Lammas at the Cave

Lammas at the Cave

Lammas at the Cave

The morning birdsong is over by the time I leave the cave; I have not had the energy to rise at dawn to see the sun rise as I should. I have slept in, lying on top of my bed-roll most of the night, for though the cave is cool, the nights have been humid, sticky and oppressive. It has been difficult to get anything done, for movement other than the most languid kind leaves me exhausted and sweating.

Cooler air greets me, laden with the scents rising from the forest below, redolent of the soft rain that fell last night, and of green growth and flowers and a hint of ripeness. I do not farm up here, so there are no grain crops to gather in, but other things are coming to the point of harvest. A willow basket is hooked over my arm as I head slowly down the path that leads steeply down from the ledge where I live. I do not know what I am going to gather, but it seems to me that I should take a basket just in case. For what seems like the longest time, I have lost interest in my home and my life; though I know the forest to be coloured with the most vivid of shades and hues, all I have been able to see has been an endless mass of greys.

Under the canopy of trees, the path is dark and were it not for the white rocks placed at the edges here and there, I might easily wander. That’s dangerous, for on my mountain there are precipitous drops that you can’t see till you are almost falling over them. It’s not a place for careless meanderings, yet again today I let my feet guide me, not my mind, and I find myself at the stream that tumbles down the side of the mountain. The path follows this, and the air is heavy with the cool moisture and the song of the stream.

I have to tread carefully for the path is narrow and hard on the feet, sometimes becoming slippery and I wish I had not come this way; I consider turning back. But I trudge on, shouldering the empty basket, tripping sometimes, which leaves me breathless with shock and fear. Eventually, the ground levels out, and I find myself somewhere I have no memory of having been before. A great basin of rock, wide and deep, opens out for many yards and the stream fills it before leaving at the far end, the water draining away in a series of beautiful little waterfalls no more than five or six feet in height. The noise of falling water is deafening, yet I do not move onwards. I put the basket down and find somewhere to sit, cushioned by lush moss, and dangle my sore feet into the water.

It’s icy and refreshing, and I realise I am sweating with the effort and with the heat, for the sun is now high overhead. I had not felt how time was passing, and passing so swiftly, that my morning is gone. The water is inviting, so I strip off my clothes and slide in, gasping with the shock of the cold. The pool is deep enough to swim in, though if I put my feet down, I touch the rock. I swim for a little while before dressing again, and sit back on my mossy seat, damp and chilled and panting. I do not want to leave here, either to go back or to go onwards. Despite the noise of the water, it’s a very peaceful place.

A dash of brightness catches my eye, flashing past and dipping into the water, a brief vision of intense, shining blue that reappears on the far side of the pool, its beak full of a silver wriggling fish that disappears down its gullet with little difficulty. I search my memory for a name: kingfisher. I watch it dive for another, and another, and the fierce, brilliant colours are like lightning in the night of my mind. Then, full of fish, it flashes away downstream, out of sight and I am left alone.

When I come to pick up my basket, to my surprise it is full of fish. Much larger than the ones the kingfisher was catching, these are salmon and trout, and they remind me that if I do not grow grain here, I must still eat in winter, and I lug the basket back to the cave where they can be prepared for drying and smoking.

As the sun sets, I sit out at my fire, and eat freshly roasted salmon, burning my fingers a little as I pick pink flesh off the bones, and feel the blessing of the fisher of kings.

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A Vessel of Ashes

A Vessel of Ashes

I’ve been in a grim place for so long it feels like there’s been no end and no beginning. It feels like this is all there is and all there was and all there ever will be. Needless to say, it feels horrible. I’ve been trying to make sense of it all and failing, and trying again and failing again. The results of the referendum have left me devastated, repeatedly; there seems a massive disconnect and breach between those who voted leave and those who voted remain. One side cannot understand the other and the vitriol hurled has been… caustic and damaging beyond belief. I have given up trying to explain why it is all so hurtful but the consensus of rejoicing Leavers is “Suck it up, suck it up,” and I have left it at that. The utter powerlessness I feel is probably felt by millions and we are told, that’s democracy.

