Tadhg, On The Road To Norfolk: Land-Healing Ritual And More

20190704 TADHG ON THE ROAD THE NORFOLK 2.

Over the last year or so I have journeyed around the UK and have been involved in a one-person land-healing ritual, and it’s been amazing. I have been to several places – such as, deep in the New Forest and high upon the top of Mam Tor, to fairly crowded places to places devoid of people, remote and wild.

In each case I performed a small ritual, and in each case I buried a small rainbow jasper stone – about the size of a thumbnail. It’s a stone that is said to be a ‘helpful stone to connect Mother Gaia and the energy of the natural world…’, and it can ‘aid you to make stronger connections to the great forests and green areas of the planet’.

And so, yesterday, on a fine, sunny hot day, just outside Walsingham in Norfolk, I stopped,  revelled  in the silence and solitude, ‘centred’ myself and performed yet another earth healing rite.’

’To every people the land is given on condition. Perceived or not, there is a Covenant, beyond the constitution, beyond sovereign guarantee, beyond the nation’s sweetest dreams of itself’. Leonard Cohen

This ritual can be done anywhere on behalf of the earth or a particular locality without the need to visit. Visiting may be useful, but it is not essential. And the type of rock you bury, or perhaps vicariously bless at home, is one that is important and meaningful to you, so it need not be rainbow jasper.

And so, I recited and enacted the ritual. If I have to forgo any other part of the ritual (and the complete ritual can be seen here), the following seems to me to be the crucial part, and so as I buried the rainbow jasper rock, I said:

‘I bury this stone, Rainforest Jasper, for this land: for a deeper connection and harmony with nature and with plants, trees and animals, and with Mother Earth herself. The vibration of happiness and joy for life will flow outwards, throughout all life and carry strong energy for change and positivity to local communities. May all, everything, in this locality, be blessed by That Which Is Bigger Than Us.’

That done, I stayed there for an hour, basking under the shake of a huge oak tree that provided a welcome, cool, and amazingly large shadow. Birds chirped, field mice crawled through the undergrowth, bees buzzed and an assortment of crawling and flying insects abounded. It was the quintessential English countryside at its best. It was bliss. To misquote a much-loved film: Is this heaven? No, It’s Norfolk.

That was yesterday. Today was completely different. I do like solitude, to walk alone (as much as an elemental, angel-believing, animist can) and be a one with nature, but I also believe we are sociable creatures, and we and our beliefs need, thrive upon and mature with  the interaction of others. A time for solitude. But, a time for people-interaction.

And so today, I set out and drove to a place near Great Yarmouth for a delightful encounter. And it happened. Earlier today I met a friend that I had last seen when I was twelve years old, some fifty-two years ago. To say he, and I have changed in that time is an understatement. But, what a wonderful afternoon meeting him after all this time, and meeting his delightful wife. What a wonderful couple.

’The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart’. Elisabeth Foley

I learned at least one thing from that encounter – though we are totally different people, have led totally different lives, and as friends been apart for over five decades, we have so much in common.

He and he wife spoke of the ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ of life, as did I – the kind of life events  we all experience albeit in different ways. I learned that I have just met to wonderful people who are positive, life-loving, welcoming and inclusive, and who are, in their own way,  ‘making their way back home’. It was a joy to spend time with them. Similar occurrences have happened in my life with other people (who shall remain nameless to avoid embarrassing them). It’s like a ‘unnamable, spiritual osmosis’  takes place. That’s not to say such events always have to be overtly spiritual and talk about lofty themes, but that sharing, laughing, catching up on family and friends’ news, drinking coffee together and being there for each other, is what counts.

‘God comes to us disguised as our life’. Richard Rohr

For all the messiness of some people-interactions might cause us,  never shun company as if being a hermit, separate from others is more spiritual – unless, exceptionally you have been ‘called’ to that lifestyle (and even then, it is best to share that with others close to you). In many respects, we need each other.

And so, I’m back at the delightful cottage I’ve rented until tomorrow, and I’m reflecting on the last few days. Days of contrast, days of deep spirituality in the quietness of the countryside as well as in people-encounters.  And, as the sun sinks below a Norfolk horizon – and the landscape is so flat, it is time for gratitude, and the realisation that for you and I the adventure continues.

‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’. Maya Angelou

 

Tadhg On The Road To Norfolk: Awareness & Expectations

20190701 TADHG ON THE ROAD TO NORFOLK 1

I’m deep in the countryside of Norfolk now, having driven here earlier today, and the scenery is magnificent. As the sun slips below the western horizon the sky changes colour in the distance, the air is cooling, and a slight, refreshing breeze – hardly detectable, but it’s there – can be felt upon my face.

Solitude.

Anywhere, away from the hustle and bustle of regular life, can be a place of deep awareness and peace, of solitude, and enable us to go deep, and deeper still. And, Norfolk, where I am now, is just such a place. Of course, even in the city, there are parks and other places of quiet, and even in part of your home, a time and place can be sent aside to centre yourself and go inward on that imaginable journey of solitude. You don’t have to travel to remote places to enjoy it.

But, sometimes, and you will know the occasions, sometimes some extra ‘effort’ is need to do the ‘nothing’ of awareness and solitude by relocating for a while.

