Sunday, 29 December 2013

The 'C' Word, Part 5: Some Closing Thoughts on Closure




It's a brilliantly bright, sunny yet frozen morning as I step outside to tend to the chickens and Spike the gander. Fiercely blue skies over a landscape dusted sparkling white by frost. I tend to the animals and gather kindling for the fire, thinking about the coming end of the year.

I've never been a great one for New Year celebrations - parties and fireworks and Auld Lang Syne - yet in the last few years I have become very focussed on doing magic around the ending of the year. Cleaning away the old and outmoded both literally and metaphorically, and tying up loose ends, as in my Clean Start Soap Spell, making space. And then with clear intent, concentrating on what I need to draw into my life at this point in time, this new start. Somewhere in between these two I shall also be counting the many blessings that have come my way in the last twelve months, going through my Jar of Blessings and giving thanks for all those moments of joy and serendipity. I think it's important to keep a sense of balance about the good and the bad. Take an unflinching look at the bad so that you can do something about it - but acknowledge and give thanks for the good stuff too!

Of course the end of the year is just one end point of many. I could just as easily choose to do this kind of magic on my birthday, or at Imbolc, or Samhain or even monthly, at every moon cycle. Yet for me the end of year works very well - perhaps because the group mind is focussed on the end/beginning motif at this time, or perhaps the Yule/Christmas/New Year festivities give a bit of breathing space away from the normal routine of things and allow me time to mull over what needs to be mulled!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this year seems to have been all about endings, or at least coming to terms with all kinds of different issues. Looking back, things this year have brought me face to face with issues encompassing all areas of my life - home/environment (new bathroom, new porch, decorating), health (torn ligament in my shoulder), family, friends and loved ones (wedding, birthday party and the ensuing fall out from that), and my spiritual community (Dragonrise Witchcamp).

Whilst trying to make sense of all this, I found out that it has coincided with my Chiron Return, which happens for us all around the age of fifty, when the mini-planet Chiron (named for the Greek God of Healing) returns to its original position in our birthchart and forces us to take stock and address those areas of our lives which need healing. This may sound a bit crazy, but having experienced a similar - and far more emotionally jarring - period of upheaval and chaos during my Saturn return in my late 20's it makes sense to me!

Interestingly when writing about all this in my journal I found myself exactly halfway through the notebook. More symbolism, more synchronicity. I am paying attention Mutiverse! I am really trying to get it and do the work I need to do.

This morning what occurred to me is that there is no real closure - or at least, finding some kind of closure doesn't magically wrap everything up neatly and put it away once and for all. It's more about coming to peace with what you need to, reconciling  yourself with what is, instead of what you would like it to be. All of these issues and experiences and difficulties have contributed to where and how and who I am today. They don't ever actually resolve themselves and disappear into a cloud of sparkly pink smoke and 'poof!' everything is magically sunshine and roses. No, reaching closure is about accepting and integrating those experiences and their lessons. They stay with you, as they should. They are a valuable part of you, and you are now at peace with them.

Perhaps this year has been as much about Healing as Closure. Which ever is the correct word - and perhaps they both are - I am grateful for the experience, and grateful that even though it has been challenging at times, it has undoubtedly also been positive. I feel like the whole year has been a cleansing, and now I am ready to move on to counting my blessings and planning what will come next. Thank you Chiron. Thank you Multiverse.

Happy New Year.


Sunday, 24 November 2013

The 'C' Word, Part 4: Burning Bridges



I can't remember exactly when Hilary* and I first became friends. I do remember that a group of us began hanging out together on the school playing field at lunchtime during the summer term when I was about 13 or 14. At some time during that period, Hilary and I paired off and became 'best friends'. We shared an off the wall, goofy sense of humour, had long, intense discussions about everything from the state of the world to boys we liked and generally helped each other negotiate the stormy seas of adolescence.

In many ways we were strikingly different. I always had my nose stuck in a book whilst Hilary was extremely artistic. I was an easy going, shy Cancerian, and Hilary was a forceful, outgoing Arien. I came from a close, loving family, Hilary's family were starchy and Victorian, especially her cold, overbearing father. I'm not sure if the friendship flourished due to or in spite of these differences - certainly we were different enough never to fancy the same boys or compete over anything important.

I think Hilary to a certain extent fell in love with my family. My home life was everything hers wasn't - warm, chaotic, full of laughter, affection and silliness. At Hilary's house, meals were eaten in stiff, formal silence, the only sound a ticking clock. At my house, mealtimes were shared with plenty of chatter and laughter. I remember the look of amazement on Hilary's face at the raucous giggles as my Dad read aloud from a book of silly stories one of the first times she ate with us, and we all - Dad included - ended up crying with laughter.

The friendship continued after we left school - Hilary started working as a secretary up in London and I became a children's nanny in Hertfordshire. We continued to share in the ups and downs of growing up, learning to drive and getting our first cars, falling in love for the first time, holding each others hand through the scary bits and broken hearts. At one point, Hilary's Dad threw her out for standing up to him and she moved in with my family for a few weeks, until the drama had passed.


When we were 21 I inherited some money, and for a variety of reasons (including having just had my heart badly broken, and the general sense of bravado and curiosity one has at that age) decided to spend it on travelling around the world. I visited Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and the USA and had an amazing and wonderful time. When I returned, it was a big surprise to me to find that everything had changed. Living at home with my parents for the first time felt constricting. My job (by now I was working in an office) seemed old-hat and boring. I split up with my boyfriend who had become unbearably possessive. There was a distance between Hilary and I. In hindsight of course, nothing had changed except for me. Going away for an extended period and broadening my horizons had made me more confident, more certain of who I was and what I wanted.

Over the next couple of years the gulf between Hilary and I widened. She developed anorexia, and seemed to find me incredibly irritating. I started avoiding her, feeling like perhaps I was making her illness worse. I met T, and after a few months moved in with him. Hilary and T disliked each other. She continued to visit my family but soon she and I had virtually no contact with each other.

Fast forward a couple of years, and Hilary and I began to - tentatively at first - resume contact. Hilary's anorexia had reached a crisis point, when she, weighing less than 6 stone had collapsed and had a near-death experience. This had shocked her into seeking help, aided by her mother who was a wonderful source of support to her during this period. By the time we began seeing each other again, Hilary was on the road to recovery. I felt really guilty that I hadn't been with her for this part of her journey, but she didn't seem to bear any grudge. Gradually we slipped back into the old friendship, although she and T grew no more fond of each other. Eventually, she met and married a lovely, easy-going, sweet man, Tom, and they seemed blissfully happy together.

