Thursday, 31 December 2009

A New Year's Eve Benediction


By the light of a post-eclipse moon so bright I could find my way down the frosted hillside without a torch, I stood alone in the meadow. The stars of Orion sparkled to the South.


Ten years I have lived in this place, ten years I have striven to tend and connect with the land. Tonight the valley lay before me in all its stark midwinter beauty, softened and silvered by moonlight on frost.


Something prompted me to make an offering, to commune with the Genius Loci, to give back in some way. I knelt and watched, and listened, opening my senses. What could I offer at this time?


Then it came to me: I could sing. The perfect gift in this perfect moment.


I sang, softly at first, a chant composed by my dear friend Donald Engstrom-Reese:


"Beauty before me,

Beauty behind me,

Beauty to my right side,

Beauty to my left side,

Beauty above me,

Beauty below me.

I have beauty surrounding my life."


I sang the chant three times, a magical number, ending with a whispered blessing:


"Blessed be all beings, seen and unseen, that inhabit this land. Blessed be all that have walked this land. Blessed be the Spirits of Place. Blessed be, Blessed be, Blessed be."
Then I walked back up the hill. By moonlight. Blessed Be, and a Happy New Year to all.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Review







Snowed in on a cold, icy Christmas Eve, I have finally found time to look back over the last twelve months.





This year, I have mostly been



  • Picking up the pieces of my life and starting over

  • Re-finding myself and remembering who I truly am

  • Giving thanks for the beloved friends and family who stick with me through thick and thin

  • Stumbling my way back into paid employment for the first time in many years

  • Realising that my home is now my home, and making it truly mine

  • Mourning significant losses

  • Trusting my intuition as never before

  • Getting away from it all in Spain, Sussex, Somerset, Kent and Dorset with some of my favourite people



  • Finding that actually, I can be organised and efficient!
  • Contemplating a whole new world of possible futures
  • Enjoying having family living close by
  • Quite unexpectedly finding new love...



What have you mostly been doing this year?

Blessed Yuletide, Merry Christmas, and the Happiest of New Years to you.


Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Raining Cats and Dogs - And Chickens...


The stormy winds blew all night, throwing down sheets of rain. By morning they had subsided into intermittent gusts and showers, but when the chickens came out of their house a strange sight met their eyes. In the adjoining run were some new chickens - three more Light Sussex and a pair of Black Rocks, the sun highlighting the iridescent green sheen on their feathers.

"I don't like it, I don't like it at all!" complained Bella the Cream Legbar, who was by nature highly strung.

"I've heard the humans speak of it raining cats and dogs, but never chickens..." muttered Mac, an ex-battery hen and the thinker of the group.

Could it have rained chickens? It was a very rainy night.

The little flock looked expectantly at Blanche, the head chicken (and a Light Sussex to boot). She would know what had happened.

Blanche looked at their waiting faces, and puffed out her chest importantly. "If it can rain cats and dogs," she opined solemnly, "Then as chickens are the superior species it stands to reason that an unusually heavy downpour would produce chickens."

The others nodded in agreement. The logic was watertight, even Mac couldn't deny it. It would go down in poultry history. The night it rained chickens.






Thursday, 29 October 2009

D.I.V.O.R.C.E.


(The title of this post being part nod to the Tammy Wynette song, part acknowledgement that this is Big Stuff and hence deserving of capital letters.)

I feel a little tightness in my chest even now as I say it. Divorce. My divorce is finalised. I am divorced.

Don't get me wrong - I am glad it is finally over, able to see it as a new beginning, and perhaps a good thing for both of us. Yet still there is a sadness, a grieving for what has been lost.

I grew up with parents who had a stable, loving marriage, and that was what I expected for myself, and what in fact I thought I had. T and I were together for a total of 23 years and 2 months before he dropped his bombshell and left. I realised the other day that it was just over half my life. And as I had absolutely no clue about his infidelity until that fateful day, no wonder it knocked me sideways.

Yet in the intervening months I have begun to look more closely at the fault lines in the relationship, the ones I hadn't even noticed or hadn't considered problematic. Yes, we loved each other but there were also fundamental differences in the way we approached life, and what we thought was important. For me one crucial difference was that T hated to talk about his feelings and his unhappy childhood, even to me. In the early stages of our relationship I thought that eventually he would feel safe enough with me to share those things. Over the years that failed to happen and I began to tell myself that was just the type of person he was. I now believe if he had been able to talk about his feelings more openly we may have been able to negotiate a course around the obstacles that eventually derailed the relationship. But that is all academic now. What's done is done, and no doubt T has his own version of what went wrong and why. There are after all two sides to every story and no one person holds full responsibility for what happens.

Yet still... 23 years. A huge chunk of my life was spent with T and most of that time was good. That is what I grieve for, and plan to release - or at least begin to release - at this time of Samhain. A time of ending and new beginnings, a time when we enter fully into the dark half of the year, a time to turn inward, meditating on what has been and dreaming of what will be.

I can feel myself changing. I believe I am becoming more fully myself. I am accepting this end and grieving for it. But also knowing that each end is a beginning, I am moving forward into the next stage of my life, eager to see where this new road will lead me...