The air temperature is dropping now. After a hot, windless day, and a barmy evening, the temperature drop and slight breeze is most welcome, most refreshing. It’s getting dark, and darker still.

‘The best thinking has been done in solitude’. Thomas Edison

I’m alone. And yet, surrounded by the wildness and wilderness, the wild things of Norfolk. A bird, maybe a crow, cries out and flies off into the distance. There is foraging in the nearby under growth, but I can’t see the animal, but can see the trajectory it takes as plants rustle and move as it moves from me.

Solitude. Awareness.What did I expect? There is a school of thought that says that if you don‘t expect anything, and nothing happens, then you won’t be disappointed. Others, might say we should expect for them we’ll look, and in looking we will find. But, it depends on your aim, your purpose at that moment in time, and right now ‘no thing’ apart from solitude is sought.

Here are a few thoughts about the awareness of solitude and experiences, or expectations as I sit here, having finished my meditation. They are:

– solitude, as opposed to being lonely, is about choice and awareness. To be lonely is to feel bereft of support and company. With solitude, one has chosen authentic solitude – but at the back of your mind, and after that act of solitude, you know, just know that you we’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, elementals, some call them angels, or the Companion encouraging you onwards, invisibly, impalpably.

– solitude can bring about deep peace, even joy. Happiness or not may depend on external influences, but joy is very much a decision, lifestyle, a way of being which is firmly in your grasp. As I sit here, all the ‘challenges’ of the day melt away. However, there are other ‘avenues’ that may be open to you as great works of art and music can have the same joyful effect.

’Hildegard viewed music as the key to opening a third state of consciousness, a trance-like strate’ HeathyHildegard.com

– solitude can enable you to gain an insight into your fundamental values, goals, your unique strengths and weaknesses.

– solitude can create a clear perception of what is important in our lives, what to expect, what not to expect and how to deal with events when expectations are thwarted. Remember, there is always tomorrow.

It’s now quite cool, and to any casual observer I have been sitting here for an hour and nothing has seemingly happened. But it has. My aim was solitude, and the purpose was meditation.  Anything else is a bonus.

But, at one fundamental level here, and where you are right now, great movements have taken place, perhaps unaware to all of us.

“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 Ramón Jiménez)*

Tomorrow, another day, and I will have different expectations. Tomorrow I perform a land healing ritual in Norfolk and I’m looking forward to that, and the following day I meet up with a dear friend and his wife. Would you believe that I haven’t seen this friend since I was twelve years old – some fifty two years ago. Time flies.

I’m now back in the little cottage I’m staying in, in Norfolk. As I sit here with a hot cup of milky Ovaltine and boyhood memories come flooding back, I realise that great expectations can come to us sometimes disguised as quite small and insignificant occurrences. Treasure those times, and revel in those times when nothing seems to happen – perhaps, then, we really are standing in the new life!

 

* [Apologies for not earlier accrediting the poem to Juan Ramón Jiménez. Now corrected]

 

Inner Journey: Transformation 101: The Map Is Not The Territory

20190629 INNER JOURNEY 101 THE MAP IS NOT THE TERRITORY

As a wee lad I used to love to wander off, with friends or by myself. I really loved maps, and when I was a little older and able to use a map and a compass, I was off on further boyhood adventures, albeit only for a few hours.

On one occasion, given a pencil and paper by my grandmother I was off exploring the immediate local countryside of Capel Curig, making notes and sketches as I trekked over ‘manicured’ lawns, jumped noisily over the rivulet that marked the garden boundary and trekked boldly into fairly dense forest. On that map-making journey of adventure, it became clear that I had to decide on the scale of the map and would have to decide what to include or not. Somethings I included, somethings I excluded. Big things I included, and smaller trees etc I excluded as I didn’t have a big enough sheet of paper, and if I’m honest what was left off was, sometimes, quite arbitrary.

Later that day, I showed the map to my grandmother, and although she was very encouraging, it was clear that, as I explained the map, I had left off an awful lot of detail either by design or because I hadn’t noticed it. The map was only partially useful.

‘To journey without being changed is to be a nomad’

As an adult I am an amateur astronomer with a huge telescope, inspired by my Dad who, when I was a wee lad, bought me my first telescope. To me, then, it was huge, but in comparison to the one I have now it was small. But, to a small boy it was an awesome size and opened up the universe to me. And, it set me off on another child-orientated project, of a stellar kind. Assisted by a planisphere, a star chart, I was commencing yet another journey of adventure.

My first use of the simplified star chart was a lesson in ‘economics’! I could see more stars with the naked eye, and many more through the telescope that night, than were depicted on the star chart. My Dad was encouraging and explained that the start chart was like a ‘road map’ for the stars, and would only assist if bright stars were included and others omitted. Too much detail would render this and any map useless. The map was essentially an ‘outline’.

‘To change without journeying is to be a chameleon’

As an adult I still love maps – global positioning satellite maps for their functionality are wonderful, but oh, give me a paper map that I can fold, feel, smell, and hear as it crunches and bends as the wind catches it.

But, I now use maps differently to when I was a child.

