Archive for May, 2011

 

Of Redwoods and Renewal

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

A guest post by Maria Ede-Weaving…

Nature often offers metaphors more elegant than any we can manufacture, and Muir Woods is no exception. Redwoods have evolved to turn disaster into opportunity. In these coastal forests, death produces life.’    Hope Edelman - ‘Motherless Daughters’

Along the roadside of the ornamental Rhinefield Drive in the New Forest is the ‘Tall Trees Trail’. Here you can wander through the vast Douglas firs. Unlike the majority of their kind who – betrayed by the profitable straightness of their trunks – are felled long before their time, these trees have been left to discover their true height. In the midst of English oak and beech has sprung up a little of the prehistoric, incongruously placed just feet away from passing cars. It is difficult not to be deeply moved by these beautiful trees; they stir a dimly felt primal memory of ancient forests, evoking feelings of both familiarity and strangeness.

Further along the trail is a grassy ride that ventures deeper into the woodland. A little way in from the road, standing like giant sentinels on either side of the track, are two redwoods. They are the tallest trees in the Forest and yet are still very young. Unlike the deep rutted thickness of the Douglas fir, the bark of the redwood is delicate. Such a thin skin belies the tree’s strength, and hidden beneath its papery exterior, its own unique powers of reproduction reside:

In the redwood ecosystem, buds for future trees are contained in pods called burls, tough brown knobs that cling to the bark of the mother tree. When the mother tree is logged, blown over, or destroyed by fire –when, in other words, she dies – the trauma stimulates the burls growth hormones. The seeds release and trees sprout around her, creating the circle of daughters. The daughter trees grow by absorbing the sunlight their mother cedes to them when she dies. And they get the moisture and nutrients their need from their mother’s root system, which remains intact underground even after her leaves die. Although the daughters exist independently of their mother above ground, they continue to draw sustenance from her underneath.

The above quote is taken from Hope Edelman’s book Motherless Daughters. In it she deals with childhood bereavement, specifically daughters who lose mothers.  Edelman, whilst out walking, had come across a charred stump of redwood surrounded by a circle of young trees.  She discovered that park rangers call these groupings the ‘family circle’.  For Edelman, who lost her own mother as a teenager, the invisible but strongly felt presence of her mother’s life and death had led her to conclude that  ‘Her presence influenced who I was, and her absence influences who I am. Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay.’

When I first discovered the New Forest trees, my thoughts were drawn to Edelman’s redwood metaphor. My own mother died when I was thirteen; that charred stump of redwood surrounded by her offspring struck me as a poignant and touching image.  That invisible root system that entwines the lives of our psyches with that of a mother lost, can trigger a long journey, one that can be a taut struggle between wanting to hold on and wanting to let go; an inner battle to find a sense of one’s own autonomy and destiny, one that isn’t only linked to that original, momentous loss. Seeing those enormous redwoods and firs, given the space and freedom to become their true shape and size, stirred a great deal in me. And yet seeds grow where they fall, so many factors aiding or impeding that growth. We are one in a long line of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, the bonds of which (or lack of) will shape our own experiences in ways we may only be partially conscious of, if at all.

It didn’t surprise me to learn that mother loss had been a common theme in my family. My great grandmother Lydia had abandoned her seven children, never to return; my great aunt Rose died at 104 still refusing to speak of her mother, the hurt and betrayal of that loss undiminished after almost a century. My grandmother and her siblings went on to lose their step mother in child birth too. After the loss of two mothers, my grandmother became pregnant whilst in service and was forced to give up her own child to adoption. My own immediate family struggled to recover from my mother’s death. My sister’s early and tragic passing has left a legacy of loss for her children too. When I began to look at my family history, it was hard not to feel a part of an ongoing collective striving; unresolved loss from the past was attempting,  by repeated patterns, to find its peace in the present, and if not then, through lives yet to come.