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Honest Blogger Award


I am honestly honoured to find I have been awarded The Honest Blogger Award by Sue (aka The Purple Pixie) at her wonderful blog, The Creative Spirit. The award was ceated in response to Sue's post 'Telling It Like It Is'.

The Award states:

WE ARE Honest Bloggers!



the Sisterhood of SHIfT HAPPENS!



As honest bloggers we: (Cut, Copy, Paste, Delete, Add To... As You Wish)


  • Speak our truth from the heart and tell it like it is.

  • Share openly and honestly our true feelings without fear of judgement, blame or shame.

  • We write to share our achievements so others can also share our joy.

  • We write about our bad times too, knowing that the love and support of others is around us and perhaps heal another’s pain in the process...

  • We are human beings with real feelings and emotions and REFUSE to hide behind a mask.

  • We dare to be different.

  • We are Free Spirits.

  • We realise that by spilling out, we lighten our load.

  • We acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses and don't see them in terms of success or failure.

  • We laugh together and cry together.

  • We are all following our own journey in our own unique way.

  • Above all else, we may lie on the floor, screaming and kicking, or feel like life is collapsing around us once in a while… but at the end of the day, we drag ourselves up, dust ourselves off and rise to fight another day.

For we are Warrior Women and we write not to please others, stroke our own egos or be judged, we blog because we care! Our blogs are our therapy, and through sharing SHIfT HAPPENS!

*********

I haven't Cut, Copied, Pasted, Deleted, or Added To Sue's words as I love them just as they are. I feel truly honoured to be included in such august company! Apparently I now also have the right to bestow the award, so I plan to be passing the baton very soon...





Monday, 28 September 2009

The Beach


Today Elizabeth and I walked on the beach, a lonely beach empty of other people. Heavy grey skies reflected pewter in the water. A solitary heron staked out the shoreline, poised and intent; seagulls swooped and squawked and squabbled.


Up on the hillside, the bracken was turning to rust, and autumn began idly plucking the leaves from the trees.


So still, so quiet, so magical. This place of eery peace felt as though it would be an easy step through into another world if only the entrance could be found or the right words spoken.


But we could not find the magic portal, and our tongues could not conjure up the necessary incantations. We left the wild and enchanting lonely beach, retracing our sandy footprints back to the land of humans.


But if I close my eyes, I can still hear the cry of the gulls...


Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Mystery and Magic of Balance




Today is the Autumn Equinox, also known to the Pagan community as Mabon or Madron. It is one of only two days in the solar calendar when night and day are of equal length. As such it is a potent symbol of balance, and many Pagan celebrations of the equinoxes focus on this aspect.



The thought occurring to me today is how rare that perfect balance is in nature and in our lives. After all, there are 365 days in a year (or 366 in a leap year) and yet on only two of those days are night and day perfectly balanced. How often do we truly feel that we have the work/leisure balance right in our life? How often do we experience the right balance of sun, wind and rain for our gardens to flourish? How often is there a glut of this, or a scarcity of that instead of just the perfect amount?



It would seem that perfect balance is something to strive for in our lives. After all, life in perfect balance is a life of ease, right? Well, yes... kinda. But at the same time, to truly flourish, life needs change. True balance equals stasis, an absence of change or growth or decay or innovation or evolution. And admittedly, all that stuff can be scary. Change is scary. Don't we all often find it easier to stay in a difficult or uncomfortable situation than to break away and try something different?


Last night I watched a re-run of the film 'Pleasantville'. In the film, two modern day teenagers are somehow transported into the seemingly idyllic world of Pleasantville, a 1950's TV show about a wholesome and 'perfect' small town. In Pleasantville everything is, well, pleasant. The townspeople are cheerful and friendly. Everyone lives pleasant middle class lives in comfortable homes. The youngsters are sweet and innocent, the school sports team always wins. Everyone is contented with their lot. And yet... to the outsiders, the drawbacks to life in Pleasantville soon become glaringly obvious.



To maintain this harmonious lifestyle, Pleasantville is in a kind of stifling stasis. The people are friendly, courteous and 'nice', but have no meaningful emotional life or true connection to each other. Each person fulfills his or her role within the town, but they are incapable of breaking free from those roles or using their initiative. The road in and out of town is actually a huge loop, leading to nowhere but Pleasantville. The books have titles printed on the spines, but the pages are blank - no room in a world like Pleasantville for ideas from 'outside'. Of course, the arrival of the newcomers soon sends ripples of change through the community, inevitably leading to strife. And yet the benefits of change are seen to be worth all the upheavals they cause. Gradually, Pleasantville's monochrome world changes to colour; the pages of the books become filled with words, stories, ideas; the townspeople experience hitherto undreamed of emotions - love, happiness, anger - and begin to live authentic lives, with all their inherent joy and pain.



This is the mystery and magic of balance. That in order to achieve it, we need to be constantly changing. That once we find it, something somewhere will shift and change and oops - yet again we will be juggling and adapting and altering, but most importantly learning and growing.



On this day of balance, I take time to notice and be grateful for the areas of balance in my life. But at the same time I remind myself that change is constant, inevitable - and what life is all about.


Monday, 24 August 2009

Twelve Go Mad in Dorset*



"I say," said Moonroot one cold, wet winter's day. "I have an absolutely spiffing idea! Why don't we all go camping again this summer just like we used to! It will be such super fun!"


