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

Saturday 30 March 2013

Eostre: the lady, the hare and fertility

Given that the Christian tradition is founded in a solar perspective (Christ the Son/Sun, Light of the World, and with aspects in common with the ancient sun-god Apollo), I like the fact that Easter's date is set each year according to the lunar calendar, being the first Sunday after the March full moon. 

Easter is, of course, like so many of the Christian festivals, set very close to one of the major turning points of the earth, in this case the vernal equinox (the spring point at which day and night are exactly balanced in length).

Despite the fact that it's associated here with the death and rebirth of the Christ, it is still also a 'feminine' festival – a celebration of fertility, fecundity and new growth; it's easy to see that, given its original name 'Eostre', which the Venerable Bede tells us was the name of the Teutonic dawn goddess, the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon peoples, and from which of course we derive the name for the female hormone, oestrogen.

Variants on her name were Ostern, Eostra, Eostur, Ostare, Ostara, Austron. (It's easy to see here too the connection with the word 'east', being the direction of the rising sun and traditionally the direction of birth and rebirth, where west is the direction associated with death and dissolution.)

In the pagan Mediterranean spring celebrations, other Goddesses with similar roles were seen as epitomising the heart of this fertile time: Astarte (ancient Greece), Ishtar from Assyria, and Astoreth from ancient Israel clearly have resonances in their nomenclature. Demeter, Aphrodite and Kali all have connections, too, with this spring festival and its fertility (and in the case of Kali, at least, the death is intimately connected with rebirth, just as loss to the Underworld of her daughter Persephone, 'reborn' into the upper world at springtime, is intrinsic to the myth of Demeter).

Interestingly, too, the Phrygian fertility Goddess, Cybele, had a consort, Attis, born apparently of a virgin, like Jesus, at the time of year of the vernal equinox.

In Religions of the World, Gerald L Berry tells us about the mystery cults that sprang up in Rome in about 200 B.C., 'just as they had earlier in Greece. Most notable was the Cybele cult centered on Vatican hill... Associated with the Cybele cult was that of her lover, Attis (the older Tammuz, Osiris, Dionysus, or Orpheus under a new name). He was a god of ever-reviving vegetation. Born of a virgin, he died and was reborn annually. The festival began as a day of blood on Black Friday and culminated after three days in a day of rejoicing over the resurrection.'

We can see a connection here with the fatally wounded Christ on the Cross on Good Friday being tended by his mother Mary, and Mary Magdalene, his consort/lover, and who then is resurrected on the third day, and Isis, who literally re-membered her broken lover Osiris so that he might be reborn. The great Mother Goddess of Celtic tradition, Ceridwen, had her Cauldron of Rebirth (a precursor of the Grail) in which dead and dismembered warriors would be re-membered and reborn.

Jessica Weston's important book on vegetation/fertility rites, From Ritual to Romance*, in which she explores the fertility rites that underpin the Gnostic roots of the Grail legends, reminds us that the Christ figure is a recurring archetypal motif. Weston 'unites the quest for fertility with the striving for mystical oneness with God'.

All of this is linked with the inexorability of the cycles of birth, growth, fullness, decline, death, decay – and then rebirth. ('Wyrd bid ful araed', chips in TM helpfully at this point: 'Fate is inexorable'.)

As for the association of eggs with Easter, their resonances with fertility and the burgeoning of new life are obvious.

Less easily explained is the association with hares. We know that they are active at this time of year, 'boxing' taking place amongst the bucks†, and we have the idea of being 'as mad as a March hare'. More likely, though, is the long and nebulous association with the hare as familiar, or even consort, of the Goddess.

There are legends associated with Eostre that suggest the goddess was responsible for turning a bird into the hare. The hare too has always been seen as a magical animal, and traditionally associated with moon goddesses and the hunt, and for the Celts hare-meat was forbidden except at Beltane, and for the Anglo-Saxons except at Eostre. 

