Surrounded By A Great Cloud Of Witnesses…Thoughts About Samhain 2018

20181102 GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES THOUGHTS ABOUT SAMHAIM 2018

I’m back at Capel Curig in north Wales just for two or three days. The weather is changing, and the mornings and evenings are particularly cold, and I love it.

At this time of year, mist rolls off the mountains in the distance and as you walk about so water droplets cling to the skin and clothes almost unawares. It’s a wonderfully refreshing experience: in essence I’m walking in a cloud of a myriad water particles.

Near the end of my garden is an old gnarled elder tree. It lives up to its name. It must be the oldest tree around here by far, it is an Elder elder. Underneath its branches there’s a bench seat, and that is where I am now, with the sun about to rise, sitting, embraced by a cloud, somewhat cold but enjoying it, pondering the last few days.

‘For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone….Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life’. Herman Hesse

The sacred elder tree is, by some, thought to be the home of the Elder Mother, and as guardian of the tree she is a type of genius loci, the spirit of the place. In Germany the elder tree is also sacred and associated with Frau Holda, who, it is said, brings the souls of unborn babies from that place where they initially reside, to soon-to-be-pregnant mothers, and looks over and protects both. I like that idea. Each one of us still has the Elder Mother or Frau Holda looking out for us, or perhaps she is known by another name to some? Our guadian angel, perhaps?

Yes, the elder tree is a gateway, a prompt, between realms and is about life.

It is said that sleeping beneath the elder tree might result in access to the other realm(s) in dreams, though in Ireland caution was employed as it was said that, sometimes, one could be physically transported by the fae – yes, bodily ‘away with the faeries’!

But, I’m not sleeping, just meditating deeply, day-dreaming about the last few days, and the happy memories I have. I’m content.

With my eyes half closed, and now quite warm (layers, always wear layers when it’s cold), and being quite comfortable on a well-worn bench seat, with the tree trunk forming a back rest, I go even deeper into my thoughts, and the physical world seems, momentarily, less of a priority.

Ah, wonderful thoughts bubble up, and my heart really does leap for joy.

Samhain is the end and the beginning, and the last year has been wonderful. That’s not to say it has been one long peak experience for me, for family and friends I know. It has been a challenge in part. Some of you will know that what I joking called ‘man flu’ last March turned out to be pneumonia, which resulted in eleven days in hospital. A tough, painful time, but joy, real joy. Our joy doesn’t depend on our circumstances but on our response. True, I’d rather not repeat that experience of pneumonia but I learned from it, and was introduced to the wonderful UK NHS ‘free at the point of need’ health care service, and the ‘angels’ who staff it. A cause for joy!

‘Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day’. Henri Nouwen

Looking back, a time of reflection can be very cathartic, but Samhain is also about looking ahead. The year ahead will, no doubt have its ups and down for you and me, but my prayer is that we seek out the good and learn in all things, and respond with joy.

Deeper thoughts bubble up as I sit here. Samhain is that time when we think of the ancestors, that time when the veil is unusually thin and the Other Realm is palpable. In days of old, and as a great story-telling time around the village or camp fire, many would be told of spirits crossing over, and it’s from there that we get children (and adults), at Halloween, dressing as Frankenstein, zombies or ghouls. Yes, Hollywood has a lot to answer for, but its fun. But, at this time my mind wanders to the ancestors.

‘Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.’ Rumi

In my imaginal state I think of all my ancestors. To call it the family tree is apt, because that is what is must look like – and if we form branches, then those that went before form thicker branches, and the trunk and even the roots. We’re here because of them. Co-incidentally (if such a concept exists) the elder tree behind me groaned as a sudden gust of wind caught its high branches. And, then my thoughts turn to my late parents – my dear mum and dad, and Colin my brother who died at birth, and grandparents and others who have ‘passed on’, and I am flooded with gratitude for them all. I am comforted knowing that they, and others, are in the Summerlands, in Jannah, in Valhalla or Fólkvangr, Caer Wydyr (the glass fortress), or heaven.

Ofcourse, from my understanding of theology the ancestors are always with us – but ceremonies and times such as Samhain are useful reminders.

And, still my mind wanders. Ah, Samhain celebrations.

