from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Friday, 29 November 2013

snake medicine

minoan snake goddess (from

Snake medicine has reared its head for me a little recently. In my postings on Mercury/Hermes lately I mentioned the very potent symbol of the caduceus wand, and I've spoken there or elsewhere on my blog (probably several times) of the bad press the snake or serpent, one symbol of the Goddess and also of wisdom in the Old Ways, has received under Christianity and the patriarchy. 

There's the shedding skins thing, too. Then there's kundalini, and the fact that the Buddha is portrayed sometimes with a cobra rising above his head: sign of the initiate, one who has transmuted the grosser aspects of being into the transcendent function, thereby opening the crown centre of realisation, or enlightenment.

In symbolic systems of thought, specifically in relation to shamanic practice, if an animal Other 'appears' to you three times, it's worth taking notice (I should say that clearly this doesn't count with domesticated animals whose viewing will be commonplace!).

A friend has just spoken to me of her experience with 'snakes in the grass'. 

Another friend last week told me a Hindu story about dealing with anger:

One of the gods called Snake to account for biting some people. 'This is not OK,' said the god. Snake slithered away, crestfallen.

Shortly after, some people beat snake to within an inch of his life (etc). Snake simply lay there writhing, letting it happen. After, he dragged his broken and bruised body slowly and painfully back to the god. 'Now look at what's happened,' said Snake, 'when you told me not to bite.'

'But I didn't tell you not to hiss,' exclaimed the god.

As someone who struggles with anger, my own and others, this was extremely helpful to me. I hate conflict, hate hurting others (and also took when I was in my late teens a Buddhist precept on trying my best not to hit out at others), and will almost always take the route of giving someone the benefit rather than lashing out, if I can. Fairness is extremely important to me. (Also I want to be able to look back and be proud of how I handled certain situations, too – and then there's the issue of karma!)

Sometimes this has been misguided and naive: it's left me too wide open (as I am beginning to realise there is such a thing as being too wide open), landed me in hot water because I don't stand up for myself when I should, and can become a doormat, bruised and battered without retaliating (if that's not mixing my metaphors too much). Sometimes, because I tend to swallow and say nothing, others don't realise the hurt they've caused me – and of course my own resentment builds, which isn't helpful to either them or me. 

It takes an awful lot to get me to red-hot anger (usually because I don't recognise my own anger), and I don't relish arriving there as I have a very sharp tongue; luckily, probably, it's only emerged a couple of times in my life. I also, fortunately, have some very good friends who are open and self-aware enough as to look at their own shit rather than simply hitting out, knowing that I'm doing the same; this is so useful because it provides a safe and trusting environment in which to explore difficult issues. In any difficult exchange, I will always examine my part in it; it seems the only compassionate and wise response. I so value people who will do the same. Sometimes, of course, I get it wrong; too often, that's unfortunately in the other's favour in cases where, for instance, my instinct tells me something and I over-ride it with rationalisations. But all this is how we learn, isn't it; and hopefully we don't cause too much harm en route – though I accept that sometimes we all will, too, and we so need to then forgive both self and others. We're all in this together.

Another little revelation for me, coming from  a Buddhist monk lately, was a teaching on forgiving. 'But we don't have to forget,' he said. That took me aback. Surely that was also the wise kind thing to do? But the more I thought about it the more I realised what he meant: that forgetting the causes means that we fall over and over into the same trap. Forgiving means stopping beating ourselves and others up and letting go of the grudges; not forgetting  means avoiding putting oneself into the same situation over and over; rather, learning and moving on.

So, as you might have gathered from a few posts lately, I'm learning to hiss; belatedly, perhaps, but better than never. It's also about self-respect.

So, given the 'appearance' of Snake three times in a week or two (I'm including my Mercury blogpost snakes), I thought I'd remind myself of its symbolic qualities.

In the native/first nation American Medicine Cards of Jamie Sams and David Carson, card number 6 is Snake. Here's the opening, in case it's of interest for anyone else out there:

Snake: Transmutation

Snake medicine people are very rare. Their initiation involves experiencing and living through multiple snake bites, which allows them to transmute all poisons, be they mental, physical, spiritual, or emotional. The power of snake medicine is the power of creation, for it embodies sexuality, psychic energy, alchemy, reproduction, and ascension (or immortality).
    The transmutation of the life-death-rebirth cycle is exemplified by the shedding of
Snake's skin. It is the energy of wholeness, cosmic consciousness, and the ability to
experience anything willingly and without resistance. [My italics, as it's also relevant to Buddhist thinking on not craving or pushing away any experience.] It is the knowledge that all things are equal in creation, and that those things which might be experienced as poison can be eaten, ingested, integrated, and transmuted if one has the proper state of mind.
    Thoth, the Atlantean who later returned as Hermes and was the father of alchemy,
used the symbology of two snakes intertwining around a sword to represent healing. Complete understanding and acceptance of the male and female within each organism creates a melding of the two into one, thereby producing divine energy.
This medicine teaches you on a personal level that you are a universal being. Through accepting all aspects of your life, you can bring about the transmutation of the fire medicine.

(The keynotes are to transmute all poisons, shed the skins of the past, and honour the change in progress.)

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

'in the time of no time' (haibun)

As light relief from the more cerebral content of my recent posts, I thought I'd give you a haibun. There's lots to say about this form; it's one I like very much, and use quite frequently.

A haibun is a kind of prose poem that sits at the threshold of many aspects of writing: it uses the heightened compressed language of poetry in a prose form, while combining journal-writing and philosophical commentary among other things, if desired.

A characteristic is the incorporation of little haiku-like poems.

As far as I know, the earliest haibun we are aware of is the long extended Narrow Journey to the Deep North of Basho, dated (from memory) to the C17th. The whole text is one long haibun.

This one, below, comes from my collection Bardo. (This is a collection of mainly prose poems.) Once again, I offer occasional workshops on the haibun form; notably under the 'Zen and Poetry' label (click here).

In the Time of No Time
The bead curtain of the rain at the door’s threshold, the way rain’s contours soften the winter hills and trees. Beyond, mist snags in the teasels. Sheep bells fill the valley like a river.

