from BARDO

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

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

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

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

Roselle Angwin

Friday 24 April 2015


Sunday. 100 miles, 200 miles, 300. Sun and cloud and sun. Spring starting to fizz in the hedgerows; high laps of plover. Hillsides freckled with lambs; the ravens too have their fill. On the hard shoulder so many corpses: vulnerable young of badger, fox. Pheasant, pheasant, pheasant. Duck, duckling.

The radio tells of 700 human migrants drowned in the Mediterranean – twenty ships and two helicopters there - how could they only have saved twenty-eight? I guess they simply arrived too late. Every life is our life too.

The Carlisle to Settle steam railway on which I never took my dad.

These hills – can I call them hills? – hunkered, inscrutable, infolded in their camouflage cladding: ochre turfscape, spring olive turfscape, cloudshadow.


Gwendolyne Brooks on the radio: 'We are each other's harvest, We are each other's magnitude'. What a responsibility.

400 miles. And now the dog, lethargic and limp for so many days, trotting so fast for so long in the uplands of Dumfries and Galloway I can barely keep up.


Early walk in the high hills through beechwoods hazed with sun. Back on the road, northering further: plantation of mime-artist wind turbines, stationary; below them an installation of larch fallen one on the other.

Just here the old caravan by the ruins, now even greener with algal growth. There's the river where we saw, we thought,  a few years ago the osprey. I called my ornithologist sister to check; she was so ill she could raise no enthusiasm.

There on the right is that stretch of lacy fence. Then it’s SCOTLAND / ALBA, and Glasgow and the Erskine Bridge, and now I can really breathe.

Loch Lomond. Snow on the beinn; here, silver water. A flurry of geese and swan. The dog who’s on mini-hunger-strike (except for thieving catfood at any opportunity) finds something disgusting to snack on on the shingly shore of the loch. I think of where I’ll be offered hospitality tonight, and hope she doesn’t throw up.

Andrew Motion’s on the radio talking about seahorses: beloved by humans because they look so beautiful even in death, which makes them vulnerable. I think of the one my father brought me cushioned in blue velvet, boxed up, when I was 8 or 9. It was magical to me then, and is probably in one of my ‘special things’ boxes still, even now. But even then I felt sad when I saw it, at something so beautiful, so magical, so dead.


Through Fort William and through a tiny tunnel under the canal. Then it’s Gay, and a pond and a light-filled art-filled house, all wood and glass and A View: the river Lochy to the southwest, close by, past the (fruiting) lemon tree and the pelargoniums (pelargonia) in the sun-lounge. 90 degrees further round, another window looks to Ben Nevis with its snowy runways, Gay’s partner’s passion.

Because I ask, Gay plays me a little Paraguayan melody on her harp; then we walk down to the shingle foreshore. ‘The rivers all seem low,’ I remark. Gay turns round and points to some hazel and rowan branches behind us and higher than my my head. They’re festooned with river-debris. Just a couple of weeks earlier the Lochy had burst its banks.

Dog-with-an-empty-belly suddenly perks up and heads off towards a jumble of flotsam, from which arises a pungent pong. Her taste for all things rotten (in this case part of a deer carcass, followed five minutes later by a sheep carcass on the riverbank, both perhaps brought down by flood) is with us still, and she’s been successful at thieving a mouthful or two of catfood. The many cans, sachets and packets of expensive picked-for-quality-and-temptation-levels ‘treat’ canine foodstuffs to which I have sacrificed various principles and which will constitute half my luggage and most of my carrying weight at the Iona end minus my car (along with books, smartish clothes, warm and waterproof clothes, dogbeds and course material) merely draw an elegantly averted muzzle.

We stroll on through glades of miniature wood anemone, wood sorrel, speedwell. ‘What are the ruins?’ I ask as we skirt their feet. ‘Oh, Banquo’s castle,’ Gay responds casually. I must have looked stunned. ‘As in Macbeth?’ ‘Apparently. It was built in the 11th century by a Banquo Cameron. Bit earlier than Shakespeare placed him. Various people have seen different figures, like soldiers, for instance, from earlier times in these woods.’

