A Walk In The Woods: ‘But In The Dark….’

20171113 A WALK IN THE WOODS BUT IN THE DARK...

I could be anywhere. It’s cold. It’s dark. There are no visual references. It’s gone midnight, and I’ve walked several miles from my little place near Capel Curig, in Wales. I’m back home.

There are scuffles in nearby undergrowth, animals, perhaps not liking my presence, scurry away. It’s now very cold, and pitch black, and I am very much in my element, as they say. I love it. Alone.

Earlier, I had done the usual daily chores, cooked a scrumptious steak and ale pie meal (yes, now you know I’m a meat-eater and imbibe alcohol, but have the greatest admiration for those who abstain from one or both), unwound by reading a book, and yet as the evening wore on, a ‘divinely-prompted fidget’ set into my being. Ofcourse, there could have been another reason for the disquiet I was experiencing, but I’m happy with accepting that it was a ‘calling’ from That Which Is Bigger Than Us. Could it be that such a ‘prod’ is a calling, albeit a non-verbal ‘call’? I think so, and maybe it happens more often than not. What do you think?

‘Listen, my child,’ you say to me
‘I am the voice of your history
Be not afraid, come follow me
Answer my call, and I’ll set you free’

Lyrics, ‘The Voice’, by Brendan Graham

And so, it’s cold. It’s dark, and as I keep to a small path there are no visual references, as it is pitch black. Except, that now the path now peters out, and on goes the flashlight. Trees nearby and in the mid-distance suddenly appear, but they appear flat against what’s behind them, as perpective is lost, and what was familiar during the day now looks somewhat alien. And yet, using memory, and an acceptance of the way things are (now) and a love of the dark – yes, I really do love the dark – I am ‘at home’ right here, right now.

I’m passing a felled tree, an old and familiar friend. As children, playing in this area, my friends and I called this tree, Y goeden mellt, the Lightning Tree. They were wary of it and kept some distance from it; I loved it, treated it as a wise and trusted friend, and approached it knowingly. And here it is. Constant. Noble. Powerful. Bigger. A faithful companion. To many it is just a felled tree, unless they have an imagination. A felled tree, only? Oh no, it is more.

‘Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.’ Helen Keller

And, still I walk on. Taking it slower now, as the scenery changes and grows somewhat unfamiliar, and the light from the flashlight falls on less of the substantial trees and more on shrubs that grow and change quickly from season to season, when compared to trees – making ‘landmarks’ more difficult to ‘fix’. Some things change.

And then I spy two arched trees. Drws i fyd arall. As children, that’s what we called them. It means ‘door to another world’. Such was our imagination as children. I’ll let you into an ‘open secret’, my imagination never ‘gew up’. You don’t know how precious it is to have a child-like imagination. But, in your case, as you read this (and the fact that you’ve come this far), I think, maybe, you do know; that you also have such a wonderful and active imagination, and one that lets you see reality and the ‘reality beyond reality’.

In the past, it is here that, for me, encounters happened, however you define them. Would such an encounter happen tonight? Have you, or will you today experience an encounter with That Which Is Bigger Than Us?

I’m now sitting on a log, overlooking Drws i fyd arall. These two arched trees are bigger, the opening between them smaller, but they are still there. Somethings never change.

Imagination is important. Imagination isn’t just make-believe, but a way of seeing that let’s us see with eyes beyond eyes, to view what is really there. Seek imagination. And perception is imporant, if we are to lay ‘layer upon layer’ each of these different realms. Not always easy to do, hence the need for patience. Patience. How many times might we have encountered or Encountered, but missed the opportunity because of being too busy? Or missed it, because we dislike or have a mistaken idea about the imagination or the dark.

‘So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.’ T S Eliot

And so, it must be coming up to 1am, but I refuse to look at my wristwatch. I don’t want to be pulled our of sacred time into the time governed by minutes and hours. In sacred time, in sacred space, in liminal places such as this – maybe where you are – things happen. And so I sit on a log overlooking Drws i fyd arall, and I wait. Indeed, we wait.

So, here’s my question to you: Keeping within the realms of safety and social acceptability to yourself and others. have you ever placed yourself, even in a small way, into the Flow of a possible encounter with That Which Is Bigger Than Us’?

‘The meaning is in the waiting.’ R S Thomas

[To be continued]

 

A Prayer At Llyn Gwynant: Poem: Revisited

20170926 A PRAYER AT LLYN GWYNANT REVISTED REVISED

When the bitter winds blow,
and the rain pours onto the soul of your life.
When you stumble and fall,
and when tears well up inside, but find no release.
When friends and family are afar,
and those night-hours of abject loneliness seem altogether too close.
When bones ache,
and the future uncertain seems.
Then, may the Divine’s pure radiance pierce your darkest times,
and a spectrum of light fill your heart of hearts,
and show you, as a beacon, the narrow, sure way.

