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" One touch of nature

makes all the world kin "

William Shakespeare

Winter is Coming…

November 15th, 2017

Photo credit: Bob Fuhro

The leaves are falling, the first frosts have arrived here in southern England. Now is the time for curling up by the fire and going to sleep – hibernating a little, to restore ourselves and find the Awen again. But I’ve been struck by how many friends and relatives find it hard or impossible to sleep well or deeply. I’ve developed a programme to help with this that combines an understanding of Psychology and Neuroscience with Spiritual techniques and perspectives. Do give it a try if you’re finding it hard to get a good night’s sleep. You can sample a lesson here.

The Gyuto Monks of Tibet – Open Mind, Loving Heart Tour

November 14th, 2017
Our very own honorary Bard Martin Glover (‘Youth’) recorded a fabulous album with The Gyuto Monks entitled Chants ~ The Gyuto Monks of Tibet. The monks practice a form of throat singing that produces an extraordinary sound. Youth explains,
The Monks exemplify, in their mystical chants, the essence of Tibetan Tantric Wisdom and the profound philosophy of the Dalai Lama. This is a musical system intentionally designed to alter your consciousness towards an illuminated and enlightened state.
The Gyuto Monks will in the UK during November and December with their Open Mind, Loving Heart Tour, giving a performance at Forest Row Village Hall, East Sussex RH18 5ES on Sunday 3rd Dec 7-9pm. For more information, other dates and to book tickets visit here www.illuminastudios.net.
What follows is a short video of the monks chanting at an Expo in Adelaide last year…

Elegy

November 11th, 2017

Elegy

Our final dogwood leans
over the forest floor

offering berries
to the birds, the squirrels.

It’s a relic
of the days when dogwoods

flourished—creamy lace in April,
spilled milk in May—

their beauty delicate
but commonplace.

When I took for granted
that the world would remain

as it was, and I
would remain with it.

~ Linda Pastan

Broomsticks and Dragon Bones

November 8th, 2017

I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the British Library’s Harry Potter exhibition recently. Fans of the books and films will love it but it will also be of interest to anyone fascinated with the history of magic. Here is an article by Maev Kennedy from the Guardian about the show and a short film to give you a taster…

Broomsticks and dragon bones in British Library’s Harry Potter magic show

Manuscripts for JK Rowling’s books mix with a centuries-old mermaid and a witch’s crystal ball in hotly anticipated exhibition.

Even JK Rowling, on a preview visit to the exhibition combining a history of magic with her creations, was astonished to come face to face with the tombstone of one of her characters. She tweeted the image, writing: “Guess what this is? I’ve just seen it and was mesmerised …”

The lead curator, Julian Harrison, explained that it was a memorial to the alchemist and suspected wizard Nicolas Flamel, who died in 1418 and whose grave, when opened centuries later, contained no trace of a body. His tombstone, borrowed from the Musée de Cluny in Paris, is said to have been rediscovered in a Parisian grocery in the 19th century, upside down and being used as a chopping block.

The curators have borrowed from national and international collections and from the archives of JK Rowling and her publishers, including her fanatically detailed plotting for the books, with grids of every character on every day. There is also a scrap of paper that proved as magical as any potion: the pencilled opinion of Alice Newton, the eight-year-old daughter of the founder of Bloomsbury, after eight other publishers had rejected Rowling’s proposal. Alice wrote: “The excitement in this book made me feel warm inside. I think it is possibly one of the best books an 8/9 year old could read.” The consequence was 400m books sold in 68 languages, and still rising daily.

There are several pages that never made it into the final version of the first Harry Potter book, where Ron and Harry were to have crashed the flying car into a mermaid-infested lake rather than the Whomping Willow. “Not as pretty as they look in books, are they, mermaids,” Ron remarks – which is certainly true of the neighbouring mermaid on loan from the British Museum, ingeniously stitched together centuries ago in Japan from a monkey and a fish.

