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

Sunday, 20 July 2014

crossroads, shamanism and not writing of hares

It's been so long since I wrote a 'proper' blog here – or at least it feels so long – that I've lost my stride, temporarily. PLUS I've had a week's holiday – at home, with a friend. Having – er – what's that word? – oh yes! 'FUN', I think it is. And I've barely switched on the computer or – more worryingly – written a word.

But I've danced, and walked, and talked, and eaten rather well and, with B's help, dug the garden and planted flowers. Not, note, yet more brassicas or anything wonderful, worthy and swelling of our own currently-flourishing green food-larder, but pretty blue and purple and pink flowers and herbs, and at least half of them enticing to bees – the colony, that is, that we haven't yet acquired. But the many wild bees and bumbles and hoverflies are having A Good Time, and their pollen-pouches are plump and golden.

I have come to a crossroads, a little, in my work. Actually, it's not so much a crossroads as risking a deepening that will expose more of the aspects of my work by making the psychospiritual underpinnings of all that I do more visible.

I have realised lately that the 40 years' study that has gone into the holism behind all my work (and life) is in fact deeply private, but to work with real integrity I have to put it out there and stand in its light.

I find it easier to write about in a longer context where depth is required (am currently working on a book), but quite difficult to talk about, including in the more informal conversational way that a blog offers. I have a horror of seeming pretentious, or boastful, or too New Age–y.

A turning point was my Consciousness Café talk, where I stepped off the 'This is how I should present my talk in order to be taken seriously' wheel into the hub: 'I know this material inside out, it inspires and informs everything I do, and I'm deeply passionate about it. What's more, it's my path, and the ideas that form it have traction. If others don't like it – well, tough.'

(Actually, I realise I began the process on Iona, when I spoke to the group of the deeply pagan/druidic ancient mystical inheritance of the island that has been largely subsumed into the Christian overlay. I often gesture at it but I went further this time.

Or – no. I began making it visible when I created The Wild Ways programme. 

Hah! No! I began it with my first book Riding the Dragon – myth and the inner journey in 1993! – and then shied away from it.)

But it feels like a risk nonetheless. There are aspects of my practice that are not widely understood in our culture, and that people have stereotyping prejudices against or reactions to. For instance, one thread is druidic teachings, the notion of which conjures for many a picture of people in white robes waving mistletoe and prancing around at Stonehenge at the summer solstice in a kind of romantic re-enactment that might be good as a spectacle for entertainment, but doesn't have any real heft.

Not so. What we now call druidic teachings actually have a very long and respectable lineage, admittedly much of it underground, as the wisdom and shamanic teachings of earlier and indigenous peoples of the British Isles.

Significantly, the central thesis is the interconnectedness of all life (which is, of course, or at least perhaps should be the central thesis of most if not all spiritual traditions), and how we might live this.

In any shamanic practice, you come to realise through years of work, awareness and discipline that while clearly you as practitioner are making conscious, if you like, your place and role in the web of life and all its participants, you might find special resonance with specific individual species of animals, birds, plants, trees etc; and further affinity with particular individual members, too.

Everything, and everyone, and every encounter in this world can be your teacher. Indeed, this idea is incorporated into Buddhist practice as well as into some mystical traditions. It's axiomatic for me.

In some native traditions, if an uncommon or notably shy animal appears to you three times in quick succession, either in waking or in dreaming life, it's worth examining what that animal might embody for you as student. The world is, of course, wholly and perfectly itself-as-is, and also, if we choose to see it in this light, full of symbolism. It may be that that animal is a symbolic 'totem' animal for you: that there is an affinity that may open a doorway into, if you like, the Otherworld.

So studying the habits of such an animal, and its established 'meaning' in myth and folklore, can offer insight.

This is not the same as superstition: if you don't say 'Good Morning Mrs Magpie' three times on seeing one something dreadful will happen.

It's also not the same as anthropomorphism which ascribes human characteristics to animals, and all too often (hobby horse alert!) dresses sweet little baa lambs up in bells and ribbons, and sees no contradiction between that emotional dimishment for our own gratification, and the plastic-wrapped lump of slaughterhouse suffering that is on offer on the supermarket shelf.

It's rooted in uttermost respect for the Otherness of the other species that share our beautiful planet, and a humble awareness that other kinds of consciousness than the human might also have something to offer us, if we listen with the right attitude, see with the correct vision.

So, soon, I'll talk about hares. And stuff.


  1. O Roselle this is oddly exciting. I say oddly because after training as a scientist (and a lifetime spent teaching science) all this should seem meaningless: as you put it, New Age-y, wholly at odds with the world of quarks and forces, airy woffle. And yet, it doesn't, and it isn't! It strikes a chord, it stirs something somewhere in my deepest being.

    Go on, go on! Please.


  2. I know there's more to come, but what a wonderfully clear, succinct and vivid description of interconnectedness – something creeping more and more into my writing, I find, which resonates strongly with my own first, mystical (though being only about 7 at the time I wouldn't have used the word), relationship with the outside world.
    Can't wait to read what you say about hares. D'you remember me once telling you about a very weird and disturbing dream involving a hare?(First dinner on Iona, 2013, I think – but I don't expect you to remember).
    Thanks for sharing all the above. Done me good.
    Miriam xx

  3. Jeff, you have NO idea how much that means to me, knowing you and knowing your scientific background. Thank you very much for that vote of confidence. There will be more! And more again in the current book (actually, bookS, it's turning out to be).

    And actually I think it might, on the contrary, fit with the world of quarks - well, at least with those aspects of eg quantum mechanics that stretch our notions of what has been seen to be, in the past, rationally possible. Surely the new physics is suggesting to us that, as Kant said, reason can only take us so far? Then intuition (and imagination) have to make the leap while reason plods behind, trying to catch up... But I might need you to tell me more about quarks first, over that dinner table on Iona next year.

    I'm taking my time in writing more about this on here as, although it's not a departure from what I've written of before, it deserves to be treated with a degree of depth, and at the moment that's going into The Book(s). But thank you - a deep thank you.

    Miriam, as always I'm delighted to hear that this resonates with you. We've said that there's joy in this sense of companionship. Thank you, too, for the affirmation.

    Yes, more to say!



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