There Were Giants…: A Timeless Myth To Ponder Upon

20181008 THERE WERE GIANTS

Those who are acquainted with ancient myth will know that it was common for people to regard the original inhabitants of their lands as giants. In these Isles stories of giants in Celtic and Druidic accounts abound in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and, yes, in England, too.

The memory of early struggles for land or survival is preserved in mythology and the heroes of old, those who were wise and possessed long-lost knowledge became giants in the popular mind, so some have said. They probably were large and powerful men and women, and their physical strength and stature became exaggerated as their deeds passed into legend, at least that is the theory from our modern perspective. But, suppose there were really giants?

‘There were giants on the earth in those days…’, Genesis 6:4a, The Book

If giants existed what does it tell us about our place in the universe, our status, or the creative act of the Source of All? Did they exist in the physical realm or in the imaginal And, does that matter? Both are real, aren’t they?

At the very least, it must make us pause, think and wonder.

My grandmother was a great person for story-telling and that, it seems, has passed to me. On one occasion, after careful research I uncovered a local story, a myth, that related to an inner city borough in London. Yes, even in the heart of a bustling city like modern-day London the stories and myth of old echo, still. Hardly heard under the cacophony of sound of cars and lorries, tv and radio, there is a still small voice of the Ancient Story-teller still telling stories to those willing to listen.

The story or myth, uncovered, and which I told to my children some years ago, went like this:

There was a time when two giant sisters lived nearby this house in London. On this side of the River Thames there lived a huge, tall and powerful woman, and her giant sister lived on the other side of the river.

As time went by they decided that they would do something that many people, in future years would remember them by.

Penhill giant is a giant found in English folklore and legends. The giant lived in a fortress on Penhill in Wensleydale, Yorkshire. There are general legends and tales about the giant which claim the giant ate flocks of sheep and terrorized maidens in the local area.

The two giants decided to build two churches, and by this people would remember them: one church would be built on this side of the River Thames, and one on the other side of the river. The challenge that they had, was that, to cut the bricks for the building, they only had one hammer between them. A giant hammer, ofcourse.

The work was laborious and slow, as they had to throw the hammer across the wide river whenever one of them wanted to fashion a brick. This was relatively easy for them, even though the river at that point is wide, because they were giants!

And so, over the years they would call out to each other, when they wanted the use of that one hammer.

The giant sister on this side of the river would shout out, ‘Full home’ when she needed the hammer, and the giant sister on the other side of the river would shout, ‘Put nigh’ when she needed the hammer.

At last the two sisters completed the two church buildings on either side of the River Thames, nearby. They were proud of their achievements, and rightly so.

‘Look at Behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox. What strength it has in its loins, what power in the muscles of its belly! Its tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are close-knit. Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like rods of iron.’ Job 40:15-18, The Book

Sadly, the names of the giant sisters is lost to us, and even the story of the two giant sisters is known only to a few (and perhaps, a few more people if you’ve read as far as this).

What is remembered, is the call that they made to each other when they wanted that one hammer. Yes, on this side of the river the shout was ‘Full home’, from which the borough (it is said in myth) got its name, Fulham. Whilst the borough on the other side of the river (and now connected by a wonder bridge) is called Putney, from that giant’s ancient cry of ‘put nigh’. And so, the story ends.

Ofcourse, it is an old story, a myth, and many would dispute it, but doesn’t it make you wonder? Stories of giants abound in these Isles (and, indeed, around the world), and now here’s a story of giants of old, right here in London.

Yes, if giants existed in former days, what does it tell us about our place in the universe, what about our status, and what about the creative act of the Source of All? At the very least, it must make us pause, think and wonder. Surely?

The two giants, guardians of London were called Gog and Magog. Myth has it that they were the last two survivors of the sons of the thirty-three infamous daughters of Diocletian, who were captured and kept chained to the gates of a palace on the site of Guildhall.

However they got there, we do know that by the reign of Henry V they were carved effigies, huge giants guarding the gates of Guildhall. In 1554 these effigies appeared in the Lord Mayor’s Show and were pulled along on carts. And, modern effigies of Gog and Magog, guardian giants of London still feature in the annual Lord Mayor’s Show  each November. See here.

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

 

Here Be Dragons: Encountering Nature In The City & Looking Beyond The Veil

20180715 HERE BE DRAGONS ENCOUNTERING NATURE IN THE CITY

It is no secret that I like ritual. Ritual, if the intention is there, takes us out of ordinary time and into sacred time, away from only an awareness of mundane space and into sacred space; and it opens up a doorway, a liminal threshold to the Other. We enter a place and time where things happen. Really happen. Even if we’re unaware of the sequence of events.

And, it doesn’t have to be formal ritual. There are many rituals, simple ones, too, that are useful to us as individuals, that we do daily, beneficial routines that open the path to the imaginal realm, that realm of power and potential. This can lead to an encounter that can be wholly other (as in the imaginal), wholly ‘here’ (as in the physical realm), but is usually witnessed as a somewhat confusing combination of the two.