Later the boar, hearing us, fled. I thought it was the windrush in the canopy of last year’s leaves. Caught the last glimpse of their hurtle through the oakwood, five of them, hairy, snorting.

You walk ahead; you are essentially solitary, a mountain man.The cairn I make for you, on this your birthday, balanced on the ridge at the end of the ride, limen between here and there, now and then, may last, may fall.

You ask me what it means. I can’t say. To mark a place and a moment, maybe. A gift, an offering, a celebration, small precarious monument to precarious early –

An orientation?

To see the path, you need first to squint through the hole in the top stone, close-up, then step back and let it rise towards first your eyes and then your feet.

On the limestone brow

los tres peyres in low sun

dance their slow stone dance.

The cycles of it all. We move between speech and silence, between intimacy and the less permeable space we each inhabit, on our own.

Later I will think of the cairn, its stillness, how it consists of moss and stone grown so close they’ve become integral, yet each retains its own essential nature.

Your hands are in my hair. Sunset lights up the far hill for a brief instant.

We begin the walk 

back down in bosky gloaming
towards the future.

© Roselle Angwin 2005 


Between now and December 20th I'm offering a discount of £5 on the total cost if you buy any two of these books: Bardo, All the Missing Names of Love (poetry), Imago (novel), The Burning Ground (novel) direct from me. (I'll only charge one lot of p&p.) There are ways to contact me on this blog and my websites, or go direct to Paypal and find my name.

Monday, 25 November 2013

goddesses - or how to break the patterns

Well, I have a very ambivalent relationship to the Greco-Roman underpinning of our culture. For myself, the myths and archetypes of our own British mytho-spiritual tradition have more resonance. (Here, I'm using the word 'archetype' to mean a particular constellation of specific energies in the psyche, individual and collective.)

Nonetheless, for complex reasons, Greek mythology offers us archetypes that are perhaps more clear-cut than our British deities (deities, we would say in our post-Jungian world, are externalised collective archteypes), more readily distinguishable one from the other. So in terms of representing certain characteristics, I thought – following on from recent posts on sealskins, homing and martyrdom – I'd offer here a brief breakdown, for those of you who are interested, of Jungian Jean Shinoda Bolen's amazing work on goddess archetypes: Goddesses in Everywoman (she's also written Gods in Everyman).

This was an immensely important book for me in my thirties, as it allowed me to gain perspective on certain motivations and tendencies in myself.

I'm just going to be brief. Buy the book! It's another of those 'must haves' if you're interested in 'personal growth'. 

What I'm putting forward is that once we can identify which archetypes drive us most strongly, we then have a choice consciously to develop others, to balance these out. This can only lead towards more wholeness: arguably our 'reason' for being here.

So here, in Bolen's view, are 3 archetypes that operate in a woman's psyche that suggest that one is primarily motivated – and, importantly, defined – by one's relationships with human others. Bolen she calls these 'the vulnerable goddesses':

Hera/Juno, defining herself by her role as wife;
Demeter/Ceres, defining herself by her role as mother;
Persephone/Proserpina, defining herself by her role as daughter.

Then there are the 3 'virgin goddesses', who, as operant archetypes, are reasonably self-sufficient and do not define themselves by their role in relation to a (frequently male) Other:

Hestia/Vesta, keeper of the temple flame;
Athena/Minerva, stateswoman and political thinker, intellectual, craftswoman and poet, who identifies/allies herself more with a 'masculine' role in the world than with the 'feminine';
Artemis/Diana, champion of the sisterhood, fierce defender of the wild and the natural world.

Then there is Aphrodite/Venus, who occupies a unique role: as a creative love goddess she is very much involved in relationship, but is not in thrall to a man or her family, and does not define herself by her sexual or other relationships although they are very important to her. Like the vulnerable goddesses she values her relatedness; like the virgin goddesses she is self-determining. She is a 'woman in and to herself'; Bolen also calls her the alchemical goddess, inspiring and transforming others, as she can. A woman for our time, I think.

It seems clear to me which of these seven are particularly needed in our contemporary society. And I guess we'll have personal favourites; but most of all they need to pull together to serve the Greater Good, whatever we understand that as being.

And I personally have been working at this job of inclusion for over 25 years, and although the three that remain my own personal primary motivators are still strong, in this time I've managed to develop a somewhat more conscious relationship to all of them (of course not all the time, and of course there is always shadow-stuff to deal with).

Increased awareness of impulses that drive us, and finding ways to envisage/depict those (one of the gifts of archetypal psychology), gives us more choice, doesn't it, and therefore more freedom.

I occasionally lead workshops on these themes. Email me if you want to hear more.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

apples, Eve and selflessness (not)

I've spent the afternoon gathering yet more apples. In moving in with TM I've inherited, in effect, the ten-tree apple orchard he and his ex planted twelve years ago. On the advice of an apple-grower they planted varieties that suit the local conditions, and the genius is that the ripening times are different, so there is still one big tree yet to harvest – though meantime we've more than we can eat, store, press for juice and give away. The migrating thrushes, blackbirds and redwings are sharing our feast, and I've invented a hot Devon apple cake with almonds and marzipan.

I love this little orchard, and apples generally, magical fruit that they are.

As I'm picking this afternoon I'm thinking, still and again, about the differences between the masculine and feminine principles – I don't mean biological genders, but more macro-cosmically, in the psyche, individual and collective, and perhaps in the order of the cosmos, the two great poles between which all existence cycles.

This is based, in the way I'm reflecting on it, in the fundamental Jungian idea that we all have a trans-sexual part, and whichever our biological gender one or other principle will tend to guide the way we view the world. There are many ways of speaking about this, and I've written, and am writing, at length about all this elsewhere, so won't go there now, but a useful way of looking at this is to do with the logos/mythos dyad on which Karen Armstrong has written insightfully in her little book of the same title. We often speak of it as being the difference between the rational mind and the intuitive, or between thinking and feeling, for instance.

I think a lot about what the Judeo-Christian tradition did with Eve, the apple, the serpent and the exile from the Garden. Once again, there's much to say about this, and I shan't; but if we look at the apple as being a symbol of the Great Goddess from the pre-Christian nature-based religions, as it is (cut an apple round the middle horizontally and there is the most beautiful star-pentagram, also a symbol of the Goddess), and the serpent as being the old pagan symbol of wisdom, we can see that Eve was inviting Adam into a necessary journey of consciousness towards the kind of wisdom that leads to and is a result of the union of those two abiding principles. 

