A Story of Pagan

Pagan loved the Sun. No one could doubt that. And she loved the Moon too, and each night she would lie on the grass in a field just outside her house and look up at the stars that shone like tiny pin-pricks in the black velvet of the universe. There she could see her children marked in patterns across the sky. Gods of a land that was caressed by a warm near land-locked sea, and others too, gently moving in the night. Pagan loved the Earth too. She could see the shapes of giants in the rocks, and the Goddess in the rolling chalk hills.

Everyday she would go for a walk across the countryside and into the woods and sometimes, if she was lucky, and in the right place at the right time, she would see a group of deer, or a fox. And sometimes if she was luckier still she would catch the eye of the great stag that lived in the forest nearby and, just for a moment, she would feel its Spirit. And as the stag returned her gaze she could feel that the animal knew and understood her inner being too. These connections reminded her everyday that she was a part of the web that connected all life.

Nobody knew how old Pagan was. She had certainly been here since the first humans painted images of animals and dancing horned figures on darkened cavern walls, creating colour from minerals found within the bones of Mother Earth. And here she was, still looking at the Sun, Moon and Stars, still understanding her connection to all of life. The only person who really knew where she had come from was Pagan, and she was keeping her secret. Sometimes she felt bad about this. She knew that people longed to understand her more. When she occasionally went into the town she could see all of the books that had been written about her. Hundreds of books. All telling the story of her life, what she’d done, and what she believed. And she could see the people reading these books and she felt bad for them too. She wasn’t sure when it had happened but people had begun to look into the mirror of life and believe that what they saw there was the truth. If she could only smash those mirrors! Then people might look at each other more, and see their own reflection in the faces of their kin, not the reflected and reversed image of their own face. Just a face. Just a face. So she watched as people read books to try to understand exactly what it was that she believed.

And some of them argued too – about the right way to do things. About grades, levels of experience, whether the Elements really existed and, if they did, what made them correspond to particular directions. Were the Gods real? That was the one that upset her the most. Were they real? She could still remember the first people who, when hearing the sound of thunder, began to make offerings. She could still remember the hunter whispering words to an unseen power. And as years went on she thought of those days, and watched as those same people, years later, raised mighty earth tombs in honour of their dead, and still those lips moved in prayer. To what? She would never say. She never had to. Ever. But that seemed to be the missing part of the mirror people. She shook her head. The first people had no books, yet they knew. They had eyes, and ears.

Pagan loved to play. She would dance and sing, laugh and run about. She loved her circles, her elements, her patterns in the sky, the Sun, the Moon, the tales she told of ancient gods and heroes. She loved peaceful ritual, and ecstatic trance. She loved the simplicity of prayer and meditation, and the complexity of ceremony. She loved being with groups of people, and with the solitary on the hill. She knew all of the Gods by name, and she knew they were inside, outside, and nowhere. She knew with all of her heart that there were no secrets, but there were mysteries. And she also knew that each revealed mystery would be different for every soul that ever lived. And that is why sometimes she cried when she heard voices that tried to dominate with only one truth.

Pagan sometimes wondered why she was still a child.

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Stillness and the Born Survivor

When we moved into our home back in February 2001 there was a massive shed in a pretty small back garden and trapped behind the shed was a very sad and misshapen Willow. The deconstruction of the shed brought more space, but when it had gone we saw that the fence that had been behind the shed was rotten, so that had to be replaced. When it came to taking away the old fence it became apparent that the roots of the small Willow had grown through the concrete of the original fence post. It all had to come out, and subsequently even the roots of this poor tree took a beating. When it was finally out of the ground it looked like a couple of branches with a ball of root. Both me and Cerri were really sad as there seemed to be something about this poor tree that held the Spirit of Place. The new fence was put in, and we re-planted the Willow, giving it pride of place in our newly developing garden. Although at the time neither of us new if it would survive, or wither and die.

I’m sitting on our sofa now, and as I type this I can see the Willow. Bird feeders hang from its branches, and blue tits, starlings, sparrows, blackbirds, doves, and even the occasional peregrine falcon and sparrowhawk, have hopped around in its branches. The bare branches have now been covered in big seed pods that attract bumble bees in the early Spring. And soon, as I sit in our garden, the wind will blow through a canopy of leaves that give off the sound of the forest in our little suburban patch of Tir na Nog. And although we have 12 Ogham trees in our little garden, to me it is the Willow that stands as sentinel, as Guardian of our home.

As Druids we know we can learn much from the example of trees. The Willow is a born survivor. Yet it remains still, allows the birds to run through its branches, is caressed by the wind, and is kissed by the Sun. And as I stand outside each morning during my daily meditation, it is this lesson I take from my friend. That some of the greatest lessons come from stillness, from observation and inner contemplation.

Let the rest of the world move around us. For a while each day be a Human Being, not always a Human Doing.

The Holly King

I shall be as the Dark Holly King,

Darkness and cold in my cloak I will bring,

And on Winter’s nights to me you will sing,

Til the air around me starts changing,

And on the Noon of the Solsice I’ll give up my crown,

To the Light, and the mighty Oak King!