A week ago I was in the Portsmouth area for a meeting, and it was my privilege and joy to witness a Samhain celebration, there. One always hopes that in going somewhere new, in passing through, one is always included in a ritual, and that certainly was the case there.

‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight…’ Hebrews 12.1a, The Book

I was greeted by a wonderful group of people at Hilsea Lines, was encouraged to fully participate (as much as I wanted), and witnessed an awesome, moving and great, relevant celebration, with people who were passionate about what they were doing – and when one or two needed prompting, others were supportive and loving, and a little bit of laughter ensued, but, ’laughing with’ and not ‘laughing at’. In my mind, as I recollect that rather cold day, last Sunday, I experienced warmth and love, inclusion and acceptance. And, yes, one could feel the ancestors there, looking on, joining in. It was a wonderful, deep, thought-provoking celebration.

Just as we are connected to our ancestors, so we are connected to each other.

‘When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.’ John Muir

And so, with the sun peeking above the horizon, I open my eyes, and walk back to Ty Gwin, my little cottage, for breakfast. As I do, so that cloud of water droplets collects in my hair, on my skin, and on my clothes, so much so, that by the time I enter the boot room of the cottage, ‘I’m fair soaked’. Surrounded by invisible droplets of water in that cloud that I walked though I got wet. As we go through life, and Samhain is a good reminder, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, the ancestors. We are all connected in space and time, and in ‘realmic’ ways we can only now imagine.

Wonderful Samhain, All Souls/All Saints Day.

Alone With The Alone At The Machair: Poem

20171026 ALONE WITH THE ALONE AT THE MACHAIR POEM

This is one  of several poems inspired by my pilgrimage to those wonderfully ‘thin places’ of the Isle Of Iona (also known as the Isle Of Druids) and the Isle Of Skye – rugged and awesome islands off the west coast of Scotland.

This poem is based on thoughts, feelings and an encounter at the Machair. The Machair is a Scottish/Gaelic word for ‘fertile beach’, and is pronounced ‘makkah’. It is a delightful, part sand-part grassy coastal area on the Isle of Iona with a unique eco-system, and is a windswept and wild,  liminal place, a place of myth and magic, indeed. Things happen here. Visit, and you will not be unchanged.

The weather changes and the blue sea turns white.
Dark clouds speed from the horizon
to where I am standing, and the wind blows a gale.
The light dims.
The tide recedes as a mighty storm approaches.
And I wait.

There was a time when the Voice was heard
speaking words of peace, and love, and hope.
Now the age of neon shines
and a cacophony of sound fills the air.
And I wait.

For a moment I hear murmurs in the wind.
Could it be the sound of martyrs and monks of yesteryear?
Could it be angel-sound, or the gleeful chattering of the fae?
Perhaps it’s the  words of Druids of a bygone age?
And then it’s gone.
And I wait.

The waves crash against mighty rocks
and yet the rocks are unmoved, unchanged.
Gulls  squawk in the distance, but have moved inland.
The wind blows a mournful sigh.
A howling that increases and decreases in volume and pitch.
And I wait.

At the Machair
I am alone with the Alone. I listen.
Could it be that the Voice still speaks
words of peace, and love, and hope?
Love personified, prevails. Surely?
Doesn’t Wisdom cry out to all who listen to her?
I listen but shrill sounds fill my mind.
And I wait.

In a time of plastic
I yearn for that age of myth and magic.
And when all that matters, that is substantial and real
seems, oh so far away,
something calls to me to stop and look.
And in waiting,
I notice that,
ah yes, the tide is turning’.

 

To Be Here Is Immense: Celtic Thought About Life & Time

20170822 LIFELINE TO BE HERE IS IMMENSEI’m sitting on a somewhat rickety bench seat in Fulham cemetery, in central London. It’s about mid-day and it’s August, and its overcast and cloudy. A wee bit humid, too, and it could threaten to rain, but so far it’s dry.

I’m alone.

There are parts of this cemetery which are more recently used than others and consist of fairly ‘well-manicured’ lawns. The part of the cemetery where the bench seats are – their are three of them – are in the oldest part of the cemetery, and the least used part now, and there nature is ‘wilder’. I like that area. That’s where I am.