The others all agreed it was a grand idea, and just a few months later they packed their bags and set off down to Dorset for the summer hols. They even took Sancha the dog.


"Gosh, we are going to have such wonderful adventures! And lashings of ginger beer**!" declared Moonroot.


"Woof! Woof!" agreed Sancha, wagging her tail.


And they did.


* With apologies to Enid Blyton
** aka wine, beer and scrumpy.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

365 Days



365 days ago...




You said, "I've got something to tell you. I've met someone."


I waited for the punchline. But there was no humour in the situation. Your china-blue eyes were deadly serious.


"We want to be together. I'm sorry."


I had no words. What could I say?


"I think it's best if I go now and give you some privacy."


Now I had words. Words like, 'why?' and 'how?' and 'when?', but when I tried to speak them, you turned awkwardly and walked away, drove away, away from me and into your new life. And I stood in the wreckage of the old one, alone and quite bewildered by the way everything had suddenly turned upside down.






Today, 365 days later...




He said, "I love you" and kissed the end of my nose as we prepared breakfast together.


I kissed him back, "I love you too," my heart so full as I gazed into his sea-coloured eyes.


The world has turned full circle, a complete year. And in that time everything has changed. Everything is right side up again, bewilderment replaced by contentment. I have lost a husband, but found true love. How has that happened in just 365 days?


Miracles may not happen overnight. But they can clearly manifest in less than a year.




Thank you, multiverse.




Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Sacred Round



As a child, I was fascinated by the idea of saints days and festivals. I loved the notion that each day was sacred to a particular saint - be it those I had heard of like St John the Baptist or St Patrick, or someone a little more obscure and exotic, like St Willibald or St Gilbert of Sempringham. I also loved the folk customs attached to different times of year, such as cheese-rolling, well-dressing, maypole dancing and hobby 'osses. It made each day special in its own right, even if to most people it was just another Tuesday.


Later, when I recognised I was Pagan, a whole new calendar revealed itself to me. Rather than the year being broadly carved up into New Year-Easter-Birthday-Summer Holidays-Christmas (with the odd quirky diversion like Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday) or Hallowe'en thrown in), I now had a 'Wheel of the Year' with eight festivals to celebrate, spread evenly through the year. The option of adding in ancient (and modern) Goddess and God festivals, plus the lunar cycle of new, full and dark moons added yet another rich strand to the tapestry of 'special days'.
My favourite element to the Pagan calendar is that it is specifically linked in to the natural cycle of the Earth - at least here in the British Isles! From Yule, at the darkest point of midwinter when we celebrate the rebirth of the sun, round through the first inklings of spring at Imbolc, the tipping into the light half of the year at Eostre, the full on burst of green fecundity at Beltane, the longest, midsummer day at Litha, the start of the grain harvest at Lughnasadh, the completion of harvest and tipping into the dark half of the year at Mabon, the entry into winter and the apparent hibernation of life at Samhain, back to Yule again. I love the way the Wheel of the Year connects me to the Earth and Her cycles.
Latterly, I have been pondering a personal calendar, tied in to the changing seasons around me. Just as the Native Americans named their moons to denote these changes - Leaf Moon, Ice Moon, Blossom Moon etc - I want to mark a connectedness between events in my own little bioregion and my calendar.
I have already written on here about my love for making elderflower cordial in early summer. So that is one of my personal calendar events. There is also the harvesting of the blackcurrants, which seems to fall around my birthday and never fails to remind me of childhood summers in my grandparent's orchard. Then there are the sweetpea flowers which bloom at about the same time and remind me of the little bunch that Grandpa always brought me for my birthday. The opening of the first snowdrops - mid to late February here, Halfway Up A Hill - and the annual return of the swallows in April. And in the greyness of late winter the magical flocks of starlings. Buffy sitting on her clutch of eggs in spring. Making sloe gin in autumn. The village show in late summer. Witchcamp.
None of these events have the same date each year, each depending on the weather and other variables. But each has a season, seasons which melt into each other and transform as the Wheel turns, swinging around and away and then back again with reassuring familiarity. They mark my time and place in this world.
What's marked on your personal calendar?

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Gooseberry Jam for Eva


I first met Eva not long after moving to Wales. Within moments of meeting, she had signed me up as a volunteer at the Day Club for the elderly she ran in the village. She would have made a great army recruitment officer.

Small in stature (under 5 feet) yet huge in personality, Eva was a force to be reckoned with. Always immaculately turned out and with flawless coiffure and makeup, a lifetime of chainsmoking had left her with a deep, gravelly voice with which she belied her ladylike exterior by peppering her conversation with choice profanities. Blunt to the point of rudeness, never failing to call a spade a bloody spade, she prided herself on her fierce honesty and refusal to take any nonsense from anyone. Strong men quailed when confronted with her glare.

Yet she was also incredibly kind hearted, generous to a fault, hardworking and completely dedicated to both the Day Club and those she loved.

I was lucky that she took a shine to me straight away, and forgave any of my slip ups (such as the time I left a kettle boiling in the kitchen and got distracted, only to return twenty minutes later to find the room filled with dense steam) with a mild, "Well don't do it again!" rather than the strict dressing-down reserved for those who had truly offended her sensibilities.

