The Blessings of the Wheel

I love the way our Pagan Wheel of the Year works its magic. It lies at the very heart of my spiritual life and I’m sure, like many other Pagans, the more I have worked with it, the more my own life has changed to reflect the turning of the seasons. So now, as the nights have drawn in, and the leaves have fallen once more to the ground to nourish next year’s growth, I too can feel the busy-ness of my own life changing. But just as the birds and animals are still busy searching for food, so I am searching for the Awen to inspire new songs, and to bless me with the insight for the arrangements of the songs I’ve already written.

I’m heading back into the studio to record a new album – the first album of my own songs since The Cauldron Born released in late 2008. I have a couple more concerts this year, and a couple early in 2012, but I have consciously created a space for that Awen to enter. And as I look outside at the late Autumn day I can see and feel that the energy is right.

The origin of some people’s inspiration is action, from friction and intense activity. Some people find their spiritual connections also come from that space, from drumming and dancing, screaming and chanting. I love that too, but I also know that the foundation of my inspiration comes from stillness, from peace. And that is another reason why I love the Wheel of the Year. The Spring and Summer are times of activity, when I am out playing at festivals, dancing around a burning Wickerman, running through a labyrinth, losing myself to the fire and power of the Pagan drummers. So when Autumn and Winter arrive I am ready to welcome their energy too – energies of reflection, and peace. I know that my spiritual life is enhanced by these changes. If all I knew was hot, how could I fully understand and appreciate it if I never felt cold? If all I knew was light, how could I fully understand and appreciate it if I never knew darkness? So if all I knew was wildness, how would I fully understand and appreciate it if I didn’t know stillness and peace? 

The Ancestor is standing at the Threshold. The woodland is still, and filled with the aroma of decaying leaves. And I am now ready to approach the Ancestor, to seek entry into the Grove of Reflection, to sit in stillness with eyes open, and to allow the woodland to accept my presence. Only then will the Faerie come out once more to dance, to show themselves to me, and allow me to hear their music.

Story of the Song – The Greenwood Grove

From the album The Hills they are Hollow.

As with many of my songs I had the tune for this song for a number of weeks before the lyrics finally arrived. Looking back I think I wrote two sets of lyrics for this and both ended up in the bin. But finally I was noodling with the tune on my mandolin in the living room and it was the chorus that came first.

Come follow me, come dance with me,

Come with me to the Greenwood Grove such magic there to see,

The Lord of the Wild with his Faerie Kin,

Deep within the Greenwood Grove,

We’ll dance the Magic Ring.

I remember looking at these words and thinking, ‘the only way I’m going to find out what this song is about is to do as the chorus asks, and follow the Lord of the Wild into the Grove itself.’ So I carried on playing the song, and closed my eyes.

Music takes me away. I can lose hours simply playing an instrument, closing my eyes, and riding the notes to wherever they take me. On this occasion I was taken into a woodland (no surprise there then!) and pretty soon I heard the sound of music being played, coming towards me through the woods. I hid behind an oak and waited as the music drew closer and closer. A huge horned figure led a procession of dancing spectral figures past me. Then came others walking behind, laughing and smiling, and others on horseback. Now I’m quite familiar with the stories of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer, but I had to follow, I had to, the music was irresistible.

I kept a small distance so as not to be seen, and soon the host began to gather in a clearing up ahead – an almost perfectly circular Grove. There was a hill in its centre that reminded me of a large round barrow, and the large horned figure slowly climbed the hill, and silence began to fall around the glade. He had a large club in one hand which he raised above his head, then brought it down onto the hill which resounded with a deep, hollow, sound. He raised it again, and once more it fell upon the Hollow Hill below, and then again, and again, until I realised he was creating a consistent bass rhythm, as other drums began to join him. The figures began to circle and dance in a magical ring dance around the edge of the Grove, then from the hill emerged a Man of Birch, followed by a Lady of Rowan. Other leafy-faced figures began to step from the Otherworld, through the Hollow Hill into the grove, and join the dance. I realised I was watching the Spirits of the Ogam trees join the dance, and in that moment the words of the song began to form.

I am the Birch of the new beginning,

The Rowan star with magic guarding…

The images around me began to fade, and I became aware that I was still playing the tune on my mandolin, and had been throughout all of this, and that it was this tune that the Faerie Host had been dancing to. I became more and more aware of the room around me, until I opened my eyes, and began to write. It was finished in no time at all after that. A gift from the Spirits of Nature!

Daily Practice

Last week I interviewed the author and teacher T. Thorn Coyle for DruidCast, the monthly podcast by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. One of the questions I asked her was what advice she could give to more experienced spiritual practitioners? The answer she gave was to make sure to have a regular daily practice. She also said to stop using the word ‘mundane’ to describe our everyday activities. That the spiritual can encompass everything we do, be that sitting in quiet meditation in the woods, working a deep magical ritual, or doing the washing up.

