Four Magpie Brothers

Four young magpies, brothers, sat upon the porch roof this morning.

Squabbling, squawking, pecking the tiles.

Wicked, so they are. Lads and louts.

Waiting to see what I will do.

I go to the window.

They’re watchful

But I get there before they see,

Chuckling with delight at the four young bucks

Performing on the roof.

‘Whooooosh!’ I hiss loudly from the window.

A flurry of black and white and shining blue

Flies up

Squawking, chattering, screaming, laughing.

‘We got her!’ they call to each other.

‘We got her’.

Image: Magpie Mandala by Danielle Barlow
Land Song Series © Elen Sentier 2017 all rights reserved
#mondayblogs #poetry-daily @Poetry_Daily ‏ @MondayBlogs 

Dragon Bones

River rushing, tumbling streaming

Flowing faster than your dreaming

River runs between the stones

Washing clean the dragon’s bones

Forest crowding round the brink

Will you swim or will you sink

Trees and water, bones of earth

Cross the bridge to find rebirth

Land Song Series © Elen Sentier 2017 all rights reserved
#mondayblogs #poetry-daily @Poetry_Daily ‏ @MondayBlogs 

Rabbit Cat

We have just acquired a rabbit cat. He’s big and dark and handsome, dark brown-grey tabby I think but I’m only allowed to see him from my bedroom window. He’s feral and has come to our garden because we have zillions of rabbits!

To do some back story … I’ve lived here, in the back-of-beyond on the Welsh Borders for the whole of this century, it’s gorgeous, no neighbours for half a mile, views of Hay Bluff from my bedroom window, and a quarter of an acre of woodland-edge wildlife garden.

But we have rabbits! Bunnies are lovely creatures and this one is especially cute … but … they eat and dig up the plants needed by the other wild beasties who live in the garden. There are lots of songbirds – wrens, finches, blackbirds, thrushes and robins, to name just a few, as well as butterflies, dragonflies and lots of other wonderful insects. They all need the plants. And, actually, so do I. They’re my life, one of the delights in living here, so close to the natural world that I truly feel a part of it.

I live here with my two cats. They’re rather elderly ladies now, rising seventeen years old. Up until a couple of years ago they were still excellent hunters, keeping the rabbit population in check as all apex predators do. But not now, now they’ve told me they’re retired, they want the gentle twilight of their lives lying in the sun, watching and listening, but no more work. That’s fine with me but … the rabbits do now get out of hand, spoiling things for the rest of the wild folk who live here.

I came here because the spirit of place called me. Since childhood, I’ve always felt so connected with the genius loci of all the places I’ve lived and here is no exception. We get on, we’re friends, I planted and now care for the garden for her, she guides me in what needs doing and what needs leaving alone. So I asked her, I said, ‘we need another cat, a younger cat who is happy to live out in the garden and eat the rabbits.’ It didn’t take long. Within three weeks I saw this dark shadow creeping amongst the shrubs near the hedge, and Izzy and Olly were both bottling their tails and growling gently. They knew precisely who was out there and were making the point that this is their patch, their home, and the new cat could stay as long as he stays outside.

He’s been here about two months now. This isn’t a pic of him – not managed that as yet – but it sort of looks like him. His colouring is wonderful, like a black tabby, like this … 




I call him Gwyll, it means “twilight” in Welsh, and you pronounce it “Gooeth” … I know 🙂 but Welsh is like that, really hard to work out how to pronounce it! The three cats have worked out their relationship, Izzy and Olly only growl if he comes a bit too close to the door. And now, instead of seeing twenty or thirty young bunnies digging the grass and the plants in the garden when I go out for my twilight walk each morning and evening there’s only one or two. The grass is growing, the plants are growing, the bees and butterflies have flowers to feed on, the birds are content, and the robins sing me their evensong each night as the sun goes back under the Earth.

And Gwyll is happy too. He has his own place with warm dry spots to sleep and shelter in, and a good regular supply of food.

For me, it so much shows me how our Mother Earth works. She knows how the cycles of life and death work so all creatures are happy, live well and contentedly. We all share, we all give and we all take … but only what we need. It also shows me how good it is when I work-with the natural world and the spirits of place as well as with the Mother Earth. When there’s an imbalance in nature, allowing nature to deal with it, rather than calling in human help, is so much more effective. It’s kinder too. Gwyll is a good hunter, he kills his dinner quickly and only takes what he needs. His very presence in the garden, his scent and sound, all show the bunnies that this isn’t a good place for bunny-kind to stray into too much so they stay out, in the fields, where there’s plenty of bunny-food.

Life and death, the cycle of life, I learn so much from watching the natural world. I learn not to put my human preconceptions onto everything and that, sometimes, my human views are completely out of kilter with the natural world. And so I grow.

Life has so, so much to teach us all if we will only allow her too.

Memory Lane … Thoughts about DTWAGE

Long ago and faraway … well, actually back in the 1970s and early 80s I used to spend many a lunchtime in science fiction bookshops in central London, near where I worked. My favourite was Dark They Were And Golden Eyed, and during the 1970s it was the largest of its kind in Europe. The place was in St Anne’s Court, Soho, and to get there, you went up this alley between Dean Street and Wardour Street, between strip-joints, film studios and music places – all the stuff on which Soho thrived in those days – climbed some rickety stairs and found yourself in two floors of sci-fi fantasy heaven.

The bookshop took its name, Dark They Were And Golden Eyed, from Ray Bradbury’s famous Martian novel, the bookshop took the name, it was my most favourite bookshop ever. the place itself lived up to the promise. It’s gone now, went bust in 1981, I miss it still.