The exhibition includes the oldest objects in the British Library: scorched, cracked bones used for fortune-telling in China more than 3,000 years ago, when they were widely believed to come from dragons. A book from the collection records a more recent sighting: a “monstrous dragon” that crash-landed in a field in Bologna, Italy, on 13 May 1572, and was on display in a local museum for a century after…to read the entire article click here.

 

 

Jamie Reid Eight Fold Year Book

November 4th, 2017

Artist Jamie Reid has produced a beautiful book of paintings, photographs and texts that meditate on the eight festivals of The Wheel of the Year. Jamie Reid Eight Fold Year Book includes 8 stunning paintings by Jamie that signify each festival with some explanatory text from me; 8 gorgeous photographs taken by him on his travels around the country and 8 text works – 52 full-colour pages of inspiration!

Originally published as a limited edition loose leaf book in association with John Marchant Gallery,  this new edition is available here. 

Welcome To All The Rich Darkness

November 1st, 2017

R.Rose shares some lovely thoughts about the Samhain season…

We have been carving into vegetables for Ages, I’m sure. Celts won’t have had pumpkins; some say they may have used turnips. Perhaps it’s an ancient mischief made big in the mainstream? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Faces flickering out into the dark on Halloween / Hallow-e’en / Hallows Eve, remind us of spirits. They can be a nod to our ancestral heritage, if we choose them to be. Because this is what I know of Halloween, and this is my tradition; it is a time of honouring, and acknowledging our ancestors and their presence amongst us. As Autumn closes in, and winter begins, the ‘veil’ between the worlds is said to be thinnest. And this can be an invitation to look back, and remember that we are not living our lives alone, but we are part of a long, long line, full of human story. History, and herstory. Stories we can draw from. 

Take time to pause, and honour the line of people who came before you, if that feels right. 

It’s a magical time, the light finally giving in to the dark. We are entering the darkest, coldest phase of the year. Autumn is ending, winter is beginning. Knowing that we need the dark as much as the light – in all things – we can choose to embrace it wholeheartedly. The light will return in Spring, and for now, we can welcome the opportunity to journey inwards a while, carving out time to hibernate, and to rest, as our modern lives plough on relentlessly as our Earth slows and cools. Our Earth, tipping herself into balance. We can tip, too. 

Cycles, always – all ways.

Trees are burying their final leaves, and we had our first frost yesterday. I woke to the early morning to the hum of a car engine, heaters on. So longing are we for warmth and light that we have even changed the clocks again. An extra hour of light in the morning, for a week or two. The cycles of the natural world peeking in to our lives unseen, almost.

The joy of it is – even though we spend much of the year feeling cold about the return of winter – we do greet it with great celebration. With children trick-or-treating all over the Western world tonight, candles lit for ancestors across cultures, and – in England – an evening of frosty bonfires with loved ones this week, we do mark the beginning of winter with huge celebration, with fire, and with light. Quite the party, really.

So, here’s a welcome to all souls, a welcome to this opportunity to remember and honour our roots. Light a candle and let it burn, if that feels right, and pause a while. And here’s a welcome to winter. Welcome to all the rich darkness you bring, time for reflection, curling up, and excuses to be cosy. Light a fire, and allow the embers to warm the bones that have carried you this year. Welcome back in.

Happy Halloween, happy Samhain, and wonderful, warm bonfires to you all.

Happy Samhain! Happy Beltane!

October 31st, 2017

Whether you are celebrating Samhain or Beltane, may the season bless you and bring you wisdom and joy!

We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.
~ Max Depree

Your Ancestors are rooting for you!
~ Eleanor Brownn

Life and Death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.
~ Lao Tzu

Passion will move men beyond themselves, beyond their short comings and their failures.
~ Joseph Campbell

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
~ William Wordsworth

The Heart of England Forest Project

October 27th, 2017

There is a lovely tree planting project taking place in South Warwickshire called The Heart of England Forest

The Heart of England Forest’s mission is to restore and rebuild some of the lost ancient forest that meandered across this countryside. So far, we’ve planted over 3,000 acres between Honeybourne to the south and the Spernal Estate to the north…

It’s a simple vision: to plant, protect and preserve a huge broadleaf forest – a place of tranquility and natural beauty that’s open to anyone and planted with the help and support of everyone.