Hilary and Tom moved to West Sussex, and the four of us took it in turns to visit each other for weekends. This worked well, as Hilary and T were never together long enough to seriously fall out. The holiday we took together in France was less successful - being cooped up together in a gite for over a week turned out not to be our best idea. It soon became apparent - via oblique remarks and comments made to my family that made their way back to me - that Hilary blamed T for me not being the same person I had been at school. That is to say, whenever I didn't behave in the way Hilary wanted me to, she interpreted it as T suppressing me in some way. At the time, I found it rather funny that Hilary was unable to imagine I may have grown up and changed over the years. And T cared so little for her opinion that it was more a source of amusement to me than any kind of issue.

Later on, when T and I were living in Australia for 18 months (due to his job) and Hilary visited, it began to irritate me. I found it odd that she still insisted on using nicknames we'd had at school, even though they were hardly used at all by anyone else. And I noticed that almost every sentence she spoke to me began with the words, 'The trouble with you, Wallis (my old nickname) is...', or was undermining to me in some other way. For example we were walking by the waterfront in Sydney when an enormously fat woman clad in shorts and a vest waddled past. Hilary said, 'Next time you're worried about how fat you are, just remember you're not that bad!' It was undoubtedly meant as a compliment, no matter how back-handed, but as I hadn't said anything about worrying about my weight it felt like a slap in the face. By the time her two week visit was up, I was ready to cheer when she got back on the plane to go home.

When we moved to Wales it got worse. I was on the receiving end of comments like 'I don't know why anyone would want to move to Wales! Horrible place!'. Since I moved to Wales in 2000, Hilary only visited twice, for an afternoon on my 40th birthday, and for a weekend when she and my sister stayed with my Mum.

She brightened briefly when T and I divorced, declaring joyfully, 'I have my old Wallis back!', but that didn't last long as she took an immediate, strong dislike to IB when she met him for the first time at a barbecue at my sister's house. IB took the place of T as the focus of her disapproval. None of which mattered too much, as we were seeing very little of each other by then.

But then Hilary and Tom attended my 50th Birthday Party, and this summer being the summer of Closure, things inevitably came to a head...

Hilary and Tom were two of the guests at the Surprise Birthday Party my Mum had organised. I was amazed and happy to see them there, but unfortunately things were awkward from the get-go. Hilary gave me a warm embrace when we arrived, but totally snubbed IB, turning away from him as he tried to say hello (I only found out about that later, as there was a lot going on at the time). Then Hilary handed me my gifts - one of which was a beautifully constructed collage of old photos of me and my loved ones. I was deeply touched that she had spent so much time making my gift, but later noticed that she hadn't included any photos of IB at all. In fact, one of the photos she'd used was a group photo that had included IB - though Hilary had carefully cropped him out of it. She also began talking about how much she'd always liked T, how much she missed him. Hmmm.

The next day - the day of my 'official' party, Hilary and Tom were among the first arrivals. Once again IB was ignored. Now I have to say at this point, that IB didn't really help himself because his reaction to all this (added to the stressful time leading up to the party with all the work he'd put in to get things ready, and helping with my injured shoulder) was to drink a bit too much, which was his way of withdrawing. But as I wasn't bothered by him getting drunk (unlike T, who tended to get verbally aggressive, he is easy going when he gets drunk) it didn't occur to me anyone else would have an issue with it. The night before he hadn't had a drink as he was driving, so it wasn't as if anyone could think he always drank too much.

At the end of the party, Hilary threw her arms around my neck and declared how much she loved me. She then whispered, 'It doesn't have to be like this... you're worth so much more... you deserve better.' My immediate reaction was to think she'd drunk too much herself (which she had) and to privately laugh at the remark. But after everyone had left it started to rankle. I felt judged, I felt yet again she was looking down on me, my home, my choices, my relationship and my life. I started to wonder if everyone else at the party had been pitying me (yes, I'd had a few drinks myself by then!), and I ended the evening in tears, comforted by the ever-loving and loyal IB.

After the party, with a few days to put things in perspective, I decided I would write Hilary a letter explaining my feelings and hopefully setting her straight. I wanted to write it when I was calm, so I left it for a while to let my feelings settle. Unfortunately, before I could write it I received a fridge magnet with a sentimental message about friendship enclosed in a card from Hilary, again obliquely criticising IB. My irritation levels rose again and I waited for them to subside before writing my letter. Unsatisfied by my lack of response, Hilary contacted me on Facebook with an angry inbox message: "You know what Wallis, you may be in a great place or you may be in a bad place, but I've known you for a stupid length of time and value your friendship more than you probably know, but when you don't have the decency to spend some time talking to me (and to Tom and M and D) when we travelled specifically to Wales to see you and then choose to not to send a note of thanks for your pressie and then not to even acknowledge that I sent you a small token the other day - well quite frankly it's just rude and I have to question whether I've made a big mistake in being your friend as my values of friendship are clearly not yours now and haven't been since you've been with IB. Over to you. Love you more than you know.  Hilary x x x"

I replied as politely as I could, expressing thanks for the gifts, pointing out that as hostess I hadn't been able to spend much time with any one person during the party - as that is the way of parties - and that I was in the process of writing her a letter.

I hate confrontation of any sort. Which is why it had taken this long - years really - to confront Hilary about her behaviour. For a long time, I had taken the easy way out and either laughed at or ignored the continuous barrage of slights and insults, often couched as 'friendly advice' or 'concerned friendship'. But I knew it was crunch time. I sat down and wrote my letter. Then I re-wrote it, aiming for 'polite yet assertive'. I firstly wrote about how much I had valued her friendship over the years, thanked her for her birthday gifts and all the work she'd put into them, praised her for her loyalty. Then I explained, clearly and gently why her remarks had hurt me, and why her assumptions about the state of my life were so wide of the mark. I wanted the letter to be assertive, but neither placatory nor aggressive; I wanted it to give us the chance to get our friendship back on track. To check how it came across, I ran it by several people who knew the situation and whose opinion I trusted. They all agreed it was a good letter, if anything a little too placatory. As I wanted to avoid conflict I decided it was better to err on the side of caution, so - still feeling apprehensive - I mailed it. It was the first time I had ever challenged Hilary in all our years as friends.

*****


That was about three months ago. I have not heard back from her, except via third parties, to whom she has described the letter as 'a tirade'. I have been blocked on Facebook. I have not tried to contact her further. I won't try to contact her further. The ball is in her court.

I am saddened. But I am also left with a sense of relief. It seems this friendship has run its course. My self esteem has come up a notch. I realise that I am no longer content to tolerate dysfunctional relationships, which is what my relationship with Hilary had become. We have both changed over the years, yet it seems she is only willing to be my friend if I jump through the hoops she approves of, and continue to play the role of 'Wallis', which I have long outgrown.

In many ways this has been the hardest piece of Closure that I had to deal with this summer. Our friendship goes back such a long way, has such deep historical roots, is so entangled with other relationships, that it is hard to extricate myself from it. And yet in doing so I know I am doing the right thing. The relationship is no longer what it was, I cannot continue to be in this relationship unless Hilary is willing to hear what I have to say and accept that I have a right to my own feelings. I am sure that I will continue to be more selective with who I let into my life in future, and what behaviours I am prepared to tolerate.