About five years ago, Eva suffered a serious heart attack. The Day Club went into a kind of numb shock. Eva was the heart, soul and backbone of the club. No one had truly understood the extent of her dedication and sheer hard work until suddenly she wasn't around. After a few months of limping along without her, she returned, yet the heart attack had taken its toll on her health. She continued organising there for another year or so, yet it was clearly too much for her. Eventually, she skilfully manouevred me into replacing her as organiser of the Club, and (by now in her seventies) became one of the members instead of the chief worker.

However, it was hard for Eva to sit on the sidelines and watch, where once she led. For a while she didn't come to the club, preferring to stay at home alone. Any solicitous enquiries about her welfare or whether she was lonely were met with sharp rebuttals. "I have plenty of friends!" She would snap. "You don't have to patronise me!"

Happily, she eventually began to attend again, although I believe she never stopped seeing it as 'her' club. She certainly never hesitated to tell me what I was doing wrong or how I could do it better! But at the same time, our relationship deepened into mutual respect, and more than that, true friendship. Eva couldn't drive, so I'd take her shopping sometimes and together we'd happily trawl Carmarthenshire's plant nurseries, second hand shops and markets, or go to the local village fetes together. She would also advise me on how to live my life, sometimes quite hilariously. One of her choicest bits of wisdom, which made me laugh out loud, came earlier this year. She knew that T and I had split up, and when I said I was going on holiday to Spain with a (female) friend, Eva advised me "That's the spirit! Find a nice bloke, and enjoy yourself for a couple of hours." Awww, I thought. She wants me to find a holiday romance! But then she added, "Then tell him to p*** off!" which had me in stitches.

It turned out that I loved making jam and Eva loved eating it, so she'd save all her old jam jars for me and I'd send them back re-filled every time I made a new batch. One day when I went round, she'd found an old jelly bag and the stand for it which she no longer used, and gave them to me. Needless to say, her kindness was well-repaid in all flavours of jelly! I think of her every time I use it.

Eva particularly loved gooseberry jam, so I always kept her well-stocked. She declared the batch I made last summer the best she'd ever tasted, and having just completed this year's batch, I would love her opinion on how it compares.


Sadly I can't get Eva's opinion. Sadly my dear, irreplaceable friend died, quite suddenly, in April. Sadly, I didn't realise just how much she meant to me until she was gone.
Eva was a true character, a one-off. Fierce, kind, uncompromising, funny. I will think of her and smile every time I make jam. Especially the gooseberry.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Strawberries and Cream


My head said, "You can't eat strawberries and cream for breakfast!" as I searched the fridge for inspiration this morning. "Be sensible. You always eat something low fat, high fibre, low sugar for breakfast."
***
My head said, "You can't start a new relationship. You're just on the rebound. You aren't even properly divorced yet."
and few weeks later,
"You can't be in love. It's too soon. It's not safe. You're too old. It's too late."
***
I smiled.
Sometimes my head doesn't know the whole story. Or even the half of it.
But my heart does.
***
This morning I ate strawberries and cream for breakfast.
They were sweet and juicy and delicious, and my head had to admit that sometimes my heart knows best.
***

Monday, 22 June 2009

Summer Solstice Blessings


Yesterday, I joined with friends to celebrate the Summer Solstice. In the garden of one of the Moot members, we first blessed the area he has earmarked for what will eventually become a stone circle within a grove of trees. The area already feels magical, sacred. I hope we will all celebrate many more festivals together there over the coming years.
Then, as the evening sun slanted through tall trees we watched a ritual drama unfold. The Oak King and Holly King battled for supremacy - the Holly King (of winter) eventually claiming victory over the Oak King (of summer) whose strength begins to decline along with the sun now that the longest day has passed.
However, the visualisation that followed reminded us that there is still plenty of summer left to come, many more blue skies and sunny days before the cool breath of autumn is felt on our skin. The visualisation took us to a midsummer celebration where we took stock of our many blessings at this time, and afterwards we were each given a pouch (handknitted by Pinky) to which we added shells and beads to symbolise those blessings. I took a small, yet perfect spiral shell for mine, which seemed to me to sum up the simple contentment with life that I currently feel.
Having found myself again I have also found new love. My relationship with - well, let's call him IB for now - is blossoming and I am very, very happy.
I am planning for my future and examining ways that I may be able to stay at Halfway Up A Hill, instead of moving as I first thought I would have to when T and I parted.
I have begun co-teaching a series of magickal workshops with a friend, which are going even better than expected and bringing in a little extra cash.
And later this week, my parents will finally - after all kinds of delays and disappointments over the last two years or so - move into their new home, about 10 miles from me. It will be so lovely to have them close by.
So many blessings, summed up in one tiny shell.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Today, Halfway Up A Hill...


Today, Halfway Up A Hill, the sun was shining, and the sweet, heady scent of elderflowers drifted on the breeze.



Bees bumbled happily in the comfrey patch, swallows swooped and dived in a blue sky and a cheeky blackbird feasted on newly-ripe redcurrants.

The cats - Bear, Marley and Herbert (who had stopped by for a visit) sunned themselves on the warm paving.

The chickens wandered happily through lush summer grass, scratching for delicacies and murmuring gossip to each other. The geese cooled their feet in the pond before dozing in the shade of the elder tree.