A friend and colleague of mine, Dr Tom Greeves, initiated a project on the frequently-occurring Three Hares motif. Greeves found that the three-hares motif was found in at least four religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Here on Dartmoor the Three Hares motif was better-known as 'the tinners' rabbits': there's at least one very extensive human-encouraged warren on the moor, near Grimspound at Huntingdon Warren, to provide the tinners, mining the ore here on the moor since the Bronze Age, with protein.

I'd like to think that the Three Hares represented the three faces, or ages, of the Triple Goddess: from the new-moon Goddess of the Maiden, to the full-moon Mother Goddess, to the dark-moon Crone.

John Layard, psychoanalyst, mentions in his book, The Lady and the Hare, that in ancient Egypt the glyph for hare was associated with the verb 'to be'. How apposite, then, that the hare should preside over this time of things coming into being with such abundance.

I find it useful to continue the inner work begun at the spring equinox into this slightly later festival, lighting candles, paying dues to the inevitable cycles that dream us, and remembering what has to die for the new to be reborn.

* T S Eliot, incidentally, said that this book was crucial to understanding 'The Wasteland'. 

† Fiona R tells me this: 're the hares, it's the female hare that 'boxes.' She'll biff any over-amorous males that congregate around her as she comes into oestrus. The 'boxing' behaviour displays the doe's disapproval at unwanted attention.' Thank you, Fiona!



Wednesday 27 March 2013

being intimate with self other tree hill cloud &c

I'm currently doing a great deal of inner work – which is also shaping itself in outer work – on quality of relationship: to self, to Self, to soul, to other (human and non-) and to what we have called variously God, Spirit, Great Spirit, the Goddess, Atman, the One, the Whole and so on through the millennia – that which patterns the universe, gives the birds their song, the daffodils their time of blooming, the rain and sun their own moments; gives us the consciousness to perceive all this, to love. (I shall now be calling it 'the law of continuing' – see my last post.)

So – once again there is a huge amount going on beneath the surface, none of which is ready for articulation, and all of which is predicated on the question: 'What does it mean to be truly intimate not just with my lover, my closest friends, myself – but with everything, everyone, with the earth, with the universe?'

All of it is somehow about being visible, showing up, being wholly present, taking the risk of vulnerability – and facing one's woundedness rather than being driven by it; dissolving rather than reinforcing the barriers and obstacles to an open heart.

This might be easy to do with hill, hare, cloud, skylark, hellebore, or music, poetry, dance; occasionally possible with a good friend, or oneself; possible but much less easy with an acquaintance or even a stranger; but face-to-face with our lover? – a very different story. And a cause of a deal of unhappiness in personal relationship.

Right now, I'm going to leave this there, except to post this quote from Buddhist psychotherapist John Welwood (here he's speaking specifically here of one-to-one personal intimate relationship).

'...personal intimacy is a spark flashing out across the divide between self and other. It depends on strong individuals making warm, personal contact, mutually sparking and enriching each other with complementary qualities and energies. This is the meeting of I and Thou, which Martin Buber understood not as an impersonal spiritual union but as a personal communion rooted in deep appreciation of the other's otherness.

'A deep intimate connection inevitably brings up all our love wounds from the past. This is why many spiritual practitioners try to remain above the fray and impersonal in their relationships – so as not to face and deal with their own unhealed relational wounds. But this keeps the wounding unconscious, causing it to emerge as compulsive, shadowy behaviour or to dry up passion and juice...

'[And yet]... the alchemical play of joining heaven and earth in a relationship involves a more subtle and beautiful dance: not losing our twoness in oneness, while not losing our oneness in twoness. Personal intimacy evolves out of the dancing-ground of dualities: personal and transpersonal, known and unknown, death and birth, openness and karmic limitation, clarity and chaos, hellish clashes and heavenly bliss.'

