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" Seek the truth and run from

those who claim to have found it "

after André Gide

Pagans & Pilgrims Tonight

March 14th, 2013

Episode 2 of Pagans & Pilgrims is on BBC 4 tonight 8.30pm. As mentioned in a previous post, this series was designed and made to be called ‘Britain’s Holiest Places’ and looks mainly at Christian sites. Only after it was made did the Beeb change the title. So don’t be surprised if you don’t hear much about Paganism… although of course it’s always there, just beneath the surface…

From the BBC page on the series:

what was really happening in Britain’s spiritual landscape over the last two thousand years?

Many of the answers will be found in our BBC Four TV series, Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain’s Holiest Places, where we had to choose 36 of them, each drawn from a selection of 500 around the UK, included in a book by Nick Mayhew Smith on the same subject.

Ifor ap Glyn - Lady's Well, Holystone, Northumberland
Full immersion in Northumberland’s Lady’s Well meant the beginning of a new life

The series explores the historical relationship between Christianity and the older beliefs that existed before its arrival. Rather than destroying the old symbols of paganism, Christianity simply subsumed them, and the previously pagan landscape was overwritten with a new Christian narrative.

From crumbling ruins and towering mountain hideaways, to sacred caves and ancient shrines, some of which predate Christianity, we explore the myths and legends running through Britain’s spiritual history, and ask what these historical sites tells us about who we are today.

Many of the places we visited were in the grand surroundings of some incredible cathedrals, but the one that stood out most for us couldn’t be more different – the Welsh Christian shrine at Pennant Melangell.

Set amid the dramatic North Wales countryside near the Snowdonia National Park, a small farming valley was in the 6th Century home to Melangell, a princess who became a hermit after an unwanted marriage proposal.

Legend has it that one day the local lord came through with his hunting pack, driving the wildlife before him.

Some hares sought refuge under Melangell’s cloak, and when the huntsmen raised their horns to their lips to call the dogs in for the kill, no sound emerged. The lord was so moved that he placed the valley and all its wildlife under Melangell’s care and it became a place of Christian sanctuary.

In the 12th century a shrine to St Melangell, containing her body was erected. Like many other shrines, it was destroyed during the reformation, but she was so popular her bones were secretly reinterred to save them from the reformers’ zeal. During restoration of the church in the late 20th Century they were rediscovered and placed back in the rebuilt shrine.

On the day we visited in October, we were preoccupied with the difficulties of the day’s filming. And it was only afterwards that we began reflecting on how calm and moving a place it was.

Read more and see pictures of Pennant Melangell

Eostre’s Egg

March 14th, 2013

In autumn's womb by Mara Friedman

A guest post by Maria Ede-Weaving.

Here in the northern hemisphere it is almost the time of the spring equinox. From now on, life will begin its quickening: catkins and pussy willow herald the greening of the trees; the nodding trumpets of daffodils are the fanfare of the dawning year, their brightness kick-starting our sleepy senses. All nature is stretching awake and we, like  brave new shoots, surface from our winter stillness, driven on by the growing light and warmth of the radiant Goddess of Spring.  All life must rise from the dark soil –must break out of the safety of womb and egg – to follow the irresistible call of growth.

The Goddess I personally associated with the spring equinox is the Anglo-Saxon Eostre. Although she is historically obscured by the mists of time, something about her has always drawn me. For me, she is the spring maiden of vibrant new life in abundance but also the golden dawn that brings with it a new day of possibilities; the bright hope of each new morning. She is the breeze of spring that clears and freshens our minds; she is the boundless life and desire that fuels us. She is also the egg of creation that birthed the world and the rising warmth and light of the sun brought down to earth in the yellow of primrose, forsythia and broom, of daffodil and crocus.

Eostre is the dawn that, at the equinox, rises due east. She holds in her hands the balance of light and dark. In one hand is the bulb buried in the dark soil, rooted and secure; in the other is the blossoming daffodil moving towards the light. In one hand she also holds the egg, perfectly oval, its life contained safely within; with the other she holds the chick, ever-growing and learning in the light of a new life.

Eostre brings us to a point of transition – to the moment just prior to birth – a place of perfect balance between light and dark; the dawn between night and day. It is a moment to take breath, to be touched by that stillness at a deep inner level, before the final push that will birth us. At the equinox we seek the balance of this moment within, and in doing so, draw strength from that sense of equilibrium, even when our imminent rebirth frightens and overwhelms us.

Many people find the Spring Equinox a stressful time. The rising energy stirring up our static winter selves can feel uncomfortable, like rising from sleep before we are ready. Beginnings can be alarming and unnerving times, as well as bringing excitement and renewed enthusiasm and energy. Birth is potentially dangerous but we cannot remain tucked up in our egg/womb, a known and safe environment that has nourished us because Eostre’s energy brings a tense, urgent moment when we feel the tightness of the egg’s shell painfully confining us; our shape will always eventually outgrow any space/womb we inhabit. We must risk the dangers of birth to truly live and grow; we must risk the unknown that we might reach our full potential.

It takes courage to expand beyond our known boundaries, to crack the shell of our limitations that we might take the true place in our own unfolding story. Sometimes it can be tempting to want to remain in that warm, safe womb, regardless of how cramped it may have become. It can be helpful to understand that the struggle of the tender shoot through the soil is rewarded by its eventual blossoming and fruit.

Many years ago, my mother died on the spring equinox.  It was a beautiful sunny day and the daffodils she had planted in the autumn, had blossomed in the warmth. They were so startlingly vibrant and yet so painfully incongruous at that moment. Being a young girl, I had thought ‘how could spring be here when the world is ending’ – the juxtaposition of those two seemingly very different life moments jarred me emotionally. And yet now, all these years later, I understand that the coming together of those two events perfectly illustrated that place of taut balance where all our endings and beginnings overlap. I now know this place to be a fertile one, its energy often tightly coiled because of the tension, strength and power needed to propel birth; to shoot us into the light.

Birth may be dangerous; we might not even survive it and yet what is far more deadly is to remain where we are. Like Alice growing unfeasibly large in Wonderland, we risk remaining stuck and missing out on the adventure.

This coming Spring Equinox, may Eostre  bring you the courage to explore new territories, new perspectives, to find the strength to be reborn to new and exciting possibilities. Although it might feel frightening to be pushing against your shell, if your call on Eostre’s irrepressible energy, you will feel  that hard casing give way and, through it cracks, see the light of the dawn breaking. In that moment we are each hope eternal and infinite possibility; the bud bursting and the sap rising.

Blossoming Spirit by Mara FriedmanArt work by Mara Friedman