I am worth more.


* Not her real name.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Kitten Chaos



The two new kittens, Mandrake and Woodruff, are outside. Galloping madly in the autumn sunshine, tumbling through the woodpile, tearing through the long grass. Occasionally they barrel headlong into the huddle of foraging chickens and there is an uproar of ruffled feathers, outraged clucking and scattered hens. For a few seconds the kittens - who have learned the hard way that chickens can peck - are in subdued, deferent retreat.

Then the smells... and the sunshine... and the birds... and the blowing leaves!!! And they're off again, running, tumbling, play-fighting, and exuberantly exploring the wonderful wide world beyond the safety and comfort of the back door.

The warm kitchen is reassuringly only a cat-flap away.



Sunday, 3 November 2013

November Tree of Life

A quick plug for my 'Tree of Life' column in the online magazine 'Pagan Pages': the November issue is now available and you can read my column here.

Happy November!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The C Word, Part 3: Building Bridges



I went to my first Reclaiming WitchCamp (Avalon, held near Glastonbury) in 1998, and loved it so much I went back the following year. The year after that I joined the organising group. It became an important annual event in my calendar: every summer, a week at Avalon WitchCamp, and the people I met at the camp became my spiritual community. In 2006, I nervously became a student teacher at Avalon, and in 2007 I was asked to teach again. Except it didn't happen. For a variety of reasons, Avalon WitchCamp 2007 was cancelled (I'm reasonably sure my shortcomings as a teacher weren't a major contributing factor!). The repercussions of the cancellation  were many and various, including the organising of a Summer Gathering, and also the birth of a new, second British WitchCamp, Dragonrise.

It was a turbulent time for the British Reclaiming Community. I've a written a little about it here, but for the most part - not wanting to stir up additional controversy or add fuel to any smouldering fires - I've skirted around the more difficult areas. But suffice it to say, difficulties at the 2006 camp caused divisions that derailed the 2007 camp. Dragonrise Camp arose in part as an alternative to Avalon Camp for those who were dissatisfied with Avalon or wanted to try a different model. And although both camps behaved well - even helpfully - towards each other (agreeing to hold camps in alternate years so as not to be in direct competition, for example), there remained a certain amount of distance between them. Some people in the community fell very definitely into the 'Avalon' side and others into team 'Dragonrise'. Still others - myself included - maintained links with both communities.

In 2009 I was asked to be a resource teacher at Dragonrise but couldn't accept due to other commitments, and in 2011 I was too late booking a ticket and missed out. In 2012, Avalon (by now re-named Avalon Spring) had to be cancelled due to low bookings, so by this year I was determined to attend Dragonrise for the first time! I booked my ticket early, and was looking forward to attending a WitchCamp as an ordinary camper with no responsibilities except to myself for the first time in a while. And then a couple of months before camp was due I got a phone call...

Changes within the teaching team had created a vacancy. Would I like to fill that vacancy? Of course, I said yes.

******

How does this fit with our theme of Closure? Well, as mentioned above, there was still some healing to be done between the two camps. And I felt I needed some healing on a personal level since the fall-out from the cancellation of Avalon 2007. I'd found the split in the community very distressing, and papering over the cracks and pulling together warring factions to pull off the Summer Gathering was far more stressful than I could possibly have imagined. And now once again, only a week after the emotional upheavals of the wedding in Essex, I found myself faced with the prospect of re-visiting old 'issues' and the opportunity to finally resolve them.

From the outset, joining the Dragonrise teaching team was reassuring. There's a huge amount of work involved in teaching a WitchCamp, and joining the planning process at such a late stage was to say the least nerve-wracking! However, my fellow teachers (Chelidon, Suus and Fortuna) were very welcoming to this late-comer. From the outset we worked extremely well together and things proceeded very smoothly. By strange co-incidence, Chelidon had been my co-teacher for my first WitchCamp teaching experience at Avalon in 2006. We gathered together for in-person pre-camp planning a few days before camp started at the lovely home of one of the Dragonrise organisers, Raven, who had also been on the teaching team at Avalon 2006.  Before camp even started I felt loose ends left hanging for years were being tied up, old wounds finally being soothed and healed.

The camp itself was a delight. Lovely venue, amazing food (a thousand 'thank you's to the fabulous cooks, Amanda and Raven), wonderful people (some of whom I hadn't seen since the 2007 Summer Gathering or earlier), favourable weather, and the Paths (teaching groups) and evening rituals went really well.

By the time we found ourselves gathered for the closing ritual I was feeling very happy that we had had such a wonderful camp, satisfied with the renewal and strengthening of old connections, and very sad to be saying goodbye to such a lovely group of old and new friends. For me, Dragonrise 2013 was magical: a totally reaffirming and healing experience for which I am very grateful. I certainly intend to book my place at Dragonrise 2015 as soon as I can.

See you there?

******

Anyone would think this was enough closure for one summer, wouldn't they? After the Birthday, the Wedding and the WitchCamp, I myself thought that was it. More than enough to process and work through. But there was more in store. Something I had been trying for some time to push away and not deal with was coming to the fore, demanding my attention whether I wanted to deal with it or not. At Dragonrise I had the chance to build bridges. But on my return there was another bridge waiting, and this one needed burning...

(To be continued!)






  

    

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The C Word, Part 2: Three Weddings, and a Burial



Wedding Number One:
In the summer of
1985 I attended a wedding as the 'plus one' of a platonic male friend. At the reception afterwards, I was pleased to be asked to dance by the Best Man, whose blue eyes had caught my attention. We danced and talked and danced again, and I was happy when he asked for my phone number. To my delight, he rang a few days later and we went on our first date.

Wedding Number Two:
In 1991, reader - I married him!

Yes, I met T at the wedding of our friends Kevin and Ann, and six years later, Kevin was T's Best Man at our own wedding, in the little village church in which my parents had married. By then, Kevin and Ann had a three year old daughter and another on the way. Our friendship with Kevin and Ann was so close that they asked us to be guardians for Rachel, Charlotte and their younger brother, Michael, in the event that anything untoward should happen to the two of them. Until T and I moved to Wales in 2000 we spent virtually all our spare time together, like a big extended family (Kevin and Ann were originally moving here too, but ultimately decided to stay on Essex).

T and I were married for 17 years, and I thought we were pretty happy until he dropped a bombshell and left in 2008. Since that day, he and I have been in (mostly cordial) irregular contact, yet I had not met - nor wanted to meet, to be honest - his new wife, Sawittree.

So when I received an invitation to Rachel's wedding it brought up mixed feelings. Firstly of course, excitement and happiness at the wonderful news, and pleasure at the thought of sharing my beautiful Goddessdaughter's special day. But also... Sawittree would of course be there. Younger than me, slimmer than me. On T's arm. That brought up less pleasant emotions. Anxiety, insecurity, apprehension, and a lot of the grief and anger I thought I had processed and left behind by now.