Holy superimposition.

‘There are two worlds: the world we can measure with line and rule, and the world that we feel with our hearts and imagination.’ Leigh Hunt

park1

Bishop’s Park, London

Today was very much like that. One of my daily rituals when in London is to take some valuable time out at the beginning of the day and visit the Magic Café, when in Fulham, south-west, inner London. There, over a latte I pore over a good book for an hour, at least. It is a time of grounding, ‘earthing’, drawing energy into my being to prepare myself for the day ahead.

In many senses I am so absorbed by the book I’m reading, at those times, that events can happen around me and I’m totally unaware of them. I might have ate a croissant and looked up about half an hour later only to find the empty plate has gone from my table. In such circumstance I try to catch the baristas eye and thank him or her for clearing the table, as it might have appeared rude not to acknowledge their good work at the time. Totally absorbed, was I in that liminal realm. The baristas know me well.

Something similar happened again, today. Serendipity.

The weather in London and, indeed, the UK has been unusually hot. Usually after a few days of hot weather (say, 26 Celsius or hotter), here, the weather breaks, we have a thunderstorm and it goes back to being mild and changeable. It’s been hot, between 25 and 31 Celsius for about three weeks, and although some local areas have had very brief rainstorms, they’ve missed Fulham.

‘Serendipity is the faculty of finding things we did not know we were looking for.’ Glauco Ortolano

park2

Bishop’s Park, London

And, as it happened, all the outside tables and chairs at the café were all occupied by others when I arrived there this morning. It was clear, there was only one thing for it: order a take-away latte and take myself (and the good book I was carrying) off to a nearby (riverside) park. Bishop’s Park. Ironic, really, as the book I was reading was about encountering nature deeply (in both rural and urban settings), and so I walked the four minutes to the park, slowly (as it was hot) to put into practice what I was reading.

I found a wonderful shady spot near the lake (which, courtesy of the local council’s ‘bio-diversity’ and wildlife welfare policy, is amazingly overgrown at the edges). It is a beautiful area. The sun was hot, the sky blue and cloudless but I was in shade. The air was filled with the fragrance of a myriad of flowers, and birdsong. I sat on a bench to read my book and occasionally sipped the coffee.

I read for about half an hour but was disturbed by a few ducks that had arrived and stayed for several minutes, a couple of dragonflies who seemed to want to ‘buzz’ me, and a large water rat that ambled out of the undergrowth and came towards me at some speed, stopping about six feet (two metres) in front of me, sniffed in my direction in an exaggerated manner before shuffling off.

Ofcourse, these weren’t interruptions at all.

‘We live in a relative and contradictory world. We go to work, care for our family and friends, and manage ordinary details every day. And yet we are timeless. We are the rhythm of life’. Llyn Roberts

If the book I was reading was anything to go by, and it is a good book by Sandra Ingerman and Lllyn Roberts, then this was just the time to take up one of its suggestions to put the book to one side. I did.

I relaxed, adopted a meditative state, half-closed my eyes and revelled in nature that was all around me, and if you take into account the fragrances in the air, then nature was within me! And, there’s more. As I sat there, in the middle of London in a lovely park, and in an awesome, overgrown, lush area of the park, ‘disturbed’ only by nature,  I was in bliss. I wasn’t apart from nature looking on, but was part of it, part of that rhythm of life.

Liminality.

It was then that I saw, resting on undergrowth to my side, a wonderful dragonfly – well, actually a damselfly. Very similar to dragonflies, but they’re smaller. They are close ‘cousins’ to the dragonfly. Both are members of the odonata order. So-called by a Danish zoologist some two hundred years ago who, mistakenly, thought they had teeth. The lovely creature resting on a flower was a (UK) common blue damselfly. Magnificent.

In the world of the imagination, myth and magic, it is said that dragonflies and damselflies were the dragons of old: think scaly winged, fire-breathing creatures. Now, much smaller they are ‘disguised’ when they appear in this realm.

park33

Bishop’s Park, London

They are said by some to be one of nature’s shape-shifters because they inhabit two elemental realms: air and water. Some believe that to see them up close means that your life will never be the same. Others believe that such creatures break down ones illusions and expose truth, usher in winds of change, wisdom or enlightenment, and if one lands on you then good luck is sure to follow. Dragonflies carry messages that deal with deeper thought – and they ask that we pay attention to our deeper thoughts and desires.

‘It is one thing to read about dragons, and another to meet them.’ Ursula Le Guin

I’m told the Swedish name for them is trollslända, which means ‘hobgoblin fly, and comes from a time when dragonflies and damselflies were thought to be the ‘horses’ for elves, brownies and the fae, who would travel around on their backs.

Meanwhile, that wonderful common blue damselfly was still resting on that nearby plant, and then suddenly he or she flew off. Gone. Did its presence have a significant meaning?

