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

Thursday 30 August 2012

i went out to the hazel wood because a fire was in my head...

I wanted to post something more inspiring than my autumn news on here, but I'm rushing to go away now, and for those of you who aren't on my mailing list, there may be something here of interest? Perhaps before I go tomorrow I might get back here; otherwise, dear readers, 'see' you in mid–September!


Hello my friends, from a Devon that’s moving swiftly from a wet spring to a wet autumn with about two weeks’ worth of sun in between... so TM and I are off to southwest France for a short break from tomorrow.

I just wanted to be in touch to let you know of a few things coming up. And I have loved hearing the bits of news many of you have shared with me this year: publications, MA acceptances or completions, readings and performances...

This is my 21st year of running Fire in the Head!

Myth and archetype ride again
Some of you know that I’ve been pretty burnt out lately. This means I’ve cut my workload a little over the summer. In turn, this has enabled me to allow ideas to arise from my subconscious into the imagination. There are some personal creative projects I’m enthusiastic about; but as exciting is the realisation that I want to incorporate into my future work more of the courses I was leading in the beginning, in 1991: ‘personal mythology’. I started there after completing a training in transpersonal psychology, and in these workshops I use myth and archetype not only to create poetry and story, but also as a tool for exploration of our psyches. The work is deep, and is, I suppose, soulwork. I’ll let you know when there is more to tell you.

I’m also more deliberately incorporating eco-psychology as a tool for heightening awareness of and connecting inner landscape with the outer natural world and the wild; this kind of reconnection seems increasingly urgent. I also use mindfulness work from my Zen practice (as I do in Ground of Being and my Iona course).

Singing over the Bones
A few weeks ago, my friend Sharon Blackie (editor of the excellent literary/environmental journal ‘Earthlines’) and I cooked up a new plot, and the upshot of that is a workshop I’m really excited to be co-leading with her next April. Although we’ve barely advertised it yet, there are now only TWO PLACES LEFT! It’s called ‘
Singing over the Bones: women writing the wild’, (sorry guys) and draws together both aspects of what I speak of above (Sharon is also a narrative therapist, and shares my interests). For more info, see: or

Islands of the Heart: writing retreat on the Isle of Iona
This retreat is very close to my heart. Each year some wonderful people join me for a week of writing, walking, silence, laughter and depth (oh and very good eating) in the Argyll Hotel right on the water in the Hebrides. In that time we create a close, trusting and creative community, and some people find the week extraordinarily transformative.

Next year will be my 13th course. Once again, there are only two places left now. You can also find comprehensive info on my website,; go to Courses and hover until Course Details appears. (You’ll need to scroll down.) I’m now at the stage where I need £100 deposit sent to me. 

Ground of Being
I guide people through these days, held outdoors at one of the megalithic sites on Dartmoor at the equinoxes and solstices. They incorporate some of what I’ve spoken of above. Their intention is to create a pause in our very busy lives to be quiet, reflective, stroll, write, and explore through relationship with the land and our inner worlds, as well as poetry and story, where we find ourselves at these turning points in the year. They can be quite profound. Again, info is on my website.

These days happen even if there’s only me, and in all weathers supposing we can physically get there, and as long as conditions are not dangerous in my view.

Bookings in advance please; pay by cheque at £35, or on the day @ £40.

I hope that within the next few weeks I will finally have news on my poetry and photo project, River Suite.

Meantime I’m delighted to say I’ve had very positive responses to my new collection, All the Missing Names of Love, published by IDP who last year brought out my novel Imago. You can find out more/read some of the poems/buy them here:  and

Yes, I really will be starting this again this winter. I can mentor people in most aspects of the writing process, including specific projects.

I also have 21 years experience of working in a loosely psychotherapeutic context, often using myth, archetype, dreamwork, mindfulness and outdoor work (including some aspects of shamanic/visionquest work) in relation to life issues, creativity and meaning.
(Often these are convergent.) Being a Celt myself, I’m particularly tuned-in to the Celtic cultural context for exploring our relationship to inner world and outer place.

Between us, we would create a project to address whatever it is you want to explore or develop. I can work in person, by phone or email, or by Skype.

The next poetry correspondence course kicks off next January. ‘Storymaking’, the novel-writing one rooted in myth and archetype, is one you can sign up for at any stage.

Well, I think that’s enough for now. I’d be delighted to see you on one or another course; and remember I’ll be away now for a bit so will answer emails in mid-September.

With warm autumn greetings


Wednesday 29 August 2012


on this grey morning
plumes of wet white buddleia
gather all the light

Tuesday 28 August 2012

'The Heat of the Moment' (George Monbiot)

I know it's hard to face this stuff, and I don't want to be accused of bringing anyone down ('man'). But Monbiot is one of the very few sane voices out there, and we have to listen. We HAVE to listen. And we have to face it, spread the word and make changes.

Please visit this link... and share it...

The Heat of the Moment

Monday 27 August 2012

Five Rhythms: dance to ecstasy

Last Sunday I had a day of sublimely deepening and uplifting dance with my dear friend Dilys Morgan Scott. The day was for women 'of a certain age', and took place, in rare sunshine, in a small village hall on Dartmoor. I came away tired and vibrant, joyful, relaxed, and deeply grateful for the practice, for Dilys' way of being, for the generosity of the other women with whom I shared the day.

How else does one say 'this practice has changed my life' other than by saying 'this practice has changed my life', cliché though it is? And it has. I'm someone who too easily flies up into her head to analyse and resolve problems that occur in my emotional life. Five Rhythms dance, a practice initiated by Gabrielle Roth, takes us the other way: deeper into our psyches, deeper into our bodies, into our feet and our whole connected nature. Through this practice, problems dissolve and fragmented parts of ourselves are re-integrated.

It is a practice of moving meditation; it's also a practice of ecstasy. And it is, too, a simple but profound way of tracking and mapping the sometimes-hidden psychological ways of being that move and drive us. In the dance, not only may we release 'stuff' that's holding us, but we may also see reflected our chronic patterns of holding on in our lives in general.

In my early 30s, I was hit by the sudden and devastating end of a very significant relationship. There were many enormous implications for both myself and my daughter. I have to say that, looking back, the rest of that decade for me was marred by a kind of off-the-rails-ness in which I made a number of inappropriate choices in relation to men, and each seemed to reinforce the previous one. I had no idea what I felt, or what was 'right action' in any given situation. I know I hurt more than one man. My compass had been spun round by what had happened and I had no idea where home was; in what I might take refuge; in what constituted wisdom. By the time I reached my late 30s I felt as if I, who had spent most of the previous ten years offering a lot of psycho-spiritual advice, professionally and personally, to others, was such a mess myself I had no right to do so.