When thoughts race, and won’t be still,
and lightning rages in your mind, disturbing you.
When things seem to go awry, or indeed, when things seem to go right
but there’s an air of disquiet in your inner being.
Then, may He come to you. (He comes in the storm.)

May the Father bless you with His Divine quietness and solitude. Total stillness.
May the Son shine into the totality of your unique self. Perfect brilliance.
May the Spirit, the Divine breath, whisper into your ear that you are a much loved child of God, the apple of His eye. Unconditional grace.

And may you, wherever you find yourself, experience the ‘thin place’ of God’s inestimable presence.

An Encounter With The Voice At Drws I Fyd Arall

20170803 AN ENCOUNTER AT DRWYS I FYD ARALLThe Voice. Since the dawn of time humankind has heard that inner voice.

Some call it the voice of the imagination, self-reflection, or conscience. Others call it the whisper of an elemental or dryad, the higher self, or even the ancestors. And yet still others, particularly amongst the tribes of the middle-east today and especially so in ancient times call it the bat kohl, that is the voice of the Unseen One, and yet, interestingly, it means the ‘voice of the daughter’. Ah, The Voice. Think of the young Samuel being woken up at night by the voice (as recorded in the Book) for example, or Joan of Arc with her waking visions, or others who have been alerted to danger by a ‘whisper’. Such is the Voice.

It’s 11pm and I’m out and about in the nearby forest, not far from Capel Curig in north Wales where I live. I continued walking in the darkness and passed Y goeden mellt, the Lightning Tree (see here). As children we would all avoid Y goeden mellt – that’s the name we gave it – all would avoid it, except for me. I loved the power and mystery that both seemed to repel and invite, in equal measure.

And tonight I carried on walking through the dark forest, with flashlight in hand. It was all quiet, the sky somewhat cloudy, but dry and with only just the faint murmur of wind in the tall tree tops.

And then there they were: the bowed, arched, silver birch trees that I also remembered as a child and had frequently visited over the years: there was Drws i fyd arall.

As children we played here, imagining the arch of the trees were a portal to another place. We had all grown up with the tv program ‘Lost in Space’ and our imaginations were primed. ‘Drws i fyd arall’ was our name for that arch. It means ‘door to another world’.

Now in the presence of Drws i fyd arall (pronounced ‘droo zi fid arrah’), I remembered past times of play and awe. (See here), and now as an adult I revelled in its mystery and awe.

If places can be special, places of power, if they can be ‘thin-places’ of liminality where the veil is ‘thin’ between Here and The Other, The Source of All, then this is such a place. Yes, even as a child, without the words to describe it I was drawn to this place, and tonight I have the same feeling, but some words – but, only a few.

I sat on a moss-covered rock and looked at Drws i fyd arall  lit up in the flashlight light, and then turned the light off. It seemed disrectful to bathe such a natural beauty and ‘object’ of power in articificial white light. And so I sat there in the darkness.

A warm feeling enveloped me. Palpable. And not only an external feeling, but internal too, pervading my whole being. And then, as has happened albeit infrequently in this place in the past, I head the Voice once again (see here).

Some will say it’s only imagination, but I can only say, to me, it was and is, more, oh much more.

For this record the Voice is typed in Italics. My response is in ordinary type.

‘Sacred place. Dear one, remove your shoes and socks. Let your feet connect with the earth.’

Who are you?

‘You know me well. I’m no stranger to you and many, and I never stop speaking words of wisdom, though many do not listen.’

‘Are you the Companion, an ancestor, or some of my friends might say that you’re just my imagination?’

‘You already know the answer. You already know that I am not going to reveal more about myself. If you knew more, you would concentrate on that, rather than my words which are to follow.’

‘I understand. What is it that you want to tell me?’

‘This is for both of you?’

‘But, I’m alone here. There’s only me here’.

‘ You write online and some read. My words and for you and for those reading this. As they read it they will now that I am with them too, closer to them than their jugular vein, and like you, they will sense my presence and peace.’

‘I understand.’

‘Sacred time. You are low in your spirit, knowing both the joy of acclamation of the crowd and the distress caused by others’ correction for no good reason or their disapproval even when you do good. The latter seems to last longer and saps your energy. It doesn’t have to be this way. Your status is not governed by what you do, what others think, and not even  by what you think about yourself. Your status, and of those that will read this, is governed by the Source of All, and the opinion of the Source of All does not vary. You all are much-loved and are of infinite worth.’

‘It doesn’t feel like that sometimes, though I try to have faith and…’

‘Your feelings will change. But you are not your feelings. You all are much more. There is a life beyond ‘feelings’, where you stand, now, in your spirit if you want to ‘see’ it that way. You are correct: Faith is important. But don’t think that it’s your faith in the Source of All that keeps the world spinning or that is all important. Rather, faith does, indeed, matter, but it is the Source of All’s faith in you that matters, and that faith is total, immediate and unswerving for you all. Nothing you can do or say can diminish that faith in you, and nothing can increase it. It is already infinite, and you and those that will read this, take heart. 

