I am meant to be. The ways have not been straightforward, many twists and seeming doubling backs, yet here I am.
The place we are going is wonderful in a magical place, the place we most wanted to be but had begun to doubt we would end up. Nevertheless, we perservered and in the end we were led to the place, or the place opened up for us. I am not willing to take a stand one way or the other as to which it was – that is was is all that really matters.
So, the response is one of deep and abiding gratitude. Even in the midst of all the upheaval for us and Wyntre, Nocturne and Purfling. We are all a bit fragile and on edge, off our feed a bit and due to the weather a bit hot and bothered. As I wade through packing paper and weave around the boxes of books, bits and bobs (I’ve not gotten to the crockery yet!) I hold in my mind the house we are going to.
In leaving here I give thanks for the shelter is has been for me these past two and a half years, for my husband, his late wife and their family in the nearly fifteen years before my arrival. It has seen its share of angst and sorrow before my arrival, as well as joy and hope. It is now time to pass this house on to another family as a place to make their memories and live their life in what I trust will be joy and gladness. I wish the same things for us as we move into our new home. I trust is will be a haven of calm and a safe harbour of all who pass through its doors. I trust we will live long and prosper between its walls and know when we leave it that we have honoured ourselves and the space to the fullest extent within our powers.
It will be guarded and warded by the spirit animals who companion us, and by the gods who have called us into their service, and the spirits of the land whom we will seek to honour by living gently and working with them in the years ahead.
Now, I’d best take up my tape gun, wonderful invention, grab some more packing paper and see if I can figure out the best way to pack the rest of my study and sacred space this weekend.
A couple of days ago I finished reading Tom Holland’s Millennium. I had many reactions to his book. Although I read Mediaeval History and Literature at university, I was not as familiar with the timeframe he was dealing with, having spent most of my time in the 12th century, and Millennium deals with the end of the 10th through most of the 11th centuries.
What struck me most, besides the appalling behaviour of both Christians and Muslims in the time covered by Holland’s book was the fact that I am here at all.
As a Druid, I look to the ancestors for inspiration and guidance, and honour them in ritual and meditation. What hit me as I read about the battles, and sieges, and the battles, and more battles, is how amazing it is that I am alive. It meant that none of my ancestors, in a direct genetic line to me, was killed in any of the serious bloodletting that swept across Europe. I meant that none of my ancestors, in direct genetic line to me, retreated to a monastery. Neither of these at least until they had passed on their genes to another generation.
Looking beyond the turbulent century around the first millennium of the Common Era, it also meant that none of my ancestors died of plague, disease, or in childbirth, and if the latter only after my next ancestor was born. Similarly, none died from making pilgrimages. They did not die by drowning or fire, from being on the wrong side in the burning frenzies that marked the actions of and reactions to Inquisition or the Protestant Reformation several centuries later.
I am here because none of my direct ancestors died in the War of American Independence, or Civil Wars in either England or America before they had fathered or mothered the child who stands behind me. Nor did they die in the killing fields of France in WWI, though it was a close-run thing in WWII. My father being spared the horror of the Battle of the Bulge because his CO faked his papers, saying he had a fever. He did this because he felt my father was more valuable to the war effort designing recreation rooms from Quonset huts, which helped morale, than as a fighter on the front line.
That any of us are here is because, though we may have had ancestors who succumbed to TB in the slums of English cities in the Industrial Revolution or died in the mines or mills, they did so after the next generation of our ancestors was already alive. Ditto the Black Death and its numerous recurrences over the centuries.
Realising this, all of this, makes me more respectful of those whose genes I carry, though I have not passed them on to another generation. I am not an ancestor of the future, except tangentially, but since I am not in contact with my cousins I will join the generic gathering of ancestors who belong to everyone and no one in particular.
That does not make me sad or feel any regret, for it was a conscious choice. What it does make me more aware of the burden those who came before me carried for millennia upon millennia, and whose lives and genes make me, were never aware of. In that awareness then is a special kind of honouring. Honouring by awareness is just as valuable as honouring by action, action in this case being the physical passing on of genetic information.
I am humbled with gratitude. I am humbled by the amazing quirks of fate and faith that brought me to the place I am, to the knowing I have of who came before me. I do not know many of the names, but I know about the world they lived in and the dangers the faced from reading history; I know the sorrows they endured from love and loss because I have read literature. I thank them each. I thank them all.
This week I’ve been pondering the pivot points in my life. You know the ones where you went somewhere, did something or met someone who changed the course of your life.
That’s what I’ve been doing. I looked back not only to my actions, but to others, to decisions my parents made about what to name me, where to live or go to church. If I think about who or what I might have been or been doing now had any of these events not occurred or choices made I see a very different me. For all I know there are those other mes out there in some parallel reality right now living those other lives, but not they are not the me sitting here writing this blog.
Now and again I ponder the one about the other names I might have had, and it might also help to know that I changed my name on the Autumnal Equinox in 1977. Changed the lot, all three names. What I am sure of is that had my name remained that which was given me at birth and affirmed at my baptism I would not be sitting here in the UK living the life I am now.