At one level it’s clear that nature is flourishing in this place and I (and you, wherever you find yourself, and even in the city) are part of it: connected. At another level, there is the view of acceptance, that we are one with nature and nature is one with us: kin. And, at a still deeper level, maybe there was a ‘message’ today in that damselfly’s visit that was pertinent to me (just as at other times and places other events are pertinent and meaningful to you)? Awareness.

Mark Nepo calls such events ‘quiet teachers’: natural events that can speak volumes to us, if we but take time to rest and let natural wisdom ‘soak’ into our being so that we are ‘taught’ something special, and deep, and wholesome from that event. It’s what our ancestors, ancient Celts, Druids, Pagans, ancient Christians and others would have understood, almost without trying. Participation mystique, or mystical participation. Something that doesn’t come easy to us, but which can be experience with some intentionality.

Why, then the wise thing to do is ponder upon its meaning and apply it to ourselves. Or, perhaps, or in addition to all this, is the fact that each of us are blessed in living on a wild and ‘life-full’ planet (whether we live in a rural or urban setting), and are part of the web of life; and today, in one small way I spied another creature, a dragonfly/damselfly also attuned into, and part of the web of life, and in looking beyond the veil I understood it to be a gift from the Source of All to you and I, and others. Gratitude.

’Hic sunt dracones; here be dragons’.

 

20180715 HERE BE DRAGONS ENCOUNTERING NATURE IN THE CITY

 

 

An Encounter With Vulpes Vulpes In London: Nature In An Urban Environment

20180619 AN ENCOUNTER WITH VULPES VULPES

Last night was one of those evenings where it occurred to me that I had been sedentary for far to long.

It was approaching midnight, and I had emailed a few urgent emails, completed a liturgy for an upcoming handfasting of two wonderful people, had watched the football on tv, and had just picked up a book to read. Sedentary, that the thought that occurred to me. It was if my whole body was experiencing restless leg syndrome and not just my legs, and it yearned for movement.

The best option seemed to be to go for a walk, and that’s what I did.

I’m back in the city, in my small ground floor maisonette in a central London borough, which nestles very close to the River Thames. I am surrounded by city parks, an abundance of wonderful cafes, and densely packed housing, And so, with the thought of movement in mind, I strode manfully out of the door at midnight.

’Solvitur ambulando.’ A Latin phrase meaning, ‘It is solved by walking.’

The streets, well at least the side streets, here, and not the main road in the distance, were deserted, empty of people and devoid of moving cars. It felt great to be in the city and yet have space to myself. Surrounded by thousands of people and yet no one in sight. Oh the people were there. Inside their houses, curtains drawn, and in some the light from the tv flickering away was perceptible, but only just, as I walked by.

I thought I might walk towards Parsons Green, and to get there I’d have to walk down a long, well-lit side street. It had now just gone midnight, and I was half way along that street, and it felt, unnervingly, as if I was being watched. I purposely stopped, looked around, expecting to see a stalker or some ne’er-do-well, but saw nothing. No one.

’Being a nocturnal creature myself, I often find myself in dark alleys or strange places late at night. If there were werewolves around, I’d be likely to run into them, being the night owl that I am.’ Dean Ambrose

I continued walking, and still the feeling of being watched persisted. I carried on walking and the line of cars parked either side of the road ended. I was passing by a school and the road marking prohibited parking at that point. I walked on about thirty paces further on, giving enough time for my stalker to be denied the shelter of parked cars, and I stopped, turned around in the most untimid manner I could muster, and faced my stalker. And, there he was.

Vulpes Vulpes.

Yes, my stalker, my ‘watcher in the night’, was a rather splendid, well-fed red fox. Fulham has many urban foxes on its street, and most can be heard, or seen, or smelled when they move about at night.

My companion was about twenty (human) paces behind me, and he too, stopped, and just looked at me. I didn’t move a muscle. Not afraid, but I didn’t want to scare this little chap away. I stopped for some time. He remained still.
Looking at me, his little head cocked to one side as if trying to solve a mystery of what I was doing. I felt the urge to do the same, but resisted it.

It is thought that there are about 150,000 foxes in the England. Here in London they scavenge their food from litter bins and so their food is usually an unhealthy diet of human food scraps, consisting of curry, chips, fish fingers and bacon butties, and as were near the Thames, maybe the odd water rat or two. Considered by man to be a nuisance, I have to admit that I am in awe of nature as it pushes back to reclaim, in part, the domain that was once solely its world. And, the fox is a particular favourite. I admit crows come a close second and they can be seen early morning and throughout the day in Fulham, but I love foxes, especially city foxes. And, this particular fox was still looking at me, and had sat down.

Did you know: The red fox is the most common type of fox, but there are about 47 different subspecies of red fox; Foxes belong to the dog family and use similar facial expressions and body postures to pet dogs, such as wagging their tails when greeting family members; Foxes have strong family ties. Young foxes often stay with their parents for a few years and help raise future cubs.

