Alone With The Alone At The Machair: Poem

20171026 ALONE WITH THE ALONE AT THE MACHAIR POEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Note From A Reluctant Edge-Walker

z 20171023 reluctacnt edgewalker

Having disembarked from the ferry at the port on the windswept Isle of Iona, I left the small village and headed along a path, as instructed. I knew the journey would take about half an hour, and so with light failing and with a flashlight in hand, I set off. All that seems an age away, now.

I’m back, and for various reasons it looks as though I’m going to be in London for a few more weeks.  Behind me, metaphorically, is the pilgrimage to the isles of Iona and Skye, and now I’m’ here. London.

I’m back. It’s a shock. A sort of punch to the solar plexus. Winding.

I had such  great experiences on those islands. Profound. Deep. Ancestor-Connecting, Loving. Source-encountering. God-filled ‘Thin-place’ experiences. I didn’t want to leave, and yet I knew I had to. I had so easily ‘acclimatised’ to that island lifestyle – and do believe one reason for that is something we all share – we all ‘possess’ (or, perhaps it embraces us), an inner, ancient, ‘drum beat’ that continues, wherever we are.

And, that same ‘drum beat’ beating in my chest, seems at odds with the ‘world’ that I now inhabit in London. The pace is faster, it’s shallow, its priorities are different, it’s loud, far too loud, and yet….

This is where I should be for now. I know it.

And so, I’m becoming more of an edge-walker, again. An edge-walker, one who straddles both spheres of spiritual and physical encounter, holding them in balance, in ‘tension’, equally, and joyfully. Yes, that balance is returning. And, once again I’m getting used to that way of living. It’s probably not what I would want – those islands still call – but it is the way it is for now.

Someone once wrote about the desire to be in heaven and to enjoy all that that means, but tempered it with the realisation and desire to stay here for a while to do the work that they had been called to. One destination was far better, but this ‘destination’ was necessary and expedient. For now.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to ‘unpack’ some of my experiences experienced on Iona and Skye – both wonderfully ‘thin-places’. There were some great encounters of the spiritual kind, and perhaps another example of the necessity of us being edge-walkers was my physical journey from the port on Iona to the place where I was to stay.

It was my first hour on the Island, as regards this pilgrimage, and as I was a little wet. A light rain was falling, it was getting darker, and I came to the first of three gated fields that I was to pass through. The field presented no problem, and though these fields gently undulated so you had slopes and dips to encounter, it was a pleasantly green field to behold, although less was being seen by the minute as the light faded.

Not so the second field. It had a sign on its gate: Beware of the bull. I had hoped this was a farmer’s sense of humour running riot, but no. As I moved through the field in a direct line, following the path, there he was. Suddenly, and I know you will be shocked by this, but suddenly the peaceful presence that had embraced me on this island seemed to ‘evaporate’ and the ‘angel of common-sense’ spoke. I looked to the ‘spaces’ either side of this field and they were not navigable, and it was getting darker, and there were some treacherous drops around.

My pulling back into the non-spiritual was competed only when I decided to walk through the field, but on the furthest side of the field, as far away from this lumbering, brown, wonderful-but-wild beast. Once again I was an edge-walker on a spiritual journey but having to deal with physical challenges – and isn’t that like your daily life and mine, usually?

‘It seems to me that we do live in two worlds… there is this physical one, which is coherent, and there is the spiritual one, which to the average man with his flashes of religious experience, is very often incoherent. This experience of having two worlds to live in all the time, or not all the time, is a vital one, and is what living is like.’ William Golding

You will be pleased to know that the bull, having turned his head slowly to look in my direction, slowly turned it away as though thoroughly disinterred in me, for which I was grateful. He had discovered three cows in the neighbouring field and had wandered off in their direction.

And, so I journey on, both physically and spiritually, thus confirming that we are all, indeed, edge-walkers, working our way through life in all its spiritual glories as well as driving along highways, catching trains and buses, and dealing with our taxes. That ancient ‘drum beat’, though, still beats within your chest and mine, too. Pause, and you may here it. Hear it, and you might want to respond, my dear edge-walking brother or sister.

 

‘Eucharistic Planet’ : Celtic Thought About Life & Geography

20170824 EUCHARISTIC PLANET CELTIC THOUGHT ABOUT LIFE AND GEOGRAPHYI am back in that place of paradox. Fulham cemetery in central London, so ancient and full of the remains of human bodies and ashes, and yet with the lush trees and foliage that abound here , it is a place teeming with life. To the materialIst, to those steeped in twenty-first century (maybe so, even without knowing it), to those who see only with physical eyes, there is no more.

But, there is more.