Hmmm.

Luckily I had a few months to prepare myself - firstly by making careful plans to ensure I would be looking my best and hence feeling as confident as possible, and secondly by continuing to work through my feelings about T and Sawittree.

I'm not sure why or how it happened, but at some point before the wedding, I realised that actually, I don't care what T or Sawittree think about me or how they see me. I am now happy in my own skin, at peace with who I am, loved by and in love with IB. Perhaps enough time has elapsed, perhaps I have moved on, perhaps I am a different person. But something has shifted, healed and it is time to move on. And how symbolic that this closure manifested via the wedding of the eldest child of the couple whose own wedding was the starting point of my life with T? And what better symbol of 'new beginnings' than a wedding? The significance seemed staggering when I made the connections.  

Wedding Number Three:
Rachel's wedding was to be held in Maldon, Essex, so IB and I travelled up from Wales the night before and stayed with my sister and her husband in Kent. The weather was still searingly hot, and although we left in plenty of time in the morning, traffic snarls at the Dartford Crossing meant that we weren't as early as hoped by the time we'd arrived and parked the car. Walking through to the High Street, we arrived at the church with about 15 minutes to spare. But to my horror, it immediately became clear I had brought us to the wrong place - the church I had assumed the wedding was in is now a Heritage Centre and was buzzing with stalls selling arts, crafts and jam! Rifling through my bag in a panic I realised I had not brought the invitation. I asked one of the stallholders for help and she explained that there were two churches that the wedding could be in, either St Mary's or All Saint's - but they were at opposite ends of the High Street! This was now beginning to resemble a scene from 'Four Weddings and a Funeral', and my chances of arriving looking cool, calm and serene as I had hoped were fast melting away. I had the name 'St Mary's' in my mind for some reason so off we headed as fast as we could through the crowds of Saturday morning shoppers, me tottering in unaccustomed high heels. We finally arrived at the church to find no one outside and the door shut. Tiptoeing up, I opened the creaky old oak door as quietly as I could, expecting all eyes to turn on the latecomers... only to find the church completely empty. The wedding was, of course, at All Saints, at the other end of the High Street. 

At this point something in me stopped worrying and just decided to go with the flow. It was blazingly hot and humid, my feet were killing me and we had clearly missed any chance of arriving in time for the wedding. We sat in the church porch, while I changed into the flat sandals I had mercifully thought to stow in my bag and discussed our options. IB said to me, 'You are always running round after everyone, trying to keep everyone happy. Just let go of that, and accept things the way they are.' Which was true, helpful and a very liberating perspective all at once. We decided to walk - slowly - up to All Saint's Church, wait outside during the service and get some photos of the bride and groom when everyone emerged. I realised that though I may have missed the wedding service itself, all I really cared about was seeing my beautiful Goddessdaughter happy, enjoying her special day. But then as luck would have it, just as I'd changed back into my posh heels we spied some other latecomers at All Saint's Church and crept in behind them. Mercifully it was during a hymn and we slid quietly and gratefully into a vacant pew.

It was a truly lovely wedding with Rachel absolutely radiant in a gorgeous dress she had designed herself, and her new husband beaming and handsome. As we filed out at the end of the service, I spotted T and Sawittree shading themselves under a tree. IB and I walked over to say hello, and I was quite taken aback to be greeted by T as 'Darling', which I certainly wasn't expecting. That said, it made me think I couldn't be looking too bad for an old girl!

I took plenty of photos and then we made our way back to the car. We weren't expected at the wedding breakfast as the venue was small and the family party large, but we would be returning later for the evening reception. In the meantime IB and I went for lunch at what was one of my favourite pubs when I lived in the area, The Anchor at Runsell Green, Danbury. It was a beautiful summer's day and we sat outside the lovely old pub surrounded by flowers, enjoying a cooling breeze while we ate. Afterwards we took a meandering drive through my old memories, and I showed IB the church where Kevin & Ann married, the first house T & I lived in together, my paternal grandparents' house and the village my father had grown up in, the village where I went to school and finally the village where I grew up, Mountnessing. We also made an unscheduled stop at T's parents' house. I had always got on well with them, especially T's stepmother and although we'd spoken on the phone since T and I split, I hadn't seen them. By luck, they were in and we had a lovely though brief catch-up, and I was able to introduce IB to them.

At Mountnessing we had arranged to meet up with my Mum and Dad - who were in Essex visiting friends - at the home of an ex-neighbour. It was a little surreal as this meant we were in the house opposite my maternal grandparents' old house and diagonally opposite the house I'd grown up in (we had lived next door to my grandparents). Things became even more surreal when the people now living in what had once been my grandparents' house, invited us in to have a look round and see how the house looks these days. This was turning out to be more of a trip down memory lane than I had expected!

The house was at once familiar and not: some rooms had only changed a little, yet others - including a new extension - were completely different. It was not unpleasant though, as the family now living there are lovely and the house retains its warm atmosphere. Out in the garden there were also signs of time having moved on - plants and trees had grown or disappeared, new fences had been erected, and the patio and fishpond my grandfather had lovingly constructed is now showing its age and is in need of an overhaul! We also wandered down into the orchard next to the house - well, it used to be an apple orchard but now the apple trees and blackcurrant bushes of my childhood are all gone. But still there is the silver birch tree T and I planted when we buried the ashes of our son, Peter.

The tree now towers over me. Time has passed, and the sharpness of grief has dulled, yet it is still there. Suddenly all these ghosts of the past are too much, I am overwhelmed by it all and tears well irresistibly up. Luckily IB and my Mum are there to comfort me. I am held in loving arms and given time to cry, and breathe, and compose myself. More closure. We walk slowly back to the present together. Time to get ready for the wedding reception.

*****

The evening reception was as lovely as the wedding itself. The venue was superb. A live band played jazz and swing and people danced, young and old together. There was cake, and champagne, and pretty vintage china. The heat of the day abated as the evening drew on. I saw people I haven't seen in years and enjoyed catching up with them and seeing the amazing young adults their children have grown into. My parents and brother were there too. It was a very special occasion and I was so glad to have been a part of it. I was glad to have finally met Sawittree and put that particular anxiety aside. I was glad to reconnect with old friends. I was glad I saw Peter's tree, and both the continuity and changes in places I used to know so well. It felt like everything that was important to me from my years living in Essex had all come together, been revisited, acknowledged, and put properly away. Closure, writ large. Again.

And that was when the fiercely hot spell of weather finally broke. Thunder rumbled overhead and lightning flashed. But it all seemed part of the celebrations, Mother Nature's firework display. Deliciously cool rain fell onto warm pavement as we said farewell to the wedding party and made our way back to the car between showers.

I was exhausted. But so glad I'd come.