‘…what is the next step?’

The path to growth is like a labyrinth. Unlike a maze, there is only one route towards the centre of a labyrinth, but seen from the centre, sometimes you will be walking away from dead centre and sometimes walking closer to dead centre. In reality each step does, indeed, take you to where you are heading, closer to the centre, though it may not ‘feel’ like it. Yes, each day you will receive ‘nudges’ to spur you and those reading this, onward, though sometimes you won’t detect them and sometimes you may feel that you have slipped, and feel down in your spirits, as you do now. Do what you believe is correct and appropriate, in love, for each situation you find yourselves in. Intentionality is important, and love always empowers and triumphs. Take heart. That is all.

‘So, who are you?’

[Silence]

Some ten minutes after this, and still sitting on the rock the ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling left me, and the sound of animals scurrying around me, and the sound of wind in the trees became evident, seemingly for the first time that night. That portal, the Presence of Drws i fyd arall had left – rather ‘it’ never really does leave us, but in (only) felt like it. The Voice is with you now.

Was it pure imagination, an elemental, an ancestor or the bat kolh, that which some call the voice of God, was it a waking-dream or tiredness getting the better of me? Does God still speak? In the stillness and silence? I make no assertions here and now, but leave it to you to decide and to ‘test the spirits’ as ancient sacred text recommends. You decide. After all, it is clear that this message was not only for me, but you as reader of this, too.

I put my socks and shoes back on, and headed home.

Celtic Thought: Befeathered Friends at 4am [Tadhg’s Journal]

20170531 BEFEATHERED FRIENDS AT 4AMThis morning, at some unbelievably early hour I was awakened by birdsong. Left to my own devices I would have curled up and gone back to sleep, but I couldn’t. Not only was the birdsong so loud, but it had an altogether other-worldly rhythm that, in some strange and positive way ‘enticingly disturbed’ my sleep.

Invitational.

Listening to it for some time, I slowly rolled out of bed, grabbed the dressing gown and ambled downstairs. As I approached the backdoor the birdsong grew louder. Opening the door and being ‘hit’ by early Capel Curig morning cold air, I stepped onto the lawn – no shoes, so it was a ‘very awakening’ experience.

‘Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches.’ Psalm 104:12, The Book

The birdsong, at least those nearby ‘dawn choristers’, stopped abruptly. I had been spied.

I waited.

They waited.

I waited a little longer.

They waited even more.

As I  sat on a garden chair, slowly, and one by one birds started to sing again. And, before long, a number of them were in full flow, and I was enveloped in a complex melody of pure, unadulterated birdsong that ebbed and flowed. And, it was wonderful.

Included.

I’ve often written about our separation from nature, and that’s true in one sense. Humanity, oftentimes acts as though it has a second planet in reserve,. But, in this sense, as I sat on that garden chair, that separation is only we think and so act out, but it is that, only.  We think we’re separate, and so we miss out because, actually, we’re not separate…we just think we are.

Erroneous thinking.

I do believe that if we slow down, and stop sometimes; if we ‘hear’ the invitation of all that is around us, we will know that we are part of all that is. As I heard the birdsong this morning I could only but listen in awe. Not as a passive bystander, but as someone now included in this avian symphony of nature.

Union.

As I sat there, I remembered some words of the late Gerald G May, a fellow cancer sufferer (though he, sadly, succumbed, and I survived by the grace of That Which Is Larger Than Us). In the wilderness, whilst at the beginning of his ailments, at dusk he found himself surrounded by cicadas in the bushes. Unseen, but not unheard.

‘I notice that the drone [of the cicadas] is not a steady sound at all. It reveals an underlying rhythm, and the rhythm also is a composite, an intricate summation of cadences. One cicada’s rhythm joins that of another to generate a third conjoint beat, so that two insects create at least three rhythms…

Sensing the rhythms within the drone, I begin to beat the drum with them. I try to pick out a cadence and follow it, but it feels too complex; I cannot tell one pulsation from another for more than a few moments. Then, in the way I have learned to receive gifts, I quit trying. Relaxing, I just beat the drum, allowing my own rhythm to emerge and find its place in the overall sound. Then a wonder: I sense a change in the cicada song, a subtle shift that seems to be a response to my joining them…as if each insect in its buzzing has adjusted itself a tiny bit to create a space for me, for my sound.

I am lost now, lost into the firelight’s flickering on the tree leaves, warmth mingling with cool night star sparkles, all into the cicada song; I have been shown the way into the joining. I have been guided in a harmony path, to a oneness within which I am, once again, freshly and absolutely alive’. Gerald G May ‘Wisdom Of The Wilderness’.