We are surrounded by ‘biological’ life: insects, animals, trees and plants etc, but even there, there is more. I’m in a physical location that has pebbles for pathways and a myriad of other stones with etchings on them, but there is more. There are things I cannot see – some would call them spirits or entities associated with this place (and, the Romans called the genii loci), and then there are the ancestors. How materialistic and limiting to presume that because we cannot see something that it does not exist (especially as ‘our science’ informs us that more that 90% of the universe is invisible to us).

There is more.

‘It’s life Jim, but not as we know it…’ Quote/Misquote from Star Trek

There are some who believe that all things – that which we call animate and inanimate – are ensouled. Even the pebbles on the pathway that I’m currently looking at are ensouled. They have a story to tell, are part of the created order, and though many would say that that idea is nonsense their was a time when those who thought the earth was the centre of the solar system would have argued vehemently that they were right and others were wrong.

‘I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’ Luke 19:40, The Book

Having the view that everything has a soul, may sound bizarre to some, but even to sceptics there are benefits. If I gaze lovingly at a tree – and their are two beautiful, old, gnarled and noble trees to my left and right with stories to tell, and I believe they are ensouled and I’m in error, then nothing has been really lost. I slowed down, I might have given the trees some ‘respect’ that some materialists would say I didn’t need to do, but nothing is really lost.

‘Every flower is a soul blossoming in nature.’ Gerard De Nervalok

However, even then there are benefits. I will not be so quick to view these trees, and creation in general, as a commodity to be dug us, used, and causally discarded. Even if the is no ‘ensoulment’ of all things and we act as though there is, it makes for a kinder, cleaner and more nature-based world, and one that is appreciated because it is reverenced. However, currently at the hands of materialist-thinkers the planet is being merely being ‘used’ and poisoned. ‘Ensoulment’-believers are very good for the planet and for future generations, at the very least.

There’s more.

For me everything is ensouled, and using the wisdom of ancient Celts, proto-Christians and Druids etc that ‘theology’ is wonderfully (and logically) life-preserving.

‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ Hamlet, Shakespeare

I’ve now relocated. I needed to stretch my legs and I’ve walked about a mile south-west of the cemetary, and I’m now in the delightful Bishop’s Park (see header photo, above) which nestles against the River Thames .

And what of other entities? We live in such a materialist age that even many of those who frequent churches, mosques and synagogues etc struggle with the concept of angels. Call them Angels, elementals, genii loci, dryads, ancestors; there are things known, and there are things unknown. Perhaps we’re not meant to solve this mystery, but just to admit that this mystery exists, to experience it, and to revel in it.

These other entities, the spirits of the place, they exist. They exist here in this ancient land called by some, myself included, Clas Myrddin (or Merlin’s Enclosure), and they exist where you are. Even if you’re the other side of the globe, and in a ‘new’ country with a modern history of several decades or a just a handful of hundreds of years, the land is more ancient than that and so are those who inhabit it in the unseen realm. If I said this land was more special that would be for my ego to gain the upper-hand, or to give credence to some kind of ‘purist’ or arrogant fantasy. I would say every place on the face of the earth is special, and holy, and inhabited by genii loci. So, make friends with yours, wherever you are.

‘What if the universe is not merely the product of God but also the manifestation of God – a ‘eucharistic planet’ on which we have been invited to live?’. Joseph Campbell quoted by  Barbara Brown Taylor

In Bishop’s Park just a short walk away from that cemetery, the geographical location is different, my view is different, the ‘feeling’ is different, but the spiritscape shares an ancient commonality wherever we go, wherever you are, wherever I am. Different, but the same. Indeed, a ‘eucharistic planet’. Ensouled.

Developing ‘Soft Feet’: A Celtic Lifestyle/Perspective

20170821 DEVELOPING SOFT FEET CELTIC LIFESTYLEA few days ago we looked at a quote from an Anishinabe (First Nations) man from Canada, who wrote:

‘The Four-Leggeds and the Windged Ones live to a different rhythm. Theirs is the rhythm of soft eyes and soft feet. Two-Leggeds have hard eyes and hard feet. When most humans go into the forest they enter with so much of the world on them that any possibility of feeling the sacred is removed. When we go into the forest we must become soft like the animal people and the tree people’.

We also looked at seeing with ‘soft eyes’ when we considered kataphatic ‘day-dreaming’ or meditation – the kind of deep, mental exercise that uses ‘inner’ pictures, visualisation or symbols for growth, maturity, transformation.

And, we looked at apophatic ‘day-dreaming’ or meditation, which encourages the ‘releasing’ of distracting thoughts to arrive at that ‘inner’ place of peace and solitude that some refer to as ‘le point vierge’.

Today, we’re looking at having ‘soft feet’.

What does that mean,  how we can interpret that, and what does it mean to practice it? There are many ways to view that phrase, but I’d like to suggest three.

Firstly, walking on the earth with ‘soft feet’ can be interpreted as ensuring minimal damage to the environment. So, if hiking in the wilderness, the aim would be to leave no trace that we have moved through that way.