I don't remember how I first discovered it; all I know is that immediately I experienced my first Five Rhythms dance class with Dilys something in me breathed out at last, and I found both joy and release.

I'm not good at 'set steps' – whether literally in the dance, or metaphorically in any area of my life (that's why I'm self-employed in a varied and unpredictable field). Although I'm physically well-co-ordinated and not ungraceful, I'm one of those people you see if you ever go to a barn dance (I don't, often, but I have) who messes the whole sequence up for the whole group by putting her right foot forward when everyone else has their left foot back. There's a kind of delay if I'm being given verbal instruction while I translate that into body movement. I'm not entirely keen on admitting this, but there it is. (And yes, I do turn a map upside down so it's pointing where I want to go.)

One of the really great things about 5R is that there are no wrong steps. You have your own dance. What you are doing is uncovering your own dance. Sometimes you might temporarily partner another and see how the dances fit. Often you'll dance alone, with others in the same space. There is the music, and there is your own unique way of responding to the rhythm within the music; and if you get your head out of the way and let your feet do the listening your body knows exactly how it wants to move. There is no one who 'can't do it'.

Gabrielle Roth identified five interconnected patterns which she believes occur throughout our human experience (it's easy to see this in the phases of love-making but there are many examples). The five rhythms are: flowing (feminine, receptive, yielding); staccato (masculine, active, clear, connected but with healthy boundaries); chaos (a drawing together of masculine and feminine energies in a high-octane ecstatic free expressiveness); lyrical (playful, gentle, light), and stillness – a kind of 'return to the source', rather like the very slow movements of Tai Chi. This in turn morphs into flowing in a new cycle.

Dance can truly bring one alive; ecstasy is part of the healthy human condition, and there are few places for it in contemporary Western culture.

There is much to say about all this, and in a minute I'll quote from Roth herself (her work partly came out of an encounter with Fritz Perls, the father of Gestalt, at Big Sur, and to that extent it has a therapeutic content; and partly it is shamanic, to do with the power of transformation. Sufism too has an awareness of how ecstatic dance can move one into a mystical place).

But for my purposes now I want to just note a couple of things. One is that – and I had forgotten this until recently – I can 'dance myself' through most states of emotional reactivity simply by playing a compilation cassette (I must make up a CD or access Spotify) with a sample of each rhythm through carefully chosen tracks. This is 'the wave'; and it might take as little as ten minutes. At the end, I feel integrated again.

The other thing is that most of us find we have some difficulties with one rhythm in particular. For me, it was staccato. If we see the way we are in the dance as mirroring the way we are in our life, then I have to recognise that a big challenge for me is learning to ride that line between self and other skilfully; honouring needs both for connectedness and separateness, and for me this meant learning to listen to myself and my own needs; to say 'no' more often, and to mean it and stick by it; to assert my own healthy and still connected boundaries. This spoke so much to where I was at the time when I entered 5R dance – I had no idea what was ok, or ok for me, or ok to say no to. This is one of the problems with moving exclusively to the head to solve interpersonal dilemmas: gut and heart need to be involved too. I was so caught up in trying to work out intellectually what was 'reasonable' in relation to another that I completely overlooked what felt ok, or not, for me. I still struggle with that at times; but I notice that I'm clearer, and I notice that I can dance staccato with ease.

If these words resonate for you, try it. Find a local class and try it. If you're in Devon, Dilys offers retreats as well as day workshops:

As a postscript, I suggested this dance to a friend who was in a bad way in the early part of this year. I have watched with delight as she has blossomed into empowerment and joy.


'[Five Rhythms] demands listening to the beat of your own heart; finding your own rhythm; singing your own blues; writing your own story; acting out your own fantasies; and seeing your own visions... This... is a journey into wholeness, an initiation into a shamanic perspective.

'[It] initiates you into the five sacred powers necessary for survival – the power of being, the power of loving, the power of knowing, the power of seeing, the power of healing. These are the real powers. Most of us are actually afraid of real power. True aliveness is rare, and experiencing it is like being jolted out of a long sleep. But we have to overcome our fear if we are to wake up from the living death of muted existence.

'I offer you a shamanic practice for body, heart, mind, soul and spirit. It's not offered as gospel. It's just a door to open, through which you may see yourself, an opportunity to free your body, express your heart, empty your mind, awaken your soul, and embody your spirit.'

Gabrielle Roth, Maps to Ecstasy

where have all the seabirds gone...

The last three days I've been aware of a slight tonal shift in the quality of air, of light, of the scent carried on the breeze: it's as much an emotional tone as it is a physical one, and it's coloured with a kind of plangent wistfulness. If I had to find a colour for it, I'd say it was a kind of translucent apricot-rose with a hint of lavender-blue.

Yes, autumn is already sliding over the hills towards us.

You will have to imagine here a photo of several fallen bird-cherry leaves: russet, ochre, barley-gold, fox-red, in which are nestled some plump fallen hazelnuts. (The saga of my mobile phone problems is simply too boring to go into; suffice it to say that the photos stored on 3 different devices are refusing to be be transferred via bluetooth to the new computer.)

It's been an abysmal summer here in Devon, with scarcely any sun, or at least not for any prolonged length of time. Our neighbours in Cornwall seem to have had more sun than we have; the southeast has experienced extreme heat, and my relatives and friends in Scotland have reported almost consistent sunshine. The USA has a severe drought.

I think that even climate change deniers are beginning to recognise that our greedy human ways have some bearing on weather conditions and their effects. It's no longer possible to bury our heads and think that more extreme weather conditions – icecaps melting, severe drought, torrential rainfall and flooding, extraordinarily severe winters in some places and almost no winter in others – are not anthropogenic; the more so now that a majority of the scientific community is acknowledging that too.

A couple of days ago there were maybe 25 young swallows lined up on a wire; I didn't know whether to be delighted to see them in a summer in which I've felt increasingly distressed at the absence of migratory birdlife (as well as bees and butterflies), or to be sad that they'll so soon be off. Both, of course; and there is a also a kind of wild joy in the transience of things – this is part of the appeal of autumn, of course, to the heart. Sadly, it's not that simple though.

Springwatch on BBC2 the other night – a rare treat to watch TV – focused on seabirds. I'm delighted by the fluency of waterbirds in their three spheres: it seems quite magical that a being should be so at home on land, in the air and on/in water.

The Arctic tern (the 'swallow of the sea') flies – did you know? – 20,000 miles in its migration from Antarctica to the north of Scotland every year. In its lifetime it flies the equivalent of 3 journeys to the moon and back. Isn't that phenomenal?

The presenters of the programme spoke of the devastating decline of seabirds on the Orkney Isles: the population of kittiwakes and guillemot has decreased by about 90% in the last 20-odd years.