Then I would avidly look at the map and ‘fit’ the world around me into it. I was so intent on looking at the map, hand-drawn by me, purchased Ordnance Survey maps or gifted star charts, that I missed much of what was going on around me, missed much of the wonder of nature.

Now, I gaze at nature, the countryside or the heavens, and then use a map to confirm what I’m looking at, or to pick out some feature on the map and find it in real life and aim for that. The map is now secondary.

I’ve learned that ‘the map is not the territory.’

Odd then, that as grown-ups so many of us use maps of different kinds, such as philosophy books, prayer books, ancient sacred texts, liturgy etc, and then gaze at the world around us. Our primary focus seems to be elsewhere, when our primary focus should be on nature and others, on life itself, with a gaze, then, afterwards, at the philosophy books, prayer books etc. Ofcourse, the latter are important, but too much gazing at them alone may mean we’re missing out on what on going on around us. They are ‘pointers’ to reality or a greater reality.  ‘Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin.’ [Matthew 6:28). Max Lucado rightly says that, ‘Nature is God’s first missionary’.

‘To Journey and be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim’.

(This, and indented quotes above by Mark Nepo, ‘ Seven Thousand Ways To Listen: Staying Close To What Is Sacred)

We can be so busy on the intricacies of the journey, so focussed on the map, that we miss much of the journey of life and transformation itself. For instance, we can be so ‘involved’ in planning and doing (performing) a ritual that we can miss its deep meaning. Ofcourse, planning and doing it well are good, but if perfection ‘distances’ from the deep meaning, the inner journey of transformation, then we’ve missed out.

Our spiritual journey rightly involves outward activities, sacraments, rituals, liturgies, but focus too much on them, and though we might do them perfectly and even have praise heaped upon us by others, one wonders about the corresponding inner journey of transformation.

‘As above, so below’, it has been said. Others speak of an inner/outer congruency. It seems we need both: outer activity and inner transformation. ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ (Romans 12:2a, The Book).

‘Change is inevitable, but transformation is by conscious choice.’ Heather Ash Amara

And, yet, that transformation may be lacking, or delayed, or stalled! You can see that sometimes when someone says one thing but does another, or seems outwardly spiritual in their actions but inwardly is materialistic or immature by what they say. None of us like to admit that, and our ego rebels against such a notion, but if its tries to ignore the challenge (and it will be true for some, and perhaps true for al of us at sometime in our life) then we miss out even more on that inner transformation. Better to name it, and work for change.

‘Transformation isn’t a future event. It’s a present day activity.’ Jillian Michaels

On our spiritual adventure of a lifetime, maps of all kinds may assist, but they are not the territory, or as Alfred Korzybski said, ‘The (spoken) word is not the thing. Perhaps their role is to point out the need for transformation and to give hints about it, but it is up to us to do it – to be transformed (bit by bit. It’s continual).

Mark Nepo mentions something similar to this, and concludes with an exercise – see below:

– Centre yourself and without judgement bring to mind a time that you refused to let your experience change you. [Resistance].Simply feel that time’s presence.

– As you breathe, bring to mind a time that you changed yourself to please or avoid another. [Distancing]. Again, simply feel that time’s presence.

– As you soften, bring to mind a time that you journeyed forth and were changed by the journey. [Surrender]. Feel this time’s presence.

– Without judgment, give thanks [Gratitude] by accepting all of this. Give thanks for being human.

‘The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.’ Albert Einstein

Ofcourse, all this begs the questions: what is transformation, how is started, how is it completed, what are transformational ‘tools’, what are the benefits of transformation to the individual and the world? Yes, there’s more (which will appear here over the next few weeks).

 

Indra, Hafiz & The Magic Café: Interconnectedness & Interbeing

20190514 INDRA HAFIZ AND THE MAGIC CAFE THOUGHTS ON INTERCONNECTEDNESS AND INTERBEING

Today, I was in one of my favourite locations when in London: the Magic Café in Fulham. And, as usual there was a latte not far from my hand on the table, my head was down and my nose was close to a book and I was in my element, reading a deep and intriguing book. I have to admit that I can be so absorbed in a book, so engrossed in it that I do believe that if the four horsemen of the Apocalypse galloped by I wouldn’t notice.

There is a game we should play,
And it goes like this:

Nothing distracts me when I’m transfixed by a book, well, almost nothing. Having been reading for some time, I noticed a slight but distinct temperature drop in the café, and it caused me to look up, momentarily. My grandmother, if she were physically present, would say an angel had entered the room.

It was if the café had suddenly been filled, instantly, with six people sitting at two or three tables. Ofcourse, they had been there for some time, but I had been oblivious to their coming and going.

I do like ‘people watching’, and so changing glasses (I wear varifocal but do like reading-only glasses for serious reading) I sat back in the chair, sipped my coffee, and slowly (but hopefully, not to obviously) looked around.

We hold hands and look into each other’s eyes
And scan each other’s faces.

Trying to be ‘invisible’, I noticed the people around me. Ah, there was the journal woman, so-called (be me) as she is constantly writing in her note pad. Perhaps, she’s  writing about the peculiar man in the corner who always seems to be reading and making notes in his books (and, that would be me). Someone, a younger person, was at the counter, ordering a take-away coffee but indulging in general chit-chat at a rather loud volume. Wearing dusty overalls it was likely he was redecorating or rebuilding one of the large, expensive houses in the area. And, there were two others I had seen on only a few occasions. My mind wondered as to who they were, what their occupation might be, and how they found this delightful café? And two others, older women, seated very close to me, were obviously old friends, reminiscing about the good old days.