So I have disconnected from the stream of life that flows in front of my eyes, in the form of social media, because I could no longer bear the hurt I see. I’m still around, but I am emotionally distanced. I’ve already lost one old friend from college days because I refused to allow him to pour his opinions all over my Facebook wall; he did not take it gracefully.

I have, however, been dreaming again. Having had a spell where I was unable to either dream or to recall anything of the dreams I did have, to have dreams coming through again is something of a relief.

I’d like to share a few with you now. The first is from a few days ago.

I am at a party I don’t really want to be at. I don’t feel I know anyone, but here I am anyway. I make my way outside into the garden, which is untended and unkempt, and walled by high brick walls. I am shocked to see that our old round table is out there, left out to rot; I look closer and I see that the table is broken, split almost down the middle as if by an mighty axe blow. It’s not quite perfectly in half, but it looks beyond anything but very skilled repairs. The chairs that go with it lie on the rough grass, with tufts of weeds growing through them, left where they fell when pushed back by those who had sat upon them. I feel sad and a little sick, and move to go back inside. As I walk back up the steps, there is a small child there, a little boy of somewhere between one year and three. He speaks to me, and I answer, and though waking I cannot recall what he said, only that it was words and themes so far beyond such a tiny child, I know I reply with complete seriousness and great care. He speaks again and then laughs and it is like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, and I am filled with sudden joy (in waking life, I dislike small children) and I want to hold him up. I put my hands on him to lift him but find he is far too heavy for me to lift, heavier than a full grown man by far. I realise quite suddenly that I am not to do this, not to treat him as a tiny child, and I step away and apologise for overstepping the mark. But he laughs joyfully again and I know I have not offended (for how could I have known?) and then the dream ends.

The next dream is from the small hours of this morning. I’ve spent much of the day pondering on it.

The first part of the dream I am visiting an aquarium belonging to a friend; there are lots of huge tanks filled with marvellous fish and sea creatures and we walk among the tanks (it’s like a Sea Life centre). But she’s packing up intending to leave and the fish know and are upset, even though she says I am to look after the fishes when she is gone. There are commotions in many of the tanks, as the fish become disturbed and frightened; one tank we see that a sea snake has become so upset it looks as if it is trying to swallow one of the bigger fishes, so we intervene. Hauling it out and uncoiling it, I see that it’s not a sea snake but a big Burmese python and it has its own tail in its mouth, as if trying to swallow itself.

The dream moves and shifts, and I find myself outside a sea shore cottage. In the dream, it’s a building I have seen and admired many times but in waking life, it’s not one I recognise. The cottage is built on a ridge very close to the sea, alone and with no other buildings nearby. It belongs to a nun, an anchoress, who invites me in to see the house. The inside is Spartan, and neat in a quirky, somewhat Bohemian style, and there is little furniture. I go to the window to see the view; it’s open and I see that the sea is alarmingly close to the house, and huge waves are crashing on the shore. I try to shut the window as the biggest wave yet hits the shingle, and some spray gets through before I managed to get it shut. I am asked to go and fetch water; the cottage does not have mains water but gets its water from a spring outside. I ask what do I collect the water in, and am shown at first a wide shiny steel serving platter, like a concave mirror, but that seems silly to me as it will not hold more than a few drops, and I rummage around and find a glass vessel, like an amphora, that I carry outside.

The spring itself is a very odd thing; it’s a sort of strange fountain, like it has been grown from volcanic mud or worn out from a termite mound. Water comes intermittently from different spouts, but never much and never with a lot of force. It will take patience to collect water here. I start, only to see that the glass vessel is mostly filled with ashes (I think they are human ashes, as if from a cremation) mixed with small stones, grit and sand. It won’t shake out, so I start adding water to it, to try and rinse it out. The ashes are packed down tight and need a lot of water to loosen them. I wake before the vessel is emptied or cleaned.