And Moonroot worked in the garden, enjoying the sensation of warm, damp earth on her hands and the sun on her back. Later she picked the first strawberries of the season and planned an afternoon of elderflower cordial making...


Life is sweet.












Sunday, 7 June 2009

The Return of Happiness


Driving the last bit of the journey home from Witchcamp this year, as the sun shone and my favourite song blasted from the CD player, I suddenly found myself crying. Not tears of sadness, but tears of happiness. Tears of joy. I realised with a bit of a shock that it's been far too long since I've felt this way.


The last couple of years have been such a struggle. Even before T announced he was leaving, back more than a year before that - in fact since the Summer Gathering in 2007, it has felt like some kind of a pall hung over my life.


The Summer Gathering was an amazing and life-affirming experience in many ways, and here on the blog I chose to focus on that aspect. Yet there was another side to it too - a huge amount of very stressful and frankly exhausting organising; and worse than that a lot of emotional fall out from the cancellation of Avalon Witchcamp 2007, creating conflict and drama within the British Reclaiming Community. In trying to see, hear and understand all sides of the conflict, and attempting to calm things down and build bridges between warring factions at the same time as creating and holding together the huge experiment in fundraising that was the Summer Gathering, I allowed myself to become completely drained. I knew it was happening at the time, and fully expected to feel washed out for a month or so afterwards. What I didn't expect was to still feel that way more than six months later. I actually began to wonder if I was suffering from some awful undiagnosed illness - cancer, diabetes, ME? At the same time so many other things were going wrong in my life and the lives of those around me, everything seemed like an uphill battle.


And then of course, just over a year after the 2007 Summer Gathering, T dropped his bombshell and my world shattered. Many people assured me that time is a great healer, and although my head believed it was true, sometimes it was hard to convince my heart.

But it is of course, true. As time passed, more and more sunshine gradually crept in through cracks in the pall of depression. And finally on that drive back home from Avalon Spring any remnants of the pall just evaporated, and light and life poured back into my soul. I cried and cried and smiled and smiled and just whispered, thank you, thank you, thank you to the multiverse. Thank you for my life. Thank you for this beautiful world. Thank you for such wonderful family and the best friends anyone could hope for. Thank you for Witchcamp and freedom and laughter, thank you for sunsets and summer and swallows, thank you for hope and healing and joy. Thank you.


I am once again my old self, the one I have been trying to remember and revive for all these months. That in itself is reason enough for joy. But there is more - my cup truly runneth over! Since returning from Avalon Spring, a new romantic relationship has unexpectedly begun to blossom. I won't say much more just yet as it is still very new, and feels very special.


What I will say is that I can't believe I am this happy. I have done my time under the pall, and as promised I have been healed. Happiness has well and truly returned.


Thank you, thank you, thank you!


Friday, 29 May 2009

On the Magic of Time and Hope...

Photo: Clifford, the Earthspirit Dragon (part mural, part 3-D sculpture), who watches over the main meeting room.

One of the pieces of advertising we put out for this year's Avalon Spring read: "In the leafy freshness of early summer, step out of time between the mists of Avalon at our magical intensive, Avalon Spring. We will meet together within the sacred enclosure of Avalon, to create sacred space and experience ritual, trance work, visualisation, ecstasy, sacred drama, ecomagic, dancing, chanting, storytelling, community building and have lots of fun!". As it turns out, that is exactly what we did, although in the weeks leading up to camp we had worried that things might turn out very differently...

Photo: A close-up of Clifford - isn't he gorgeous?

Bookings were very slow coming in this year, and we mused on the underlying reason. Was it the economic downturn and a lack of funds that was preventing people from coming? Or had the Witchcamp model run its course in the UK? Was it just a quiet year, or was it in fact the end of an era? Avalon Spring is a labour of love for those of us who organise and teach it, and we didn't want to think that this could be the camp's last year.

To make it more affordable - in case the economic climate was to blame - we made the decision to shorten the length of camp from 5 days to a long weekend (23rd-25th May) and reduced the prices accordingly. After the change was announced, only two of those who had already booked decided not to come after all, and suddenly bookings were coming in thick and fast. Phew - so it was only a shortage of funds keeping people away!



Somehow we condensed things down into the new time slot. To our great amazement, time seemed to stretch to accommodate us, and much, much more than I would have thought possible somehow fitted neatly into our schedule. Nothing felt rushed or pressured, yet everything we had wanted to include was included. Bríghde Éire (Anne-Marie) and myself taught 'The Path of Devotion', examining a variety of devotional practices and the question, 'How many ways can we pray?'. Georgia Midnight Crow and Dawn Isidora taught 'The Sacred Sexual Soul', dealing with issues of sex, love, spirit, personal boundaries and finding our own authentic selves.

People enjoyed the work we did, they enjoyed the evening rituals around the fire, the venue, the food. The sun shone and the rain held off! The feedback we were given from everyone was without exception positive. Yes, they loved it. Yes, they want it to happen again. Yes, they would like it to be longer next time, and yes, they will be coming back.


Photo: L-R Georgia Midnight Crow, Dawn Isidora, Sylvia Rose. Also gorgeous.

