I love this time of the year. It’s getting much colder – below zero degrees Celsius in London, and the nights are getting longer. Sunset is now much earlier – about 3.55pm in London (and 3.44pm in Scotland) and over the next couple of weeks the sun will set a few minutes earlier as we move towards the Winter solstice.
My ‘inner child’, never very quiet, goes into ‘overdrive’ at this time of the year. The veil between Here and There, The Other ‘thins’; it’s a liminal time; the nights are longer and stories abound – but in many cases we call them evening movies on tv.
It’s a time of myth and story, of ‘earthy’ food, and drink, and revelry; of communion with families and others; and whether we believe wholeheartedly or ‘romantically’ in the fae, elementals, angels, woodland myths, those ancient stories of the Christ-child etc, no one can deny that this is a ‘magical’ time of the year, a profound season when we remember great events, and pause, ‘look up’ and gasp in awes at all that is!
With that in mind, some time ago I wrote the following poem:
Into the void
His word went forth.
What was not. Is!
Light and life accompanied His utterances
and in response, nature danced in the song of creation.
He formed the man of clay, and the woman who is the mother of all life.
And they, too, danced in the light of the morning.
Night has now come, and is far spent,
and the man and woman crane their necks and gaze upwards.
And their words go forth into the vacuum, that is space.
‘Is anyone out there? ‘.
Out of the void another sound is heard.
This time, a baby’s cry echoes in some dim and dusty street of old.
And in the darkness of the world, words of hope are once more heard.
‘My children. Did you think I would leave you as orphans to stray in the night?
I am with you, evermore! ‘.
Wishing you and those whom you love bright blessings of this wonderful season. Tadhg.
Praying for those who died in London on Friday, for their families and friends, and for first-responders and brave members of the public.
Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.’ Helen Keller
Ever since the clocks went back an hour there has been an increasing expectation of the event. The nights draw in, the temperature drops, and parts of the UK have even had a dusting of snow.
Anticipation just hangs in the air as autumn gives way to winter, or is my ‘inner child’ even more overactive than usual? As I sit in the Magic Café in Fulham, London I read and drink coffee, and talk to friends that come and go. There’s much talk about politics and the impending election, which way to vote, should one vote tactically, and what of the future. There is a sense that the very soul of the nation is at stake for generations to come.
‘Pause. Listen for the whispers of your Soul. Soul quietly flows through every part of you.’ Nancy Lankston
And yet, without minimising such day to day concerns about politics, for in many cases it is within the mundane that myth, magic and miracles take place, there is more.
Yes, the Celtic Advent is here.
Celtic Advent is always 15 November to 24 December, Christmas Eve, and it was a time of fasting and preparation that mirrored Lent which was celebrated in the lead up to Easter. But, I’d like to suggest something a bit different.
Whether you are a Christian, Celt, Druid or of some other belief, or a blend of two or more, this is a good time to prepare in the lead up to Christmas or the Winter Solstice.
Advent for many, is a time of pondering the cosmic significance of darkness, a turning of the great Circle and the seasons change, a time of personal preparation, a time to go deeper, a time of expectation.
It is at this time of the year that nature seemingly dies. Death is something the ancients didn’t fear, and this time of the year for them would be a time of remembrance and storytelling as regards the ancestors. What about us?
‘Praise to you Keeper of those I love and can no longer see.
I have entrusted to you the care that was mine once to give,
the embrace that was mine once to feel,
the story that was mine once to share.
Praise you for the love that I can never be separated from.
For even with the last fallen leaf and the flowers gone,
those I have loved are not under the earth,
they are here in my heart, they are here.’
Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel Of The Year
And then, the season moves on and culminates in a time of joyful commemoration as Light wonderfully enters the world at the time of the Winter Solstice and/or Christmas.
As the days grow darker, it’s Light that we look forward to.
‘Counsellor of my soul, you quicken my soul’s progress this Winter day by the strength of your example. I look forward to your light to help me discover the track of the day’s question’. Caitlin Matthews, Celtic Devotional.
There are some who will set themselves, at this time, the task of reading more sacred text, or of attending an extra service, of spending a little bit more than usual, of adding an extra home ritual or prayer to their list or prayers – and all of these are wholesome, good and proper for you, if you feel ‘called’ to do one or more of them.