Escape to the Paradise Garden

Escape to the Paradise Garden

The word paradise means a walled enclosure or garden and has long been used to mean the place souls go to when we die or the place where God lives. The garden of Eden in the Old Testament is the example many of us think of when we think of the word Paradise. I’ve always loved gardens but health issues mean that my participation in the process of creating and maintaining a garden is limited. An hour of hand weeding leaves me in such pain for days that I rarely risk it. Yet my mind goes inwards, to gardens I have known and gardens I would have liked to create. During the early stages of labour I spent time reading a book on herb gardens and daydreaming about creating such a place for meditation and contemplation. Unless I become wealthy it’s unlikely to happen but I still dream. When I am feeling low and in pain, I go to my paradise garden, in my mind and it refreshes me enough to keep going.

I share the following extract with no comment about its origin or intention:

Dressed and shod in light sandals, she made her way down the garden, her morning pilgrimage. The leaves were almost fully open now, and the grass was thick with bluebells, their smoky smell rising fresh and clean as she passed them. The blossom on the trees was at its peak, the first few petals starting to drop now. If there was a heavy frost now, there would be little fruit that year. Birds hopped from branch to branch, largely ignoring her now; she had begun hanging fat-balls and seed-filled feeders on a bird table near the house, and the birds seemed to appreciate the extra help. She took it as another sign of welcome that the birds did not react to her presence much now; at first there had been alarm calls and a mass exodus of the flocks of goldfinch and long-tailed tits each time she or Alex had gone into the garden.

Her daily exploration of the little wilderness that was her garden had begun to form paths through the long grass; Alex had offered to strim paths for her but she said to wait. The contact with the earth was her way of finding out what the garden held for her and what she could bring to the garden.

It had been the garden that had been the reason for moving here, though the house was precisely what both of them had wanted. They had spent months house hunting, and had begun to despair of finding the right place, before this one had come up. In need of serious renovation, it had charm and was in the right location but it wasn’t until Ginny had taken a walk through the jungle-like expanse of green at the back that it had become clear to them that this was where they were to live.

The estate agent showing them round had wanted to gloss over the wildly overgrown walled garden, explaining the extent of the grounds and mentioning a few days with a gardening company and a skip or two. Ginny had ignored him and had pushed her way through the thigh-high undergrowth with scant regard to the integrity of her clothes. After a few minutes, Alex heard her shout in excitement and had followed.

He found her standing in a dank clearing, close to the archway in the wall that held an ancient and forbidding looking door. Trees almost touched above their heads and at mid afternoon, it seemed they were in a green cave. Moss clung to the worn surfaces of the old bricks that made up the wall; the air felt moist and cool and he could see that the ground cover here was made up of ferns and mosses and other damp-loving plants.

Can’t you feel it?” Ginny exclaimed. “Close your eyes and listen!”

Obediently, he shut his eyes and tried to listen. It was faint but he could hear the movement of water somewhere close to them. He opened his eyes and looked more intently at his surroundings. The ground near the gateway was boggy, waterlogged even, and as his eyes became accustomed to the dim light, he saw that there was a tiny metal grille, almost rusted to one piece, set below the threshold. He moved closer and saw that it protected a slot cut into the stonework and a dark oblong was visible. This close he could see the water trailing into the slot, draining away. Doubtless beyond the door, the water flowed away in a tiny streamlet.

Ginny pointed back to the marshy area and he took a few careful steps that way. The spongy ground seemed to whisper, a wet mouthing of sounds, and when he bent down, he could hear a faint bubbling noise from the wettest area, where moisture puddled, in the middle of the clearing.

It’s a spring,” he’d said, his disbelief and joy clear to Ginny, though to another his calm face wouldn’t have betrayed much.

They’d put an offer in on the house that day, and when it was accepted they had commissioned the work needed to make the house habitable. During the work, Ginny had not allowed anyone to touch the garden. She had taken Alex down there, each time they’d visited while the renovations were in progress, and they had excavated the area with painstaking gentleness. The removal of the mud and debris had revealed a stony basin, placed there centuries ago, that the spring filled and then spilled out of into a rill that travelled under the door and out into the woods beyond. Once this water had been perhaps the only source of fresh drinking water for this area; Alex kept talking about having it tested for purity but Ginny just shook her head. The revelation of the spring had brought greater numbers of birds and small animals to the garden.

