Praying for those who died in London on Friday, for their families and friends, and for first-responders and brave members of the public.
Praying for those who died in London on Friday, for their families and friends, and for first-responders and brave members of the public.
And so, my two guests arrived for an ‘at home’ at my place in the centre of London – a small, informal dinner cooked by me for them as they celebrated their first wedding anniversary. I had officiated at the handfasting sometime back so it was good to see them again, this time for a meal.
What follows is a journal entry of an evening of ‘myth and magic’, of touching ‘That Which Is Larger Than Us’, and of our growth, maturity and transformation.
‘What if the task is simply to unfold, to become who you already are in your essential nature—gentle, compassionate, and capable of living fully and passionately present? How would this affect how you feel when you wake up in the morning?
Alistair and Aideen arrived promptly that evening (a few days ago) and over the starters we all talked about our previous week’s workload, life in general and got to know each other more. There were laughs and smiles, and more. ‘Mae mwy’ as they say in Wales, ‘there is more’. There is always, and much more for the open-minded, intentionally adventurous, and the curious.
Yes, liminality descended.
Liminality is that state of ‘inbetween’ or crossing over. Imagine it as a doorstep or a bridge between Here and There, between us and The Other. It can be those times and events when we see a sunset and it takes our breath away, we witness a baby’s unfocused smile and our soul leaps within us, or it can be times of fellowship with each other when ‘something’ seems to be changed and we are ushered into a different state of being – one that we just accept, as the more we think about it the more we ‘slip’ out of it.
Yes, communitas arose.
Liminality also can bring about a state called ‘communitas’. Communitas according to Victor Turner is a relatively structureless sense of group identity and being (large or small groups) which is based on relations of equality and solidarity.
As we talked and laughed, liminality descended and communitas arose, unplanned by us, but expected and greatly felt. Transformation is constant, but without understanding it, for a short while we all moved into a ‘higher gear’, such is liminality that moves us from chronological time into sacred-space.
As we ate, talked and laughed we shared stories, and I shared some quotes, too, to guide the evening is towards a meditative outcome, slowly.
‘Every day, sometimes when I am doing my meditation practice and sometimes when I am working at my computer… or sharing a meal with friends, I turn my attention to my breath and visualise myself on some inner plane of the imagination turning my face toward That Which Is Larger Than Us – the Great Mystery.’
The main course was still about twenty minutes away, before it was ready and the conversation turned to meditation and The Great Mystery. I mentioned the concept of apophatic mediation. Both Alistair and Aideen expressed an interest, and within a few minutes (as it was an ‘at home’ and not a workshop) I outlined that way of meditating, and suggested the best way forward was to try it for, say fifteen minutes.
Apophatic mediation is a ‘tool’ or a way of mediating, of going deep into The Great Mystery, of touching our ‘inner core’ through the use of no thought, no ‘pictures’, no dialogue (that is the opposite to kataphatic meditation and visualisation techniques).
And so, as we sat still, my guests closed their eyes, breathed slowly. Background music played – Om chanting by monks, at 528Hz. For some, especially those new to this form of meditation it may be best to use ones imagination of walking from where you are into a forest which is ‘next door’, and walk deeply into at as the forest gets darker, and then jettison the ‘picture’ or imaginative ‘forest’ and just rest, just be. Kataphatic meditation can give way to apophatic meditation. Alistair decided to do just that.
Slow, ethereal music or chanting is best for this, as it doesn’t prompt the mind to discover rhythm or words, and 528 Hz or thereabouts is a useful pitch. It has been called the ‘DNA repair’ frequency or the ‘Love’ frequency’, so-called as it is thought to reside at the heart of everything, connecting your heart, your spiritual essence, to the spiralling reality of heaven and earth..
‘When we surrender when we do not fight with life when it calls upon us we are lifted and the strength to do what needs to be done finds us.’
For fifteen minutes we all mediated, silently to: an OM meditation chant [click here].
Afterwards, we chatted about the experience. In many respects they declared that they had been present, had been in the company of their core, that which some call the virgin point (le point vierge) and experienced That Which Is Larger Than Us, that which some call God. Words failed them, as the experience is experiential (only), to be individually savoured, and is really beyond words!