And, then I say,
“Now tell me a difference you see between us.”

I picked up the coffee cup again, leaned back even more, and continued to look around. Compared to when I came into the café, I marvelled at the people now here, the differences in age, gender, look, accents, and even languages. Truly I am blessed to be living in a ‘kaleidoscope country’, as John Bercow the Speaker of the House of Commons described it some years ago. So many people, so many differences, and yet paradoxically we have that in common.

And you might respond,
“Hafiz, your nose is ten times bigger than mine”.
Then I would say,
“Yes, my dear, almost ten times”.

So, what is the difference between us? In all the variations of humanity, a small microscopic proportion represented here in this café, what is the difference between us? Do we have the same chemical composition? The same energy? The same aspirations? Oh, yes!

And, what about the coffee cup I’m holding? It, too, is composed of atoms, and at a deeper level quanta material that is similar to out elemental make-up. In one sense little difference there? You would expect me to say that as an animist. Oh, yes!

But let’s keep playing.
Let’s go deeper.
Go deeper still.
For if we do,
Our spirits will embrace
And interweave.

There is a story I was told many years ago, when I was a wee lad, about Indra’s web or Indra’s net. It is a much-loved story, a metaphorical one, about interconnectedness and interbeing all of things.

The story says that in the realm of the god Indra there is a vast net that stretches infinitely in all directions. At each intersection of the net or web (think of a spider’s web) there is a single brilliant, perfect jewel. And, each of these jewels on the web also reflects every other jewel, infinite in number. And, each of the reflected images of the jewels bears the image of all the other jewels — infinity to infinity. Whatever affects one jewel effects them all.

The metaphorical story illustrates the interpenetration of all phenomena. Everything contains everything else. And yet, each individual thing is not hindered by or confused with all the other individual things. Harmonious interconnectedness. A wonderful story.

Our union will be so glorious
That [maybe] even God
Will not be able to tell us apart.

We are more alike to our neighbour than different, more alike to everything around us, than different or separate. We’re connected. In another story-metaphor told by the Christ we’re told that, ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Ah. Connectedness.

Suddenly, respect for others, even those who ‘violently’ disagree with me, seems easier. We’re connected, we’re the same. Appreciation for nature all around me – whether in rural or urban environments – seems altogether more necessary because of that real and energetic connectedness. We’re the same. It was for that reason many years ago that Brother Francis could sing to Brother Sun and Sister Moon.

Connectedness. Interbeing. Something which those ancient cultures of Hebrews, Christians, Pagans, Druids and others of yesteryear took for granted, and from which we can learn.

There is a wonderful game
We should play with everyone
And it goes like this…

And, so having finished the latte there is only one thing to do. To order another coffee, to find my place in that book and resume reading, and, before I do that, to look around at the wonderful people around me and nature that abounds both outside and inside the café, and to wonder. In that respect, won’t you join me in this ancient game?

[The indented paragraphs above come from one of the poems of Hafiz, Persian mystic, AD1315-1390]

 

The Teacher And The Question About Dawn: Tales From The Hearth

20181227 THE TEACHER AND THE DAWN TALES FROM THE HEARTH

There was a time when it used to snow heavily at Christmastime in north Wales, and there was a time when I would spend hours and hours playing with friends in the snow: tobogganing on an old tea tray (when really small), making and throwing snowballs, making a snowman, even making an igloo using old ice cream tubs as containers to form ‘snow bricks’.

Ofcourse, that was many years ago when I was a wee lad, and seeing on tv, recently, some scenes of the Sami people in the northern parts of snow-laden Finland, wonderful boyhood memories came flooding back.

On one occasion, as a wee lad, I had been playing outside for some hours, and though it was snowing and so wonderful for me, I was just a little bored on that occasion as all my friends weren’t allowed out to play. Nevertheless, I tried to keep myself occupied, loved the snow and the way on those oh-so-snowy days in north Wales the scenery would be bright white with snow, and the clouds would be a gloomy, dark, brooding grey – the ground was brighter than the sky and I loved it.

But, eventually, being alone, I got bored.

‘Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work’. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

Going through the boot-room of my grandparent’s cottage (a small room for depositing of earth or snow-covered boots) I entered into a wonderfully warm and baking-fragranced kitchen, and ambled on into the living room, and settled by a roaring fire in the hearth, and beside my grandmother’s rocking chair.

Thawing out, the cup of hot chocolate my grandad had made and given me went down a treat. My grandmother asked about my time outside and I let off a series of complaints, centring on the fact that life wasn’t fair, that I had wanted to play with friends but they weren’t allowed out, that they were probably having a better time than me, and… and… and, so it went on. I really did feel sorry for myself as though I was the only person in the whole world that had a reason to be upset.

’The wound is the place where the light enters you’. Rumi

My grandmother was a patient woman, listened intently to me as she rocked in the rocking chair. Occasionally she would stoke the fire in the hearth. She waited for me to stop complaining. I did eventually stopped, and then she spoke.

