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


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


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.