All three of us heartily tucked into the next course, and laughed and joked. Sometimes serious, sometimes frivolous, as friends do.
Aideen expressed an interest in kataphatic, imaginal visualisation. I spoke by way of an introduction to it – highlighting the fact that one can use it in various ways – as a tool of discovery where outcomes are interpreted, as a way of understanding ourselves at a deeper level (that which we call the good parts and the ‘shadow (a source of strength, nevertheless), as a form of guided tour of events to meet a need ie to answer a question, to obtain healing, or to ‘interview’ ones higher self and other characters (which many would call pictorial representations of ones psyches, though others would think differently), and in many other ways that may lead to our growth, maturity and transformation.
Aideen wanted a ‘word’ (or words) to guide her for the following day, and Alistair wanted similar for project he was working on at work. For Aideen I suggested a visualisation where, after closing her eyes and relaxing, I spoke words for her to imagine, inwardly, a visit to the Library – a cosmic Library with a friendly Librarian who would point to a relevant book. It took only about ten minutes, but Aideen was very good at using her imaginal powers and, still in the moment, spoke the words written on the spine of the book: ‘Stronger than you think’.
A veritable word of encouragement. Aideen opened her eyes, and recounted how that was just the words she needed to her as an important decision was pending.
‘Within each of us there is the heart of a lion, the courage to simply be who & what we are regardless of others opinions or our own fears. Sometimes this courage has been buried beneath years of shaming that may have been so implicit or insidious that we breathed it in, unaware of how it separated us from knowing our own beauty of being’.
Alistair was also eager to try kataphatic imaginal visualisation. For him, I outlined the process but, once he was in the moment, as agreed, led him (using my voice) into the Great Hall of Cledon. I mentioned that the moment he was in that Hall, a hall full of the noise of the conversations of a myriad of people, one word of phrase would stand out.
The Cledon is a message delivered to you through an unknowing stranger. It could be a word from a song on the radio that gives an answer to a problem you’ve been mulling over, or you may overhear a snippet of a conversation of two people walking past you, and which applies directly to the circumstances in your life.
Alistair, deep in that visualisation, whispered that he was in the great hall and the doors were closing behind him. His hands immediately gripped that table. Still with his eyes closed, and still in that moment, he then gently laughed. He whispered. ‘As soon as the doors closed, all the people faced me, and all the voices spoke the same words. It was as loud as the noise of a jet engine, and knocked me over’.
‘My invitation, my challenge to you here, is to journey into a deeper intimacy with the world and your life without any promise of safety or guarantee of reward beyond the intrinsic value of full participation.’
Once out of that moment, and with his eyes open, Alistair mentioned the words. He said, ‘It’s a mystery what the words mean, but the shout of ‘The donkey and the angel’ was stupendously loud. I mentioned that in many cases, the working out of the words given might take days or weeks, but when it did happen you would know – the memory of it could come back at an appropriate time and it would make sense. However, in this case I did ask Alistair to consider the ancient story of Balaam and his donkey. The latter whose progress was impeded by an angel.
We then tucked into the desert, followed by more laughing, talking and merriment.
The evening progressed, and my guests would soon be leaving. I mentioned the idea of coming back from sacred-space into chronological time – it was a though we had been in a ‘magical, mythical, timeless realm’ (and I actually do believe that is the case, as regards liminality), and were now returning to the mundane (as if anything is really mundane).
One way to do that is through ritual, another way is through action such as eating food (as we had done), and one way I do it (without the need of pomp and ceremony, but with physical action) is to use two fingers from each hand to do a drum-roll on the table for a few seconds. I gave them an example, but need not have done more, as both Alistair and Aideen joined in, and we all laughed heartily. Was that drum-roll just fun? Was it necessary? I believe it was both. Fun because we laughed and it brought us closer together, and to some it may have been silly; necessary as it brought us ‘back to earth’ and effectively ‘grounded us’ – guarded us against the effects of being in that realm whilst operating in this.
May the dreamer and poet and pirate be awake within in us… loving the adventure of looking for the treasure as much as we love finding the inner gold that guides us.’
Alistair and Aideen left, but have booked for another session in December using different aspects, ‘tools’ and scenarios of apophatic and kataphatic mediation.
