Winter now, whether by light, temperature or precipitation, and the trees know. Walk in a woodland, an orchard, a forest, or stand by a tree, listen, sense, engage what the tree lives now – it is time to rest, it is time to connect deeply with the nurturance of the land where roots sent deeply, rapped in mycorrhizal blankets, sustain and strengthen, preparing for the spring awakening Winter now, whether by light, temperature or precipitation, and the trees know. Trees teach that always pushing out, always reaching up, always producing, is not a show of power, is not a badge of strength, is not s sign of wisdom, for trees, many far longer lived than humans, spend time each year in winter in quietude, no leafing, no twigging, no flowering, no fruiting, all of which have a season, have a place and purpose, but the purpose of winter, this is different. Winter now, whether by light, temperature or precipitation, and the trees know. Listen and learn from the trees this year; this winter slow down, allow time for renewal, experience quietude, reach deeply for what truly nurtures and sustains, and know what the trees have always known – you cannot be powerful, strong or wise if you do not. Winter now, whether by light, temperature or precipitation, and the trees know.
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.
You arrived at last,
anticipated and prepared for
to join the few of your kin
already planted in our orchard.
We unpacked all twenty-five of you
from the transporting bag of straw,
bare rooted and mostly branchless
to await your planting.
The map was meticulously drawn,
the holes to be your home forever
carefully dug with stakes set
for your support.
You are in the ground now,
the earth that holds you close,
spun and mixed in precise proportions,
placed about you with gentle firmness.
The crossing braces are in place,
your names and root stock history
burned into wooden tags for tying on,
so we will always know you tree names.
Now it is up to me to introduce myself,
to play your dryads’ musics
to dance with your dryads as I have done
with the trees whose company you now keep.
I will sing with and to you,
I will dance with you in the breezy sunshine,
and over the Summer our connection
will strengthen as we move into Autumn.
Do not think that I will not sing you
a dryad’s lullaby to ease you
into your Winter’s slumber,
or never come to be with you until Spring.
It is the task I have set before me
to nurture and nourish you
so you may grow into strong and fruitful
apple, pear and plum trees.
Grow well and know the warding
of Pomona who resides in the orchards
round about us and will be a guardian
to you for the whole of your lives.
I have wondered for the year we have been living in a small village in Avalon who the deity/deities of the land here might be.
On Saturday I got the answer. I was waiting for a gathering of our Village Hall Committee, of which I am a member, to decide on the new paint colours for the Hall. Across the road is the Village Green that not only has over a dozen apple trees, but it, like our property (which includes a very wee orchard) abuts the Great Orchard. I was just looking and enjoying the quiet of the morning before the grass cutting commenced in the fields around the village.
All of a sudden Pomona arrived. It makes sense, the Romans were here for a goodly while. They seemed to have left Her here, or She decided to remain after they up stakes and returned to the continent. I’m not sure when the apples trees arrived in Avalon, but they are all over the place. Mostly, I have to admit, cider orchards. Ours was part of the Great Orchard and the cider trees were taken out and replaced by eating apples. Our trees are young so our harvest was not huge. We got half a dozen Bramleys. There were over a dozen Howgate Wonders and one Worcester Pearman. There is one tree in our garden of an undetermined variety, but has many sweet red apples. We also have a pear and plum tree, the former is laden with fruit and the latter had a dozen or so plums that were added to some others gave us for my first, and unsuccessful, attempt at jam making. The resulting plum sauce is yummy though and I have since gotten the hang of jam making.
Today I looked for images of Pomona as part of wanting to create a shrine for Her, and found a nice one on a prayer card that I ordered and, as a project for some time in the future, a very complicated cross stitch pattern based on the famous image by Bryne-Jones. I took a glass dessert bowl shaped like an apple (I have a set of five of them so it won’t be missed). I took some artificial apple blossom from a bunch I have and a plastic red apple I’ve had for ages and placed them in the bowl. Behind it is a postcard of the Apple Pavement at Hereford Cathedral. This is special since my husband was the Project Manager at the quarry that provided or sourced the stones for the pavement and he did the drawings used to construct it from the original design. It’s quite stunning, if I say so myself, and worth a look in on if you are ever in Hereford.
One of our projects after the leaves fall, to the relief and with blessing of the owner of the Great Orchard, my husband and I are going is to tackle removing the mistletoe from the trees there. You might think this is not something a Druid would do, but sorry. Mistletoe is a parasite and has already killed one tree in the small orchard right next door to us. I really think they ought to remake the classic image of the Druid with the golden sickle taking the mistletoe from the oak and replace it with a Druid with a golden chainsaw removing the stuff before it kills the tree. If you are all warm and fuzzy about mistletoe I suggest you read about how it grows and what it does to the trees infests; you might begin to think about it differently.