And the truth is, whether or not I like it, that it's exactly through intimacy that I come up against my rough edges, my resistances and addictions, my liking this and not liking that, my hanging on to order and pushing away chaos (or vice versa); and exactly through this process that transformation can happen – or not. It's my choice in every moment.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

'the law of continuing'

Well, call me piscist, but I didn't imagine that I could be so utterly totally engaged and immersed in the story of the lifecycle of a trout, from egg onwards; and written in such a way that we enter the trout's point of view.

I'm reading the most beautiful book: The Stream, by Brian Clarke. A quiet little book, it's part novel and part documentation of exactly what happens to the ecosystem of a stream when industrialisation of the countryside takes place.

Of course it's built on clashes of values: eco-activists vs Big Profit; old farmer, steeped in the pace of pre-industrial farming and at ease spending hours watching the mayfly hatch, vs his young impatient son who can't believe that his father won't see sense; practices we are assured are safe vs what happens when, inevitably, they turn out not to be. And then there's the frightening multiplying of the chokeweed, a metaphor at the heart of the book.

Neolithic man is in there; the blink of an eye, as they say, from the life of a hunter-gatherer to the 21st century (just), but so much has changed irrevocably.

Clarke knows his stuff. I find out that he writes on fish and fishing for The Times. Had anyone said to me 'Here's a book about fish by a journalist from The Times – you'll enjoy it', I might have thought they were losing it. Had someone said to me, as the blurb declares, 'This is the next Silent Spring', I'd have understood why they suggested it. Thank you, Jo, for the loan (you did say 'the next Silent Spring').

It's a heartbreaking elegy to what we have already lost and are losing in country-sized chunks every day, worldwide. And it's never sentimental. This will, I pretty well guarantee, change the way you look at a stream forever.

In the book, Clarke makes great use of the repeating phrase 'the law of continuing'. I'm struck by this, and by what a great alternative it is for an anthropocentric view of what we name 'God'.

And it reminds me that there are cycles in everything – of course. Cycles of abundance, cycles of paucity. Cycles of birthing, cycles of dying. Flood-tides of summer, ebb-tides of winter. Times of outward creation, times of inward incubation, on and on – out there in the macrocosm, in here in the individual psyche; which is a fancy way of telling you that if my posts seem slender at the moment it's because I'm cooking up my Next Great Idea, and also because I'm in the process of overseeing the publishing of two books: River Suite, at very long last, has gone to press; and The Burning Ground, my next novel set on Dartmoor (mostly) during foot and mouth, is at the cover-design stage.

And, to pick up the theme of Clarke's book, the pressure to stop the proposed badger cull has increased, and takes a lot of my energy right now.

More soon.

Sunday 24 March 2013

writing the bright moment in France

Finally, I've got round to updating my website with new courses. My programme is not complete yet, but if you can't join us on Iona, found the course that I'm co-tutoring with Sharon Blackie in Scotland ('Singing Over The Bones') was full, and can't make my day-workshops on Dartmoor, then what about this?

Make it a holiday at the wonderful retreat centre in the Cevennes, in France (Robert Louis Stevenson set off on his famous 'Travels with a Donkey' from here), and combine sun and walking and swimming in the waterfall pool with time to write with an inspiring (they say) tutor in the company of others passionate about words...


Writing the Bright Moment in the Cevennes, France
Sat 31 August - Sat 7 September 2013

Could you do with a tonic for body, heart, mind, imagination and, of course, your writing? If so, this is the week for you – one to both quicken and quieten the heart, fire the imagination and enliven the senses. Through silence, slow walking, time outdoors, mindfulness exercises and various creative prompts we’ll find new ways of being in and writing from each moment – effortlessly.

The retreat will focus on developing our writing at the same time as deepening our sense of relationship to the world around us, in this moment – the only one we ever have.

There’ll be lively discussion, stimulating writing tasks for the imagination, shared silence and walking as well as words and readings, and time to simply be in the natural world, and, if you’d like, to immerse yourself in the waterfall pool. All the time there will be gentle prompts to relax into the present moment and its joys and gifts.