Families seem to have their own collective themes and challenges. As each of us are born and live, perhaps we are presented with opportunities to redeem the pain of the past, not just for ourselves but for all those who have gone before us and those that will follow. Our collective family narratives are powerful, and each of us is subject to their influence, to a greater or lesser extent. For some, being caught up in the unfolding patterns of an ongoing family dynamic can be confusing and deeply wounding, but I have come to believe that there is always the potential for healing, even at the heart of the most entrenched familial patterns. There is a fine balance struck, knowing that you are part of a group narrative that will have profound effects on your life and acknowledging that you are also an individual with your own life to lead. In honouring our own path, by finding our true shape and height, we can reweave the patterns; inject new life and perspective into our family story. It would seem that we are both forest and tree.

Nestled into the vast trunk of one of the New Forest redwoods, the span of my life seems remarkably short, as seemingly insubstantial as the fibrous red bark that I rest against, and yet this tree feels so solid, so strong…It has the power to bring forth new life from its own death. Below the surface of our lives, deep beneath our singular and collective skins, those tough little burls await their moment; out of the deepest sadness and loss they come to life.

 

 

Moon Bathing

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

Here is a beautiful poem by Claire Dewey. Claire felt inspired to write this after reading Philip’s ‘ A Brief History of Nakedness’. Claire writes, ‘It is just a simple response to waking up and feeling an urge to go naked in the back garden!’ Enjoy!

Moon Bathing

I rise – a negative of myself,

Float, intense with dreamer’s stealth,

Cross moth grey grass, feel dew baste the slipper of my naked soles.

 

The steeple and the chapel blink in the moonlight

Shaping the silence of the lost town. Slumbering stone rises

Over ragged waves of suburban hedges strewn with summer.

Skin is a new tissue of cool, colourless delight.

My body, a wafer of pale ghosted flesh, alert, tight,

Unwrapped, balanced on the night, a delicate precision of secrecy,

Pressed like a petal between the dawn and predawn sky.

 

The intensity of dark yields sculptural shapes, shrubs, fallen trellis.

Unseen birds rest velvet throats in tree dark, deep magnificence.

All is rich- ripe. A tall darkness of thick towering shadows eclipse me.

About me, upon me, within me, the pitch and pull of naked night.

 

Buds and blossom loll and nod – a staggering sweetness -

Drunk and reeling on the plumes of their own sharp scent.

In wavering shadow my stark newness startles with a simple joy.

The sleeping garden sighs, rolls over, receives me.

Claire Dewey

Joy

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

From joy I came, for joy I live, and in Thy sacred joy, I shall melt again. – Yogananda

21st Century Spirituality – Away with the Fairies?

Friday, May 27th, 2011

TT Lewes Heart & Soul Group

Mid-Summer’s Eve Celebration

 21st century spirituality -

away with the fairies?

 Monday 20th June 7.00 til 10pm.

 Pelham House, Lewes

 Author and wise-man William Bloom, local druid and writer Philip Carr-Gomm and Peter Owen- Jones Vicar of Firle and spiritual explorer come together to  talk with us about ancestors, seasons, inner transitions and the emerging of a new eco-consciousness.

<www.williambloom.com><philipcarrgomm.druidry.org> <http://en.wikipedia/peter_owen-jones>

Join us for an evening of lively conversation, music, delight and celebration!   Book now as numbers limited!

£10 contribution to costs (negotiable if necessary)

Book now as numbers are limited! For booking details contact Sue Fleming 07855777715 or transitiontownlewes@gmail.com

The White and the Red

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Here is a wonderful guest post by Penny Billington…

Well, it’s late spring, but instead of the green of growth, I’m dazzled by images of red and white… the white and the red. Rouge et blanc… I’m just seeing here if the significance transcends translation. I think so – and it certainly does with the title ‘Le rouge et le noir’, which reeks of fin de siècle zuzzziness. (And, no, I haven’t read it either; maybe reading it would spoil my associations). The symbolism of colour is so potent, that just considering any one – or particularly two in proximity – can get the juices flowing with association.