Banquo's castle

view from Banquo's castle

I’m here to run a writing workshop that Gay, who came to my week in France last year, has organised in Fort William. Friends of hers who will participate turn up that evening from Norway and Aberdeen, and supper is a warm and lively affair in which I learn that Gay’s partner ran teams of huskies in Antarctica for several years for the British Antarctic Survey, and that Lori in Norway was brought up at the other end of the globe, in Alaska, that Sue is a homeopath and that Gay was a harpmaker for many years.

As I write this I reflect that I’ve picked up on one thread with each of these people that seems to me especially interesting or exotic, either because of my own interests or because it’s utterly foreign to me, but to them is simply one slender, perhaps minor and taken for granted strand of all that they are, and is simply how it was or is. And this, of course, is what makes our stories, for we all have them; even in the most sedate-seeming lives there are details that to others may seem foreign, and exotic. It's our job as writers to notice and bring back such news. 


Next morning, by the river, some duck I don’t recognise scatter, and a goose calls. Ambling back up the track through the primroses I hear the first cuckoo, and a tired-looking swallow is balanced on the telephone wire.

So it’s a workshop, another rich evening, and then the drive past the blue and peatygold lochs down to Oban and the ferry

and past Duart, castle of the Lords of the Isles, which is scaffolded right now, and arrival, again as so often in rich rosegold gloaming sunlight, at the sacred isle (where the Abbey is finally unscaffolded), but just as I come out to take yet another photo of this thin place the clouds drift in

view from bottom of the hotel garden
and within an hour and on into the next morning it’s all seafret, haar and whitebows, and the little island is adrift on an ocean of mist.

Thursday 16 April 2015

the journey is home

A constant stream running under my conscious thoughts is my preoccupation with the notion of pilgrimage: what it means in our 21st century world, how to do it in a secular society, and why it's important. (If you use the search bar at the bottom of this blog you'll see that I've written about this many times before in one guise or another.)

This stream bubbles to the surface each year around March, as my heart starts to fill with the forthcoming writing retreat that I lead on the magical and sacred Isle of Iona each April.

When Chaucer was writing in English (a departure from Latin) in the late 14th century, April was a traditional time in mediaeval England for making pilgrimage.

'Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
(That slepen al the nyght with open eye)
So priketh hem Nature in hir corages
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes

To ferne halwes...' (Chaucer's original Prologue)

'When April with its showers sweet
Has pierced March drought unto the root
And bathed each vein in liquid power
From which new strength creates the flower;
When the soft West Wind with sweetest breath
New life has breathed in copse and heath
In tender shoots, and the young sun
In Aries half a month has run,
And small birds start Spring's melody
(Nightbirds who 'sleep' with open eye),
Then nature stirs the hearts of each
To make folk long for pilgrimage,
And travellers to tread new shores,

Strange strands, set out for distant shrines...' (my 'translation')

And so we too set out to some kind of stirring – for restoration, for renewal, or on account of some undefined longing.

Pilgrimage comes from the Latin 'peregrinus', which in turn means a wanderer, a traveller, a stranger. (I love that it also names a bird, a falcon.)

Although of course it has been associated with established religion, I believe that the need for pilgrimage exists as an archetype (maybe for renewal, remaking) in the human collective unconscious. We could call the 'hero's journey', the motif, as Joseph Campbell saw it, behind most of the world's great myths, or the journey of the Fool in the tarot, as an expression of this universal archetype. Wikipedia tells me that there's a book written on this: Jean Darby Cleft & Wallace Cleft, The Archetype of Pilgrimage: Outer Action With Inner Meaning. The Paulist Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8091-3599-X.
And that's a beautiful definition to my mind: outer action with a corresponding inner purpose or meaning. 