‘All the animals and creatures of this earth are our former brothers and sisters but because we believe that we have “dominion” over them, we have become cruel little emperors.’  John O’Donohue,

If we live in a city, it may mean trying to reduce our carbon footprint by buying food as local as we can to where we live, perhaps using energy-saving lightbulbs, or turning the central heating down by a degree or two, or something similar. Small adjustments to reduce energy etc, to be aware of nature, can make huge gains for the environment and its preservation. In this sense, it’s a practical adjustment of removing or minimising negative effects. A good move.

But there’s more!

Secondly, walking on the earth with ‘soft feet’ can be interpreted as doing something ‘in addition’ to ‘repair’ and damage to the natural world. It may be one thing to try to reduce our carbon footprint by buying locally, but maybe there’s something we can do, to ‘add’ to our local environment.

For instance, many have noticed the reduction in bees. Did you know that bees are attracted to crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula, and wild lilac, all of which provide enticing spring blooms. But, they also like echinacea, snapdragons foxglove, and in the summer, and in the autumn they adore zinnias, sedum, asters, witch hazel and goldenrod. And some of these can be grown on balconies, and so we don’t need a large garden. We can all ‘additionally’ plant bee-encouraging plants, perhaps? Or something environmentally similar.

But walking with ‘soft feet’ may also encompass our honouring and respecting others…..to ‘walk softly’ through their lives?

‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’ – Chinese Proverb

But there’s even more!

The abovementioned are all good and wholesome steps (and you’re probably doing much more), but I would suggest there’s a foundational, ‘inner’ and essential step that takes place first.

The foundational step I would suggest is our inner attitude – and kataphatic and apophatic meditation can assist here – that ‘spills over’ and so affects us, others, and the larger environment in a beneficial way

”The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.’ Thich Nhat Hanh

If, inwardly, we are ‘asleep’ or  are ‘sleepwalkers’ or operating out of base motives then our view of ourselves, others, nature and the wider universe will be severely limited. Those who constantly read bad news, for instance, or allow themselves to be bombarded with gloomy news, can, psychologically be said to be suffering from ‘mean world’ syndrome. In that frame of mind everything seems awful, and the good is unintentionally ignored.

Someone said that the light of the body is the eye and if your eye be single, then your whole body shall be full of light. (Matt 6:22 The Book). There is much debate about this odd sentence, and some believe it could mean that if our eyes are working properly, that is if we are fully aware, then we can see deeply what really is, and see beyond just the surface-level, and the result is that we will see deep beauty around us and in very situation; and conversely, if our perception is limited (if we’re asleep’ and so our senses are dulled), then we will miss the deep meaning behind everything and only observe in a shallow manner. We will miss much.

And so, walking with ‘soft feet’ or having a ‘single eye’ could mean something like: being fully aware, observing the good that surrounds us, and being aware of the need to go deeper, and to do so, in love.

And so it could be that when it’s time to prune a tree, we will acknowledge the beauty of that tree and prune away to the best of my knowledge and skill. Now, some may want to ask the dryad and other elemental characters (as their belief requires) beforehand, and others will just cut away, but hopefully do so now in a way that acknowledges the ‘aliveness’ of that tree and give it the respect it deserves. But, walking with ‘soft feet’ surely means….with due consideration, and having a reverence of nature.

And it could be that we will ensure that we draw alongside those who are easy to get along with. Ofcourse. But, what of those who are difficult to get along with? Maybe they’re having a bad day or maybe the way they are has to do with being brought up in a  difficult environment when growing up, or maybe they’re dealing with bad news, or bad health? We don’t know. However, walking with ‘soft feet’ surely mean that, regardless of the way they (mis)treat us, that we will, so far as is practicable, treat them well. Unconditional respect and love for others – and don’t forget to include yourself.

After all, at the depth of their spirit they, like us, are one with the Source of All, and are good. Julian of Norwich, one of my favourite mystics,  believed that. Perhaps deep within them, if we have ‘eyes to see’, we might discern the face of God or the Universe smiling back?

‘As you change your point of view, your views bring about a change in you.’  George Alexiou

And it could be that we’ll take time to make time to appreciate the wonderful creation that we indwell. The art of slowing down is important here. And the latter is one function of ritual. Walking with ‘soft feet’ is also about ritual, for ritual ushers us out of ‘ordinary time’ into sacred-time and sacred-space, and it is there/then that we can catch glimpses or feel impressions beyond the ordinary. Then we get glimpses of what could be, and realise that there is more going on than we were first aware of. So, slow done and joyfully work on anything that enhances your awareness of what really is.

There are many ways to think of what having ‘soft feet’ means, and the abovementioned are but a few – if you think of others please let me know.