When I first started to co-lead my annual retreat on the Isle of Iona in 2000, my friend and co-tutor Ken Steven took me to Sandeels Bay (Traigh Mor). He's been going to Iona since he was a child, and remembers the waters seething with sandeels. Now, you scarcely see them (although, on a more optimistic note, Davy Kirkpatrick who is the boatman who takes us to Staffa puffin-watching each year, says that there are still sandeels around off the coast of Iona).

One reason, though, for the decline of some seabirds in Scotland is this loss of sandeels. Kittiwakes* in particular are specialised in that they rely entirely upon the sandeel population, which appears to be migrating further north as warming waters of Scotland send the plankton, their food, further towards Arctic waters. Springwatch tagged a kittiwake to observe its habits and learn more about feeding grounds: that one kittiwake in less than a day had to cover 3-400 kms to catch one sandeel to take back to its chick.

How may we live, knowing how many species, and how fast, are being affected by human industrial activity and our greed for ever more consumables? How may we live without our hearts breaking for this?

*In Cornwall, kittiwakes are never deliberately killed as it's believed that the souls of dead fishermen take kittiwake form.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

unheimlich (the art of being a stranger)

Some of you will know from previous posts of mine that one of my preoccupations is holding together the apparently contradictory demands of the human heart for both intimacy and solitude. We live on this line, don't we; and many of our dilemmas involve, to a greater or lesser extent, resolving (or not) these twin pulls. Somehow we have to make peace between the two; we need both, we need to honour both.

As someone who's made her way in the world as an adult entirely through creativity, I'm aware that on the one hand solitude is essential for my work (and for my 'recovery' from 'putting myself out there'), but on the other much of the work itself both grows out of intimacy – with self and Other, whether 'Other' is human or another species or even the elemental – and also attempts to communicate with and about my experience of Other.

Apart from my growing daughter's company – which became less of course as she went to university, travelled and then lived abroad, I spent much of my thirties and forties living alone in terms of human company (with animals and the natural world around me). This has meant being able to follow my own sometimes unsociable rhythms, which in themselves have allowed me to create.

So living with anyone else, no matter how lovely, is a big adjustment for me; more especially if that person is not an 'arty type' with an innate and shared understanding of these needs. It's a big learning and I notice my resistance to compromise: sometimes it seems a choice between relationship and my creative life, though of course a relationship can also be creative in a different way.

As a woman, particularly, I am aware that I can be too 'other-related': this is the ancient culturally-approved norm in our post-Judeo-Christian culture, and many women I know pour themselves out in relationship/s and have little to draw on for themselves. There are cycles in these things, and as always it's 'both/and' not 'either/or'.

For a woman, the Goddesses Hestia (tending the inner flame) and Artemis (the wildwoman) need their time, just as much as Hera (wife) and Demeter (mother).

During my Walden Week I was reading with great joy Jenny Diski's book On Trying to Keep Still. I related so well to the passage below; it allowed me to own my difficulty with continuing sustained relationship with another without feeling it was purely dysfunctional.

Although initially this passage might seem uncomfortable, especially if your need for solitude is well-buried (and maybe your partner carries that need for solitude for you?), it's honest.

'[I needed to] spend a couple of weeks travelling around on my own. Far, far away. In transit. A stranger, unwatched by anyone, no one's concern, wandering around or staying still at will... Wandering, not trying to get home... I had a hankering for being completely on my own after the closeness of my life with the Poet in Cambridge. I had a nagging worry that closeness was wrong for me. I missed being a stranger. I thought that strangerhood was where I really lived, and needed to get to it for a while. Quiet, no one else except for other strangers. The very warmth and pleasure of my relationship with the Poet seemed to me to deafen me. I wanted, I thought to myself, to think – meaning not to be connected to anyone – so that I could hear the echoes inside my head. I felt I was avoiding something I ought to be listening to... I wanted unheimlich* – it is essentially what I am always looking for but of the right kind. Strangeness and strangerness without the blank despair. A matter, I decided, of no one nearby to care what I did, and the far far distance.'

Well. I am sure I'm not alone – and anyone who knows the creative power of the imagination will probably understand this – in knowing that in some ways I need to live on the edge of the new, the unknown and the nearly-frightening, which is a loose interpretation of the almost-untranslatable term unheimlich. Unfamiliar surroundings can prompt the opening of new doors in my imagination; this kind of unsettlement – yes, that's a word that might do it – can allow access, somehow, to a fuller well of creativity than a more settled, cosy, comfortable domestic life can usually provide. I need time like this – which is what my Walden Week was about – as a junkie needs a fix. No – as I need water to drink.

* 'Unheimlich' is often translated as the English word 'uncanny' or 'weird', strange. However, the German term according to Freud has two differing meanings in relationship to its root heimlich: one is homey or homely, comfortable, and 'known', while a less common meaning of the root is concealed, secret, or private.

'Unsettlement' or 'strangerdom' I think do it for me. I'd be interested to know if my German-speaking friends have anything to add to this translation (B?)?

Tuesday 21 August 2012

earth calling cyberspace

There are times – you know? – when all your means of communication fail; or at least there are problems with the technology associated with them. So my old computer had Tourette's when I posted on facebook, and was a little jumpy about whether it was going to allow me to access my blog pages, deciding on balance it wasn't going to make the effort. Firefox, meantime, was throwing a fit at my operating system on the old Mac, and threw me off every time I tried to access the internet; Google Chrome simply laughed at the age of my operating system, and I've had to resort to a very slow version of Safari with a laborious resetting of numerous passwords. Then, basically, the old and much-loved Mac took to its bed and remained more or less mute.

Simultaneously, I've had mobile phone problem after mobile phone problem. Oh yes - I remember why I went gadget-free on retreat... And how easily our stress levels creep up when we're so dependent on these machines. I simply can't earn without one.

So now, I'm the proud owner, courtesy of my beloved mother, of a gorgeous sleek silver new Mac laptop (shhhh - don't blow my non-materialist credibility but ohhh how lovely to have something aesthetically pleasing and fast) – which of course requires new passwords for everything, and still won't let me (yet) download the newer Firefox.

Mercury the trickster up there in the heavens must be retrograde (again).

So – excuse me while I salivate – ooops I mean 'slave' – a little longer over a beautiful if rather infuriating new screen before I post anything of worth.

Meantime, waiting for the data transfer, I took just a little time out: summer was here for a whole half-day yesterday, and I weeded the beans at last – displaced approximately 30 very fat slugs to their new home over the border into the scrubby field next door – and yes! – at last a few runner beans are forming, though the garlic and onion harvest has been dire; and we had just a dozen (albeit plump and pretty) carrots. The brassicas are bent nearly double under their mesh and will need releasing to the cabbage white butterflies' predations soon.