– Noon of the Solstice from Spirit of Albion

The Dark Lord, the Holly King, Arawn, Lord of Winter, a deity known by many names, one whose Zenith was marked at the Winter Solstice on the Longest night of the year, yet whose power and strength only seems to get stronger throughout these first few months of the Waxing Year. I have a deep and personal connection with the Oak King, Lord of Summer, but I have sadly not always felt that same connection with his darker brother. This is something I am addressing this year.

I remember playing a talk given by Professor Ronald Hutton on DruidCast where he said something like, “Pagan Gods are great, and full of hoof and horn, and sweat, and the men’s locker room, but which Pagan God would a parent take their sick child to for healing, or to offer love and comfort if that child had passed away?” Our Pagan Gods are wild, as is Paganism itself, but sometimes I feel that reflection, peace, calm, prayer, silence and love are too quickly labelled as ‘fluffy’. The irony is that, although Winter can be a harsh time of year, it’s also a time where the Earth appears to be hibernating, is calm, peaceful, and often silent. Of course there are storms, but there is also a stillness that is tangible. Walking through a woodland in late Autumn/Winter I can see deeper into it, I find the leaves underfoot comforting, and the oasis of the green of Holly and Yew remind me that although the God I know well is resting, or growing as a small child, I am still not alone, as the eyes of the Green Man’s face of evergreen is still watching me.

Whereas the Spring and Summer are times of bursting activity, it is the Autumn and Winter that give me these times of reflection. So although the Holly King’s face is thorny and tough, I feel it is to him I can go to in times of pain and hurt, for healing, for comfort. Less hoof and horn, and more a reminder that I am never truly alone, even in the darkest of times.

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.

The Heart of Samhain

I was asked very recently why Druids celebrate such a dark festival as Samhain. What is it about this shadowy and occult time, where the land is overrun with ghosts and ghouls, that makes us want to associate ourselves with it. I found it a really odd question, but I think it’s a topic that, unless you are involved with Paganism, can be confusing. To the mass populous Samhain is Hallowe’en. A time when children knock on the doors of strangers asking for sweets, when demons and ghosts run riot, where we carve pumpkins into scary Jack o’ Lanterns. So in a way it’s not surprising that some wonder why we would celebrate this as a spiritual festival. So I replied that it isn’t dark. That the darkness some people perceive comes from a fear and distance from death.

The feast of Samhain comes from a time when people didn’t have world trade. They couldn’t just pop to the supermarket to buy their food. They had to grow it all themselves. Samhain as Summer’s End marks the obvious slip into the darkness and cold of the Winter. There would be the slaughtering of cattle and salting of meat to preserve it, the bringing in of crops, and some would look at the older members of their community and wonder if these frail people would live to see another Spring. The Sun’s arc is in decline, bringing shorter and shorter days, and with these thoughts of darkness and death comes our memories of those that have past on before. The Otherworld lies close at this time of year, and sometimes it feels so close you can almost touch it. So, being so distant from those tribal peoples what relevance does Samhain have today?

Today most of us are so distant from even the idea of death that we find it dark and scary. Dead bodies are taken away, hidden from view, filled with chemicals, then put straight into a box, then into the ground or cremated. Death is such a part of life that this distance is, in my opinion, unhealthy. Many of us British people take that another stage further with the idea of having to keep our chin up, or that emotional-baggage inducing stiff upper lip. So many of us either will not allow ourselves to mourn, or are not allowed to by our peers. The act of crying is such an important part of letting go that in the end this pent up emotion has to come out in some way, and sometimes this is in illness or misplaced anger. So during our Samhain ritual we say that all the time the names of our loved ones are spoken into the air, they will know they haven’t been forgotten, and sometimes that very simple act of saying their name out loud, of bringing their faces into our memories, is enough to break that barrier of held grief, and allow people to begin to let go. A powerful and truly human thing.

A part of any spiritual path deals with what happens after we die. In the end none of us will truly know what will happen until we take that journey, but while we are here these spiritual teachings can bring us comfort and peace. As a Druid I believe in reincarnation. That when I die my spirit will travel to the Blessed Isles of the West, to rest, reflect on my life, and then to return to the Cauldron to be reborn again. I don’t know this, but I feel that it’s what will happen. I wonder if our journey after death reflects our beliefs in life. We shall all find out in the end, and maybe that is the real essence of Samhain that people find frightening and dark. That death is life’s one inevitable, and every day we are making our way on a journey towards that moment. Let’s spend the majority of our lives living, but once a year it’s good to ponder our mortality.

Anderida Gorsedd Spoils of Annwn camp

The theme of this year’s Anderida Gorsedd Autumn camp was the Taliesin poem The Spoils of Annwn.

From Friday night through to Sunday midday around 80 people worked with the powers and hidden mysteries of this poem that has been attributed as the origin of the Arthurian Grail Quest. On Saturday night the people at the camp boarded Arthur’s ship Prydwen that has been built in the field, and crossed the Waters of the West to walk through the Spiral Castle of Caer Siddi and travel to the Seven Caers – to look deep into the Cauldron of Annwn.

The following short film was taken during Saturday night with sensitivity to the magic of the moment, and I’m so glad it was as it captures the magic of the Anderida camps beautifully.

Spirit of Albion movie film diary day 7

Here’s the latest film diary!