[I normally change names used is articles, but in this case both Alistair and Aideen were happy for their names to be used, and additionally asked me to state that they really do recommend this form of transformational event. I will include information about future events that you might like to join as a group, couple, individual, soon, both here on this blog and on Facebook]
All indented quotes above are by Oriah Mountain Dreamer.
In an age where mystery seems to have retreated, here’s an opportunity to do what the ancestors did: to re-connect at this time of the year when the veil between Here and There is ‘thin’.
This will be an evening to share, to hear, to do, and to be transformed. If you’re in/near London do contact Tadhg by email [email: firstname.lastname@example.org ] to find our more and/or book. You are invited! Limited to 20 people, and pre-booking and an adventurous spirit are essential.
‘What is the one message that only you can give? It’s your story’. J R Rim
It was a cold, dark, December’s evening. The café had shut to the general public an hour ago, and a few changes were made – a few festive lights added, a few unlit candles placed on tables, a few symbolic items, ‘tools’ or conversation pieces were placed on the tables, and food was placed on the corner table – in anticipation for the Telling Place event 2018 (and so, if local, there will be another this year, so do please read on… but please read on anyway as it was a wonderful event).
Ah, the Telling Place event: a place of myth, ‘magic’ and imagination.
‘Every human is an artist. And this is the main art that we have: the creation of our story.’ Don Miguel Ruiz
The clock chimed 6.45pm and the doors were unlocked, and within minutes several people ambled through the door, out of that cold night, and into a café that was warm, bedecked with Christmas lights, albeit rather subdued lighting, and expecting the unexpected. The café can hold about twenty people and it soon filled up with expectant ‘adventurers’
“Welcome. Welcome to the Telling Place”, Tadhg said cheerfully.
The ancients knew the value of story-telling, when they met together at Telling Places. There, fragments of memory were woven together, and ‘bits’ become ‘whole’, and all added to the complete story. Everyone was included. Fragments of memory, separate and ‘isolated’ were re-membered. The opposite of dismembered. ‘Re-joined’. Put back together again. And in community, too.
‘We keep stories alive because to re-member is to put broken pieces back together. We keep learning from stories how to make things whole.’ Mark Nepo
The ancients, those Celts and Druids, ancient Hebrews, Christians, and others, of old, knew of the benefits of stories. They would regularly meet around the village fire, in the evenings and tell stories that were, perhaps sometimes of individuals around the fire, or of ancient heroes and their ancestors, or of stories of cosmic proportions eg creation stories and/or of the tribe’s origin.
But, what about us? In this part of the twenty-first century there is a great need for that kind of event, and this Telling Place fulfilled that requirement wonderfully.
“Tonight, is a time of listening, a time of sharing a story (whether something from your own life-story that is not too personal and which can be shared), or a story that you have heard and which means a lot to you. Stories of dark and light, endings and beginnings, down and up, of people and places. Stories to make you think. Stories and a few activities, yes a few activities that you will be invited to join in, that make you go ‘oh’, or ‘awwww’. Stories of myth, ‘magic’, and imagination.”
But, there’s more.
“There will be stories about myth – those fictional and some-times factual foundational accounts on which we base part or all of our life. Stories about ‘magic’. Not the conjuring sort of magic, but the kind that some would call a numinous event, a peak experience, a transformational event. Come expecting to be changed. And, there will be stories of the imagination, and here there may be some pleasurable and non-cringe-making activities you will be invited to take part in. More will be explained as the evening goes on.”
“But, for now relax.”. A short time was given over for people to amble and introduce themselves to four other people in fifteen minutes – no mean feat – as they tucked into some delightful food from the smorgasbord and filled their glasses with various chilled fruit juices. Everyone talked enthusiastically. A hub-bub ensued, sounding rather like the friendly drone in a bee hive.
‘The imagination of early childhood has no limits. This is why children are fascinated by stories. A story has permission to go anywhere….The child rarely experiences the story as an observer. The child enters the story, it experiences the drama from within.’ John O’Donohue
Now back at their tables, everyone settled down. Tadhg explained as he went along, and opened the Telling Place officially.
A candle was lit, and in doing this simple ritual, Tadhg explained that it was as though we had been pulled out of physical time, as a group, and into sacred space-time, and were propelled back in time to engage with the Ancestors in story. Or, was it that they had joined us? Or was it more than just seeming so? Was it happening in actuality? However, we understood it, he explained that this was to be a meaningful time of remembering.