Having watched this wonderful beast for sometime I turned away and carried on walking. But only for a few paces. I stopped and deliberately turned. He had moved, about the same distance I had covered and had stopped when I had stopped, and was still twenty paces behind me. I laughed, and walked on and stopped. I turned and there he was. Twenty paces behind. I was nearing Parsons Green, and so stopped one last time, turned, and…he was gone. I felt a little loneliness creep in, having lost my companion and that feeling of being watched.

There are some who say that when humankind was in its infancy and we lived in peace with all animals, that communication between humans and animals, and vice versa, was possible. Others say that in that world of blurred boundaries, even shape-shifting was possible. Are these ideas true, or metaphorical or romantic? That’s a rhetorical question, as I don’t need an answer as I love mystery, and however we interpret those ancient-world notions, there is always something to learn.

There are some others who believe that animals that appear ‘out of nowhere’ and come unusually close to us are attracted by our inner being, our soul. Have you ever been somewhere and an animal or insect has come close, perhaps too close, and unexpectedly so, to surprise you?

Or, perhaps, they say, the animal companion (for a while) is a manifestation of our soul.

In Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy ‘His Dark Material’, Lyra Belacqua has an (external) animal representation of her (inner) soul which manifests itself as a red moth when she’s a child, but as a red-gold pine marten when she’s an adult.

Or perhaps an unexpected animal, the red fox in this case, is a messenger from That Which Is Bigger Than Ourselves (and who cannot but remember those old Sunday School stories of Balaam’s donkey and its urgent spoken message?).

’We need another and wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals…We patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form far below ourselves. And therein we err, and err greatly. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost…living by voices we shall never hear.’ Henry Beston

Being a man in this age, ofcourse I wanted to know. And so, I researched something about the red fox, and sadly discovered that they are generally hated as a terrible nuisance on city streets. Okay, I accept in January, or thereabouts, the cry of the vixen, can sound like a baby’s cry, and can be somewhat unnerving or alarming on city streets, and the result of all those curries they eat does make a mess on the pavement – and what an awful smell! But, they are wonderful creatures.

They have lost much of their habitat to humankind (and if truth be known it is us who are a nuisance to them, as they were her first), are they are sorely misunderstood, and present no real danger. I like the idea of nature ‘pushing back’ in the city, as if to say, ‘I’m still here, and I don’t mind sharing, but just share with me, too, please’.

Understanding wild creatures is one thing, but there’s more. There is a point where we can so draw near to them that we can sense them – and I do believe that being ’watched’ feeling I had, or the surprise you might have had when an animal or inset came unusually close to you, is part of an intuitive sensing and connectedness with that animal that we might experience in short bursts, but our ancient ancestors, druids, celts and others would have experienced it much more or perhaps all the time. Lucien Levy-Bruhl, a French philosopher, calls this ‘participation mystique’ (mystical participation) and it occurs beyond our logical, rational thought processes. It is like a ‘sense’ that we have but seldom use now , but it can be increased by usage, like a muscle, if we choose to exercise it.

Foxes, I believe, are a gift from the Universe, from That Which Is Bigger Than Us, and are a reminder that nature is abundant and beneficent, ubiquitous (even in the city) and to be enjoyed, and can be understood at a cerebral and knowledge-level, but also by that ‘sensing’, by taking hold of that mystical participation of deep connectedness at a soul level that our ancestors possessed.

And so, I’m almost back home, having completed my walk. I’ve walked for almost an hour, my fox-companion is nowhere to be seen, the streets are still deserted, but I am left wondering: just a chance encounter, a shape-shifter, an outward reflection of my inner soul, or a guardian of some kind who kept me safe from an otherwise dangerous event, or a messenger from Beyond? Thank God for Vulpes Vulpes.

What was the meaning of that encounter? No, don’t answer it. I want to revel in the mystery of not knowing cerebrally, as it brings me (and us) closer to the Mystery.

 

 

Encountering The Òran Mór

20180226 ENCOUNTERING THE ORAN MORI’m sitting cross-legged, in a darkened room. Dark, save for one, small candle with its gentle flickering light projecting barely-seen shadows on the wall. It’s peaceful. I’m at rest.

Tonight my meditation is kataphatic – that is I’m going to use thoughts and ‘pictures’ from my imagination to be my ‘silent teachers’, and then in an unstructured way – that is non-directed, and I aim to be open to the Awen (pronounced by some as ar-wen; though I like the three syllable pronunciation, ah-(w)oo-ern), that Spirit of creativity known to ancient (and latter-day) Celts and Druids, and others (and known by various other names).

As I sit here, eyes closed, there is no sound except for the sound of the wind, outside. I’m back in London, and my small apartment is one of a few, that, like most modern architecture can be prone to ‘funnel’ the wind and create a sound – like that of a long moan. I love it. I can hear it now. The wind is blowing from the east, and it’s cold air. As I begin a time of quietness, it is nature reminding me that, even in the city, nature predominates.

My mind wanders, and I let it.

The mournful sound outside reminds me of a story I once heard when I was a child. The flickering candle light, even with my eyes closed, gently reminds me of the glow of the hearth as that story was told. My mind conjures up pictures of yesteryear, of childhood, of innocence.