As she reached this private sanctuary, she saw that a pair of goldfinches were splashing in unrestrained enthusiasm in the spring and she stopped to allow them their bath undisturbed. Birds had started to nest weeks ago and she suspected there were many eggs and chicks hidden in the trees around the garden. If she woke early enough she would stand here and listen to the chorus that greeted the rising sun. Mixed with the trickling of the water, pure and clear, the music of nature blocked out the world beyond the garden walls.

After a few moments attending to their plumage, the tiny birds flew away in a bright sunburst of colour and she was alone.

I’m never alone. Not truly.

She took a few more steps and reached the bench Alex had made for her from two slices of a fallen tree and a section of the wood made into a rough plank. It was redolent with the beeswax he’d coated it with, and the surface was starting to achieve a sheen on the lightly smoothed surface. He’d not attempted to polish it, just to render the wood usable without getting splinters. Every day, rain or sun, Ginny sat here for a few moments at least. Some days, she would be here when Alex came home in the evening and he would never be sure if she’d been there since he’d left that morning. When he asked her once what she was doing, she was silent for so long he had to ask it again.

I’m listening,” she had said and did not explain further.

Tales of the Wellspring 4 ~ life, spirit and the land

Tales of the Wellspring 4 ~ life, spirit and the land

It’s been a considerable time since I wrote one of these posts; my interest in wellsprings has not waned but I have not felt led to write about them for a while. I’ve been a part of a couple of groups on Facebook which post photographs and articles on holy wells, springs and related phenomena, and it’s shown me how widespread and current a belief in the healing powers of wellsprings still is. In the UK and across the world, springs are revered and protected and visited by pilgrims seeking healing.

Such places usually have a powerful and numinous atmosphere, whether they are in towns or cities, or out in the wilds, or in corners of ancient sites of worship. Some are mere trickles that feed streams, sometimes drying up for months on end like the Swallowhead Spring that feeds the Kennet river near Avebury. Some have been channelled into stone troughs or even large pools (like Bath and St Winifred’s Well). Some are surrounded by fabulous gardens like the Chalice Well in Glastonbury. And some are hidden away, known to very few, like the one in Strangers and Pilgrims, only to be found by those who truly need their healing waters.

Human beings are composed largely of water. A recent humorous meme suggested that as we are 70% water (or thereabouts), humans are basically cucumbers with anxiety. Mild dehydration accounts for quite a number of health issues, from headaches to tiredness and foggy thinking, and without water there can be no life. Is it any wonder then that we have become entranced by the magic of water, especially water that bubbles up from the ground or comes out of rocks? We who are used to turning on a tap can take for granted the water we drink, yet in these days where our water supplies in many places are threatened by fracking, is it time to value water more?

In my recent visit to Austria, a friend took me to visit the immense 76m high waterfall at Golling

Golling Waterfall, looking down from the path

Golling Waterfall, looking down from the path

which was breathtaking and beautiful, and a little later, to St Bartholomew’s Well, a mile of so away, in the fringes of the forests where Franz Ferdinand once hunted and killed the White Chamois (more of that in another post). The little chapel was locked but the spring was accessible. It sang as the water bubbled out of the rocks and spilled over and streamed down the hill. I cupped my hands and drank of the water and it was pure and sweet and very cold. The local people still come and collect the water and it is said to have healing powers. For me, the chance to reconnect with nature and with the spirits of the land was healing in itself and a reminder that wellsprings are not only part of my own land’s traditions, but of the world’s. And in these dark days of separation and selfishness, where my country is about to go to referendum and vote to stay within the EU or to leave it, it’s a timely reminder that none of us should live for ourselves alone but always remember the greater world beyond our doors and shores.

St Bartholomew's Well, Golling, Austria

St Bartholomew’s Well, Golling, Austria

Without water, we all die, no matter how rich we are. Without spirit, there is no real life anyway. Wellsprings unite life and spirit through the medium of water and the marvel of water from the living rock is a thing that inspires us and heals our battered psyches.

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“Look, look up at the stars!”

Look, look up at the stars!”