I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
And nothing happens! Nothing…Silence…Waves…
Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?
Juan Ramon Jimenez
“This remembering”, Tadhg continued, “is called anamnesis: a remembering that makes the original event present to the believer. In a very real sense, ritual negates time and space. The Passover Seder, for instance, starts with the question, ‘How is this night different from all other nights?’ Ritual, then, brings the participant, that’s us, into that timeless realm of the sacred in which the time and space that separates us from the original event, or which separates us from the Other, just disappears.”
“It’s not just remembering. It’s a re-experiencing and a re-connectedness to that former event – in this case story and the Ancestors. Anything less that that, is merely mimesis, an imitation or re-enactment. This is more”
Several people shared stores. Two shared stories from their own life, stories of challenging times and of overcoming. Two other shared stories, fables, that had meant a lot to them and which were well received by all. The evening continued well, with each person giving support and praise to others, as well as receiving it. It was so uplifting. Awesome.
Tadhg lit another candle.
At this point he explained that, at the end of the year it was a good time to review the positive and the not-so-positive events of the year, and to deal with them. He suggested that each person takes two pieces of paper. One would, if that person so wished, would be displayed on the wall later and would contain one or two positive highlights of the year. It would be a form of written gratitude to the Source of All. The other piece of paper, would be private, and would highlight negative points and negative thoughts and actions that had happened during the year. People wrote feverishly. A few minutes later each person put the gratitude sheet on the wall; each person took the sheet of negative thoughts and actions and, at Tadhg’s suggestion, symbolically dealt with them by placing them into the shredder machine.
Tadhg said a few words…ensuring that that negativity was truly gone! Dealt with. Gone for good!
‘You are the fairy tale told by your ancestors.’ Toba Beta
More stories were shared. Tadhg lit another candle, and talked about remembering those who had gone before us – to remember them with joy. He talked about how our ancestors would have used this time to celebrate the lives of the Ancients, and of Modranicht, called “the Night of the Mothers” or simply “Mothers’ Night”. Everyone had been asked to bring a copy of a photo of a deceased relative that they wanted to honour, and some also shared stories – many quite witty stories that made many smile, and all uplifting – about loved-ones that had passed-on.
Later, Tadhg lit another candle. This time, as some time had elapsed and the evening was drawing to a close, he asked each person to close their eyes, to meditate, and to use their imagination.
“If you would, imagine that this room is filled with your Higher Self, or an elemental, a goodly spirit, an emissary from the Source of All, from the Universe, an angel or fae perhaps. Don’t worry about what they look like but imagine they have a message for someone in the room – not you – but for someone else, and it’s one word, or two, but no more than three, and it’s uplifting. “
As people thought deeply, used their imaginations and opened themselves up to the Other, the haunting melody of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ by Enya played in the background.
‘The sacred soul delivers the message of life.’ Lailah Gifty Akita
“You can imagine them speaking this to you” , Tadhg said, “or writing it down, or them giving you a book with this word or words as the title. Now, when you have it, open your eyes and write it down on a piece of paper.”
Everyone wrote something, and everyone shared the word, two or three, not knowing who it was for. Although Tadhg said those present may want to share any word spoken that was relevant to themselves, others, he said, might just quietly like to ponder upon a word heard that they felt was relevant to them, quietly in their heart.
The event closed with the extinguishing of the candles, as Tadhg explained that each of us were now moving back into mundane time. He suggested we all stand, and applaud – applaud each other for making the evening such a joy, applaud the Other and The Invisibles present for being present, and applause as a form of ‘grounding’.
One by one, people left. That evening tears were shed, smiles were witnessed, and many were transformed. Each had had an encounter with the Other. In the distance, as car doors opened and closed, the hushed whispers of ,‘See you at next year’s Telling Place’, could be heard.’
‘I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?’ Zhuangzi
[Another Telling Place event is planned for Saturday, 14 December 2019 in Fulham, London (starting at 7pm and finishing at 9pm. And, you are invited. Suggested donation is £10, but no one should be deterred by a lack of funds. Come anyway! If interested or if you require further information, please contact Tadhg by 1 December by email: email@example.com ]
‘Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilisation, no society, no future.’ Elie Wiesel
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.
