Some of you will have noticed little signals in my writing - small but frequent mentions that I am not entirely happy where I am geographically. I'm homesick for Scotland in a number of different ways, and struggling to love the environment I'm living in. One of the things I have trouble with is car journeys, especially if I'm a passenger, because then I really have time on my hands to look around me and see all the things I don't like. A dry, rather colourless and windblown landscape which has suffered terrible environmental degradation, littered with the careless leavings of unsustainable and failing agricultural processes, with signs of poverty and hopeless ignorance everywhere. (Yeah, I fitted a lot of negativity into that last sentence, didn't I?) That's how I see it on a bad day, and it is one kind of truth.
The thing is, though, that since I live a long way from any amenities, I have to go places by car quite a bit, and I often find it quite distressing. Not fun. So much not fun, that I have probably been avoiding it more than I realise. However, I seem to have stumbled upon a really good remedy!
Sat Chit Ananda
Deva explains their meaning this way:
Sat - truth, Chit- consciousness, Ananda - bliss (this is also a mantra in its own right)
Parabramha - the unmanifest divine, the divine that is all around us, the air we breathe, the space that's all around us permeating everything.
Purushothama - the divine that is manifest in human beings, as our spiritual teachers, gurus, avatars, enlightened masters.
Paramatma - the soul that's within every living thing, the divine essence that's within every living thing.
Sri Bhagavathi Sametha Sri Bhagavathe - the feminine principle together with the masculine principle.
Namaha - I offer salutations (to all of the above). So to the divine in its unmanifest form, then channelled into our teachers and gurus, then coming to the universal understanding of everything being divine, of everything being a reflection of the divine perfection and then the dance of the feminine and the masculine energy like a yin and yang at the end of the mantra.
It's so easy to acknowledge the divine in things we like, or people we like. In pretty things. Less easy to do so in the things we find ugly, in people or actions we find ill-intentioned. It's easy to forget that the unmanifest divine somehow permeates all. It's easy for me to feel that if I don't fight the things I don't like, then somehow they win and I have given up. But I think that just creates blocked energy rather than the flowing energy with which I am able to create and to manifest useful change. But back to the Moola Mantra...
I loved this mantra so much the way Deva explained it. To look around me, and remember that the divine is in everything is very good for me. I also loved her musical interpretation of this, and found out that there is an entire fifty minute version. I bought a copy. It seemed like good driving music, so I put it in my car. Well, maybe you can see where this is going ...
It has helped immensely. Whether that's because, as some believe, the Sanskrit words of mantras have some extra mystical power, or because I have connected with their meaning at a conscious level, or just something in the music - I feel better connected to the landscape, more lovingly connected, and much calmer. And I think that this effect has filtered out a bit into the rest of my time, as well.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Thoughts on Guided Meditation
If you would like to read a more detailed explanation of the Moola Mantra I like this one (scroll down to the "Full Meaning").
Early on Bride's morn
The serpent shall come from the hole,
I will not molest the serpent,
Nor will the serpent molest me.
On the day of Bride of the white hills
The noble queen will come from the knoll,
I will not molest the noble queen,
Nor will the noble queen molest me.
These must be among the first verses I ever read from the Carmina Gadelica. They are two of many verses which have to do with Bride's Day, or Imbolc. If I'm honest, living here in Colorado is getting me down. Rather than looking forward to spring as I would wish to, I find myself merely dreading another summer that will be too hot and dry, and so I've been struggling to muster enthusiasm for the coming holiday of Imbolc. But a couple of hours ago, something quite small and wonderful happened. I found this:
He or she was neatly folded between two flakes of hay, in a bale I opened to feed the horses. It felt like a sign. If anybody ever needed a sign, it was me, so I'll take it as so. I already had the beginnings of a poem in my head, but it had been refusing to form. My little serpent muse did the trick, however. So here is my poem.
If Angus Would Come
If young Angus would come
We would drown the filthy plaid of winter
In the speckled cauldron of Jura.
We would search out my bright cloak,
My green cloak, my fair cloak,
My patchwork cloak of pastures and fields.
Oh, if only he would come!
When Angus comes
He will search for me
Guided by the light of a thousand candles.
He will know my abode
By the sark I have hung on the window sill.