Could it be that in our perceived separation from nature, we’re missing the point? Could it be that in believing we’re some ‘distance’ from nature that we’re really the ones separating ourselves from all that is holy? Could it not be the case that we are part of nature, we are not separated, and not at some ‘distance’ from it, but included! We’re there…but we just don’t know that we’re there!

‘We need a powerful new story that we are a part of nature and not separate from it. We need a story that properly situates humans in the world — neither above it by virtue of our superior intellect, nor dwarfed by the universe into cosmic insignificance. We are equal partners with all that exists, co-creators with trees and galaxies and the microorganisms in our own gut, in a materially and spiritually evolving universe. This was the breath-taking vision of the late Father Thomas Berry.’

Realisation.

I have to confess that I sat there at 4am this morning, with the ambient temperature somewhat lower than I would have liked (especially for the way I dressed),  I didn’t care. I didn’t want extraneous or complaining thoughts to come between me and this embrace by nature. It was a time just to enjoy it, revel in it, marvel at it, and gaze at the marvel that is nature.

And, nature gazed back.

‘The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.’ Meister Eckhart

As I write this I’m toying with the idea of setting the alarm clock for 4am for tomorrow, to ensure that I put myself in the way of another nature-encounter.

Celtic Poem: Bach Ac Yn Gyflym [Revisited]

20170530 BACH AC YN GYFLYM REVISITED POEMI’m back in Capel Curig, the location of my north Wales ‘cottage’ in the wilderness, and have just walked to the far, northern end of the garden. It’s wonderful to gaze upon distant clouds, nearby trees, unbridled nature, rampant fecundity, lush mountains.

It’s there, in the garden, that there is a small, wonderfully inviting rivulet that flows unimpeded. Even if it is unheeded, it flows. It needs no human eye to convince it of its status, but when around, it does indeed invite all to look on in wonder. And, as you look into it in awe, it looks back in a similar manner.

Mirroring. ‘Connecting’. Oneing.

I call this watery friend, this rivulet Bach ac yn gyflym. Welsh geographical place-names are very descriptive, and it seemed right to call this stream by this name.  Its name means ‘small and fast’. Very apt. Very Welsh.

In this rugged, wild, grey-green place,
Bach ac yn gyflym, that ancient stream flows.
Downstream represents that past, of days gone by,
the old, the familiar and known.
It is an empty plate of cakes, just crumbs, now gone; it is yesterday’s meal.

This flowing water is time.

I surmise that you look upstream! Most do.
Upstream is unfamiliar.
It is tomorrow charging towards us and becoming ‘now’.
It isn’t red-shift; it is blue-shift.
It isn’t the past, it is the future.
It is potential, opportunity,
a ribbon of possibility reaching out toward us.
It is the unknown. A challenge. A risk. An adventure.

Time could be the harbinger of good or of bad,
however we define those mysterious words.
And yet Rumi’s wisdom of old, words of invitation
to accept those who knock at the door of one’s life echo loud.
For in playing host to all,
we may accept a benevolent ‘guide’ from beyond,
and grow in stature.

The flowing water is time.

As I stand motionless and observe, the water flows and yet so do I.
A body that ages.
A mind that thinks.
A heart that beats involuntarily.
A planet that spins. And one that orbits.
A solar system that moves.
Tempus fugit.

Everything is in a state of flux.

And so, like you, I look upstream.
Could this be Bach ac yn gyflym or even Pishon?
But, I crane my neck and look upstream,
for it is from there that the Spirit calls out to all of us by name.
The Bat Kohl whispers in the desolation, the forest, even in the city.
Her activity is recorded in the past, felt in the present, and reverberates to us from the future.

The flowing water is time.

Encountering Silent Teachers: That Ancient Oak Tree / Coeden Dderw Hynafol

20170517 ENCOUNTERING SILENT TEACHERS

Go out, go out I beg you
and taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
with all the wonder of a child.
{Edna Jaques]

Near the perimeter of my garden in north Wales, before you reach the rivulet which is the unannounced boundary of my garden, just 20 yards/meters short of it is a wonderful, old, somewhat gnarled oak tree, standing slightly apart from other trees. Of all the trees in the garden, it is the oldest and most majestic, commanding respect from all.

My grandmother called it ‘coeden dderw hynafol’ (pronounced ‘goh-dun dare-ooh hin-af-foll’, which is Welsh for ‘ancient oak tree’, and that’s what I’ve always called it.

Interestingly, the word Druid, also comes from that Welsh word, dder, pronounced ‘dare-ooh’, for oak, and shows the high esteem that that tree was, and still is, held by them.

Oh, coeden dderw hynafol is a sight to behold. Even when ‘speaking’ to it in English, I’ve always addressed it, as though by a title, by its name in Welsh. I want to be respectful, after all.