Now, if you want sci-fi and fantasy you go to Forbidden Planet but, like Martin of Den of Geek says, “… the industrial numbers of available books at Forbidden Planet seemed to diminish the value of all of them …” That’s sad. I don’t find FP to be a browsers shop. I couldn’t nip in there in my lunch break and end up being late back because I’d got into conversation with the bloke who ran it! Not like in DTWAGE. It was a source of Roger Zelazny and Ursula le Guin and many, many others for me. The folks in there were very knowledgeable and seriously intelligent, great fun to chat with as well as excellent sources of info on what was new and good to read. And you made friends with fellow customers too. Not like that now.

Again, as Martin quotes Douglas Addams, “… the universe is too large a place, and most people move somewhere smaller.”

Here’s Martin’s musings on DTWAGE …

But the most poignant part of any lost idlings around Soho is my inevitable pass-through of St. Anne’s Court, which defies its grandiloquent name by actually being a fairly dingy little alley connecting Wardour Street to Dean Street. Here you will pass some anonymous glass business façade that once held a place that – to me – was an Aladdin’s cave of geekdom…

Dark They Were And Golden Eyed was a delightfully shambolic two-level science-fiction and horror bookshop that resided in that spot from 1970 until its decline in 1980, and whose polysyllabic name derived from a short story by Ray Bradbury. Myself, I visited the shop only a couple of times, with my sword-and-sorcery obsessed father. Since our interests diverged, I would end up perusing its vast shelves by myself and pouring pretty much any pocket-money I had into the old tills at the end of the ramshackle queues of geeks.

Back then, you were aware that science-fiction was counter-culture, despite the popularity of Star Wars; at DTWAGE the space-operas nestled in crudely-opened cardboard boxes sat cheek to cheek with the cross-hatching of Robert Crumb, punk and new wave fanzines, as well as surprisingly glossy magazines devoted to (strictly theoretical) instructions on illegal horticulture of all kinds. Put simply, the market for sci-fi was a very retrospective one, and no shop of that size was able to carry on regular trading solely off the back of geek wares.

It was here that I found the Alien movie novel for a fiver, which was sort of an extended ‘Bunty’ photo-strip, but with a bit more blood and death, featuring over 1000 full colour photos. On my second trip I followed up this purchase with the excellent Alien: The Illustrated Story, a graphic novel of the movie apparently based on an earlier version of the O’Bannon/Shusett script, as it featured the ‘Lambert-slap’ which was not to be seen in the original until the special edition DVDs twenty years later.

And I wonder if I will ever be made as happy as that again for a fiver. Even accounting for inflation.

DTWAGE was finally bought by its suppliers and morphed into Forbidden Planet, who by the early eighties had split its trade between the flagship ‘purist’ sci-fi shop near Charing Cross road and the more movie-oriented Forbidden Planet 2 in Tin Pan Alley.

Then, as now, I found FP’s endless acres of sci-fi novels so overwhelming that I frequently left with nothing. I don’t know if it was chronic indecision, information overload or just the fact that the industrial numbers of available books at Forbidden Planet seemed to diminish the value of all of them, and in truth I usually only exited the shop with a novel that I had expressly gone in to buy. As Douglas Addams said, the universe is too large a place, and most people move somewhere smaller.


Laura Perry: Minoan Tradition

If you want to know about and work with the Minoan tradition go here. Laura Perry knows her stuff and also knows how to help you grasp it too. Laura’s been immersed in these old ways for a long time, they’re in her bones, she lives them and so is well able to transmit them to those who want to know.

I fell in love with Crete, bull-dancing and the snake-goddess when I was about eleven years old through reading Mary Renault’s “The King Must Die”, and I still re-read that book every couple of years now. For a long time (and maybe still) Oxford University used to recomened beginning Greats students to read her before they came up for their first term, she’s that good historically as well as being a wonderful storyteller. So that’s where “Greece” began for me, but Laura helps me take it further.

If you like Tarot, her Minoan tarot is a very good one to work with. The images jump off the cards to greet you, i find it very easy to engage with them and hear what they have to tell me. Her online classes are an excellent way to begin your journey into the old Minoan ways, especially if you get her books Ariadne’s Thread and Labrys & Horns to go with it. And, actually, I find using the Minoan Colouring Book is a great way to go daydreaming (a European form of journeying) to discover how that thread of Ariadne’s works inside yourself.

So … for another of our old European shamanic ways have a look at Laura’s site … it might just be for you 🙂

Being Human – Human Being

A lovely breath of fresh air … Celtic Earth Spirit talking about Human Seekings, Human Doings, Human Beings they really have got the handle on this – read more here

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘Pagan’ as being “A person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions, especially nature worship” – no sharp pointy or bright sparkly things (in the past the term was used in a derogatory sense to denote anyone who wasn’t a Christian), it also traces the word back to its origins in ‘Late Middle English’ from the Latin word ‘Paganus’ – a villager or rustic, and the word ‘Pagus’ – a country district. This takes us back to the Old Ways of our ancestors who were country dwellers living in close relationship to and harmony with the land and nature; this relationship and the knowledge of ‘how everything worked’ (both in this world and the Other-world, both mundane and magical) infiltrated every aspect of life and has been passed down to us (especially in rural areas) by both word of mouth and by being hidden in plain sight in such things as our customs, folk-lore and practices.
“A person holding religious beliefs other than those of the main world religions, especially nature worship” –
no sharp pointy or bright sparkly things (in the past the term was used in a derogatory sense to denote anyone who wasn’t a Christian), it also traces the word back to its origins in ‘Late Middle English’ from the Latin word ‘Paganus’ – a villager or rustic, and the word ‘Pagus’ – a country district. This takes us back to the Old Ways of our ancestors who were country dwellers living in close relationship to and harmony with the land and nature; this relationship and the knowledge of ‘how everything worked’ (both in this world and the Other-world, both mundane and magical) infiltrated every aspect of life and has been passed down to us (especially in rural areas) by both word of mouth and by being hidden in plain sight in such things as our customs, folk-lore and practices.