After the campers had left, we remaining organisers planted two trees, an ash and a crab apple. We had brought them as a gift for Earthspirit, our venue for all but one of the Witchcamps we have held each year since 1998. Our initial expectation was that the trees would be something of a parting gift, in thanks for and acknowledgement of the good times we have spent there over the years. Many of us feel a deep connection with the Earthspirit land and the many beings who make their home there, and in thinking this may be our last year it seemed an appropriate gesture. And yet Avalon Spring 2009 has shown clearly that things are not over after all. Times are tough all round, but with imagination and flexibility we have been able to find revitalisation.

In the end, the tree planting was done in an atmosphere of quiet joy and hope, as we softly sang chants that sounded like lullabies to the young trees. This won't be our last year. We will return, and be able to watch our two small saplings as they grow into beautiful trees. May they and Earthspirit and the Witchcamp community flourish! Blessed Be.

P.S. Leaf's well-written and interesting account of his experience at Avalon Spring this year may be found here.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Tragedy


Buffy and Angel's gosling - so new to the world it was as yet unnamed - has disappeared.

Last night when I went down to shut the little family into their shed for the night I couldn't see the gosling, but assumed s/he was probably safely snuggled under Mama Buffy on the nest. Even so I had a mild twinge of unease, so to be certain, after shutting the shed I checked all round the goose run and in the pond. I found nothing out of the ordinary. I knew the devoted parents would never have left their offspring unattended anyway.

This morning when I opened the goose shed the bad news was confirmed. For the first time since she began incubating her eggs, Buffy came out of the shed as soon as I opened the door. Followed by Angel. But only the two of them. I checked inside the shed - perhaps the little mite had taken a chill in the cold, windy, wet weather. But no, no ailing gosling, no sad little corpse.

I can only assume that some predator - a buzzard, red kite, rat, weasel, stoat, mink or polecat? - must have snatched the gosling. Whatever it was must have been quick and sneaky to have outwitted Buffy and Angel, whose entire focus was their baby.

I know they are grieving, as they did last year when Snowy died. I just hope geese have short memories, and they are not left hurting for too long. At least they have each other, a rock solid partnership for comfort. Looking back over the posts I have written about them and the other animals here at Halfway Up A Hill it's clear to me how unique and individual a character each creature is, how rich and complex their relationships with each other. How anyone can deny that animals experience emotions as we do is beyond me.

Sadly that includes grief sometimes.




Sunday, 17 May 2009

Warning - High Levels of Cuteness Ahead!

Sadly, only one of Buffy's clutch of eggs seems to have hatched. Happily, the gosling is just gorgeous and Buffy and Angel are as proud as punch. Just a few minutes ago, they took him/her for a first walk outside the shed en famille. Here are the photos (you can just see a glimpse of Angel's foot in the second photo, to give you some idea of the size of the little ball of gosling fluff):








Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

British Reclaiming Beltane Ritual, Portsmouth 2007




My friend Paul posted on his blog recently about his frustrations with less than perfect rituals, and it has got me thinking. I know where he is coming from. Anyone with a few rituals under their belt will have experienced how widely the quality of ritual can vary, from good to bad through to downright ugly. Paul's post has got me really thinking about what makes a good ritual, what makes a for a satisfying ritual experience? And what makes a ritual disappointing or ineffective, boring or pointless?



Some of it of course is due to the quality of 'performance' (for want of a better word) of the participants. Obviously some people are better suited to this than others - the person with self-confidence, a strong, clear voice, a good sense of timing, a flair for the dramatic, for example will be great at circle casting, invoking, ritual drama, etc. Other important skills are the ability to sense and move the energy of the ritual and its participants, an awareness of the other participants and their needs, and an ability to think on ones' feet and ad-lib if necessary. Then of course there are the skills for specific tasks: leading a trance, drumming, fire tending, story telling, energy raising to name but a few.



Not everyone will have all these skills. Infact most people will not have many (if any) of them when they start out doing ritual. And herein lies part of our problem: to learn these skills you have to practice them. And that means your first few attempts at practising them in ritual will probably be pretty shaky. But the good news is that pretty much all of these skills can be learned - and as with most things in life, practice makes perfect.



In the meantime the ritual as a whole will not be perfect, because the person practising and learning new skills is not yet perfect. But I can live with that. It may take time, but I am happy to take that time and trust that progress is being made. Paul quoted Isaac Bonewits as saying "Sincerity is not a substitute for competence", but as I replied, "Sincerity is NOT a substitute for competence, that's true. But how do you get to be competent without practice?".



I also said "...I'm comfortable with the odd fluffed line/inaudible invocation/need for prompting. I'd rather have that and a down-to-earth, inclusive ritual where everyone feels a part of what's going on than a high-falutin' word-perfect affair where the HP & HPS 'perform' the whole thing flawlessly and the rest of the group serves as a mute audience to proceedings. But that's just my personal preference."