Whether one believes that it has a dryad, an associated elemental, a spirit (or a spirit in the metaphorical or romantic sense), or wishes to personify or anthropomorphise this splendid tree, that is beside the point in many respects. It (still) has a presence, a nobility about it, and as it creaks and ‘moans’ in the wind it seems to ‘smile’ and declare to me and others that it was here long before we were born, and…and, yes, it will be here long after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.

It is a tree that evokes awe and humility in equal measure.

And so, there I was…nothing on tv….slowly walking, barefoot, toward coeden dderw hynafol at some time shortly after 11.30pm. There was hardly any light, the air was damp and cold – such is springtime in north Wales at this time of night – and the faint outline of  coeden dderw hynafol was etched, flat, without three dimensions apparent, against the dark, cloud-filled sky. The clouds seeming somewhat low and moving briskly, caught by an easterly wind.

I sat on the log just under the outstretched arms of the coeden dderw hynafol, and waited. The wind picked up and it started to rain, and the desire to run back indoors and avoid the rain was almost overpowering. Almost.

‘Only when we stop…do the stones begin to speak’. Mark Nepo

I love the rain, and though there was part of me that didn’t relish the thought of getting drenched, the ‘dominant’ inner voice was content just to let nature take its course. Any, why not? And so I sat on that log, gazing at coeden dderw hynafol and got drenched. Fortunately, there was no one around, and neighbours live some distance away,  so no one noticed my apparent foolishness.

Coeden dderw hynafol creaked, and groaned as it swayed in the wind, ‘moaned’ as the wind caught the top of its branches, and it provided only momentary shelter from the rain – its leaves now conveying downward all the rain it had ‘collected’. But, I will let you into a secret: it felt wonderful.

As I sat there with rain running down my forehead, onto my nose and running off the end of it, this ancient oak tree taught me: that regardless of what forces impact upon it, it stands. When buffeted it moves just a little, is pliable, and doesn’t stand so rigid that it breaks. Oh no. It ‘gives’ just a little. The noise it made wasn’t a cry of pain, but a delight that it was ‘dancing’ to the tune of the wind. And the rain it collected and which fell down on me was like the effect of a shaggy dog shaking itself to get dry and soaking everyone else in the process – something which ‘includes’ me, rather than excludes me, and which can bring on a wry smile. It was as though there was some giant, invisible aspergillum ‘flicking’ holy water on me, and blessing me. And it was comforting.

‘For a true contemplative, a green tree works just as well as a golden tabernacle’. Richard Rohr.

Now drenched, I realised that whatever life sends us, we are in control of our reactions and have the ability to come through the storm. As I sat there I could have been angry at being drenched, and angry that that oak had not provided sufficient cover to keep me dry. However, positive thoughts flooded my mind like warm honey. Coeden dderw hynafol had, in its own way ‘instructed’ me that I (and you, so ‘we’) have the resources to face adversity, and though we might ‘bend’ a little and feel the wounds, we will prevail. Coeden dderw hynafol also blessed me with the rain it had collected and which was now falling on me at quite a pace. It was a though this ancient friend was blessing me with holy water and including me. To be befriended by an oak tree is an amazing thing.

‘We inter-breath with the rain forests, we drink from the oceans. They are part of our own body.’ Thich Nhat Hanh

Soggy, cold, drenched but feeling blessed, I headed back to the house. I hadn’t gone too far when I stopped. It seemed wrong just to walk away. And so I stopped, and as mud oozed between my toes, I turned, and for just half a minute gave my silent thanks to coeden dderw hynafol, nodded and acknowledged my indebtedness to the lessons it had taught me that night.

Ofcourse, some might say it was crazy and puerile to regard that tree in such a way. A tree is just a tree, they might say. But, it didn’t (and doesn’t) feel like just a tree, in its presence. Ofcourse, if people regard it as just a tree, I would add that something deep still stirred within me, and I learned invaluable lessons.

However, I’d like to add that it is more than just a tree to me. There is more. Mae mwy, as they say in these parts, there is more. Coeden dderw hynafol is a silent teacher, and if you and I give ourselves time to draw aside and be still (wherever we are), each day we can learn something from these (and it may not be an oak tree) silent teachers that cross our life-paths.

‘And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet, and the winds long to play with your hair’. Kahlil Gibran

Beneficial Celtic Lifestyle: In Praise Of Urtica Dioica Or Be Nice To Nettles!

20170509 IN PRAISE OF URTICA DIOICA CELTIC LIFESTYLEI’m about to commit a gross error. Yes, for some the humble Stinging Nettle is a weed. There, I’ve said it…..the ‘w’ word. But, only to get that out of the way, right at the beginning.

The definition of a weed, is essentially, any plant that you don’t want to grow!