Tuesday, 1 October 2013

October Tree of Life

A small heads up: The October issue of Pagan Pages e-magazine is now available, including my Tree of Life column!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Hysterical/Historical

This is a little off topic - but I hope you'll forgive me! It's a video written, directed by and starring my multi-talented brother who works full-time as a Henry VIII re-enactor, mostly teaching Tudor history to schoolchildren.

I think the video is hilarious - hope you like it too.



Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The 'C' Word, Part 1: Back Story and Birthday



Well that got your attention didn't it?

Actually the 'C' word we're looking at here is closure. Or rather Closure. This summer Closure has been writ large in my life, so much so that I wonder if there's some huge astrological maelstrom going on in my birthchart, or perhaps my guardian angels have been putting in overtime. Lots of it.

Most of the time life proceeds in a normal, haphazard fashion - a bit of this, a little of that, a few highs, a few lows. But once in a while, it is as if a hidden riptide suddenly grabs us and carries us in a certain direction. There is no choice but to go with the current, attempt to keep your head above water - if only to get a clear enough view to try and get your bearings - and wonder what the hell is going on? That has been my summer this year. So many turning points, realisations and loose ends getting tied up. One after another, bam, bam, bam, with barely enough time to breathe before the next wave breaks over my head. It hasn't been bad, in fact much of it has been pretty good. But such a strong sweeping along in the grip of - what? Fate? Karma? - can't help but stir up a whole lot of stuff from the depths of the Unconscious, so there have been moments when I've felt overwhelmed. But whew... what a ride.

So where to begin telling this tale? Perhaps some backstory is needed. If you've read this blog for any length of time you will know that I was blindsided by the end of my marriage five years ago (yes, five years! I can't believe it's been that long. If you want to catch up on the gory details, you could look back at posts labelled 'T' or 'divorce'). And the year before that, the cancellation of Avalon Witchcamp and the fallout amongst my spiritual community followed by the stress of organising a Summer Gathering as a replacement event was a source of great stress at the time and on-going repercussions subsequently (gory details for this labelled 'Avalon Spring/Witchcamp' and 'Summer Gathering'). And so in recent years this blog has been as much about putting my life back together and struggling my way through a period of readjustment and starting over as Paganism, Permaculture and Poultrykeeping!

Anyway, when I last posted I had just torn a ligament in my shoulder. It was a huge pain literally and metaphorically, as not only did I have to take time off work I could ill-afford, but also we were in the middle of decorating the spare bedroom and ripping out and re-fitting the bathroom. Being incapacitated was made even more annoying by the fact we had a deadline to meet - the bedroom and bathroom needed to be finished and the house and garden given a serious clean, tidy and facelift by mid-July as I was about to have my 50th birthday and had planned a big party. Injuring my shoulder couldn't have come at a worse time!

In the end, the spare bedroom was finished and the bathroom all but completed in time for the party. We managed to get the rest of the house looking as good as possible, but something had to give and the garden had to be left somewhat wild and unkempt. Personally I quite like an overgrown garden, but I had rather hoped to give it a bit of a spruce up before the big day! Even without getting the garden sorted, we'd still worked flat out for six weeks excepting the week my shoulder was completely unusable. So by the end of the week leading up to the party I was pretty exhausted.

My birthday fell on a Saturday, and Mum and Dad had invited IB and I, plus IB's Mum, Sheila (visiting for the party) over for dinner the night before. I knew my brother, sister and brother-in-law would all be there too and was looking forward to seeing my family and not having to cook! Unfortunately, Sheila's bus was quite badly delayed and we were an hour and a half late in the end.

When we finally got there, we were greeted with hugs and kisses from my family, drinks were pressed into our hands and we were ushered into the garden where I was delighted and surprised to see my cousin George, his wife Alex, my aunt Anne... and then suddenly a laughing, exuberant crowd of familiar faces erupted from around the side of the house. A surprise birthday party for me - and I was late!


Some of my birthday cards

It was a wonderful evening! I was amazed that everyone had gone to so much trouble to surprise me and it was so good to spend time with friends and family I rarely get to see. I was spoiled rotten with hugs, gifts, champagne and an amazing spread of food including a beautiful cake made and decorated by an old schoolfriend.

Birthday cake number 1 by Viv

The official party the next day was an all-day casual 'open house' from midday onwards so that people could drop in when it suited them and stay as long as they liked. It was a beautiful sunny day, absolutely scorching in fact - so most of the guests opted to sit out in the garden, wilderness though it was. Throughout the day friends, neighbours and family arrived with delicious contributions towards the pot-luck style buffet, and I was also given many wonderful gifts, despite having told everyone not to bother with birthday presents!

Birthday cakes number 2 (by Mum) and 3 (by Pinky)
 
Beautiful bouquet of flowers from Fiona and Philip

Gifts of fairy bells from Pinky and a pyrographed plaque of a Jay from my talented friend Lizzi


The party was quite hectic, with people coming and going throughout the day, and as always with these things there wasn't enough time to spend much of it with anyone! But by the time the heat of the day cooled into evening, we sat in a companionable group outside, drinking, re-telling old tales and sharing new ones, teasing, laughing... a memorable end to my birthday festivities.

So that was the beginning of my 'Summer of Closure' - the end of my forties. More soon...


Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Back Soon! In the Meantme...



Just popping in to say that this has been a memorable summer with lots of Big Stuff happening - and I'm finally getting around to writing about it. So either one mega-post or several short ones will be appearing soon. In the meantime, a little reminder that I have been writing a column for the online 'Pagan Pages' e-zine. My current column (The Tree of Life) can be found here, and previous columns are in the archives (or there are links at the bottom of the current Tree of Life post).

Back soon...

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Ouch...!

My left hand - in happier times!

I am in pain. I have somehow torn a ligament in my left shoulder. Well, not 'somehow', I know exactly when and where it happened, just not 'why?'. On Saturday night, as I was undressing for bed I pulled my top off over my head - as I do every night. But on Saturday, for some reason I suddenly experienced a stabbing pain in my shoulder. I assumed I had just twisted it in some awkward way and by morning it would be feeling better. But by morning it was no better, and the pain was so severe when I tried to use my arm that I realised it was more than just a simple twist.

IB was lovely and took very good care of me - he took me to the cinema and out for a Chinese meal to cheer me up. I must admit that sitting motionless in the cinema for a couple of hours and being so scared by all the zombies in 'World War Z' my shoulder didn't hurt a bit (I made sure IB was sitting on my right so I could grab his arm during the scary bits!).

On Monday I downed some painkillers and set off to work, but even mostly working one-handed, by the afternoon the injured shoulder was so painful I had to cancel my afternoon job. I just about managed to work again on Tuesday morning (praise be to Paracetamol!) and luckily had Tuesday afternoon free anyway. But once the painkillers wore off, it became clear that the injury was becoming more, not less painful, and I began to worry that in trying to mute the pain and use my arm  in even a limited way, I was compounding the injury. Furthermore it was getting harder and harder to drive the car to work (or anywhere!) as changing gear was excruciatingly painful.