And on Sunday – bliss! – a whole day of Five Rhythms dance for 'women of a certain age' with my first and most inspiring dance teacher, Dilys Morgan Scott. I discovered this practice, with its particular ethos, in my late 30s and it has continued to inspire me. Like poetry, it's a way of staying alive. More on that another time.

Oh and some new people have signed up to follow this blog – thank you! I hope that you'll find something to inspire you here; and earth-to-cyberspace in this small corner of Devon will, hopefully, post something more substantial soon, though this week is a full one with my responses to the first assignments of the participants on the new 'intake' for the 6-month Elements of Poetry course.

Oh and a postscript: some of you will have seen my post earlier this month on 'Singing over the Bones: women writing the wild' (sorry guys) which, with Sharon Blackie of Earthlines, I'm co-leading next April in Scotland (20-27). We only pulled this together a few weeks ago, and already we're nearly full. There are just two places left!

And the same applies to my Isle of Iona 'Islands of the Heart' retreat the week preceding 'Bones' (14-20): two places left. This will be my 13th time offering this course, which is for men and women. I think there's a blogpost on this one too; if you're interested please do use the 'search' facility on the home page (towards the bottom), and contact Sharon or myself respectively.

Thursday 16 August 2012

living & loving from the soul


'Three things differentiate living from the soul versus living from the ego only. They are: the ability to sense and learn new ways, the tenacity to ride a rough road, and the patience to learn deep love over time... It is not from the everchanging ego that we love one another, but from the wild soul.

'It takes a heart that is willing to die and be born and die and be born again and again.'

Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Wednesday 15 August 2012

the mandorla and poetry

To expand a little on yesterday's theme, here's Jungian Robert Johnson: 'The mandorla is the place of poetry. It is the duty of a true poet to take the fragmented world that we find ourselves in and to make unity of it. In the Four Quartets, T S Eliot writes "The fire and the rose are one." By overlapping the two elements of fire and a flower, he makes a mandorla. We are pleased to the depth of our soul to be told that the fire of transformation and the flower of rebirth are one and the same. All poetry is based on the assertion that this is that' (metaphor being central to poetry). 'When the images overlap' he continues, 'we have a mystical statement of unity. We feel there is safety and sureness in our fractured world, and the poet has given us the gift of synthesis.

'Great poetry makes these leaps and unites the beauty and terror of existence. It has the ability to surprise and shock–to remind us that there are links between the things we have always thought of as opposites.'

For me (this is me, not Johnson), a poem has done its work if it allows or persuades us to see or meet the world, however fleetingly, in a new way. Sometimes there is a collision that is shattering, and illuminating at the same time. Part of the effect may be a renewed realisation of how disparate individuals, things, cultures, experiences all contain too something of the Other; and how the whole is reflected in each part, if we look with the right eyes.

Johnson goes on so eloquently to express something I too focus on in my courses: the power of the verb. A verb is almost alive, a germ, a seed; it's like those Japanese paper water-flowers – you know? The ones where you drop a tiny screw of paper into water and it blossoms...

Johnson says 'Languages rich in verbs are more powerful than those relying mostly on nouns. Human speech is more effective if it relies mainly on verbs. If you build mainly on nouns it will be weak; if you rely on adjectives and adverbs you have lost your way. The verb is holy ground, the place of the mandorla.'

Robert A Johnson,  Owning your own Shadow.

Tuesday 14 August 2012



On a different tack here, though some of you will recognise a return to one of my preoccupations: the journey to wholeness via in this case the symbol of the mandorla.

It seems to me that part of our 'purpose' here, not just for our own sakes but for the sake of the world, is that we do the work of consciousness consciously. If we can unify as much as possible within ourselves the (apparently irreconcilable) pairs of opposites, then we are much less likely both to perceive them 'out there', and to inflict our own fragmentation and schisms on others.

In Jungian psychology this is known as the work relating to the Shadow function: that in us which is unconscious, which we fail to see, or don't know. We most often encounter it via projection: those things we see in another that most inflame us  – whether with romantic or sexual passion, with admiration/envy, or fury/revulsion – are usually a key to what we need to make conscious in ourselves.

Robert Bly says, in his typically poetic and wry way, something along the lines of the Shadow being the long bag we drag along behind us, heavy with the parts of ourselves that our parents, our teachers, our society or we ourselves don't like in us, and that therefore get repressed.

Trouble with repression is that these active constellations of energy get restless and burst out, often inappropriately, sometimes disastrously, unless they're made conscious. I'd say that this sits behind much of our global trouble, too, including war – what we hate in Other is what we are so often driven by but unconsciously in ourselves. Making it conscious defuses it.

The yin/yang symbol is of course the image par excellence of this unity. Although it is related most commonly to the apparent oppositions of male and female, it applies to any polarisation; and in the yin yang symbol, beautifully, there is too in each part a small 'eye' of the other – a reminder that no one and no thing is ever completely black or completely white; that there is always potential for embracing and understanding the other, for inclusivity.

Much less well-known is the beautifully simple Western equivalent: the mandorla. I first came across this at Chalice Well, in Glastonbury, where it forms part of the well cover (it is usually seen in the horizontal more egalitarian plane).

The form is two overlapping circles: the opposites are drawn together, each sharing something of themselves, and then transcending their duality in the synthesis. Mandorla is 'almond' in Italian, and describes the shape at the heart of the overlap. This is supposedly an ancient symbol. The ancients Egyptians used it, apparently, as sacred geometry in their architecture.

In Christian mysticism and iconography it is known as the 'vesica piscis' ('fish bladder', but 'vesica' is sometimes rendered as 'womb' or 'vessel'). The fish, of course, was adopted as a symbol of Christianity, and in its early and Gnostic forms in the mandorla it was sometimes used as a way for Christians to recognise each other. This happened by the one drawing a circle in the sand and being 'met' by the other, at a time when discretion might mean the difference between persecution or not. At times in the Church's history, masculine and feminine were recognised as equal and complementary forces, and the mandorla occurs in a number of mediaeval churches in Europe. Sometimes it has the Madonna in one circle, and Jesus Christ in the other. It symbolises, of course, the drawing together both of the masculine and the feminine, and also of heaven and earth.

Wikipedia says: 'The most famous example in nature of the vesica piscis is a solar eclipse. At various points in the Moon's orbit, it appears to be exactly the same size of the Sun when both are observed from Earth. As the Moon moves to cover the Sun, it forms a vesica piscis. This had great significance to the ancients. In many ancient cultures, the Sun was a male god and the Moon a goddess, and the vesica piscis symbolized an opening or gateway between these two polarities through which creation can take place.'