Bean-Sidhe Drumcraft 3

With Fiona Dove

And again, things have moved forward since I last wrote and I’m now back home in Hereford. Reminder … Fiona is in process of getting 3-day workshop together for this autumn, the dates are the evening of Fri 20th October to the morning of Tue 24th. She’ll have the details up on the Bean-Sidhe website soon, I’ll give the details here and Facebook/Twitter, but if you’d like to come on it contact Fiona now as there are only 4 places and I think one of them is gone already ????. Contact Fiona at at


So now, back to what happened up in Scotland, I’d just finished about us working with earth and fire …

Fiona began lacing the drum. She was using an inner ring to lace to rather than cross-lacing, the drum-spirit had asked for that. We both like it too, it seems to form a more stable anchor and handle for the drum. We’d considered and spoken with the drum-spirit about using, making, a wooden inner ring out of twisted birch or willow but this drum didn’t want that, it asked for metal so that was what we gave.

Lacing, again, isn’t rocket science but it does require focus and concentration, it would be too easy to suddenly find yourself going the wrong way about. Whether or not to twist the lacing was another consideration, some drums like it and others don’t so we’d talked about it the night before. Both of us are also spinners and weavers so the concept of “twist” has more meaning for us and we got into a “how many twists” thing as you do when spinning … LOL. This drum wasn’t really into twists but it’s something Fiona intends to talk about on the workshop as some will be.

Lacing the drum is such a sound thing … air thing. It’s all about tension, and the sound. As you start the process you feel you’re working with something like a hundred miles of lacing as you pull the whole jolly boiling through each hole. About two thirds of the way round your feelings go 180 degrees and you begin to panic that you may run out and not make it all the way around! It’s somehow weird, you begin thinking you have far too much and then you worry you don’t have enough – where has it all gone? Then you realise you need to be centring that ring, and adding some tension as you go to hold the ring in position … and, in doing so, you give yourself more lacing. For me, it’s rather like a breathing process, in and too full, out and too little, but like breathing you begin to get a rhythm to the whole thing. And, in Fiona’s case, a little humming song. You sing to the drum as you bring it into a state where it can sing back to you.

There was a quiet “phew!” as she got all the way round with the lacing for the first time. Then she picked up the drum and tapped the hide. “thwuck” it said, flatly, no singing voice there yet, so round she went for the second time, tensioning each thread … and acquiring yet more lacing back as she did. Hide stretches, skin stretches, especially well when it’s wet, that’s what enables you to put the tension in. at the end of the second round she tapped the hide again – this time the “thwuck” was a little brighter, his voice was coming but it wasn’t with us yet. Third time around, more lacing and … this time … it was a “thwunk”, there was tone in there, a sound more than like the slap of a wet fish.

Now’s the dangerous and difficult time, the time when you could easily over-tension and ruin the drum! Fiona sat with the drum and asked, “Are you ready?”. It asked for the tiniest, teeniest bit more tension, a very delicate job that requires you to keep tapping and listening as you go, and not always in a simple circle round, it may also need more tension in different places. And then … “THWUNK” said the drum, ringing softly. He was done.

We put him in a cool dim room to begin his long drying process, then took him back to Fiona’s home at the end of the week to another cool, dim room.

He sings now, a lovely deep and ringing voice ….


Next job is to begin to make his beater and we’ll be writing about that sooooon  …

 © Elen Sentier & Fiona Dove 2017. All rights reserved.

Being Pagan …

Love this! And so true. We really do need more of this clarity, conformism and conforming are just not what pagans are or do; yelling insults is about being so scared and insecure you have to “kill” anyone who doesn’t think like you. Does this remind you of regimes all around the world, past and present, of course it does! Being pagan is not about “joining”, as Tan rightly says it’s about “being” – and herding kittens rightly describes the unity-in-diversity which this is.

Earth Blog – Tan Harvey


Following a ‘discussion’ on social media which turned into a one-sided tirade of abuse against me for expressing an opinion, I made a mental note to observe the frequency of this type of happen-stance.

What crime had I committed to attract such a tirade? I had expressed an opinion that we should recognise that we all have emotions such as anger and aggressiveness (females as well as males) and that they were not as had been expressed ‘negative’ emotions. My point was that it is not the existence of the emotion that is negative or positive; it is how we react to said emotion that is the negative or positive action.

So what has this to do with Pagan and what happen-stance did I intend to observe the frequency of? read more here

Bean-Sidhe Drumcraft: episode 2

Bean-Sidhe Drumcraft: with Fiona Dove

Things have moved forward a bit over the past couple of days – Fiona is in process of getting a 3-day workshop together for this autumn, the dates are the evening of Fri 20th October to the morning of Tue 24th. She’ll have the details up on the Bean-Sidhe website soon, I’ll give the details here and Facebook/Twitter, but if you’d like to come on it contact Fiona now as there are only 4 places and I think one of them is gone already ????. Contact Fiona at at


So now, back to what happened last week, I’d just finished us working with water …

As I said, we got up the next morning to shouts from the hide requiring us to take it out of the bath and get on with the making. We let the water drain while we sanded the hoop smooth. Then Fiona did some pyrography on the inside of the hoop and painted the relevant runes in ochre on the outside of the hoop. Hoop also wished to be painted with mead on the inside – wow! That brought up the beautiful grain of the ash wood very well, and enhanced the lovely golden colour. 

Fiona did some pyrography on the inner face of the hoop: the Helm of Awe from the Norse tradition and her maker’s mark. Her maker’s mark is made up of Uruz, Isa, Naudhiz and Ansus, and in the middle Othala – again all runes from the Norse tradition.