In this respect my background in Reclaiming Witchcraft is probably a big factor. Starhawk uses the acronym EIEIO to describe Reclaiming style ritual thus:

"Ecstatic: in that we aim to create a high intensity of energy that is passionate and pleasurable.
Improvisational: We value spontaneity within the overall structure of our rituals, encourage people to create liturgy in the moment rather than script it beforehand, to respond to the energy around us rather than predetermine how it should move.
Ensemble: In our larger group rituals, we work with many priest/esses together taking different roles and performing different functions that, ideally, support each other like the members of a good jazz ensemble. We encourage a fluid sharing of those roles over time, to prevent the development of hierarchy and to allow each person to experience many facets of ritual.
Inspired: Because we each have access to the sacred, we are each capable of creating elements of ritual. Although we honor the myths, the poems, the songs and the stories that have come down to us from the past, we are not bound by the past, for divine inspiration is constantly present in each of us.
Organic: We strive for a smooth, coherent flow of energy in a ritual that has a life of its own to be honored. Our rituals are linked to the rhythms of cyclical time and organic life."


Personally, I really value all of the above ingredients in a Reclaiming ritual, though obviously they can have a downside too. Sometimes the inspiration just isn't flowing, or the improvisation stumbles or feels forced, or the ensemble aspect means people with less experience or a bad headache that day fluff their lines or forget the chant or invoke the elements in the wrong order. But for me what is important is that perfect or not, everyone is truly involved, truly in the moment and truly part of the whole.



Not that I don't appreciate a perfectly-executed, truly smooth-running, meaningful and transformative ritual. In an ideal world, that's what I'd like all rituals to be, and what I strive for each time I'm part of a ritual. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't, and I'm grateful to Paul for making me think deeply about why some rituals really work well, and why some really, really don't.



As part of that process I've been looking back at the rituals that have made a big impression on me. What did the really good ones have in common? What about the bad ones? And what about the ugly ones?



The really good ones seem to have had the following in common: good planning; a clear intention; a clear understanding by the participants of the intention; genuinely transformative power; honesty; beauty; smooth and powerful energy raising; good priestessing*.



The bad ones? Unclear intention; confused participants; long, boring, or overly repetitious content; messy energy work; lack of focus; poor planning; slapdash priestessing etc. I also find I dislike pointless rituals - those held merely for the sake of doing a ritual, and those where people just want to get off on the energy, instead of raising energy for a specific purpose (getting a high off it is not a specific purpose in my book!).



The ugly - ugh. Priestesses acting out of ego instead of in service to their community - there are plenty of divas out there. Ritual being used as a space to settle personal scores/pick fights/point score/wield power-over. Priestesses being completely oblivious to the energy or needs of the ritual participants. Ritual performed whilst seriously intoxicated**.



Luckily, in my experience the ugly are pretty few and far between, and the good pretty much outweigh the bad or the mediocre (or perhaps I'm blocking those memories!).



In future I intend to keep the lists above in mind to try and ensure that the rituals I am involved with hit the mark and hopefully avoid the pitfalls. But I will also bear in mind that nothing and no one is perfect. I was pretty hopeless at ritual when I started. Now I have a fair degree of competence, and I believe I am improving all the time. I look at people more experienced than myself and aim for their level of skill. And hopefully when I attain it, I will aim to polish and perfect it still further. There is no finish line to cross, we are all works in progress. And in the meantime, as those works progress, the rituals will continue to get better and better.



So Mote It Be!




Water Altar, Carmarthenshire Pagan Community Network Summer Solstice Ritual 2007



* In Reclaiming we tend to use the word 'priestess' for both - well, actually all - sexes. We're just like that. ;-)


** I'm not against the use of psychoactive substances for ritual purposes per se. Whilst all public Reclaiming rituals are drug and alcohol-free (to make them safe for those in recovery from substance addiction), I have nothing against the use of plant allies/psychoactive substances or whatever you want to call them in non-pubic ritual if they are treated as a genuine sacrament. What I really dislike is people getting recreationally f***ed up on drink or drugs just for the hell of it and then attempting to do ritual. It's disrespectful and pointless.



Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Tagged!


The wonderful and inspiring Boho Mom has been kind enough to give me this award (thanks Boho!).
Actually [drops voice to a whisper] I got given this once before, by Livia Indica. But in the six months that have passed since then, it seems to have morphed a bit - then I had to nominate six others and list six things I like. Now it's seven others and seven favourite things. Yes I know, I'm splitting hairs... trying to justify doing it again! But it's a bit of fun and there are always so many great bloggers to nominate so, what the heck!
Anyhow, here are the rules:
  • Copy and paste this award to your blog.
  • List seven of your favourite things and pass it along to at least seven others.

And here are my seven favourites...

  1. The month of May - so bursting with life, so green, so tender, so beautiful...
  2. Lunch at The Owl and The Pussycat cafe in Laugharne, Carmarthenshire. The food is all lovingly home made and the soups and cakes in particular are to die for! The hot bakewell tart with cream is out of this world...
  3. The smell of blackcurrant leaves - takes me back to picking blackcurrants on a hot summer day in my grandparents' garden.
  4. Chalice Well Gardens in Glastonbury - an oasis of calm, and a truly magical place.
  5. Unlimited time browsing in a bookshop.
  6. Little Miss Sunshine - my new favourite film!
  7. Listening to my brother and sister playing music and singing together.

And now I tag....