In the traditional Christian tradition, Eve got the blame for 'tempting' Adam, as we know. But then, in traditional Christianity, women have fairly proscribed roles, and leading a man to wisdom isn't one of them. Sacrificing herself to a man, now, that's different. Which leads me to...

Picking up on my deep homing theme of the other day, more than one woman has emailed me to say how difficult she finds it to take time out for herself and attend to her creativity. This same dilemma comes up over and over in my courses – and in my own experience – for women. (I imagine men have an equivalent dilemma, but I imagine its parameters are slightly different.)

And therein lies another distortion from the Judeo-Christian legacy: 'to love' means to be endlessly self-sacrificing, acting only selflessly. NO, it doesn't. That's actually not loving, but martyrdom. If you try that too long, an inevitable resentment grows in the shadow; plus too often this kind of selflessness comes across as manipulation – making another feel guilty 'for all I've done for you', or tied to you in dependence. This dynamic is a symptom of co-dependence, not love. 

It would be good to act genuinely from something beyond self-interest, and to have an eye to the greater good – obviously. To be in service to something greater than our petty little egos might well be why we're here. I don't think that's the same thing, however.

Of course there are times when we have to sacrifice what we would like, or need, for another. Of course there are times when, especially as women, we have to put our own needs bottom of the list to take care of dependents. But not routinely, unless one has the very good reason of young children; and with another adult it's often not love that is the motivation, but our own neediness, or our own fear of extending ourselves into all that we might be, or fear of acting independently, or finding we don't 'need' the situation or people we thought we did, or that we're not indispensable after all, and they will find they can manage perfectly well without us. Or, of course, the fear that they can't manage without us – now that's a good fear to be a martyr to!

It's easy to blame the other and their expectations. When I curtail a bout of creativity mid-roll because TM is just home and he's had a long hard day and would perhaps like a welcome, am I doing this because of his expectations of me? Because of my own expectations of me? Because I'd feel hard-hearted to put continuing my creative activity ahead of going into the house and lighting a fire to greet him, even though I shall secretly be disappointed to tear myself away – and subtly blame him and (my perception of) his expectations?

Or am I glad of the excuse because then, if my creative efforts don't bear the fruit I hoped, I can tell myself that they might have worked out if I didn't 'need' to give him so much attention/he didn't 'need' me to give him so much attention – and still secretly blame him?

Do I fear that I'm not being a 'good partner' if I'm not there for him – and do I really believe this, or is that my cultural conditioning? Would it really hurt him if one evening now and then I stayed on late working at something I'm excited and inspired by, which will in turn make me happier and nicer to be around?

Which is the genuinely loving option?

In other words, it's my choice, and the loving thing to both of us is to take responsibility for taking care of myself, learning how to love myself.

When I know how to do that, and commit to doing that, whatever it means for me, regardless of what another/others/the culture expect of me, I'll be able to have a better shot at loving another.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

this tonight is happiness

What you can't hear is the sea, wind and hail outside, or the fire inside (or the bum notes I was making earlier). 

What you can't see is the dog close by, and my grin.

What you can't smell, or taste,  is a good tomato and garlic sauce cooking for my pasta.

Those are enormous violets, and little wild roses from a huge hedge colony (no, I wouldn't normally pick wild flowers but I can't tell you about the synchronicity), grown outside in the West Cornwall micro-climate, in November.

Today, a few pages and an outline under my belt – this is The Book I've been not writing for years – and oh just a couple of poems.

However, I seem to have mislaid my intention to find a glass of wine. Oh and wait – I've mislaid the wine. Oh well.

And yes indeed, I know how very fortunate and blessed I am... I don't ever take that for granted.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

deep homing

I can't speak for men, but most women – I'd say all women, whether or not they know it – have a deep need to return home, now and then, or maybe frequently.

By 'home' I don't mean a house – though that may also be where one needs to go. I mean time out, purely for oneself, back to one's soul-place, which might (also) be an outer location but is always, always, an inner one. It's wherever we know ourselves to be whole, complete, joy-filled, at peace. It usually though not always requires solitude.

This is putting on the sealskin – I spoke of that the other day, here. We need to be able to dip our cups in the well, to shrug off our responsibilities to others, to undomesticate ourselves. This is especially important for those women who are sensitive, natural carers, and creative, perhaps, especially if they are 'out there'; and if you are also one of those many women whose attention is naturally 'diffuse' rather than focused, it's especially important. (According to Jungian J S Bolen these women, even if they're alone in their room eg writing, find it hard to tune all of their consciousness to what they're doing, being perpetually aware of significant others even if those others are quiet and absorbed in something of their own.)

Many women find it hard to 'justify' this kind of time out, especially if they work/are in relationship/have dependents. Thing is, it's essential; particularly if you work/are in relationship/have dependents. Indispensable. I know this, coming from complete burnout due to overwork (albeit in work I love), over-commitment to others and causes and campaigns, and six years in which I tried to look after too many other people, sick people, when I hadn't the resources to do so (on top of many years of being a single parent working very long hours on a low income). In fact, I barely had the resources to look after myself, and my heart ended up paying the price – literally, but what a wonderful metaphor.

Now I find that my 'homing' this last year has taken me over and over into silence and solitude, and usually into wildish places, physical places that can allow my soul the immersion it needs: most especially and frequently the sea, and almost always into the company of animals. I've taken notice and gone; and I have the kindest sweetest friends who, one way or another, have enabled me to do this.

That's another thing: soul-friends (and I've written about this elsewhere on this blog too). 

And, this time, excitingly, I have the stirrings of a new book; I've barely caught sight of its tail, yet, but I've glimpsed it, tantalisingly, disappearing into the trees now and then...  That's another reason why I'm here: I can't easily approach it in a domestic context.

