Brexit – my biggest fears

JET – Joint European Torus

The future of this amazing project is my biggest fear with Brexit, along with what will happen for wildlife and rewilding. Why, I hear from some quarters, why doesn’t she care about people and ordinary things and the economy, and all that?

Because this, JET, is so utterly vital for all humanity but so very, very few understand it! This is how to make masses of sustainable energy for everyone … out of sea water! and it works, now, and will work even better and be producing electricity from good clean pwoer stations all over the world provided we don’t allow it to die from stupidity now. It knocks ideas like windfarms and even solar farms into a cocked hat! And how many of you knew that? How many of you have even heard of JET?

it should be being splashed all over the news but the news-people haven’t got a clue either, and their agendas are all on what will sell, what will make a profit for them, all about greed-for-me … Me! Me! Me!

I really want everyone – everyone in the whole world, not just Britain and Europe – to be fighting for this. We all need to get our heads out of the sand and understand things like this. Despite being up several orders of magnitude on Rocket Science, this really isn’t that hard to understand and the folks at #CulhamScienceCentre really can explain it in terms of “the cat sat on the mat”. Come on, people, let’s go for it, let’s learn about it, let’s understand it … and FIGHT tooth-n-nail for it. It really is the future …

Joint European TorusImage copyrightEUROFUSION CONSORTIUM

The Joint European Torus in Oxfordshire can lay convincing claim to be the greatest scientific experiment in the UK – and indeed in the world, and ever in human history! The long-term – and not so long-term now either – aim is to produce an unlimited supply of clean energy through nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion is how the Sun works, how we get ll the energy we have now, what enables us to live, and we can now do that here on Earth.

But Jet is run under the auspices of Euratom, the European Atomic Energy Community. And alongside the EU, we’re leaving Euratom too – which is utterly effing crazy!

The trouble is that funding for Jet runs out at the end of 2018. And until we know the future relationship between Euratom and the UK after Brexit, no one can say for certain that funding will be extended.

Surely, you cry, they won’t just pull the giant Torus plug?

“I work in fusion research so by definition I think I’m an optimist,” says Ian Chapman, the chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority.

“But everybody is anxious, and everybody wants a resolution to this as quickly as possible.”

So get with it, people, shout, a lot, and loudly, that this MUST continue if humanity is to have any future at all. Yes, it really is that big!

#energy #green #fusion @fusionenergy 

Froggy Goes a Courting

Origins of folksongs. Just listening to a BBC4 programme about Cecil B Sharpe and there was a lovely Appalachian rendition of Froggy Goes a Courting, they said it’s “just a children’s song” and also that it’s a nursery rhyme. Oh my no! Most nursery rhymes began life as political songs and Froggy’s yet another. It’s very old, read it’s history here …

According to Albert Jack in his book “Pop Goes the Weasel, The Secret Meanings of Nursery Rhymes” (pp. 33–37, copyright 2008), the earliest known version of the song was published in 1549 as “The Frog Came to the Myl Dur” in Robert Wedderburn’s “Complaynt of Scotland”. He states that in 1547 the Scottish Queen Consort, Mary of Guise, under attack from Henry VIII, sought to marry her daughter Princess Mary (later Mary Queen of Scots), “Mrs. Mouse” to the 3 year old French Prince Louis, the “frog”.

The song resurfaced a few years later, with changes, when another French (frog) wooing caused concern—that of the Duke of Anjou and Queen Elizabeth I in 1579. Elizabeth even nicknamed Anjou, her favourite suitor, “the frog”.

Images by unknown artist
Land Song Series © Elen Sentier 2017 all rights reserved
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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
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Bridey’s Flower: a blog for Imbolc

In my end is my beginning … Eliot again, now at Imbolc as at Samhain. And now again, the story ends and the story begins, turning and cycling round the seasons.

Hiding in the bushes beside the clearing where the well stands, I watched. Fingers blue with cold, teeth beginning to chatter, the snow cold and dank, sending its freezing tendrils up through my boots. But I wasn’t going anywhere, not yet. They would come, along with the dusk, and I was going to watch them.

The sun slid down the sky, sometimes hiding his face in the clouds. The cold became bitter then, even the robin’s song would stop for a moment at a time. The blackbirds would hush in the bushes, watching the dying of the light. It must be four o’clock, the dusk was beginning and the sun clipping the horizon, soon to go down into the womb of darkness. I shivered.

‘Have ‘y come to see the snake then, boy?’ The voice cackled, croaked like an old crow. Somehow, despite being near frozen to the spot with both cold and fear, I turned. Back she was, hooded and with beak of a nose on her very like to a crow. The dark cloak covered most all of her bar her face. She cackled again. I watched the black and yellow teeth behind the blue lips and gums. ‘Yere, then,’ and she put out her claws to catch my arm, pull me along with her into the glade.

There was nought I could do, old she might be but she was strong. And, anyway, it was where I wanted to go despite my entrails’ protests, they roiled in my gut like a seething whirlpool. ‘Come ‘y yere, boy. I needs the cup. Will’ee get un for me?’

