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.

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There is no separation, you are part of me

As I sit here writing this I can look outside and see clear blue skies, the Bluebells are growing, the Daffodils are in flower, and the Willow is budding. Spring is knocking on the door and, as I do every year, I give thanks to the turning seasons we have here in the UK.

I watched the new science program by Professor Brian Cox last night during which he tried to show the life cycle of the Universe. It was an amazing program that illustrated what lots of us already know – that to have life there needs to be change. The Universe is on its own journey through its own seasons and it is only during this time in its existence that life is possible, not just here on Earth but anywhere in the Universe. I found that incredibly inspiring – not just how lucky I am that, of all of the creatures in the Universe I could have been, I am a Human Being, but now that I have even been born at all! In countless years from now the Universe will have passed the point where life is possible. These ideas push my spiritual beliefs and make me look at what that means for the Green Man, for this beautiful and precious Earth. That’s a topic for another blog post in the future though, because what is currently on my mind is not the end of the Universe, but where we are right now, deep in the life of it!

The feeling I have inside at this point of the year is almost indescribable. I am not a fan of the Winter but I am deeply grateful that we have that dark time for without it, there would not be this moment when life is just about to burst back once more. Every year my life has this renewal, a rebirth with the year. I too have retreated into the darkness over the Winter, and like the plants, trees and animals I am a part of this rebirth.

I also watched Countrytracks last night during which the presenter went to a lonely island off the western isles of Scotland. She said, “No one lives here, but there’s lots of wildlife.” I had to laugh as within that comment she illustrated what many humans honestly feel, that they are separate from nature and are not Wildlife. But it is obvious to me when I go outside at this time of year that I am Wildlife – I am feeling the same as the bird, the waking insect, the opening leaf and flower, and it’s wonderful! Even in what appears to many as a ‘mundane’ reality I can encourage this same sense of renewal and leave behind those things I no longer need, knowing that they’ve fed and nourished me (even if sometimes it doesn’t feel that way!) during my dark time, because now is the time for my rebirth. Let’s face it, the energy that feeds plants and trees comes from waste, I’m pretty sure I’m the same too! There is no separation, I am Wildlife, a part of the life of this planet, of this Universe.

So I give thanks for my life, for who I am, where I live, what I have in my life, and the wonders of nature that surround me, and are within me!

Major Influences Part 2 – John Denver

My Dad was, and still is, a big country music fan. My very early introduction to music consisted of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Don Williams, Emilou Harris, Dolly Parton but above all of these was John Denver. His songs were the soundtrack of my childhood, and of all of the country music I heard in those early days it’s really only John’s that has stayed with me. You only have to listen to the opening bars and the groove of Song of Awen to realise what an influence on my music he has been.

John Denver was a true country boy. Living in the mountains his inspiration came from the sights and sounds that surrounded him. Nature really is the best artist, and his lyrics and melodies manage to capture that essence of wildness that so many modern Pagans seek as part of their spiritual path. Add to that his voice, one of the purest voices in music with a natural vibrato and quality that I don’t think any other singer has matched since, and you have a near perfect singer/songwriter for a budding Bard. John Denver’s songs convey a connection with the Natural World that speaks directly to the heart. I regularly, even now, find tears of joy streaming down my face when I’m listening to his songs. I find myself nodding my head saying, “Yes! Yes! That’s it! You’ve got it, you understand!” Here are some examples of what I mean –

The Eagle and the Hawk

I am the eagle, I live in high country
In rocky cathedrals that reach to the sky
I am the hawk and there’s blood on my feathers
But time is still turning they soon will be dry
And all of those who see me, all who believe in me
Share in the freedom I feel when I fly

Come dance with the west wind and touch on the mountain tops
Sail o’er the canyons and up to the stars
And reach for the heavens and hope for the future
And all that we can be and not what we are

Rocky Mountain High

Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply
Rocky mountain high


Sunshine on my Shoulders

sunshine, on my shoulders – makes me happy
sunshine, in my eyes – can make me cry
sunshine, on the water – looks so lovely
sunshine, almost always – makes me high

if i had a day that i could give you
i’d give to you a day just like today
if i had a song that i could sing for you
i’d sing a song to make you feel this way

if i had a tale that i could tell you
i’d tell a tale sure to make you smile
if i had a wish that i could wish for you
i’d make a wish for sunshine all the while

He started the Winstar Foundation, a charity that promoted sustainable living, back in 1976, and was a keen environmental activist. His song Annie’s Song is still one of the most romantic, beautiful love songs ever written. Who knows what other great songs lay in wait from the Awen of John Denver, but sadly we will never know as on 12th October 1997 he got into his experimental light aircraft which crashed, taking his life and with it, his genius. Forever missed, his music will always live on in the hearts of those who believe that ‘they would have been a poorer man if they never saw an eagle fly.’