I notice people's reactions to my doing this (going off alone, I mean). I live frugally, and when I go off it barely costs me anything, and I usually take some work with me (usually my own creative work rather than the tutoring and mentoring I also do – and love). But I notice how envious people are, and how they comment on the fact that it's not the first time this year I've done that, and what about my partner – and I notice how I read this almost as a criticism in our driven achievement-oriented co-dependent culture. And this year, I'm clearly not stressed enough! 

It's hard even for TM – who never criticises my motivation or 'time out' as such – to understand why I need to go elsewhere when we live where we do, in a secluded and beautiful very quiet spot; and as he points out to me I have my own working space and he's hardly a noisy or demanding man. But go I need to; sea and silence and solitude are, I discover, non-negotiable. I tell him gently, and I tell him it's not about escaping him but about finding myself again – without domestic routines, phone calls, Stuff To Do.

And, as someone who's been over-responsible all my life, this is a major step forward. I recommend it. In fact, I request that you too try it, if you don't already.

Here's Clarissa Pinkola Estes: 'If a woman absolutely values her going-home cycles, those around her will also learn to value them... For some, being in a room with the door closed, but still being accessible to others, is a fine return to home. For others, though, the place from which to dive to home needs to be without even a tiny interruption... For this woman, the inlet to her deep home is evoked by silence... Utter Silence, with a capital U and a capital S. For her, the sound of wind through a great loom of trees is silence. For her, the crash of a mountain stream is silence. For her, thunder is silence. For her, the natural order of nature, which asks nothing in return, is her life-giving silence...'

From here, the far west, in the utter silence of sea and wind, I raise a glass of solitude to you, sisters – and brothers, too...

Monday, 18 November 2013

hiss or kiss?

West, the clouds have been outlined as if with one of those gold gel Christmas pens. Their heavy bellies have been combed into a fine deep translucent fan, glazing the horizon. Above the nearest cloud, Venus climbs high.

We're walking in the dimpsey, Dog and I. The bank, made of huge granite boulders, glows in the near-dark and seems to shift and move like a herd of small cows, or sheep; and it's easy to see why the stone circles in the West, leftovers from the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age, acquire names like 'The Grey Wethers', and – so legend has it – have even been sold as just that, a flock of sheep.

Below me somewhere there's a plaintivity of gull-song on the night, and a single curlew.

Full moon through mackerel cloud now, and the sea's coat's ruffled like that of a silver tabby in the offshore breeze. The sea's gentle, rolling and purring, shugging its back like a huge sea-serpent might.

A single trawler sets out, green light winking at the great silence it enters. Just one trawler; so few fish.


My coat is night, and gorse, and splinters. My coat is wire and wind and salt. 

I am not a supplicant, and today I won't bow down. There's an energy in my solar plexus that I recognise as fire and ice. I like it. I speak and write and go to Wild; but I have become tame. For nearly 40 years I've practised kindness, patience, understanding; I've learned forbearance. Now, I'm learning to growl. My bedrock's granite; conductive, radioactive, enduring.

I have teeth. Come close; meet me if you dare. 
I've teeth. Hiss or kiss? Meet me, but beware.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

connecting principles, symbolic systems & astrology

There are literal truths, and there are symbolic truths. From time to time, I blog about an abiding passion of mine: the symbolic system of astrology. One such post is here. I'm always hesitant to mention my interest as many people, as soon as you say that word, tune out, assuming a flaky New Age 'blaming of the stars' fatalistic attitude.

Given the exoteric aspects of that, mostly known through the tabloid press as predictive astrology where one-twelfth of the population, those who have their sun in the zodiac sign being addressed, will each have 'money problems', or each meet the 'tall dark handsome' etc, that's not surprising (though if Jonathan Cainer is still the astrologer for the Daily Mail, I do have to say that his predictive astrology is phenomenally accurate, despite that!).

But of course, as always with symbolic systems, there is an esoteric aspect to it: its serious and profound 'real' meaning. Just as the tarot, say, is from an exoteric perspective merely a fancy set of playing cards with some extra rather strange cards thrown in, or alchemy is about turning physical lead into physical gold, the same is true about astrology. (The tarot is an old and profoundly wise expression of the journey of individuation, or the journey to consciousness; alchemy was/is actually about transmuting all that is gross and incomplete in the human psyche into a sublime and subtle expression of an integrated consciousness.)

In the 80s I did a course in, and have continued to study, Astrological Psychology. This is based on the Hüber system, itself an offshoot of Jungian thinking. As an archetypal way of reading the world, alongside other similar approaches this informs all that I do, though I rarely proclaim that publically.

I responded to my friend Miriam who commented and asked questions after my blog about Mercury  (; her questions were posted under a succeeding blog, 12 November. One question was in relation to whether everyone would be experiencing, consciously or otherwise, the communication and travel hitches that Mercury apparently travelling retrograde through the heavens suggests). I thought I might reproduce my response here.

There's a book to write on all this, and at the heart of it is our relationship to the planets – whether we view them as causative or acausal principles (the two may be closer than initially seems; it may just be that we can't see the bigger picture of possible causative principles, even though we know we live in an utterly interconnected universe – whether we look at that through the lens of biological ecosystems, quantum physics or mysticism).

This is all difficult to address in many ways, of course, because it raises such big philosophical/ontological/cosmological issues that I can't possibly start to address here.

My own view, as briefly as I can make it and as to some extent I've explored here before, is that we live in a participatory universe, in a vast web. All aspects of the web will in some ways mirror every dynamic and cycle, and we can look at some parts as being the 'natural order writ large' – where we can 'read' movements and tendencies more easily when they are in some way at one remove from us. All symbolic systems offer this insight – eg tarot, myths and archetypes, chakras, kabbalah, etc.

In this view, the planets, seen as constellations of archetypal (and mythic) energies since – well, kind of forever, since the origins of storymaking, perhaps – in the human consciousness mirror aspects of the human psyche which of course is itself a mirror of larger wider more-than-human qualities. (There are many books on why which planet has ascribed to it which energy-dynamic.)

For now, let's say that the principles behind the 'reading of the stars' – again in my own view, not universally seen like this – are to do with a conjunction of archetypes with sacred geometry (the principles of which are found frequently in eg music, in the intervals between notes, etc. There's a very important co-incidence/connection/correspondence between music, the planets/the spheres; and it has a correspondence in our psyche).