Whether you live in the heart of the forest, or you’re visiting our green and rolling Warwickshire countryside, you can play a vital role in this exciting new woodland. Planting a tree is a great way of connecting with your environment and sowing the seeds of a better world for the next generation.

The forest stretches across the heart of England – from the ancient Forest of Arden, south to the edge of the Vale of Evesham. It’s an area dense in cities, towns and industry. Which is why we’re creating a place to walk under shady canopies and through airy glades, away from the bustle of city life.

The UK has less than a third of the native tree cover of many other European countries, including France, Germany and Italy. So far, we have created over 3,000 acres of new woodland. That’s more than 1 million trees. And our dream is for it to become 30,000 acres. But with patience and your support, who knows how far it will grow!

If you want to learn more and offer support visit The Heart of England Forest website and their Facebook Page.

Naked in the Trees – An interview with TreeGirl

October 24th, 2017

At first thought, the idea of posing naked in trees for photographs might seem trivial, unnecessary, or even salacious, but when you listen to Julianne Skai Arbor, aka TreeGirl, I think you’ll find yourself coming to a different conclusion. Watch how she explains her work and shows illustrations from her beautiful book in this interview, and afterwards take a look at her website which will lead you to information on her book too.

The Lost Words

October 20th, 2017

Author Robert Macfarlane and artist & author Jackie Morris have produced a beautiful book entitled The Lost Words inspired by an alarming study that suggests that children are better at recognising Pokémon characters than they are at naming wild animals, plants and trees. The Lost Words is an attempt to reconnect young children to the natural world. Here’s an excerpt from MacFarlane’s article in The Guardian about the book. To read the entire piece and see more of Jackie Morris’ gorgeous illustrations visit here.

Two years and a summer ago I began work with the artist Jackie Morris on a book called The Lost Words: A Spell-Book, about the magic of naming and nature. When we began, we knew only that we wanted to make a modern-day spell-book for the natural world – a book that might go some small way towards conjuring back the words, names and species that were being lost. We wanted to celebrate the “identifications” made possible by names that are, as Observer columnist Henry Porter put it, part of “the plain euphonious vocabulary of the natural world – and do not simply label an object but in some mysterious and beautiful way become part of it”.

So Jackie and I chose 20 common names of 20 common species of creature and plant. Our choices formed a crooked almost-A-to-Z, from acorn and adder through bluebell, conker and kingfisher, to weasel, willow and wren. For each name I wrote a summoning spell, structured as an acrostic, to be read aloud by child to grown-up, grown-up to child, or even grown-up to grown-up. The act of reading out – of spell-speaking – was also an act of conjuring back.

Because I am certainly not a poet, and do not want to be mistaken for thinking I am one, I always imagined my texts as “spells” or “charms” rather than “poems”. I wrote them to be spoken aloud, and often I wrote them by speaking them aloud – sounding them out while walking or waiting, seeing if they would stick in my mind as chants before putting them down on paper. The otter-spell slipped into my skull while I was walking over the Cairngorms with my father. The willow-spell arrived on the towpath of the River Lea, tramping the unglamorous bank-miles between Broxbourne and Tottenham Hale. The first line of the newt-spell came while I was in the checkout queue at Sainsbury’s.

‘As nature thins, so does our memory of it.’
‘As nature thins, so does our memory of it.’

I sent each drafted naming-spell to Jackie with the same accompanying note: “To be read aloud.” I needed Jackie to test them for what Seamus Heaney called language’s “palp and heft” – its thickening by rhyme and texturing by rhythm. I wanted to write spells that, even if they were not fully understood by their readers, might (Heaney again) “weave a gauze of sound” around them.

