The magic ink is out-of-stock


Sometimes our dreams offer a lot more than mere rehashing of a day’s events, and give us valuable clues to what is going on deep in our unconscious. The following dream may well be of interest:

I dreamed I had gone to an expensive and swish sort of hotel for some sort of conference. One of the first things I managed to do was lose the key to my room; one of those, “I’m sure I put it in my handbag” moments of frantic rummaging around, until it seemed unimportant so I went through to the main conference room. It was like the vast dining rooms you see in Oxford and Cambridge colleges and it was filled with tables laid out with all sorts of wares for writing, from marvellous machines, exquisite journals and notebooks, pens of a thousand thousand kinds from the usual Bic biros to fabulously expensive Mont Blancs, and quills and dipping pens of many types. I knew I had come to find the most exclusive inks in the world, also the most expensive, but as I searched table after table, it became clear I was too late and they’d sold out. I found a sheet of creamy white paper, the kind that is made by pulping cloth, and looks rather like parchment, and a quill pen, and started trying to write, but no matter how many times I dipped my pen in the ink, the page remained resolutely blank because the ink was not the magic ink I’d come to find.

Regular readers of this blog will know (and perhaps share) my obsession and love for stationery, and may well be familiar with my long struggle to overcome something that is generally referred to as Writer’s Block (but before anyone starts kindly suggesting exercises or websites or, God forbid, apps, the term is used very loosely and it’s something deeper and darker than what the term is usually applied to).

The dream speaks of my fear that I have somehow arrived too late at the table, despite the fact that as I went round table after table looking for the ink, I was almost the only person present. In terms of the writing/publishing industry, I wasn’t first at the feast but I jumped in reasonably early in the day, with the first (paperback only) edition of Strangers and Pilgrims being published early in 2010, and the first (and flawed) Kindle edition about a year or so later. But the magic of those early days is gone, heaven only knows where, if it ever truly existed at all. With it has gone my confidence of creating anything worthy of the fine paper I tried to write upon in my dream.

Anyway, I’m going to keep on trying. Confidence is a thing easy enough to fake; I’ve been doing it my entire life. I’ve always said that in certain ways the I that is conscious is not the writer of the stories, but the unconscious I is the real creatrix. When I draw upon the deep, dark, hidden levels, that’s when the stories start to flow, dipping into my own veins to use the inner ink.

Starting with full storehouses ~ harvest and new year blessings

Starting with full storehouses ~ harvest and new year blessings

If I said to you today Happy New Year, you’d think me mad, perhaps. But at rise of the new moon today, a new year begins: and I can’t help thinking that starting a new year at harvest time with full storehouses makes much better sense that doing as our calender does, and starting it in the bleakest of deep mid winter when the worst of the weather is still to come and the joys of Christmas are past and forgotten as you pack away the tinsel, and in the not-too-distant-past people would worry whether the stores would last them out till the following year. Starting at harvest time means starting with optimism and a sense of achievement.

Autumn is a beautiful season in this country, filled with colour and changing scenes as the various harvests are brought home. Wheat and barley are gathered in, and the many other crops are either in or on their way. Wild harvests of nuts and berries will go in as the days shorten, and the apples on our trees are ripe and ready to bring in. There aren’t as many this year as the trees got a much-needed pruning and a lot of manure was spread about their roots. But I’m thinking now of other sorts of harvest, the kind you don’t stack in stooks or boil to make jam.

I have terrible tendency to think little of my achievements. I often forget that with less-than-perfect health, I’ve got a lot done in the nine months that have already gone by of this year. There’s not a lot to show for it, though, because most is unfinished works-in-progress. I’ve done around 30k words since April, long-hand, of a sequel to Square Peg, and I’ve added lots of words to other books. I’ve written some poetry, and I’ve done a LOT of journal work. I’ve also been working with dreams, so my dream journal and my active imagination journal have been busy. I’ve done a fair bit of painting for my Jungian exploration. I’ve put out the new book. And so it goes on. I must fight with myself to accept these things as powerful, valuable matter to go into my personal metaphysical harvest, as achievements to build upon during the coming winter, the coming year and onwards. Just as my apple trees need feeding and pruning, so too does my inner life if it is to see continuing harvests in the future.

