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.
When I wrote ‘The Fall. THE FALL and the Apple’, I only thought of two Falls that were part of my personal story.
There is another, however, one which I have only been introduced to since living in the UK. One I witnessed yesterday, and only the third time in such a spectacular fashion. But this time there was a difference, for in the middle of the experience I connected it to the other two Falls, and it too was connected to apples for it occurred within the mysterious realm of Avalon, within sight of Glastonbury Tor.
This third Fall is that which occurs at the end of a Starling Murmuration sequence.
We were at RSPB Ham Wall on the Somerset Levels. I had spent the day indoors at a meeting nearby whilst my partner explored the reserve, and he brought me there after he picked me up to share what he had discovered. During the day it had gone from sunny and bright to overcast and windy, eventually adding mizzle to the mix.
We walked down to the big hide and back in a cold wind, waiting for the Starlings to come in for the night. I had seen the murmuration there before, from a distance, with a friend who works for the RSPB, a couple of years ago. I had also seen it when out on the Levels many years ago, also from quite a distance the big sky the sky dancers stage. My partner had never had the experience, seen the display.
At the time posted on the notice board at the RSPB building on site, the Starlings began to arrive. Last evening was different from the previous times I had seen the massed dance, from a distance. I had heard the beating of hundreds of wings swooping over my head. I had watched them turn and swirl and wheel, seen masses of starlings blacken part of the sky and then open up into a loose mass. This time was different.
What I had never seen up close was want happens when the aerobatic display ends: what happens after The Fall.
The Starlings rise and drop several times on the way to the reedbed to roost, but the final act in the aerial ballet, The Fall, I had not witnessed up close. The reedbed was swarming with Starlings. Literally thousands and thousands of them. This sort of display only happens in late Autumn and Winter.
There are no adequate words to describe the spectacle. The entire reedbed roiled and quivered, the chittering was incessant, the sound of the thousands of pairs of wings continued to beat as the mass settled for the night, which took time; it was not a rushed settling in, settling down. Some of the birds stopped to take a bath or have a drink. The reedbed was thick and dark with Starlings as small groups continued to move back and forth. Even when it appeared the space could hold no more, overhead another huge group would arrive from behind us churning and whirling, and then another from the right, over the trees. Fall after Fall after Fall. More and more Starlings arriving.
I could feel the intensity of whatever drove these amazing birds to seek the place of their night’s roosting, the place they would shelter for the night. I wondered who choose the site for the night, of all the various reedbeds on the Levels, wondered why they all came to the one in front of us at Ham Wall. I wondered how they all knew when the gathering was taking place. I was curious how come there were always a few stragglers who came in at the very last. I wondered how they got separated from their group. I wondered if a raptor got to any who were late and not part of the massed sky dance.
So many questions. And, I suppose I could find some of the reasons behind this behaviour; for now, however, I am content not to have the answers. The mystery is fine, essential still. The mystery is part of the magic of experience.
I would love to see the morning rising, and am sure I will manage to do so one day. In the meantime I am left to ponder this Fall, the third Fall, its deeper meaning and its lessons.
Leaves fall from trees in the Autumn. Sap rises in the Spring after the trees Winter rest bringing trees back to life, reawakened. Starlings fall from the sky into the reedbeds to rest for the night. In the morning they awaken and rise to begin their daily cycle again.
Mystery. Wonder. Connection. Awe.
For all the words I have written here, I was speechless last evening. Clearly, to me, the marker of a deep and profound spiritual experience.
I did not get to spend
Epona’s day in quiet contemplation,
though I held the early dawn
honouring Her gifts
with my waking intentions.
In honouring Her, however,
I honour too my Spirit Horse,
a faithful companion
for many years
on many journeys
through many struggles.
She appears to me
a dappled gray mare,
with charcoal mane and tail
and a gentle disposition,
patient and brave,
and sharing her courage
as we travel through
portal door gate
Are you Epona’s foal,
the gray daughter
of the white mother,
and the dark father
of deepest night?