She let go of me. I was free, I could run. Except I could not. I tried putting a foot away from the well but nothing happened, the foot wouldn’t move. I tried the other way and the foot would go, towards the well. Leaning over the rank, dank breath came up from the depths almost choking me with its bitterness and cold. The rope on the bucket was already skimmed with ice, and the iron handle of the winch burned as I gripped it but I hung on, began winding. The winch creaked and groaned like an old man, or a donkey, as I lowered the bucket down into the dark. On and on it went, the grating sounds of pain, and then there was the sudden splash, the bucket had arrived at the water.

‘Hold un still!’ the old crone said sharply. ‘Wait!’ I clutched the burning iron handle, pulling it to a halt, feeling my hands must be frozen into it, stuck to it, never to come off again. And then I heard it, a soft whooshing noise followed by a brief whinny. The kelpie had come, up out of the depths. Then there was a clunk as something metal was dropped into the bucket. ‘Now! Quick!’ she commanded, ‘afore he climbs aboard! Ye dinna want a see him, laddie, indeedy not!’

I wound the winch the other way, winding the rope back onto the winch. It was heavier work now, fighting gravity, but also it was more than the bucket that I was pulling up, it felt like much more, much more than just a cup.

He came with a roar and a growl, shifting all the while, one moment a pretty black pony, the next a huge writhing serpent breathing fire, and leapt from the bucket straight at me.

‘No!’ she said. Quiet almost but such power. The twisting black shape stopped, hung in the air between the well and me. Its eyes moved, red and with long lashes of black flame, looked at her. She moved past me, came close to it and began to stroke its ears and face. ‘He’s mine,’ she told it, ‘doing my work, fetching my cup. You leave him be.’ Slowly the kelpie transformed, becoming again the pretty black pony. Except his eyes were red. ‘Get my cup,’ she commanded me, and I could move again. Dipping my hand into the bucket, I touched the cold hard thing and drew it out. Dark, black silver so it seemed.

The daylight was all gone now, exchanged for the dimming light of the waning moon, risen high now over the treetops and shining down into the glade. How long had we been there? It seemed only a moment ago that it was dusk, before the old woman came, and now the moon was high and already setting her path down into the west. I shook my head, what did it matter? Time was, time is. I am where I am, and when. And I was holding the cup in my hands.

The moon was lighting a trackway through the trees on the other side of the well and, it seemed, there was flickering movement on the track. I peered at it, a soft chuckle sounded behind me. ‘y can see ‘er then? Can’ee boy?’ I could indeed.

As the old one behind me was dark like a crow so the one coming down the track was bright like a star. Despite she walked the moon-track it was like she made her own light. Somehow I was afeared, I crept backwards towards the well, still holding the cup.

‘Good even, sister’ said the bright one as she came out into the glade. ‘Good even, indeed,’ croaked the old one. They stood there, the dark one in the east, heading west; the bright one in the west and heading east. The kelpie slithered away from the crone and round the edge of the glade to stand opposite me so he now held the north. Step by careful step the two women came towards each other, both of them smiling. The old one stood straighter now and the hood slipped back to show her pale silver hair. The young one looked older, a woman now and not a girl, her black hair shining like a crow’s wing in the moonlight. Together and together so they came, until their fingers touched.

And somehow, I knew what to do. I turned and dipped the cup into the bucket, filled it with water. As I leaned over the well it smelled sweet, like spring flowers, all the rankness gone. Slowly, my hearting beating as if I’d just run a mile, I stepped towards them, holding out the cup. They took it, both together, and gave each other to drink from it, then they turned and held it out to the kelpie. He snorted, then hoof by careful hoof, he stepped towards them. The women dipped their fingers in the water and stroked his ears, down his neck and shoulders, down his back, and then they let him drink.

It was like smoke, white smoke. It began to curl from his nostrils, then his ears, it steamed up from his shoulders and his hooves, all down his back until his tail was a shimmering fall of smoke. And he shrank, down and down into nothingness.

The women went down on their knees beside where he had been. ‘The snake is here,’ said the bright one, ‘just poking his head out of his hole.’

I came to watch. There was nothing there … but then, yes, there was. The tiniest glimmer of white was pushing its way up out of the black soil, I bent with the women to watch. It was a snowdrop, its white budding head resembling as snake’s head, a tiny snakeling birthing itself out of the ground. Its green body followed until it stood proud and upright, the head opened up, sending the three white sepals outwards and uncovering the three green and white petals, which opened in their turn to show the six golden, pollen-covered stamens.

Suddenly I saw it, the black serpent becomes the white snake who puts his head out of his hole at the turning of the seasons when the Winter crone gives way to the Spring maiden.

I had come to see them, to see the snake put its head out its hole as the signal that spring was come, but I hadn’t expected the kelpie, nor the transformation, nor what the snake would be. I realised the two women had stood up, were looking down at me, kindly-like and smiling. Clumsily, I got to my feet. They gave me the cup, ’Take it back’ they said, ‘put it back. We won’t need it again for a year.’ It was different now, the silver shining and the darkness too. I took it back to the well, dropped it into the bucket and let the bucket down again into the water. When I drew it up this time it was light, easy, only some water in it. I was thirsty, so I drank. I turned in time to see the women kiss and, as they did so, the moonlight shifted and became a dazzling, sparkling whirlwind that encompassed them both and took them out of my sight.