Fiona’s maker’s mark

Helm of Awe

This work includes the elements of both fire (pyrography) and earth through the ochre, and again fire in the mead. You probably know mead is made from honey so it involves the bees and the sun, and bees are sun-beings too. Lots of work for us to ponder and daydream on there, but we didn’t do it so much as we worked but saved it for later.

Now, we’d worked with water, fire and earth. Tomorrow, we’d be doing more earth-work as we cut the hide to size, and cut the lacing and then, as we laced the drum and brought him into tune we’d be working with air. But before anything else, after all the fire work, we needed a cup of tea and a piece of lemon drizzle cake :-).

After our snack we went out into the woods, walking the paths and animal tracks amongst the springing vegetation, budding leaves, new-laid frogspawn in the forest pools, courting blackbirds singing their hearts out, and the amazing drumming of woodpeckers. And, over and under all the other sounds was always the river and the sound of the beautiful waterfall. We were immersed in the four elements. Spring-scented soil under our feet, water all around us, the new-fire of the spring sunshine and its golden light shimmering on the damp birch and pine trunks, and the air. The air all around was soft, yet it had that new-sharp tang that comes around the spring equinox time so you know that spring has indeed sprung.

We sat by a chuckling stream in the sun, and followed it down to where it tumbled over a secret waterfall. The birds called to us and badger prints marked our path. And … and … we turned a corner round a tree and there it was!

We’d both been wondering what the drum would like as a beater, and been thinking about rib-bones as the Sami often use those. We’d actually been considering deer rib-bones, or possibly sheep, but we’d completely forgotten about the idea as we delighted in our walk and the gorgeous waterfall. Otherworld obviously hadn’t!

We rounded a tree and there, on the ground in front of us, were the bones of a dead cow … a very big cow, about the size of a Charolais! He or she had probably died at the beginning of winter, maybe six months ago, the bones were all picked clean as a whistle, white and gleaming in the afternoon sun. And there were ribs! Some of them were more than an arm-length long and we couldn’t get our hands round their wide end. To actually use them as a beater would have meant me holding the drum while Fiona beat it LOL, but we weren’t complaining. I mean, you just don’t complain when otherworld gives you a gift. We collected up several ribs and took a couple of enormous vertebrae, beautiful things that look as if they should really fly. This was complicated by the dogs, Fiona’s whippet girls, who were utterly convinced we’d discovered dog-toys, however, we had a day-sack we could put them in which kept them out of the way of delighted noses and teeth, and made it easier to carry them.

Apart from being a gift from otherworld, what was this about? Cattle, to both of us, are deeply connected to the earth through their intimate working with biodynamics. They’re also Bridey’s tylwyth (our Brythonic word for totem), and they’ve been a stalwart part of Celtic culture since the aurochs. Earth and ancestors, the bones whispered to us. OK, so we needed to daydream and sit-with the concepts of ancestors, and the Earth herself as our all-mother, the most ancient ancestor we could have.

We sat beside the waterfall again, on ancient boulders, our feet on ancient soil, surrounded by birch trees who are one of the primal trees who begin colonising earth once it grows itself out of being rock. And we were each holding the bones of a great cow. Images came, dreams and scenes and visions, different for each of us but each one pertinent to our own lives, where we were each at at that moment and where our next steps on our paths should be. Be sure we thanked the cow-bones, the waterfall and the beautiful forest for all they gave us.

We came home tired from our walk, but that exhilarating form of tiredness when your bone and your body know they’ve been used, and used well, and when your mind is also content with the use you’ve given it, the piecing together of connections you’d not fully realised before. We had supper and went to bed.

The hide was singing to us, along with the hoop, well ready for the making we be doing tomorrow …


Next instalment to follow shortly …


© Elen Sentier & Fiona Dove 2017. All rights reserved.

Bean-Sidhe Drumcraft – episode 1

Bean-Sidhe Drumcraft: with Fiona Dove

Fiona will be doing this workshop later in the year, somewhere out in the wilds but not yet certain where. If you’d like to go on it please contact her for more details at

Well, I’ve just had a magical week discovering a new – or is it really very, very old? – way of birthing drums. In some ways, it isn’t that dissimilar to what you might well know – you get the hide nice and wet, smooth the hoop, paint and gift it as as it asks you to, cut out the circle and the lacing, lace it up, tune it and leave it in a cool place to dry for as long as possible.

But that’s by no means all, not at all.

For a start, the whole process takes three days – if you want some other extras Fiona offers it could take a whole week, we’ll go into that later. Yes, I know, most drum birthers ask you to take a whole day doing it and I completely agree that’s an absolute minimum, but the Bean-Sidhe 3+ day process involves you in a far, far deeper relationship with your drum.

I’ll bet, on most drum-birthings, you didn’t see your hide dry, before it went into the bath to soak; you didn’t see its colours, smell its scent, feel its texture. Doing that, seeing the straight-cured rawhide before anything else is done to it, is quite a revelation. With this drum which Fiona made, the hide was very dark, chocolatey-brown, and the markings on it were amazing, rather like tortoiseshell. ‘That’s because the deer was shedding (like moulting for birds only what animals do). It’s the shedding process that makes those marks happen in the hide.’ Wow! I never knew that! And that was only the first of many wisdom-pearls Fiona was able to drop in throughout the 3-day process. Knowing that, learning that, really increased my awareness of the deer, and her or his hide that s/he’d given for making the drum. I felt I knew that deer a little better. Shedding for animals happens twice a year, spring and autumn, so this deer gave her skin around either the spring or autumn equinox. The times of the two balance points of the year. Hmmm! That also took my awareness to another level.

The hide was stiff, rolled, folded, when we first handled it, tough and again rather like tortoiseshell. We took it up to put it in the bath – nice cold water and nothing but water. It floated at first. We resisted all temptation to tinker with it but went off to do other things.