My grandmother, would tell me that: In the beginning, and it varies between cultures, nothing existed. But all that is, was brought forth by a sound. Some call it the word or Word, others of a Celtic or Druidic persuasion call it the Òran Mór (some pronounce this Oran-mor, others oh-ran mohr). The words differ, but the wonderfully deep meaning persists.

Òran Mór, the Great Song or Great Music, song of the universe, was (and is) the continual love song of the Source of All, and through it everything that is, was brought into being, and continues because of the Òran Mór, my wise grandmother would say to me.

‘…while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy’. Job 38.7 The Book

Everything vibrates, my grandmother would remind me, and so everything is ‘dancing’ to the music of the Òran Mór. Then, the former was a difficult concept to understand as a child, but the latter was understandable. As a child I loved dancing. And so, Òran Mór is nature’s dance, such as a bird chirping, a frog croaking, leaves making a sound in trees when the wind blows, the sound of rain or the waterfall, our breath, a babies cry, our cells, and for those with scientific instruments to measure it, the very rocks and stars oscillate and participate in Òran Mór.

‘As you entered the world, your first independent action was to breathe, and then to make sound – the sound of your creation. Since then, each time you’ve made a sound you’ve re-created yourself’. Stewart Pearce, The Alchemy Of Voice

Oh, she was clever, if not confusing, especially to a wee lad to me, as I was then. I only partly understood then what my grandmother was saying about about the Òran Mór, but in remembering now, I can piece together much of what she said, and now understand it more so.

‘All things emanate from this Great Song of power that is spinning vibrantly through all life, from the microcosmic level of electrons, atoms…to the giant swath of whole galaxies…’, Frank MacEowan, The Mist-Filled Path

My grandmother would often ask me to listen out for the Òran Mór, as for us, it can also be heard as a barely audible whisper of wisdom, heard in nature, those ‘silent teachers’ or on the lips of others. Have you heard the Òran Mór as an audible sound, or as an inner whisper, or a paradoxical unheard ‘sound’ of inclusion that seems palpable, or through nature?

For humankind, we share in the ‘dance’ of the Òran Mór along with nature, but are blessed to acknowledge it – to be both part of it, and to ‘understand’ it (in part), objectively. In that sense our very words and singing can form part of the Òran Mór. Our breath has power. What a blessing to add to it. To be embraced by it. How important it is for us to speak words of ritual or ceremony, to speak positively to others, to utter gratitude, to sing or chant in groups or individually to nature and/or the Source of All. When we do so, we join in with the Song of the Universe, and the latter joins in with us. We become part of a magnificent cosmic symphony.

‘The Òran Mór is already within us waiting silently for the activation of our memory…The human soul enlivened with the Great Song becomes aware that it is a manifestation of the theophany of Creation…’ Frank MacEowan, The Mist-Filled Path

And so, often, my grandmother would send me out into her garden to listen. I have a feeling that it gave her time to attend to other things or to be by herself for a while, but it fascinated me – I was sent on an adventure to discover…who knows what?

When I returned she would ask me what I heard. And like the small child I was I would recite at breakneck speed, and without many pauses for breath, everything – listing the buzz of flies, the sound of birdsong, the bleat of a ragged sheep, the sound of thunder reverberating in nearby mountains, the sound of my footsteps, the sound of a babbling brook, the crack of a tree branch breaking nearby and falling from a great height, and the sound of an aircraft overhead.

‘And which of those was the Òran Mór?’, she would ask. ‘All of them?’, I would answer, hedging my bets and phrasing it as a question. ‘Ofcourse, all!’, she replied, and smiled as only she could.

I’m sitting here now in this darkened room, eyes half open, listening to my breath as those wonderful  ‘picture’ images of yesteryear disperse in my mind. The candle flame dances and splutters, as I realise that’s Òran Mór. The wind outside is howling like a ban-sidhe (pronounced bann-she), that’s Òran Mór, and as I sit here and chant then I, and you too, as you sing or chant or speak now or later, join in with the Òran Mór, and we add something valuable to the fabric of the Universe, and the Source of All joyfully sings with us.

‘And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and the loud rumbling of thunder. And the sound I heard was like harpists strumming their harps. And they sang a new song…’. Revelation 14:2-3a The Book

I blew out the candle flame. Sat cross-legged in the silence of the room, but still  hearing the howling, moaning sound of the wind outside. Yes, wherever we are, rural or urban centres, in a forest or an apartment block, we are reminded that Òran Mór is ubiquitous. It is with us now (though many would say the Òran Mór is personal, and so ‘it’ is not quite the word to use, but such is the limitation of language in dealing with major spiritual themes) . Even as you read this, rest assured that you and I, and all of creation are part of that glorious, ancient, powerful, connection that is the Òran Mór, the Great  Song.