Expect a deepening of your sense of connectedness, a great deal of sometimes surprising writing (prose and poetry), a slowing down, some play, a lot of laughter, and an opening of your imagination and your heart.

Cost: 595 Euros
Price includes all course tuition, accommodation and meals. Single rooms will be provided to all participants depending on availability unless otherwise requested.

Sharon may be able to help with transport from Nimes up to Gardoussel (shuttle buses run from the airport to the train station). (Places limited, otherwise we can help you to organise a shared taxi or advise on public transport.) For travel options see below:

Train from the UK:
TGV fast trains Paris (Gare de Lyon) – Nimes approx every hour, journey takes less than 3 hours (can link up with Eurostar London St Pancras to Paris, or flights into Paris Charles de Gaulle).

Flights from the UK:
Ryanair: Luton – Nimes
Ryanair: Liverpool – Nimes
Easyjet: Gatwick – Montpellier

For more information about this retreat and other events at Abri Creative Writing and Gardoussel, visit the websites and

Friday 22 March 2013

the world, rolling in ecstasy


'You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen; simply wait. You need not even wait; just learn to become quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.' 
Franz Kafka


with thanks to my dear friend Jenny

Thursday 21 March 2013

back home in west penwith

Near Tol Pedn ('holed headland')
It would be enough to sit and simply watch the sea, hour by hour. On the coast everything shifts, is in a process of continual flux and change.

The first morning the sea and sky are a brilliant blue, but my phone camera's too full for more photos (later I sacrifice some of my French photos to free up memory).

The second day is soft and gentle but the blue is compromised, troubled and unclear, and light is thrown on that far field, that one gull's wings, that single rock.

Then everything's smoothed and calmed, the sea utterly unrippled, the light opalescent, mother-of-pearl. The sky is clear.

I watch the little trawlers hike out of Newlyn harbour into a gentle still dusk. I register my own ambivalence: how pleased I am that fishing can still happen here, at the very tip of Britain, as it has for millennia, and with small individually-owned trawlers, not by factory ships.

My great-grandfather was a Newlyn fisherman, and manned the famous Newlyn Lifeboat (and on the paternal side my great-grandfather sailed the last tea-clipper out of Falmouth; another was Mayor of St Ives, and yet another the official dowser for Cornwall County Council. One great-grandmother was a midwife, farmer and village white witch – and so it goes on. History shaping our stories.)

It's a tough and dangerous way to make a living, fishing, but down here in Cornwall almost all the indigenous livelihoods – farming, fishing, tin-mining – have gone, and the tourist trade is what brings the income now. Mine-workers' cottages, farmworkers' cottages, fishermen's cottages are holiday homes or second homes, and villages are deserted out of season. So there's a pleasure in seeing the boats go out on the tide.

But as an environmentalist and a vegan I also know how low our fish stocks are, and I know, too, that it's probably a pretty grim death for the fish, suffocating in an element not their own.

As someone coming back home, spiritually, I register all this and still watch with joy the pristine red trawler, the smaller orange one, the little blue and white not-much-more-than-an-inshore-fishing-boat head out to the horizon, lit up as if festive. And, when your ancestors have lived so close to the sea, their lives and livelihoods entwined with her, there's always a hint of the knowing that the sea's her own mistress and her moods can turn in a moment.

So when the gale hits at midnight, hammering on the windows and shaking the eaves, and the sea's deep roar has replaced yesterday's murmur, my first thought is the little trawlers, who've been coming back the last two mornings at first light, pitching and rolling in the heavy seas; and they haven't yet made it back. Let's hope they've taken shelter somewhere in the lee of it all.