Every night, we have a routine at bedtime. Cats are fed, litter changed, one cat gets medication. The guinea pigs are all given a cuddle and a brief inspection to make sure they are in perfect fettle, then they’re given their supper. We usually stand and watch them hurtling round, pop-corning with the excitement of fresh hay and cucumber, before they settle in and get busy eating. Then I go out into the garden to put out food for any errant hedgehogs. This winter has been so mild I suspect some haven’t hibernated much. Most nights, the two bowls (one of meal-worms and the other of cat biscuits) has been emptied, though I cannot say by whom precisely as during the day I do see blackbirds going into the shelter to feed on whatever is there.

Some nights I am already in pyjamas and dressing gown and I’m deeply grateful that our garden is both private and sheltered, because despite the fences and hedges, sometimes the wind catches me and makes me gasp with its face-slapping chill. But I almost always take a moment to look up at the sky.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut. I read science fiction, mostly totally unsuited to my age at the time because the niche YOUNG ADULT didn’t really exist when I could be considered its target demographic. Those who grew up in the sixties and seventies and liked science fiction might also have encountered British author Hugh Walters, and his series of science fiction novels about a group of astronauts. The series was written primarily for children, though looking back he was probably one of the first authors to target older kids and what are now considered young adults. Back in the day before the internet, I’m afraid I took as fact a lot of what turned out to be complete fiction. My country didn’t have a space programme and by the time I got to secondary school I realised that never in my lifetime would it have a proper programme of manned space flights. A dream died, a dream that probably had its roots in my father getting us up at silly o’clock to watch on television the moon landing in 1969. I will never be an astronaut.

But I am an explorer nonetheless. Though I will never set foot on another planet, I do explore other worlds. I do this through words, through inner vision and through the understanding, sometimes dimmed by time and pain and doubt, that this existence with its matter and its heavy gravity, is not the only one. Looking up at the stars last thing each night reminds me of this, for the stars are vast distances away and may not be reached in a human lifetime, though as a species we may reach them yet. A dream died, a dream that was something born of a child’s wonder at the vastness of the universe and at our first faltering steps to explore it. A new dream slowly unfolded over the restless lifetime that followed, one that has urged me to explore not outer space, but the inner worlds of the unseen, often unheeded and reviled as navel-gazing and self-indulgence. I believe that these worlds may truly exist, but not in a physical way we can comprehend or bring back moon rocks from.

So when I gaze up at the night sky, intoning the constellations and greeting (when the night is clear enough) both Venus and the moon in whatever phase she has reached, I am touching base with an old dream that holds hands with the new one.

http://www.bartleby.com/122/8.html

Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Christmas Eve (day twenty four)

Day Twenty Four

Christmas Eve

There is a feeling that sometimes arrives on this day, usually after the sun has set and the shops are all shut, and all that can be done has been done. It’s hard to describe and I am unsure of its origin, but it arrives like a benison from heaven and is like a sweet balm on sore skin, easing away pain and anxiety and suffering.

The best I have ever been able to do is to put some of my responses into poetry.

Bliss

Deep bliss, a feeling of velvet inside

An inarticulate rightness of being,

brightness of being right

And I cannot tell why or how

This feeling comes:

A simple certainty that all shall be well,

Now and always.

I cannot capture this feeling, pin down

And dissect it, tear its secrets apart

To reveal the truth I already know.

An image of bright butterflies,

The lark rising with its song,

A moment of purest knowing

Beyond that of intellect

And I sit here now,

Passive

Creative

Alive.

Christmas Eve 2003

Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Twenty

Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Twenty

DSCI0082 DSCI0079Day Twenty

Angel lights and angel chimes

The putting up of the Christmas decorations is my cue to get out my collection of angel lights, and also the angel chimes. Angel lights are little metal whirligigs that hold a candle; the heat from the flame rises and sets the thing spinning. I have five or six, all with slightly different pendant themes; some have angels, some have deer, some have stars. When they spin they create patterns of light and swirling shadows in a darkened room. It’s a simple, magical thing that brings me great pleasure.

I wrote a short Christmas tale about an angel light that you can read here.