This is the journey to fuller consciousness, wholeness.

For me, the art of living is something to do with making every moment count. (Or rather, the aspiration to do so.) And it's also about recognising that every moment, every action, every journey, every destination, is sacred, if approached in a spirit of presence, with soul. 

Implicit in such a journey is the spirit of openness, of trust, of sharing silence and conversation, solitude and belonging, story and poem, self with self or self with other.
Pilgrimage doesn't have to be to a sacred shrine. It doesn't have to have any traditional religious significance.

Something in us longs to rest, to be still even as we're moving, to be fully present in this moment, on our journey on this tiny planet around its star in the trillions of stars in this arm of the spiral Milky Way galaxy. Of course, our lives tend to lead us towards the opposite: towards acceleration, distraction, accumulation of more and more (whether objects, facebook friends, twitter followers, or experience) with less and less time in which to appreciate it.

How would it be to slow down, to let every footstep, every breath, every moment really be richly enough?

And so we can quietly follow a longing for renewal while recognising that we don't even have to go out of our front door to make a pilgrimage – though it might be hard to explain to neighbours or nearest and dearest who don't get it that we're 'on pilgrimage' in our silence and slowness within four walls. (After all, what is a retreat but a non-moving pilgrimage?)

Or we go out of our front door not knowing what we're seeking but knowing that the longing is taking us. And we go slowly, embracing with such relief the sense of stillness that will come and visit us if we invite it, even as we're moving.

What we are doing on any journey undertaken with this focus, intent and presence, is bringing ourselves back home. That's all – in its smallness, its hugeness.

Friday 10 April 2015

saharan dust & a haibun-sort-of-prose-poem

I'm going to say this quietly: I confess to a touch of disappointment that my car this morning was not covered in a fine sheet of red Saharan dust. The forecast said it might be, and it's happened a couple of times before.

I know it's not right-on to be disappointed. I'm not underestimating the climatic effects of FPP (fine particle pollution), and I'm aware that if you're asthmatic you probably dread FPPs.

TM was disgusted when I said it was romantic. But isn't it? Just a little? In these more northern latitudes to have a sprinkling of red dust from the wind that perhaps will bring the swallows back, all the way across the Med, Spain, France and the English Channel to here, so that Spring might properly begin?

Way back in the early years of this century and millennium, poet Rupert Loydell and I agreed on a collaboration: we'd write, by email over 100 days, 100 haibun-like prose poems of exactly 100 words each, plus an envoi. We intertwined: whichever of us wrote the 100 words, the other wrote the envoi, and we also had a linking mechanism. The book was called A Hawk Into Everywhere (now sadly out of print), and it remains a project I'm proud of. It was also very exciting to create such a thing collaboratively, and the feedback on it was excellent.

For red Saharan dust, and hirundines (the swallow family), here's one:


Flavours, colours, names of the winds. Mistral, scirocco, tramontana, migrating over land masses, oceans. Contagious; madness, anxiety, restlessness, unspecified yearning. Salt-foam and fish of the blustering westerlies; sherbet-stainless-steel of the tricksy easterlies, setting horses skittering. The wind off the Urals that flattened the Fens and the fenlanders. Your car misted one morning with red Saharan dust; wind-skirts full of swallows, laden with odour of spices and rose. The dark tents of the Bedouin rocking with reek of camel dung, hashish, incense. Indigo and aubergine nights. Grit that gets into your eyes and makes you ache all through.

Villages in flames, forgotten meanings, the etiquette of rejection.

© Roselle Angwin & Rupert Loydell, 2001 (Stride)

Wednesday 8 April 2015

that single goose (poem)

A little late for the equinox, but still a poem that I like. I was reminded by the voice of a lone goose in the valley this morning, as the rivermist began to thin. (Usually there are two, so I guess his mate is nesting.)