The basic idea is that each moment has its own quality, speaking cosmologically; and therefore each event, situation, birth, death etc in time partakes of the greater universal qualities of that moment. We can look to the planets as archetypes, and their movement through the signs and houses of the map of the heavens at the moment we want to examine to determine what the cosmic 'climate' would have been, or is.

So, according to this model, not only does each planet in itself exhibit a very distinct pattern of movement and quality of energy, but it will also find resonance in our psyche ('as above so below'). So too, depending on the geometric relationship between moving planets, the earth, and the qualities in us that, according to our natal charts (assuming we too partake of a particular celestial/cosmic climate pertaining at the moment of our birth), are particularly attuned to certain planets and degrees of aspect, we will tend towards certain relationships with the cosmic climate.

This interconnected view of the universe was prevalent still, at least to some extent, during the European Renaissance, but we largely lost it at the Enlightenment (though it was still preserved in the music of eg Bach, and its sacred intervals – which is why it's so beautifully moving still; and also in Georgian architecture, as of course in church architecture always) and during the scientific revolution.

If we go back to my starting premise, that all is connected and everything is a mirror, should we so wish to see that, it brings me to: according to this theory, there are 'comfortable' harmonious aspects, which are the trines and sextiles – relationships between planets, and between houses, signs, and planetary aspects on the individual horoscope – where even traditionally 'tricky' movements are reasonably easy to relate to, but a trine relationship, like any recognised aspect astrologically, nonetheless demonstrates an intenser-than-usual (if by 'usual' we mean what is called in astrology 'unaspected' ie, not in significant mathematical connection) relationship.

Then there are aspects that traditionally are 'hard': disharmonious, conflict-ridden; but where we learn.

So, back to Miriam's question: the movement of Mercury through the heavens will mirror something that we may all be experiencing, whether or not we are conscious of it. Since it's been moving through Scorpio, those with Scorpio suns (or indeed other planets in their natal chart in Scorpio) will have been feeling it most keenly, perhaps; as will those with the sun or other planets in strong aspect to Scorpio, or 'in square' to Mercury – a relationship of 90 degrees, very uncomfortable, or in opposition to Scorpio/Mercury– say in Taurus. Those with planets in trine, in water signs – Cancer, Pisces – will be aware of the tug but it might not be as challenging, or perhaps it is simply more easily compensated for (because trines symbolise harmonious relationships).

But this is very simplistic, and it's impossible to say to what extent which planet/aspect will (appear to) have an impact on us and in what area of our life, without a full and detailed horoscope as a birth chart drawn up.

That's all I want to say that the moment.

There are many sites you can visit should you wish to follow up on all this; a favourite of mine because I resonate with his approach is Joe Landwehr's

Liz Greene is a Jungian analyst who, like me, trained in Transpersonal Counselling and has gone on to do more, probably, for the field of psychological astrology than anyone:

Friday, 15 November 2013


This time, I'm posting a guest blog, and a practical guest blog at that, for writers. Before I do, a little background: I ran my first novel-writing course in around 1998, courtesy of a far-sighted Adult Education administrator and programmer who brought me in to teach 'Writing a Novel in Twenty Weeks'.

I designed a fairly intensive and advanced-level course. I remember looking around in terror at the group of 25 unselected participants and wondering how the hell I was going to pull together a group consisting of a self-confessedly not-very-literate dockyard worker who had a tremendous imagination and needed help expressing it; a high-powered woman with a PhD in feminist studies; and two elderly men, one in a wheelchair, who'd come to write war memoirs. Another difficulty was that I was basing this course in Jung's work on myth and archetype, and the so-called Hero's Journey, but a Jewish man objected loudly every time I mentioned Jung's name or ideas because some say Jung was anti-Semitic (I don't know the truth of that but I find it extraordinarily unlikely).

Anyway, it worked, mostly (though at least three people dropped out early on); The Guardian featured it; and I went on to run many more, and out of that first group came my book Creative Novel Writing, and then later my online course, 'Storymaking'. Some of my students have had their novels published.

When I was first teaching that course, vanity publishing and self-publishing were synonymous, and definitely frowned upon. If you publish your own book, word went, no publisher will ever take you seriously thereafter, etc. And back then – my gosh, it's fifteen years ago – e-books hadn't been invented; or at least, if they had, they hadn't reached sleepy little port-town Plymouth, Devon, UK.

I'd hand out a supplement at the end of the course: 'How to Get Published'. The basic info remains the same, except that these days it's as hard to get an agent as it is a publisher; but what has changed dramatically and swiftly is the removal of the stigma attached to self-publishing, and the advent of the e-book. It's now not only one option, but very often the most sensible option (but the problem of distribution remains).

Writer Jenny Alexander offers a good blog: Writing in the House of Dreams. I thought this post on self-publishing might be of interest to some of you, and Jenny has links to other relevant sites on her blog. It's also worth heading over there at the end of reading this, as there's some useful info in the many comments below her original post. Thanks, Jenny, for permission to reblog this.


Someone in the book business recently asked me ‘What’s the point in self-publishing a book, when it won’t get any promotion without a major publisher behind it?’ For me, as a much-published author, this is the point… 
I’ve had scores of books published and worked with a dozen different publishers in the course of my writing career but I’m currently in the throes of self-publishing ‘Writing in the House of Dreams.’

Earlier in the year, my agent sent the MS out to publishers, and their feed-back was overwhelmingly positive. ‘An inspirational idea’ said one; ‘a rich feast that sets off all sorts of sparks and recognitions in the reader’ said another; ‘very readable indeed’ said a third, ‘I read it in one sitting.’

So here are the reasons they didn’t take it on (although it went to an acquisitions meeting with one publisher and another said, ‘It was close.’)

‘Too niche’, ‘Too tough for us to sell enough copies’, ‘with such a niche topic we’d struggle to get a good number of copies into shops’, ‘the sales would be too modest’,'a company the size of ours can’t make enough of a go of books on this subject as they would need to.’

One of the big changes I’ve seen since I started in this business is that where previously the decision to take on a book lay with editors, who were generally driven by a passion for reading and discovering interesting writers, now it rests firmly with marketing departments.