So white and red have been a theme this Beltane: the alternating red and white spikes of flowering horse chestnuts (colloquially called candles) took centre stage for me. And at the same time a Glastonbury correspondent remarked the significance of the red and white flowers of the May along Wirral Hill in Glastonbury – a glorious sight that added an otherworldly frisson to a mundane visit to the adjacent supermarket.

Red and white are in the rocks of our land – the limestone and the sandstone; and their mythic roots wind as deep into our folk soul – the red and white dragons of Merlin’s prophecy; the red-eared white hounds of Annwyn; the cruets of blood and sweat bought by Joseph of Arimathea, commemorated in stained glass in St John’s church on the High Street. Look to traditional story and heraldry -gules and argent – to add to the list of associations at your leisure – and don’t forget Santa!

And water is blue, right? But not in Glastonbury, where there is an alchemical mix of water from Chalice Well, traditionally ‘the blood spring’ for its rust red staining, and the lime-depositing water from the calciferous White spring, both springing from within a few feet of each other from beneath the Tor.

This ‘rouge et blanc’ alchemy is reflected in the entrance to my garden by two poles of rambling roses. The red was nurtured during building work and survived, saving me from the trouble of painting half the white buds red, like the gardeners of the Red Queen, in Alice’s journey through the looking glass. We take our symbolism seriously in this house!

Red and white speak of magic, of male and female, of polarity: but it is when we add the third colour, black, – the noir to the rouge et blanc, that we access a strain of mythic wisdom which surfaces in the realm of story. Snow White’s beauty was bestowed by her pregnant mother’s wish, when a drop of red blood from her pricked finger fell on the white snow as a black bird flew past. In Celtic myth, Deirdre saw a raven pecking at the pool of blood of a deer on the snow and told her nurse that she would love a warrior with the colour of the raven in his hair, skin like snow for whiteness, and cheeks red as blood.

So the noir, the black, grounding energy, added to the red and white, changes their static perfection of opposites. Without the raven, we have a still winter landscape, a dead animal. Stillness, good, but not sustainable.

Change, good, the only constant of life. Although change is frequently scary – as is the living catalyst, the raven, which by its action gives us a glimpse of the future, of the connectedness of myth and reality, of symbol presaging life events, through the potency of image, the starkness of colour; a flying bird, a pecking beak.

I am of the earth, earthy, but I walk between my rose poles as if they were sentry points to a country not entirely of this apparent world. The glory of the glowing crimson and lint white starts my journey. I have nurtured the red and white growth in the black, rich soil: I have my place in the magical, Beltane, red and white landscape, rich with mythic resonance.

I have earned my passport to this realm: the black stamp of entry is the dirt beneath my fingernails.

Penny Billington is an author, speaker and celebrant with a long OBOD history. Read what leading figures in the esoteric world think of her latest book, ‘The path of Druidry; walking the ancient green way’ (pub Llewellyn, July 2011), in the advance reviews  at  www.pennybillington.co.uk

Tagore and the Life Cairn

Monday, May 23rd, 2011
Here is Peter Owen Jones’s talk, given at Dartington Hall for the Tagore Festival. Peter speaks about his wonderful ‘Life Cairn’ project that began yesterday…
 

Tagore

 