Lovingly, and with the most splendid of valley accents she quietly said, ‘You know, Tadgh, when you think you’re alone, you’re actually surrounded by lots of things, if you only give yourself time to look and listen. And, when you think your friends are so different. It’s then that you, and it applies to all us, need to know that we have a lot in common, that were very much alike, and more. And, once we realise that, we’re never really alone.’

’If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude’. Maya Angelou

Curled up, beside her rocking chair, I remember her saying, ‘Let me tell you a story’. With that, my attention was captivated as my grandmother told the most wonderful, ‘treasure-laden’ storyteller, who told stories that both entertained and enlightened.

‘A teacher once asked his pupils, ‘How do you know when the first moment of dawn has arrived?’. After a long silence, one of the pupils said, ‘When you can tell the difference between a dog and a sheep’. The teacher shook his head, tutted, and walked about the classroom hoping that another pupil would try to answer the question.

Another pupil chimed in, and said, ‘ When you can tell the difference between an olive tree and a fig tree’. Again the teacher shook his head, tutted, and walked about the classroom hoping that yet another pupil would try to answer the question. There were no more answers.

At this point my grandmother asked, ‘And what would you have said, dear Tadhg?. Open-mouthed and wide-eyed, engrossed in the story, as a wee lad, I could only but shake my head. An unvoiced unknowing was ‘loudly’ expressed!

She continued. ‘Well’, she said, ‘the teacher waited for a minute or two and then said, ‘You know the first moment when dawn has arrived when you look into the eyes of another human being and see yourself!’.

At this point my grandmother quickly chuckled to herself, ruffled my hair as I had a nonplussed expression on my face, and quietly rocked in her rock chair giving no further explanation.

I had a little understanding of the meaning of the story, but it wasn’t until many years later that the true import of the story made sense.

We are not really that different at all. On one level we all have the same needs and aspirations, all respond similarly to hurt and pain, and on a deep and very real level we can never be alone, because we really are one!

‘You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.’ Rumi

We are one. That was the ‘treasure’ contained deep within my grandmother’s story and which ‘dawns’ on those who are aware (which, like good, old, wisdom stories was ‘borrowed’ by her and others, and had been told to countless generations around the world in one form or another).

We are never truly alone. We are one. Indeed, everything is connected into one cosmic web.

‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these…you did for me’. Matthew 25:40, The Book

 

All About Holly: Now The Holly Bears A Berry…

20181109 ALL ABOUT HOLLY

There was a specific time of the year when, much younger than I am now, I would wistfully sit at a window in my grandmothers’ cottage, perhaps kneeling on a chair so that I could comfortably look out, and I would wait. At the time of the year when night came early, I would gaze, for hours, looking at the trees and nearby bushes shrouded in white, in a seeming coating of cotton wool because of the first snowfall. I wait to be told that I could go outside. Yes, I would wistfully look out of the window at that wonder, landscape-changing snow, and for a reason.

My grandmother was a patient woman, and as a wee lad of six years of age, I was anything but patient, but I waited, because I wanted my first encounter, that year, with December snow to be extra special.

And then, having wrapped herself in layers, and I had donned an outdoor coat, and wellington boots, and a woolly hat, she would lead the way, and hand in hand we ventured forth.

As she opened the outside door, the warmth of the kitchen gave way to an icy, cold, and very refreshing breath of fresh air. It took my breath away. We had stepped over the threshold and, as our feet made a ‘scrunching’ sound as we compressed snow underfoot, it was as though we had entered another, liminal realm.

It was an annual event: to collect holly for indoor decoration at first snowfall in December, and it was something that I liked to do, even at that young age. My grandmother was the one to wield the secateurs, and my mission was to collect the holly branches and twigs that she gave me, and to carefully transport them back to the cottage.

And the first tree in the greenwood
it was the holly.
Holly! Holly!
And the first tree in the greenwood
it was the holly!

At the farthest end of the long garden, near a brook that marked the boundary, there was usually a huge amount of holly to be had. My grandmother would take her time, inspect the holly as I waited beside her, and I admit I would be rather impatient by then. But, it was a though she was lost in thought for a time.

Could it be that my grandmother was saying a prayer before cutting off holly twigs?

Was she asking permission?

Was she thinking of which bit would best suit her need for decoration?

There are some today, and certainly in ages gone by, who would say a prayer before lopping off part of a tree. And, why not? We live in an age when loggers can fell many trees in an hour, but there is something precious in taking time in giving thanks to the Great Provider for what we harvest from nature, and that includes holly. To take time, to pause, to extend gratitude is vital.

There are some who believe that each part of creation has its own soul, and some who believe only humankind possesses a soul. But isn’t there something special in taking time to acknowledge that life exists in many forms, and though it might be necessary to take from nature, it is also right to consider, and ask? Soul or no soul, such a practice would guard against the thoughtless use and misuse of nature and her resources.

Ofcourse, my grandmother could have just been thinking which holly twig was best for the purpose of indoor decoration.

That tradition of holly cutting persisted for many years, and even as a teenager I would want to be involved. And, as time went by, I asked her what she was doing, each time she was about to cut some holly?