I first came to this realisation a few years ago when I proposed an idea for a children’s series to an editor I’d worked with, and she was blown away by it. Bursting with enthusiasm, she asked for six story outlines, then for twelve, to take to the acquisitions meeting, but the series was not taken up because she couldn’t persuade the marketing department.* When she told me how disappointed she felt I realised how tough this situation might be for editors as well as authors.

The thing to bear in mind is that marketing people will not usually have read your manuscript, so your book succeeds or fails on how well they think the concept and title will sell. A yes or no doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of your writing, but just how easily it will fit into the market.

I know ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ is a bit off-the-wall and ‘in many ways a brave book’ as one publisher rather unnervingly remarked, but I also feel that it’s good. I’ve worked for a reading agency and have a lot of writing experience now, and my own judgement has been backed up by the half-dozen authors, psychologists and dream-workers who have read it.

I’ve been working on it alongside my children’s books ever since I was first published; it’s my child-of-the-heart book, the secret pearl I’ve been feeding with all the writing skills and experience I’ve worked so hard to build up.

I know my book won’t appeal to millions of readers but hopefully it will appeal to some. Five years ago, no-one would ever have got to read it if no major publisher had taken it on and the MS would have stayed on my shelf forever, gathering dust. It would have felt devastating.

It’s better to have some readers than no readers at all – that is the point of self-publishing. It’s also better to carry on show-casing your work to publishers who may happen upon it on the web, rather than putting it away for several years before sending it out again.

Now that authors can be publishers too we can write our passion in the reassuring knowledge that our work may still bloom surprisingly at the edge of a difficult market like a little poppy at the edge of a big field of corn.[1]

If you’re interested in self-publishing, Nicola Morgan (who was one of my lovely readers) is doing a series of interviews with authors who have gone down that road on her blog – well worth a look



* My addendum: my first book was held up for weeks, and was very nearly binned, AFTER I'd written it to commission, because the (all-male) marketing department of Element Books, who'd commissioned it, didn't like my title: Riding the Dragon – myth and the inner journey. They wanted 'TAMING the Dragon' – because that's what you're supposed to do with dragons, if you don't kill them, no? – completely missing the point. The marketing depts these days hold all the strings...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

the sealskin

Picture Source: mikebaird

One of the good things about getting older is the length of time behind you, and the wisdom to know, if you're lucky, I guess, that it's not been wasted. Another thing is – due to that expanse behind you – you can start to pick out cycles in your life.

Well, you know, that's not insignificant – at least, not if you believe, as I do, that our purpose here is the evolution of consciousness, and the growth inherent in that. That also requires, as Socrates reminded us, that we need to be in the habit of examining our lives.

And as a minor digression, I've been in the habit of writing down my dreams for 25 or 30 years now – if I look back over them, as I do just occasionally, I start to pick up long range themes that otherwise slip my conscious mind. These also show cycles in situations and events in my life, and have been an immensely helpful lens.

There's something comforting about remembering the cycles of everything. It's also in your face, all the time, if you work with, or even simply walk, the land on a daily basis. Nothing lasts forever; spring always returns, and death always brings new birth. I guess a key to happiness is not pushing away the darker, painful, death-like stuff; I've blogged here a few times before about the Buddha's suggestion that our suffering is in large part due to our reactions to things – our craving them or resisting them – rather than the things themselves.

Today is the second anniversary of my mum's death. Of course I'm sad. There's not a day that I don't miss her, want to pick up the phone and speak to her. But, knowing that I'd be miserable at home and TM was driving four hours each way to Heathrow to collect his daughter, I set up for myself a creative and supportive day with my old and dear friend M, long-term creative collaborator and confidant, by the sea. M, in his laidback laughing way, always reminds me of simple but important things: I took away from last time the reminder that difficulty and conflict is just how life is, and relationships are, some of the time, no point in trying to avoid it, or assuming that it will automatically be better/easier/happier by changing locations/lovers/working life (though of course there are times when some or all of those things do need to be changed).

This time, when I was asking him about canker in ash trees (a huge old ash where we were walking was riddled with huge canker growths), he told me that, as a sculptor working outdoors, often with still-rooted living or dead trees, he would pare back dead stuff around a wound to show the wound; and how it has its own intrinsic beauty, a scar, and of course tells a story. Nice metaphor, of course.We normally do everything we can to hide our scars, physical or psychological, don't we?

And there was one of those lovely synchronous moments a bit after I arrived to meet him. I'd been thinking, driving down to the sea, how the last time I'd been on the coast a few weeks ago my friend Jenny and I had seen a whole family of seals very close to shore, playing in the waves. About half an hour before that, on the drive, I'd found myself thinking, for no apparent reason, about how the first published short story of mine, a prize-winner, decades ago now, was about a selkie, a seal, or seal-woman – stories of seals-become-women abound on the Atlantic coasts of Britain (the second was one about the Mermaid of Zennor – a related theme). A little while in to our conversation, mine and M's, walking along the beach, and we're talking about some sound-sculptures M was making in America, and he suddenly mentions a song that he thinks I'll like, and plays it to me on his iPhone, there and then. It's a song about a selkie – and I hadn't said a word about seals.

The selkie in my short story, and in the song, like most seal-women in such stories, agrees to marry a human man (sometimes she's been held to ransom, rather, by his falling in love with her when she's been bathing with her sisters, having left her pelt on the beach, which he then steals and hides) and learn the ways of the land-world. Always, though, she yearns for the sea, her natural element, and often she pines, and begins to waste away in this world which has left her high and dry, feeling soulless. Usually, luckily, she finds her own skin again, hidden somewhere, and oh! – the relief! the joy! – when she can dive and play in her natural element.

There's much of course to say about this story in relation to the feeling nature, and soul, and the need to retrieve one's own skin (Jungian and anthropologist Clarissa Pinkola Estes speaks of this beautifully in Women Who Run With The Wolves) and inhabit it again, and have the freedom to spend half your time at least in your natural element.

The turning point comes after seven years. That's the length of time the selkie can survive away from her element, and at that point she begins a frantic hunt for her skin, if it's not been returned to her.

I've been thinking about that, the seven-year-cycle of things. There's a wisdom in remembering seven-year cycles, perhaps. They say that every cell in your body has been renewed after seven years, so you could meet yourself of then and not recognise yourself, poetically speaking.