May, what a month: everything being born; emerging from the darkness of the bud casings; the darkness of the soil; the warmth of the womb; everything arriving and thirsting for the light. I have been working as a shepherd on a farm just up the road from where I live. It is a month I really look forward to getting out of the vicarage and out into the fields, walking mainly between the sheep, watching and listening, waiting for the miracle of birth. It is always so hard to imagine individually that all of us went through that process; that once we were just a collection of cells, then sapling arms and then we arrived small and squealing on this planet more helpless than a lamb. What is it like to arrive on this planet?What is it like for a song thrush, a mountain leopard, an orchid, a Red Admiral butterfly?What type of world are they all being born into?Sometimes I imagine a glass room in the stars that human souls gather in before they are born. There is just a small group of us and we are there for a briefing on what we can expect to find on planet earth; what we are going into. ‘Once you take on a physical form you are subject to physical needs’ says our guide. She goes on, ‘ the human form is at the time of its greatest potential but also it’s greatest peril; human beings are facing the biggest choice they have ever had to make’. She does not explain what the choice is and then this little group of us enter the stream of forgetting and we do not wake until we remember the scent of our mother’s breasts and the vague shapes of rooms and the sounds of planes.

So what is it like to arrive here as a song thrush?What sort of environment is the fledgling song thrush being born into here in a hedge, in a thicket?What sort of world is the mountain leopard being born into?What are the realities of life that all species are facing?Currently there are 41.415 species on the United Nations red list. 16,306 of those face the immanent danger of extinction. Dr Mark Wright the chief scientist at WWFUKsays, ‘We are at code red; the plight of the world’s species is a mirror of the state of the planet. Species are under enormous pressure as we systematically destroy their habitat and over exploit them for our increasingly demanding life styles.’

So how did we arrive at these dreadful statistics and why are we not all in tears when we here them?Firstly, we can’t cry because the reality is almost too awful to face and  if we were to face it we would have to change. The fact that we can stand by and watch it happen – we have all stood by and watched it happen – says that really our consciousness has been located in our stomachs. In his book Collapse Jared Diamond describes the dreadful events that happened when human beings made it toEaster Island. Within what was a very short period of time they decimated the bird population and felled every single large palm tree until not one remained. Secondly, these immanent extinctions – not to mention the hundreds that have happened already – tell us a great deal about what it is to be human; about our capacity for psychotic self-centeredness. Really the hard reality of what is continually described as progress is that it is our understanding of progress which is at stake, as much as our very souls. As the history ofEaster Island bears out, we seem programmed to destroy. Apart from a very few exceptions, this has been our history; we have destroyed so much of what we have come into contact with. Progress, as it has happened, has brought nothing but violence and decimation to our brothers and sisters within the natural world. I am afraid that at the heart of this way of being have been the Monotheistic religions. Monotheism has barely raised a whisper against the ecocide that is taking place under its watch. Christianity I am afraid has not proved to be a good guardian of the natural world. Too often I have heard the argument that, and I quote, ‘we are stewards of creation’, and inherent within that notion, is the fact that God given dominion has been exercised as Domination. Looked at from the perspective of a  Song Thrush, a Tasmanian devil or an Essex Skipper Butterfly, what type of stewards have we been? The Monotheistic religions are by and large ruthlessly human-centred; they are about our propensity for sin. My life, my salvation – there is nothing about the salvation of the natural world within them; it is as if it has been written out, written off. The other dreadful measure is one of apparent success: the lines ‘ oh he’s done very well for himself’ really refer to acquired wealth as the yardstick; success is now almost exclusively economic. We have the ludicrous notion of developed and developing countries never really facing the facts that the developed countries have wiped out most of the indigenous wildlife over the centuries and that in developed countries it is considered acceptable to spray poisons over the land to kill what we are all told are pests. We are exporting this ethos; it is a dreadful state of affairs and the fact that it has been normalised is why we cannot cry. Here are some words from Tagore ‘ His aim was not to acquire but to realise, to enlarge his consciousness by growing out, growing into his surroundings.’ Imagine this as our future; a future based on an expanding of consciousness rather than acquiring material wealth. Tagore saw this race to acquire wealth as a by product of urbanisation and the consequent separation of humanity from nature

I had heard about Tagore but did not know his writing Then Satish Kumar called me on Sunday and said in his beautiful way, ‘Peter, will you come and talk on Wednesday in Dartington and will you speak a little about Tagore?’ So I started reading.  What words, food and fuel pouring off the pages and here he his at the point of the fulcrum, speaking about the difference between an economic system and a system which regards the sacredness of life. That without the sacred we are hostages to economics, which – I am afraid – is what we have become here in the west. I love the way democratic capitalism shouts freedom whilst enslaving us all to its operating system in the process. In that sense, the jailer is no more free than the prisoners. 