I rang my Wednesday morning job and explained the situation, and to my relief they said to take the day off. That afternoon my Dad very kindly drove me to the doctor's surgery. My GP gave me a thorough examination during which she eliminated the possibility of a pinched/trapped nerve (I retain full feeling in my hands/arms/shoulders, my grip is unaffected and I can move my arm normally - or I could if it didn't hurt so damn much). She is unable to say definitively if it's a torn muscle or a torn ligament, but my money is on the second. I've torn a muscle in the past, but while that was painful enough, I have never known joint pain like I am currently experiencing. If it is a ligament, it will take months to fully heal.

So I now have painkilling gel to rub into the affected area - well, I say 'rub' but it's more like 'dab on extremely gingerly' as even the lightest touch on my shoulder is currently enough to make me yelp. I also have some prescription painkillers, and I have put my arm in a sling which helps to support it and also acts as a reminder NOT TO USE IT even if the painkillers have dulled down the pain level. I have had to cancel the rest of my work week, which is a worry as things are pretty hand-to-mouth around here at the moment (I have lost a couple of clients since their own working hours were cut due to the recession). T though, has been kind enough to offer financial assistance if I need it.

The good news is that after doing virtually nothing yesterday except seeing the doctor, for the first time since Saturday, my shoulder feels a little better. It is still too painful to use my left arm for anything much, but the pain now seems less intense and more localised - initially my whole shoulder was jangling with pain and the ache extended from my jaw down my arm to my pinky finger. So I am hopeful that with a few more days' rest, I will be able to resume work as usual on Monday.

But isn't it strange how you take things for granted until they are not available to you any more? Left arm, as a right-handed person I have probably taken you for granted a lot of the time. I now realise that even if my right arm takes the lead most of the time, you are always there to lend support and stability, help with the heavy lifting, contribute to the alchemy of left and right co-creating together. Without you, I can't drive, or knit, or tie my hair back off my face; I can't use shears, or drain a heavy saucepan, or carry the basket of laundry to the washing machine. Precious shoulder joints, I never before fully appreciated the range of motion afforded to my arms by your flexibility and strength. I never really thought about the strain I put on you by carrying, lifting, digging, climbing, waving, swimming, painting a ceiling...

Our bodies are wondrous, complex things. All too often we focus on the things we don't like about them (wobbly tummy, frizzy hair, clicky knees, crooked nose, lack of sporting prowess, short sightedness, long sightedness, allergies...) instead of appreciating all the wonderful things they allow us to do and see and hear and taste and touch and smell and access, every day. Every. Day. While I take time out to recuperate, I am also taking time out to contemplate and appreciate and thank my wonderful body. It has served me well over the years. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Greendazzled


I am in love with the Green. Perhaps because it was so long in coming this year, now that the Earth is fully flooded by spring and newness and life, everything seems so intense. The leaves are so green, the sky is so blue, the grass is so long and lush. So many flowers, so much birdsong and bumbling of bees.



At work, I gaze out through windows into the beauty of the world and long to be outside, wandering under trees and feeling the roughness of bark, the tenderness of new leaves beneath my fingers. As I drive the car my gaze is caught and held by the beauty of every flower-clustered hedgerow, and it is hard to concentrate on the road ahead of me. Driving under hanging branches I catch glimpses of woodpeckers, sparrowhawks, finches, jays. Butterflies zig zag across the sun-soaked meadow. A shaggy-maned horse munches contentedly in a field bright with buttercups.





I want to leave the human world and dance in the meadow with the butterflies. I want to ride bare-back on the shaggy maned horse until I have lost my way. I want to wander through woods where pools of spreading bluebells cascade down the hillside into a foam of Queen Anne's Lace. I want to tiptoe through moth-fluttered twilight and sleep the night away on a bed of moss, watching the stars through branches of oak and beech...

It is intoxicating. I am faery-led. I am drunk on spring. I am greendazzled.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Announcing...



I am very proud to announce that I have been asked to write a monthly column for the online magazine Pagan Pages. My column is called 'The Tree of Life' and you can read my first article in the new Beltane issue here.

I feel very honoured to be asked to write this column and I am very grateful to Pagan Pages and the lovely folks who run it for giving me this opportunity. Of course I will continue to blog here at Moonroot too - I love my blog and the wonderful people it has enabled me to connect with via the blogosphere.

Happy Beltane, one and all.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Little Miracles, Part 2

This morning, as I prepared to leave for work, I discovered my purse was missing. It's such a horrible feeling of cold shock as you realise, yes, it's definitely gone. Even worse, there had been £100 cash in it, wages not yet paid into the bank.

After combing the house and car, I rang the last place I knew I'd had it: a shop visited yesterday. To my huge relief, it had been handed in, so I drove over to collect it. From the conversation with the shopkeeper, I wasn't clear if anything was missing and to be honest I fully expected the cash to be gone. I was just hoping my debit and credit cards and drivers license were still there, anticipating what a huge pain it would be to have to cancel them all and arrange new ones.

To my utter amazement and genuine delight, not a thing was missing from the purse. Not so much as a penny, so far as I can see. What a wonderful affirmation that there are kind, lovely, honest people in the world - especially after the horrors in the news lately.

This little episode is a welcome reminder that there are far more good people in the world than bad. Even in these difficult, cash-strapped times, people don't take advantage of each others' misfortune. They want to help, they want to treat others as they would like to be treated themselves. Yesterday on Facebook, in the wake of the Boston bombings I saw this lovely quote:
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” - Fred Rogers. What a great reminder that as a species, although we are capable of great evil and great cruelty, we are also capable of selflessness, generosity, compassion and all manner of good things. Today I am choosing to remember that "You will always find people who are helping". Another small miracle.

Little Miracles, Part 1

 

 

Winter seemed determined to hang on this year. Although the weather for the last month or more was bright and sunny for the most part, it stayed bitingly cold and dry. The combination of bitter daytime cold, harsh overnight frosts and lack of moisture left the fields brown, the trees and hedges starkly bare and a lack of flowers in the hedgerows. Only some brave snowdrops showed their faces, but even they were late arriving and are still blooming into April, when  normally they'd be long gone. A few primroses in sheltered spots, and daffodils of course, but all much later than usual.

At least here in West Wales we escaped the heavy snowfalls that plagued other parts of the UK, but it started to seem like the White Witch of Narnia had cast a spell over the country.

At last the wind direction has changed, bringing both milder air and rainfall. And almost overnight the countryside has changed. The fields have turned from brown to green. The hedges and woods are also starting to green up as the leaves return. Lawns are suddenly starred with daisies. Bumble bees have emerged. In gardens, rhododendrons, magnolias and flowering cherries have burst into life from a standing start. The cowslips in the meadow that had barely raised their heads last week are now covered in their clustered yellow bells. What I took for a bank full of snowdrops as I drove over to a friend's house the other day was instead a swathe of wood anemones that had seemingly sprung up from nowhere. And yesterday I spied my first pair of swallows.