It seems my grandmother was doing all those things: giving thanks to the Source of All, seeking permission to cut holly and so ensuring that each piece of holly was considered from nature’s perspective, and also thinking about how best to usefully use that holly. It was a three-fold practice that was instilled in me from a certain age, and for which I give thanks.

And so, she cut the holly and I would carefully carry it back to the cottage. That evening she would further cut the holly, and she and I would fashion it and make holly wreaths, or place the holly over or around the hearth, and make ‘holly triangles’ to stand on tables, bookshelves and shelves, or near beds to ensure good dreams and/or a good nights sleep, or for wisdom.

From my grandmother’s stories at that time of year (about December) I heard about the Holly King and the vying for supremacy (ie the struggle between light and dark, the Oak King and the Holly King, and how summer gives way to winter, only for winter to give way to summer). The Holly King was ‘born’ each year but his role was that of a sacrificial king. He would live for a while, many would benefit, and then die, only to be born once more. A very liminal time, indeed.

Now the holly bears a berry
as red as the blood

Holly wreaths were also used during the ancient festival of Saturnalia, celebrated by the Romans on 17 December but, later changed to 23 December to coincide with winter solstice. At such times there would be much feasting, revelry, and gift-giving. Sounds familiar? Saturn was the Roman god akin to the ancient Celtic Holly King, and subsumed by some into Christmas Day celebrations and the awesome the story behind it: A child born to die (and wasn’t that the significance of the myrrh – an embalming oil, the symbol of death?). As well as being called the holly, its is also known as the hulm tree, the holy tree, and (with Easter in mind) Christ’s thorn.

Now the holly bears a berry
as black as the coal

Whichever account, myth or story you subscribe to, something awesome happened in ancient times, and it continues, even today! It is a great event that spans time and space, and even different cultures, religions and belief systems, albeit told in different ways; and it is one that enjoins the use of the holly in an annual ritual and celebration as the darker days of the year approach. Holly is that important as a reminder and more!

Now the holly bears a berry
as white as the milk

It is also said that carrying holly can rekindle desires, and hung over a bedpost it will rise the marital ‘life force’. Ofcourse, many would regard this as superstition, and yet still seek a kiss by raising a piece of mistletoe aloft! Ofcourse, it’s just for fun. Or, is it only fun? Is there something more?

Holly was, and is used by some, to seek protection. Brought into the house, the house and family would be protected. The same protection would be afforded by placing a holly wreath on the front door of the house. Oh, the things we do today even without realising it. But, don’t stop! It’s that time of the year.

And so, at that young age of six, I had enjoyed my first snow fall of that year, had been productively engaged in collecting holly (and later on, cutting – yes, there was an age I reached when I would be trusted to use the secateurs) and fashioning it into various ‘tools’ of protection etc and wonderful seasonal decorations to celebrate that time of the year (however I interpreted it then, and now).

Holly has many uses and many meanings, and though each person reading this may have his/her own view, it is without a doubt a versatile and ‘deep’, thought-provoking shrub, and full of ‘magic’, and at this time of the year it is a timely reminder of darker days ahead in winter, and that the circle turns.

 

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.

With Samhain In Mind: A Winter Haiku

20181004 WITH SAMHAIN IN MIND A WINTER HAIKU

With Samhain (and different pronunciations of that word abound, but I quite like the pronunciation ‘soh-uhn’) just a few weeks away, the Circle turns ever closer as the final harvest of the year is about to be brought in and celebrated, and the season of winter creeps closer, at the end of this month. In Wales, this first day of winter is also known as Calan Gaeaf.

With that winter season in mind, here’s a (series of) haiku, and each can be read in succession – either as poetry, prayer or as part of a liturgy to celebrate the harvest and season of winter, Samhain.

I am fascinated by the traditional haiku. It’s a wonderful poetic style and I’d encourage you to write a poem or two in that style. An awesome discipline, and great fun.  Haiku are Japanese-style short poems consisting of three lines: and the lines should contain firstly five syllables, then next line contains seven syllables, and the last line contains five; and somewhere in the haiku there is a seasonal reference, however oblique.

So, a winter haiku, a resource for you to use and adapt as you think of the last harvest of the year, winter, Samhain.

1
The northern winds blow.
Ice and snow slowly creep south.
Life sleeps in the earth.

2
Harvesting takes place.
And, grateful hearts raise a song
to the Source of All.

3
Winter tilts the Earth.
The sun reclines; and winds roar.
White frost cocoons all.

4
Revelry takes place,
and nature’s bounty is shared
with mankind and beast.

5
Naked are the trees.
Sparse, the green shrubs and bushes.
Harsh, the cold on skin.

6
Hail, winter Spirit.
That which dies now at your hand
will soon come alive.

7
The Circle moves on.
And the promises of old
are heard loud and clear.

8
‘As long as earth lasts,
seedtime and harvest, summer,
winter, never cease.”

9
The Deity smiles,
and blesses all; but for now,
the northern winds blow.

Over the next two weeks or so, other aspects of Samhain will feature here; ritual, thoughts, maybe even a song or two. Many blessings, Tadhg.