Alt na Bodachan – the Stream of the Old Man

The first of these other things was to explore water, the whole concept of water, what it is, how it works in the natural world, what it feels like, tastes like, sounds like, smells like. That’s what the hide was experiencing right now, so what could we learn by experiencing water? We learnt a lot, a lot, a whole lot.

Let me say right now the whole experience took place at a lovely hideaway in the woods, on the edge of the mountains in the Scottish Highlands. The valley the hideaway was in was called Coille an Tuathanaich which means “Wood of the People” and the wood is right next door to the Sidhean Mor & Sidhean Beag, meaning the big and little fairy mounds. Woof! Gosh! Well we really were in a magical place. And what a place to birth a drum.

We went out … experienced water in nature,listening, looking, using all our senses and just sitting beside and with the water in several different places. And we made a brew out using the local river water – called Alt na Bodachan, meaning the stream of the Old Man. some of the best tea I’ve tasted in a long time, you see immediately why they use the ocal waters – all the different streams – to make single malt whiskey.

Plodda Falls viewed from Allt na Bodachan, Highlands, Scotland.

This stream, the Old Man, comes down over an amazing 150ft high waterfall. Of course, the fall and the water talk to you, if you have ears to listen and most of us do if we get our everyday habits out of the way. Water sings. Every stream and river has its own song. To borrow a phrase from the Australian native peoples, every stream is a song-line. My own experience, from childhood back in the 1950s, is of being taught to listen to streams, and to sing with them. We did that while we were out, at each place we stopped. And each place was a sacred place, every inch and millimetre of the water is sacred, and its banks and surrounds too.

We also spent time sitting quiet and daydreaming in several places along the banks of the Stream of the Old Man. And every time, the Old Man spoke with us, played with us, showed us things. They weren’t the same things for each of us either so, later, at home by the woodfire, we enjoyed sharing what happened for each of us.

When we got home we visited the hide in the bath again, watched it unfurl in the water. I said when we first saw the hide it was dark and chocolatey-coloured but now, some hours later, it was much lighter. There were still marks and lines and patterns on it but they were much lighter now in tone. The hide was changing, shifting, as it absorbed the water. And then it was time for bed … more dreams. We each went to bed asking to know more about water, and about skin, and how they work together.

When we got up the first thing we went to see how the hide was doing. Loud shouts in our heads of, ‘I’m done! Get me outa here!’ So we did.

Next instalment to follow shortly …


© Elen Sentier & Fiona Dove 2017. All rights reserved.


A taster from the novel I’m currently writing …


The thirteen golden moons shone out in her memory. Where were they, what had her mad red-haired brother done with them? She lay back in the bed trying to remember. No, it wasn’t him, it was the three Jotun women, they had taken it back, taken it away. He’d brought everyone gifts, lovely dwarf-made jewels that glittered and sparkled with their own light but, as ever, he’d forgotten her. Who needed a brother like that? Well, she would teach him, show him, she would have something even more lovely than anything he had brought the others, she would have the thirteen golden moons. Each of the moons was a different shade of gold, red, orange yellow, even a greenish gold, and the patterns that ran through the gold suggested each moon, wolf moon, snow moon, hunter’s moon, and all. Yes, she would find it and bring it and wear it. She would show them all.

The cats drew her chariot out from the stronghold in the pre-dawn glow. Huge they were, striped black on the long red-brown fur, their fangs gleaming, satisfied growls told they were pleased to be out. They raced across the land.

She went everywhere, all across the nine lands but no-one knew anything, no-one would help her, none had seen the Jotun women in an age. Until, one day, she came across a boy herding his goats on the hillside. He was brave although so small, he stood with his big wolf-friend between her cats and the frightened goats. ‘No!’ he shouted, before the chariot had hardly stopped. ‘No! You shall not have them. My goats are not for you.’

She climbed down from the chariot, laughing at his pugnacity. ‘We do not want your goats,’ she told him. ‘They’re weak and stringy, no food for warriors there. But …’ and now she came up close to him, ‘maybe you have seen, maybe you know.’ She bent towards him so he could smell the lovely perfume of her skin. ‘Have you seen the Jotun women? Do you know where they went?’

The boy shivered slightly and his wolf-friend gave a low growl in the back of his throat. ‘I … I …. m-maybe the dwarves will know,’ he managed at last.

‘What dwarves,’ she snapped, taking hold of his chin and forcing him to look up into her eyes. ‘Tell me of these dwarves.’ And she thrust the boy backward so he sat down abruptly. The wolf growled again. It was odd, she thought, but somehow the wolf reminded her of her brother, perhaps it was the red fur.

The boy got his breath back and struggled to his feet. He didn’t like this woman, she was cruel. ‘The dwarves the other side of the mountain, yonder.’ He pointed away across the valley to a huge peak that stood up like a wolf’s tooth.

Now, suddenly, she was satisfied, she knew in her bones that was the place. One long finger stroked the boy’s cheek softly then she reached into her pouch and drew forth a gold coin, tossed it to him.

She leapt into the chariot and immediately the cats set off, flying across the valley, galloping along a stretch of gossamer cloud that made a road through the sky. The boy stood watching. Neither he nor the wold would touch the gold.

The other side of the mountain was very different. No longer softly green with deep oak forests cladding its side, now it was harsh, stark, bare rocks, empty streambeds long dried up, and a great, dark hole in its flank that seemed to suck up all the light. She left the cats to guard the chariot and went warily into the cave-mouth on foot.