Christmas is coming closer. For some, it’s a time to celebrate the coming of the Christ, the wonderful time when we remember the Universe incarnated at Bethlehem, when we exchange gifts and sing cheerful carols, and more. To some friends, especially those of nature or earth-based beliefs it’s a time to celebrate dark and light, death and new life, of renewal and balance: equilibrium.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
and heav’n and nature sing. (Christmas Hymn/Carol)
It is with the former, mainly, in mind that I write this. Those who celebrate Christmas as part of their faith or, like me, as part of a blended-faith, can find Christmas, in some instances, a tough, sad time. For them, the season seems lopsided. I do believe my Wican, Pagan, and Druid friends do much better at getting the balance just right and of honouring the ancestors, and I am the richer for their company and wisdom. For others, it’s…..well, it’s lopsided.
In what way lopsided? Well, the commercialism of Christmas doesn’t help. Buy this for your mum or dad, here’s a great gift for your daughter or son who will love this, and hey, don’t forget the grandparents! And, in churches, hymns and songs laud the baby in the manger and welcome shepherds and kings like.
But, the reality is, that at every Advent church service, in every choir rehearsal, and at every Christmas Eve candlelight service, there are people who are deeply hurting and in pain, whose lives are in great turmoil, and who are seeking help or answers. Even surrounded by our candles, poinsettias, the delightful laughter of children, and the great joy of the Christmas season, I do believe that we do not adequately consider those among us who cannot enter fully into the joy of the season. And, outside, cheerful parties abound at work, at home, at local pubs and clubs, and on tv just seem to make the exclusion worse.
But, what about those who, this Christmas, perhaps like last Christmas, look around and notice the spaces in their family and friends? To them, it is lopsided, exclusive, and can be a tough, solitary time.
‘You don’t know who is important to you until you actually lose them.’ Mahatma Gandhi
For some, Christmas can be a time when the loss of a loved-one can be most profoundly felt. Ofcourse, during that season such people, like myself, will be happy and socialise, and enjoy the company of others.
‘I enjoy Christmas immensely as a Christo-Druid (or is it a Druidic-Christian), but there is also a sense of loss.
I am an ‘amphibian’ at Christmas. Celebrating the joy of the season, the razzamatzz, and the growing number of younger family members and friends is wonderful, and by nature I am a positive person. But, I also look around at the gaps. Having grown up, in my teens, twenties and thirties, with seven pairs of aunts and uncles for instance and a myriad of other family, all but one couple of aunts/uncles have passed-on, as have both my parents, and that can be heart-breaking at times.’ Tadhg
But sometimes, just sometimes, and perhaps on one occasion over that period it would be comforting and energising to have some kind of formal ritual or service to commemorate those that have passed-on, to remember them, and have something where we can be true to our feelings without being morbid or morose, to acknowledge our loss, draw strength and to move on.
With that in mind, and right near Christmas is the winter solstice, there is the idea of just such a celebration for the bereaved. The Night Of Long Shadows.
Aptly named, The Night Of Long Shadow can be held at that time of the year when many celebrate the darkest and longest night of the year, and it takes into account that many feel as though they are in darkness when it comes to emotions of remembrance, but there’s more.
‘The death of a beloved is an amputation.’ C S Lewis
What would a service of The Night Of Long Shadows look like?
With songs and words that draw alongside those who are bereaved (whether recently, a year or more ago, or some time ago) there would be a time of honest appraisal of feelings, a period of reflection, a time when the bereaved could say or do something or sit and listen. The event would be short (and not more than fifty minutes) . Maybe a few tears would be shed. There would be an opportunity to ‘tell it like it is or feels like it is’ by those who attend (if they wish to), and for those leading, they would then move onto the part of the ritual or service that would instil hope with words and actions – I love ritual, and sometimes simple ritual-actions can take us to a much deeper place than words.
Such a ritual or service can interpret the ‘shadow’ in the Night Of Long Shadows as the comforting shadow of good memories (or the mere shadow of not-so-good memories) that we might each share of those who have passed-on.
And/or it can refer to the transforming work of renewal and growth that takes place in dark places, such as a seed buried but about to sprout, or a baby growing in the secret place of its mother’s womb. It is with that in mind that we can learn a lot from our brothers and sisters who uphold a nature or earth-based belief.