It collects the snow, to be wrung as dew
To ease his wounds when he comes.
When Angus comes
The serpent will rise,
And I will rise up as a queen,
As a flaming arrow
Piercing the heart of a crone.
A merciful bolt, forged of silver.
If young Angus would only come!
But when will young Angus come?
Then I can lie down in a bed of ease
Attended by maidens.
It's then I can rise up again
To the sound of burns in spate.
Flowers will spring under our very feet.
If only young Angus would come!
- Kris Hughes 2014
This poem describes a dream I had maybe seven or eight years ago. It was so full of wonder that I've remembered it quite vividly, although I don't begin to understand its meaning. Recently, a friend who did a Shamanic journey on my behalf urged me to begin working with the goddess Rhiannon. In doing so, I've become convinced that this dream was a gift from Her.
On an evening fine
In a meadow green
And laze and play
Red poppies grow
Among the grass
In the sun
Of a summer's day
Red poppies change
Their shape becomes
Like exotic cranes
While horses play
They rise and flutter
Red butterflies now
As horses wonder
As horses gaze
Turn now to white
They fly round faces
And light with love
They gently play
As horses stand
In awe of this
At end of day
Become white birds
In flocks of white
They rise and fly
Above the meadow
While horses watch
The magic sight
As evening falls
- Kris Hughes 2014
I can't remember exactly when I first saw a bluebell wood - but I remember where. It was in the woods near Bridgend on Islay, which remains one of my favourite woods anywhere. I was on holiday there, and I remember booking for the same time the following year, but the spring had come earlier that year, and the bluebells were finished when we visited.
Bluebells - Peace comes unexpectedly. Pleasure and delight. Enchantment surrounds you.
My best bluebell memory, though, is years later. I was riding Iona, my Fell Pony, on an estate near Edinburgh. I was doing some off-path exploring, and I'm sure we were not where we were supposed to be, according to the estate rules. We had followed a sketchy path through the grass and worked our way down a rather steep bank. The sight that unfolded was totally unexpected as we came into a stand of trees. There was a sort of dell, and the bluebells were so thick and bright that at first I thought the burn had flooded and that I was looking at standing water. Both Iona and I found the view mesmerising. I always wonder what is really going through a pony's mind at a time like this.
We stood and looked for awhile, then made our way down into the midst of it. That cliche, a carpet of bluebells, couldn't have been more true. In among them, they were still just as thick, and their light scent hung in the air. Both of us seemed to relax and let go of some tension we had unthinkingly been carrying. Iona gave a big sigh, and I knew she just wanted to stay there. We did, for a long time, and then explored the area, which was thick with blue in every direction. I noticed how the colour was almost indigo in deep shade, but a bright sky blue in the sun. We must have stayed there for hours before we finally tore ourselves away.
Hyacinthoides non-scripta, also known as the English Bluebell, is the plant I'm writing about here. It is also very common in Scotland.
Campanula rotundifolia, or Harebell, is sometimes known as the "Scottish Bluebell". It is a plant of open heath and grassland.
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Bluebells have many associations with fairies in folklore. Tales vary, with some being harmless fun and others more sinister. When this card comes up in a reading, it refers to a feeling of peace and enchantment. This may be a restful and healing experience, or something with a slightly unhealthy edge to it - as in escapism or the feeling of being unable to return to everyday life and get back into the swing of things. We all need times of pleasant daydreaming and rest, but there are times when we have to be careful not to become lost in them.
Barley is vitally important in the history of mankind, especially in Britain and Ireland, right up to the present. The familiar seasonal cycle of ploughing, planting and harvesting is deeply imbedded in our culture. It is truly a collaboration between gods (or God, or nature) and men. Humans first began to cultivate grain, and then to become dependent on it, at a time when they had little back-up. Tribes or villages were so scattered that the hope of rescue or charity in the case of a failed crop was unlikely, so it's no wonder that an elaborate folklore grew up around the rituals of cultivating grain.
When farm work was done largely by hand and at a slower pace, and harvesting grain involved whole communities, there were many traditions associated with things like ploughing the first furrow, cutting the last sheaf of grain, harvest celebrations, etc. Sun Gods, harvest queens, corn dollies and many others have all figured in man's relationship with Barley cultivation. These customs originated at a time when a poor harvest could result in hardship, or even starvation, for a community.
A fruitful collaboration between gods and men. The rewards of sacrifice.
A gift may be used for good or ill,
but the gift itself is good.
Whether we see "sacrifice" as describing a direct gift offered to these powers, or as the sacrifice of our efforts and good intentions, there is an innate human belief in cause and effect on a plane beyond the concrete and tangible. Hence, Barley is steeped in the most elemental folklore and mythology - representing birth/death, male/female, fertility and sacrifice. The Saxons even had a god called Beowa, who seems to have personified Barley. The old folksong called John Barleycorn describes the process of planting, harvesting and threshing grain as if the Barley were human. Most versions contain a reference to man's dependence on Barley either economically, or his dependence on drink. However, a further interpretation of the lyrics is that it describes ritual sacrifice, or the killing and resurrection of Christ/Osiris/Odin/Lugh.
With its many uses - food for man and beast, straw for bedding and thatch, brewing and distilling. Barley is a great gift to mankind. However, alcohol can be a mixed blessing, depending on whether it is simply enjoyed or misused or becomes addictive. Like almost everything that can have a dark side in addiction, the problem isn't the gift (or substance) but whether we continue to relate to it in a balanced way.
Sowing and harvesting can also be a metaphor for any kind of creative activity, particularly collaborative work. Even with today's farm machinery, it is unusual for one man to produce a Barley crop alone from start to finish. It requires teamwork. Possibly the many archetypes and superstitions surrounding growing grain, and luck and fertility in general are all based on a fear of failure - at a time in history when this could mean starvation and even death. However, the news has always been mostly good! Remember - the gift is good, the collaboration is a fruitful one. Just like life itself. In a reading, this card often relates to a project of some kind, or to our work and creative endeavours. It points to the need for sharing the effort of this creation with others and with the gods or universal powers that can assist us. It calls on us to consider the concept of sacrifice, too. What can we offer in return for assistance with a successful outcome? It also reminds
us to use the fruits of our labours wisely, and to avoid superficial and dualistic value judgements. Get in touch here, if you'd like a reading.
If you found this subject fascinating and would like to read more, you might find the following two books to be of interest: The Corn King and The Spring Queen
is a novel by Naomi Mitchison. (Quite a big read.) Amazon UK Amazon US The Ballad and the Plough
is a non-fiction work by David Kerr Cameron, which looks at mostly 19th century Scottish farming customs through the filter of songs sung and created by the farm workers of the day. Amazon UK Amazon US
In honour of the Autumn Equinox, my partner, Mark, and I took a trip to Manitou Springs. We have been there a few times, but typical of people who are (sort of) local, we hadn't given the place much thought. It's a small mountain resort with nice boutiques and a good vibe, a fun change from our daily lives. It was only toward the end of our last trip that I noticed the Cheyenne Spring font on the main street, tasted the water, and all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place in my head. "Oh, Manitou Springs!"
So we decided to dedicate our next visit to finding and investigating the springs -- and bringing jars. Although I remembered to take the jars, I forgot my camera, so the gallery of photos below are not mine. They are from other people's blogs and articles, or from the website of the
local Mineral Springs Foundation,
who produce a free brochure, including photos, a map, and an analysis of the mineral content or each spring. They have done good work in renovating and decorating many of the springs around the town, inviting a number of artists and sculptors to design fonts. The result is a great deal of variation in the ambiance of the different springs. Back home in Scotland the "places of interest" seem to be so thick on the ground that you are tripping over them. Lots of wells and springs, ancient monuments and places of natural beauty. To me, it feels very easy to find places that help me to feel close to the gods, to the spirits of nature or people of the past. Yes, the trees and rocks and soil are sacred everywhere, but I feel less resonance here.
I hoped that these springs might be a good place to feel something like that, but I'm not sure. The town of Manitou happened to be rather busy when we visited, with some sort of festival going on. There was a very friendly and slightly crowded atmosphere, which I enjoyed, but it wasn't conducive to quiet moments of spirituality. At each spring we visited we ended up chatting to people. A few were locals, getting water from their favourite spring, and happy to tell us about its benefits. Most were other people "doing the tour", but hardly anyone liked the taste of the water. Except me. I thought some of it was excellent. Each spring varies quite a bit in its mineral make up, but most of them
are naturally carbonated, and have a high mineral content, which I enjoyed. One or two would take some getting used to. Iron Spring, for example is rather salty tasting and with its high iron content, reminded me of the taste of blood. I particularly liked the taste of the water from Wheeler Spring, which was fizzy and refreshing, and has a more traditional style of font, too. It must be the Druid in me, but I found people's jokes and face pulling about the taste of the water a bit frustrating. I find the stuff that comes out of many a household tap completely disgusting. I don't like many mainstream commercial beverages, either. What the earth was offering, via these springs, tasted so much better to me, but people seem to me to have lost their discernment. Too much soda-pop and Miller Lite, I guess. Visiting the springs was just a box to tick, and a funny story about how bad it tasted to be told later. I haven't delved too deeply into the history of Manitou Springs. Manitou means "spirit" in the Algonquin languages.
Spirit both in the sense of what we might call gods and of the spirits that inhabit all things in the animistic sense. Several local plains tribes, such as the Cheyenne and Arapahoe peoples, held the area as particularly sacred and knew that the waters had healing powers. Because of the high mineral content of the water, some of the springs had formed natural mineral basins which were ideal for bathing. When European explorers found the area they quickly began to develop it as a spa, with great emphasis put on its healing potential and romantic associations with the local tribes. These settlers, too, valued the water, and the beauty of the area, but had rather different ideas about what was sacred. Over the course of the 20th century the "spa" concept gradually gave way to a more general type of commercial tourism. The area has many tourist attractions, including Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods, and the springs at Manitou became a minor sideline which I don't even remember hearing mentioned.
Manitou Springs became known for its enormous amusement arcade, cog railway and vast selection of motels. Looking at the photos of Soda Spring, below, in 1870 and the present, I know which I prefer. However, I'm glad that perhaps something of the dignity and original reverence for the springs has been revived by the Mineral Springs Foundation. Water in Colorado is rarely a source of peace. It is generally seen as a scarce commodity, bought and sold for unsustainable agriculture, use by growing cities and for sporting and recreation. The saying "Whisky's for drinking, water's for fighting"
refers to the legal wrangling that is almost always ongoing over water, somewhere in the state. Yet holy wells and holy water have gone unnoticed... Because the town was built around the springs, most of them are along the main street or along major traffic arteries. The atmosphere when we visited this time, while pleasant, wasn't great for, say, a few moments of meditation.
I would like to go back on a weekday in the off season, and see how it is then. If you enjoyed this article, you might also like The Divine Connection of Water and Mother Nepesta.
These photos can all be clicked to enlarge, and the captions link to their original sources, which are often quite interesting in themselves.
The Equinox comes to me today at around 2pm. This morning the alarm woke me before sunrise -- and I actually got up! Maybe I was energised by a trip to a group of sacred springs yesterday. (More in a future blog post on that!) The moon is just a few days past full, and was silver, high in the sky. I went to my grove of trees. I took with me some sage, incense, homemade bread, water I collected from a spring yesterday, a candle, and a copy of this poem - which I wrote a few days ago. As I crossed the pasture, the horses came to say hello.
I felt happy. Summer is not my favourite season and I'm looking forward to the cooler weather ahead. In my mind, the moon, still visible as I walked, although it was now light, represented the coming longer nights, while the sun, not yet quite up, represented the summer we are leaving behind. The pastures, and the wider landscape are a mixture of green and gold. We have been in drought for several years, but it broke in July and has rained quite a bit. July and August are the most common months for rain here, which means that autumn often sees a growth of green grasses and forbs among the already mature and dried-off stands of grass. Maybe that was in my mind as I wrote the poem below. I was really longing for the broad leaf forests of Britain when I wrote it.
My little grove of cottonwood trees are very dear to me. They are huge and gnarled, and there is a lateral irrigation ditch running beside them. My boundary fence, the grove and the ditch are all oriented east-west, with the trees between the ditch and the fence. They actually straddle the property line between my neighbour's land and mine. It makes the space feel all the more liminal...