She possesses the wisdom,
knowing and certainty
to take me between worlds,
in her company
I willingly move from
the familiar here to there
engage the mystery
seek the answers
acknowledge the powers
beyond the strictly
Today I honour Epona,
and in so doing
honour she on whose
back I travel beyond
my body and safe return.
you sit in the recess of the cave,
a cavernous space
in the realm of my imaginal seeing,
tending the cauldron
from which the fruits of inspiration
are drawn or can be if I am open.
you sit as I add ideas,
thoughts in patterns unformed,
way marker words
on the journey to a poem,
fragments of story,
a name a place an event
without a frame,
an echo or a whisper
heard deep in my mind,
swirling in my awareness
waiting waiting waiting,
for me to stir the cauldron’s contents,
tend the rich stew of possibility,
wondering if indeed
idea, word or image
will coalesce into a shape.
you sit in the recess,
I stir the cauldron,
never sure until I draw them out
whether what I have added
has been transformed into poem or story,
yet I honour the cauldron
the space of potential
the place of possibility
that rests both within me
and in front of me
each real and at times
and seething wonder.
Through a deep borne past
we move through today
a phoenix rising
from the ashes
victories and failures,
the just sped through
The title words of this reflection shot through my awareness as I was in the shower this morning. Repeating them like a mantra I was able to hold onto them until I made my way dried and dressed to my journal to transcribe them and the words following here. I KNOW in my bones, in the interstices of my very self, what they mean, and for me at least how significant they are for how I actively perceive my life and its text, context and subtexts.
The past we carry – past as in yesterday no less or more than the past of six lifetimes ago.
This does not mean the past is, ought or need be a burden. We carry it lightly, but bear it deep within us.
What does this then say about our present? Where does that fit in?
The present mediates then and yet. Both are managed, as it were, through the prism, the lens of now.
One comes from somewhere and is on a journey to somewhere else, and it is the actual steps of the journey that comprise the now. We can’t go back. We can’t skip ahead. This keeps us on our path, one step and footfall at a time.
We have had, of course, or I believe that I have had as many futures as I have had pasts. Or to put it more forcefully: I believe that I have as many pasts as futures in the larger view of multiple lives across time. More prosaically, even if you do not credit past or future manifestations/incarnations, since every yesterday had, and has, a tomorrow, and every tomorrow has, and will have, a yesterday and we move between one and the other from yesterday and tomorrow through today. Then for all of us there have been as many pasts as there are futures.
This is the reason it is important to honour every day, to honour the everyday. In so doing we don’t just slip along through life. We step with intention. We move with deliberation. We make choices. We acknowledge mistakes and accept their lessons. We take responsibility. We are not passive. We don’t just observe our life; we live it. It’s not riding on our own personal high speed train, where one day blurs into another. It’s putting on our hiking boots and going out to live in all emotional, physical and spiritual weathers.
We may only have a vague idea of what direction we are heading, maybe a crude map, with key markers on it, but that’s good, as it should be. There is not OS map for the soul, not satnav for a life journey. There is no knowing what the topography of tomorrow will be like. We only find out on the ground. There is no one, or should not be someone, telling us to take the third exit in the roundabout of experience. We have to live them to find out. So, we will stumble onto boggy bits and get through them. We will confront rivers swollen with the torrents of pain or distress, and we will ford them. We will trek across barren places and through barren times, but we will get through them to greener places again.
Living with an awareness of one’s deep borne past gives us hints that arise from both our knowledge and our knowing. It is made up of, as we are made from, the large small, the happy and hurtful events of this life, as well as those we have lived before. In all this it is vital to remember that the future is much more vast than next weekend or a score of years from now, for it means who we will be the next time as well.
But now, and not just this present life, but this very instant, is what constitutes and makes the past meaningful; because the moment you read the first part of this sentence or as you read along word for word, the present has become the past.
The now is always, and inescapably, becoming simultaneously both then and yet.
For me it’s part of how I get my head around time, the flow of time, my flow by time through space, the measures and structures of my existence.