With many tall trees and overgrown shrubs around me, the noise of nearby buses and other traffic is hardly noticeable. It’s like being in another place. Another world. It is, after all, known as ‘God’s acre’.

It feels as though I am alone. And yet…

As I sit here it feels as though things have always been this way. But, each one of us had an arrival date, each one of us navigates our way through a myriad of days, and as the names and dates on the gravestones reveal, there will be a time when we will all ‘move on’.

There is a Presence in this place. I don’t feel alone anymore.

Some might say this Presence are the souls of the departed here, others might say it’s angels or the Source of All. Still others may talk of dryads and elementals. Who knows? Whatever we call that Presence, and I think there’s room to ponder there, we’re acknowledging two things: the Presence connotes life (or should that be Life) and the paradox of this place; and that each one of us can, if we’re not distracted or too busy, be aware of the Presence.

‘To be here is immense’. Rainer Maria Rilke.

Almost in front of me is a large gravestone listing three members of the same family. The husband died in 1903, his wife died in 1908, and oh, that dear woman’s mother died two years after her. These three have gone from our sight, but the Presence is a ‘guarentee’ that life goes on, albeit in another form. Gone, but their memory lives on. It lives on in my mind as I have just read the gravestone. But, there are others alive today that came from their ancestral line, just as these three people came from their parents’ ancestral line.

‘In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.’ Robert Frost

None of us is alone.

We are all part of that which has gone before, and we all contribute to those who are yet to come (or those who are here now and maturing, or contribute in a myriad of ways to others’ lives now, if not genetically). Like runners in a baton race – receiving and giving.

We can metaphorically look back at the ancestors with gratitude, look forward with anticipation and hope, and look around us, today, with wonder and awe…..perhaps at the very fact, that we can actually do that!

‘To be born is to be chosen. To be created and come to birth is to be blessed. Some primal kindness chose us, and brought us through the forest of dreaming until we could emerge…’ John O’Donohue.

As I sit on this wooden bench it’s easy to forget the marvel, the miracle, that is Life. As I gaze around at wild nature, but it’s the same wherever we are – or wherever you are – the fact that we are aware of those who have gone before us, those we know now, and can envisage those who might yet come, that we can look around us and be aware ‘is immense’.

And yet, ‘amnesia’ sets in, and we can so easily forget our part in that long ancestral line or the calling of the Presence to ‘be’, and to ‘do’. Then, the visible seems to overpower the invisible, our hurried present seems to ‘crowd out’ the Presence…except in those still moments of solitude when the Presence, or angels, or dryads or elemental or the ancestors, or whatever our theology ‘permits’, still cry out to us. I have a hunch that the Originator of this ongoing message is more concerned about us hearing the message than debating who is, or what is, or what the Originator looks like.

‘We are a continuum. Just as we reach back to our ancestors for our fundamental values, so we, as guardians of that legacy, must reach ahead… And we do so with a sense of sacredness in that reaching.’ Paul Tsongas

The wind is picking up, and it’s time for me to leave. I stand up slowly, momentarily aching somewhat from sitting in a less-than-anthropometically designed, old bench seat, but it was wonder…and, I cannot leave without pausing for a moment and giving a nod of my head. To do less seems disrespectful to the Presence, and to others, such as the ancestors. Life is sacred. Life goes on. There will never be a time when you won’t be!

‘You are the fairy-tale told by your ancestors’. Toba Beta

 

Sleeplessness & The Ancestors: Celtic Thought

20170727 SLEEPLESSNESS AND THE ANCESTORS

I mentioned yesterday that my doctor – ever-so cautious, but I’m not complaining – has loaned me some kind of electronic sphygmomanometer, the machine that measures my blood pressure, and this one bleeps and whirrs every half hour (for a day). And then the  ‘cuff’ around my bicep contracts for a minute, and then relaxes…for another thirty minutes. See here. It’s like an old Star Trek ‘tricorder’.

Well, having got off to sleep quite quickly tonight, it woke me up with its bleeping and whirring. Before I had fully woke up, it was as if an invisible assailant was gripping my arm as the ‘cuff’ contracted and squeezed my bicep. Or, it could have been the house bwg or (from Welsh to English, the boggart), See here. Every house may have one, according to my late Welsh grandmother.