It's not, of course, simply a prescription of the outer world, but more a representation of the work we need to do in ourselves.

After I first saw it at Chalice Well, I came across it again in my Transpersonal Psychology training, which draws heavily on Jungian thought. Later, novelist Lindsay Clarke, whom I'm privileged to call a friend, spoke of it in relation to Parsifal and the whole Grail Quest story when he writes of the job of the 'neutral angels' in the 'war in heaven', which is to hold the struggle between heaven and hell in ongoing creative tension until the opposites are resolved in each other.

And Jungian Robert Johnson speaks too of our understandable need to try and 'choose' when in a situation of inner conflict (and who isn't, from time to time, living this earthly life and not knowing how to be in heaven?) until we risk being torn apart by fear and guilt and struggle; when actually our work consists in staying with the tension until a bigger solution than our ego-driven fears can provide manifests. When the ego gives up, the Higher Self, or 'God-part', in ourselves, can speak  and show a new more inclusive way.

'The mandorla,' says Johnson, 'reminds us that we partake of the nature of both heaven and earth, and instructs us how to engage in reconciliation.'

Monday 13 August 2012

what is the point?

Day five. I'm catching up on some sleep but wake heavy and puffy-eyed. I notice that I move around myself as I would around a shy or edgy animal, maybe a wild one: very calmly and slowly. Hmmm. I'm still feeling a bit anxious then – I don't give myself the slip that easily, more's the pity.

Lots of writing, lots of reading. Books are such good company! In a good one you'll find answers to questions you didn't even know you wanted, but now covet madly. I do know that without books my time here would be harder – they stand between me and myself, or my recent history, I'm aware, as well as being such a rich source of Mind. So in a way I'm cheating – full silence would mean too silence from others' thoughts, which is also an addiction of mine. They can run interference, as the Americans say, between oneself and How It Is. There are things, like the swathe of recent family deaths and the changes and reorientation they bring, that I'm not ready to face full-frontal, so to speak.

Oh and there are the little issues, like how do I want to live the rest of my life?

Jenny Diski says in On Trying to Keep Still, my first piece of reading matter, from the bookshelves  here, and to the neglect of the 8 books I brought with me – no, 9, but I'm reading no.9 now (a novel by my friend Sharon Blackie The Long Delirious Burning Blue) – that there is 'essentially only one question. It is "What is the point?" and in some form or another it is asked over and over again by those of us who have failed to mature enough to stop asking it.' She follows this by a list of people – writers, philosophers in the main – who exemplify this. I can't remember the others but I remember Nietzsche.

This makes me smile. Isn't this exactly why we write, one way or another? And maybe why we read, too?

And she says: 'Another question is what is it like when something or nothing happens? Something or nothing happens all the time.' I like this too. Except that I think that it might be something AND nothing, because I think they're perhaps ultimately the same thing; it's all in how you relate to it and whether you can buy paradox, or whether you prefer everything all lined up and neat and tidy in two distinct rows. This. That.

Anyway. This week's solo retreat for me is all about sitting in the middle of the quiet thrum of life that is somethinging and nothinging all the time within me and around me, and see how it is to share in that something and nothing and nothing and something without being driven to fill every moment with ways of not sitting here in the centre of... Everything. Nothing. In the heart of each moment. The Vast Abundant Emptiness, the Fertile Void. (And without being driven mad by eyeballing said vast emptiness.)

I'm sorry, Mr Kipling, but I reject the idea that I have to fill every minute with 60 seconds' worth of distance run, or jobs-to-be-done, or whatever. OK, it's taken me a long time to rebel against that one, but I am now. Rebelling. It could catch on. Take hold. My idleness, to misquote Montaigne, might mature and put on weight with the passage of time. You need to be careful, making Pronouncements like that. Just look what happened to poor old Moses, Abraham & Co and their injunctions from God, in the late twentieth century, in the hands of the likes of Richard Dawkins. (And he was by no means the first.)

There again, to be fair to Rudyard, it's true that I have no aspirations to 'be a man', however.

But it's in human nature to start counter-revolutions in opposition to well-meaning but rather didactic pronouncements. Then there'll be a counter-counter-revolution with its own brand of polemic. Then a counter-counter-counter – and before you have time to say 'If' you're back with those pesky rows of This and That, and any right-thinking person knows that of course the true path is straight down the middle, not looking to left or right. (Or perhaps I should say 'good-' or 'well-thinking' person so as not to seem biased towards the dexter rather than sinister. Which I'm not.)

And no, I haven't been drinking. That's what nearly a week of pure Dartmoor water (oh and a bit of solitary staring into the void) does for you.

clad in rainbows

I'd love to punctuate screeds of text with some photos, especially of the waterlily pond. I've had an endless saga of mobile-phone trouble though – in fact all my electronic means of communication have given me some trouble lately – and I don't know on this new-old Nokia how to, or if I can at all, download photos to my laptop.

So here's the scene for you: basically I'm going to have another go at this doing-nothing (il bel far niente) business. Dog and I are strolling along the edge of the pond. It's mid-afternoon and right now sunny. The farmer's just been and turned yesterday's haycut – let's hope the dry weather (intensely hot when the sun comes out) lasts a day or two longer. My feet are bare and I'm watching out for the big ants in the long grass. I think they're wood-ants, the ones making the huge cairn-like mounds in the woods, but as I didn't have my reading glasses, I couldn't see whether they were in fact flying ants, which bite.

As I approach the waterfall pool I notice the heron, who visits there a lot. It's utterly motionless: so transfixed on watching the water it doesn't even notice me. I freeze, and get a good view of it for minutes, close up. My friend Kenneth calls them  Presbyterian ministers. To me they look prehistoric, pterodactylic (sounds like a weird poetry form; must find out what 'dactyl'* means). Eventually, of course, it sees me, and achieves lift-off.

I step barefoot across the lip of the waterfall and round to the deck, where there's a weathered old wooden lounger chair. The dog settles in the shade by the water.

And yes, I can drop into this quiet again, no agenda. There's the moorhen, doing his or her thing in the rafts of lilies. Behind me a couple of squirrels are having a (noisy) standoff. Big fish jumping in front. And today shoals of electric blue damselflies, like little LED lights, skating just above the meniscus. 20, 30 of them.

It occurs to me that maybe the heron didn't see me because I was wearing a blue dress against a backdrop of blue sky. I'm wondering whether the damsels' blue is adaptive camouflage – maybe the fish can't see them against the sky?