The moon was sinking fast now, little light coming between the branches. I scurried back down the path to the village like a rabbit with the fox after it, but nothing was chasing me but my own fears. A candle stood still in the window, and no-one had yet barred the door. I slipped inside, the warmth hitting me, pulled off coat and boots and went to sit in the ashes of the fire.

It was done … the end had happened and the beginning had come, as ever it does, turn on turn of the wheel. The crone had given the cup of winter to the maiden of spring; the dark kelpie had transformed into the white snake and had put his head out of its hole to tell us all that spring was here. Bridey’s flower had come, yet again.

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Bridey’s Worm

Driving up to Cheshire last week we knew the moles had woken up, molehills everywhere, yards and yards and yards of them, in every field and even along the grass at the edges of the road. Well, it is that time of year! Moles wake up soon after the light begins to grow, after sun-return. Even more importantly, worms wake up too and, as moles eat worms, the two naturally go together. The molehills are signs of the worm-larders the moles build.

And it is that time of year, in fact it’s just about Imbolc. This is Bridey’s feast, the goddess Brigid – she, the goddess, was Christianized as “Saint” Brigid. At Imbolc, we make Bridey crosses and a doll-figure of her, called a Brídeóg, which we parade from house-to-house so she can visit everyone’s home. She’s greeted with a bed and folk leave her food and drink, and clothing is left outside the house for her to bless as she’s a protector of homes and livestock; her tylwyth (what you might know better as “totem”) is the white cow. Holy wells visited and dressed, and it is a time for divination, for asking what the future holds as well as what the Earth needs from us at this time.

Nowadays, many people celebrate on 1 February, but in older times our day began and ended at sunset – as the sun passed down into the dark – so celebrations begin on Imbolc Eve, the 31 January. Timing might likely be more fluid too, based around the actual seasonal changes as well as the astronomical ones, and far less concerned with man-made-calendar dates. Imbolc is linked with the onset of lambing which, in the days when we still followed the seasons, might vary by as much as two weeks either side of 1 February. It’s also linked to the blooming of the blackthorn, Ceridwen’s tree, which signifies her transformation from crone back to maiden, the cycles of the year, and it’s also when Ceridwen gathers her firewood for the remains of the winter. If she chooses that the winter shall last a good while longer then she makes sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. But if Imbolc is a day of foul weather it means the she is asleep, not gathering firewood, so the winter is almost over. On the Isle of Man, where my granny came from, Ceridwen is known as the Caillagh ny Groamagh, who takes the form of a gigantic bird carrying sticks in her beak. This always reminds me of the ravens who are doing their courtship in January; the male will bring new twigs to refurbish their nest (they mate for life) to show the female he still loves her and is a good provider.

One of the Imbolc stories I love is of Bridey’s Worm. It was, indeed still is, a sign of how the weather will be for the spring. We watch to see if serpents (or badgers) come out of their winter resting places; this may be a forerunner of the North American Groundhog Day, and for the same reasons as us. This Scottish Gaelic poem gives the idea …

Thig an nathair as an toll

Là donn Brìde,

Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd

Air leac an làir.

The serpent will come from the hole

On the brown Day of Bríde,

Though there should be three feet of snow

On the flat surface of the ground.

So what might this serpent be? Post-Norman literature tends to try to make us think of dragons but our ancestors were very practical folk, and very connected to the Earth and her rhythms – which brings us back to the Gentleman in Black Velvet, Mr Mole. Worms are a form of “serpent”, tiny serpents unless you happen to live on the planet Dune! That trip up to Cheshire told us very firmly that the worms were out and about again, and that the moles know it. Look at that poem, “the serpent will come from the hole on the brown Day of Bride”, and brown says “soil/earth” to me, especially looking at the molehills. It’s worth noting that a major component of a badger’s diet is earthworms so they, too, will be watching for them, sensing for them. The badgers will wake and come out of their setts when there is food for them, to maintain their energy, once the worms are hatched and moving again. And the worms won’t come until the soil is warm enough and there is sufficient light-energy from the sun.

When the ground gets really cold, and when it freezes, some worms (depending on their species) lay eggs and then die as the ground becomes too cold for them. Others burrow very deep, some as much as six feet under, and survive there through the cold spell. Either way, as the soil begins to warm, as the sun shines for longer each day after sun-return, the worms know when it’s warm enough either for the eggs to hatch or for them to burrow back up to the surface. And when they hatch or re-emerge they “come from the hole”, and the moles know it too, hence the molehills which are worm-larders.

So many of our old traditions show us how to live successfully with our Mother Earth and they are so worthwhile knowing. Yes, it’s good to celebrate the Mother in all her forms of which Bridey is one, but our old ways here in Britain are “and/and” – we don’t do this or that, we do this and that! So, we celebrate Bridey with our gifts and food and beds and, at the same time, we celebrate her by being very observant, by watching for the molehills, watching to see how the soil is warming up and how the worms are working. That helps us know when to plough and sow to get a good harvest.

As followers of the old ways, we don’t try to “manage” nature, or force her into working how we want her to with crazy chemicals and horrible deep ploughing which wrecks all the “threads”, the mycorrhiza who carry food and information between the plants. No, we watch the land around us, we watch the stars above us, we watch how the moon turns and we “work with”, we do not try to control.