You might like to consider reading a page a day of a book you read some time ago, or use the links below once a day to set your day up with an uplifting word or thought for the Celtic Advent.
In the busyness of life, maybe the last thing we need is to be more ‘busy, busy’. Oh, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype from the tv, the newspapers and radio, but once we’re aware of being ‘pulled along’ by the increasing flow of the pace of life at this time of the year, we’re in with a chance of doing something about it. So, perhaps it maybe best to use this time to slow, reflect and take on board on a thought for the day (see below)?
‘Be aware of the ancestral teachers, the grandparents and elders of the spiritual traditions, whose footsteps have kept the pathways open.’ Caitlin Matthews, Celtic Devotional.
And, so in this cafe, having just packed away the Halloween decorations ten days or so ago, they’re now unpacking boxes of Christmas decorations. And, as I sit here pondering the darkness, as I look through the cafe window onto a cold, dark blue sky’d city street, I look forward, in anticipation and expectation to Light entering the world, and what that means personally for me, for you, and others.
‘These special holidays give rise to various liturgical calendars that suggest we should mark our days not only with the cycles of the moon and seasons, but also with occasions to tell our children the stories of our faith community’s past so that this past will have a future, and so that our ancient way and its practices will be rediscovered and renewed every year.’ Brian McLaren
To paraphrase some, this Celtic Advent was created for you and your benefit, and not the other way around.
My encouragement is for you to celebrate the start of the Celtic Advent with a meal – and yes, some will know that in ancient times it was a time of fasting, and if you’re called to do that, then do it, but also to take the time to ponder upon the themes of darkness and Light. So far as possible, slip beyond the rational (not into irrationality, but towards the arational, beyond rationality) for a while.
As regards, the celebration I’m thinking of an Celtic Advent celebration some time into the season and maybe couple it with a ‘telling place’ experience: a time of imagination and story, perhaps at the Magic Cafe one evening. Time to reflect. Time to go deeper. Time to encounter the imaginal and be transformed. Time for community. You’re invited. Are you free? Details soon.
If you’re interested on taking on one ‘extra’ thing, such as a thought for each day, for this season, here’s some links that you might like to dip into daily during this season:
BBC Radio 4 Thought For The Day: Here
A Forty Day Pilgrimage through the Advent Season with Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Saints: Here
Celtic advent calendar: Here
Contemporary and Ancient Celtic Blessings: Here
Meanwhile, many blessings of the Celtic Advent to you and to those whom you love. Tadhg.
Brrrrrr! It’s getting colder. With Samhain (pronounced ‘soh-uhn’, well, that’s the pronunciation I tend to use) just a few weeks away, the Circle turns and the season of winter creeps ever closer. That time, starting on the evening of Thursday, 31 October to the evening of of Friday, 1 November, is the Celtic/Druid new year. In Wales Wales, Samhain is also known as Calan Gaeaf.
With that winter season in mind, here’s a (series of) haiku – traditional Japanese poetry which consists of 17 syllables, in three phrases of five, seven and five syllables – penned by me a year ago. Each haiku can be read separately or in succession – either as poetry, meditative words, a prayer or as part of a liturgy to celebrate Samhain: the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.
The northern winds blow.
Ice and snow slowly creep south.
Life sleeps in the earth.
Harvesting takes place.
And, grateful hearts raise a song
to the Source of All.
Winter tilts the Earth.
The sun reclines; and winds roar.
White frost cocoons all.
Revelry takes place,
and nature’s bounty is shared
with mankind and beast.
Naked are the trees.
Sparse, the green shrubs and bushes.
Harsh, the cold on skin.
Hail, winter Spirit.
That which dies now at your hand
will soon come alive.
The Circle moves on.
And the promises of old
are heard loud and clear.
‘As long as earth lasts,
seedtime and harvest, summer,
winter, never cease.”
The Deity smiles,
and blesses all; but for now,
the northern winds blow.
The last twenty-four hours has been a helter-skelter ride of events, and emotions, and confusion. And yet, the day has been an enormous learning-curve for me, and an encouragement to action. Isn’t that life? Living?
This is how it started.
In the early hours, and I know it was 2.22am for that was the time on the digital clock display, I woke up from an odd dream. I had dreamed that I was attending some kind of spiritual ceremony and had fallen asleep. Is it possible to dream of falling asleep within a dream? It seems so. The really bizarre thing is that as I fell asleep in that dream I woke up in reality. Having woken up for about half a minute, I then fell back to sleep and the dream commence where I had left it. Had I actually woken up? It is all so confusing.