And for me, it's the wild drive back over the inhospitable Bodmin Moor.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

equinox, dawn, from West Penwith

blue day
bright light on the sweep of Mount's Bay, the red trawler –
bright light, the chirr of the wren
her diminishing stanzas

bright day
blue light as far as the eye, the ear –
blue light on the land
her stretched-out foreverness

blue light
bright day and something akin to prayer stirs and emerges
bright day, and the gull's cry takes it –
we climb into blue-on-blue air...

© Roselle Angwin, 20.3.2013

Friday 15 March 2013

from the ragbag

After days of intense cold and heavy frost, punctuated by almost-warm sun (lucky next-door lambs), we managed to go and dig 25 sacks of well-rotted yummy horseshit for the veg beds. And after a terrible harvest last year, we've actually had two meals of purple sprouting broccoli (well, we did add other stuff!).

This morning, well past dawn, a barn owl was quartering the field opposite. A little egret flapped down the valley to land like a blob of brilliant light on the tallest lightning-struck oak, its habitual winter perch.

My little brown bird whose solitary status I was lamenting last week has found a small tribe: another pair of house sparrows has joined him in the courtyard.

Over last weekend and the early part of this week I had 4 days of feeling really ill. Turns out – can you believe it – the pharmacy had muddled my heart medication and I'd been taking the wrong drug. Thank goodness I'm not elderly or confused – I might not have realised it was the right label but wrong drug. (I do want to say with some pride that I've been able to halve my medication through taking herbs, but I still, to my disgust, find I need some medication.) It required TM to make an emergency middle-of-night trip to the local hospital to pick up the correct meds, whereupon my heart returned to its normal rate and rhythm.

When there is a dramatic physical symptom, in my view it's a symbol, and the 'densest' manifestation of long term subtler imbalances and habitual calcified ways of being, so I am still practising listening to what my non-mechanical heart needs, which is partly about putting my own needs (even for basic things like enough rest and sleep) at the top of the list rather than the bottom. This is a hard habit to break, tagged as it is with notions of 'selfishness' – partly, I think, an inheritance from our Judeo-Christian tradition and, in the case of being a woman (I hear far more women than men express difficulties with this) its overtones of patriarchy.

Speaking of such things, I imagine the Catholic Church's new pope will not be in a hurry to include women or gay priests. However, perhaps he will at least be more inclusive in his general outlook? He has shown himself to have concerns about poverty and the environment. It's hard to know whether this will translate to the Church's views on birth control, which of course need to be addressed for either issue to be properly faced.

Radio Four yesterday ran a short interview with an English journalist speaking to members of the Marronite Catholic Church (I ought to check that spelling) who live high in the Lebanese mountains in caves and small rocky dwellings built into the mountainside. They are, apparently, the oldest sect of Catholics, and live lives of extreme simplicity, usually vegetarian. One hermit sleeps on the ground, with a stone for a pillow, prays 14 hours a day, studies for 2 and works for 3. The remaining 5 hours he sleeps. What characterised the interviewees was a spirit of joy, kindness and calm.

Good news on (some) animal fronts: the European Union has banned the sale of any cosmetics that have involved testing on animals, with immediate effect. At last!

And – it's so big and emotive a subject and I have been doing so much behind-the-scenes campaigning in relation to it I haven't known where to start to blog about it, but the badger vaccination campaign (as opposed to a wholesale cull, that will be ineffectual in stopping bovine tuberculosis, a Government scientific report stated after 9 years of research, and will alienate the public) is gathering momentum. If we can garner enough support and disseminate enough accurate information we may be able yet to turn the tide on the NFU and DEFRA. You might want to see this: If you are on facebook, it'd be great if you could sign up to our page: Totnes Badger Vaccination Action Campaign. Steve Jones, the organic farmer who wrote the article above (and is in the cull area scheduled for this summer), will be talking at Rattery Village Hall on Saturday March 30th at 7pm. If you're local, please do come if you can – and bring a farmer! Our aim is to support farmers by giving them the info to make informed choices, not to create an 'us and them' climate, which will help nothing.