So go watch the molehills, learn from them … much more fun than your X-box !!!

#MondayBlogs #FolkloreThursday #folklore

 

 

Arthur’s Stone

I live near one of the places called Arthur’s Stone. It’s on one of the long ridges that run roughly northwest/southeast along the ancient glacial tracts that swept this region of what is now Herefordshire and the Welsh Marches. In the last glacial the glaciers didn’t go any further south than about Bristol so this is part of the southern edge of the glaciated lands. Arthur’s Stone is what the archaeologists call a Neolithic chambered tomb, or dolmen, dating from 5,700– 4,700 years ago. The ridge it sits on looks down into the Golden Valley on the southwest side and the Wye Valley on the northeast. A mile or two back east along the ridge from Arthur’s Stone are the 6000+ years old “Halls of the Dead” … they’re older than Stonehenge! I’ll talk about them in another post but it helps to show just how old and how complex, cultured and refined was the pre-farming civilisation hereabouts.

But Arthur’s Stone is an incredible place in itself. The stones were originally buried within a mound which was aligned north-south. The mound was about 25 metres long with an east-facing entrance and a south-facing false portal. The mound is now gone and the capstone broken with a large section fallen into the chamber and blocking the original entrance passageway. To the north, there was once a cup-marked stone called the Quoit Stone but you can’t see it clearly any more, and folk now call a stone to the south the Quoit Stone although it isn’t and doesn’t have the cup-marks.vagina-and-womb

The huge capstone that’s said to weigh more than 25 tonnes and rested on nine uprights. The entrance passage is curved, about 4.6 metres long, and was roofed to less than one metre high so you had to crawl down it. The whole stone structure was enclosed in large earth banks, and post holes that were found at the edge of the banks which suggest some sort of post-circle enclosed it as well. As usual, few bones or burial remains were found in this big structure.

arthurs-stone-1-2008When I first visited it, sixteen-odd years ago, I was very much struck by the shape, and the entrance passage. In fact, it reminded me of the vagina, leading to the womb. Here is a photo I took from the entrance passage going into the stone chamber.

What could it have been for? Why did our ancestors build it? Why are so few bones found?

I sat there, sensing into it, feeling the place, and wondering. The womb-image stayed, got stronger. I decided to try crawling into it down the passage. Although it obviously wasn’t dark as it would have been there was still a strong feeling of being enclosed. I’m claustrophobic and although there was no stone and earth roof over me I still had to keep feeling my breathing in order not to panic. Indeed, I got a sense that I would smash my head on stone if I tried to stand up. It was as though I was no longer in my own 21st century time.

I got to the end of the passage, where I would originally have been entering the chamber, and my progress was blocked by the fallen piece of capstone but I was determined I was going to get in by crawling. I had to crawl out to the right and then squidge myself in over the top of the fallen capstone and then I lay there, panting. The sound of my breathing seemed to echo off the stone above and around me. I shut my eyes and just listened to it. The stone was cold under my back and my hands felt its rough smoothness, the chamber felt bigger than I’d thought when I was looking from outside.

I lay still. To my shut eyes it seemed to get darker until it was pitchy black, and all around me I could hear breathing.

The sound slowed, and it also en-huged, it wasn’t just me breathing, something far, far bigger was breathing along with me. “Who?” I whispered and that seemed to echo round me too. There were no words to answer me but I got the sense that the big breathing that wasn’t me began to chuckle softly. Pictures began in my head … a cauldron, a woman stirring it, first she was old and grey and cobwebbed then young and slender with golden hair, she morphed between the two. Then the shadows behind her moved, like tree branches, but no, not that, they were antlers. Somehow, in the darkness, I saw a human face crested with huge wide antlers, eagle’s eyes stared at me without blinking, golden coloured, and he smiled. The words birth and death swam though my mind. The cauldron of birth and rebirth, and the guardian and keeper of souls who guides us home. Ceridwen and Gwyn ap Nudd.

arthurs-stone-sunset-1-nov-2008I don’t know how long I lay there, dreaming and daydreaming. I was otherwhere for that time, and it was a time out of time. But soon or late I realised I was only listening to my own breathing again, the hugeness had gone, I was lying on a stone under another stone with the low winter sunset peering in at me from across Hay Bluff. I crawled out again, stood up and looked into the sunset.

Sitting and thinking over a drink of water it thought that was what we used this place for, and other places like it. We would crawl back into the womb, listen there for the Old Ones to speak and show us things, and then crawl out, back into everyday life. Yes, there may well have been bones there, ancestral bones of the spirit-keepers of our people perhaps, there to remind us who we are and what we’re doing in that ancient place.

Stories go that up to the mid-19th century, we used to hold celebrations  at the stone and dance there. Maybe, one day, we’ll do that again. I work there now, and take my students there to crawl in and lie on the stone, speak with the Old Ones. It’s interesting how often they feel they must speak their name before they go in and, as they come out, they find they’re given a new name. That concept comes in so many of our old songs and stories, that no one who enters the wood, enchanted forest or wherever, comes out as they went in.