‘Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night.’ Charles Fisher
But, it seems I had another dream just before waking up as the alarm sounded.
In that dream I was kneeling in front of someone. They were seated and I was kneeling, and blessing them by anointing their feet with oil. As I looked up, and looked over their shoulder, behind them, it was as if their life played out like an old home cine projection on the wall or as a series of black and white or sepia photographs – many showing tragic events in their life. The words ‘grief-bearer’ – someone who draws alongside those in great need, in times of grief and tragedy – sounded in my mind.
‘Am I a grief-bearer?’, I asked myself. It seemed like a deafening, ‘No’ resounded in my head, and it was clear that the person seated in front of me was the grief-bearer, and was in need of ‘shedding’ some of the grief that that person had absorbed from others.
‘… you are the Grief Bearer. You take some of the pain onto yourself when you enter in with a family. You take their grief. Some of it goes with you.’
‘I stopped for a moment. It is exactly like that. Some of the pain from each heart enters mine, and we carry it together. Every life I’ve had the privilege of honouring goes with me…both the gifts, and the heaviness. It is a rare gift to be seen and understood by another. And, I will be honest. Few people see me these days…few grasp the heart of what I do, and the consuming craziness of this calling.’
Kelly at Sufficient Grace Ministries.
I have no idea who this ‘grief-bearer’ really is, and recount the dream here and now only because it may be you? [Should you wish to reply to that question, please contact me one-to-one].
Later that day, just before lunch I did some shopping at a large, local supermarket.
Having gone to the check-out counter with the least number of people, I prided myself at being as fast at packing the items I bought as the check-out person was at scanning them. Witty banter ensued. I went to ‘drop’ my card on the card ‘reader’ as instructed, but it wanted me to ‘swipe’ the card. A feeling of dread made me almost shudder.
And, yes, for the fifth time in almost as many weeks, it bleeped, and up came the word ‘signature required’. I have to admit I was not best pleased. A line of people were now behind me and it was asking for my card, a signature and verification by the shop’s staffmember. I tutted (which is what we Brits do when we’re annoyed).
‘You know’, I said to the pleasant check-out person with whom I had exchanged a joke just seconds before, ‘All these people will think I have insufficient funds, and that’s not the case’, I said emphatically as I frowned. With a smile, she uttered words that I had said countless times to others, and which caught me by surprise. She said, ‘Does it matter what others think?’ Ofcourse not, I thought, smiled and suddenly felt buoyed up by her zen-like wisdom and warm smile.
‘When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.’ Maya Angelou
Still later, having gone home, unpacked the food, and hotfooted it to my favourite café I met some very good friends, and very soon we were talking about history and politics.
As usual, we didn’t see eye to eye, but we’re good friends. One person adamantly enforced their views, and rather like friendly ‘sword fencing’ I did the same as regards my view. They ‘sword fenced’ more so, and so did I. And so it went on.
I felt as though I was about to win an academic point, when it was as though I could look upon their soul. I looked into their eyes and it was as if a mist cleared just for a moment, and I could see the ‘real’ them. I glimpsed their immortal diamond of a soul. And their soul was crying out.
Initially, I thought my responsive ‘sword fencing’ was the cause. But, it ‘felt’ deep down, that their ‘sword fencing’ was their soul’s cry for help and I had merely retaliated in kind, rather than respond deeply to meet their hitherto invisible and unmet need.
I felt a huge amount of anger. Not with them, but with me. How could I be so foolish as to engage in a friendly-but-deepening-verbal-argument when it was their soul calling out to mine all along? How blind could I be?
‘I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.’ Jana Stanfield
I now know that sometimes some people’s barbed comments, which may provoke us, may be (and usually is) their soul’s cry. My course of action to draw closer to them, lovingly, and to support them was affirmed.
And, that was part of my day – hectic at times, confusing at times, but wonderfully and humbly enlightening at other times.
The last twenty-four hours has been a helter-skelter ride of events, and emotions, and confusion. And, this is how it ended: in silent, deep meditation with the feeling that something had be ‘discovered’, and a work set before me. It seems to me that the more aware we are, the more we will notice these liminal openings, but in equal measure may become complacent about them and miss them at other times. And so, so great is the need for each other, for living in the world, for times of meditation, liturgy, poetry, story-telling, music, celebrating the seasons, and ritual, and a whole myriad of other ‘tools’ that encourage us to be still and go within, and so become more aware.
