To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness… And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory. – Howard Zinn
When I was young, I had two heroes: Sherlock Holmes and the Buddha. My dad took me to the Sherlock Homes pub in London, where you could gaze through plate glass at a replica of Holmes’ study:
Years later I was running a travel company in Trafalgar Square, a street away from the pub. I used to take airline executives there for lunch. One day the manager of, I think it was Hungarian airlines, leant forward to me and began asking about Holmes in reverent tones. He thought he had been a real person.
The Buddha, and the spiritual quest, soon preoccupied me more than Holmes, though, and it was only recently that I saw the connection: hunting, solving the riddle.
When I read Penny Billington’s The Badger & the Bag last week I realized that Penny had managed to fuse these two figures – and what’s more – in a Druid context. Her main character is Gwion Dubh, a Druid detective, and after writing two full-length stories based on his exploits, Penny has crafted a tightly-woven, fast-paced tale of 28 pages, that succeeds in being utterly original while conforming to the grand tradition of occult fiction: weaving magical teachings into the story for ‘those who have ears to hear’.
While the story makes you smile as it draws you into an enchanted world in which the detective helps remaining members of the Stone Age recover bones and their burrow-home, it also conveys key teachings of Druidry. And just as Dion Fortune cranks up the tension until the mysterious rite of the final pages, so we only discover how Gwion Dubh has succeeded in his mission in the last chapter: ‘The Morning After the Night Before’.
I want to tell you more – about the Night of the Unhewn Dolmen for example – but I won’t spoil the story for you! Penny and Arthur have started a cottage industry from their home in Wells – Ashwell Springs Press – and the book is only £2.99 – available from the OBOD store.
A Vision – Wendell Berry
If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
if we will make our seasons welcome here,
asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
there, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
rich in the windows. The river will run
clear, as we will never know it,
and over it, birdsong like a canopy.
On the levels of the hills will be
green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music
risen out of the ground. They will take
nothing from the ground they will not return,
whatever the grief at parting. Memory,
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility
Many of you will be very familiar with the fascinating chalk figures of the Long Man and the Cerne Abbas Giant. The Cerne Abbas Giant is unambiguously male but I have long argued that the Long Man possesses features that make the figure’s sex a little harder to define. What each figure’s original purpose was remains a mystery to us, a puzzle that only adds to their appeal. Whatever the reason for their creation, these pieces of art writ large upon the landscape are impressive and compelling.
In Cramlington, Northumberland a giant landscape figure has recently been created. There is no confusion about the figure’s gender; ‘Northumberlandia’ is undoubtedly female. Like the Eden project in Cornwall, she emerges from the scarred ground of a surface mine. She is 1,300 ft long and stands 112 ft at her highest point, built from 1.5m tonnes of rock, soil, stone and clay. Her surfaces have been seeded and eventually she will become a haven for nature and a beautiful place for people to visit and enjoy. Her creator Charles Jencks, although the designer, was surprised by the impact of Northumberlandia’s vast size as she began to take shape. It is easy to view this stunning figure as an image of the Earth Goddess: abundance and beauty emerging once again from a place that had seemed starkly void of life. Rising up from the bleak and bare landscape of the Shotton Surface Mine, she speaks of renewal and rebirth from the Earth’s body – a symbol of the gift of nature’s deep generosity and magical powers of regeneration.
Read more about the Naked Lady here: