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.
Sunday, 27 December 2015
In our current society, the period between Christmas and New Year can be a bit of a nomansland. If we're lucky, we spend the time with people we love, get some time to rest and relax, do fulfilling things we don't easily find time for otherwise.
And maybe we also finish up the Christmas cake, determine to swear off alcohol (at least till New Year), vow we'll lose weight, spend Christmas vouchers, hope to find a bargain in the shops, or go back to work for a few days between what have routinely become two consumerfests.
For many people, there's still the sneaking sense that despite all the busyness there's been an absence of meaning.
What's missing – unless, of course, you're a practising Christian – is a sense of a rite of passage.
I wonder if this sense of lack is also partly connected with the fact that our current calendar appears to have nothing to do with macrocosmic cycles and genuinely significant dates? In the old pagan Celtic calendar the turning points of the year – the quarter dates of solstice and equinox, and the cross-quarter dates exactly halfway between each 'station' of the sun – made sense by recognising the earth's attunement to the greater movements of the heavens, and bringing human celebrations into harmony with this.
It's also true, of course, that Christmas with the birth of its god just four days after the midwinter solstice with the birth of its god as we move from the nadir of darkness back towards the light reflects (more or less) those greater cycles, but New Year is in effect completely arbitrary as a date. Those of us who follow the Old Ways have already had our new year, at Samhain, October 31/November 1.
If we can take the time out, however, we can make this week into a passage through meaning too.
Just as the shedding of leaves in the forest means that the architecture of wood and tree is once again visible, I find that once we have passed the solstice/Christmas Day, I can achieve a greater sense of perspective on my life, and the more significant personal patterns of the solar year just gone can become more apparent. (As of course the greater political/collective patterns can also be brought into relief, from the comparative 'distance' of the other side of Christmas.) From this point of view, dividing the year up into 'before' and 'after' makes some sense.
The practice of scanning the year just gone is invaluable, but requires time out for introspection and solitude, and a willingness not only to try and remember and note the details of the months just past, but also a willingness to explore our part in the pattern of our lives.
I like to take this time out with a brief meditation, a notebook and pen (not a keyboard), a candle, incense, some greenery and maybe some quiet music. I like to include on the table or shrine before me some water, a pebble or pine cone and a feather, to add the other three elements to the candle's fire.
I might also note down some intentions for the new year, and spend a little time determining what I need to let go of. Before and after I might take a brief and silent walk. This is my way of marking ritual space.
This done, I have more clarity as we come up to that entirely arbitrary date of 31 December, and a greater chance of determining the kind of year I am soon to enter.
If I let my mind relapse into this kind of quiet focus in between social times and activity during the period between 25 and 31 December, I feel as if I've completed a small rite of passage. That has to be more satisfying than rushing off to the sales; at least, to me.
There's an opportunity to experience this rite-of-passage in a warm and supportive group early in 2016, if you'd like. Every year for something close to 20 years now I've led 'THRESHOLDS – this wild and precious life', a day for focus, reflection and exploration in relation to what's past and what we'd like to invite into our lives in the coming year. In 2016, the day workshop is near Totnes on Saturday 30 January.
This day is a self-contained part of my 'IMBOLC – the inward flame' retreat weekend, held to celebrate the cracking open of the earth for the first shoots of new growth and what that means for our lives at this potent 'fire festival' date in the Celtic calendar.
There are places available on both the day course and the whole weekend at present.
Saturday, 26 December 2015
The old god has gone down in the forest
the birch trunks of his legs
his antlered canopy
the greenwood resounds ragged
to the rasp of his breath breaking.
We shut up the hounds of the Wild Hunt
bake the bread and cakes for the funeral
keen as the forest returns only our loss
to us. The earth’s midwinter standstill
brings just this great crashing hush
where we quiver at our midwinter hearths
stir old ashes with colder fingers
make our long vigil at the long nights’ side
then the third dawn three geese fly east
and the first shout rises –
He is come! He is come!
and even in our mourning we allow ourselves
to see the first faint glimmer –
hope sparking the waymarker stone
at the edge of the wood
even in our grief we cannot resist
the pull of the east, first light, birth –
year after year blinded
by the shock of the new
the return of what we thought lost.
© Roselle Angwin 2015
Thursday, 17 December 2015
Friday, 11 December 2015
More significantly, I'm very immersed in writing the new book which is mostly about here, the stories of the land, and being here ('here' still being Huelgoat in Brittany). And I'm also planning my next year's programme of courses and retreats (the two websites are nearly though not quite updated: here and here).
Also we ('we' being my daughter and myself) have been gallivanting: Breton music and dance events, excursions with friends, lectures and exhibitions in a wonderful venue I'll write more of anon.
TM has earned himself a big brownie point for wanting to come to fetch me back to Devon for Christmas (I still can't drive and the campervan is heavy on the steering), so my time here is coming to an end.
Look what clambered over the threshold into the (dirty – using the excuse of a useless arm) porch the other night, late:
I love salamanders. I remember how they used to appear en masse in the Pyrenees on woodland paths after the lightning flash-storms that occur in summer. They're supposed to be both born from fire and able to survive fire – a motif I use in my first novel, Imago, partially set in the Languedoc.
It's a joy as always to walk in the woods: almost trance-inducing, and as always some of my best creative ideas emerge here.
Each season has its own quality, of course, and in this subtle season (so far) with its mild weather, and after the leaf-fall, the architecture allows the differing limb-shapes of beech, birch, oak and chestnut to show themselves, and the rocks to rise up into our consciousness, as it were; reclining at the sides of paths like great hibernating animals from another age:
Looking for the stories behind the stories in this forest, I'm excited to be uncovering deeper layers of 'truth' in the many myths and legends (more on this in the book I'm writing).
Monday, 7 December 2015
Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Of course we need a concerted effort against ISL. I just believe we should at the very least be genuinely seeking multi-nation political and diplomatic solutions, and be looking immediately for ways to check the flow of arms, money, and oil revenue towards ISL (not to mention addressing as a matter of urgency the radicalisation of young people).
Is there such a thing as a just war? If so, what are the criteria, and who decides which situation fits?
I can't imagine how the current proposal can do anything other than provoke even worse situations, and the number of civilian casualties is bound to be grotesque, given ISL's embedding within towns and cities.
Does anyone really believe that such an intervention will result in jihadists saying 'OK then, you win', and walk away into subdued lives of quiet desperation?
And after the bombing – what then?
And why is nobody incorporating the perspective put forward here?
Mostly, the discussions between opposing factions of parliament have been civil and reasonable. Cameron's exhortations to MPs to come over to the dark side, though, hit a very different note when he resorted to calling Labour members 'terrorist sympathisers'. Suddenly this looks like comic-book politics, though there's nothing either funny, trivial or light about what's at stake.
What I mean is it's suddenly a case of the 'blood being up', as they say, along with the testosterone levels: Cameron wants, or at least has tunnel-vision vis à vis war, and bombing, and what was a perfectly well-argued case seems to have morphed, or rather degenerated, into Boys' Own heroics and name-calling.
Mr Cameron, you may just have done yourself a big disfavour. Let's hope.
Gandhi's words about an eye for an eye being a terrible way to blind the world are as relevant to the bigger picture, of course, as ever.
George Monbiot is, as always, a passionate and intelligent voice on this:
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