‘The timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness. And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.’ Khalil Gibran
Take a look around you. What do you see? What do you really see? What is seen that is actually ‘pointing’ to that which is unseen and beyond? Puzzled? Here is an explanation of facts, from imagination, and from my journal of yesteryear and more recently.
’There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ William Shakespeare’s Hamlet
We are surrounded by metaphors, physical metaphors, that point to something beyond, above or below. Such metaphors are glimpses that challenge, inspire or instruct if we allow them, but to do that we first need to be aware of them.
There is a mountain not far from Capel Curig, that, like the rest of Wales, is complete with myth and magic, rumour and a whole host of legends that invite the brave, or perhaps repel the timid. Glyder Fawr is just one such place. It is part of several peaks. How many? Well the ‘set’ is called Tryfan (and therein lies the clue, as Tryfan is Welsh for ‘three peaks’). As regards a wonderful and profound climb some time ago – see here.
There are myths in Wales about giants on mountains, dragons in mountains, water-horses in lakes and rivers, and other elementals that live deep in the ground. We all knew they were myths, and many, even in Wales, laugh at such superstitions, but deep in our minds, and I’m thinking of myself and friends of yesteryear, we weren’t so sure that those myths should be disregarded, well at least not totally.
‘I was born with the ability to see in metaphor. This has been my inborn way of relating to the living Oneness of things. From an early age, the world has spoken to me in this way. The analogous relationship of things has called, not in words, but in a silent language that has sow shown me, however briefly, the web of connection [of] everything.’ Mark Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways To Listen
Perhaps, these myths were not to be taken literally, and they were metaphorical, and ‘poetically’ warned passers-by, or perhaps they were to be taken literally? As children we loved the not knowing, and as I and my friends grew older there was always that lurking possibility that maybe there was something ‘behind’ them. Exactly, what physical metaphors purport to ‘show’.
At the base of Glyder Fawr is a rocky crevice – about ten feet wide, thirty feet long, and deep, very deep. As teenagers when would hike and have adventures, this was the place to go. Forever and a day, for as long as I can remember, and certainly as early teenagers, at the base of Glyder Fawr, we called that breach in the ground Uffern.
As young teens we avoided that pit in the ground, but as we grew a little older, a lot braver, more adventurous and somewhat stronger the ‘terror’ of Uffern (which is the Welsh word for hell) grew smaller, until one day a few of us, well-versed in abseiling, and belaying by then, tackled that void.
We climbed down into Uffern, climbed into Hell. With a lot of laughing and some seriousness, we were encountering then, though we didn’t know it at the time, a physical metaphor.
Physical metaphors, which may include outdoor adventure, nature observation, ritual or anything that is challenging and physical (as in tangible, solid, observable) are excellent tools for making change in each of us, and to awaken us to what is beyond.
Physical metaphors can interrupt our habitual patterns of behaviour, place us in an awkward and challenging situation and thereby open us up to new ways of thinking and doing things. In such situations our limitations and objections (of ‘Yes, but….) cease to have any power over us. People discover they must discard old, useless behaviour and replace it with something fresh, empowering and creative. Physical metaphors make us go, ‘wow’ in awe and wonder.
‘Communion is a ceremony based around food and drink…. In the Lord’s Supper, it is as if we are enacting a physical metaphor. The physical act of eating and drinking is very much like the spiritual realities it represents’. Ron Julian, Communion Metaphor, Gutenberg College.
I’m back at Uffern. I’m older. This time alone, this time as an adult (and a mature, agewise, one at that) and it is probably the hottest day of the year. And I’ve climbed down to the base of the crevice. It’s silent, unusually so, except for the occasional drip of water that hits the small, two inch high pool of water that has collected beneath my feet. I’m alone (or am I?). It’s awesome, its wonderful, it is an amazing place. It’s rocky, damp, deep, cramped and full of jagged rocks, but it is bliss.