And I've realised lately that a cycle has come to an end for me; a seven-year cycle that began with my mum's diagnosis of Alzheimer's before that but which became critical and traumatic with my dad's stroke in 2006. This period has been predominantly about loss, serious illness, and death; often of family, of people and animals most dear to me; and in some ways I've had to shed skins of my own in that time.

Seven years on dry land (apart from the tears). Time to reclaim that sealskin. And not lose it again. 

If your skin doesn't fit, that might be because you're wearing someone else's...

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

for anyone who fears that their somewhere is nowhere...

Mercury, archetype of communication and movement, has been 'on station' after his retrograde phase (see here:, and is now about to move forward again. Expect some confusion still while we readjust to the new qualities of energy; and since the motions and aspects of some of the other outer planets, with a longer cycle, suggest that we may still feel, as we might have for a while, like something or someone is playing dice with our lives, with a pull first this way then a resistance that way, hold still for a bit longer and let things unfold. (That was an awful lot of commas.)

Wisdom consists of not being pulled apart by apparent contradictions, instead withstanding the conflict, and resting at, acting from, the centre of one's being. It's possible to learn not to push the river. (Perhaps. That's still mostly theory for me!)

Joseph Campbell once said: 'If the path ahead of you is clear, you're probably on someone else's.' So if yours is a little murky, maybe that's a consolation?

'Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It's the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than buy into struggle and complaint. The challenge is to let it soften us rather than make us more rigid and afraid. Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender. When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what's happening, we begin to access our inner strength.'

Pema Chodron, 'The In-between State'

Monday, 11 November 2013

that under-estimated thistle: the artichoke

Can I persuade you today to be a little interested in the humble globe artichoke plant? – There's an enormous amount going on beneath the surface for me at the moment (see my last post about Mercury retrograde, and how one of its manifestations for me is a creative ferment that I struggle to express): I'm thinking, writing and studying a lot at the moment in relation to two new books, new courses and two fairly high-powered talks I'm scheduled to give on the Grail, the tarot, the Goddess and esoteric green spirituality, and getting any of this out as a small pre-digested blog post is beyond me right now. My brain hurts. (Also – after a long dry spell – I'm writing poetry again, but none of it is fit to share.)

So all I can cope with is sharing my passion for artichokes, the sight of acres of which when I cross the Channel from nearby Plymouth into Brittany is enough to evoke small raptures. I can't quite understand why everyone else is at best lukewarm and at worst positively disinterested in them (though I can understand why I could be accused – quite rightly – of triviality here in this blog in relation to various humanitarian, environmental and social concerns; my plea is let me have my small indulgence, now and then).

My mum, having for the first time partaken of the ritual of eating them (a fiddly occupation which, admittedly, in terms of quantity of food ingested, perhaps doesn't quite justify, in some minds, the half-hour it takes up), looked at me afterwards and said: 'Ro, I hope you don't mind my saying but I'm not sure I thought much of that experience.'

However, I do share this passion with Guy Watson, founder of Riverford Organics and probably the single biggest influence on the organic scene, and especially the veg box scheme in Britain. Guy in his recipe book says: 'Many farmers have a passion for one crop or animal that surpasses any rational consideration. For my father and grandfather it was pigs. For two generations they lost money and no amount of pleading from the accountant deterred them from having a few rooting around. For me it is globe artichokes: they have yet to make a penny but I live with an optimism that truly represents the triumph of hope over experience... A Russian herbalist told me that it was because they cleanse the liver, the seat of anger. She attributed my obsession to my need, as an angry person, for self-medication.'

And also, as well as supposedly being an aphrodisiac (though I can't say I've noticed that), they are good at decreasing cholesterol, and contain folic acid, B vitamins, vitamin K, vitamin C, antioxidants and a host of minerals such as copper, calcium, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus.

And they look good, rising above the herbs and bee-flowers at the back of the bed. In 'putting the garden to bed' for the winter, I haven't been able to bring myself to prune hard back, as you're supposed to, the exuberant architectural foliage of the artichokes. I look out of the kitchen window and where I've cut back the other plants they still rise, magnificent and stately above the garden stone walls.

One of the things I love about artichokes is their spiral growth pattern: like so many other naturally-occurring things, they unfold according to the golden ratio, or the Fibonacci principle that no doubt I've raved about on here before (I like to believe that this geometric sequence underpins the pattern of the cosmos). More pragmatically, I like that they are the easiest and most undemanding of any food-crop grown ever; and, just as pleasing, they fruit on and on for months (the fruit, if that's what we might call the bit we eat, comes before the flower). If I let one or two flower instead, their exotic lilac-coloured flowers, big cousins to thistles, seduce all the passing bees.

It's all my daughter's fault. My daughter has had joint problems for quite a time from her late teens. I say 'has' but it's now mostly 'had': one of the ways she dealt with them was by a strict exclusion diet to filter out any foods of which she was intolerant. At the time, she was living in the mediaeval university town of Caceres in Spain, where her then boyfriend was studying for a PhD (in flamenco guitar). Fruit and veg were plentiful and cheap, and her joint problems were easing.

She emailed me when she and Boyfriend split up, just before she came back to stay with me for a few months: 'Can't eat anything except asparagus, walnuts and artichokes.' Gulp. (She was serious, though she was also tongue-in-cheek.) Although I've always considered myself undeservedly rich in all the ways that really matter, in terms of income I've always been one of the Rural Poor, and none of those plants were on my radar then. Spuds, yes; onions, yes; apples yes; but the rest??

Fast forward a few months, and her new boyfriend had bought her – and sown – 80 artichoke seeds as part of her Christmas present.

I was, as I always have been, renting, and had recently taken over a rubble-filled patch of wasteland behind the cottage where a building had been demolished. It was completely rubbish ground, but I had a small and productive (if not very weedfree) veg plot at one end, and we planted out the artichokes, all that had survived (which was most of them), in the rest. Jay also planted us an asparagus bed: that didn't thrive, but the artichokes did to the extent that we were not only eating them every day, but giving them away and selling them to the local organic-but-not-certified veg box grower.