 

Tales From The Heart(h): The Fae. Mystery & Meaning

20180930 THE FAE MYSTERY & MEANING TALES FROM THE HEARTH

We all love stories. The Ancients, ancient Celts, Druids, Pagans and others also loved to tell stories and parables, and within them, and sometimes they can be the simplest of stories, we can find unspoken secrets and deep truths that benefit and enrich us. Buried treasure awaits the discerning reader.

My grandmother loved to tell me stories. One day, and I must have been about five of six years old, after a long day of playing with friends in the Welsh countryside, after the evening meal, I sat close to the hearth, nestled against her rocking-chair and got comfortable, ready for another story of hers that would transport me who knows where.

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world…’. Albert Einstein.

She said: There was once a young man who lived by himself in a cottage. It had a thatched roof, a big grandfather clock in the hall, a huge hearth, and in the garden there were so many roses near the house and so many trees at the far end of the garden. Just like this house.

I wondered. Could this be the very house in the story? My childhood imagination ran riot.

She continued. One night, on a night just like this one, the young man heard a noise outside the kitchen door. It was a well-known fact that for country-folk the usual entrance to a house was through the kitchen door and not the front door. The young man opened the kitchen door.

He couldn’t see anyone in the dark, and called out, ‘Who’s there?’. Was he startled?

Oh yes. From the ground, yes the ground a melodic voice replied, ‘It is room that we need to dress our children.’ The young man opened the door fully, and in walked a dozen fae (fairies), incredibly small – about five inches high – and each carried a tiny baby in their arms.

They began to search for an earthen pitcher with water and settled by the hearth with its roaring fire; they remained in the cottage for some hours, washing their infants and adorning themselves. Just before dawn they went away, leaving some money for the young man on the hearth as a reward for his kindness.

After this the young man used to keep the hearth burning all night long, left a vessel of water on the hearth, and bread on the table, each day. He knew he should remove everything made of iron before going to bed, and he knew that these visitations were a secret between him and the fae.

I wondered: would there be any money on the hearth tomorrow morning?

‘To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.’ Oscar Wild

My grandmother said, the fae would often visit the young man’s cottage at night, and after each visit he found money left for him on the hearth. It happened so often that he was able to give up working, and he lived quite comfortably on the money which he received in return for his hospitality from the Fair Folk.

Some years later he took a lovely young lady from the village to be his wife. Once she had married him she became concerned that the money he seemed to have in abundance was from foul means. But he refused to tell her, and, ofcourse, this made her more inquisitive.

‘I’m worried that you don’t get it honestly,’ she said to him. The young man tried to convince her that there was nothing dishonest about his means of livelihood. She gave him no peace. ‘If I tell you, they’ll never come back and I’ll never get any more money’, he said.

‘Ah,’ she said, ‘then it’s the fairies.’ He admitted that it was the fae, and being somewhat annoyed at revealing the fact, he promptly took himself off the pub for a pint of the finest beer and a smoke of tobacco.

When he returned home that evening, he tended the fire, put out a vessel of water and left bread on the table, but the next morning the water and bread was still there. And, there was no money.

His wife was sitting in the garden, and called to him as she had spied the fae leaving, but by the time he arrived they had gone – never to be seen again.

Sometimes, my grandmother said to me that it shows that hospitality is important, the good deeds are rewarded, and that it is best to keep a secret (unless it is a harmful one).

‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.’ The Book, Hebrews 13:2

Ofcourse, to many people the fae are just make-belief stories. But, perhaps they live on in the just-as-real imaginal realm, and perhaps cross-over into this realm when someone truly believes in them. Or, perhaps the real meaning is in the story about the fae. A moral? What do you think?

Interestingly, in a few day’s time one (or more) of the Cottingley fairy photographs is to be auctioned.

About five photographs were taken in 1917 by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford in England. And the photographs showed the girls in the company of the fae. Sir Arthus Conan Doyle and others were convinced the photographs were real and used the photographs at various public events. Public reaction was mixed; some accepted the images as genuine, others believed that they had been faked.

I wonder? Fake photographs or not?

‘Wonder is the heaviest element on the periodic table. Even a tiny fleck of it stops time.’ Diane Ackerman

Many years later the girls, now much older, admitted the photographs were fake, and were cut-outs propped-up with hatpins. However, there’s a twist, as one of the women then changed her mind and said that at least one of the photographs were real evidence of fairy visitation. You can read more about that here.

There is an ancient belief in the fae, especially in Wales and Ireland, but also elsewhere. The ancients Celts and Druids believed in them (or similar) though descriptions and their names may have changed. But, it seems to me that many people believed in the fae because of the Cottingley photographs and many more wanted to believe. There is a real spiritual hunger and a desire to look behind what we think is real to see the realm beyond. Real or not, the photographs point to a longing for them to be real. I do believe my grandmother believed fervently in the fae. And, what of the meaning behind the story of the fae? Wise men and women, sages throughout the years have told stories and parables to illustrate a truth. It makes you wonder. Doesn’t it?

Could it also be that the photograph(s) about to be auctioned in the UK are part of the same (or similar)  story  that my grandmother told, or just a co-incidence?

‘Never stop wandering into wonder.’ Suzy Kassem

I wonder.