Just as it seemed she would no longer be able to see the light from the cave mouth she heard the footsteps coming. A soft plap-plap-plap, like leather slapping on stone, not like men’s feet at all. Light flickered around a corner ahead of her, reddish with the black tinge of smoke, and she could smell it. She mustered her courage and stood up straight and still. The plapping sound grew louder, it sounded as if there were many and a many of them, and then there they were in front of her. Dwarves indeed, but not like the red-skinned dwarves of home nor their black-haired cousins, these were white, pallid, flabby with huge bulging pale eyes that reminded her of dead fish.

‘What is it, lady? What is it you want?’ The first of them stopped in front of her, too close for comfort but well close enough for her to smell him, and he was very obviously male. The end of his organ began to twitch, to stand up to look at her from its single eye. A glance showed her it was the same with all of them. She pressed the image of a steel rod down her back bone and stood straighter still. ‘I’m told that you know the whereabouts of the three Jotun women,’ she said imperiously.

A chuckle began in the leader’s throat, spread amongst his comrades. ‘The Jotun women, is it? And what would the likes of you be wanting with them?’ he replied.

‘Do not argue with me, wretched earthlings,’ she said loudly. ‘Tell me where they are.’ But her voice cracked slightly, giving the lie to her authority.

The chuckle ran through the dwarves again, deeper this time. A hungry interest gleamed in their pale eyes which looked her up and down, undressing her. ‘Why yes, lady. We know the Jotun women. They are friends of ours.’ He paused, glanced at his companions. ‘But if you would like to find them then it will cost you. We always give information, or anything else, but always for fair trade.’

‘What …?’ she managed.

‘Why that you will come with us, spend seven nights with us, that you will give us the joy of your company.’

She was not fooled. She knew what they wanted, but the thirteen moons shone bright in her mind’s eye. She wanted them. ‘I will come,’ she said.

For seven nights she pleasured them, doing whatever they asked. All the time, she held the vision of the thirteen moons fixed inside her head so she hardly noticed what she was doing. On the seventh night, the leader told her where she could find the Jotun women. He led her back to the cave-mouth, holding her soft white hand all the way and, as they first began to see the gleam of light from the outside world he demanded one final kiss. She gave it, trying not think about the way his long, tube-like tongue searched her mouth.

The cats purred and licked her as if she was their kitten. She allowed them to wash the stink of the dwarves from her skin, then she climbed back into the chariot and pointed the way. They flew again, the cats galloping on shreds of cloud-road high in the sky until they came to the mountain. Strange it was, as she looked at it with her sith-sight she could see that it was upside-down, as if it had been tumbled over when the jostling land-plates knocked against each other back in the mists of pre-time. And then she saw them. So huge they were that it seemed the rocks that made the top of the mountain moved, but they were not rocks, they were the Jotun women. One after the other they stood up, watched the chariot fly towards them. There was a flat space where the cats landed the chariot and she stepped down.

With the dwarves, she had towered over them, now the Jotuns towered over her. They were like part of the mountain themselves. ‘I want the necklace,’ she shouted up to them before her courage melted away. ‘I want the thirteen moons.’

‘No, you don’t,’ the smallest of the three told her. It was like being spoken to by thunder.

‘But I do!’ she shouted back, amazed that they would deny her.

‘No, you don’t’ repeated the second one.

She stamped her foot, too angry now to be frightened of their hugeness. ‘I do,’ she cried, ‘I do! I do!’

‘No,’ said the largest and eldest of the women. ‘You don’t. Wait,’ she held up her hand, ‘and listen. The thirteen moons are not for such as you. They must hang in the sky, giving time and seasons for all life. They are not a bauble for you to wear.’

‘But I want them,’ she cried, tears of frustration falling down her cheeks. ‘And you are wearing them, so they don’t have to hang in the sky. That’s a lie!’

‘I wear them now, because you have come. This is a turning point, a threshold. If you succeed in your demand then the power of the moons will be changed. And you do not know them, if you did you would not want them, not any more than I do. You would leave them be. To take them from their purpose brings only sorrow and despair.’

For just a moment, that stopped her. But only a moment. ‘You can give them to me, can’t you?’ She began to sense a cunning in them, they were trying to trap her but she would not be stopped in her purpose. ‘You can. I know it. So give them to me. Now!’

The youngest and smallest tried one last time. ‘If you take them now then the thirteen will give you all the power you want but the price you pay will be despair,’ she said as softly as a gale blowing through pine trees. ‘Go hme now, we beg you. Take on your falcon form and fly home. The cats will follow you but you must fly away now. Go, child, go.’

‘No, I will not. Not without the thirteen moons. Give them to me. Now!’

At that, the golden necklace fell from the eldest giantess’ neck and into her hands. It lay there, tingling, sending fire through her skin, a feeling of aliveness such as she’d never known ran through her. She put it on and leapt back into the chariot.

They flew over mountains and lakes. At every pool, she topped to admire her reflection in the water. She even stopped at little duck-ponds so enamoured of herself was she. But every time, after a few moments of looking at her lovely self in the still water there would come a change. A wave would rise, steep and huge, flowing across the lake, threatening to engulph her, she would leap back into the chariot and back into the sky to escape.

Finally she arrived home. There she found all her family weeping and mourning. She had been gone a hundred years and they had all thought she was dead. Her husband was gone, gone searching for her not long after she had run away. Her daughter stood, grown up now and a woman herself, staring at her mother, staring at the thirteen moons around her neck. Then the girl turned away, went indoors, her weeping ceased and her face hard and ugly with disgust. For a moment she almost tried to follow her daughter but her feet would not move.

Then she leapt back into the chariot and headed for the upside-down mountain. ‘Take it back,’ she pleaded with the Jotun women. ‘Take it back. I don’t want it. The price is too high.’

‘We told you so,’ the youngest said, her voice now like a spring breeze through the oak buds. ‘We did,’ the second joined her. ‘We did, indeed,’ the eldest affirmed. ‘We cannot take it back,’ she went on. ‘You chose your way. You chose for all your kind. Now you must bear it. There is nothing we can do.’