My blessings to you on this special day.

apples and chalice

apples and chalice

The Grand Dame’s Legacy

The Grand Dame’s Legacy

On the relatively rare times when I sleep long enough to dream and to remember it, I have been making a point of recording the dreams and later working with the content of the dream using a form of Active Imagination. I’m sharing this dream because there are elements that baffle me and also because it is clearly an Archetype Dream; those I believe do not belong solely to myself alone.

I have inherited the property of an old lady who has passed away; I do not know her name or who she was but I am going through her belongings. There are many very fine blouses in a wardrobe; each is hand made, hand tailored and of fine material like silks and satins, embroidered and hand stitched with seed pearls etc. When I look at them, I see they are made for a slender, well shaped lady and though I would like to wear them, I would destroy them by the wearing. Each has a matching scarf that hangs with it. They are shot through with silver and gold threads like the blouses. I also feel they are too good for me. My impression is that the woman who owned them was what I would call a Grande Dame, a great lady, and I am just a peasant by comparison. I do not know why she has left her things to me, or who she was, or what to do with it all.

I find also a large clear quartz crystal, very fine, which has one of the best phantoms within it that I have ever seen. I want to hide the crystal, protect it, so I start wrapping it in a purple scarf. But the crystal seems to be getting bigger, stretching like a magician’s wand, and the scarf does not cover it, just wrapping like a ribbon decorating it. I feel anxious and want to put the crystal wand away, hide it back in the wardrobe where I found it. It is by now very large and I don’t think it will fit. Then it seems to crack, so it is possible to fold it up; the crack seems to be a sort of hinge.

The dream moves on; we are at sea and the boat is in trouble and a life boat has been sent. The sea is wild, with huge waves but as I travel on a smaller boat like a surf board or torpedo, I feel no fear even though I am deluged and thrown around.

Now, the lady herself never appears; I see only her clothes, her wardrobe and the crystal. Yet from those I have gained an impression of a woman of great taste, ability and poise as well as wisdom. What bothers me is that I know she is dead. Do archetypes die? I don’t know. If they do, I have been made inheritor. I am unfit for it. I am too bulky for her delicate, finely made clothes, though I do admire them very much. The style of the garments is not of this time but rather of a mixture of elegance from much earlier eras. Some seem to date from Regency fashions while some are Victorian and some are the kind worn in the 1920’s. Each is unique and has a quirky style that appeals to me; some are decidedly sexy and risqué though in excellent and understated taste. But nonetheless I recoil, feeling they are all too good for me.

The same goes for the crystal. It’s one of the finest specimens I have ever encountered, yet I am not able to simply accept it and keep it and use it. I feel compelled to hide it, to secrete it away somewhere out of sight. The growth of the crystal bamboozles my hopes of concealment; it becomes vast, long and impossible to hide.

I feel, as I try to analyse the content of the dream, abandoned. The great lady is gone, and I cannot contact her. I have been left with things I cannot use because I do not know how to use them or what they are for. I feel unworthy and really quite useless.

Contrast this with the final part of the dream, where though the sea is huge and threatening and I am leaving a sinking ship to be rescued by a lifeboat, I am confident of what I am doing, that the raging of wind and wave cannot affect me. I have the ultimate sea-legs and ride the smaller boat that shuttles us across, as if I were born to it. Though the boat pitches and tosses, and we are engulfed in waves like mountains of water, I remain unshakeable as if I were the carving on the prow of an old three master.

So, who is the Grande Dame, and what has she left to me?

Time Travel and Necromancy: the easy way.

Time Travel and Necromancy: the easy way.

No, I haven’t gone over to the Dark Side with Dr Who. Chance would be a fine thing. I’ve been following my nose as a part of a project that is as much intuitive as it is nebulous, and I’m hoping to share a snippet of some of my discoveries. After all, one of the items on my bio on Twitter and elsewhere is Explorer and while I think most people reading this blog don’t expect me to disappear into jungles wearing a pith helmet and a goofy smile and not reappear for months or years, I do the Explorer thing in a very different way. I explore inner worlds.