This is the fatal flaw, isn't it: our inherent dualism that sees 'other' as different and therefore threatening, and reacting to that on impulse... Sadly, we govern in that way too.

A disturbing, if not surprising, report on R4 this morning: a study of 30,000 men has concluded that men who have served in the armed forces are more likely to commit violent crime (13% more likely than civilians, and much more likely if they've been on active service in Iraq or Afghanistan). Well, yes, they are after all trained to kill; that's their job. When oh when will we learn that violence, that killing, achieves nothing other than more violence?

Gandhi said: 'An eye for an eye is a terrible way to blind the world.'

Thursday 14 March 2013


Some light relief for you. I've loved this poem for many many years now; it reminds us of interconnectedness, doesn't it; of our place 'in the family of things', as Mary Oliver so beautifully expresses it. I thought I'd posted this poem here, but can't find it.


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

~ David Wagoner ~

Tuesday 12 March 2013

'the animal shall not be measured by man'

I'm increasingly thinking that what makes a society more than a collective of people, what makes it into a 'culture', or a 'civilisation', is two things.

The first is marked by our ability to see beyond the material/utilitarian to subtle but essential needs of the human spirit, and the supporting of people who will carry that understanding: artists, composers and musicians, poets, writers and scriptwriters, actors, philosophers, dreamers, creative thinkers, visionaries, and those who challenge the established order (given that any 'order' will become 'established' and calcified if its rule is too long or too dominant). 

The second is how we treat the vulnerable: the elderly, the weak, the frail, children, women. However, we cannot see ourselves as a 'culture' unless our motivation is that of being truly humane, exhibiting compassion; and this has to extend to the other beings who share this planet.

Animals. They're my thing; a passion of mine from as soon as I could move.

As top predator we have adopted for many hundreds or thousands of years now the view of animals as being here to serve us and service our needs. Worse, we have treated them as slaves, and continue to do so.

One of the worst things, for me, about the 'horsemeat scandal' was that all the attention was on our right to know what was in our meals, and the outside possibility of humans ingesting Bute, a heavy-duty commonplace anti-inflammatory drug. (Well, a spokeswoman for Food and Rural Affairs pointed out that to ingest Bute in any quantity you'd have to be eating 100s of burgers a day.)

What is of much more concern to me is the welfare of the animals concerned, and I was horrified and ashamed of all the fuss and indignation surrounding human needs in relation to this. I find I can no longer keep my mouth shut. WHAT ABOUT THE HORSES AND WHAT THEY SUFFER FOR US? I can no longer be polite and non-committal about all this. I feel despair and rage at the way we humans simply fuck everything up in our greed, our ignorance, our insistence on our comforts and conveniences, our desire to look away from what's difficult.

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote another blog in which I spoke of why I became vegan, and my struggle with it ('animals', 4th February 2012). I still don't find it easy – I miss cheese – but it's congruent for me; it's a logical outcome of my values.

Humans in the UK eat 905 MILLION animals per year (many of those are chickens). That is one hell of a lot of animals' suffering to gratify our appetites. In relation to the horsemeat thing, as a 99% vegan (I confess to eating free range eggs), I feel perfectly justified in saying: 'Well, if you eat one animal you should be prepared to eat any animal – horse or otherwise.' I find it hard to square our sentimentality about, for instance, newborn lambs with our ability as a species to lift a leg of mutton, cleaned-up and hermetically sealed, from a supermarket shelf with no apparent qualms.

And yet, and yet… Horses, more than perhaps any other animal besides the dog, have accompanied and served us for thousands of years. And I personally have a very close bond with Horse that goes back to my early childhood.

And we treat them as slaves. Look at the racing 'industry' (how I hate that word in relation to animals): horses' bones don't stop growing till they're five, and in some breeds even older. But we expect them as two-year-olds to carry our weight, at speed, whipped, dragged around by metal bars in their mouths, until we break their spirit, sometimes their legs, often their health. A racehorse is 'old' at four or five; many are put down in what ought to be their prime; many too have injuries that are suppressed by Bute. And many find their way into the meat trade because racing, like so many other things, has been affected by the economic downturn.