A Europe-wide, perhaps worldwide, concept is that you go into one of these places, like what we call sensory deprivation chambers, and come out again dead, mad or enlightened! I’ll leave you to judge which of those happened with me 🙂

imag0018

 

Dyfrig: Merlin, Demons and Ergyng

shaman-fastener

According to the Christian stories, Merlin’s mother lay with a demon, an otherworldly spirit, who fathered him upon her.

The word demon has largely been dumbed down to mean something evil and out to get us, but it has far older and deeper meanings than that. In modern parlance, it can mean expert, genius, wizard and ace as well; in older terms it comes from the word daemon which means inspiration and muse as well as spirit and even demigod. I’m tempted to misquote Life of Brian … “What have the Christians ever done for us?” … well, a whole lot of bad misinformation for a start! Talk about political spin-doctors! And all to rubbish our old ways and traditions and knowing out of existence, but they’ve not succeeded.

Lying with a demon/daemon is a wonderful thing, known to all old ones throughout the world and the issue of intercourse with otherworld was deeply respected, honoured, revered and valued for most of our human time. This is the fatherless child and Merlin is such a one. Being born of both worlds, spirit and human, enables Merlin (and all the fatherless children through history) to walk between worlds, always in contact with both matter and spirit at the same time. Their stories turn up all over the place and one of those places is the ancient British kingdom where I live. Here Merlin is known as Dyfrig of Ergyng.

I didn’t know this story before we came to live here. I was looking for a place to live, quiet, no near neighbours or roads, its own water and a big garden where I could grow food and help wildlife. Several times, I thought I’d found it but each time I thought I’d got it all together somebody moved the ends and it all fell apart! So, I got a bit cross and then, eventually, started doing the intelligent thing … calling otherworld for help. Immediately, my feet (and the car) began to go in a different direction, an advert for what looked like the ideal place fell into my lap, I came and looked, and fell in love with it. We moved in a month later.

I still knew little about the place but once we’d unpacked most of the boxes I went for a wander around the city of Hereford, our local town. I love maps so my feet took me to the local map shop and while I was ferreting about looking for large-scale walking maps of the area a book fell on my head – literally! I picked it up and the title grabbed me, Arthurian Links with Herefordshire by Mary Andere. Of course, I bought it immediately and began reading it as soon as I got home. Wow! Now all that moving of ends and frustrating my previous plans began to make sense, where I now lived was an ancient spot where Merlin had one of his birthing places. He’d been pushing and shoving to get me here all that time I’d not been listening but, at last, I was here, where he wanted me to be.

Merlin has been with me all my life, since I was a wee kiddie and Dad first told me the stories and introduced me, but Dad had never told me this story, perhaps he’d never known it although there are strong family connections here.

And the story? Well, here it is …

Dyfrig was the son of Princess Efrddyl the daughter of King Peibio Clafrog of Ergyng. A quick aside on pronunciation – you pronounce Dyfrig as Duvrig. You say Efrddyl as Avrthil, but I usually shorten it to Avril. Peibio Clafrog is peebeeo clavrog and clafrog means leprous. So … one day, Peibio came home from the wars and, as is the Celtic custom, Efrddyl washed and combed his hair and beard. As she was doing this he saw that she was heavily pregnant. ‘Who is the father?’ he demanded, ‘I cannot tell,’ she replied. He asked her again, and then a third time, and every time Efrddyl would not tell. So Peibio had her taken down to the River Wye and thrown in to drown, but the river pushed her gently back to the shore. Again Peibio threw her into the river and again the river sent her back again, and a third time she was thrown in but the Wye would not take her but gave her back to her father.

wye-with-swans

Defeated by the river Peibio now had a great pyre built to see what fire would do. He set his daughter upon the bonfire to be burned to death, set light to it and went back to his home on the hill.

The next morning, he sent a servant down to the pyre to see the ashes. The servant took one look and ran straight back. ‘My lord! My lord!’ he panted breathlessly, ‘you must come, yourself, at once.’ So Peibio followed the servant down to the remains of the pyre by the river and there he found his daughter, sat upon a tall standing stone, nursing her new-born son. The place is now called Chilstone which is a contraction of Child’s Stone.

Peibio was dumbfounded. His daughter climbed down from the stone and showed him his grandson. The child reached up to touch his grandfather’s cheek and straightway the leprosy was gone. Needless to say, Peibio was even more astonished, and delighted, for a new-born child that could do such a healing was well worth rearing, whoever his father might have been.

Peibio ceded the whole of the land around Madley (as it’s now called) to Dyfrig. It was then called Ynys Efrddyl, the island of Efrddyl and she was guardian to the waters, priestess of the sacred well and of the river, for water is the lifeblood of the land. Women of that time, who were born into her position as daughter of the ruler, were usually the goddess’ representative. The river Wye, which flows just down in the valley below here, is the mother-water of Ergyng. This story is so much part of the old, ancient, magic, the coming together of fire and water. Efrddyl’s ordeal is an initiation, a rite of passage, a threshold for both her and her son. They go through water and fire in order for him to be born. His name, Dyfrig, means “water baby” for indeed he is.