I can now ‘unpack’ the meaning of this physical metaphor, which to me ‘speaks’ of overcoming my teenage fears of this pit in the ground, my wariness that it could be a link between ‘our world’ and that of elementals. To be honest, I think it might be a doorway, but I now don’t fear those elementals, but see them as fellow occupants of this wonderful planet. And if I’m wrong and they don’t exist then they will not be present to hear what I’ve just spoken to them, and no one will ever know that I’ve even spoken to them (or tried), except now I’ve confess to you. So, you know. But, I’m amongst friends.
I’ve also discovered that the Earth holds a depth of meaning (no pun intended) that is only discovered if we are bold enough to step out of our comfort zone, to take risks and dare to do. I’ve also found that, perhaps, we are surrounded by a multitude of physical metaphors (in rural places as well as in built-up places) and each of them can be prompts to each one of us from Beyond to encourage to ‘see’ behind the visible.
‘We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.’ Marcel Proust
At the base of Uffern I can relax and reflect on deep spirituality, to look at life that contains physical metaphors which anchor us to the world beyond, just as the gears of a car connect and change our foot actions into chemical-air-petrol formulations of a different order to propel the car. Connectedness.
What we see and do has actions far beyond the physical, and its for that reason I so love and cherish, and encourage liturgy, ritual and prayer and blessings, of observing and doing, of acknowledging that our seemingly small actions may have consequences (of a positive nature) far beyond our reckoning.
At the base of Uffern I have just enough time, before the light fades, to take some photographs of the amazing rocky strata that was formed and dishevelled during the last ice age, knowing that only a few have ventured to the base of Uffern, and so many have missed its beauty, and might otherwise have encountered an elemental. Ofcourse, I can’t tell you that I’ve seen one, by with eyes beyond eyes I believe I have, and from that I know the power of the imagination.
‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.’ Albert Einstein
And now it’s time to climb out of Uffern. I have to admit the climb up is a lot more arduous that it looks, it takes a lot longer climbing up than scaling down, and I’m not as young as I used to be, but it was worth it.
Take a look around you. What do you see? What do you really see? A burning bush? The voice of the Source of All? An encounter with an angel, the fae, an elemental in the form of a physical metaphor? Take a look around. What is seen that is actually ‘pointing’ to that which is unseen and beyond?
Harvest? Here are a few words about the first harvest of the year, its background and history, and its importance to you and I, and there are few suggestions about how we can celebrate it.
I can vividly remember as a wee lad, so this is going back a few years, the time when, each year, there would a ‘buzz’, a hubbub, a huge excitement at primary school like no other. Apart from Easter and Christmas, Harvest was such an important time. At school, many of our lessons, especially art, focussed on a harvest theme. And within a day of two the school hall and classes were festooned with drawings, painting and items all made by pupils with harvest time in mind. Then, bread, corn dollies and garlands decorated the hall, along with parcels of food for the elderly. Wonderful memories.
We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand… (Hymn by Matthias Claudius, Translated by Jane Montgomery Campbell, and one of my favourite, seasonal, hymns at primary school.)
And guess what? Yes, it’s nearly that time, again.
I can’t wait for the ancient Celtic and Druid festival of Lammas, also called Lammas-Day or the season, Lammastide, or Lughnasadh. In Wales it is known as Gŵyl Awst. It traditionally starts on August 1st, and it is the first harvest in the calendar. It is such an important occasion. So important that many, latter-day and Druids, ancient cultures and others celebrate two (and sometimes three) harvests each year. This harvest is the grain harvest.
Although many churches celebrate (one) harvest, now, one Sunday in September, that type of harvest celebration service is fairly recent: it began in 1843, when Revd. Hawker, then the Vicar of Morwenstow in Cornwall, revived the ‘forgotten’ and ancient service of Lammas, as a once-a-year (new) service. We owe a debt of gratitude to him for that.
However, if we view that September harvest as the second harvest, a harvest of berries, applies, and wine, then… there’s more. It will soon be the first harvest, the grain harvest.
The Celts originally called this time, ‘lughnasadh’ (pronounced ‘loo-nas-sah’) after the ancient Gaelic deity, Lugh. But, it seems that believe ‘travelled’, and many believe the area in London now called Ludgate, is a derivation of Lugh.
‘In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.’ William Blake
But many call this harvest Lammas , after the Anglo-Saxon festival of hlaefmass – loaf mass. And it’s from that word that we get the word Lammas! It was the grain harvest, hence the reference to bread, and the baking of bread to celebrate the season.