Young children meet language sensuously as well as semantically. They embrace what Francis Spufford in The Child that Books Built calls the “gloriously embedded” aspects of language: “Its texture, its timbre, its grain, its music.” These are also the aspects that have always been central to spells and incantations – for such utterances originated in oral cultures where gestures and speech, rather than the written word, were executive.

In many of the spells I found myself writing about shape-shifting: the “partaking of existence” of which Keats spoke, and at which children are such natural geniuses. Thus the last line of the “otter-spell”:

Run to the riverbank, otter-dreamer, slip your skin and change your matter, pour your outer being into otter – and enter now as otter without falter into water.

Elsewhere I tried, futilely, to catch at what Hopkins called the “thisness” of each creature; the swiftness of wren-flight in the first line of the “wren-spell”, for instance:

When wren whirrs from stone to furze the air around her slows, for wren is quick so quick she blurs the air through which she flows.

Nature isn’t always wondrous. Often it’s absurd, violent or vile. Ravens rip the eyeballs out of living sheep stranded in snowdrifts. Skuas half-drown gannets and then eat their vomit. I wanted to allow certain species their brutality or comedy – and others their unsettling, alien otherness. In the “willow-spell”, human voices beg to be taught to speak willow:

Willow, when the wind blows so your branches billow, will you whisper while we listen so we learn what words your long leaves loosen?

But the willows soundly reject their entreaties:

We will never whisper to you, listeners, and even if you learn to utter alder, elder, poplar, aspen, you will never know a word of willow – for we are willow and you are not.

While I wrote, Jackie painted. I had the easy job: 20 spells to cast. Jackie had hundreds of paintings to create. She painted for a year and a half, working seven-day weeks for most of the final six months. For each name she first painted its absence or lostness. Then – on the facing page of my spell – came the conjured-back creature or plant in the form of an “icon”, set against a shimmering background of gold leaf. Finally, she painted a double-page spread showing each species back in the landscape of which it was intricately part: wren whirring through furze, acorns in an owl-haunted oak-wood.

‘This is what nature must best be to children: something “alive, powerful and sentient”.’
 ‘This is what nature must best be to children: something “alive, powerful and sentient”.’ 

The absences were hardest. How to paint what isn’t there? Jackie drew the empty silhouette of a wren in 18 pen strokes, miraculously catching its teleport-quickness, its jaunty-jenny pose. She painted a blue ripple under willow leaves where a kingfisher should have broken a stream’s surface; a single heron feather rocking down through air. On these “absence” pages, too, Jackie hid single letters that – when sought and found by children – would spell out the lost word. So the book grew and grew and grew – until it was 128 pages long and a foot-and-a-half high: a proper grimoire.

We should be unsurprised that nature’s names are vanishing from children’s mouths and minds’ eyes, for nature itself is vanishing. We are presently living through the sixth great extinction – a speed and scale of planetary biodiversity loss not seen since the Cretaceous. At a local level, this expresses itself in what Michael McCarthy memorably calls “the great thinning”. The 2016 State of Nature report found Britain to be “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”, with 53% of British species in decline – among them barn owls, newts, sparrows and starlings.

As nature thins, so does our memory of it. Shifting baseline syndrome flattens out the losses; each generation grows into ease with its new normal for nature. The grim end-point of this thinning is foreseen in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where common names survive but the common species to which they refer are all extinct. Names in that novel are spoken hopelessly, shaken like rattles filled with ash.

Jackie Morris

“Reconnect with nature” is the mantra for fixing this awful decline – as if we could just plug the toaster back into its socket and get right on back to lightly browning bread. We load the cant-word “connection” with responsibility, but rarely examine what it means philosophically or practically. An exception to this is the RSPB’s 2013 Connecting with Nature report, based on a three-year research project. Sensibly, the report recognised “nature deficit” as a complex problem, strongly inflected by socioeconomic and cultural factors. Dismayingly, it found only one in five British children to be “positively connected to nature”. Hopefully, it emphasised “nature connection” as not only a “conservation” issue, but also one closely involved with education, physical health, emotional wellbeing and future attainment: what’s good for nature is also good for the child…Read the entire article