‘If you hold to Nature, to the simplicity that is in her, to the small detail that scarcely one man sees, which can so unexpectedly grow into something great and boundless; if you have this love for insignificant things and seek, simply as one who serves, to win the confidence of what seems to be poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more conciliatory, not perhaps in the understanding, which lags wondering behind, but in your innermost consciousness, wakefulness and knowing.’ Rainer Maria Rilke,

 

Greening-Truth: Even More Thoughts About Gwyl Awst [Harvest]

20170731 GREENING TRUTH MORE THOUGHTS ABOUT GWYL AWST HARVEST 1Harvest, or as it is known by some, Lammas, Lughnasadh, or Gŵyl Awst is almost upon us, and I’d suggest that within the first week or so of August we set aside time to celebrate this wonderful festival and give thanks for the earth’s bounty. I’ll be doing something on the evening of 7 August, the night of the next full moon.

However we celebrate it, it is a time of giving thanks for the earth’s lushness, fecundity, the daily provision of our food, and the ‘greenness’ of nature, and more: veriditas.

O most honoured Greening Force,

You know I love words, and at this special time of the year ‘veriditas’ is one of my favourites. It will be new to some, but it is deep and profound. Above it is rendered as ‘greening’ as in Greening Force, but in the ‘original’ it is veriditas (pronounced ver-idd-it-tass).

Some years ago the Nissan Micra car advertisement on UK tv, over a number of weeks, successively introduced viewers to portmanteau words. If you’re going on holiday you’ll probably pack your clothes into a suitcase. It has one major compartment. However, and maybe more popular in days gone by, you might have a one suitcase with two individual compartments, complete with their own individual lids, zip and lock. That’s a portmanteau. Two suitcases in one! And a portmanteau word is two words in one! Fused together.

You who roots in the Sun;
You who lights up, in shining serenity, within a wheel
that earthly excellence fails to comprehend.

Nisan Micra’s portmanteau words consisted of Spafe (to connote that their car was ‘spontaneous’ and ‘safe’); smig (‘small’ and ‘big’); Thractical (‘thrilling’ and ‘practical’). Lewis Carol does it in his book ‘Through The Looking Glass’, where one character uses the word ‘slithy’ to mean both lithe and slimy. And, even Paul the Apostle does it, when he writes about the abundance of grace. In Greek the prefix is huper – literally hyper-grace. A phrase which seems to upset some today as they seemingly’ play down’ that phrase and shy away from the Greek original word which is there for all to see in the Book, because it seems too radical.

Usually, because they are ‘invented’, portmanteau words shout for our attention and denote something deep, profound, unusual and even challenging is happening.

Hildegard of Bingen in her writings, here indented, does it. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a truly remarkable woman, and her then newly ‘invented’ word ‘Veriditas’ is a wonderful word for current-day Celtic Christians, Druidic-Christians, Druids and others who accept the earth and indeed the whole universe to be sacred and holy, to take on board.

Veriditas is a portmanteau word: ‘greenness’ and ‘truth’ fused into one glorious, and, for many, an as yet undiscovered word. It is the greening power of the Giver of Life. Greenness and truth.

Veriditas, unknown to some, forgotten by others, ignored by some, but to those who know it, it is a reminder of the greenness of nature and the One behind it, the growth that arrives as promised in the great cycle of nature, and that in nature, life and truth are one…that is, to those who know. Some are, sadly, oblivious to veriditas.

You are enfolded
in the weaving of divine mysteries.

This ‘greenness’ is an expression of bliss, the creative power of life, which can be witnessed in the flowerpots, gardens, parks, forests, and farmland all around us. In many senses it is correct to view Veriditas rather like the Matrix (of the movie of the same name). It is ubiquitous. Everywhere. And like those gardens and forests etc, there is more.

Hildegaard saw viriditas as something to be cultivated in both our bodies and our souls, also. It is internalised. Entwined in her teachings and beliefs, is the amazing and ‘revolutionary’ idea of the time, that verditas is responsible for the inspiration of music, art, writing, our individual and creative talents and skills, the natural world, our daily life, our all. Everything.

You redden like the dawn
and you burn: flame of the Sun.

And so, at this harvest-time I’d like to suggest this wonderful word ‘Veriditas’ and it’s deep meaning of green-truth as a ‘watchword’ for your harvest celebration and/or her ‘poem’ (indented throughout this article) as part of your liturgy for the festival.  Veriditas is Green-Truth, the Great Provider’s ‘fingerprint’ smudged all around us and visible to those with eyes to see.

May you and those whom you love have a blessed harvest, ‘green-truth’ celebration this year, Tadhg.