Thinking and writing about these things, and reading them, in some inexplicable way becomes part of the then that we have walked together into the mystery of yet.
May the nows of today bring you meaning from the then and courage for the yet.
It has been ages, or at lease feels like it, since I introduced this new mode for me to engage in deep contemplation of the elements as I was led to use one for each day of the week. Like everything else over the summer this ground to a halt, but as I have reclaimed myself and my journey this aspect has reasserted itself in its proper place in my spiritual practice. Today is the first day I have claimed back the time and set aside the body/mind/soul space to enter what I knew, as it unfolded for me, would have a profound impact on how I comprehended everything.
The cats are fed, their litter trays sorted, and we’ve had a good old bash of chase the stick and attack the red spot.
Being a Sunday, today’s contemplation is Mystery for which I hold one of my small Iona bowls. It now has an inexpensive white metal spiral in the bottom that surfaced as I was hunting for something in my trim and notion drawer.
Immediately, I am taken to visions of Spirals of all types and sizes: to the swirl of galaxies; the double helix of my DNA; the eddies of water in streams and rivers; whirlpools; hurricanes; tornadoes; spiralling circles in folk dances; whirling dervishes; the unfolding of grape hyacinths and hibiscus flowers; spinning prayer wheels; cats and dogs chasing their tales; the winding steps to the tops of towers; fern fronds and pea tendrils. Each of these images emerged in rapid succession. Everywhere spirals, as everywhere mystery.
It matches the expanse and extent of the pervasiveness of mystery as I contemplate it this morning. Mystery. My-story. Mist–story. All word plays. Mystery, that which is hidden in plain sight before me, around all of us. There is mist/fog/low cloud, call it what you will, settled over the Maize Mothers gathered across the road. There is an ambient and chilly dampness pervading the air and seeping into the bones.
More Spirals. We speak of inflationary spirals in economics. Some know all too well the spiralling descent into depression. When events, behaviours or things go terribly wrong we say they have spiralled out of control. We live our lives on the arm of a spiral galaxy. Our art from earliest times and across divergent cultures use the spiral.
So, the mystery at the heart of today’s contemplation unfolds in me, before me, as I gaze into the bowl cradled in palms of my hands, cupped holding this container of wonder.
The mystery here, for me at least is best stated: How did this come to be? How did this image take such a hold on our collective imagination that is it used in describing so many areas in life?
After all, we use it to describe the pattern of our deepest most intimate reality, that which is at the depth of our very making. The swirling, twirling, spinning we share with so much of the life about us.
Again images emerge. The potters at the wheel, spin and draw up clay to form a pot or wind ropes of clay to do the same. The basket weavers do the same in a different medium. Squirrels chase each other over tree trunks in spirals. Some birds construct nests in a sort of spiral pattern. Yarn is spun twirling fleece or cotton or silk into long, long spiralled strands.
Mystery and spirals merge and part as I continue my contemplation.
Mystery is part of my-story. Wonder. Yes, we know we can explain how certain phenomena occur in nature. But that doesn’t rob from me the elegance of mystery, the mist-shrouded sense of something deeper than what empirical evidenced base science can prove. Intellectually, I can understand much of the language the sciences of meteorology, astrophysics and biology use to describe the mechanisms at work in the certain kinds of spirals; but the spiral that made me and the one I ride on through space/time remain wondrous and awe-filling.
To fall back on Mystery to explain something of faith or what is truly impenetrable is not a copout. I do not feel it is a fudge. For me it is an acknowledgement that there are things, experiences, events and even realities that are cloaked and that Knowing in these instances is a matter of trust, and have nothing to do with empirical knowledge. Mystery is what lies at the heart of wonder; it exists at the limits of human hubris; it is the soft fringe of spirituality and the hard edge of religion.