So, my late grandmother, a great one for making home-made food would, especially at this time, would bake bara brith – Welsh for ‘speckled bread’. It’s similar to the Irish loaf, barmbrack. Bara brith , is pronounced ‘barrah-bri(d)th.’ And, it’s now available in many of the larger supermarkets in the UK.
Lammas, then, is a time of giving thanks to mother nature for all her grain produce, gratitude to the Source of All, the Lord of the Harvest, and a reaping of what has been sown. In previous years it was a time of fairs, trade and much merriment.
With the reaping ended, the last sheaf of corn would be made into a Corn Dolly, which was meant to embody the ‘spirit of the season’ (in much the same way as we might display holly around the house at Christmas), or to represent the ancient corn goddess. The Corn Dolly could, though not always, be made in the form of a miniature human, but it could also be an intricate spiral pyramid, or a miniature sheaf etc. Other designs could include animals, agriculture tools like scythes and shepherds’ crooks, or objects with a Christian significance such as bells or a cross.
How will you celebrate Llughnasadh or Lammas this year? To celebrate this first harvest you might like to choose a time during the first weekend in August, perhaps a few hours one evening?
Perhaps, you might try you hand at baking a special loaf of bread that you can share with family and friends. Or, if not, buy a granary loaf of some kind to share with them. Coupled with a nice wine or non-alcoholic fruit juice it can be a timely reminder, lasting just a few minutes, of giving gratitude to the Great Giver. A communion?
But, you might like to go for a walk in the country or city park, and pause, and as you sit there gazing, meditate and give thanks, silently for a few minutes.
You might like to recite a formal liturgy that can be said by you and meal guests, or by yourself, in which case the following may be of use (to use as it is, or adapt):
Blessed are you, Fruitful One
giver of abundance and plenty,
giver of resources when stocks are low.
Grow my faith in your providence…
(Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel Of The Year)
Remembering the element of earth,
the land on which I/we tread,
from which all things grow.
May your bounty be ever present on the earth for all.
So shall I/we honour the Great Provider.
(You might like to pause and imagine earth energy from which all things grow within yourself and your connection to it, flowing to you and others)
Remembering to the element of air,
the energy of the mind and wind,
from which the seed is spread and planted.
May your bounty be ever present on the earth for all.
So shall I/we honour the Great Provider.
(You might like to imagine the energy of the air surrounding you and sustaining all life, breathing deeply and slowly as you so. Air! Breath! Life!)
Remembering the element of fire,
the spirit of creation, and destruction and new life,
the sun’s life-giving warmth.
May your bounty be ever present on the earth for all.
So shall I/we honour the Great Provider.
(You might like to imagine the fire of the setting sun that fuels all creation and which reflects your spirit)
Remembering to the element of water,
the energy of emotions,
that grew the crops that nourish me/us.
May your bounty be ever present on the earth for all.
So shall I/we honour the Great Provider.
(You might like to think of swimming in the ocean or a pool, remembering that wonderful cleansing and rejuvenating feeling, and give thanks)
[You can vary any of this, and indeed as you work through the compass points, to start, you might like to start at another cardinal point other than north.]
Generous One of the Harvest,
walk alongside those who have sown in tears,
who have scattered seed without hope,
on land not of their choosing.
Come close to those who weep this day.
(Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel Of The Year)
Thou thyself my reaping,
each ridge, and plain, and field,
each sickle curved, shapely hard,
each ear and handful in the sheaf,
each ear and handful in the sheaf.
(Book: Carmina Gadelica)
And so, this Lammastide, as it has been since I was a child, I’ll be baking several bara brith, and sharing one – yes, the breaking of bread with family and friends – in a simple, ‘after meal’ remembrance ‘feast’, remembering all the good things that have happened this year, and giving thanks, in silence and humility, to the Source of All for the harvest, for life itself.
Maybe, next time you’ll join me?
Since the dawn of time, when our first ancestors were capable of craning their necks and looking at nature in awe, the sky has mesmerised humankind. The blue sky, insects buzzing and birds flying, the stars in the night sky forming a myriad of patterns in which to form their mythology and track the course of time, enthralled the ancients. And clouds. Clouds, too, caught the imagination of those giants of old.
For those wanting to journey further along that path of awareness, living life to the full, and being close or closer, or at one with nature, ‘cloud spotting’ is an awe-inspiring, encouraging, ’enveloping’, enlivening, and entertaining event.