The story goes on …

wye-faerie-path

Dyfrig became a very wise and well-known teacher and set up his first school down river from Madley, Ynys Effrddyl, at a place called Hentland. They say he was there seven years until the dream came upon him, the dream of a beautiful woman, dressed all in white and with long golden hair. She told him to leave the Hentland and go up-river until he came to the place where a white sow was suckling her piglings, and there to found a second and greater school. Dyfrig did this thing.

The description of the goddess, Ceridwen in her maiden-mother form and the white sow is one of Ceridwen’s tylwyth beasts (tylwyth means the same sort of thing as totem in our tongue).  The place was called Moch Ros which means “pig moor” – moch means pig and ros means moor, in her honour and it lies down the hill from Caer Ergyng, Peibio’s stronghold. It’s now called Moccas, a contraction of the old name.

Dyfrig remained at Moch Ros for the rest of his life but he did travel a lot as well. I soon found yet another connection with him. I was brought up on Exmoor and I remembered that Porlock church, on the southern bank of the Severn and the northern edge of Exmoor, is dedicated to Dyfrig. He had crossed the river and come to the land where I grew up too.

When Dyfrig grew old he left Moch Ros and go to Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) where he died and was buried, as the other stories say Merlin did too. It’s one of the sites for the magic land of West-over-the-Sea, one of the Isles of the Faer, where Merlin took the wounded Arthur after the final battle for him to be healed.

bardsey-island

Christianity conflated Dyfrig into their faith although there is no reason to think he was Christian. According to their story, Dyfrig was Bishop of Ergyng, and, later still, Archbishop of Wales, and to have crowned Arthur as High-King at Caer Fudi which is likely Woodchester, in the Nailsworth Valley, in Gloucestershire. It’s possible he was all these things for this was the time was when Christianity was just beginning to work its way into our culture and there was no heavyweight attempt to convert us, as yet. Christians worked alongside us in those early days and we might have grown well together, perhaps, if it hadn’t been for the Augustine mission in 597AD, some sixty-odd years after Dyfrig’s death. But the old ways continued underground, hidden, coming down through families like my own.

He called and pulled and pushed me to come and live in one of his places. Since he succeeded, since I stopped resisting and thinking I knew best (ha!), I’ve been able to write, able to get the old ways out there again now the time is right for them to come out of the closet. And I love it here, it has all the peace and beauty I wanted and needed for the work.

For me and mine, Dyfrig is the son of the servant of the goddess and an otherworldly father, he is the magical child, one of our Merlin-figures, and I live in his land.

 

Journey with Trees

Trees for Life’s Corporate & Trusts Development Officer Joyce Gilbert trades funding application forms for a  ‘Journey of Trees’ – a Gaelic place-naming weekend of tree planting and pony trekking.

Last weekend found me walking beside a couple of ponies on a “Journey with Trees” along an old Military Road between Glenmoriston and Invergarry via Fort Augustus. The journey was the initiation of a project I’ve put together to celebrate the place of trees in the local landscape around Dundreggan, but also to highlight the fascinating links between our natural heritage and the Gaelic language. Look closely at ordinary OS maps and you will see a plethora of Gaelic place-names for just about every loch, peak and stream in this part of Scotland. My interest in this was sparked by the realisation that these names can act as a sort of “ecological memory” where the names of animals and plants, including trees are recorded. Just across the Glen from Dundreggan Conservation Estate is Creag a’ Mhadaidh meaning Wolf Crag while just to the east of this is Coille nam Beithe – the Birch Wood. Amazingly, the birch wood is still there, after who knows how many centuries since the name was given to the place by local people. Of course, there are no wolves in Glenmoriston today, but the fact that a remote corrie in the glen is named after an animal that only disappeared from Scotland sometime in the 17th or early 18th Century, is food for thought. Read more …

Being Wild & Hope Bourne

“For money, you sell the hours and the days of your life, which are the only true wealth you have,” she wrote. “You sell the sunshine, the dawn and the dusk, the moon and the stars, the wind and the rain, the green fields and the flowers, the rivers and the sweet fresh air. You sell health and joy and freedom.” So said Hope Bourne, and so say I.

As a somewhat decrepit cripple with bad eyesight, the gods only know how I’d survive off the grid … but I would infinitely rather be there, out in the wilds, than live even in a hamlet, let alone a village or a town. My nearest neighbour now is a quarter of a mile away and that’s far too close! I’d prefer something like five or ten miles to the next nearest person. No, I don’t like living amongst people. And I don’t feel safe amongst them either. I do feel completely safe out in the wilds, amongst the animals and trees, the rivers, mountains and sea, I know absolutely, in my bones, that none of them would ever harm me … but people? Hmmm! Not a safe species at all. Perhaps some of you feel that way too.

One of my biggest fears about growing old is that I won’t be able to take care of myself and have to go live in a home. I think I’d rather take a long walk in January, in the snow, in the Cairngorms, with a bottle of good brandy and a box of painkillers! I would die quickly of suffocation in a home, surrounded by people with whom i have nothing in common, so why not go easy in my beloved wild lands?