I move lazily in and out of doing nothing, really, not even thinking, and musing idly on this business of colour and attraction or camouflage. Flowers are coloured because that way they attract bees and butterflies, I believe. But this blue thing – I wonder about kingfishers. Are they that beautiful flame-colour below and azure-sky-blue above to fool the fish into thinking they're either more (peaty) water, or pieces of sky? And what, then, of the male stickleback, almost identically coloured to a kingfisher? It's perhaps partly to attract a mate, in the way that so many males in the bird kingdom are brightly-coloured. (I then realise I'm not sure whether the female stickleback is also bright.) But is it partly too camouflage, like the kingfisher, though this time against predators such as pike-fish, who will confuse it with water/sky?

So long ago, those childhood days, standing up to my knees in the Vellator streams catching sticklebacks with my dad, to take home and put into our aquarium. Little pieces of light. Did you know that the male stickleback, rather like the nurturing male seahorse, guards the eggs in his mouth until they've hatched?

And who was the artist who coated the floor of an aquarium with tiny shards of semi-precious stones and scraps of silver, so that the caddis flies (are they dragonfly larvae?) who make their temporary larval 'shell' from fragments from the streambed, would be clad in rainbows?


* something to do with three-toed**. Pterodactyl: toes-on-wings, ish...

** take two. Ooops. (TM was scathing.) Perhaps all you Greek scholars out there also know it should be three-FINGERED. Three-toes is sloths.

my Walden Pond week

My Walden Pond week has just tipped over the halfway point. I have finally, I think, today, begun to relax a little. I know this because I spent quite a while beside the little lake just idly watching the fish rise for flies (big ones – do you get mayflies in August?), and a moorhen pecking her way through the waterlily pads, and listening to a flock of goldcrests in the fir, without once thinking I should be somewhere else doing something different – well, doing something.

In fact, I hardly thought at all (if what normally passes for 'thought' in my head, that stream of unstructured, unordered, disorganised and disjunct prompts and impulses, could be graced with such a noun).

Today, like every day since Sunday afternoon, has been dedicated pretty much to doing only what I want to do. Luckily this has included a fair bit of writing (an essay and some poems), and a lot of walking. Apart from one night when my mind forgot how, I've been catching up on sleep a little too, when I'm not reading.

I expect Thoreau caught some of his food, and gathered more. Apart from a few wood sorrel leaves to tart up my salad and some watermint for my potatoes, I haven't. (Have I told you about the time, decades ago now, when a boyfriend and I hitch-hiked off to camp in Scottish woodland – this was in February, when it's really quite cold in Scotland, with a plastic decorator's sheet as a tarp/tent [nowadays of course that would be called a bender], a bag of oranges, a bag of oatmeal, rather too many books, and the intention of tickling trout? HA! A bar of chocolate, bought after hiking for hours to a village shop, after a few days of just oranges and oats, made one of the best meals ever.)

Here I've been eating what and when I want – fairly simple, if rather strange, vegan+free range organic egg combinations, much of it raw (not the egg). (Oh and there was that bottle of a nice organic Sicilian red.) I confess that my dairy-eating ex-self slipped a small packet of parmesan cheese made with vegetarian rennet rather than calf's stomach enzyme rennet – and if you're veggie you'll know how rare that is! – into my basket when my severe vegan self was on a brief break with her attention on the sprouting sunflower seeds. (She – the latter – was happy though when I woke up with a severe headache after eating a good-sized chunk. She danced and crowed: 'See! There! It's not just morally better for you, being vegan, but you can't take cheese anyway! See what happens when you break the rules!')

But tell me WHO would mix salted peanuts into a fruit, nut and chocolate mix? No wonder it was on offer. My only sweet treat, too. (And no it didn't work even with plain chocolate, vegan-friendly, no; though I know you can buy Cornish chocolate made with Cornish seasalt. Although being a Corn myself I tend to defend most things Cornish, that one doesn't do it for me. And btw, although they are now growing tea in Cornwall – the tea-bush is a camellia, and they do well in our climate – as far as I know we don't yet grow coffee or cocoa beans.)

The only thing I've done because I felt I 'ought' to was to listen to the news just now on the posh iPal here. What an intrusion that was. I know that all this misery happens. It's one of the reasons I can't get to sleep, being too porous to the world's troubles as is. Of course it affects us all, psychically, a fairly endless stream of bad news coming into our sitting rooms. It's one thing if you can do something about it; and maybe sometimes it really does prompt us to, even if that something is just bringing your thoughts, perhaps at the beginning and end of a day, to those who are suffering.

Anyway. My lovely day today consisted of a bit of editing first thing – yesterday and on Monday I wrote a 5000 word essay – with a cup of tea. I read a bit – Jenny Diski, a fortuitous find, her book of essays here, and completely engrossing in her self-revelatory and sometimes acerbically funny travel observations; the more so as she manages to be disclosing and completely private at the same time.

Then Dog and I had quite a decent length walk. Down by a newly-dug pond there's a day-glo neon-green hi-vis dragonfly; I've seen it several times now. It buzzes by to investigate as we pass. Then there's a bit more hanging out, outside, another cup of tea, listening to the swallows and house martins up high, and the call of a buzzard echoing and re-echoing around the hills enclosing the valley. A young sheep in the nearby field baas at my voice; baas and coughs, baas and coughs. In the trees something yelps and whines in the way that an injured puppy would; takes me a while to work out that it's a young green woodpecker.

For a few minutes the sun appears; hot enough and strong enough for long enough, just, for me to think about taking some clothes off before it disappears again.

A bit more writing. Lunch. Fifteen minutes' – well, not-quite nap, but nearly. Haven't quite mastered that art yet.

And this afternoon I thought I'd go and uproot some of the invasive Himalayan balsam (also called Indian balsam, or policeman's helmet – where do they wear pink helmets?) from the riverside. K told me that you're supposed, he's learned recently, to cut it just below the first nodule rather than uproot it, so you don't leave a gap for more invaders to colonise. I spent quite a long time searching my bags and the car for my trusty Opinel knife to no avail, so decided I'd go and see if I could snap the stems.

A happy hour later I'd snapped half, uprooted half, of a small patch of the balsam, and was scratched and stung all over my forearms by brambles and nettles. But the sun had come out and I wasn't thinking, for once, just gently finding a small way to repay my hosts' kindness, by the river, in seclusion, in a Devon summer meadow. Not far off bliss – the more so because I didn't have to do it and it wasn't my problem, and nobody would care if I didn't do it.

Dog and I wandered back towards the river, where it's shallow enough to ford. A beautiful emerald damselfly was perched on a stone by the water. I squatted down slowly and held out my hand, and it flitted onto the back of it. It perched there, a glorious deep turquoise-green ornament, whole minutes. I guess my hand must have smelled sufficiently of riverside-foliage. What a treat. Then a pair of flying sapphire jewels came and chased it away, upstream.