I suspect that you could almost see the landscape change on an hourly basis.

How marvellous the land is! How resilient and adaptable. How lucky we are to live in such a miraculous place.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Earth Hour

 


Today is Earth Day. This evening I shall be observing Earth Hour as I do each year. I invite you to join me. It is quite simple - at 8.30pm local time (no matter where you are on the planet) just turn off your lights for an hour.

I usually go the whole hog and turn off all the electricity at the main switch. I reckon an hour isn't going to be enough for the freezer to do any serious defrosting, and having all the electricity off helps me to really savour an hour by candlelight. Instead of whiling the time away surfing the net, vegging out in front of the TV, distracting myself with radio or watching a movie, I can really be 'in the moment'.

I will light candles, and the woodburner will keep IB and I, the cats and the house cosy. In previous years I have spent the hour meditating, chatting, playing chess, knitting... Today, my dear friend Donald's wonderful blog post on 'Family' has me thinking about my loved ones, near and far. I plan to use Earth Hour tonight thinking of them all, wherever they may be: blood family, heart family (or hearthkin as Donald calls them), ancestors, descendants, Mysterious Ones. I hope that many of them will also be observing Earth Hour, and I love the sense of connection that brings.

Tonight, for one hour, won't you join us? Take some time out to honour the world. Light the candles, turn out the lights, and feel the connection to all your fellow Earth-lovers around the world. We are all interconnected and that is a great responsibility, a great strength, and a great gift.


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

ThriftWitch: Magical Spring Cleaning


As you may have realised from my Clean Start Soap Spell, I am a great believer in the power of magical cleansings. They clear away the metaphysical cobwebs, make space for new growth and keep the energy flowing. Whatever is going on in our lives there is always some stuff that we have outgrown, got saddled with or need to let go of - and what better way to get that process going with a magical spring clean? And of course at this time of year - the Spring Equinox, as the days become longer than the nights and everything goes into growth overdrive - a good spring clean is most appropriate.

What makes a spring clean magical? As with all things, it's in the intention. Do your spring clean mindfully, keeping your thoughts on those things in your life you wish to clear away, or on making space to draw in that which you desire.

You can also make your own cleaning products, which have the advantage of being cheap, effective, environmentally friendly and can be tailored to your magical intentions.

My favourite natural cleaning products are bicarbonate of soda (mildly abrasive and a natural deodoriser), white vinegar (disinfects, cuts through grease), and a selection of aromatherapy oils (depending on which you choose these can be antiseptic, antiviral, antifungal, aromatic and can have magical associations).

Here are some ways to use your natural cleaning products:

  • Use a few drops of vinegar in a bucket of water to clean windows, mirrors or glass surfaces with a damp cloth, then polish dry with a sheet of scrunched up newspaper - guaranteed to give a streak free finish! While doing so you could be asking your deity or ally of choice to help you see clearly that which you need to see.
  • Sprinkle baths, shower stalls, sinks or tiled surfaces with bicarbonate of soda and scour clean with a damp cloth. I say 'scour' but though it's very effective, it is actually quite gentle. Rinse clean and polish any chrome fittings with a dry cloth until they sparkle! Take the opportunity to meditate on whatever you wish to wash away out of your life as you do so.
  • Use a few drops of essential oil on a damp dishcloth to wipe down surfaces around the home. Almost all essential oils have disinfectant properties and they smell great.

If you're not sure which essential oils to choose, some of the best for killing germs around the home include thyme, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, lavender, tea tree or pine. Tea tree is also antifungal, so can be used to tackle any mould in damp areas like bathrooms or around windows. Do note though, that some of these (particularly thyme, oregano and cinnamon) can irritate sensitive skin, so consult a good aromatherapy book if you're not already familiar with essential oils. If you want to choose your oils for their magical associations, a good magical herbal (such as 'Herbcraft: A Guide to the Shamanic and Ritual Use of Herbs' by Anna Franklin and Susan Lavender) will help guide your choice.

Or, if you'd just like a good-smelling general purpose oil, you could try one of these. The first blend is favourite of mine, a zingy citrus-floral blend, perfect for spring: 

  • 10 drops lemon oil
  • 10 drops orange oil
  • 10 drops geranium oil
  • 5 drops rosemary oil

A delicious spicy blend for the winter:

  • 15 drops orange oil
  • 5 drops cloves oil
  • 5 drops cinnamon oil (optional - personally I like the simplicity of the orange/cloves version, but adding cinnamon is a nice variation.)


A refreshing herbal blend for summer:

  • 10 drops thyme
  • 10 drops rosemary
  • 10 drops lavender
  • 10 drops tea tree

In all cases mix the oils together and store in a tightly lidded glass bottle. Use a couple of drops on a damp cloth to wipe down kitchen surfaces.

Vinegar is a great non-toxic disinfectant to use around the home, and although the smell is not to everyone's taste it doesn't tend to linger once it's dried. But if you'd like to get a better fragrance you can infuse the vinegar with citrus peel - chop up lemon, orange or grapefruit peel and use to loosely fill a wide-necked jar with a tight-fitting lid (a Kilner jar is perfect). Pour in enough white vinegar to cover the citrus peel and leave in a warm place for at least a fortnight. Strain the vinegar and bottle.

Alternatively, you could try making the legendary 'Vinegar of the Four Thieves'. The story goes that a group of thieves were able to rob plague victims during an outbreak of the disease by protecting themselves with this disinfectant brew. There are many different recipes for Vinegar of the Four Thieves, but the version I've used involves steeping sage, rosemary, wormwood, rue, lavender and thyme in cider vinegar. Garlic is an ingredient listed in many versions of the recipe, but I opted to omit it for house-cleaning purposes as I didn't want the place smelling like a pizzeria!

So throw open the windows to let the spring air in, grab your besom and start sweeping away the literal and spiritual dust and dirt (widdershins, naturally). When you have finished, before you sit down for that well-earned cup of tea, take a few moments to light a candle, naming as you do so those qualities that you wish to draw into your newly-cleaned space. Nature abhors a vacuum after all, so make sure you not only clear away what is no longer needed, but that you consciously invite in those things that you hope to nurture through the coming summer months.

Blessed Be!

         

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Chickens As Pets



...And in other, unrelated news, I have just discovered that my photo of Morag and Daisy on the garden wall has won me a signed copy of the bestselling book 'Chickens As Pets'. Woot!


The Garden Beckons...



Gosh, how can it be March 2013 already? I've barely got used to it being 2012!

After weeks of cold, frosty weather it is suddenly spring here at Halfway Up A Hill. It is mild and sunny this morning. I have let the chickens out of their run onto the grass and they are wandering contentedly, scratching up the lawn and dust-bathing in the sawdust in their favourite spot under the saw-horse.