At the far end of my garden, in the wilderness of north Wales, well, actually just over the unmarked and unannounced boundary of my garden, is a rivulet. On the far side of the rivulet there are ancient trees, shrubbery of all sorts and gorse bushes. Indeed, that wilderness starts just before you leave my otherwise human-cultivated garden, and I like that.

To have some wilderness apparently ‘encroaching’ into my garden, actually reminds me that I’m very much the ‘guest’ in this wild and ancient countryside, and that is extremely humbling.

And so, therefore, in my garden, there is about one-fifth of the land, at the far end which isn’t human-cultivated, and so it grows wild, and that’s where there are some rather nice, wonderful and much under-rated stinging nettles. Yes, I’m happy with them there, and I’m pleased they are growing there…and so by definition they are not weeds! I’m pleased about that, too, especially as the humble stinging nettle gets bad press.

nettleAs a Druidic-Christian I am enthralled, in awe, captivated and even mesmerised at times by nature; dear wild, green, profligate, the absolute ‘fecundaceousness’ of nature.

My encouragement to you, then, is to take time in forests and wooded places, and if in the city, to visit parks, and in the UK to visit ‘commons’, those places where parts, if not all, are ‘overgrown’ and nature is wild, and then look out for stinging nettles, and appreciate them. Really appreciate them.

‘When the nettle is young, the leaves make excellent greens; when it grows old it has filaments and fibres like hemp and flax. Chopped up, the nettle is good for poultry; pounded, it is good for horned cattle. The seed of the nettle mixed with the fodder of animals gives a lustre to their skin; the root, mixed with salt, produces a beautiful yellow dye. It makes, however, excellent hay…And what does the nettle need? very little soil, no care, no culture; except that the seeds fall as fast as they ripen, and it is difficult to gather them; that is all. If we would take a little pains, the nettle would be useful; we neglect it, and it becomes harmful. Then we kill it…My friends, remember this, that there are no weeds…there are only bad farmers.’

Victor Hugo

I accept that Stinging Nettles, like other plants that some people would prefer not to grow, can spread rapidly and need cutting back from time to time, but they are wonderful plants.

Yes, I cut back that part of the garden, and prune trees in that area, periodically, always ‘asking’ beforehand. It would in discourteous not to do so! For some, ‘asking’ is necessary, especially for those for whom elementals inhabit such areas. But, even if one relegates such a belief to a romantic or metaphorical concept, ‘asking’ is still necessary, I believe, as it puts things into perspective: In cutting back undergrowth, I need to ensure that I am sympathetic to nature, to the wildlife and insects that live in and off of such plants, and am not reckless. ‘Asking’ ensures that I am not ‘doing my own thing’, but am in empathy with nature around about me. It encourages and enhances reflection, and that cannot be a bad thing, and encourages ‘oneness’.

The week, 21-27 May is, traditionally, ‘Be nice to Nettles’ week.

Did you know, for instance, that the Stinging nettle is called Urtica Dioica, which comes from the Latin meaning ‘two houses’. This refers to the fact that both the male and female flowers are normally carried on separate plants. Don’t you find that interesting?

It is also possible that the term ‘nettle’ is derived from ‘Noedl’, old English, meaning a needle – referring to the stinging mechanism in the nettle leaves.

That’s the thing about Stinging nettles, they do indeed…..sting. For the chemists amongst you, you may like to know that the plant, which is covered in tiny hairs, when touched break off and ‘transform’ into needles that can inject several chemicals: acetylcholine, histamine, 5-HT (serotonin), moroidin, leukotrienes, and possibly formic acid into the skin. Yes, they sting, and so I wouldn’t advise you go too near. However, if you do get stung, it is said that the leaf of a (nearby) Dock leaf will quell the pain.

butterfly1Did you also know, that Stinging nettles are much loved by butterflies, such as Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Peacock butterflies, as well as attracting aphids which are necessary in the food-chain for birds.

‘Butterflies are like angels kisses sent from heaven.’ Malia Kirk

If you have a garden, could you ‘allow’ a small section just for the stinging nettle (or other wild plants), and if you live in an apartment, why not be ‘wild and reckless’, avant-garde and radical and grow a stinging nettle in a pot? Okay, others may find that strange, but now you know different. Now, you know the value of that plant to nature and butterflies, specifically.

Did you also know Stinging nettle tea (and you can always ‘pop’ into a tasty additional tea bag to improve the flavour) is said to have beneficial health properties (of the complementary kind!). Stinging nettle has been used medicinally since at least 3 B.C. And, in medieval times, it was used to treat pain in joints, as well as act as a diuretic.