For many people I’m sure that this apparent simple answer could actually appear quite hard. Time is one thing. Where is the time for a regular daily practice, and how can washing up be seen as a spiritual pursuit? Her answer to time was also simple, most of us find time for Facebook and Twitter… It’s true with me, sometimes the way I use my time is not always the best and most spiritually nourishing. I’m sure many of us procrastinate, waste time, even use other tactics to self-sabotage our well-being, and then say ‘I just don’t have any time for myself’.

Thorn’s answer was to use some of that Facebook time, some of that TV-watching time, just 30 minutes a day, to take that walk in the woods, to go to another room in your house, away from distraction, and meditate. There’s no doubt that a daily practice reminds us who we are, and why we are doing this work. The opposite is also true – the longer we leave it, the harder it can be to make that connection with our spiritual selves again. Questions like, ‘I used to feel so much more, and now it feels like it’s all gone’ begin to arise. I’ve been there on a number of occasions when I’ve had a prolonged absence of spiritual practice. I know I’m not the only one.

And the spiritual connection of washing up? It’s obvious. These are the plates, cutlery, and pans that cooked the food that keeps us alive and feeds not just our bodies but our spirit. The food was grown from our Mother Earth, maybe an animal gave its life so we could eat. To make them clean again shows respect for that food, and for ourselves.

So that’s it. No more excuses. I can find that 30 minutes each day. If you’ve found yourself diverting your attention away from your spiritual needs, why don’t you join me?

Sources of Inspiration 2 – Places of Peace


The Quest for the Awen, yearning for those three sweet drops to fall upon my tongue, to open my eyes and see the world through the eyes of a poet is still a Quest that drives me every day. Nature is the world’s most intoxicating drug and the great thing is that in all of my encounters with her, the side effects of this particular addiction have all been, without exception, completely positive.

I am blessed by the fact that my chosen medium, acoustic folk, is infinitely portable – from an acoustic guitar or for even more portability, the tiny mandolin. I have written many songs in the quiet of my own home, but a number of the songwriting experiences I remember with most fondness are the songs that I caught whilst playing outside.

Some people find inspiration in conflict. Friction can be a wonderful source of inspiration and it has been for me a couple of times, Only Human instantly springs to mind, a song that I had to write after watching a program about animal experimentation, but for me the main source of inspiration is peace. I guess some may find no inspiration in peace at all, finding it too dull, still or quiet, but I have always known that I have within me an inner hermit who yearns for that sacred solitude that opens us up to the Divine.

Oak Broom and Meadowsweet was written in a woodland near Beltane, the floor covered with bluebells, and the voices of the Faerie almost dictating the words; Noon of the Solstice was written in the same woods, near the time of the Solstice, singing the words to the Horned God standing with my back to a mighty Oak; Hills they are Hollow was written in the stone circle at Merrivale with the ‘Tors standing as Guardians to the rites to Nature’s Gods of darkness and of light’; and Grimspound was written in the large roundhouse at the site listening to the calling Ravens and the voices within the fallen walls.

Other sites have inspired songs that have arrived some time after getting home. Land, Sky and Sea was inspired by a visit to St Ninian’s cave in Dumfries and Galloway where every day St Ninian used to make a pilgrimage down to the sea, to sit in this tranquil cave, and here he said he could talk to God and hear his reply. When I went to the place I also sat and spoke aloud, possibly to different Gods, but still there was a sense of connection that I can vividly remember whilst writing this. It is taking these experiences and putting them into words that have been a large part of my songwriting over the years.

So what to do? Well, I get on my walking boots, go outside, take my instrument with me, and a pen and paper. Choose a site that I love, and make a sacred pilgrimage to the place, making my intent the connection to the Site, not writing a song – the song comes from the connection.

When I get there I open up to the spirits of place, sit and open my senses – look, listen, smell, and touch deeply. A technique I learned from my Bushcraft training was to see with the eyes of the deer, listen with the ears of the hare, feel with the skin of a new born baby, smell with the nose of the wolf. This intense opening to the senses quiets the voice that chatters in my mind about the washing up, the bills to pay, that I am wasting my time and shouldn’t be here, that kind of thing. If I turn my attention away from that voice and solely to my senses, that
voice cannot get through. Combine this with conscious breathing and the connection with the place, and its energies, open to me, and then, sometimes, something wonderful happens, and I begin to hear the words of the Ancestors, then voices of the Faerie, the stories of the Stones.

Usually I just ‘noodle’ on the guitar, playing the words I hear with notes. We know that sound is vibration, that music is tuned vibration, and notes do not end after the string is played, but rather carry on out into the universe, and endless space. That is the space I get into, and if I am lucky I will catch a word or two, and begin to sing over the tune, and sometimes these words become a song.