‘To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted’. George Keller
As I lay on a picnic blanket in Richmond Park, west London, with my mother beside me – and I should point out I was about six years old at the time – we played that game of looking up at the clouds and imagining what the various cloud shapes looked like. ‘It looks like a television’, my mother said. As the high winds slowly changed the cloud’s shape, I waited, laughed and then exclaimed loudly, ‘It now looks more like a whale.’ And, so it went on.
Ofcourse, years later, I took the photograph that appears at the top of this article. What an amazing cloud. Isn’t that an angel?
The lowest clouds are cumulus clouds. They’re usually fast, floating around about 3000 feet above the ground. Low, puffy clouds with flat bases, generally, their upper parts often resemble cauliflowers, and they are not the harbingers of rain. But, it may be these that are the ‘shape-shifting’ clouds that, in my boyhood, resembled animals and inanimate objects.
‘I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.’
(The Cloud. Percy Bysshe Shelley)
Above this layer of cloud lie the slow-moving, rather majestic cumulonimbus clouds, soaring from about 4500 feet to 45000 feet. With their huge height and volume, these are the clouds that bring rain and storms, and even thunder and lightning.
There is an ancient Hindu tradition that says that high above the earth it is elephants that are the bringers of rain, and that clouds themselves were the celestial relatives of the white elephants that roamed the earth. And the rain? Well, the elephants would use their trunks to shower the earth below with rain.
Stratus clouds are those are fog-like, misty, diffuse clouds. They are the kind of widespread cloud that uniformly blanket the whole sky, and which can be seen especially, but not only around mountains and coastal areas.
They can form at ground level as fog or mist, but can also reach up to an altitude of about 7000 feet.
Stratocumulus clouds, about 7000 feet above us, are thick, but usually patchy clouds, with ‘gaps’ that allow you to see the blue sky occasionally, or if its near dawn or dusk allow the suns rays to shine through in several shafts of light. This effect is called crepuscular rays, God’s rays, Buddha rays or Jacob’s ladder.
Boats sail on the rivers,
And ships sail on the seas;
But clouds that sail across the sky
Are prettier far than these.
There are bridges on the rivers,
As pretty as you please;
But the bow that bridges heaven,
And overtops the trees,
And builds a road from earth to sky,
Is prettier far than these.
To the Moari’s these ‘fingers’ of sunshine were known as the ‘Ropes of Maui’ (from the Maori tale of Maui Potiki restraining the sun with ropes to make the days longer), or the sun drawing water, from the ancient Greek belief that sunbeams drew water into the sky (which isn’t altogether odd as it seems to be an early description of evaporation).
Above these clouds, at about 16000 feet are altocumulus clouds. They can be a multitude of rounded ‘clumps’ of cloud, almond shape, and resemble fish scales – hence it may be called a ‘mackerel’ sky. In France it is sometimes called a ciel moutonné (fleecy sky); in Spain a cielo empedrado (cobbled sky); in Germany it is known as Schäfchenwolken (sheep clouds), and in Italy the clouds are known as a pecorelle (little sheep).
Hamlet: ‘Do you see that cloud that’s almost shaped like a camel?’
Polonius: ‘By the mass, and it’s like a camel, indeed’.
Hamlet: ‘Methinks it is like a weasel’.
Polonius: ‘It is back’d like a weasel’.
Hamlet: ‘Or like a whale?’
Polonius: ‘Very like a whale’.
[Hamlet. Williams Shakespeare]
Still laying on my back, this time a few months later, and back home in Capel Curig, in Wales, I was looking up at a mackerel sky, one evening. I have found the ‘cure’ for insomnia, not that I suffered from that at six years of age. But, in laying down, looking up, I decided it would be a good idea to count those clumps of altocumulus clouds, the ‘scales’ of that mackerel sky, and promptly fell asleep. For me, then, it seemed better than the proverbial counting sheep in one’s mind’s eye.
Clouds are fascinating, and there’s more. But, meanwhile, I would encourage you to sit, pause and gaze heavenward, and just meditate on clouds. Enjoy their beauty, the bounty of the Cloud-Giver, recapture your childhood and see if you can see a dog, a whale, and elephant, a television in cloud shapes, or even an angel? What are you missing?
[Part 2, soon]