 

Mysteriously It Flows: A River Poem In The Style Of A Cyrch A Cywta

20180215 MYSTERIOUSLY IT FLOWS

I love poetry, and as you may know those ancient Celts and Druids, and others had a respect, fascination and deep reverence for nature that is often missing today. Though there are many latter-day Celts and Druids and others, that are keeping this deep appreciation for nature alive, in a myriad of wonderful ways.

One such way to do this is though poetry.  And, yes, I’m back in London and only just 200 yards from the mighty River Thames, and so here is my poem of profound respect to that wonderful river, the life-blood of London, and its metaphoric relationship to us.

Mysteriously it flows,
through the great city it knows.
Freshwater to sea, it goes.
The river, meand’ring, prose,
resembles the soul, God knows.
Yet the soul often forgoes
the delight of just being
the light it overshadows.

Poems, depending on their rhyme etc are known by various names – who can forget the iambic pentameter? And the abovementioned style of poem, in Wales, is called a Cyrch a cywta (pronounced kirch-a-choo-tah).

Essentially, the Cyrch a cywta is a awesome poem consisting of a stanza of eight and with each containing seven-syllable in that line. The first six lines and the eighth sharing the same rhyme, and yes, you’ve noticed the seventh line (still with seven syllables) doesn’t have to rhyme like the others.

But, ofcourse, I can’t end this article here, and so would suggest two things: Firstly, to commend you to be aware of nature around you – even in the city – and to cherish it and give thanks for it in some way; and secondly, why not write you own Cyrch a cywta style of poem as an act of gratitude for something, or as a challenging exercise or just for fun (or for all three)? And, should you have a river nearby, you could even use this particular poem as part of your liturgy of thanks, occasionally.

 

Celtic Thought: In Praise Of Urban Trees (Or ‘The Sentinels Of Parson’s Green’)

20170213-in-prasie-of-urban-trees-celtic-thoughtIt sometimes feels easier to be embraced by the simple beauty of nature in rural areas. Even if the ‘Rockies’ or Yr Wyddfa (Mt Snowdon in north Wales, in my rural neighbourhood) are some way off, a small copse here or there, wayside flowers or a tree branch shed in a storm and providing a much needed seat for me, affords a remembrance or connection with the Great Outdoors.

And yet I’m now in London (UK) for a while, in an area that hosts almost 200,000 people, where the ratio of people per street is phenomenally high compared to rural Wales. I love Capel Curig. And for other reasons I love this part of London: a borough which nestles alongside the River Thames; jam-packed with a kaleidoscope of awesome, diverse  people; sporting a number of cafés – great places for avid book-readers, like me; and with a number of open, green spaces.

It sometimes feels like it takes more ‘work’, but perceiving nature in this place is possible – if only for the fact that nature itself really is ubiquitous, and we may, for the most part in urban areas, merely be unware of it.

‘The trees are God’s great alphabet:
With them He writes in shining green
Across the world His thoughts serene.’ Leonora Speyer

Not far from where I live (when in London) is Parson’s Green – a small area of open space, triangular in shape – was it a plague pit in medieval times? And it has great, green open area, with high trees from another era, and two public houses (it used to be tree) at its edges. It is a most wonderful, magical area, busy but with a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’. Yet many miss its beauty in their rush to nearby Parson’s Green (London) Underground Station.

It is a magical area. A small oasis of beauty, a swathe of green in a sea of grey.  A ‘garden’ of solitude surrounded by a cacophony of sound. And in the centre are its two tallest trees. I first saw them as a boy some years ago, and they are still as tall, if not taller, than ever. They are the ‘guardians’ of this place, nature’s sentinels, and some might say they are its senior dryads. I rarely pass that way without a slight head-nod of respect to them.

There is something so sure and dignified in a tree’s presence. The Celts had a refined sense of worthy wonder of trees. For them many trees were sacred. Near their holy wells there was often either an ash or oak tree.’ John O’Donohue

These two trees are giants.

And that’s interesting, the myths from different cultures about two giants. In Roman times the myth of Gog and Magog (which are names that appear in ancient text) was ‘imported’ to Britain and quickly became the ‘protectors’ of London. Even today a few old buildings in Central London sport effigies of Gog and Magog, and at the Lord Mayor’s annual procession it is usual to see larger-than-life effigies of them on vehicles in the procession. In Greek mythology the Aloadae were two giants who were presumptuous enough  to attempt to storm the home of the gods by piling three mountains – Olympus, Ossa and Pelion on top of each other. Goram and Ghyston, too, are legendary giants in the folklore of the Bristol area. And, Fulham (this borough in question) had its own myth of two giant sisters who, it is said, built the churches on either side of the River Thames [see here].

‘Oh Trees, Trees, Trees…wake. Don’t you remember it? Don’t you remember me? Dryads and hamadryads, come out, come [out] to me.’ C S Lewis

Yes, these two tall trees amongst dozens of others, are giants, sentinels of Parson’s Green, in the heart of London.

And, for those who pause in their rush to and fro from home to the train station, and vice versa, the wildness of nature, the green-goodness, the magic of this place,  even a dryad or two, it’s spiritual presence and giftedness-from-the-Source-of-All may be revealed to those who takes time, are aware, and pay their respects.