It is the sense of peace I feel at these places that lets me open up to the flow of Awen. It is when I allow my inner hermit his space that the songs I feel most connection with are given voice. Do you have an inner hermit/monk? Do they get enough space? If not, try to give them time and space, and there you too might find peace, and taste the Awen.

Circles of Stone

What are they, these enigmatic circles of stone that can be found all across this land of Albion?

I remember the first time I consciously visited one. It was the Merry Maidens stone circle in Cornwall. My eldest son Zakk was still a baby, the sun was shining on a beautiful Summer’s day and we were on our family holiday, once more visiting my county of birth. Our next point of call was the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, but first we headed further down the county to seek out this mysterious place.

Parking the car on a grassy verge we got together all of the kit needed when you take babies with you on holiday – we were planning on having a picnic here too. I remember that day so clearly. I walked around the stone circle first, walking sunwise, spending a little time with each stone, reaching out and touching it, opening to its energy. Upon stepping inside I felt the air change – this happens when certain people cast their magical circles around sacred space too. It’s like the air becomes thicker, warmer, inside. I sat with my back to the eastern stone and watched my son crawling through the lush, long grass. Occasionally getting up and pointing him to crawl back to me when he got too far away.

There was magic here, a magic I felt in many other places during following years.

For some time I was a sales rep, on the road, calling on customers from Cornwall, Wales, Cumbria and Scotland. My area was the west of Britain, and I had to spend quite some time out on business trips. What I would do was look at my route for the week, then plan the sacred sites I could visit after my last call on each day. I had the Ordnance Survey Map of Ancient Britain and literally ticked off the places I’d been to as I travelled around. During this time I managed to visit a lot of sites. From the recumbent stone circles of Scotland, to Castlerigg, Arbor Low, the Druid Circle near Penmaenmawr, the Rollrights, Avebury and Stonehenge, Stanton Drew, Merrivale, and many other sites that are marked on the OS maps but have no name, some of which were so run down, or in the middle of the moors, that I had to really search for them.

Occasionally I would find offerings left by others – a small bunch of flowers, or a little cake. Sometimes there would be a candle, and sometimes wax on the stones themselves, and I found this harder to reconcile. But the degradable offerings I loved to find, as they showed that I was not alone in my love for these places, and that they were still centres of worship thousands of years after they were originally built. But this does open the argument for or against leaving offerings at sites.

I have heard some people call these offerings ‘debris’. I have seen one woman who worked for a sacred site tip out a plastic bag of offerings onto a table at a Pagan conference and go through them one by one. I have to say she did this in a very derogatory way, even when she unrolled a small scroll of paper that had been left at a stone circle and read out the handwritten poem to a departed loved one, as if it said nothing more than ‘Darren Waz Ere’. I found this as disrespectful to the person who had left this offering, as she did about the ‘debris’ itself. Obviously this wasn’t and still isn’t a simple issue. However when Cerri suggested that it might be a good idea to have a table at their site so people can leave offerings there that idea was scoffed at and dismissed as this ‘suggests we know that these stone circles were religious centres and they might just have been goat pens!’ Okay then, continue to deal with the ‘debris’.

To me these circles of stone are a legacy left by our ancestors. The people who built them were Pagan (although we don’t know the details of their beliefs). The Paganism of today has emerged as a need of our time, and these sites form a direct link to those that came before, and I think it is right that we respectfully hold our ceremonies at these sites, that we visit them and seek wisdom there, and also that we build our own like the one on Limetree Farm in Yorkshire. The other choice is to leave them as sterile monuments for tourists to photograph, then get back on the coach until the next one, possibly giving them no further thought.

I think (and of course I may be wrong) that if the people who built these sites 5000+ years ago knew that in the year 2010 there were still Pagans who revered the Earth, who worked with pantheons of Pagan Deities, were meeting and working their magic at that same site, trying to get in touch with the feelings and energies that the builders might also have been seeking, I think they would be very happy about that. And even if they are just goat pens (and I really don’t believe that!) a part of modern Paganism is a reverence for our ancient ancestors, and these sites form that link with them. Their blood and sweat helped form them, and our rituals today are empowered by them, their legacy, and their memory.

DruidCast Episode 39a – Special edition – Wild Wisdom Meditations

Shownotes for DruidCast Episode 39a

This is a special edition of DruidCast that features a guided meditation on all four elements taken from the album Wild Wisdom Meditations and led by Philip Carr-Gomm. Music is by Nigel Shaw (http://www.seventhwavemusic.co.uk). There are four more meditations in this series and they are available on the album Wild Wisdom Meditations from either iTunes or CDBaby.com.

iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/wild-wisdom-meditations-earth/id377293139
CDBaby: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/PhilipCarrGomm

I hope you enjoy the journey!

Direct download: http://c3.libsyn.com/media/18840/DruidCast_SHOW39a_OBOD.mp3