Wearily, she got back into the chariot, headed for home again, not stopping anywhere this time.

The oldest one, the seer of the family, still stood in the courtyard. He watched her land. She went to him. ‘How can I get them back?’ she asked him. ‘How can I undo what I have done? How can I find my husband and my daughter again?’

‘You cannot,’ he told her. ‘From your actions, your husband is now everywhere. Everywhere in all the worlds. He is everywhere you, and we, have not looked, in every place we have left. He is gone from the world of our knowing. Those who seek him shall never find him.”

A single tear tracked down his cheek and flowed onto the necklace. It lodged there, like a diamond.






Interview: Elen Sentier by Mabh Savage

Interview with Elen Sentier: British Shaman    March 1st, 2017

Elen Sentier: British Shaman

Elen Sentier walks in the Deer Trods of Elen of the Ways, and has written about this and many other magical topics. She is awenydd, spirit keeper, and keeps old British ways alive, passing them on for future generations. Elen spoke to Mabh here at Pagan Pages about her books, her magical life and more.

Mabh Savage: Your most recent release is Merlin: Once and Future Wizard. What inspired you to write this volume?

Elen Sentier: Well, actually, my publisher had the idea and commissioned it. It was great fun, and it seemed that he was thinking about Merlin at the same time as I was, and more than that, he didn’t want yet another academic-style treatise but something more personal. Our conversation ended with me saying, “Well, I’ve known him [Merlin] all my life.” To which Trevor replied, “Well, you’d better write him then.” Trevor also dreamed up the title – Merlin: Once & Future Wizard. He must have read the English author TH (Tim) White’s lovely sequence of hurian novels, The Once and Future King. It certainly fits Merlin as I’ve always known him.

read more …

Lady & Lord in Herefordshire

In what’s now called the Golden Valley are two little churches, either side of the Dwr river , Turnastone and Vowchurch. When the Normans arrived here sometime after 1066 they misinterpreted this Welsh word dŵr, which means water, for the French d’or meaning golden, and so misnamed our valley. In Vowchurch church, on the north side of the Dwr, are two amazing figures of the Lady and the Lord.

They’re very special; she is a Sheela-na-gig and he is a phallic man but, at some time in the past the bottom parts of these figures were removed presumably due to misinterpretation and prudery.

Their local story is interesting and amusing …

Like most married couples, they didn’t always get on and to make the partnership easier they each lived on their own side of the river. The story also says they were giants (there were giants in this world, as is told all through our legends) so, rather than throwing crockery at each other when they had a row, they threw great rocks.

Now, on the north side of the river is the remains of an ancient standing stone. It’s an upright which seems to grow out of a huge disc-like stone. If you stand on the disk and sense down into the earth you awaken a spiral energy which courses up through you and wakens a sky-spiral with which it mates. The two energies then course through you, like a double helix. This stone is one of Watkins’ originals, from his first studies of ley lines, and he, too, noticed the spiralling. Legend has it that the big disk is a stone the lord threw across the stream at his lady, when he’d got one on. She decided to deal with him, and it, in a very firm manner so she pinned his rock to the ground with her own spear-like one.

To many this may seem sort of backwards. We associate the feminine with the disc and the cup, the womb symbol, and the masculine with the spear, the penis symbol, but think about it. Everything contains both feminine and masculine so it’s really a rather wonderful image that he throws the womb to her then she stabs, and maybe also impregnates, it with the spear.

Sheela-na-gig at Kilpeck

When christianity came to these borderlands where I live I can well believe my ancestors agreeing with their mouths to follow the new religion while, in their hearts, they still held to the old ways. Indeed, my own family followed the old ways, very quietly, for many generations and I know the same happened for many of my friends. So, the old ones built the chrisitian church, and they carved the figures of the lady and the lord but likely then, as now, the chrisitans called them Adam and Eve.

But there they are, in the church, and you can still see (partly from their rather smug expressions) just what they’re about even though the bottom halves of them have been cut off. And the most famous Sheela-na-gig over at Kilpeck is only about twelve miles away.

And then there’s the old story. The god lived on the Turnastone side of the river, said to be so called because he turned the stone; Vowchurch is where the goddess lived and so called because, after christianity, they said she vowed to build a church where the god’s stone fell. It’ll do, it’s good enough for those who don’t wish to recall the old ways. But go and stand on that stone, see what you feel …

#FolkloreThursday #MondayBlogs @ElenSentier

Merlin & the Am Bodach

Who is Merlin? Hmmm … difficult question; he’s been hauled over the coals, translated, written about, told stories of, made pictures of, and is the root of so many legends and myths that they fill up ancient library shelves by the score. I’ve read quite a few of them.

But none of this really helps, or at least it’s never helped me. I grew up with him. Dad was first telling me stories of Merlin from as early as I can remember, and certainly long before I could walk or read for myself, so he’s been a part of my life for all that long. He’s never seemed to me at all like the characters that appear in the stories by famous people like Tennyson, Geoffrey of Monmouth and Robert de Boron. In fact the nearest anyone ever got to the Merlin I know is Nicol Williamson’s version in the old film Excalibur, and that’s by no means close to the person I know.

Yes … know. His spirit is out there, out in the woods, sat on river banks (even doing a bit of fishing!), on tors on Dartmoor, in the wilds of Exmoor, on mountains I’ve climbed in Sutherland in the Highlands of Scotland. He once scared the living daylights out of me, sneaking up to my tent when I camped alone by Loch Achtriochtan in Glencoe. I really did think he was the Grey Man come down from the Am Bodach! But then he began to sing on the wind so I wondered if he was Ossian come down from his cave under Aonach Dubh, the first of the Three Sisters. Ye gods! That was a night, indeed. First there was the little rustling wind, not a lot, just a little, a wee rustle catching the sides of the tent and sounding them like tiny sails. I looked up and there was the cloud formation, the Grey Man walking the sky.