Today, many use Stinging nettle tea as it is seen by some as a diuretic (water-reducing), and is regarded by many as an analgesic (pain-reducing), paradoxically, and as a depurative (cleansing the body of toxins, and is therefore beneficial to the kidney and liver).

tea1If you want to enjoy a cup of stinging nettle tea, I’d suggest you buy some, say, from Holland & Barrett (rather than make some from the raw plant, unless you’re a qualified herbalist), and if taking prescribed medicine do check with your doctor or health practitioner – there are a few ‘contraindications’ depending on what other medicines you’re taking. But, what a wonderful way to start and/or end the day with Nettle tea?

In ending this, and it could be that you’re (still) not enamoured with the wonders of the Stinging nettle though I can’t imagine why – they are truly wonderful – then, my final encouragement is to urge you to look again at the awesomeness of nature, and especially those parts which mankind has designated as a burden or unlovely. See with a beginner’s mind, become as little children as one commentator on humanity said, and treasure nature in all its beauty – Stinging nettles, as well. Be nice to nettles, please. Brother Nettle, as St Francis might have said! That seems a (more) enlightened, aware, Celtic (Christian), Druidic and Pagan approach. What do you think?

Happy planting, Tadhg.

20170509 IN PRAISE OF URTICA DIOICA CELTIC LIFESTYLE

Celtic Mythological Beasts: Bestiary: Y Is For Ysgithyrwyn

20170329 Y IS FOR YSGITHRYWYN MYTHThere is a wonderful story from ancient times, full of pathos and meaning – the legend of the Ysgithyrwyn (pronounced ‘iss-gith-thigh-rin). It means ‘white tusk’.

It was common, once, to tell the story of the Ysgithyrwyn to children. The beast was a monstrous wild boar, with huge, gleaming white tusks, and a body, so it is said, to be the size of a cow. It was a  ferocious creature that roamed the wilds of north Wales, and some said it had magic powers, others said that capturing it would confer a wish, and others said that it was an just old boar that had a ‘charmed’ life. It was a beast, however, that one should not approach.

But, seeing it from afar was much safer, and the story I was told was such that if you saw it from a distance, then it would bring about a marriage between you and the one you were thinking of, your loved-one.

The reason for this is embedded in ancient myth, in that story from another time, beloved by Celts and Druids, and others of old.

The story, recorded in Arthurian legend, tells of a young warrior, Culhwch, who is madly in love with Olwen. The problem was that Olwen’s father, a giant of a king called  Ysbaddaden, would only allow the marriage if Culhwch succeeded in overcoming thirty-nine difficult tasks. A series of quests. The most difficult of these was the  killing Ysgithyrwyn, the wild boar, taking a tusk from it, and then fashioning it into a razor, and then for King Caw to shave the head of Ysbaddaden.

Culhwch succeeded all the tasks except the killing of the boar. After many attempts, Culhwch eventually exhausted the beast, succeeded in capturing the beast, and it was killed by Aedd. The tusk of the boar was fashioned into a razor, Ysbaddaden received his haircut and Culhwch was able to marry his beloved Olwen.

Even today, it is said that if you go out into the wilds of north Wales – not far from where I live – that on the night of the full moon, you might catch sight of the beast from a distance. If you do, you may be as fortunate as Culhwch. Legend says that if you spy the beast at this time – but don’t get too close – then the person you’re thinking of, and love, will indeed by the one that you will marry.

Ofcourse, it’s just an old tale, but you never really know about these old stories. The promise of marriage if you see the beast might just have some power still left in it, and that was exactly so for one couple known to me.

 

 

Celtic Thought & Journal: ‘I Have No Words’

It is not often that I find myself speechless, but there are times. Such times, are times when those who should know better, act in a less-than-expected way (eg perhaps inept politicians, but this isn’t a rant. Honest), and times when, say in an argument, it’s best to say nothing, or feign that you have no words (but you certainly have the thoughts! I know, I’m not perfect). But, there are other times.

And, other times are times and places that take your breath away. See the photograph below.

landscape-540116_960_720

This photograph taken in that ancient land of the Celts, of Druids, and Christian saints of old, underscores the amazing, wild, rugged, prodigal and beautiful creativity of the Source of All.

When words are few or absent, then it is best to just stand a stare, and appreciate the expanse that is nature; to give gratitude to the Source in absolute silence; to acknowledge how special-we-are-and-yet-how-small-we-are, and do what comes naturally….

…Standing there, I had no words…but, yes, enveloped by the ‘magic’ of that place, cocooned in its power and majesty, I could do nothing other than be overwhelmed and cry.

Creatures Of Myth & Magic: The Old Story Of The Gwyber & What We Can Learn From It.

20170207-the-old-story-of-the-gwyber-story-and-myth-1Last evening was one of those evenings, with nothing on tv, and I’d finished part of reading a book and come to a natural juncture in it, that I found myself at a loose end. What to do? So I reached for one of my grandmother’s old journals. Like me, she journalled a lot, and this particular  old and dusty journal of hers was probably one of a few that I had never really read in depth.