‘We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world – the company of those who have known suffering.’ Helen Keller
A service of The Night of Long Shadows, would earnestly and honestly draw alongside the bereaved, hold space for them, support them, listen to them, give some kind of encouragement and be there fore them. There is no quick fix in this kind of ritual of service. How could there be. In many cases it is beyond us to fix many things, and especially this! But, we can be there for others, and through ritual and prayer, blessings and la time of tea and coffee after, be inclusive and supportive.
What songs, what words of acceptance and hope could be used, what structure would such a ritual or service take? That is for next time. Suffice to say, that I do believe there is a need, and am working towards such a ritual or service for the first half of December. If you could support that venture in prayer, good-thoughts or by sending light, or by sending suggestions, or by expressing a desire to take part or feel the need to attend such a ritual or service in in/near London (UK) because of bereavement, I would love to hear from you. It may be best one-to-one and so do email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We live in an age where the pace of life can be so fast that we lose or diminish the human touch. There is a great need at creating sacred space for people living through dark times. Such services, and the service of The Night Of London Shadows can fulfil such a need, and be inclusive, reflective, accepting of where we really are, and of holding out healing and hope. And, such a ritual or service is not the preserve of Christians or Christo-Druids or Druidic-Christians, but can also be used and adapted by my Wican, Pagan, and Druid friends, and others.
’Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about. Rumi
The weather is changing. There’s a chill in the air. Even the rain, up to now intermittent, is different and lasted hours today instead of a small number of minutes, on and off. In the UK winter is almost here, and the Celtic Advent (16 November) approaches.
English skies, seemingly ever daubed with cloud, now change from white to a dark, brooding grey. It’s a time to reflect, and with that in mind, and in thinking of the approaching winter, I’ve penned some words that ‘fit’ to an old Scottish, traditional tune of yesteryear.
I like to sing, adapt words, use ancient tunes, and let my spirit dance to the Universe using words and tuneful sounds (or at least that’s the intention, but the Source of All accepts all that we have even if it’s not what some would call tuneful). I’d encourage you to do the same, that is sing with all that you have. Do feel free to use the song, below, in your group or individual times of ceremony as a song, or as a reflective (said) poem for the day.
The tune is ‘The water is wide’ and an instrumental version to give you an idea of it, is here. The ‘Water is wide’ is a A folk song of Scottish origin. The original lyrics and tune partly date to the 1600s and speak of an unhappy first marriage. I’ve changed the words to reflect the season of winter, but kept the tune which seems deeply reflective to suit the words of the newly-penned song and the season.
THE DAYS ARE COLD
A winter’s Hymn
The days are cold
And night comes soon.
The circle turns
As in days of old.
Nature does sleep
And the winds do howl
And my eyes do weep
Through the cold air now
The snow falls harsh
Upon the land
There is a light
Within and without
We raise our hands
To the source of all
And nature responds
with elementals call.
The days of change
Are here again
Our voices raise
To a loud refrain
We wish you peace
We wish you well.
All nature sings
Winter’s fare thee well.
In the link to the tune above, the tune starts at 10 seconds into the Youtube music and concludes at 51 seconds (and that tune is then used three times for the three verses above).
As you know, I love visiting far-flung corners of the UK, and there is nothing I like better than immersing myself in an ancient forest and getting lost – not necessarily geographical lost (though that happens occasionally), but lost in thought and awe, lost in imagination and the labyrinthine depths of the mind, and yes, lost in wonder, love, and praise.
And, yet we all seem to move too fast, and it seems the pace is quickening.
Travelling as I do, usually by car, I enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Therein lies a challenge. When I’m driving, and I promise I don’t ‘dawdle’, but being unfamiliar with the twists and turns of country roads I might drive a little slower. And I assure you it is only a little slower than the regulars who use that stretch of road. But, then I’m in ‘tourist mode’ and I like to imbibe the countryside, the changing colours of the leaves, and see herds of sheep all facing the same direction (and, why do that do that?), or just gaze and the undulating scenery (whilst being attentive to traffic conditions, of course). All this means that I might just travel a tad slower than the regulars who seem intake on tailgating me.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
Yes, we all (or many people, at least) seem to move too fast, and it seems the pace is quickening.