  1. Bret at This Guy's Journey (good to have you back blogging again!),
  2. Andy at The Spiritual Journey of a Somerset Pagan (always a good, though-provoking read),
  3. The deeply cool and effortlessly funny Earthenwitch,
  4. Also deeply cool and effortlessly funny, Good King Hal (plus a spot of nepotism never hurts),
  5. Willow at Contemplating Change, who is the very essence of Kreativ - ahem, sorry Creative! (I love her gorgeous knitting projects),
  6. My good and very talented friend Dragonfly at The Secret Garden,
  7. Another good friend and man of many talents, Paul at Moon and Raven.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

A Little Magic...


Avalon Spring is fast approaching. However, we became aware that the 5-day intensive we had planned was proving a step too far financially for many people in today's economic climate. So we have waved our magic wands and abracadabra! Avalon Spring has been transformed from a 5-day residential intensive to a far more affordable weekend intensive.


Full details are on the website. It's going to be wonderful, so please join us!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Soak or Splash?

There is an old English saying, which supposedly forecasts the rainfall that can be expected for the coming summer:

'If the oak comes out before the ash, then you may expect a splash; if the ash comes out before the oak, then you may expect a soak'.



I've noticed in previous years that the oak always seems to pip the ash to the post, so I'm not sure how useful the saying is in matters of meteorology. However, I have also noticed the last two summers that it was a pretty close run thing. And the last two summers were frankly dismal, with plenty of soaking going on.


This year however, the oak at the top of the hill is well and truly flaunting its new leaves...



While the ash next to it is still hesitating in a tight-budded way...



I'm now feeling a little more hopeful that this year we will have some fine summer weather to enjoy. With just the odd splash.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Disgusted

No Impact Man has posted on his blog today about the companies who have been knowingly lying and deliberately misleading the public about the reality of global warming in an attempt to (presumably) safeguard their profits - at the expense of the entire planet. I am almost speechless with anger that anyone could be so unbelieveably, selfishly irresponsible. Please read the article here:
http://noimpactman.typepad.com/blog/2009/04/a-list-of-companies-we-now-know-we-cant-trust.html

And spread it around - far and wide! Let the world know about the lies. Show these companies and their decision-makers for the soulless Earth-raping greedy misers they are.

Bleugh.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Lady In Waiting


In the goose shed, on a cosy hollow lined with straw and the softest down from her own breast, Buffy sits waiting, patient. This work requires dedication, stamina, self-sacrifice and a strange, dreamy calm. Day after day, night after night, for a whole moon-and-a-bit, Buffy sits on her precious eggs, leaving them only briefly to snatch a few mouthfuls of food and some water.


Angel stands guard outside the shed, silent and steady, until he spies a potential threat. Then there are shrieks of outrage and alarm as he chases danger away. I am clearly perceived as a threat, and so each morning when I open the goose shed, I place an empty watering can to draw Angel's wrath and protect my own legs from attack. Angel comes flying from the shed and mercilessly slays the watering can, before returning in triumph to Buffy to boast of his victory.


Apart from the ritual slaying of the watering can, I suspect Angel is feeling a little bored and neglected while Buffy is so focussed on her nest. Yet in a few weeks, hopefully there will be goslings to protect and teach and play with. Buffy's vigil will be over. It will be summer and life will be good.


In the meantime, Buffy sits and waits and dreams.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Miracles Do Happen

I love that even after nearly 49 years of marriage, my Mum and Dad still hold hands when they go for a walk.



I am feeling content today. Spring is more than in the air, it has definitely sprung. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and there are flowers everywhere.

And better than all this is the news that my Mum and Dad are finally moving down to Wales. If you're a long time reader of this blog, you may remember that they were originally supposed to be moving down in the autumn of 2007. Unfortunately that was when the economy started to take a nose-dive. The chain of buyers broke and Mum and Dad then suffered a long string of disappointments, before deciding just a month ago that there was no point trying to sell until the housing markets picked up again. They took the house off the market and resigned themselves to staying put in Essex for the time being.

That was when the miracle occurred. One of the couples who had wanted to buy Mum and Dad's house but couldn't find a buyer for their own, rang up out of the blue to say they had managed to find a buyer after all. Like a line of dominoes, everything suddenly fell into place. There are only four links in the chain of buyers, and it is hoped they could be moved by as early as the end of May!

They came down this weekend to see the new house again and get the survey done (it was lovely to see them and spend time together). It all seems to be going full speed ahead. We are all amazed and happy.

Isn't it weird that often when you let go of something you've been trying to make happen it just all falls into place on its own? Miracles do happen sometimes. Thank you, Multiverse!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Joining The Dots


The view from my window at this time of year always reminds me of a pointillist painting - you know, one of those paintings which is made up of many many tiny dots of colour.


From my window just now I can see blackthorn and flowering cherry trees covered with dots of white and pink - flowers. The pussy willows are sprinkled with pollen-laden pale yellow catkins; the hawthorn and willows are studded with bright green leaves emerging from their bud state. Soon the poplar leaves will add soft grey speckles and the hazel leaves green speckles to the developing scene. The gorse bushes have been spattered with bright yellow flowers for months already. In the woodland, a soft haze of blue is beginning to show as the bluebells prepare for Beltane.


And in the meadows around Halfway Up A Hill, daisies, dandelions, lady's smock and celandines are strewn through the lush spring grass.


I wish I could photograph it adequately for you, but it seems to be one of those sights to which no camera can do justice. But the blackthorn blossom alone is pretty impressive, isn't it?