I was reading a piece about “ecopsychology” and “pachamama” this morning. Hmmm, again. All sounds so “head-stuff” to me, carefully thought out and written, by academics and with lots of holes (lacunae – to be properly academic about it) in the philosophy, and all seeming to fit neatly with the axe these people have to grind. I know, in my bones, that in order to live (not survive) people must stop prostituting themselves and all the joys of this Earth for money, so as far as the eco-lot go I agree with them somewhat there. But why do we have to go to the other side of the world to find it, find the means of reconnecting with the Earth? Perhaps because the powers-that-be, politicians, academics and others to whom we give our power and turn into authority-figures, tell us there are no indigenous people here in Britain. Ha!

Exmoor valley

Exmoor valley

Do you realise that when you agree with this premise it’s because you are accepting someone else’s definition of indigenous? You give them the power to tell you what the word means. You give them the power to tell you what you are. Is that good?

Indigenous, from the dictionary and the Thesaurus, means native, original, homegrown, local … well, I don’t know about you but I’m all those things with regard to my homeland, Britain. Oh yes, I’ve mixed blood, but what is that? Blood is made of molecules, atoms and particles of the Earth’s body, bits I borrow from her for each lifetime to make a spacesuit for my spirit to live on Planet Earth. They change throughout my life – for instance, the dust you hoover up is largely skin cells you and the rest of your family have shed over the week. Cells die, you shed them, and you grow new ones. That happens with blood cells too. Everything you eat goes to make the new cells, so bits of you come from carrot and cabbage, venison, cheese, pinto beans, grains, beer, coca cola (if you drink the horrid stuff!), etc, etc. so what is all this blood-fetish? DNA, I hear you cry. Well, what is DNA? Is it physical – yes. Is it made of particles and atoms and molecules of the Earth’s body – yes it is. Yes, it holds certain programmes, like how to grow an eye, what colour your skin will be and such, but these also change, that’s thought to be likely how Neanderthal man got wiped out, by interbreeding with other varieties of human. Like how the Scottish Wildcat has been nearly wiped out by interbreeding with domestic cats. So just how far back are you taking this blood-fetish thing? The DNA goes back into the apes and monkeys our human boies developed from; and back into the bodies they came from; and back into the single-cell organisms before them … etc. So I am indigenous, whatever Mr Cameron and other politicians and academics like to say. And so are you.

Tarr_Steps

Tarr Steps

And I am connected deeply with the Earth, though all those molecules and atoms and particles. I’m also deeply connected to her spirit. When I’m surrounded by the fog-haze of human thinking in a town or village or city it really is like wading through mud to reach into the spirit-of-place where I am. It’s much harder to feel nature. It’s also very easy to be mentally swamped by the shibboleths, the beliefs of most people beliefs which are largely empty of real meaning, of the people all round me. Large groups of people who don’t go in for deep thinking spread a miasma around them of their own beliefs, it’s cloying and very hard to resist. I can, and I do when I have to go into conurbations, bit even for someone with my years of experience in doing it, it’s very hard work. For most folk, who don’t even realise it’s there, it has them completely in thrall.

So I try to go there as little as possible. I avoid being amongst groups or crowds people unless I choose. I stick with my friends the trees and the animals, birds, fishes and plants, and rocks. And that’s where I live, not as wild as Hope Bourne, but fairly off-planet to most folk *grin*. This way, I can hear easily what the Earth and all her spirit-parts want, and want of me. I also have the space-time to do my best to do what she and they wish of me. The groups (small) of folk I associate with every now and again, all feel the same way although not all of them have, as yet, achieved as comfy a lifestyle as me, but they’re all working on it.

Connecting with nature, with the Earth, with wildness, means you just have to make the space-time for it. You really won’t do it in large groups, nor festival weekends, nor workshops of loads of people! You have to take your courage in your hands and be alone, be alone for long, long past when it gets scary; be alone in the dark, in the woods, by a river, on the seashore, up a mountain – all of those. And be alone without even your mobile phone turned on!

Spider tree

Spider tree

We’re not taught or encouraged to be alone, so we’re always deafened and befogged by other people and their thoughtforms. Nature, the Earth, the spirit-world, can’t reach us through the fog and, most of the time, we don’t even know to ask it to come to us! We sit about, in a coma-like state, waiting for someone/something to do it all for us. Living wild, even only as wild as I do, means you just can’t be so lazy as that, you have to get off your butt and ask, communicate with the natural world, and with the spirit-world.

The ecopsychology lot don’t seem to realise this. They don’t seem to know anything about folk like Hope Bourne (who, of course, they don’t consider to be indigenous!), nor do they comprehend just how much she had to be in touch, communicating all the time with everything non-human all around her in order to live. Until we all grasp this, that it’s up to each of us to get out there and communicate with all of our ancient brethren who are not human, we can go to as many workshops as we please. They’re just a means of passing the time, like X-Box! They’re not real and they will do nothing but wind us up in yet another fog so we know nothing but what some other person has told us. I wonder how much of the human race will ever dare to be real?

As Hope shows us, there is hope for all of us … but only if and when we get ourselves out of our comfort-box and dare, risk, begin completely alone.

 

 

 

Cat Scramble podcast

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Cat Scramble – a solitary walk on Exmoor.