It was a cold, dark, grey, cloudy evening, with the wind howling around the chimney stack and making a ghoul-like noise. In north Wales the winds can be particularly strong and even more so in the valleys, as the mountain sides seem to act like a conduit funnelling strong winds into ‘smaller space’s and making for even stronger winds. But, I’m inside the Cottage, Ty Gwin, and now safe, comfortable and warm, and aged about seven years – and so this happened some time ago.
Earlier that afternoon my grandmother, wrapping herself up in many layers, gave me a wink which meant so me to do similar and join her on a ramble. I liked the mystery of not knowing of where we would be going, and so asking the purpose of the ramble just didn’t occur to me. And had I asked, I think, knowing my grandmother well, the answer would have been alluringly vague or cryptic.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
My grandmother was, then, very mobile, but getting on in years, and that on particular afternoon we seemed to walk and talk for about twenty minutes and then stop, and in silence just sit on a log. That happened several times over the course of the afternoon’s ramble, and then we circled back to the cottage early evening, where I could hear the wind picking up and making those ghoulish noises outside.
‘So, what did you notice on our jaunt this afternoon, little one?, she asked – always with a friendly, somewhat mystical, assuring, twinkle in her eye.
‘Well, when we stopped the first time, I noticed the horses in the nearby farmer’s field, and I heard some tractor noises in the distance, and I saw a bird fly out from a hedge, so it might have been a wren’, I replied.
‘Very good, and more…?, she said.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
‘Well, the second time we stopped, I noticed more mud on my boots so the ground was a bit marshy, and there was a bad smell of fox pooh, so there must have been foxes around somewhere’, I replied.
And without waiting, and being somewhat eager to please, I went on and added, ‘And the third time we stopped, although I couldn’t see it I heard the sound of a Great tit’.
‘How do you know that’, she asked.
‘Ah’, I promptly replied,’ I remember you telling me that that bird sounded as though it was saying ‘Teacher, teacher’.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
She smiled, winked, and said, ‘Well done. Exactly right. And what did you notice when we were walking?’.
‘I thought about it for a few minutes, and I said, ‘Not that much. I was trying to keep up with you, not stumble, not get mud in my boots and on my socks, and had to duck several times under branches’.
She smiled an even broader smile, let out a small laugh and said, ‘That’s fine, little one. It’s usually when we stop racing around that we’re more observant, anyway’.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
That was many years ago, but more recently I heard this (anonymous) story: It is said that a man ventured into the most remote part of Africa, and was only accompanied by paid porters. They each carried a machete as they made their way through the thick undergrowth. Their aim was to keep going at any cost. If a river appeared and several did, they would cross them in the shortest time possible. If there was a hill and there were many, they quickened their pace so as not to waste a minute. But suddenly, and without warning, the porters stopped. The explorer was nonplussed, and very surprised. They had only been walking for a few hours. So he asked them: ‘Why have you stopped? Are you already tired after just a few hours walking?’ Then one of the porters looked at him and explained: ‘No sir, we’re not tired. It’s just that we have been moving so quickly that we have left our soul behind. Now, we have to wait for it to catch up with us again.’
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
We do all seem to move too fast, and it seems the pace is quickening, don’t you think? If you can, my encouragement to you this week, is to ‘gouge out’ some regular time when you can slow down, or even stop and rest even for a short time. I know it’s not easy, but working around work, and busy schedules and other commitments my encouragement to you (and me) it to take (more) time to stop and stare, and to really appreciate our local (rural or city) environment, and truly appreciate the life around us and within, and the opportunities we have to be in awe of nature and the Source of All.
(All indented phrases above are from the poem ‘Leisure’ by the Welsh poet W H Davies. The ‘Guardian of the Forest’ sculpture, in the header photograph, is one of about ten sculptures situated in Thetford Forest UK from October 2019 for the next few months).
I’m in the depths of Thetford Forest. Some distance behind me is the hustle and bustle of a myriad of people near the visitors centre, using the café, experiencing zip lining or bbq’ing. But for those willing to venture away from the ‘near wild’, the voices in the forest call out.
’Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth… they preach… the ancient law of life’
As I pick my way through the damp forest – yes, although the rain is light it has been, and still is relentless – I am surrounded by wonderfully tall, sky-hugging lowland pine trees, some less than two feet apart from its neighbours. The sun is still high in the sky, but it’s shrouded by the trees, and so I’m walking in a twilight state, and so am being careful with face-high branches and twigs as I weave left and right.
The going isn’t that easy. The mud sucks ones boots down and makes walking laborious, and moss, like a green carpet, underfoot and dead, wet leaves give an alternative challenge, that of accelerated locomotion just when you didn’t expect it. Sometimes, my ambling though dense forest alternates between ‘clod-hopping’ and sliding all over the place. Not a pretty sight, but I wouldn’t swap it for the world.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought. I am life from eternal life’
The forest is alive. Even in mid-October animals scurry this way and that in the undergrowth, birds fly overhead, and there’s that wonderful pine, tree, somewhat dank undergrowth smell that is fascinating, distinctive and refreshing. I can’t resist but to frequently, look around, inhale deeply, and find some excuse to sit on a fallen tree. Yes, I know it’s wet, but I’m ‘armed’ and wearing a waterproof kagoule and waterproof trousers. It’s bliss. There is no such thing as bad weather: just inappropriate clothing.
And there, standing in the distance, obscured by undergrowth until I move closer, is Venus. The artist will tell you that this is a human-height sculpture placed in the forest to show off the skills of human ingenuity. The ecologist would encourage you to note the sculptures ‘skin’ of forest colours, to denote life, and in this case to promote the idea of nature-appreciation, reforestation and more. But there’s more.
The forest is alive. And just as a bird might make a nest, a beaver make a dam, and a Fox make a lair, and we would call it natural, so too, these sculptures evoke a deep spirituality that is, perhaps, natural for humankind. And so, it is fantastic to see the first sculpture of about ten.
It is almost as if the forest is pressing in to get a closer look at what humankind has done here, and it is a acceptable. Surrounded by elementals, dryads, some would say forest angels, there is a presence here, in the forest. And this sculpture ‘fits in’ perfectly.
‘A longing to wander tears my heart when I hears trees rustling in the wind…’
And so I move on, exploring the forest. Something like a bright orange light, just for a split-second catches my attention to the right. I turn my head in that direction, look intently, but… nothing. Nothing but dense trees and fern. A trick of the light? A reflection on the side of my glasses? Or the beckoning of a Guardian of the Forest? Whatever it was, it has got my interest and I move in that direction.
Ten minutes later I’m still walking and there in front of me are two more sculptures: David and Daphne.
‘When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me…Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent’
The two magnificent sculpture: David (as in, David and Goliath), and Daphne (who, and those who remember their Greek mythology will know, was turned into a Laurel tree, but Apollo made the tree into an evergreen tree thus conferring immortality upon her.
I sit here, mesmerised at the two sculptures. Two thoughts in my mind: David faced his monster and prevailed. Daphne succumbed and gave her life, and yet even then became immortal. Who says the forest cannot teach us anything? I may not have heard an audible voice as I sat on a wet log, but I do believe an elemental, a dryad, a fay, or an angel whispered into my ears words too deep to hear as sound, but penetrating deep within the labyrinthine ‘corridors’ of the brain, where mind, body and spirit meld. Of course, you would expect me to say that: I’m an animist.
I spent another couple of hours moving through the dense undergrowth and tall trees, and encountered all the sculptures carefully placed throughout the forest, some ‘hidden’ so that only the most adventurous would find them, and reap the reward of encountering these Guardians of the Forest. As above, so below.
And then I headed back to the visitors centre, still with the hustle and bustle of many people enjoying the fruits and pleasures of ‘near wild’. I’m now sitting at a picnic table and am gazing back the way I had walked. Two hundred feet away from me, the ‘manicured’ grass gives way to the dense trees and I look on longingly, and yet I’m completely happy and satisfied. Green joy unbounded. It was a wonderful experience – to forest-bathe, to amble in dense woodland, and to encounter sculptures that evoke the deep spiritual centres within, and to meet…. well, to have met forest entities, known and unknown.
’Whoever has learned to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness’.
(All indented quotes above are by Herman Hesse, and from his book Baume: Betrachtungen Und Gedichte)
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.