Vernal Equinox

Those days of ice and fire have scorched or thawed their way
into temporary absence, along with the blades of wind.
Yesterday a snipe startled from among the woodland margins

and something like hope rekindled itself in the trees.
This morning, at the fulcrum of dark and light, after the night
and its absences, the birdtable wore a corona of bluetits,

and the pied garb of the pair of woodpeckers drew together
an alchemy of night and day, the hint of convergence,
their tails flashing red like passion in the drizzly dawn.

Now this pot of tea by the window; buzzard launching
from the tall ash; single goose heading up the valley
out of the mist, surfing the first wave of light.

© Roselle Angwin (in All the Missing Names of Love


Monday 6 April 2015

ragbag blogpost

How good, after some days of intense worry over the seriously-ill but today improving dog, and the ill but stoic Man ('It's only a flesh wound. I've got another leg') to spend the whole sunny day gently and barefoot sowing seed and planting out chard, watering the sprouting broad beans and counting the new potato shoots. Hands and feet in warm moist soil – such an antidote, and well worth the treading on thorns, holly leaves, stinging nettles and decomposing slimy seaweed.

Lovely too to imagine the community of us all over Britain today out growing food in the sun. Chuckling at how much pleasure such a simple activity brings, and how my younger self would have loved the idea of gardening but found the actuality and the talk about gardening so irredeemably boring, when what seemed important was Adventure. Some things have changed for the better with ageing. (Adventure still figures, but I define it differently now.)

And I even got the hammock out.


My mind last night defaulted to worst case scenarios for the dog (the way things seem so much worse at 3 in the morning). She was very badly ill with trigeminal neuritis, a condition that gave her a lot of pain and left her for the duration (two weeks – best case scenario) incapable of eating or drinking, just before my mum died three and a half years ago. The whole thing took me to the edge.

This time the clearly-excruciating muscle spasms in her face were not confined just to one side and occasional, but all over and continual. She couldn't eat, drink, move or engage yesterday.  Her pupils were hugely dilated and her breathing rate was probably several hundred to the minute.

I'm off to lead my annual retreat on Iona* in less than two weeks – just me, 16 participants (some of whom are not Dog People), and a very intense schedule. I've had visions of squatting beside the dog at midnight, trying to get a few mls of water and a bit of porridge down a throat through a mouth that doesn't work – in a hotel room, between sessions. Oh no – got no cooker, so no porridge, and she won't be able to eat solids; no fridge, so no fluid in the form of small ice cubes to slide down her throat. To move, yesterday, gave her so much pain that the idea of simply getting her down the stairs and outside for a pee and then back up in the hotel seemed highly problematic (being a very big hound she weighs around 40kgs).

There's only one vet who serves the whole of Mull, all 70 miles' length of it, once I've got over there from Iona. Last year, my daughter had to take Ash (long story) to the vet when I was working on Iona. It took her nearly a day to get there and back, with four hours in the waiting room in between. I don't HAVE that time.

And so my mind cavorted with death and demons...

Small miracle today, then, that Ash is SO much better: breathing normally, eating, drinking, and joining us to lie under the ash trees in the field today. Funny how life feels so good after one's imagination has stopped conjuring hell.

* Unbelievably, this will be the 16th retreat I've led here. The equivalent week in 2016 is provisionally full, but I'm expecting to offer a second week in late April.


A consolation for having to ring the vet for an emergency visit: I've no mobile signal here so had to pad out at twilight on Saturday evening. Just past the barn that is TM's store and workshop and my (upstairs) study is a small grassed area that leads up to the field in which are our orchard, woodland margin and raised beds. 

As I approached, a hare looked up from grazing less than two metres away, and unhurriedly loped up the slope to the field. I turned to face the opposite hillside, still golden with dusky sun, and there was the barn owl I'd watched that morning, quartering the same hillside opposite. It's hunting late after dawn and early before dusk proper, so I imagine it's feeding a brood of owlets. As I watched it, that wonderful huge lunar-eclipsed blood-orange moon rose like a slowly-tossed coin up from behind the oak tree on the hill.