Some of you will have heard this before but I think … think … I might just be getting the hang of podcasting via my website! Don’t hold your breath but please do cross all your fingers and toes 🙂

Trees for Life: Rewilding Grove

I’ve just written a wee story for Trees for Life … this is part of it …

More dreams come to you. This time they begin with a long deep howl. Straightway it’s answered, and answered again and again. Your skin tingles and a smile creeps onto your mouth, you know you are dreaming and have not the slightest wish to wake. ‘Come!’ your heart whispers and soon you hear the patter of delicate, clever paws that know their way so well through the forest, ‘Come,’ you whisper again, ‘please come’. In your dream your eyes open and all around you now stand the grey shadows, tongues lolling, smiling, eyes shining with curiosity. ‘A human!’ you hear in your head, ‘a human who wants to know us!’ The alpha, a white female comes slowly towards you, you sense she doesn’t wish to frighten you. You stay quite still, projecting love and delight. Her nose is two inches from yours, you smell her sweet breath, her tongue comes and licks your face … your stop breathing and your heart gives a little skip. She moves away from you and the others come up, they nose and lick and push you, soon you are rolling in a heap of warm fur, being licked and played with as if you were a cub. The alpha female gives a short bark, the pack looks up, they give you quick lick and nose-pushes, and then they are off, following her back into the forest.

You can read the full story HERE.

It’s part of a piece for the website of the grove of trees I’ve just organised to celebrate and encourage rewilding through Trees for Life. They will begin planting it this autumn which is the best time to plant the trees. This is the grove’s website

I would really love it if you can help by adding trees to the grove. It only costs £5 to plant one tree so if you ever find yourself with a choice of what to do with a spare fiver do think of this grove, it would love to grow and can with your help. I’ll certainly be adding to it myself. My husband says he’d rather have a tree planted than a brithday or Sun-Return prezzie so I’ll be honouring that wish, and the same for other friends who’d like a tree for a present too.

Please share this grove around your networks if you can. It’s one of many but every little sharing helps to grow the whole great wood we’re aiming at … and enables more woods to be planted too.

wolf_1

Cairns in Britain

From what I know cairns have been built by peoples all over the world for probably hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps as long as humans have been on Planet Earth, after all their not rocket science to build. They are getting well known through the apacheta South American shamanism which is currently popular and the Tibetan cairns which are also well known … but who knows about the cairns all over our own country, Britain, or considers them anything more than modern memorials?

I was born on Dartmoor and brought up on Exmoor from age eight. My dad and relations were country folk and followed our old ways so I learned with mother’s milk too. One of the things I learned about was cairns. Dad and my uncles would take me walking on the moors. You often come to cairns as you’re walking and always they would remind me to pick up a stone as we were coming up to a cairn and must leave a stone, so we did.

But what for, what did we leave a stone for?

Cairns, in Britain, are often on ancient tracks, on hilltops, along ridgeway paths, paths that have been walked by our ancestors for as long as we have been here and current archaeology has found that we ‘ve been here for at least one million years. Those paths may well have been walked all those years. The high tops and the tracks along the ridges are places where the lady, the goddess walks, where she sits, where she is, where you can sense and feel her very strongly if you open yourself up to her.

Britain is well known for stone circles and standing stones but these are Neolithic and that means of the New Stone Age. Neolithic times are very recent even in human history, they run from about 4000 to about 2,500 years ago, a mere spit in time, the time when we began to give up our old hunter-gatherer ways and become farmers. Before the Neolithic we walked the land, travelling from place to place, usually within a terroir (to use the French word for the land) which means region and that takes us to the spirits of place, the guardian spirits of the land who each have their own terroir or region which they are guardian to. The cairns are far older than the stone circles although some have been knocked down and then built up again. Often those knockings-down were done by farmers who felt they were in the way of their “ownership”, they had forgotten the old ways, forgotten the lady … they knocked down her places believing them to be no more than superstition. But they’re not.

So dad taught me to add a stone to the cairns as we passed them, and I still do. And I teach the students who come with me to add a stone too. It’s a form of acknowledgement. You can’t really call it a gift because you take a piece of the goddess’ body, a stone, and give it back to her but, in a way, it is. We take a piece of her and recognise it in our heart and then we put it as part of a cairn that reminds the folk who pass by there that she is there … that She is there. She is our lady, our mother, our teacher, and she is our ancestor too, both body and spirit.

Our bodies, the spacesuits our spirits need to live on Planet Earth, are made from her body. Every atom that makes up us comes from her and it has been all things – raindrop, worm, tree, cat, stone, chicken, fish, ant, butterfly, cloud and river and sea. So those atoms have the knowing of all things and will share that knowing with us if we ask them to – they are our ancestors. When we give a stone to a cairn we are acknowledging all this.

The same goes for spirit too. Every atom, as we know in the old ways, has spirit as well as matter and will share its spirit-knowing with us too. As we add a stone to the cairn we give thanks for this too.

One of our ancient shaman-teachers is called Taliesin (Amergin amongst the Gaels). His song begins, “I am a stag of seven tines” and goes on to sing how he is everything, every rock, tree, animal, drop of water and breath of air. We have many ways of reminding ourselves of this and adding a stone to the cairn as we pass it is one of them.

 

Cairns on Exmoor & Dartmoor