Then when the cottage was sold and my daughter moved on to the middle of the moor and I moved in with TM, we each dug up a few of the artichokes to bring with us.

Of my six, only one thrived; but this has become a huge and wonderful matriarch, and is now accompanied by another five or six little ones in two different varieties. The young ones survived all the winds, frost and rain of last winter as seedlings out in the open, and this year I've had all the fruit I could wish for, and more. Two more little ones tonight, and that might be it for this year – nearly six months' of them.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

the winged messenger flying backwards

I'm rather fond of Mercury – planet, god, archetype. He's a good patron god for the writer, a kind of tutelary deity to artists generally. Mercury, the quicksilver messenger, communicator par excellence, is known in Jungian thought as a psychopomp – one who leads souls between the 'lower' and 'upper' realms of matter and spirit respectively.

In alchemy, no transmutation/transformation is possible without this swift winged spirit to counter the pull of base, or leaden, matter, symbolised by Saturn; the gravity of the ego so resists the process of transformation into all we might be, into the 'gold' of ourselves, also known as the Higher Self, that part of us which works for the greater good rather than simply the gratification of our own desires.

In Greek his name is Hermes, from which we get 'hermetically sealed'. So this god is associated, too, with secret processes and places hidden from prying eyes: the alembic, the container of alchemy in which the crude substances are 'cooked' under pressure until the hieros gamas, the Sacred Marriage of soul and spirit, can take place; from this union is born also the Divine Androgyne, the one beyond duality. The hortus conclusus, in some ways the 'garden of the soul', is dedicated to and protected by Mercury, also.

Mercury is often also portrayed carrying the Caduceus wand or staff. This is the common symbol of healing or wholeness, now used by the medical profession, around which, in some depictions one, and in others two, serpents twine. There's much to say about that, too, but here let's just say that the twin snakes around the central (spinal) column may well represent the ascending and descending kundalini currents (life-force, Eros, libido, vital energy – call it what you will) – which create and maintain the the balanced and awakened energies of life, both in each living being and arguably, esoterically, in the cosmos at large – twin currents or poles of energy and manifestation, the synthesis of which is our inner work. Think too, of course, of the twin currents of DNA, the double helix.

You'll notice that in the image above left the staff (unserpented in this case) carried by Hermes is topped by the symbol used for the planet Mercury: a circle crowned by a pair of horns, or the crescent moon. This suggests that Mercury, like Cernunnos and Herne, is one of the horned gods in the service of the Goddess.

Mercury is also androgynous; this is fitting for one whose work is to help take us beyond the pairs of opposites.

People who are strongly Mercurial in their character often have an androgynous quality to them – think Gemini (whose ruler is Mercury), Castor and Pollux, the twins who represent the constellation of Gemini, Apollo and Artemis: the male and female twins who are deeply interlinked and in some ways remarkably similar. Have you noticed this (the androgynous quality to some individuals born under Geminin/Mercury, I mean)? And they are often boyish or girlish in their bearing, habits, and attitudes long after they've physically left adolescence. They have a charm to them, and are usually articulate communicators; they often exhibit a trickster-ish playfulness, an often marked artistic ability, and an attractively elusive quality (which can manifest in relationship as an inability to commit, and an irresponsibility which stems from a fear of being tied down and grounded – death to this airy spirit – which can drive one nuts, in my experience!). In Jungian thought, they are the puer aeternus, or puella aeterna – the perpetual boy, or girl; a Peter Pan figure.

The reason I'm speaking of Mercury here is because we, cosmically speaking, are in what astrology calls a time of Mercury retrograde: astronomically, although the planet Mercury is in its usual trajectory around the sun, as we are, from earth it looks as though the planet is travelling backwards at the moment.

This retrograde cycle of Mercury happens 3 or 4 times a year, for about 3 weeks, plus lead-in and move-out times. This year, each cycle has been in a water sign. Right now, he is in the sign of Scorpio until 10th November. 

In the philosophy of 'as above, so below', and not looking at causal ideas so much as synchronous events (synchronicity was Jung's term for what he identified as an 'acausal connecting principle'), we can perhaps read in Mercury's apparent movements symbolic suggestions as to what we might expect 'down here' during a Mercury retrograde cycle: a confusion in the fields of usually-clear thinking, or communication; crossed wires; travel disruption; computer glitches (especially email/computer/mobile phone glitches – Mercury is so suited to the role of the god of cyber-communications); and things being delayed or lagging behind when they should have been tied up by now, perhaps. (Just after I wrote this my sort-of step-daughter emailed her dad to say she'd missed her flight from Argentina to Chile as the buses weren't working.)  

Traditionally, a Mercury retrograde period is not auspicious for contracts and legal documents or binding agreements to take place; they might need revising after this period.

It's not always a good time for initiating creative projects, either; although I often notice I feel very creative during one of these periods, I am often muddled as to where to begin – much to say and frustration at knowing how best to get it out.

On the other hand, with Mercury in a water sign (Scorpio), which suggests emotional matters, secrets, and events which in the past may have touched us deeply, we might yet have the opportunity to revisit a time, situation, or person with which, or whom, we have not yet quite completed a process. Memories, and the role of memory, might be significant here, and at this dark time of the year in the Northern hemisphere, an evening by the fire with a notebook or journal and an intention to revisit the past by letting whatever wants to arise from the psyche do so, might prove fruitful and healing.

If you're merely experiencing frustration after delay after miscommunication, hold still and give it another two weeks, if you can, without pushing the river.

© Roselle Angwin, November 2013

Monday, 4 November 2013

Darkness is not yet all around (poem)

I think how much I love this space
its flavour of study and silence,
the fire ticking, the lamplight’s circle
thrown on the ceiling like a Communion wafer 
or the moon’s disc, whose rays
have so recently rested on the faces of people I love
while the storm has whumped and flustered
at the walls and panes, and the flames
in the hearth have kept time with the dog’s
contented groanings
                                     and I think perhaps
that I like best of all this moment
at the end of the day, quiet in here a little longer
with everyone gone, but only just
so something of each still lingers –
and their poems, careful as prayers
still scenting the late autumn afternoon’s air.

© Roselle Angwin, 2nd November 2013 

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