Placing in on the small table in front of the armchair, it fell open, roughly midway, and there was the story about the Gwyber. My grandmother was a prolific story-teller, and used to tell me and my brother amazing stories about some of the forgotten creatures of Wales. Interestingly, there was always a moral attached to the tale. Isn’t that they way with ancient story and myth?

And, so I began to read another of her stories about this area of Wales, a place of myth and ‘magic, a place of ancient Christians meeting in the woods (for safety),  of Druids, Pagans, of Cunning folk, and mythical creatures such as the Gwyber.

Ah, the Gwyber. When reading it, I bore in mind those stories from ancient times. stories about: Angels singing at the dawn of creation; Jonah and the sea creature, the sun standing still, George and the dragon, the ‘Dyfed triangle’ – the latter being very current. Did they really happen? What meaning, morals or wisdom do they impart to us today? And so, in that light, I read on:

My Grandmother wrote: Now, the Gwyber (sometimes spelled ‘Gwiber’) is a most dangerous creature that you would not want to encounter, but if, by happenstance you did come across one, you should slowly back off, never losing eye-contact.

Gwyber is Welsh for viper or adder, and though those are small snakes, the Gwyber is more. It can travel on land or in water, and it can move silently. It eats fish, and when it is really hungry it will slither onto dry land or swoop down from the sky and devour small sheep and other animals.

Actually, although many believe the Gwyber resembles a dragon (and dragons are wonderful and beautiful creatures), the Gwyber is really a much-scaled, scarred wyvern, and some have feathered wings. [If you want to know the difference(s) between a dragon and a wyvern, see my article here].  Now, the Gwyber is really a cross between a long snake and a wyvern, and it stands about 7 feet tall (2 meters), is green or grey in colour, and is easily camouflaged, virtually unseen. Some say they can actually become invisible.

Oh, and you should know, they have long teeth; long, long fangs which drip poisonous venom and which can kill. It can spit that venom, too.

There is a story, that a long time ago local residents of Penmachno [just ten miles south-west from where I live a Capel Curig], the villagers and farmer were being harassed by the Gwyber, a most monstrous beast who devoured the villagers livestock, and so they offered a large sum of money to anyone who could kill the foul beast.

Up stood a young man by the name of Owen Ap Gruffydd. Owen, who lived nearby but in the mountains did his research and visited a local wise man called Rhys Ddewin who told him that his chances of defeating the Gwyber were non-existent, and that he would receive a fatal bite from the creature. Owen left, depressed and greatly worried.

The following day, Own visited Rhys Ddewin for advice, again, but this time Owen was dressed as a vagrant. He told the wise man of his plan, and Rhys Ddewin , again told him, that he would lose the battle, fall, and suffer a broken neck. Owen left, even more depressed, and even more worried.

The day after that, Owen went back to the wise man, enquired about his chances of killing the creature. Owen was dressed, now, like a miller. Rhys Ddewin, freely gave him advice about the Gwyber, and concluded that the young miller would die by drowning.

Owen could bear it no more, and pulled of his miller-worker’s disguise, and became angry with Rhys Ddewin. ‘Three times I’ve visited you, Rhys Ddewin, and each time you’ve given me a different prediction regarding my own demise’, Owen shouted.

Rhys Ddewin just smiled sadly and said, ‘We will see. Time will tell’.

Owen was a young man, fearless, and maybe a wee bit stubborn, and he ran out of Rhys Ddewin’s cottage at Penmachno, and set off down the alley in search of the Gwyber, to kill it.

The valley was steep, indeed, and as Owen was striding across some rocks, the Gwyber struck, swooping down from the sky, flapping its tremendous wings. Without warning, the Gwyber bit poor Own on the neck. Owen fought back bravely, and lashed out wildly with his sword. So wildly that Owen slipped on the rocks. He fell awkwardly, with such a force that he hit his head and he heard the most gruesome snap – like a branch breaking, as his neck broke. Owen rolled on those slippery rocks, and fell into the deep, fast-slowing river at the foot of the valley, and drowned.

When Owen’s lifeless body was discovered by his friends, they set off to kill the Gwyber. After several hours of searching, they found the Gwyber on the bank of the river, wounded, bloodied, exhausted, half-dead thanks to Owen’s battle with it, but not quite dead. With a blood-curdling scream the Gwyber lunged at them. They each let loose a hail of arrows, and the creature fell backwards, plunged into the river and was never, ever seen again.

The people of Penmachno were pleased that Owen and his friends, by working together, had killed the creature, but were saddened that the good fight had had an enormous cost to dear Owen.

Even to this day the people of Penmachno, it is said, rarely venture into the nearby national park at dusk – Gwydir national park – alone, for fear of encountering the Gwyber. Ah, the Gwyber! Ah, in Gwydir!