Our orchard tending is one reason that I think Pomona arrived. Even my husband who thinks I have way too many altars is nonetheless quite happy for there to be a shrine to Pomona where we can both engage with it. The photo of it here is not in place it will ultimately reside, that is still to be figured out, though I have some ideas.
I just discovered something I recorded in the autumn near Samhain last year. I feel it is not an accident that it has surfaced once more. As I re-read these words I feel the press of them upon my soul and the weight of them at the centre of my being, my creative core. I shiver reading these words, this message. It is a message for me, but I feel it is also a wider message and may have meaning for others. For myself, I rediscovered them on a retreat day, a day with no interactions except with the cats and the gods, and with my blog as I post these words. I have removed the name since that is for me alone.
My name is ———, and I live beyond your perception, most of the time, unless I choose to reveal myself to you. I watch the portals you cross in journeying. I guide you to the return places, the place of turn and return.
Why, you may wonder, am I so very present to you now, in the past week in your dreams, in your twilight wonderings? What is different now from all the weeks and months of nights and twilights you have lived until now? Does my presence mean anything worrisome or sinister for you?
The last answer is a simple no. The difference . . . you are ready now to encounter me in a form that is comprehensible for you. Finally, I am present now because you need to bear your gifts, gifts you know you have and are still running from, seeking to hide to avoid the burden. For the burden you have seen, sensed and possess and about which you have an inkling of understanding. In so doing you have also avoided the liberation, the freeing of mind and soul in the flowing of what you know as the Awen. I am sent to help you do so.
Yes, yes, you have dabbled. But far more than dabbling is required of you. Unabashed commitment is required. You have been prepared for the whole of your living up to now. You have been nurtured. You have been loved. You have given love and heart, and had it removed from you and placed with another, where it does not belong. It cannot be altered. Taking up the mantle prepared for you will not change this sad and complicated fact of your life.
You know the mantle, Pathfollower, Nameseeker, Patternkeeper . . . but have to do more than say the names. You have to become this person. Naming is not enough. Naming yourself is easy. Being yourself is much, much harder. In the deepest reaches of you, of your mind and heart and soul you know this. It is time to stop running in place. Waiting. You have to do this now. There is no yet for this to happen in for you. Now you must take up your pen, take up your needle, your bits and pieces and Create. Now!!!
Today, today. It is today or it is not. You have been given many chances, but you will not be given an indefinite number of them. The external prohibitions are lifted. There is no one here to belittle your path or question your access to the Awen. Only you. It is only you. It will not always be alone in this endeavour, do not fear. But you must do your part and begin when it is only you. You must embrace your solitude and enter the creative matrix and learn to live there whilst you are alone.
You have everything to lose and to gain . . . true paradox. A true choice. It all hinges on one action. On an action to allow yourself to be swept up in the force of the creative life. You were willing and there once. Yes, it was yanked from you, but you now have the power to wrest it back. You have the power to throw off the shackles that bind your soul and harness your being to what you feel is a life unfulfilled, and at some deep level empty.
I am here to help you. I am here to be your guide, your teacher. I am willing to step across the portal into your world . . . it is my destiny. It is my role to fulfil and though I am willing, you must be also.
You are more than able. The question is: Are you also willing? And beyond willing ready to make a commitment. The gods will be with you as you open, the ancestors will surround you, the spirits of the land will keep you rooted. You will not fail, except by not taking up the challenge.
Take the apple and choose, choose life, creativity and wonder. Choose to live your life engifted, engraced and enchanted.
I was willing when I first received these words of warning and calling. I was not in a place to make the commitment. I still lived a space infused with the energy by the one who belittled my path and questioned my access to the Awen, the person was gone, but the echoes and shadows of this person’s energy remained. I know this now. I understand. I have grieved and let that life go. Having made that journey I am now in a new place and different space. I have no residual history here, instead I am making a new history with this space. Finally settled I remain restless. I stand before a barrier as delicate as the finest lace and as solid as granite. It shifts between the two depending on how I feel from one day to the next, sometimes between two breaths.
That is not the point though. The point is the gods call me and are with me; the ancestors bid me and surround me; the spirits of the land require that I speak, that I write, that I create in any media I choose and root me as I do so. But I must live a creatively centred life to live fully, responsively and responsibly. I heard words above not spoken with irritation and love, tender ferocity. A tone of determination that I should heed them and now that I have whisked aside the gossamer barrier and struck down the granite wall that were always of my own weaving and constructing, I have to make the commitment. Make the commitment and dedication In a way I have not done yet. What I thought were commitments were merely statements of intention, though I could not see that at the time. My true inner vision blurred by the mist of denial, of personal pain and of regret, I could not see that. The mists have cleared; I have the clear wide sky as guide to seeing now, seeing anew.