‘The groves were God’s first temples.’ William Cullen Bryant

If ever you have the opportunity to move through Parson’s Green, or indeed in some other urban area where nature reminds us of it’s presence, then temporarily forget  about the busyness of the day and allow yourself to be transported into the realm of sacred space, sacred time, where the imaginal re-imposes itself and where Green-Spirit can embrace you in that ‘thin place’.

Something to do? If you’re in a built-up area, seek out a green space, find a tall tree, be aware, take time, be still, pause, and enjoy the view, the tree’s presence, and the One-Behind-It-All.

‘Only in the pauses between things, in the brief contemplative spaces of just being, can we catch a glimpse of love itself.’ Gerald G. May

An Encounter With Nwyfre In London?

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I’m still in London.

There is a forest not far from where I live in north Wales, old and dense; ancient. I love it. And there, after a long, winding trek through the thick forest is a small clearing stands ‘Y goeden mellt’, the Lightning Tree. (See here).

But, I’m still in town, still in the city, and won’t be back in Capel Curig for at least another few days. And yet….deep in my spirit there’s a restlessness. There are several places where I’ve experienced nwyfre (pronounced ‘noo-iv ruh’) , and one of those it when in the presence of that Lightning Tree.

Nwyfre, traditionally and literally has to do with the wind and the sky. If you can imagine fast flowing, light clouds, low in the sky, say, or the wind ‘howling’ of the tops of trees, then that’s evidence of nwyfre. But, it’s more that just an atmospheric phenomenon – to those with deep awareness, insight, enlightenment, to those who are poets and those who might have a ‘romantic’ inclination, it’s more.

‘Time and attention are the most precious gifts we can give.’ Rob Liano

Nwyfre, at its deepest and most profound, and I would say its most real level, is: Spirit, and the connectedness of everything because of Spirit, and the flow of energy (love etc) between them. 

And so, feeling a fair amount of ennui last evening, I went for a walk along the banks of the River Thames in the heart of London. It was late and the air was now cold, very cold, and the wind was howling over the rooftops of nearby high-rise buildings, making a wailing sound like some kind of invisible bansidhe (pronounced ‘ban-shee’). Oh, the wind moaned a deep, mournful, relentless groan.

I felt small in comparison to the power of the wind that raced across city rooftops and shook the trees. I felt separated, as something of a different order altogether to that barometric pressure that moved noisily, and yet invisibly, nearby. And yet, connected. That’s nwyfre!

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with… the Spirit.’ The Book  (part)

Gazing at the river, only dimly lit by street-lighting, I breathed in – air. Nwyfre! The same wind that blew high above me, that howled across the rooftops, that had come from unknown parts in its journey to who knows where, was now in my lungs and coursing through my veins. I ‘discovered’ that I am no longer separate because of nwyfre! That which was outside, literally, is inside of me. We are encompassed by it. Cocooned. Connected.

‘The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.’ Carl Sagan

Walking now, to keep warm – it seemed colder than ever, and fog was moving in – I ‘discovered’ also that I no longer felt that small. Nwyfre! Not separated, not small, but knew that we are all connected. Connected and powerful. I experienced that at Y goeden mellt’, the Lightning Tree in Wales on many occasions when surrounded by a forest, and in solitude; and now in the heart of London – surrounded by eight million soul – I experienced it once more.

I ‘discovered’ a third fact. And this one that affects you, wherever you are. You too, can experienced that connectedness of nwyfre. In thinking of spiritual experiences many think of out-of-the-way and difficult places to visit, but it doesn’t have to be only that way. Where you are, right now, is as special, as sacred, and as holy as Y goeden mellt, and so is every place, too.

‘We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibres connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibres, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.’ Herman Melville

In the heart of London I experienced the connectedness of nwyfre, and wherever you are, you can too. Ofcourse, if our minds are too busy, we’ll miss the invitation of nwyfre. It seems we have a choice.

‘When you make a choice, you change the future.’ Deepak Chopra

It was now bitterly cold, and as I headed home – about a four minute walk from where I was at that point, I looked at  the lights in those high-rise apartments, the glow of tv screens ‘playing’ on curtains and the apartments’ ceilings, and the general busyness of the metropolis, and felt saddened that unwittingly some had made a choice, and had missed the opportunity of encountering nwyfre. And, the really sad thing is that they never even knew that they had already made a choice.

‘When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.’ William James

 

Haiku #5: Old Father Thames, London

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As you know, I’m fascinated by the traditional haiku – short poems consisting of three lines, and the lines containing firstly five syllables, then seven, then five; and somewhere in the haiku there is a seasonal reference, however oblique.

I’m in London at the moment, and am lucky enough to live just 1oo yards/metres from the River Thames. I love London, and especially this part – I know, I’m biased.