What triggered all this reflection on pivot points is remembering my first wedding day on 26th May 1974. The man I married that day eventually, after 25 years, divorced me and seven years later died. But I was thinking more of all the steps that led me to the altar that day and whether some pivots are stronger in effect than others. What such pondering does for me is put pay to the idea of life as a linear progression. My view is of a spiral, but even that is far from a simple image when looking at radical, life altering pivotal moments.
I thought of all the people, friends and family, lost to me over the years through death and relocation. There have been many, many losses and many, many relocations over the years. It is poignant to think back on them, who though not thought of often bring a smile to my face and tear to my eye, even today. The experience of our lives, using mine as an example, is a story with gentle curved turns and sometimes sharp angular twists. None of them foreseen, each of them fundamental to who we are and how we become that person.
The trajectory of an individual’s life as it is lived everyday contains small points of possible change, a decision to go somewhere may mean a meeting someone who upends everything and every plan hard thought out over years of patient endeavour. Going to certain place on a whim may mean finding one’s soul home and the ramifications that causes not only to oneself, but everyone else in one’s circle of connection, human and non-human.
What I ended up doing as I thought of the people and places, the names and faces of the people was to say thank you to them. To silently express gratitude for the part they have played in my life, into enabling me to be who I am, and where I am. Although some of those pivoting times were excruciatingly painful, yet were it not for them I would be someone else, somewhere else. Not necessarily in a worse place, though there are aspects of that, but in a very different reality, leading a very different life. The life I live now is mine and I embrace it with joy and gratitude, for though I can imagine others, this is the one in which I am invested in making the best and fullest that I am able.
So, as I whisper all those names and places here and now, I say again: Thank you ________ the time we shared together in the making of me.
Now I’m Sixty-four
Well, I have been reflecting about being 64 today. I have been ranging back over birthdays past. I have been amazed at how different my life really is now from when I fleeting pondered this age in my twenties and thirties.
I would never have imagined I’d that two husbands would have divorced me. It was inconceivable that I would be living in a country different from that of my birth. To be a vegan was certainly a completely alien notion, even in my California days, although for eight years I was a vegetarian there. None of the assumptions I made about my future in those years is what I am currently living. Those assumptions were much, much narrower and more parochial.
Certainly, in my twenties I never imagined I’d have gone to university (late thirties into my forties) let alone do as well as I did, which was astonishingly well considering my background. In my thirties, I did not entertain the thought that once I plotted a path of vocation that it would not manifest, let alone that I would completely alter my spiritual path and embrace a pagan one.
One thing I take away from these ruminations is that life can never be planned out for a straight from A to Z journey. At least, in my opinion would, to do so would seriously compromise the opportunity for growth and learning. It would hinder the possibility that chance can throw up amazing options and opportunities. It would deny the gift of serendipity and the wonders of risk taking, to whatever extent risk is comfortable.
I rejoice and give thanks that today I have been granted the privilege to be alive, that I am in good health as far as I know, and living in a place that sings to my soul and dances with my spirit. I celebrate having an amazing partner who wants to create with me a Golden Autumn to share together and engage the Mysteries of the Winter of our current passage.
Counting the Days
I no longer do Christmas, so I no longer do Advent.
This year, however, it does not mean I’m not opening little windows every night to expose what’s behind them. It is a calendar of sorts. It comes in the form of blister packs. Twenty-eight days to mark off until the Winter Solstice. Twenty-eight days until I am free of the anti-depressants I’ve been taking for the past three years and nine months.
I began the journey off of them just days after the Autumnal Equinox. It did not register at the time that it meant I’d be taking the last one on the eve of the Solstice. The timing may seem a coincidence, but I prefer to see it as a co-incidence. Not a random series of events, but one with more intention behind it. More power to assist me on the journey to be ‘drug free’.
I could undertake this step, and knew I would do, once I was granted Indefinite Leave to Remain the UK. It also came soon after the Decree Absolute from my second marriage came through. Both of these pieces of paper gave me freedom. Freedom of soul, energy, mind and body. That they arrived within weeks of each other . . . hmmmm . . . another coincidence? I think and believe not.
In any case, I am taking the journey to liberation from the tablets with deliberation and intention. I have always thanked them for enabling me to make the passage through some very difficult and challenging years and circumstances. I worked with them and they worked for me. Now that I no longer need them I am working with them be released from their hold on my body and mind. Over the course of the 45 months I was on them the dosage was gradually increased under the supervision of my GP, as my body seemed to have gotten used to the amount of drug and needed more to maintain the same level of functioning. The dose was doubled twice; and again under a different GP’s supervision over the past three months the dose has been halved gradually to the original amount of medication. There is no going off such powerful drugs cold tofu.
I realise that the journey of liberation I am making has not worked for everyone. For some it is just not possible to completely be removed from the medication and function. We are all different. Some who have had terrible withdrawal symptoms and say that if they’d known it was so hard to go off them, they’d never taken them in the first place. It depends on the person. It depends on the prescription given.
These last eleven days I approach with gratitude. I am thankful that the medication worked for me and did what I needed it to do at the time I needed the support. I am equally grateful that I am able to cease it now that I no longer need that support.