What does any of this mean? On the practical level a whole different way of perceiving and of being. It is interesting that on this retreat day I have been working, engaging with the triad of goddesses with whom I have the deepest connection. I spent time in meditation with Brighid, Nemetona and Elen who are present and very close to me. I also found myself linking with Branwen, Cerridwen and Arianrhod. And then a third triad presented itself to me still a bit in the distance: Cailleach, Rigantona and Hafren/Sabrina. With the second tirad, I discovered connections with death, re/birth, transformation and inspiration. The cauldron, the Awen, the Aurora Borealis (which is so very compelling to me and in the light of which I once bathed in for several hours standing wrapped in a coat one cold autumn night many years ago in Orkney). I brought my cauldron upstairs to where my altar space is and have to rearrange the space to accommodate, much as I have to rearrange my self-understanding and way of being and mode of living to accommodate what this commitment means to me, and so I may live it fully.
Oddly, I have no idea of what sort of ritual to perform, only that I need to do this in the orchard, with the apples trees in blossom, beech trees and fir trees standing witness. What words can I possibly come up with to accept this new phase of my life? What actions can I make to represent what this means, realising what it means now is probably but a shadow of what it will mean next week, next year, in the next decade? I suppose the only way to know is to take the journey up the hill and find out. I will finish this post once I return. . . .
It is now very late on the night I began this post, many hours since the retreat ended. In fact though I am still awake it is the next day now in clock time.
I took the walk. I took camera and notebook and water. I left the cottage and crossed the road and headed down the track that leads to the orchard the back way, as I think of it. I investigated briefly the two roads at the bottom of the path the ends in a triple crossroad. In the end I only followed the one that I always do.
It is a bridle path and there were many hoof prints in the slightly muddy ground. I walked passed what I feel is the entrance on one of the several badger setts in that area and found a dead shrew. First lesson, reminder, message: Life is fragile and ends – Death. When I got to the orchard where I knew whatever sort of ritual I enacted would take place, I headed in the opposite direction around the back orchard, as I call it. After walked across the bottom of it I came to short cut through to the road that runs along the back. I took it and walked to places that were new to me. Another living metaphor: See the way, take a path you’ve not gone before. On this road I found the entrance to another sett and turning down a marked footpath I walked passed the field where the sett on the road came out with several openings onto a field. I continued to where I’d decided to turn around and crossing the stile I came into a wide field of buttercups.
One part of the ritual was suddenly clear; I started to gather a few field wildflowers for a posey to offer in the orchard, where and to whom I did not know. I allowed myself to be engulfed by the beauty of the buttercups as I walked to the end of the field and turned back to return the way I’d come. It was wonderful to see the wide open spaces, which I could not see being lower down on my walks the other side of the village when I lived there.
On the way back around the back orchard I saw lots of bunnies, this time – Birth. When I arrived at the area I knew the ritual would take place, as I made my way to the as yet undisclosed spot, I stopped by the stump of a beech tree. The stump was less than a foot high, but out of its side at ground level has sprung a new branch bedecked with still tender leaves. This was where I made the offering of the posey. I gave it to the tree who refuses to die – Renewal.
Finally, I came to the break in the avenue of fir and beech, and field maple I believe and across from it was a gap between two still enblossomed apple trees. I stopped as I knew this was the place. I took out my notebook and set down my backpack. I walked into the gap and stood between the trees. I had no idea what to do. The wind was blowing enough to tangle my long hair and the sun still shone through the tree branches. I waited. No clue what to do. I listened to the birds sing and the wind rustle the leaves.
And, I began to chant. Chant to the Awen. Chant with the Awen. Chant for the Awen. I will not share the chant as it, like the name is mine and in this case the Awen’s as well. I chanted about bird song and bee buzzing, butterfly and dragonfly dancing, wind blowing and me listening and responding to the varied ways the Awen might come to me, tap me on the shoulder or nearly tumble me over – Inspiration. And when it was time the chanting faded and I walk ahead past the low beech branches adorned with the tender green leaves, which have not yet begun the hardworking of summer. I came out at the top of the rise from which I could see my little cottage in the middle distance across the road.
Saw the cottage where I shall sit as I am now, and write and draw/paint or stitch what I must to respond to and fulfill the dedication I made amid the apple trees that were in the process of losing their blossom petals to make room for the emergence of their fruit – Transformation.
As I finish these words it’s nearly the next day. I am weary. I am invigorated. I feel different, though I can’t identify exactly how. Tomorrow when I wake up and begin the day, I shall do so knowing that it is not like the days before have been for many long years now. I do not know how my living and being will be changed. I do not know how the living and being will be expressed. I only know I am different and the living and being will not be as they were before today.