So then, at Walden Pond meets Wind in the Willows meets Le Grand Meaulnes, we had our lake hour, too, just watching, where once again I managed this no-thinking business, mostly.

on habit

I've been thinking, here, because I've had time to, about habit; habitual ways of being in the world, many if not all of them in one way or another conditioned. One of the reasons for being here is to challenge my 'habit' of perpetually responding/reacting to the world, my perpetual engagement with others. (You will see in the number of blogs I've written this week, even though I didn't post them when away, that the flow hasn't exactly stopped, however.)

I've mentioned my habit of simply spilling towards the world (*see Young Things). I know that this can also be intrusive, invasive, for more reserved personalities. One of the things I'm learning at this stage in my life is containment; learning to hold my tongue, keep my own counsel, let others come towards me, if they wish to, rather than rushing myself towards them.

It's worth knowing, I think, whether your personality is that of the introvert or extravert. I have a sense that there are many of us who are the one who behave as if we are the other. (That might be more true of 'natural' introverts than of extraverts, I don't know.) In order for the self to be in harmony, the many aspects of being need to find a balance. Where there is inner conflict and incongruence for long enough the friction can create unease that can morph into disease, physically or psychologically.

Psychology suggests that we become more introverted as we age. It makes sense, a gradual withdrawing inwards.

For many reasons, I act as if I'm an extravert, and aspects of my work – the groupwork, for instance – require and nourish this. I also, on the whole, know I do it well. But I realised maybe 10 or 12 years ago that at the very least I'm on the cusp between the two, and more likely I fall towards introversion. This was a surprise as, perhaps for reasons of family dynamics, I have mostly acted the extravert.

But it has come at quite a cost to my quiet self, and I can no longer go outwards without balancing that with quite a lot of solitude and silence on a regular basis. I am so easily over-stimulated these days, and deep inside am chronically weary. I easily reach saturation with the human world, all aspects of it, and need the non-human natural world alone surrounding me. It seems to be hard for people who aren't like that to get it. And I find it hard to give that to myself.

It's also easy for me to feel over-responsible – again maybe early family dynamics, fed by being the sole breadwinning single parent I was, and living always on the edge of extreme financial poverty (though with plenty of other arguably much more enduring riches) – and within that is that some kind of grandiosity, a habitual sense of being in some way indispensable, unable to let go. This can become a kind of controlling; and, as with everything, underneath that is fear.

So this week I have been looking, too, at my fear of not engaging. Has the world fallen apart? Not as far as I know. Have the people who loved me stopped loving me? Ditto. Do they know I still love them? I imagine so.

Have I been severely remiss in this week, not to say selfish, in putting my needs first; in not engaging with them? – Ah, well, that's a tough one. So often it seems there's a choice between needs of self and needs of other. Is this how it always is?

But isn't it, finally, about being authentic with both oneself and with others? 'To thine own self be true; thou canst not then be false to any man' etc. That would be the best possible habit, no? Or at least en route towards it; as with love, how can one be true to another without first learning to be true to oneself?

young things

The woods and fields and meadows are full of young things this time of year. On the moors this year's foals, four or five months old now, gallop around in stiff-legged rocking-horse gangs, tails held out like bottlebrushes.

The Galloway cows that do so well on our moorland are accompanied by calves, curled into commas amongst bracken. Each time I cross the moor I look out for a handsome unusual white cow with two charcoal ears. Last time, I spotted another; a sister perhaps.

Near us at home at the crossroads, sadly, a young hare, a leveret, was killed by a passing car. There are so few of them now, relatively, in England, and I watch for the few near us closely. I'm not sure if it's the same or a different family who hang out in the field next to ours, a few fields down and then  up again from the crossroads, but I watch over them too, to the extent of finding a fury and a deep-throated roar of anger I didn't know I could possess when, last year, the hunting horn announced the beaglers on the trail of 'our' hare. (It worked; the head man actually tipped his cap to me and apologised 'ma'am'.) The dog has never heard that voice on me either; she got quite wound up by it, and if she ever hears a hunting horn in the distance now starts her own loud deep bark (she barely has a voice, usually) which it's almost impossible to stop. Still, eighteen months on, when I go near the fence from which I launched my bellow she woofs a little, hopefully, ears as close to pricked as her droopy lurcher ears can manage.

Where was I? Oh yes, young things. In the hedges, tribes of sparrows – a welcome sight, as tree sparrows seem almost as rare as house sparrows these days, at least here.

Three plump juvenile jackdaws were perched on the wire in perfect placings, like a musical chord. Young swallows are growing their needle tails. There are yellowhammers and goldfinches aplenty; bullfinches flit around the margins of the courtyard seed-gathering; and last week a family of young willow warblers were (was?) in the – ah – willow tree, twittering and tweeping. They're tiny enough for one to barely bend the stem of the ox-eye daisy it flew and clung to.

A pair of young jays, bolder than their parents around humans, shriek and shout in the oak tree above my study.

In spring, we had three generations of greater spotted woodpecker at the feeder.

On my walk this morning I passed a field of brood mares, five of them, Thoroughbreds all, with their foals at foot. I've been around horses all my life, and they give me bucketloads of joy. My daughter and I use the principles of befriending and cooperating rather than anything coercive in our relationship with horses. But I have noticed here too recently my tendency to flow outwards towards any thing and everybody, and engage. Some people might call it 'in your face' (*see 'On Habit'). I'm trying to learn to be more self-contained, so I leant on the gate and resisted calling/whistling/speaking/directly making eye contact with them; just leant on the gate and let my attention rest loosely on the field and the ancient woodland with its iron age fort up behind. After five minutes or so a mare came by to check me out. Having sussed that Dog and I were no threat, she occupied herself by eating hazel switches alongside the gate and me. Gradually the youngsters came by, one by one, until twenty minutes in four of them were clustering and jostling to sniff my face, arms, hair. I managed to remain motionless rather than reaching out, and a couple of them relaxed enough as to point a hind hoof and doze a little, inches from me.

Here, now, near my blissful hideout, there's a young buzzard mewing so plaintively on its nest. I suppose that the high notes of young birds are the 'cuddle and feed factor' of avians, where cuteness does the same for young mammals.

Talking of high notes, above the sound of the mower moving back and forth in the orchard this morning, there was a sustained powerful high note I couldn't identify. Surely we're too far for it to be the whistle of the steam train that accompanies the Dart between Buckfastleigh and Staverton? Eventually I worked out that it was H, singing as he mowed.

I have found myself warbling a bit too, as I walk. Not sure how that fits with my self-imposed Rule of Silence for this week.


Here is long valleys of summer wildflower meadows edged with mature woodland. Here is a haven for butterflies and bees who need the unmown meadows. Here is the laughing green woodpecker, the shrieking jay.