A bodach, in Scottish Gaelic, is an old man, a rustic and a trickster or bogeyman in Gaelic folklore and mythology. The bodach is paired with the cailleach, the hag or old woman who, for me, has always been Ceridwen because I was brought up in that tradition. They’re the Lord and Lady in another form. To be visited by the Trickster when you’re all alone in that wild place is scary. It’s a place where the veils between the worlds are very thin and as the dusk, the gloaming, comes down you absolutely know-in-your-bones that he’s there.

I ate my stew, and took a couple of wee drams for Dutch courage, and popped another into the stew – after all, three’s a lucky number, it couldn’t do any harm! Then I banked up the fire and crawled into my bivy bag inside the tent, with my nine-hour candle going, and soon dozed off as I’d been walking the last bit off Rannock Moor that day. Next thing, I’m wide awake and sat up. Stones, little ones by the sound of it, were rolling down and building up around my tent. Now, there’s an old story of climbers who’ve had just this experience so … and to add to the unnerving-ness my candle had somehow gone out! I peered out of the tent. The fire was still going, I reached out and stirred the embers, put on a bit of birch and got some flames going and, of course, I reached for the whiskey.

‘You don’t need that,’ said the voice. Fortunately, I’d not yet got the lid off so none of the magic liquid was spilled as I dropped the flask. A dark, shadowy figure was sat the other side of the fire and, somehow, I knew that scent. It was him. I swore! And I got the lid off the flask and had a sip. ‘What the hell …?’ I began. ‘Just thought I’d pop by and see how you’re doing,’ he replied. ‘You might have a wee bit of trouble packing up your tent in the morning, there seem to be a good few kilos of stones all round the edges.’

I peered out further. He was right. There was. ‘Bugger!’ I muttered. There was a chuckle from the other side of the fire. Obviously, there wasn’t going to be any more sleep for a while so I hauled myself around (still warm and snug in the bivy) to sit in the tent entrance and chat, since that’s what my visitor seemed to want. I did consider offering the flask but felt I needed it a lot more than he did.
He shifted a bit to one side so, now, I could see up the loch to Am Bodach. There was a soft butter-gold glow haloing the top of the mountain, the moon was rising. We watched as the full moon rose over the Grey Man’s shoulder.

And then the sound began, a purring noise and quite loud. All the hairs on the back of my neck stood up – was it, could it be, a Scottish wildcat? We both sat still as death, waiting, hearing the sound coming closer, and then I saw her. Yes, it was. I’d never seen one in the wild before and, beside her, two little ones jumped and frolicked. I don’t think I breathed at all for the next year or so – at least that’s what it felt like. The wildcat stalked past us, about twenty meters off, and then began to trot. She gave a loud yowl, calling the kits to hurry, and they all ran off around the south side of the loch, under the sheer sides of the Three Sisters.

‘Like it?’ asked the shadow from the other side of the fire. ‘I certainly did!’ I replied. ‘Thank you.’ ‘Thought you might sleep through it so I came to wake you. The Grey Man said she’d be around tonight. He was trying to wake you himself but it seemed you were out for the count … hence the stones!’ I grunted, but I had to grin too. I reached out and touched the stones lying along the edge of the tent, they really were there. ‘Well, I’ll be off now,’ he said.

I slithered my way back into the tent, after banking up the fire again for the morning brew, and snuggled back down into the bivy. The moonlight shivered and shimmered on the tent walls, doing lovely patterns and watching them lured me back to sleep.

In the morning, stretching my legs and cradling my warm brew in gloved hands, I saw a footprint in the earth a way out from the tent … it was a cat print and there, to either side, were smaller ones from where the kits had been playing.

Yes, thank you Merlin. This is the Merlin I know so well. He turns up at unexpected moments, and in the damnedest of places sometimes, and often comes just to make sure I see something incredible that I might otherwise have missed. Sometimes it’s as small as a flower, or a fly agaric mushroom, or a dipper diving into the river; others, it’s a big thing, like this.

He’s done it all my life. It’s hard to say if the happenings happen in this world or in otherworld and, usually, I don’t even bother about it. I mean, what’s the point? The point, surely, is that I have an experience, worrying about where it happened is really head-case stuff that actually takes away from the experience itself.

In my book, I write about some of the Merlin-experiences I’ve had throughout my life, including how he got me to live where I do. He’s incredible, powerful, a wizard … wyzeard … wise one, and he’s a trickster too, but all the best teachers are. He’s also a wonderful friend, and not just my friend, he wants to be friends with as many people as will have him. I talk about this in the book too and I hope others will feel like making contact with him. It’s not hard to do, all you need to do is ask but sometimes, to ask otherworld to come to you is the hardest thing imaginable. It means you have to climb out of your box. But do give it a go, ask him, make friends … it’s so very worthwhile.

PS – it took a good hour to get all the stones off the tent!


Merlin: Once and Future Wizard

This is very personal book on Merlin, about my own experiences with him throughout my life. There are journeys, adventures, how he’s got me to live in the special place I now do, and that it’s one of his places, which I didn’t know before I came here. I wrote the book in the hope to expand people’s vision of Merlin. He’s one of the most famous and charismatic figures in the British mythos and turns up all over the place, as well as the famous Arthurian connection. But he’s not just a figure from history, nor a wild myth, he’s real and always has been, and this is what I want folk to know. And anyone, everyone, can meet and become friends with him, all you have to do is ask him. Do have a read and give it a go for yourself.

#MondayBlogs #Merlin #Scotland