The Child And The Beach: A Story Of Encouragement

20170725 THE CHILD AND THE BEACH A STORY OF ENCOURAGEMENTI always like feedback from the articles that I write, and love constructive and encouraging words. Over the last few days it has been heart-warming to read comments and emails – responses that underline that ‘it starts with us’, ‘we can contribute to the fabric of the universe, we matter, you matter, matter matters, and then someone mentioned one of my favourite words (well, two words), that is, tukkun olam. I love the concept. It has many broad and deep meanings, but the one that is in my mind now is that of you and I ‘repairing’ or ‘completing’ the world. Wonderful.

With that in mind, and you know how I love stories, here’s a story I found and mentioned some time ago but it bears repeating because it is so true, so profound and yet so simple, and it is so encouraging.

The ancient Celts, Celtic Christians and Druids of old would have sat around the evening’s camp fire  and told stories to each other – the ‘telling place’. Some of these stories would be of their tribal history, great leaders and heroes of the past, perhaps for amusement, and sometimes the stories would be great cosmic stories of creation, and sometimes stories would contain a deep moral buried within and which the hearer would have to discern. Latter-day Celts, Celtic Christians and Druids still tell wonderful stories, and here’s a meaningful story just for you:

A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young child in the distance, seemingly playing.

As the man drew nearer he noticed that the child kept bending down, picking something up, and then running to the edge of the sea, and throwing it into the water. Time and again the child kept hurling things into the ocean and then ran back.

As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the child was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time the child would run to the water’s edge and throw them back into the sea.

The man asked the child what they were doing, and the child replied,” I am throwing these washed-up starfish back into the ocean, Mister, or else they will die through lack of oxygen.

“But”, said the man, “You can’t possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach alone, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can’t possibly save them all.”

The child smiled, bent down and picked up another starfish, and as they threw it back into the sea, gleefully shouted, “I know, but I can make a difference to this one.”

Little by little, in large and small ways, we can make a difference. Never give up doing good.

 

A Close Encounter With The Gwrach y Rhibyn?: Tadhg’s Journal

20170711 A CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH THE GWRACH Y RIBYNYes, I was awake very early this morning, and having coffee in the garden looking toward some of the wonderful distant mountains that comprise north Wales. This is ancient land – the land of ancient Celtic Christians and Druids, and a myriad of others whose wisdom and presence still, wonderfully, permeates the land and air.

For this time of the year – the day time temperatures have dropped over the last few days – the air temperature this morning was ‘fresh’…but the coffee was piping hot. Bliss.

As I looked into the distance the green-grey colour – mountains mainly of slate and usually grass-covered – became lighter, more diffuse and paler as the early morning mist played on them. Clouds hung low in the sky. The air was still, somewhat ‘heavy’ as though a storm was approaching, birdsong was quiet except for the odd screech. Indeed, distant thunder rumbled. Or, it could have been the wind ‘rumbling’ around mountain valleys. It’s difficult to tell when the sound is some way off, muted and intermittent.

This morning, however, more than ever, I could palpably feel the rawness, wildness and ‘dangerousness’ of nature pressing in, in all its beauty. It was quiet. And yet there was a seeming expectation that there was more. A foreboding.

‘So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and…all the people who were in the camp trembled.’ (Exodus 19:16 part, The Book)

Sound became muffled, except for that raucous and occasional ‘unearthly’ squawk. Was it, infact, a bird? I had heard that sound before, but had never identified what made it – but that was when out on some evening or night-time walk, and always low as in the undergrowth and not high up in a tree.

Was it a bird? A wounded animal moving about in nearby undergrowth? It was now closer to me than ever before. All was quiet apart from that noise. ‘Clumps’ of mist moved across the garden – quite thick, but moving quite quickly – and as I gazed at the mist, my mind and imagination wandered. A bird, a wounded animal, or could it be the Gwrach y Rhibyn?

My grandmother used to tell me stories about the Gwrach y Rhibyn (pronounced ‘goo-rach ee ribb-in’. But the ‘ch’ in that second syllable is sounded like the ‘ch’ in loch, that is, a back-of-the-throat phlegm-clearing sound). Those words translate as ‘the witch of Rhibyn’. I had a wonderfully imaginative childhood! (And, it still goes on).

My grandmother always concluded those stories by saying that when you encounter the Gwrach y Rhibyn or the like, never fear or show fear, always be respectful and always learn with your ‘eyes wide open’. Such happenings she would say, always have a positive learning ‘message’ to impart to us.

The spirit-world around this world of sense
floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
wafts through these earthly mists and vapours dense
a vital breath of more ethereal air.

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

The Gwrach y Rhibyn was always depicted as an old hag, an ugly witch, sometimes with thick leathery wings, but always, so the story goes, the portent of misery and death. Rather like the wailing of the Irish bansidhe (pronounced ‘ban-shee’), or even the Cailleach from Scottish and Irish mythology.

She certainly got about – her name changes depending on the culture, but her reputation always remained the same. She was someone to avoid. Embraced in early-morning (or was it storm) mist my grandmother’s description of the Gwrach y Rhibyn as the hag of the mist made me shiver (or was the air temperature dropping even more?).