But, alas, it was the digital sphygmomanometer doing what a programmed digital sphygmomanometer should do. But, at 2.33am, in the morning?

And so, I’m awake. I’m sitting in the study, in the dark, waiting for ‘sleep’ to revisit me. Right now, I’m wide awake. Oh, so wide awake. At times like these, I always believe there’s a reason for such unexpected alertness. Could it be an angel’s prod, an elemental speaking in hushed tones, the Companion, or something else that is calling, and prompting me to wake up and now stay awake? I gaze around the dark room. Well, almost in darkness – I lit a few candles on ‘the table’ a few moments ago.

I’m not sure if you have such ‘the table’ like this, or call it something else. It’s the focal point of this room, and perhaps, spiritual-energy-wise, the focal point of the house. It is changed from time to time to reflect the seasons or what’s on my heart, but right now it displays photographs and ‘memory-prodders’ relating to some of my family that have ‘gone ahead’ and whom I still love very much.

Love wins, every time.

In Christian Churches, in a few months time, All Soul’s Day will be celebrated. Sadly, such ritual services, along with others, such as Ascension Day, magnificent and full of meaning that they are, are ‘minimised’ or even forgotten in many places. In the Eastern and Orthodox Churches such ancestor commemorative services happen five or six times a year! Wonderful. And ofcourse, to ancient and latter-day Celts, Celtic-Christians, Druidic-Christians, Druids and others, such rituals may happen more frequently. I like that very much.

As I gaze at ‘the table’ I wonder if it is ancestor-worship? For some, it may be, and I don’t judge them. For others, and for me, at least, it is a revering of those who have ‘gone ahead’, being mindful of their lives, and giving thanks that if it were not for them that I (and you, with your respective ancestors and family-tree) would not be here now. A profound and sobering thought. And, one not lost to the ancients.

How much our society has lost in its ‘advancements’.

The UK £2 coin has an inscription on it, that is so relevant here. The edge inscription has written on it: ‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’. It comes from a letter written letter in 1676 by Sir Isaac Newton to his fellow-scientist Robert Hooke, acknowledging the debt he owed to other scientists, where he wrote: ‘if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’.

Nanos gigantum humeris insidentes [standing on the shoulders of giants]

We are indebted, all of us, to those that have gone ‘ahead’ of us – family and friends. Some of them we might have known, but others, who ‘passed on’ before we were born, may have had no direct effect on us, but would have had a secondary effect on us, still, because of their influence down the ages on successive generations….they would have influenced one person, that person would influence another and so on, right up until we we born, and even after. Just as you will have an effect on the next generation (of children, friends, the wider family, neighbours, clients and others) and on future generations to come.

We have all benefitted from the ancestors, and future generations will look back at us as their ancestors, and my prayer is that they will be grateful.

You are not alone. You are part of the cosmic human web. The Church of old called this ‘scala naturae, or the ‘ladder of being’. Others know it as the Great Chain Of Being.

And, so I’m looking at ‘the table’ displaying some of my ancestors, thinking that I would like to display more photographs of them, and will do so in time for All Soul’s Day later in the year.

And, I was grateful for that thought. Perhaps that had been why I was so alert: to plan for a future ancestor-thanking ceremony and to give gratitude to the One who has blessed me (and you, with your ancestors of the ‘blood’ and/or ‘life-devoting-because-of adoption kind) down the ages.

But, there’s more. The next thought was: Stopping talking about, Tadhg, and do it, and not just for yourself, but for others, too!

And so, at 2.40am in the morning I decided on the ‘Nike principle’ of ‘Just Do It’. In addition to writing here, and I so enjoy that, and hope and pray that you get something out of it, too, but in addition, I’m going to ‘test the water’ and organise (planning now, and for two months or so ahead) a number of workshops and (actual) rituals along the lines of practical, and ‘earthed’ Celtic, Christian-Celtic, Druidic-Celtic and Druidic spirituality, in London and nearby.

‘All things work to the good..’ it says in one ancient sacred text, and how right that is.

Now there’s, a thought. And now its 2.50am and, yes, ‘sleep’ is revisiting me, and unless further paragraphs follow this, you will know that I eventually got back to sleep – after what was a useful ‘interruption’.

Blessings, Tadhg