Here is the murmur, wherever I am, of the brook and the little waterfall over the lip from the lilypond. Here are damselflies and grasshoppers, dragonflies and goldcrests. Here the buzzard's cry reverberates round the valley. Here are simple rustic benches and chairs placed exactly where you'd want one. Here are huge gunnera and the delicate flowers of evening primrose and chicory.

Here is a space of maybe a hundred or two hundred acres of woodland to wander in without meeting a human. Here is the old engine house and copper-mineshaft, way up in the woods, and higher still the ruined cottage. And higher on the other side of the stream, up on the lane that leads to the moor, is the iron age fort and the constant distant rushing of the Dart.

Here in one room, in the converted hayloft, is all I need or could need; and right at my door is the orchard; and a small table and pair of chairs, in sun, by the woodpile, where someone has inserted a log with those end-on lengths of bamboo for ladybirds to over-winter in.

Here is the bliss of a week's retreat to sleep, and write, and read, and walk, and meditate, and to lounge in the weathered wooden chair at the edge of the big pond/small lake, and watch the moorhen paddle in the lily-leaves, and the damselflies' cerulean blue glow light up the surface of the water; to watch the lazy fish rise and fall back; to think, to dream and to not-think, in silence, just me and the world...

This bel far niente.

Sunday 5 August 2012


Times when the dance can last all night
and times when the only answer is silence...

Over the last six years life for me has been very challenging, with a lot of family losses and traumas. I've continued working on very little sleep and extreme levels of stress. Of course, being human, this is not possible long term and somewhere in me the well I draw on for everything, including my work, is under threat of drying up.

And yet life renews itself whether or not we will it, and cycles continue. This week, suddenly, there are changes afoot that will make a difference. And too I've noticed lately again that the right people, at the right time, in various areas of my life have offered generous sustenance to me; and despite my often bloodyminded independence I have said yes, with thanks, and accepted help.The timing has been crucial, and I'm full of gratitude for the way this universe comes up trumps; and for the people in my life who have the generosity of heart to see what needs doing and who simply do it.

The latest of these gifts is a small secluded place to retreat to for a week where I shall have solitude and silence and rest in the company of my dog and of wildlife. As a communication-addict I'm aware that not to access the internet or my mobile, and not to make arrangements to speak to or meet up with friends, will bring demons as well as blessings my way. So, my friends, more in a week.

And again in a timely way this arrived in my inbox this morning from Tricycle (Daily Dharma): 

The Refuge of Silence
'Silence arrests flight, so that in its refuge, the need to flee the chaos of noise diminishes. We let the world creep closer, we drop to our knees, as if to let the heart, like a small animal, get its legs on the ground.' (Barbara Hurd, 'On Silence')

Thursday 2 August 2012

Lughnasadh poem

Even in rain the flames burn bright.
On the hill, the barley is dancing.

Heart, make your first harvest:
extend your arms like rays of the sun

to gather in all whom you love
and all too who feel themselves unloved:

the broken, the lost, the abused –
shadow-dancers all. Gather them in –

give them all bread. Give them
cause for laughter, for love.

~ Roselle Angwin, 1 August 2012

Wednesday 1 August 2012

lugh & john barleycorn

Today's the Fire Festival of Lughnasadh (July 31 eve to August 1 inclusive). In the Anglo-Saxon this is Lammas, apparently (according to Robert Graves) coming from the words 'hlaf-mass', meaning 'loafmass': this is the time in the UK when our grain-crops are harvested for breadflour, and also, in the case of barley, for ale and whisky.

Midway between the light-peak of the summer solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere and the midpoint between dark and light at the autumn equinox, it's grain harvest time (in theory!). We're reaping some of the seeds of what was sown at or before the spring equinox, and looking forward, too, to darker nights and the fuller gathering-in of the vegetable, fruit and nut harvest later.

Lugh is one of the gods of light (Bel, or Baal, Bala, celebrated at Beltane, May 1st, is also an earlier and less-well-developed, both in terms of the year and in terms of the 'lineage', fire or sun god). He's also known as Llew Llaw Gyffes in the Welsh Mabinogi. In Eire Lugh was a chief of the Tuatha de Danaan, Children or People of Dana (Aosdana in the Scots Gaelic); Dana, the divine feminine, being the mother of the god of poetry. In some versions of the story Lugh was a triple-god (birth, death, renewal; youth, man, sage; page, prince, king – many variants), and he marries a triple goddess. This makes him a 'primary' god, so to speak.

Lugh's trace remains at places in England that begin with 'Lug' or 'Lud' – I can think of a number on and around Dartmoor.

At this time of the grain harvest, having successfully impregnated the goddess, the god-king is sacrificed. (This sees the wheel of the year, at its peak now, beginning to roll down the hill to end in the river of dissolution, before the next rebirth.) New seed has been created, and as the old harvest is reaped so the fire-god in his kingly form is sacrificed to feed and water the earth.

We remember this in the traditional folk-song of John Barleycorn (you may know the particularly poignant tune sung by – I think – Fairport Convention), 'murdered' that we all may live. Listening to that version of the song, it's impossible not to be aware of the ancient and archetypal rituals associated with harvest-time behind the surface words.

It's a time of merrymaking in the outer world: dancing, feasting, games and competition (interesting that the Olympics span this period), a time too of crafts, Lugh being an artisan-god.

At this turning point, I shall take some time today to look at the 'staple' harvests in my life: what has been safely gathered in; what harvest is still not ripe; how my inner male and female are relating (or not); what might need to be let go of, 'sacrificed', as we turn away from longer days and the peak of fire and light.

One of the compensations in the summer of and the one after my dad's stroke (coming as it did on top of my mum's diagnosis of Alzheimer's), doing the long drive I did as often as I could across Devon to help care for them, was the dusky journey back in beautiful sunsets through lanes hedged with honeysuckle and dog rose, behind which the hayfields in May and June and then the cornfields in July and August perfumed the car through the open windows and lifted my heart. (Another compensation, if I stayed over, was the early-morning walk with the dogs on the 3 miles of my childhood beach, Saunton Sands. If I managed to take the time for this I felt I could cope with the distress of the day and the situation.)
In the collective world, here in the UK, the wheat and barley are gold and nearly ready to harvest. 2012 is a 'late' year here, because of all the rain; last week's sunshine at home in Devon felt like a benediction, but everything is a long way behind in the garden, and much of it lost to slugs in the endlessly wet season we've had. In the US, we're told a huge percentage of the corn (and soybean) harvest this year has been lost. Grain is such a staple food; climate change is beginning to bite in ways we will notice, such as price increases for basics, as well as for animal feed.

Let's hope we remember never to take the gifts of the earth for granted; let's hope that collectively we shift track to work in co-operation with the earth in time.

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