So, I got up early this morning, and wandered along the banks of the River Thames to ‘greet the sun’, as a light, cold, grey fog ‘rolled’ along the river – the idea of ‘pea-souper’ London fogs is, essentially, a thing of the past, but especially at times of seasonal transition, this time of the year, when the weather changes and the temperature drops,  fog abounds along the banks of the river, nearby streets and ‘hangs’ over local parks and tumbles into the street(s).

Here’s a few haiku (or should that be haikus) about my early morning encounter.

1

Old Father Thames wakes.
His cold, grey breath moves onward.
So ‘menacingly’.

2

London dressed in grey.
Little seen, for much is lost.
Damp, rime, autumn frost.

3

Unseeing, I walk.
Faith-steps, slowly, taken now.
A ‘leap in the dark’?

4

Easterly winds blow.
Invisible is seen, now.
Old Father Thames wakes.

Poem: Become The Duet

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If we were to travel from the wild, ruggedness of Capel Curig,
near the foothills of Yr Wyddfa,
that place of green, of open-space, of dragons, myth and power;
Myrddin’s lair.

If we were to travel to the busy-ness of Old London,
that place of the ancient river of the Celts,
of crowded streets, of neon lights, Druid-energy and oh-so many people,
the Voice can be heard.

If we were to pause,
wherever we are, just for one moment,
to revel in life that is happening around us, to us, in us, through us,
we would hear the Voice.

Distractions come,
and a distancing from all that is natural seems to happen.
But, only seemingly, so.
The Voice that spoke creation into being,
thunders in the wilderness,  whispers in built-up places,
but speaks, still.
The Voice can be heard, if….
…if we have ears to hear.

If we would but listen to the music of our life,
our body would sway in time to the primal beat of times of old.

If we would but gaze at beauty around us,
our mind would laugh crazily with delight at the colours seen.

If we would but ponder, and feel deep within our soul
the love-song of the Friend,
then we would know the reason why we are here.
Become the duet.

Tadhg’s Journal: Of Celts, Giants & And Angels…

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Excerpt from Tadhg’s Journal: I’m back at my London place now, at least for a short while, and it’s great to be back. I do love wild and rugged north Wales and my place at Capel Curig, but I also love London for all its busyness, and especially this part, Fulham.

As I sit here, having put down a great book for a while, and in the cool twilight of the day, I’m now journaling just a few thoughts, by way of an introduction to where I am now, to this geographical area. A place of history, intrigued and mystery.

putney_bridge_-wiki-copyrightfree-723-5I love stories, and here’s a local myth that I came across some time ago. It is said that many years before the bridge was built, there lived in these parts two giant sisters on either side of the River Thames. One lived in, what is now called Fulham, the other, in what is now called Putney. Without a bridge times were difficult – especially as the pair of them had set about building a church in their respective villages (as they were then), on the banks on the River Thames.

And so they worked hard, fashioning huge bricks out of stone, and building a church, each. But, with only one hammer between them, thee work was slow.

How did they share that one hammer? When the giant sister on this side of the River Thames (I live in Fulham), wanted the hammer, she would shout to her sister to throw it across the river by shouting ‘full home’. When the other sister, on the other side of the river wanted the hammer, she would shout ‘Put nigh’. And it was from their cries to each other that the respective villages (and now boroughs of London) became known as Fulham, and Putney. [View is of Putney Bridge, looking towards All Saints Church, and Fulham]

284-river-thamesThis area of London has had a long Celtic influence. Indeed, the River Thames (pronounced ‘temz’) is so called because originally it was called Tamesas, a Celt word which meant dark. An apt description of the river’s water.

The Romans, later, called it the Tamesis, and then the “Th” was put added during the Renaissance period as they thought the Celts originated from Greece  possibly to reflect a belief that the name was derived from River Thyamis in Greece. The ‘th’ was, allegedly, then dropped for the ‘t’ pronunciation that we stress today, as one of the Kings couldn’t say his ‘th’s. [View of the River Thames, Fulham at twilight]

Did you know that the River Thames, it is alleged, has its own angel, and has been seen recently. A tv/film crew spotted an angel, and their reaction can be seen here.

261-fulham-palaceI also like history, too, and one of my special places to visit is Fulham Palace. From around AD700,  the site was acquired by Bishop Waldhere, and it served as a Bishop’s residence for over 12 centuries.

There is evidence of much earlier occupation of the site. Excavations from 1972 to 1986 by an archaeological group revealed Neolithic (3000BC), Iron Age (800BC-43AD) and Roman (200AD-500AD) artefacts.

Edmund Bonner (c.1500 – 5 September 1569), who later became Bishop Bonner lived at the Fulham Palace in the sixteenth century. Depending on which side of the Reformation you were on, it was probably undesirable to go to tea with the man. He was known as ‘Bloody Bonner’ for his role in the persecution of what he called heretics. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs sums up Bonner by saying: ‘This cannibal in three years space three hundred martyrs slew. They were his food, he loved so blood, he sparèd none he knew.’ [Photo: Part of Fulham Palace]

Just a few thoughts.