Now as I ease back from the depth and breadth of this contemplation, and feel the slight weight of the Iona Mystery Bowl in my hands becoming aware I am here, I am aware of how appropriate it is that this bowl is the one for my Sunday Mystery Contemplations. I recall all the journeys I have made to Iona, most at this time of year. Those journeys changed me because the experiences and encounters I had on beguiling, thin and dangerous Iona altered my life, my-story, irrevocably and forever.
How? How did the patterns shape as they did? Why? Why were choices made regarding certain encounters? Why were particular events so charged with significance?
Why? It’s a Mystery.
I have searched for an image to go with this post, but none are as clear as the one I saw inspiring these words. I got up at 0300 to see the special eclipse not sure what to expect. In my pajamas, jumper and furry slippers I walked out of my little porch. Immediately in front of me was Orion. There were not lots of other stars confusing the view it was pretty much Orion standing tall above the Maize Mothers. There appeared ever so briefly a shooting star reminding me of the depth of space/time.
Although I got up to watch the moon slip into totality, and stood looking up in awe of her colour wreathed in darkness, but I was most taken by the view of Orion.
I made the acquaintance of Orion properly on Iona nearly 20 years ago. It was the first place he was close enough to touch. As I visited the island most often in October, it is not surprising that he was there to greet me. For me, his energy is quite powerful and mysterious. I look forward to my first sighting each Autumn and on such a special night this year, when the energies of the space/time were so evident made the moment even more powerful.
I revere your presence,
leader of the Sky hunt
through the wastes of Winter,
gathering your power
in the nights of Autumn.
I honour your authority,
caller of the Sky hunt
through the wilderness of galaxies,
focusing your strength
in the darkening of nights.
I respect your dignity,
master of the Sky hunt
through the mysteries of space/time,
holding your nerve
in the density of darkness.
I greet you, Orion,
this clear bright night,
ever deepening to the
cold harsh heart
I ask you, Orion,
to share your energy,
celestial light blazing
through the frozen sky
I thank you, Orion,
for offering your presence,
to sustain the fearful and weary
during every night
You are the Hunter
to my Gatherer.
The Hunter and the Gatherer paired
provision the larder,
enabling the tribe
to be sustained and healthy,
year on year
through every season,
moon and moment.
You are the Hunter
to my Gatherer.
No longer able
to partake the flesh Beasts,
for in these days
it is neither freely given
nor reverently taken,
I still require
this energy to survive.
You are the Hunter
to my Gatherer.
When I greet and reverence you,
with grace and gratitude
I am able to receive this energy,
these gifts the Beasts
can only provide if taken
with respect when given the dignity
of a freely surrendered death.
You are the Hunter
to my Gatherer.
* * * *
Even for me the third poem raises issues and paradoxes that are complex and not easily resolved. What I am able to do is articulate and then wrestle with them. And always, always eat with an open and grateful heart.
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.
Winter’s cold weaves
expanding icy lace
barely visible, upon
dark needled yew,
bare branched ash,
berried brazen holly,
spreading fernish tendrils
patterning across surfaces,
setting miniscule shards
of crystal standing upon
leaves alive and dead,
making no discernible distinction.
Winter’s cold rests
in places saturated by preferences
eons old and untamed still,
raises misty on the rimes
bounding fields again water swollen
too sodden for any but the swans,
when night-water standing shallow
transubstantiates to ice
slippery and shining
seen in unexpected beauty
on the dawning of the day.
Winter’s cold steals
upon and over roads and pathways,
undetectable until too late,
ice black as night
as dangerous as
frozen projectiles thrown
by no hand seen by human eyes,
from eaves and rooftops
crashing to break the quiet
impaling the unwary.
And now Winter’s cold
drapes shoulders undetected
and gloves fingers invisibly,
it can steal into the Self,
it can freeze the soul
it can freeze the heart
it can freeze the mind
if one be not careful
it can reach out grabbing
the joy, the hope, the wonder
from the season’s bright festivities.
Be wary then and watchful,
though most of all,
be bold with wonder,
be extravagant with joy,
be generous with love,
be not afraid,
embrace with delight Winter’s gifts,
short lived each year,
filled with immense mystery
and the deepest magic.