Blessed be John Denver.

A Lyric – That Happily will no longer be Used

Lore says that the ancient Bards could raise welts on the faces of their enemies just by using the magic and power of words. I rarely write political songs but sometimes the energy of the moment just gets to me and a song is the only way I can let off steam. Only Human was one, Pagan Ways and Tomb of the King were another two. I’m so glad that my most recent political song, written about the UK Government’s plans to sell of England’s forests, will now no longer be recorded. Yesterday they announced they are scrapping the idea. I never entirely trust politicians so I’ll be watching closely, but on this occasion common sense and people power have won, and although the other parties are now chasing Cameron down calling out ‘U turn’ etc, I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say thank you.

However…

Just in case they decide that, while we aren’t looking, to implement an equally idiotic forestry scheme, I’ve decided to print the lyrics of the song what would have been flying around the internet. It’s an angry song, because I was angry when it was written. “If you thought that we would do nothing, you’ve misunderstood…”

 

The Sons and Daughters (of Robin Hood) – Damh the Bard

Verse 1:

We all watched you on our TV,

Right Honourable Gentlemen, apparently,

Different voices with only one aim,

To win my vote, to win the game.

People have died to pave the way,

So we can vote come polling day,

X marks the spot that gives us our voice,

But how do you vote when there isn’t a choice?

 

Chorus

If you thought that we would do nothing you’ve misunderstood…

For we are the Sons and Daughters of Robin Hood!

 

Verse 2:

See I remember exclusion zones,

At Solstice time around the Stones,

Poll Tax riots at Trafalgar Square,

The rich they got richer, the poor were stripped bare.

Building new roads with no thought for the land,

And the blood of the Beanfield is still on your hands,

Now drilling off Shetland will do just fine,

And you’re selling off forests like you closed down mines.

 

Chorus

If you thought that we would do nothing you’ve misunderstood…

For we are the Sons and Daughters of Robin Hood!

 

Bridge:

Nothing to see, there’s nothing to see, there’s nothing to see here…

Nothing to see, just look away, there’s nothing to see here…

 

Verse 3:

England’s green and pleasant land,

Is not there to put cash in your hands!

I see your symbol is the English oak tree,

Is that your idea of irony?

Now thousands of eyes will fall upon you,

Each watching closely what you will do,

All are ready to spoil your game,

For the blood of an outlaw flows in our veins!

 

Chorus

If you thought that we would do nothing you’ve misunderstood…

For we are the Sons and Daughters of Robin Hood!

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.

The Pressure of the Creative Soul

Having recently turned my attention to writing songs for my next studio album I wanted to write a blog about the pressure we can sometimes feel as creative beings. But then I saw this wonderful video on Philip Carr-Gomm’s blog and thought that Elizabeth Gilbert, author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ said it so well. Inspiring, entertaining, and affirming.

Thank you 2008 and Happy New Year!

dscf2223Well, 2009 is now here, but what of 2008? I have to say that, if 2006 was the year I finally decided to put my all into my music, then 2008 was the year it all started to come together. A new album that has received positive reviews all over the world, a song book of my first three albums, gigs almost every weekend including overseas concerts, my songs being covered by other recording artists, I’ve met the most beautiful people playing smaller home concerts, it was truly a wonderful year.

I started playing the guitar when I was 8 years old, so it’s not been quite an overnight, X Factor thing for me, but 35 years later and I feel I can finally call myself a professional musician, and it feels so good, a dream. So thank you 2008, and to everyone who has sung along with me live, or to my music in your homes, to everyone who is strumming along and hopefully writing your own songs, who has taken time out to travel and see a show, to all of you who read my blog, get my newsletter, listen to the podcast, to everyone who has come to the Long Man of Wilmington to one of our rituals, or our camps, to the musicians I’ve played with, and everyone else.

I write my music because I love the tradition, I love this land and our Old Ways, and it’s the most wonderful thing in the world to be able to share that with you. So please allow me a gushy moment to thank you.

So have a wonderful 2009! I do hope our paths will meet this year and if they do, come and say hello!!

x