Green and Gold
Into the forest
Into the half light
Oh, how the trees
Hint at the past
Hint at the coming winter
Light of the forest
Half light of the year
Light through the trees
Leaves on the soil
Spirit of change
Scout the path
Show the way
Force of creation
Giving in love
Balance of seasons
Calm and still
Out of the forest
Over the grasses
Green and gold
Turning to autumn
Calling me home
- Kris Hughes
Looking west to my grove just after sunrise, with the moon hovering above.
Looking east, the sun rises behind this squat old willow.
A view from the grove.
I have more equinox-related posts to share with you, so stay tuned! I'm off to enjoy the day...
Sometimes, it's wise to question whether swimming against the tide is worth it. I'm beginning to think that "the Mabon thing" may be one of those instances. The Autumnal Equinox is nearly here, and my social media world has been filled with references to the day as "Mabon" for several weeks. Many people new to Paganism, and some who are not so new, simply accept that name without thinking. If I were to enter a new culture, I probably wouldn't question the names of the holidays, either. I'd assume that these names had been in use for centuries. However, the fact is that "the Mabon thing" has no venerable history - the practice was begun by Wiccan author Aiden A. Kelly in the 1970s - but why? My research has not yielded an answer to this question, I'm afraid. Anyway, why should we care? Wiccans and Neo-Pagans are forging new territory, right? Surely we can call our holidays by new names.
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Mabon is certainly not a word that Kelly simply coined. It is the name of a Welsh deity/mythological character Mabon ap Modron, which literally means "Son, son of Mother". However, there is nothing in the story of Mabon which has links to autumn or the balance between dark and light, etc. which really justifies relating him to this event. One occasionally sees tortuous attempts by modern writers to draw correspondences, but they always seem to me to be reaching very hard and not really succeeding. However, there is no doubt that the name has caught on in a big way, and I'm not interested in trying to stamp out its use. I would just like to raise awareness, that Mabon is the name of a deity, and hope that if people are going to throw that name around, then perhaps they could at least take a little time to learn who Mabon was and hear his story.
Modron is a shadowy figure, and all we are told is that she gave birth to her son Mabon, but when he was three days old he was taken from "between her and the wall", in other words abducted by some supernatural means. He had been a beautiful and precocious child - obviously one connected with the otherworld. The on
ending of the two names also provides a clue that these are not mere mortals. Eventually, Mabon was found and rescued by Arthur (yes, that Arthur) as part of the fulfillment of a quest. You can read this tale, which is part of the longer story of Culhwch and Olwen
in the Mabinogion. If you find it rather heavy going, you might prefer this gentle re-telling by Alison Lilly: The Tale of Mabon
The history and mystery of hedgerows
Hedges have not always been a part of the landscape. The very earliest hedges were created by neolithic farmers when they cleared woodland for crop fields. Narrow strips were sometimes left to delineate territory, and these became the first hedges through a natural process. There are still remains of some of these strip hedges along parish boundaries in Britain, where they often harbour rare species of flora and fauna.
As the neolithic gave way to the bronze age, farming practices became more elaborate and settlements more permanent, and hedges began to be planted to contain livestock as well as to mark boundaries. By the 12th century the enclosure of land was becoming increasingly formal and legalistic, a process which increased slowly for centuries, and then with much greater force and speed from the mid-18th until the mid-19th century. More and more, hedges were about keeping people and their livestock out, rather than just keeping animals in.
Many of the old hedges we see today are remnants of these periods of land enclosure. Happily, although many miles of hedges have since been removed to make way for agricultural changes and urban development, many miles remain, thanks to land owners who saw no reason to get rid of a good thing – and hedges are a very good thing. Where a post and wire fence may control livestock, it doesn't provide a windbreak for them to shelter behind – nor a habitat for birds and small animals, nor shade, berries, flowers and of course oxygen. While doing their work of separation for the common good, hedges truly support us all in many tangible ways.
A separation of territory or ideas that works for the common good.
A shelter for those in need.
If this card occurs in a reading, it might be pointing to any number of things which limit us in some way, but also provide us with positives. One example might be the way a responsible and loving parent controls their offspring. The parent might say “You have to be home by midnight,” but they also provide both material comforts and other kinds of support. The card might also point to the importance of physical boundaries, such as property boundaries, and of finding the right balance with these, such as allowing rights of way or use on the one hand, and respecting someone's privacy or personal property on the other.