Here are some more words from Tagore, ‘The west seems to take a pride in thinking  that it is subduing nature as if we are living in a hostile world where we have to wrest everything we want from an unwilling and alien arrangement of things’. And he goes on to say, ‘ this creates an artificial disassociation between human beings and universal nature within whose bosoms they lie’

Inherent within Tagore’s teachings is the reality – and it does need underlining – that  the mass extinctions we face are not a problem of progress, it is just the brand of progress we have adopted; it’s a problem actually of an economic imperative; it is again just one model of worth, that’s all. Imagine if worth was measured in birdsong. The mass extinctions we face, they are the result of the chilling, the dulling of the soul; the mass failure of the religions of the masses to embrace the staggering beauty and inherent sacredness of all life. One dreadful example of this is the consecration of churches. Within my tradition, the idea that because a church or a temple is consecrated, that this should make it more holy than a field, a wood, a rainforest, a factory. This notion has created a mentality that believes that fields and woods are less holy than churches and temples. So at its heart, the mass extinctions we face – as Tagore so rightly assumes – are the result of human self-centredness, enshrined in most religions – Jainism being a notable exception.  Tagore writes, ‘we divide nation and nation, knowledge and knowledge, man and nature, it breeds in us a strong suspicion of whatever is beyond the barriers we have built’. To imagine a new paradigm we have to move beyond the barriers we have built; we have to find a brand new way of dreaming about the future of us. We have been at war now with the natural world for millennia; we need to make peace. We need to understand that peace lies not just in a peaceful world for us but for us to engender peace with all creation as a statement of what being human means. This is the great choice we face. This is the time of the greatest potential and conversely the greatest peril – they always go hand in hand.

I have one idea. It is really no more than a seed. Look at all the statues we have of men and women – our great statesmen and warriors – and all those inexplicable lumps of steel jammed at the front of shopping centres and banks. What’s all that about?There is nothing that honours that natural world, nothing that provides any idea of our own context within it. So it is time there was. On May 22 a group of us are going to build a ‘ life cairn’ this is to honour and remember all the species that have become extinct at our hands. It will be a place of tears and – once we have had our tears – a place of healing and from there a place of hope; a hope that imagines the human race at peace with the natural world; a hope that honours all species and all life. To be part of this you simply need to lay one stone on this cairn, to make your peace, our peace; to say we recognise what we have done and we are so, so sorry; that from now I will live a kinder path; I will be human in a way that gives, not takes life; that honours the freedom of all life and understands we have no more right as human beings to life than does the swallow, the deer, the damsel fly. I hope children will come and lay their stones; bring them from their schools.  Science never gave us this.

The Value of Art

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

If art, then, is a process of discovery about ourselves and about life, if it brings us delight and joy, then surely it follows that we should not live without it. The great artists have always been able to communicate something new; they have penetrated so deeply into an experience that they have brought back some fresh vision: some new relationship of words, or new relationship of sound in music:a deeper insight into human beings: whatever it happens to be; they have uncovered some intense reality that lies behind all the broken and dissonant life around us; they have discovered a fundamental unity that lies at the heart of things.   –    Dorothy Elmhirst

Receyt of Awen

Friday, May 20th, 2011

 

Forest Jones talks about his novel…

Receyt of Awen

For some time I had wondered how Ceridwen, credited with creating the famous Welsh bard, Taliesin, came to be known as a goddess. There is no archaeological or written record (of which I am aware) which suggests that she ever was anything but a witch (and one with a nasty disposition at that) – but clearly she is a goddess to countless people today, myself included.