Look at war horses, too, and how we treated those who worked so hard for us in WW1.

The horsemeat people are worried about eating because of Bute is likely to be sourced from many places: 'wild' ponies on our moors, imported heavy horses no longer any 'use' to humans, the hundreds of horses simply abandoned, in this country, in fields or football pitches or wasteland as people can no longer afford 'leisure' horses, and racehorses. And we're supposed to be a 'nation of animal-lovers'. God help animals in the rest of the world.

And I know, I know, how much suffering, of many shades, there is in our world, so much of it inflicted by humans – on other humans, on animals. Each week I must sign something in the range of 30 or 40 petitions for some cause or other, somewhere. Sometimes, even though I know it's the tiniest tip of the iceberg, it seems all I can do.

And sometimes a story distresses me to the point of almost not wishing to be here, in this world that we have so ****ed up. Yesterday was one of those moments, when another campaign arrived in my inbox. In China, they keep moon bears in tiny metal cages, their whole lives, extracting on a regular basis from them bile by a syringe straight into the gall bladder. It's exceedingly painful. The wound is kept open, and is often infected. When the bear is too old for this, it's killed.

There is an excess of bear bile on the market, it would appear; so instead of using it all for whatever dubious medicinal properties it is supposed to have, it is put into shampoos etc as a filler.

OK, this is just one cause. As with a good poem, sometimes the individual and his or her story opens a door into the universal. The story yesterday did this for me: a female moon bear, having been 'milked' herself for bile, couldn't bear the howls of her young cub in the pen next door, who was being 'milked' for the first time, any longer. She broke through into the next door pen, and squeezed her cub to death, then drive her own head repeatedly into the concrete wall until she killed herself. I couldn't stop weeping at that story.§*

I found this detail distressing beyond words. With it comes my despair at the human race: our arrogance, our ignorance, our sense of entitlement and superiority, our greed, our selfishness. I was embarrassed, yesterday, to be human.

Animals, like us, have a central nervous system. Animals suffer pain. Animals are also conscious beings, for goodness' sake. They can commit suicide if to stay alive is unbearable. The least we can do is minimise their suffering and recognise that they too have rights.

'We need another wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals… We patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. they are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.'  (Henry Beston, The Outermost House)


§ Would have been useful if I'd added this link. PLEASE PLEASE sign and share...

* A friend has told me about this charity: She sponsors a rescue bear through them.

You might also be interested in my blogger friend David Ashton's blog on this:

Please feel free to spread my blog post here in any way you might feel is relevant. If only one person changes a small aspect of their views and their habits, it's one more drop in the ocean - that is made of small drops.

Friday 8 March 2013

periwinkle, the orbit of venus & fibonnaci

One of the joys of my daily walks through the lanes here is exuberant constellations of the little periwinkle flowers, vinca minor, starring the hedgerows, flowering here all year round. Normally mauve, I'm noticing now an exceptional quantity of white-flowered periwinkles.  One or two are interestingly pied – with three or four pure white petals and then one or two mauve ones.

Someone once explained to me the conditions whereby a normally-white-flowered hawthorn would produce rosy blooms in certain springs – the biochemical changes reflecting something or other I can't now remember. I'm wondering if the same thing is true of the periwinkle. Any scientists reading this – I'd love to know?

Vinca minor, like its cultivated sister vinca major, contains alkaloids or active ingredients from which is extracted a pharmaceutical cancer drug (the same goes for the yew tree).

It is also, like all five-petalled flowers, dedicated to life itself, and more specifically to the life-force in the form of the Great Goddess, in her various incarnations from Brighid to Mary to Venus. The rose is another common five-petalled flower; the apple, too, makes five-petalled blossom, and an apple cut in half across its waistline will exhibit a very beautiful five-pointed star. We could say that, esoterically, Eve was offering Adam the feminine principle – it's a path to wholeness. (We know what the traditional Christian church has made of all that.)