 

Full Moon: The Singing Moon & More: Ephemera

20180923 EPHEMERA THE SINGING MOON 25 SEPTEMBER 2018

In a society of ‘mechanical time’, where the emphasis is on greater productivity and acquisition, there are a few discerning people, and that includes you, who are aware of nature’s cycles and their deep meaning, and who really celebrate life and the turning of the Circle, and who ‘see’ beyond the surface level.

There is a realm we can encounter that is beyond, where rationality may not ‘rule’ but which is not irrational, but ‘arational’. Above. Beyond. It is there that we can meet, and appreciate that which is beyond, and full Moon’s are wonderfully liminal events and times

‘In the depth of my soul there is a wordless song.’ Khalil Gibran

For you, here’s some vital information, information for all Celts, Druids and others about the upcoming full moon and another astronomical sight to see a little later on, and a story about the Moon and Sun. You know I like stories and ancient myth, and this one doesn’t disappoint. It’s time to pause and consider deeply.

‘Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.’ Matthew 6:28a-29, The Book

FULL MOON DETAILS
The next full moon takes place on 25 September 2018 at 2.52 UTC, and so it will look (almost) full on the evening of Monday, 24 September and Tuesday, 25 September 2018, and viewable  in the south-eastern sky (from a UK aspect). It’s time to celebrate.

’There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.’ George Carlin

Some call this full moon the the (Full) Corn Moon or Harvest Moon. The term ‘Harvest Moon’ refers to the Full Moon that occurs closest to the Autumnal Equinox. Others call it the Barley Moon, the Fruit Moon, or to some Druids and Celts, such as myself, it’s called the Singing Moon.

MYTHICAL STORY ABOUT THE MOON AND SUN
You know I love stories, and here’s an ancient myth from the Philippines about the Moon and the Sun.

At the very beginning of time the Sun and the Moon were married, and they had many children. These were the bright stars you see in the night sky. Now, the Sun was very fond of his children, but whenever he tried to embrace any of them, he was so hot that he burned them up. This made the Moon very angry, so angry infact she finally forbade him to touch them again, and he was greatly grieved.

One day the Moon went down to the spring, as usual, to do some washing, but before she left she told the Sun that he must not touch any of their children in her absence. When she returned, however, she found that he had disobeyed her, and that several of the children had, sadly, perished.

She was very angry, and picked up a banana tree to strike him. He retaliated by throwing sand at her, and some landed on her face, and to this day you can see the dark marks of sand on the face of the Moon.

Their argument got worse and the the Sun started to chase the Moon. And, now they have been arguing and chasing each other ever since. Sometimes he gets so near that he almost catches her, but she escapes, and so the chase goes on.

ANOTHER ASTRONOMICAL SIGHT
For the astronomically-minded, or for those who like to look upward and gaze at the stars, the end of the month is significant. On 29 September the Moon will be quite close to the bright star Aldebaran. If you look at the Moon, and hold one arm out, and form a fist but with three fingers extended as if giving some kind of (arms-length) scout salute (each finger then being about 1.5 degrees), that’s the perceived gap between the Moon and Aldebaran.

’May you touch dragonflies and stars, dance with fairies and talk to the moon…’ Unknown

Aldebaran appears about 5 degrees away from the Moon, and is an orange giant star some sixty-five light years from us, situated in the constellation of Taurus. The space exploration probe Pioneer 10 which left the solar system is headed in the direction of that star, and should have a (relatively) close encounter in about two million years.

In Hindu astronomy Aldebaran is called Rohini, ‘the red one’ and is thought to be the wife of the god Chandra (which is the Moon); in Bengali it is called Stacidan because of its orange colour; and to the ancient Greeks it was known as Lampadias, ‘the torch-bearer’. As regards the Greeks, it was recorded that that star was occulted (covered (just)) by the Moon on 11 March AD509.

’The moon is the reflection of your heart and moonlight is the twinkle of your love.’ Debasish Mridha

As well as featuring in ancient myth, references to Aldebaran have featured in Star Trek, Far From the Madding Crowd, Ulysses, Lord of the Rings, and in a Rolling Stones song.

CELEBRATION
You may want to celebrate this full moon. I’d heartily recommended it as a way of marking time, pausing to put things into perspective, and to celebrate the circle of the moon and nature, and to ponder upon The One Behind It All.

In many ways the best way to celebrate and/or give thanks is to go out and gaze in awe and appreciate the wonder of that full Moon, and the Source of All, in the stillness of the night. But, in addition, you might like to:

  • say a few words of gratitude out loud or to yourself for the bounty of this year’s food, harvest,  the simple things in life, for personal prosperity or health, or incorporate it in a ritual that you might do periodically, and maybe drink a celebratory drink as you gaze in awe, or
  • remember a loved one who has passed-on, and bless them, and remember good things about them as you look up, or
  • send up good-thoughts or a prayer about an upcoming event or for someone known to you that might need energy or healing, expecting the Source of All to hear and respond.

’Tell me the story…about how the sun loved the moon so much, that she died every night…Just to let him breathe…’ Hanako Ishii

Be blessed, Tadhg.

 

[With gratitude to Pennie Ley (FaceBook Link) for the kind use of the Moon photograph header, above. Copyrighted. All rights reserved, Pennie Ley, 2018].