In 2006 when I first realized that my curiosity about Ceridwen might grow into a book, I began with these words:

Preface

Many are the unanswered questions in the tale of Gwion Bach, or is it the tale of Taliesin? Or of Ceridwen? As we shall see it is all of these and more.

Perhaps we should start with the tale of how Ceridwen came to have the books of Vergil in the first place – no mean feat at the dawn of the sixth century.

Or maybe we should examine how it was that Gwion Bach came to be tending the famous cauldron.

And what is this business about a baby growing from a grain of wheat and floating in the water for who knows how long?

But maybe you are like me – for whom the mysterious blind man was a most intriguing part of the puzzle.

The story runs in so many directions – perhaps it will be easiest to start at the beginning…but how far back

Two years into my research and meditation on Ceridwen and her story I decided to join O.B.O.D. Somehow I had overlooked the line in the course description on the O.B.O.D. website which says, “You then start to follow a path laid down, initially probably thousands of years ago, and which has been encoded in an old story about a young boy who becomes the finest Bard in the land – Taliesin.”

Realizing my research was turning into a novel and, not wanting to run the risk of unconscious plagiarism, I reluctantly put my Druidry studies aside before I had even begun, and vowed to take them up as soon as the book was finished. It was such a tease, watching those Gwersi pile up, only daring to read the Touchstone which came with the lessons.

It was two more years before the book was finished (and I could finally begin the Bardic grade in earnest). The original “Preface” is long gone, but I did find answers to all of those questions, and more. The research was great fun and included two trips toWales. I sat on the hill, on top of which stand the remains of King Maelgwn’s stronghold. From that hill one has a view of the mouth of the Conwy in which Taliesin became trapped in Maelgwn’s weir.

I stayed nine days near the shores of Llyn Tegid, wading in its chilly waters and finally communing with Ceridwen and her family in their homeland which, until that time, I had only done from afar. I wanted to make sense of her all-too-brief story which has come down to us. I wanted to know what happened before that fateful day of Morfran’s birth. I hoped she could walk me through her experience and help me understand its deeper meanings. She did not disappoint me. I look forward to sharing with others what she shared with me.

Because I like doing things the hard way I decided to craft the book myself. So, for now, it is available only in a limited edition of 100 numbered copies – printed on acid-free paper, hand-sewn and hardbound, covered with Italian book cloth. It is available on my website: http://summerislebooks.com

Forest Jones

Darkness

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

You darkness, that I come from, I love you more than all the fires that fence in the world, for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone, and then no-one outside learns of you. But the darkness pulls in everything: shapes, and fires, animals, and myself, how easily it gathers them! – powers and people. And it is possible a great energy is moving near me. I have faith in nights.  –  Rainer Maria Rilke

Dudeism – The World’s Slowest Growing Religion, Man!

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Here is another guest contribution from Mark Townsend…enjoy!

Dudeism – ever heard of it? Possibly the coolest religion in the world and for real too, man. Based on the highly chilled out character and ethos of one Jeffrey Lebowski (The Dude) from the cult Coen brothers film, The Big Lebowski. Dudeism is proudly self-proclaimed as the ‘slowest-growing religion in the world’ and as ‘an ancient philosophy that preaches non-preachiness, practices as little as possible.’

You can even be ordained a Dudeist Priest… yeah, for real. And, in order to add a little hazy laid backness to my normally fast paced and tight assed life as a Christian priest… I signed up.

The Dudeist ‘Lama’ himself was so amused by the addition of a Christian Priest to the ranks of ordained Dudes that he invited me to be  interviewed for their ‘Dudespaper.’ The theme – Jesus and Dudeism. Well I couldn’t resist so, if you have a spare moment, check it out. It was fun to do – man.

http://dudespaper.com/magic-carpeting-a-dudeist-a-priest-and-a-magician.html/