My little Braeburn apple tree has come into leaf, and the cherry in the courtyard is on the cusp of flower. Which gives me an opportunity to use that phrase again, as I determine to each spring: apical hemispheres. They've just started, bursting sooty bundles on the tips of the ashes.


Each evening a pair of Canada geese flies over, and a lone mallard drake, mate to the duck who's nesting on the brook somewhere. A pair of wrens is nesting on the lovely stone 'pier' (round column-type pillar, traditional for stone barns in Devon) that TM built – right beside the front door.

I couldn't have previously imagined the exultation I feel at watching our new little tribe of house sparrows, once 'common or garden' birds, now in decline, and absent from here for several years. TM replaced the broken cordless phone last year, at my request, with an anchored one – I wonder if that has made the difference, as cordless ones are said to be responsible for the decline in house sparrows? I'd like to think so. (My writers' retreat in Brittany won't have phone, internet or TV. A proper respite from EMFs and distractions; at least, ones produced by such things.)


Sometimes you really do call things up simply by thinking, or talking, about them, it seems. Of such connections the web of life is made.

I don't remember the last time I saw a weasel. I've never seen one here, in the 7 years I've been here. But last night we had some permaculture friends visiting, and we got to talking about the difference between stoats and weasels ('A weasel's easily told; a stoat's totally different').

This morning, early, as I went to the kitchen door to scatter seed for the birds, there was a weasel, right on the threshold, centimetres from my feet.


As you will know from this blog, and even more so if you've visited my websites, I never use 10 words where 100 will do instead.

My Wild Ways work is, for the sake of a better name, rooted in ecopsychology (though because there is a spiritual and imaginal dimension to the work, I call it 'eco-soul : the ecological imagination'). Its scope is broad, and when someone asks me to define it I find it hard to express the heart of it in a sentence without another ten clauses.

So when one of our friends asked me to define 'ecopsychology' last night I gave him around ten sentences with about ten clauses each. Took a while.

TM is nothing if not succinct and focused. He then summarised it elegantly for me in just eleven words: 'Conscious psychological relationship to the ecosphere, and its web of interconnections.' (He offered ten. I added 'conscious'.)


I was going to talk to you about the Underworld journey of initiation symbolised by the Easter story, where there has to be a passage through the Dark Night. Having just had one of those myself, I'm far too exhausted now, so on a much more mundane note: if there are any techie types who read this blog I'd love your opinion/advice/help.

For the last year I've had around 200 hits a day on this blog from Russia and Ukraine. I know that I occasionally get two or three bona fide hits from there, but the rest will be spam, in one way or another.

What I need to know is: since there's only me who can see the source URL, they can't ALL be trying to get me to click on a spamming link. Is there some way (being a techno-idiot I don't know this) in which they are using my URL/blogspot site for their own purposes? And if so, is this potentially problematic for me, and is there anything I can do?

On that note, good night all.

I wish you rich dreams.


Friday 3 April 2015

Eostre: the lady, the hare and fertility

This is a reblog of a post from two years ago. Life in our Devon valley has been a bit fraught this week, what with far too much work on my part and deadlines unmet, the sowing/growing season upon us, my Iona retreat only two weeks off and an uncertainty whether my campervan will make it and whether the dog has care back here, TM who never ever gets ill really quite acutely ill (though a bit more his old will-driven vigorous self today), the dog with a very badly swollen face (my guess is that she finally caught one of the bees she's always snapping at), and the cat peeing in strange corners. Eh bien. Writing, do I hear you say?? What writing?


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.' The sun-god rises again.

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.

Enjoy this fire festival, this feast of light.

* T S Eliot, incidentally, said that this book was crucial to understanding his long poem 'The Wasteland', which draws on Grail mythology. 

† 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!



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