I sat there, now with limited visibility, the ‘thing’ that was squawking or screeching was even closer, but shrouded in mist. I was calm because I didn’t believe I was in any danger, but wary at the same time. Nature, the unknown, this mystery or was it the Mystery, was palpable, powerful, big, raw and wild, and so close, but (I believed) benevolent.

‘Live free, child of the mist – and with respect to knowledge we are all children of the mist.’ (Henry David Thoreau)

I sat there, transfixed (almost), in heightened awareness (and yes, everything did seem brighter) for some twenty minutes. Watching. Waiting. Listening. Observing. The periodic squawking or screeching seemed to be moving away into the distance now, further into the mist. Soon, the mist began to clear. I could see some distance now, and then, just then, out the corner of my eye I spied a dark shape some three hundred meters away, but only for a second or two! As I looked again, all I could see were the usual trees and boundary hedges. ‘Nothing untoward’, as my grandmother would say.

Was that’ shape’ the Gwrach y Rhibyn come to harass? Just a trick of the light? My imagination? Was the screeching of ‘something’ in the mist, a bird? I wish I could tell you, but I can’t. What I can say is that as I sat there embraced by that early morning mist (and I do believe it applies to us all), I experienced the unknown and the wildness of nature that was palpable, and I experienced it as an inclusive and yet powerful force, but also as an humbling experience.

‘A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. To live is to be slowly born’ ( Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

There are some things we just don’t know. And there are some things we will never know. And there are some things we are not meant to know. That ‘event’, this morning, whatever is was, was one such event. And, you know what? I’m content with that ‘visitation’. I learned something vital about myself. I believe we all do in those infrequent but  amazing ‘encounter-awakening’ situations.

 

Tadhg’s Ephemera: The New Month Of The Holly Tree [8 July – 4 August]

20170706 THE CELTIC MONTH OF THE HOLLY TREE

This Friday is the last day of the Celtic month of the Oak, and Saturday, 8 July is the start of a new month – but remember the ancient Druids and Celts, and many other ancient peoples, too, started their new day in the evening. So, you can celebrate the new month this coming Friday evening if you wish, or Saturday evening.

The upcoming new month is the Celtic and Druid month of the Holly, and it’s a wonderful month.

About The Tree

Common Name: Holly
Scientific Name: Ilex aquifolium
Family: Aquifoliaceae
Miscellaneous Information: The name ‘holy’, which probably derived from the Prot-Indo-European language for ‘prickly’, came to us through the Old Norse word ‘hulfr’. In German it’s hulst, French it’s houx, and Welsh as celyn.

Mature trees, can grow up to 15m and live for about three hundred years. The bark is smooth and thin with numerous small, brown ‘warts’, and the stems are dark brown. Its leaves are dark green, glossy and oval in shape, with younger plants have spiky leaves.

The holly is dioecious: male and female flowers occur on different trees. Flowers are white with four petals. Look out for its bright red berries and shiny, leathery leaves that usually have spiny prickles on the edges.

Love is like the wild rose-briar;
Friendship like the holly tree,
The holly is dark when the rose briar blooms,
But which will bloom most constantly?

(Emily Bronte)

The tree is native in the UK and across Europe, north Africa and western Asia. It is commonly found in woodland, scrub and hedgerows, and especially in oak and beech woodland.

Holly provides dense cover and good nesting opportunities for birds, and its dry leaf litter is used by hedgehogs and other small mammals for hibernation.

The berries are a vital source of food for birds in winter, and are also eaten by small mammals such as wood mice and dormice.

Holly wood is the whitest of all woods, and is very heavy, hard and fine grained. It can be stained and polished, and is used, sometimes, to make furniture or used in engraving work. It is also commonly used to make walking-sticks. Holly wood also makes good kindling, and burns with a strong heat.

Mythology And Symbolism

For centuries, holly branches have been used to decorate homes, especially in winter. In the Christian tradition the bright red berries represented the blood of Christ, and was a reminder at Christmastime of the Christ’s impending crucifixion and that new life springs from that.

The Holly and the Ivy
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly wears the crown.

(Traditional carol)

For ancient and latter-day Celts and Druids, the tree was also seen as a fertility symbol and a charm against witches, goblins and the devil. It was thought by many to be unlucky to cut down a holly tree.

It is said the oak tree attracts lightning, but the holly tree repels lightning, and so it was often planted around homes for protection from lightning strikes, and for this reason it is viewed as a symbol for protection. But, please don’t shelter under one, nor any tree, in lightning storm!

Interestingly, science has actually discovered the distinct leaf-shape of the holly acts as a natural repellent for lightning’s electricity, allegedly, making the holly’s protective significance more than just lore, perhaps.