When I say, following my nose, I do mean literally. I’ve been exploring the world of the sense of smell. I’ve hung round department stores, come home often with a dozen little smelling strips (which make delightful book marks, by the way), visited perfume shops, and bought blind on line. I can honestly say I have no real clear idea of what I’m doing. Or really, why. But there’s been some extraordinary results.

First one I’d like to share concerns a perfume from The Library of Fragrance. They have created a sort of physical data base of all sorts of extraordinary scents: everything from almond or apple blossom to wet garden or whisky tobacco. I’ve been given some and have bought a few others; they’re relatively inexpensive and light cologne type fragrances. Singly, some are a little thin, or depth-less, but the beauty is you can mix and match and create something quite different by using two or more at a time. Now, I’ve managed to recreate a now-unavailable perfume Amber from L’Occitane by mixing Amber with Thunderstorm; it’s as close as makes no difference when the original is gone from sale. The Library was having a sale a few weeks ago and my daughter and I pooled our resources and bought one each. I bought Iris but when mine arrived I got a shock because it brought a ghost with it.

A kindly ghost, I must add. The scent is quite hard to describe, but it conjured someone I admired hugely as a child and who I wished I had known better as an adult. Until I sprayed Iris on me, I hadn’t know that somehow, it had been her scent. I imagine it was a mixture of things, but it immediately brought to mind my headmistress from my infants’ school, who I stayed in touch with by letter until I was 23, when she passed away unexpectedly. Looking back, I know she had had a difficult life that it’s hard for a 21st century young woman to understand; not only had she lived through WW2, she would have also lived through the radical changes before that, and the changing world that meant that when she began her teaching career, it was accepted that a female teacher would quit if she married (it was once enforced as were dozens of other things we now look at with horror). So Iris was as if she had just walked through the room; it gave me great comfort and encouragement. It’s a perfume of quiet elegance and self-deprecating strength; not exactly floral either, but with a 1920’s feel to it that’s unlike anything else. 

The next perfume was one of sheer time travel. When I was 14, I went to France on an exchange programme. On one afternoon, we were let loose in the centre of Angers, and I found myself in the market. One of the stalls was selling joss sticks and perfumes and I haggled for several items. I came away with a hair clip, a joss stick holder and a tiny bottle of deep, dark resinous looking perfume that later I was not allowed to wear at home because my mum loathed it. I loved it, and though it was very different to the kind of scent you’d imagine an English school girl wearing, it was something that had drawn me. Of course, once it was gone (lost or finished, I do not recall) I had no name for it and could never find anything like it again. Then, part of my foraging on Amazon brought this to my nets: Opening it was like stepping back forty or so years. I imagine my mother will still hate it.

Not all exploring is nice. I have had one experience recently with the scents I have been trying and it continues to haunt and upset me, because I cannot get the scent out of my mind and it’s a horrible one, truly horrible. I had been trying to find a version of amber I also remember from my teens. But this was not it. It brought to mind a person who isn’t dead but might as well be; not a complete scent but a note created by all sorts of things, and like with Iris, it was as if someone gone from my life had walked through my room. Needless to say, I had to use other scents to exorcise this memory.

I am hoping that this form of exploration will be a way of examining both memories and imagination in a manner that is quite different. It might not suit everyone but it’s been an interesting experience so far.

(For other posts of fragrance please click here  here  here or here

“From the Four Corners of the Earth”~ Jung’s words on avoiding our souls

From the Four Corners of the Earth”~ Jung’s words on avoiding our souls 

As you may know, I’ve been reading my way through the works of Jung that I can afford or obtain. It’s a slow thing, because I do not wish to rush the experience. I take time over each page, and sometimes I stay with it for quite a long while. Things sometimes leap off the page at me and I make a note or put in a little page marker.