Culpeper in his C17th herbal says 'Venus owns this herb' (and it's associated too with the ability to heal 'women's conditions').

As it happens, in sacred geometry Venus and our planet have a particular relationship: 'Venus draws a beautiful fivefold rosette around us every eight years', says Scott Olsen in The Golden Section. 'Eight years on Earth is also thirteen Venusian years, the Fibonacci numbers 13:8:5 here appearing to connect space and time.'

So there you are. One small flower, one big symbol. When the rain lets up, I'll try and take a photo to post.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

as always, right here, right now

This morning a handsome cock pheasant is highstepping cautiously through the courtyard, scavenging for grain scattered by the little birds. Every day now three nuthatches come by, each time tamer than the day before. Yesterday a treecreeper, unusually, visited the feeder, and a now-rare greenfinch; and I was amused that the robin, king of the courtyard, showed himself to be terrified of the unaggressive male sparrow.

I emerged from the house yesterday into blue; blue and yellow. Quite a shock after so long! What's more, here in the southwest it was warm enough to discard all layers bar one.

In the hedges the starry celandines are showering the world with light, and already dog violets are studding the verges. Most of the spring flowers are out now, and the daffodils at the edge of the moor, still closed at lunchtime, were open by the time I came back at dusk.

Crossing the moor always stills, calms and uplifts me. Each time there's a kind of ecstasy in having this wildish land so close by. I was crossing the moor to see my dad, though, which is always, as they say, bittersweet.

He is my dad but he is also not the man who brought me up. Of course ageing and illness brings differences, and in my dad's case some of them have been a blessing for us – he is not the volatile vigorous sometimes frighteningly intemperate man he used to be, the one who always swore he'd rather be dead than in a care home; he's much gentler and easier without his old sharp edge but it is, of course, at some price, and it is he who pays it in terms of loss of fighting spirit, energy, conceptual comprehension and cognition. And by being in a care home.

But it means a lot to him that we visit, whereas the younger father could only stand so much of family hurlyburly (five women) and would take every opportunity to escape to his little wooden cabin in the wilds of Exmoor, having blown his top dramatically first. (I grew up learning to be very alert, and frightened of anger – something I've been addressing all my adult life.)

And the challenge in all this is to remember that there's no place for regrets, for wishing it might be different, for resisting how things actually are: the time I have with my father is right here, right now, exactly as it is, and as he is; and the way I can show my love for him these days is with attention and patience, trying not to yearn for the old intuitive and caring father in his positive supportive creative aspect, full of adventure and ideas and crazy schemes and huge mindpower.

Right here is a very protracted very short stroll in the suburbs – anathema to the younger dad.

My father has just, for the first time, said something to me that makes no sense at all in the context in which he said it. I think I'm not showing it, but inside I'm deeply distressed: my mum died of Alzheimer's, and it's a horrible way to go. We know my father has stroke-induced dementia, and can only deteriorate. You lose a person in a particular, distinct and desperately sad way when they lose their minds.

Right here is remembering the power of little things: the new flowers in the care home garden; the pleasure my dad takes in the many adoring women, staff and residents, who engage with him; the interest he still takes in everything around him.

Right here is Dog straining to smell all the exciting dog scents brought by village life and forgetting all her manners, while my father pulls back the other way wanting to know (for the nth time) who lives in this bungalow, why, in my opinion, that wall is flaking, how far we are going (about 100 yards to see the alpacas, I repeat), and where my mother is.

Right here is the deep breath of remembering that it is a miracle that we are here at all, and that I can take a gentle stroll with my father in spring sun, rather than find myself in a part of the world where I don't have enough to eat, or have a child dying of a preventable disease, or fear for my life and those of others I love in, say, a bombing raid.

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