When I lived in Scotland I often enjoyed the bounty of the hedgerows, particularly at bramble picking time. It also gave me elder flowers and berries, hawthorn leaves, rose hips and a few raspberries if I was lucky. The lanes around East Lothian, where I rode my ponies, were lined with hedges, which offered the ponies a chance to select plants as they felt attracted to them. Animals can be very wise about what herbs they need to keep themselves in balance, if they are allowed access to a wide variety. Animals kept in hedged fields also have an increased choice of healthy nibbles.
Hedges that haven't been trimmed for awhile usually yield the best harvest of berries, and so as I picked brambles I was often facing a wall of greenery, fruit and thorns. As I became absorbed in my search, I could have been anywhere, or in any time. It was a meditative task, and one that easily slipped over into the liminal space of edges, for being so absorbed in the hedge/edge I could easily forget the lane at my back and the stubble field in front of me, as the hedge-world became all.
I sometimes see hedges as a sort of portal in time (at least of the imagination). Not only is the act of harvesting fruit or medicine plants a timeless act, but the hedge, with its history of increasingly enclosing and excluding us throughout history, perhaps represents a distantly remembered longing to go back to a greater freedom to roam, to be allowed in to remembered places now forbidden. Yet, at the same time, we reap this bounty because of its existence.
I sometimes feel chronically depressed for long periods, so when I saw this book on a list of review requests I thought "Great, maybe I'll get some free help!" The idea of a self-help book on depression, written from a Pagan/Druid perspective, was intriguing. When I saw that it was by Cat Treadwell
, of whom I think highly, I definitely had to read it.
Speaking subjectively, I found much in Facing the Darkness
that I think could be useful, but also much that was painful to think about. Thankfully, this is not a book of twee, inspirational passages or bullet-point presentations guaranteed to "fix" you if you just try hard enough. It's a book which acknowledges how grindingly awful depression is, and then says, "Well, since we're here, let's take a look at what's going on, shall we?" It also is written in such a way as to allow that examination to be deeply personal.
Much of the approach here is one of mindfulness, which is such a buzz word these days. I don't think that the M-word is ever actually used in Facing the Darkness, but the techniques are certainly there. I didn't, personally, find this particularly calming, but I see how it can be useful. The clue is in the book's title - running away isn't enough. Sometimes, reading this book was a bit tough. I don't want to create the feeling that this book is somehow brutal, however. Far from it. It is as gentle as it can be and still be helpful. After all, there is no point in telling someone who is already miserable to just be complacent about it. (That's even less use than pictures of kittens with inspirational quotes added.) No, this book just gently suggests, little and often, that you take a look at how you're feeling, maybe at why, maybe try to understand yourself a little better in small doses. And when it's not a good day to do that, it gives you permission to crawl under the bedclothes, or just sit with a cup of tea.
“Do not be judgemental here. None of this is ‘bad’ (or ‘good’) – it just is. These are your ‘symptoms’. Get to know them, and you can work on changing their effect on you.” is a typical quote from the book.
Interspersed with Cat's writing, are a number of short contributions from Pagans who have struggled with depression. Some of these made very good reading, and I think that it was a fine idea to include them. Everyone who picks this book up will probably find identification with some of these writers.
At just over a hundred pages, Facing the Darkness is quite a manageable length, and is definitely a book to dip into, rather than requiring a cover-to-cover approach. Of course I did read it cover to cover, because of this review, but I think that the way I would get the most out of it is to go back and mark the passages that I know will be helpful when I find myself in a dark place.
If this book has a fault, it might be lack of enough organisation. Although an attempt has been made to set the "exercises", or what I would call "things worth trying when you need a bit of help" apart by using bold print, I found it hard to locate passages I liked when I went back to look for them. Somehow the many short chapters make the book as a whole a little amorphous.
I do think that the best way to use this book is as a kind of first-aid kit. Look it over, mark the bits that you think will help you the most, and keep it somewhere handy. Thank-you, Cat Treadwell, for taking the time to write this!