The other night, the following struck me from The Earth Has a Soul (a collection of his writings on Nature, technology and modern life)

People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. They will practice Indian yoga and all its exercises, observe a strict regimen of diet, learn theosophy by heart, or mechanically repeat mystic texts from the literature of the whole world – all because they cannot get on with themselves and have not the slightest faith that anything useful could ever come out of their souls. Thus the soul has gradually been turned into a Nazareth from which nothing good can come. Therefore let us fetch it from the four corners of the earth- the more far-fetched and bizarre it is the better!” (Carl Gustav Jung Complete Works 12, para 126)

Now all of the things he describes are excellent things, and beneficial disciplines in and of themselves. But used as a means of evading and avoiding the soul-work we are called to do, they’re little different from losing yourself in drugs, drink or a myriad of other activities people indulge in to keep from the moment when they must face their own soul.

I’d like to share one of my own poems as a coda to this section from Jung’s works. I’ve spent a lot of my life on the edges and even the very fringes of all manner of philosophies and faiths and among the seekers of this western world, there is a powerful emphasis on wisdom coming from somewhere other than home. Like Jesus being treated shabbily in his own home town, most prophets and prophecies are seldom honoured initially in their places of origin.

My kind of wisdom

Just because my kind of wisdom

Doesn’t wear buckskin,

Isn’t hung with feathers,

Isn’t decorated with crystals

And isn’t inscribed with runes and sigils,

It doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Just because my kind of wisdom

Doesn’t require mastering

An arcane language,

Higher mathematics

Or a degree in theology,

It doesn’t mean it isn’t deep.

Just because my kind of wisdom

Doesn’t ask me to stand

On one leg for years,

Beat myself with whips,

And starve myself half to death,

It doesn’t mean it hasn’t cost.

Homespun, home-grown, homemade:

You know, from somewhere far off,

It might look as exotic as yours.

Candlemas at the Cave, Imbolc in the Ice

Candlemas at the Cave, Imbolc in the Ice

It is the scent that reaches me in my bear-like slumbers, drifting day after day in a form of hibernation that sees me rarely raise my head from the nest of covers. It does not force its way into my subdued consciousness, but instead it seems to creep quietly, humbly, into my cave and stands by my bed, waiting for me to notice it.

I rise from the dreamless state that has held me for months, eyes flickering open, and I take a sharp, deep breath like a drowned woman returning to life. The air holds a scent I’d forgotten existed. It’s the smell of thawing earth and dripping ice.

The wall of ice at the mouth of my cave still blocks out much of the light, so the cave is deep in shadows, but through the blue-white mass I see a brighter colour, tinged with gold and I realise it might be the sun. Pushing back my covers, I sit up and take another harsh,deep breath, drawing in the clear cold air I can feel infiltrating the sour, stale air of my den.

I get to my feet, joints stiff and sore and movement difficult, and I stumble to the ice wall. Before I reach it, I can feel the change. Air is moving, through the cut-out in the ice that had become blocked around the winter solstice, and though it is still the frozen air of winter, it is no longer the same. There is moisture in it that holds the scents of the thaw. When I move into the tunnel through the ice wall, I see that droplets of water are rolling slowly down, as if the tunnel is weeping with relief. The tunnel is still partially blocked, but a window has opened, that drips steadily as it melts, and through this rough portal, the air flows. I stand as close as I can to the opening in the ice and beyond it, I can hear the sounds of flowing, bubbling water and the first bird song.

The Herb of Grace by Elizabeth Goudge ~ literature that heals

The Herb of Grace by Elizabeth Goudge ~ literature that heals

A while ago, I was sent a gift of a book, from a friend on Twitter. Sally had read my review

of Elizabeth Goudge’s A Scent of Water and very kindly sent me a copy of The Herb of Grace,

which she felt I would love.

I took a long while to read it. In fact I took a long while to start reading it. I wanted to make sure that the experience was at the precise right time I needed to read this book. There are tides and seasons of a life and becoming atuned to them, I’ve realised we can grab too greedily at pleasures and seize things before they are ripe. When an author is no longer living, or like Susan Howatch,

no longer writing, there is a diminishing pool of works of theirs we have not yet read. There can only ever be ONE first time to read a book and for some books, it’s important we read them when we’re ready. I’ve heard it said that Jane Austen ought not be read before one’s fortieth birthday; to some extent I would agree as the nuances and subtleties are probably lost on most teenagers obliged to study Austen’s works for school.