I’ll bid the hyacinth to blow,
I’ll teach my grottos green to be;
And sing my true love, all below
the holly bower and myrtle tree.

(Thomas Campbell)

As the ‘ruler’ of winter, the holly is also associated with dreams and the subconscious. Druids would often invoke the holly energy for assistance in dream work.

In Celtic mythology the Holly King was said to rule over the half of the year from the summer to the winter solstice, at which time the Oak King defeated the Holly King to rule for the time until the summer solstice again.

In heraldry, the holly represents truth.

Celebrating The Month Of Holly

However you would normally celebrate a new Celtic month, it would be a good idea, perhaps, to:

  • spend some time contemplating on a holly twig, if you’re able to buy some, or print out a photo from the internet of holly, and have that on your table near a candle, and
  • think about the various associations that holly has: fertility, protection, the blood of the Christ, and what this means to you and others – always good to know what others believe, even if you have a deep-seated belief, and
  • perhaps use some of the quotes above in your time of celebration (which can be incorporated into a meal or similar, or token meal), but make it a good time of celebration as we move into a new month, a new start.

And, there’s also a full moon too, this weekend, so that is also something that can be incorporated into your new month celebration – but more about the upcoming new moon, tomorrow.

Blessings, Tadhg

 

 

Through A Glass Darkly: A Celtic Perspective

20170703 THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY PERSPECTIVEDoes Channel 4 tv station still use the ‘4’ logo that is made up of disparate parts that change the whole of the logo depending on how you view it? And, as the camera moves around it, the jumble of parts suddenly becomes the number ‘4’, but only for a second or two, and then it’s just a jumble again as the camera moves on.

‘For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.’ 1 Corinthians 13:12, The Book

Perspective is all important.

I once ‘accidently’ got into a discussion with someone who wanted to convince me that the sun and moon were the same size, because during a total eclipse the moon exactly covers the face of the sun. I talked to them about perspective, and that the sun is much larger than the moon but much further away, but to no avail. Perspective fail!

‘A group of blind men heard that a strange animal that they had never encountered before, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form.

Out of curiosity, they said: ‘We must inspect and know it by touch, to know more about this strange animal’. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it.’ In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said, ‘This being is like a thick snake’.

For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk.

Another blind man who had placed his hand upon its side said, ‘The elephant is a wall’. Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope.

The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.’

Each had a different idea about what the elephant really looked like. None were actually wrong, but neither had any of them an idea of the totality of what an elephant looked like. (Ancient Indian parable.)

This morning – yes, I’m still in London – I was out in my little garden looking at a site in the distance that’s about to be developed, and I gave thanks that, for a short while, I can see the River Thames as it flows nearby. The view is wonderful. But, there is part of me that, right now, would prefer to gaze a the green-grey mountains of slate and granite of home, Wales.

But, what we see and how we relate to it, depends on us. Doesn’t it?

Someone with me in London might like the ‘buzz’ of the City, others might not like the noise. If in Wales, some (like me) might revel in the majestic beauty of nature, but others might not be able to ‘acclimatise’ to the much slower ‘country time’.

This got me thinking. How we ‘see’ things affects what we regard as them being ‘of value’. Perspective is very important.

If I look at a tree, and I have axe in my hand, and as a Druidic-Christian see the tree as an ‘ensouled’ being or as having the Creator’s stamp on it, or as a panentheists (as I am, just like the early Christians) believe that that tree ‘inhabits’ God, then I will regard it differently than if I just saw it as a materialist might, as kindling.

So, in London, as I gaze upon that building site, it could be just a mess, or I could see it as an opportunity to create a product or service that will serve people, and in this case, might actually improve the local environment and be wholesome (and holy). It is then something much more ‘noble’ that a mere a bricks and mortar development.  In Wales, perhaps it’s easier to appreciate nature, or could it be that there’s so ‘much’ of it (in its wild state, because nature also  ‘inhabits’ the cities, too) that its easy to be complacent and unappreciative? And so, we still need to looker (more) intently, perhaps?

And, what about when we talk theology or chat about spiritual things, or the deep and profound things of life? Are we so immersed in twenty-first materialism that we only glance at the surface? Don’t answer immediately, please, because those ‘spectacles of materialism’ have an uneasy way of slipping over our eyes even without our noticing.

I’ve been to two funerals recently. The first was unbelievable tough on me (and close family) to endure, the other was tough to endue, but our perspective on these major events of life change depending on how we look at those events. The materialist, attending that funeral, might see a box, a coffin, a casket and nothing more. Someone else might have a hope of more, of new life as one is ‘absorbed’ into the earth. Others, such as myself, even in grief, separation and tears might ‘see’ (in their mind’s eye) that person in heaven, also known as the Summerland or Caer Wydyr (in Welsh, the glass fortress), and might confuse others by talking of pre-life (which happens to be one of my favourite themes) and that we’re all ‘there’ now (but that later point is for another time)!