I am seized with the urge to get out and start planting. The garden needs a major overhaul and I had planned a fairly minimal vegetable plot this year while I finish re-configuring it and building new raised beds. But on days like this I just want to get my hands in the earth, and I can feel the urge to plant just a few more herbs, add a few more veggies to the plan, squeeze in some extra seeds here and there... I probably need to reign these ideas in, as it will be all too easy to raise way too many seedlings in my enthusiasm and then have no room for them when it comes to planting out.

But oh, on days like this, the call of the garden is so strong. I'm going out now, and I may be gone for some time...

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Rush of Wings...




Late yesterday afternoon, as I was coming back to the house after feeding the chickens their afternoon treat of mixed corn, a strange sound was added to the background noise of country life. As well as birdsong and the screech of jays in the oaks, a distant tractor and the barking of a dog on a neighbouring hillside, suddenly there was a sound like rushing water, or the wind in in storm-tossed branches. Yet it hasn't rained for over a week, and the breeze was only light. It was neither water nor wind. I knew exactly what it was, and my heart lifted.

Further up the hill, a couple of fields away, a huge flock of starlings was gathering in preparation to fly off to their roost for the night. Some years they regularly fly right over the house. Other years I see them only from a distance, or catch a glimpse of a swirling flock as I'm driving home from work. A few years back a great cloud of them descended into the garden, and since then I have watched the winter skies avidly in hope of seeing them. This winter I have seen them regularly, but mostly at a distance, so now I craned my neck expectantly.

The flock didn't come any closer to the house, but through the bare winter bones of the hedge I could see more birds flying in to join the assembly. Every so often the noise level would suddenly dip for a brief moment before the whole flock lifted off in practise flight before regrouping on the ground or the tall trees at the field's edge. This happened several times, until triggered by some signal imperceptible to me, they were ready. The sound dropped for a moment and then the entire flock swept into the sky with a huge rush of wings, awe-inspiring even from a distance. They whirled in a morphing cloud like one great organism, and were off.

I stood spellbound for a moment as the magic faded and normality returned. Then, murmuring a blessing to the beautiful flock on their journey, I returned to the house. Time for me to light the fire, start the evening meal and prepare my own roost for the night.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Millions Marching, One Billion Rising!

 
Video: One Billion Rising! Flashmob in Carmarthen 14/02/2013

"Another common, unspoken assumption is that spirituality is about calm and peace, and conflict is unspiritual. Which of course makes it hard to integrate the spiritual with the political, which is all about conflict.
In New Age circles, a common slogan is that "What you resist, persists." Truly spiritual people are never supposed to be confrontational or adversarial — that would be perpetuating an unevolved, "us-them" dualism.
I don't know from what spiritual tradition the "what you resist, persists" slogan originated, but I often want to ask those who blithely repeat it, "What's your evidence?" When it is so patently obvious that what you don't resist persists like hell and spreads all over the place. In fact, good, strong, solid resistance may be the only thing that stands between us and hell. Hitler didn't persist because of the Resistance — he succeeded in taking over Germany and murdering millions because not enough people resisted."

- Starhawk

Ten years ago today, along with millions of other people I was marching against the Iraq war. According to Wikipedia, "Sources vary in their estimations of the number of participants involved. According to BBC News, between six and ten million people took part in protests in up to sixty countries over the weekend of the 15th and 16th; other estimates range from eight million to thirty million." I marched in London alongside friends from the British Reclaiming community. Along the way we sang, and danced, and chalked hearts on the pavements. Although the day was grey and cold and the wind blowing off the river Thames was icy, the energy of the march was amazing. It is incredible to be among so many other human beings, all with one shared intention, one passionately held belief.

Many people who have never attended a demonstration seem horrified by the very idea. I am certain this is due to the impression given by the media that such events are inevitably filled with extremists, thugs and stone-throwing anarchists; hotbeds of violence and wanton destruction. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. The demonstrations I have been on, from my first way back in the '90s (against the Criminal Justice Bill 1994, which amongst other things criminalised what were previously civil offences in an attempt to stifle road protesters and hunt saboteurs), have been without exception good-humoured, fun and friendly. I'm not saying there was no trouble or arrests at any of them, but I personally have never seen any negative behaviour at all. At any large gathering of people it is inevitable that a small minority will act up, or even go along with the express intention of causing trouble. Yet it is this small minority that gets all the press coverage and attention and gives a totally misleading impression of the event and most people's experience of it.

Yesterday, across the world, millions of women (and men) joined the 'One Billion Rising' initiative in joyful flashmobs, dancing to protest violence against women, and stating that we will not stand for this! (the word "billion" refers to the statistic that 1 in 3 women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime - about one billion). From Africa to Asia to the Americas to Europe to Australasia, women gathered and danced, in some places risking their very lives to do so. Even in my local town of Carmarthen, women - including some of my friends - gathered and danced. Unfortunately I couldn't join them, which I'm really sad about! It looks like it was an amazing event, and it makes me feel so proud and so moved.

We have more power than we allow ourselves to believe. We are creating the future with every choice we make, every moment of every day. And when we join with others, when we tap into what Starhawk calls 'Power-With'* (as opposed to the more usual model of 'Power-Over') we tap into something truly world-changing.

Political demonstrations rarely change the world overnight. They don't always achieve their aim - an estimated 10 million marched against the Iraq war and still Bush and Blair went to war. And yet, these events have power. In the immediacy of the march, or the occupation, or the dance against violence, we feel our connection to each other. We know that we are not alone in feeling passionate about this issue. That gives us strength and courage. We meet like-minded souls, we make connections and forge bonds. We let those in power know that this is an issue that really matters, that come the next election, their jobs are on the line. Someone told me that for every letter protesting an issue, the powers that be know that 10 more people feel the same way, but haven't bothered to put pen to paper. How many more then, for every person who makes the effort to travel to a demo or a sit-in? In some instances, a demonstration can become a revolution. This is why protest is stifled, this is why they publish the photos of bricks being thrown at windows. They don't want you there. If demonstrating didn't make a difference, why would they care if you marched or danced or chained yourself to a railing? Standing up and being counted, changing minds does change the world. Gandhi knew it. Martin Luther King knew it. Rachel Corrie knew it, Julia 'Butterfly' Hill knew it, the Pankhursts knew it. Code Pink know it, the Occupy! movement know it, UK Uncut know it, Reclaim the Streets know it, One Billion Rising! know it.

You can make a difference. We all can. Claim your power-with!

P.S. See also this.

* Starhawk's Definitions of 'Power-Over' and 'Power-With'
Power-Over sees the world as an object, made up of many separate, isolated parts that have no intrinsic life, awareness or value. Human beings have no inherent worth; value must be earned or granted. Power-Over motivates by fear, violence or threat of violence.
Power-With sees the world as a pattern of relationships, but its interest is in how that pattern can be shaped, moulded, shifted. It values beings, forces, and people according to how they affect others and according to a history based on experience.