So I waited until I had a week away with my beloved friends Kate and Mike, in my equally beloved North Yorkshire before beginning to read The Herb of Grace. I chose to read slowly. In normal circumstances I have a very fast reading speed, learned from my university days where I would often have less than a day to read some brick of a book. I read Moby Dick in on frenetic, fevered afternoon. I have a terrible tendency to gobble books, read far too fast and too intensely. I didn’t want to read this one too quickly.

I restricted how far I read in one day. I stopped myself at the end of a chapter, put the marker in and made myself not open the book again for at least a few hours. It was like a box of wonderful bespoke chocolates; however fabulous they are, the best way to enjoy them without sickening is by choosing one, perhaps two, to eat each day. You savour each bite, each melting on the tongue and you stop while you crave more.

The Herb of Grace is probably a tremendously old fashioned book in a lot of ways. There is little of the kind of melodramatic antics of thrillers, none of the bodice-ripping of romances, and almost all of the characters are hopelessly likeable. And, if you are used to the breathless pace of many modern novels, you could say nothing much happens. Yet so much does happen that it’s hard to précis the plot. The second book in the Eliot family saga, The Herb of Grace takes up where The Bird in the Tree left off. I read the first book after The Herb of Grace, so you don’t have to read them in order and I’d suggest you don’t, as to me The Herb of Grace is a better, more enthralling book. The series follows the lives of the Eliot family: matriarch Lucilla rules the family with kindness and a strong sense of duty, holding them together during and after the war and doing her best to ensure that the family retains integrity, both personal and familial. Unhappy daughter-in-law Nadine is perhaps the least likeable character, coming across as somewhat selfish and self-absorbed. A series of events leads Nadine and her family to buy The Herb of Grace, a former pilgrim inn not far from the family estate of Damerosehay, and as the family move in and begin restoring the old house to its former glory and its former function, the house itself begins to exert its benevolent influence over all who live or visit.

There are many mystical aspects to the house, both part of its former history as a pilgrim inn and also connected to the nearby Knyghtwood, an ancient and almost impenetrable woodland that holds deeper secrets than the white hart that is sometimes seem locally. For me, with my long love of both woodland and ancient folklore, and of pilgrimage tales, the lure of the Knyghtwood was such that I struggled not to rush through chapters to find out more.

Every character in the story carries a hidden grief, a wound that isn’t healing. From Nadine, who has given up her love David, for the sake of the family, to the somewhat feral twins Jose and Jerry, all the beings that live within this beautiful book are damaged and in need of love, hope and healing. Yet slowly, steadily, without any flashiness or Damascus roads of drama, healing begins. It’s the place itself, the genius of the house and the beings that exist deep within the wood, that heals, but it’s not without work or cost. The soothing atmosphere the house holds is the start, softening and gentling souls the way a horse whisperer might slowly tame a frightened, abused horse, but each must then begin to step out in faith to uncover (and there is a very literal uncovering of something extraordinary that appealed to me. I’ve long wanted to strip wallpaper in an old house and find something under it that blows the mind).

It came at the right time for me. It reassured me that the layers of myth that this land holds (the world holds it too, but I know only my own small corner) have a power that endures, even to the cynical times we live in know; those deep mythic layers endure and spread and grown and remain whether we know it or not. Like the symbiotic system of roots and fungi and flora and fauna that exists beneath the earth in a wood, it carries on whether or not anything above ground is aware of it. It reassures me that the mythos that I believe I tuned into to write Strangers and Pilgrims

and Away With The Fairies,

is still there, humming and glowing and growing. It reassures me that I am a part of a wider, wilder experience, one of a people who have heard these lost songs and have begun to sing them again, adding their voice to the harmony.

You see, it’s too easy to become deaf to the tunes. It’s too easy to let the power of commerce and the need to make things saleable ruin the joy of being a part of an ongoing story. I’m a writer of stories that heal, part of a long tradition of storytellers who keep the old tales going through the dark ages. Rosemary Sutcliffe used the term Lantern Bearers, and I believe that’s what we are.

So thank you, Sally, for sending me that beautiful book at the exact right time. My light was guttering and the book has mended my wick.