But, what does this all mean?

It means, perspective will be different to different people, depending on their (our) location, inbuilt views, learned views, expectations (limited or otherwise), ‘tribal views’, and once we accept a multiplicity of views – metaphorically peak over the edge – then our voyage of discovery really takes off. There’s always more!

‘I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.’ John 16.12, The Book

So, be ‘open’! Step outside the cultural ‘norms’, move toward the edge – become an ‘edge-walker’ – have you ever noticed how all the interesting things, development, maturity and growth all happen at the ‘edges’? – and have a peak at a possible alternative, and maybe ‘more real’, viewpoint.

‘I live my life in widening circle that reach out across the world.  I may not ever complete the last one, but I give myself to it. I circle around God, that primordial tower. I have been circling for thousands of years, and I still don’t know: am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song?’ (Rainer Maria Rilke)

There’s more. There is always more to experience, more to discover, more to understand (differently). More, that catches us by surprise and challenges ‘old’ limitations. There’s more. Mae mwy (in Welsh)

[Note: The painting in the ‘header’ in today’s article is called ‘Escaping criticism’, and was painted by Pere Borrell del Caso, 1835-1910, a Catalan painter. He was well-known for this kind of optical illusion style of painting which is called trompe l’oeil, French for ‘deceive the eye’.].

 

The Art Of Perception: Celtic Thought

20170612 THE ART OF PERCEPTION 1There is a particular time in the Spring at Ty Gwyn where I live, near Capel Curig, back home in Wales, when the sunrise on the lawn is just right to ‘play’ upon the dew on the grass and light it up like a carpet of deep gold. It’s almost as if the grass is ablaze, alight like an electric fire as the sunlight grazes of the dew. And then a few minutes later, it’s gone. When my grandchildren visit I encourage patience in them to look out for it, and it’s worth it, it truly is – well, at least I think so. I’m not too sure about them.

‘I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it’, says Shug Avery, one of the wise women in Alice Walker’s book, The Colour Purple.

Drygrange Bridge over the River Tweed in Scotland is a place where I have to stop and pay attention. The Scottish border is some 40km behind me, at that point, as I drive north, but for me Scotland starts at Drygrange Bridge. The scenary there opens up, vast and wild, and when driving north, there is the exquisite River Tweed below, and to the left an awesome valley and the beautiful Leaderfoot Viaduct. Whenever I can, I stop the car, and spend a few minutes gazing at the scenery in awe. Words are not needed here. Indeed, they would be useless in that moment. At that moment the invisible has become visible. Do you think there is a connection between journeying, new places and perception? The unfamiliar enthrals us?

Ofcourse, the art of paying attention requires an unhurried attitude, and that’s even more difficult in our fast-paced world, today. But, it’s worth cultivating. It requires a different timescale, and a commitment to deeper perception.

Find an awesome scene and just gaze at it. Fumble for the camera, draw an outline sketch or speak into a vioce recorder about it, and the moment has gone. It’s happened to me when I’ve reached for the camera and adjusted the settings. Missed it. And what’s more, I’ve relegated myself to that of a mere observer, when I should have just gazed and basked in the glory of the event, and so would have been part of it. I-thou became I-it, sadly. Distanced!

‘…seek, and you will find…’, Matthew 7.7b

Deep perception can be practiced. It’s an acknowledgement of the other, and a surrendering, too, of analytical thought. It is about entering into the moment not as one subservient, and not as master of the moment, but as co-participant.

Paying attention is reward in itself.

As regards paying attention, the author Barbara Brown Taylor writes: ‘From behind the veils of my dark [sunglass] lenses, I study the particular human beings sitting around me [ on the subway train]: the girl with the fussy baby, the guy with the house paint all over his jeans, the couple holding hands, the teenager keeping time with both knees while he listens to music so loud it leaks from his headphones. Every one of these people had come from somewhere and is going somewhere, the same way I am. While I am sitting here thinking I am at the centre of this subway scene and they are on the edges, they are sitting there at the centre of their own scenes with me on their edges’. From her book, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.

If a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward spiritual happening, then many events can rightly be regarded as a sacrament, in the widest sense of the word. What we see, the food we eat and savour – we do take our time and savour it, right? Ofcourse, we need reminding as the world’s pace closes in and we gobble our food, or eat on the way to work. I know there are occassions when that might be necessary, but do – and I’m reminding myself, too – do find the time to savour food, delight in scenary, works of art and music, and to slow down and appreciate those wonderful and yet mundane (as if anything is really mundane) moments that we might miss, otherwise, and pass them right by.

In paying attention the inivisble and spiritual realm is glimpsed in this realm, at least for those that look.

‘The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.’ Marcel Proust